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In 1804 the colony of Hobart was established by Colonel David Collins (1756 – 1810). He knew what he was doing, having spent nearly 9 years as Judge-Advocate, Lieutenant-Governor and Colonial Secretary in the New South Wales colony under Governor Arthur Phillip from 1788 – 1796.
By September of that year, the island, known then as Van Diemen’s Land, was divided into two administrative regions, divided at about the middle near Campbell Town.
The regions were Buckinghamshire under David Collins and Cornwall under William Paterson, who was based in Port Dalrymple.
They were each known as Lieutenant-Governors and reported directly to the Governor in Sydney.
On 1st July 1812, the two divisions became one, with the Lieutenant-Governor in Hobart and a Commandant in the north. Up until 1813 Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) was a military base and considered as a place of punishment for the re-convicted felons of the NSW colony.
By 1814 it was clear that the Lieutenant-Governor of VDL required judicial powers separate to those of NSW as it was time-consuming and expensive to constantly have to send the accused, the victims, the witnesses and the lawyers to Sydney to have cases tried before the courts.
The Lieutenant-Governor’s Court was created specifically for VDL and the jurisdiction of the NSW Supreme Court was extended to VDL but no Supreme Court Judge was appointed for VDL, so one had to travel from Sydney to Hobart to hear cases.
The Lieutenant-Governor’s Court, overseen by the Deputy Judge Advocate, was for small financial disputes.
The first trip by the Sydney Supreme Court Chief Justice to hear criminal cases in Hobart was in 1819.
The second was 1821.
Prior to this convicts who committed any offence except for murder were tried before a Hobart magistrate.
Non-convicts standing trial still had to be sent to the Criminal Court in Sydney.
As you can see the wheels of justice moved slowly – even more so when it came to seeking justice in a penal colony.
It was clear that the colony was expanding, and the needs for a better judicial and administrative system were obvious.
An 1823 Act passed by the British Parliament allowed for the separation of administration of VDL from NSW. It authorised Courts of Criminal and Civil Jurisdiction, the Supreme Court of Van Diemen’s Land, Courts of Quarter Sessions and Courts of Request.
The first Chief Justice of VDL was John Lewes Pedder, who served for 30 years until his resignation in 1854.
Importantly it also enabled a Legislative Council in VDL – up until this time, all authority and administration was under the office of the Governor.
All of this came into effect on the 7th May, 1824 with the reading of the Royal Charter of Justice in Hobart.
You can read the full text of it here on TROVE.
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