The Legislative Council is the oldest legislative body in Australia. Having initially been established in 1823, its role was to advise the Governor in relation to the making of laws and its earliest members were appointed.

In 1842 the United Kingdom passed the Australian Constitutions Act 1842, which reconstituted the First Council to provide for a 36-member council: 12 members appointed by the Governor and 24 members elected for five year terms. This Act and the representative Council which it established have been referred to as being ‘the very dawn of the political liberty of the colony’[1], a watershed for political and societal change, and the beginning of a long and strong legacy of parliamentary democracy for the State and later for the nation.

The first election campaign lasted for six months and culminated in staggered elections held across the colony, on various dates between 15 June and 3 July 1843. While the legal formalities of the election bear a remarkable resemblance to the procedures followed today, key differences can be found in the nature of voting and the limits of the voting franchise. In 1843 only males with a freehold worth £200 or those who occupied a house at a rental of £20 per annum were entitled, but not obliged, to vote.

The newspapers of the day contained coverage of each election, providing opinion on the candidates and elected members, and for two election campaigns in particular, Sydney and Windsor, detailing the rioting which occurred during voting and following the declaration of those polls, both of which required police intervention before order was restored.

The first sitting of the representative Council occurred on 1 August 1843. Over the next 175 years it developed into the New South Wales Parliament we know today, with milestones such as with the introduction of responsible government and the appointment of the Legislative Assembly in 1856, and the transition to a fully elected Legislative Council from 1978. Of particular note was the passing of the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918, which enabled women to stand for parliament, a historic event which celebrated its centenary this year.

On Wednesday 20 June 2018 the NSW Parliament and the Electoral Commission celebrated this significant event. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly  and the President of the Legislative Council  delivered statements in their respective houses and the NSW Parliament and the NSW Electoral Commission held a commemoration in the Jubilee Room, which included a Welcome to Country, delivered by Uncle Charles ‘Chicka’ Madden, Gadigal Elder, speeches by the Presiding Officers and NSW Electoral Commissioner and a display of exhibits of the NSW Electoral Commission and the NSW Parliament.

Commemoration (9)

  Welcome to Country by Uncle Chicka Madden, Gadigal Elder.

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  Historical ballot boxes.

NSWP Tabled Papers (5).JPG

  Signed oaths of the members of the First Council.

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  The Fitzgerald banner.

The 175th anniversary is a significant opportunity to reflect on the long and strong history of parliamentary democracy in New South Wales. The NSW Parliament’s website contains a number of public resources relating to the First Council and the history of the NSW Parliament:

Official papers from the First Councils, 1824 to 1855.

A History of Democracy in New South Wales.

The role and history of the Legislative Council

The role and history of the Legislative Assembly

The NSW Parliamentary Record contains records of all members of both Houses, electorates of the Legislative Assembly, Governors, parliaments, ministries and parliamentary officers.

Articles on the First Council by Dr David Clune.







[1] (MMH Thompson, The Seeds of Democracy: early elections in colonial NSW, 2006, p44, cited in David Clune APR 25(2), p 90.)