When the British colonised Van Diemen’s Land, they brought with them a rudimentary lower court system to administer “rough justice” while relying on the New South Wales Supreme Court to deal with the more serious criminal offences. In 1825 however, the British government created two courts in Hobart: the Supreme Court which dealt with the colony’s more serious criminal offences and the Court of Quarter Sessions. Until 1830, the latter Court was only used to hear charges against convicts.

With the arrival of Lieutenant Governor Arthur in 1824, the lower court system was transformed; the colony was divided into districts administered by stipendiary magistrates with the assistance of convict Field Police. The magistrates dealt with both summary and committal matters. Summary offences were minor transgressions for which the magistrate could impose penalties. Committal hearings however, dealt with more serious offences which could only be tried before a judge and jury in a higher court; the magistrate could only commit a defendant to a jury trial if he found that the defendant had a case to answer.


Visiting Magistrates:

Several visiting magistrates operated across the state. They visited hiring depots, gaols and female factories to pass sentence on prisoners charged with major crimes within the establishments.


The police magistrates could issue a warrant or summons, and commit an accused persons for trial in a court of justice on criminal charges. Their responsibilities also included acting as Coroners and Commissioners of the Court of Requests.


Magistrates and Justices of the Peace in Van Diemen's Land.

An incomplete list of Police Magistrates, Assistant Police Magistrates, Visiting Magistrates, Magistrates and Justices of the Peace operating in Van Diemen's Land during the convict period up to 1849. This list may assist in deciphering the name of the magistrate whose initials appear after a charge on conduct records.


The following regulations were defined for the Visiting Magistrate in 'REGULATIONS OF THE PROBATIONARY ESTABLISHMENT FOR FEMALE CONVICTS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND' (July 1, 1845):




  • —The probationary Establishment will be visited by this Magistrate at least twice in each week.
  • —He will investigate all charges brought against the women, and award punishment, as sanctioned by law. In the discharge of this duty care will be taken to regulate the description and amount of punishment by the temper, disposition, and understanding of the offender. The description of punishment, which to one would be trifling, to another would be severe. Want of attention in inflicting punishment on this principle frequently renders it unequal and unjust.
  • —A distinction is also to be drawn between offences: some in their nature are criminal, whilst others are mere breaches of discipline or of regulation; and it is not too much to expect that, under a strict system of personal superintendence on the part of the Officers, offences will not be frequent, and severe punishment seldom required.
  • —Advice, admonition, and kindness, will in most cases be found effectual; but if these fail, and it should be found necessary to resort to punishment, extension of the allotted period of probation—or separate or solitary confinement—will, it is hoped, in most cases, be found sufficient.




Police Districts:


Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur instigated the appointment of stipendiary district police magistrates and district courts in 1827, and the establishment of the field police in the Police Districts. 


Police Districts 1827:  Launceston;  Hobart Town divided into four police districts, formed by the intersection of Liverpool and Murray streets; and the interior divided into five police districts: New Norfolk, Oatlands, Campbell town, Norfolk Plains [Longford], and Richmond.


The interior of Van Dieman's land divided into five-police districts,and police magistrates appointed to each, viz, at New Norfolk, Oatlands, Campbell town, Norfolk Plains, and Richmond.

The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 29 December 1827 - Page 4


The boundaries of the seven Police Districts were defined in 1830:

By His Excellency Colonel George Arthur,
Lieutenant Governor of the Island of Van Die
 men's land and its Dependencies.



WHEREAS, by the Act or Ordinance intituled "An Act to institute Courts of Requests" it is enacted that courts of civil jurisdiction to be called courts of requests shall be holden within this island and its dependencies in and for the several and respective police districts of Hobart town, Launceston, New Norfolk, Oatlands, Campbell town, Richmond, and Norfolk plains, the extent and limits of such districts shall be defined and made public by a Proclamation to be issued for that purpose by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor.


Now therefore, I the said Lieutenant Governor do by this Proclamation; by me for that purpose issued, define and proclaim the extent and limits of the said several police districts accordingly.


Police District of Hobart town contains all the country to the south-westward of the Derwent

below the Black Snake, including Bruné Island.


Police District of Launceston is bounded on the north by Bass's Straits on the east by the Rubicon and on the south by the Meander and South Esk as high as Ben-lomond Rivulet.


Police District of New Norfolk contains all the country westward of the Black Snake Rivulet and of the Jordan as high as the Donny Brook Rivulet at the Cross Marsh. This district being bounded on the north by a line from the Donny Brook Rivulet to the north boundary of Dr. Hood's grant on the Clyde, and thence by a line-to the Ouse at the Shannon Ravine.


Police District of Oatlands is bounded on the north by Stony Creek, on the east coast and thence by a line to the source of the Macquarie, and by that river to its confluence with the Blackman. By the Blackman and Millbrook, and thence by a west line. Bounded on the south by Richmond and New Norfolk districts and on the east by the sea.


Police District of Campbell Town is bounded on the south by Oatlands district, on the west by the Lake River, on the north by the South Esk and Ben-lomond Rivulet, and on the east by the sea.


Police District of Richmond contains all the country to the eastward of the Derwent below its

confluence with the Jordan, and to the eastward of the Jordan as high as the Quoin Rivulet at Whitfield's grant. This district being bounded on the north by the Little Swan Port River and a line by the Quoin Mount to the Quoin rivulet.


Police District of Norfolk Plains is bounded on the south by a portion of Oatlands district, on the east by the Lake River, and South Esk, (to the junction of the Meander), and by the Rubicon on the north by the Meander and Bass's Strait. The grants on the north bank of the South Esk from Mr. Cooke's north west boundary to Perth are included in this district.


Given under my hand and seal-at-arms at Government

House, Hobart town, this twenty-second day of April,

one thousand eight hundred and thirty.

GEORGE ARTHUR, Lieutenant Governor.

By His Excellency's Command,





The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 24 April 1830 -Page 2


Soon after, two further Police Districts were added bringing the total to nine: Clyde and Oyster Bay.

The Clyde was bounded on the west by unlocated crown lands, and on the other three sides by Norfolk Plains, Campbell Town, and Oatlands districts : at the time of its appointment as a Police District its only town was Bothwell. 
Oyster Bay was bounded on the south by Richmond, west and north by Oatlands and Campbell Town districts, and east by the ocean. At the time of its appointment as a Police District it had no towns.



In 1837, George Frankland, Surveyor-General, released a map with Police Districts detailing Police sub-districts:

South, Bothwell, Spring Bay, George Town, Westbury, Morven, Avoca, Waterloo Point, Hamilton, Brighton.


Police Districts Map 1837- Tasmanian Archives AF395-1-5.  Historic Plan 6 - map of the colony Van Diemens Land showing police districts by George Frankland, Surveyor-General. Printed April 1837.






Further Resources:


Offence Classes


The Prosecution Project: Other Courts


Bench of Magistrates Guide, State Archives NSW


Quarter Sessions Guide, State Archives NSW


Supreme Court Guide, State Archives NSW


Historical Notes: Administration and Law, Tasmanian Legislation


The Guide to Tasmania, by Hugh M. Hull: List of Magistrates in Van Diemen's Land/Tasmania up until 1858 (document pages 16 - 21)


The Magistrates' Manual for the Colony of Victoria, printed 1852


Policing in a Penal Colony: Governor Arthur's Police System in Van Diemen's Land, 1826-1836 by Stefan Petrow








Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].