About the First Legislative Council 1851-56

From 1851 to 1856, Victoria had only one legislative body, the Legislative Council, which held its proceedings at St Patrick's Hall in Bourke Street Melbourne.


1836 1851

 From the early 1830s, the south-eastern corner of the continent had begun to be illegally occupied by an increasing number of immigrants from Van Diemen's Land (later named Tasmania) and New South Wales. The area was officially recognised in 1836 as the Port Phillip District of New South Wales and as a squatting district in 1839, with a Superintendent to administer the region. Pressure to separate from New South Wales built steadily from the late 1830s. In 1842, the Port Phillip District was granted six representatives on the Legislative Council of New South Wales, meeting in Sydney, some 800 kilometres from Melbourne. This arrangement failed to satisfy Port Phillip residents and pressure for separation continued.

Formation of the Council

Action followed in the British Parliament and on August 5th 1850 it passed An Act for the better Government of Her Majesty’s Australian Colonies' , which stated "...it is expedient that the District of Port Phillip, now part of the Colony of New South Wales, should be erected into a separate Colony...to be known and designated as the Colony of Victoria." The Act also stated that "...there shall be within and for the Colony of Victoria a separate Legislative Council...". The new colony was to be overseen by a Governor, advised by an Executive Council of 4 persons and by the Legislative Council.

Composition of the Council

The composition of the new Legislative Council was determined by an Act of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, 'An Act to provide for the division of the Colony of Victoria into Electoral Districts and for the Election of Members to serve in the Legislative Council'. This Act provided for 30 Members in 16 Electoral Districts. 10 Members were appointed by the Crown, with 5 government representatives and 5 non-government representatives. The other 20 Members were elected. Voting was restricted to males of over 21 years who owned a substantial amount of property. 


In 1853, the Victorian Legislative Council passed 'An Act to alter “The Victoria Electoral Act of 1851” and to increase the number of Members of the Legislative Council of the Colony of Victoria'. This increased the number of Members from 30 to 54.


In 1855, the Victorian Legislative Council passed 'An Act to further alter “The Victoria Electoral Act of 1851” and to increase the number of Members of the Legislative Council of Victoria'. This increased the number of electorates to 21 and the number of Members to 66.


Records of the Council

Proceedings of the Council were reported in The Argus newspaper and are available here.

Votes and Proceedings (minutes) of the Council are available here.

The end of the Council

In 1854 the Council passed a bill setting up Victoria's Constitution, which provided the framework for parliamentary democracy and government in Victoria, and set up a bicameral, or 2-chamber Parliament, with a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly. The changes took effect from 23 November 1855, the start of responsible self-government in Victoria.

The new law required 30 Legislative Council members and 60 Legislative Assembly members in the Parliament. Only wealthy male property owners could vote for Council members. However, a large proportion of male Victorians could vote in the Assembly elections. Elections for the Parliament, using the secret ballot, were held in Spring 1856.

On 21 November 1856 Victoria's first members of Parliament met in their recently completed chambers (part of the present Parliament House) to be sworn in. On 25 November Major-General Macarthur, the Acting Governor, officially opened the Parliament.