The office of the Colonial Secretary was located in William Street from the 1860s until 1889, when it moved to the then newly constructed William Street wing of the Treasury Building. Today, the Heritage Hotel is situated on this largely forgotten site from which Queensland was once administered.
The Office of the Colonial Secretary was located in William Street from 1860 until 1889. The office occupied the building opposite the Commissariat stores and during the convict years had been the commissariat officer’s residence. The main entrance was in William Street via a flight of stone steps, but everyday access was from George Street via a lane between St John’s school and the Police Commissioner’s office. Today, the Heritage Hotel is situated on this largely forgotten site from which Queensland was once administered.
The first colonial secretary, Robert G. W. Herbert arrived in the colony as private secretary to Governor Bowen in 1859. With approval from the Colonial Office, he was appointed colonial secretary immediately, however, the Colonial Office ruled he would only hold the office if he was elected to the Legislative Assembly and had enough votes in the House. He held the position of Colonial Secretary from 1859 to 1866; it was one of the three key administrative positions in Queensland, the other two being the Colonial Treasurer and the Attorney General. These three positions formed Governor Bowen’s Executive Council.
The former commissariat officer’s residence needed refurbishing. An indication of this came in December 1859 when Governor Bowen asked the Executive Council to approve the estimated cost for ‘procuring certain articles of furniture and effecting certain repairs immediately required at the office of the Honourable the Colonial Secretary’. The building was not large and this may have contributed to the small number of staff employed, considering the responsibilities of the Colonial Secretary. The staff was made up of an under-colonial secretary, two clerks of the first class; two clerks of the second class and one clerk of the third class, along with an office keeper and a constable who acted as a messenger. At the time, the Colonial Secretary controlled 20 sub-departments and up to 400 public service positions. By 1885, the staff had increased slightly to under-colonial secretary, chief clerk and accountant, six clerks, officer keeper, messenger and assistant messenger. The office then oversaw 26 sub-departments and 1,900 public service positions.
From the start the Colonial Secretary’s responsibilities covered policing, immigration, defence, health and education. The office was known as the ‘everything else’ department, in other words responsible for everything not administered by the Attorney General or the Colonial Treasurer. This would change in the coming decades with the establishment of new departments such as the Crown Lands Office; the Board of Education; Public Lands and Works and the Surveyor-General’s Department. Despite this, the Colonial Secretary’s office remained central to the administration of Queensland, as shown in the budget of 1884-85 when, out of a £2,800,000 expenditure, the Colonial Secretary was responsible for one sixth of the amount, a figure equalling £48,000. Only Public Works had a larger budget.
Beginning with Robert Herbert, the Colonial Secretary was also often Premier. Between 1860 and 1888 all but two of the Premiers also held the role of Colonial Secretary. Those two were Mackenzie in 1867/68 and Thorn in 1876/77. By 1884, Samuel Griffith as Premier wanted less ministerial responsibilities and felt the Colonial Secretary’s role should also change. As a result, in 1886 the position of Colonial Secretary was split with a new ministerial position of Chief Secretary created to have responsibility for overseas affairs and the Colonial Secretary, renamed the Home Secretary in 1896, responsible for home affairs. The office itself was relocated to the Treasury Building when the first stage of that building was completed in 1889.
Some of the Queensland politicians who served as Colonial Secretary and in a few cases also Premier include:
Sir Robert Herbert: Colonial Secretary and Premier, 1859 – 1866
Sir Arthur Palmer: Colonial Secretary, 1867 – 1868; Premier & Colonial Secretary, 1870 – 1874
Thomas McIlwraith: Premier & Colonial Secretary, 1882 – 1883
Berkeley Moreton: Colonial Secretary, 1886 – 1888
Boyd Morehead: Colonial Secretary, June 1888 – November 1888; Premier & Colonial Secretary, November 1888 – August 1890
Sir Horace Tozer: Colonial Secretary, 1890 – 1896; Home Secretary 1896 – 1998.
Scott, J; Laurie, R; Stevens, B; Weller, P (2001) Creating the Colonial Secretary’s Office: Bowen, Herbert and Moriarty. The Engine Room of Government 1859 – 2001. University of Queensland Press.