State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 32 December 1983


‘King’ Casey's Papers

In the decades which followed the gold rushes the corridors of the Lands Department were seldom empty. Surveyors, foresters, bailiffs and clerks vied with dignified yeomen, stolid deputations, “new chum” selectors and quicksilver land agents, for a word with departmental officers, a signature on a form, winks as good as nods. Not surprisingly the most sought after was the Minister himself, overseer and chief arbiter of the land business of Victoria. Yet the substance of the daily round of paperwork and meetings which occupied that official has been relatively neglected; the understandable tendency of today's students of colonial government land management to sift through parliamentary rhetoric, editorial bluster and administrative bumf for evidence of those policy initiatives and errors of judgement which shaped our built and natural environments has placed the emphasis elsewhere. Fortunately, the La Trobe Library's collection of the papers of James Joseph Casey, Minister of Lands and Agriculture from June 1872 to August 1875, provides an all too rare opportunity to peer over the Minister's shoulder and catch a glimpse of the kinds of confidential material which crossed his desk — and if a number of those documents were pedestrian, many were intriguing.
Casey took charge of the Department of Lands and Survey and the yet-to-be-established Department of Agriculture when he was forty-one years of age and at the height of his powers (Figure 1). Irish by birth, methodical by disposition and radical by political conviction he arrived in the colony in 1855, already a seasoned traveller of diverse practical experience.1 He moved to Sandhurst where his involvement in the district's affairs — first presidency of the Campaspe Road Board, membership of the local municipal council, appointment as a district magistrate, part ownership of the Bendigo Advertiser — built his reputation. That status was further enhanced when in 1863 he was elected to the Sandhurst seat of the Legislative Assembly and two years later was called to the Bar. Between July 1868 and September 1869 he served as Minister of Justice and, briefly, as Solicitor-General. Then, in June 1872, a short period in opposition was ended when new Chief Secretary James Francis gave Casey the most demanding, though in many ways the most influential, portfolio in the colony. That was a mixed blessing for, as Casey later wrote, the Lands Department was characterised by “bewilderment”, “excitement” and “chaos”.2
The land settlement policy of the previous twelve years, charted in the Land Acts of 1860, 1862, 1865 and 1869, had been guided by the belief that colonial progress was necessarily built on a foundation of individual prosperity and specifically on the industry of yeoman farmers. However, from the very first Act, the personnel of the Lands Department were unable to cope with the numbers of settlers who were encouraged to spill across the landscape and the practice of selection before survey, fully endorsed in the 1869 legislation, had stretched their resources to breaking point. The net result was administrative anarchy: surveys done in haste were inaccurate, cartographic work fell further and further behind — the master plan of Melbourne was twelve years in arrears — licences and Crown grants legalising occupation of selected holdings were two years behind schedule, instructions from senior officers were widely ignored and disharmony and inefficiency riddled the Department. That strain was further compounded by an unwieldy organisational structure which saw responsibility for the implementation of policy split within the Department.
The Administrative Division, led by Assistant-Commissioner of Lands and Survey, Clement Hodgkinson, was responsible for processing all land selection applications, for identifying and managing the many Crown land reserves, for policing and removing trespassers from the unalienated lands, for valuing improvements on that land taken up by selectors as required by the various Land Acts and for replying to all public enquiries. Hodgkinson, vastly experienced but heavily overworked, was incapable of delegation and failed to ensure that the directives he did give were complied with. As they were frequently ignored his policy of “leadership by example” was lost in a maze of offices and a welter of paperwork. The Survey Division under the direction of Surveyor-General Alexander
Skene fared little better. Charged with surveying the alienated and unalienated lands and with preparing and updating thousands of plans and charts, the Division was unable to meet any of its obligations: there were too few surveyors, too much use made of the Division's hapless personnel by Hodgkinson, and too much slovenly work. In short, the Lands Department was hopelessly adrift.3
Undeterred, Casey set about rectifying that situation. The free-wheeling, hard-drinking style of his predecessor, James Macpherson Grant, was replaced with order and decorum. To save time and expense, an “open” Land Court was instituted where members of the public could air their grievances directly to the Minister and his associates who would then judge the case on its merits. Selection before survey procedures were smoothed, “dummyism” was vigorously combatted and the daily work requirements of district surveyors and Crown Lands bailiffs were modified. Searching enquiries into the internal operations of the Department led, in 1874, to a major reorganisation of administrative structure, sub-divisional spheres of responsibility and individual accountability. Casey saw the Department through the O'Ferrall embezzlement scandal (in which a licensing clerk absconded with £17,000 of public money); he established a Central Forest Board and founded the first Victorian Department of Agriculture; he stamped his approval on the dramatic and controversial sacking of Ferdinand von Mueller from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and underwrote the new landscape policy applied to the. grounds. And, as with numerous other decisions, all bore the Casey imprimatur of poise and dignity. In fact the story has it that so tangible was his air of authority and so regal his bearing that one selector, awed on being ushered into the presence of Casey and his entourage, addressed the Minister as “your Majesty”, a title which the ever-ready press gleefully seized upon: thereafter he was referred to as “King” Casey.4
Yet the daily reality of public life was, as it remains, so much less than the image would suggest and Casey's situation was no exception. Much of his time and effort was absorbed by repetitive, routine matters which rarely claimed the attention of the press or wider public. It is this very aspect of ministerial responsibility that the Casey papers allow us to examine.5
Purchased from a second-hand book dealer by the State Library of Victoria in 1913 for £5, the collection comprises five hand-bound folios of reports, memoranda, answers to parliamentary enquiries, letters, printed papers, legal documents and scribbled notes on all manner of land-related subjects for the period June 1872 until the close of business 1874. Each volume has been given a handwritten title which in approximate chronological order run as follows:
  • 1872: Precis vol. 1
  • 1872–3: Preces memo's etc. (v.2)
  • 1872–3: Precis Book III
  • 1873: Memo's, Reports etc.
  • 1874: Answers to Enquiries Session 1874
As is to be expected the papers in toto constitute nothing like the full range of questions, problems and decisions that Casey had to contend with, but as a random selection of that work some of the documents are undeniably important and the collection as a whole, at least in terms of nineteenth century Victorian Ministers of Lands and Survey, is unique in gathering such a body of material together. By way of brief introduction to Casey and his daily work concerns, some of the more prominent themes and issues which emerge from the collection are examined below.
On first perusing the documents the overwhelming impression is that much of the Minister's time was occupied by business that, while undoubtedly important to the individuals, groups, districts and regions concerned, might easily have palled over a number of hours. Although such documents pepper the entire five volumes, Precis vol. 1 and Preces memo's etc. (v.2) are devoted almost exclusively to what might be dubbed the “routine concerns” of government land management: formal copies of Crown grants, selectors' applications for land, legal interpretations of the Land Acts, Crown Solicitor assessments of hypothetical land use conflicts and preces of debates on planning priorities — Borough Council building rather than Mechanic's Institute urge the Richmond City Council, Hopwood or Watts to control ferry sites at Echuca — are interspersed with printed copies of the annual Audit Report, requests for information by other government department

James Joseph Casey, Minister of Lands and Agriculture, 1872–1875. (Source: Small Portraits File, H29508, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria).

officers — should Victoria adopt a railway gauge of 5′3″ or 3′6″ asks the Commissioner of Railways and Roads — and many other such matters, great and small. This is the minuatiae of the Minister's day, the type of work which had to be completed between the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate and sweeping tours through the country, but work that was nonetheless central for the successful conduct of the land legislation of Victoria.
Then as now, stewardship of the colony's physical resources was a volatile subject and one that Casey had to keep abreast of. In that regard he leant heavily on the advice of Hodgkinson, Skene and lesser Departmental officers. For example, when in September 1872 there was a damaging flood in the Ballarat-Shelford-Inverleigh district, Casey fielded the inevitable parliamentary and press questions by referring to Ballarat District Surveyor Henry Morres' detailed internal report on the matter, a summary of which is bound in Preces memo's etc. (v.2.).6 We can read, as did Casey, of miners who dumped sludge in every creek, river, waterhole and hollow in the region to the point where the waters of the Leigh River could no longer carry it downstream. The resultant flood deposited two feet of silt and debris on surrounding properties and caused widespread hardship. Morres' report, with recommendations on how best to avoid a recurrence of the problem — the appointment of “Investigating Sludge Commissioners”, settling basins for the material removed by miners, the introduction of enabling legislation — was subsequently tabled in the Lower House.7 In another, perhaps not entirely unrelated subject, we learn how flood-prone land might be valued, in this case Pental Island in the Murray River, nine-tenths of which was subject to inundation.8 Or, bearing in mind that the matter of swamp land occupancy was a contentious issue in this period, there is the question of whether the Victorian Beetroot Sugar Company might continue to use 640 acres of the Carrum Swamp; Casey thought they could, a decision which the Argus thought showed “great liberality”.9 Command of this kind of material was a sine qua non of the job, as much a matter of professional pride as parliamentary survival.
Forestry, another major preoccupation of the day, is likewise well represented in the Casey papers. The incessant demand for wood so characteristic of a pioneer society had severely depleted Victoria's timber resources, a worrying situation heavily emphasised by the findings of the 1872 Royal Commission on Foreign Industries and Forests. However, if identification of the problem was one thing, solutions were another as a number of small but largely ineffective Casey initiatives demonstrated. The creation of a Central Forest Board to administer the forests, the drafting of more stringent regulations and the use of land legislation to set aside areas as State Forests were some of the measures adopted. Yet the intent of even those small advances could be all too readily knocked awry by administrative lapses. A graphic illustration of the effects of human error is found in Memo's, Reports etc. in reference to the reservation of the Cape Otway State Forest in April 1873.10 Certainly, the relevant scientific data had been gathered: here is Mining Surveyor Reginald Murray's report, “Tracks to Cape Otway”, an analysis of the roads, tracks, geological features, bridges and timber species in the forest. Here too is the climatic argument of C.L. Stacey who argues that the Cape Otway forest is crucial in generating rainfall for Melbourne; he furthers his case by writing of what he dubs the “Siamese twins of meteorology”, forestry and drainage. There is also an abstract of all relevant correspondence on the decision to set aside the forest. One can follow the debate between Hodgkinson, an early advocate of State Forestry, and Assistant Surveyor-General Henry Byron Moore, over what should be the size of the prospective reserve. Moore, believing that some land in the area was more suited to agricultural development, argued that the reserve should be 145,000 acres in extent; the Assistant-Commissioner advocated 193,000 acres. In the event Hodgkinson's view prevailed — except that when Governor-in-Council approval appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette the area set aside was listed as 145,000 acres!11 Although simply a clerical error quickly amended, it briefly left some 48,000 acres at risk. Such mistakes merely fuelled the chaotic administrative environment that Casey was so appalled by.
If management of the colony's environmental resources was a major responsibility
of the Department then another was the valuation of improvements made by settlers to land they received from the Crown. Much of the work fell to the Department's field representatives, most notably the Crown Land bailiffs, an unpopular and, as Casey makes clear in his papers, understaffed body. It was intended, in 1874, to augment their numbers but such was the penurious state of the government that no further appointments could be made.12 Given that state of affairs, the extent of settlement and the need to measure the improvements effected by land holders, information from the field had to be gathered efficiently and presented concisely in order that decisions could be made quickly on any disputed valuations. Such data took many forms. For example, in a letter dated 28 June 1872 addressed to Hodgkinson, Bailiff John Macpherson, Inspector of Crown Land Bailiffs for Gippsland, explained how he arrived at his valuations, but not before he established his credentials by primly informing the Assistant-Commissioner that he had
much experience personally in inspecting and valuing improvements; and as a Colonist of 19 years standing I may claim to know something of such matters independent of what experience I have gained in connexion with this Department.13
He then provided Hodgkinson with a detailed “ready reckoner” of the value he had placed on selector improvements, thus offering today's researcher a succinct summary of the worth of the various necessities of pioneer life as defined by a representative of the Lands Department. Although space precludes listing the extensive range of fencing types, their lengths and their worth — interested readers are referred to Macpherson's letter — the remaining contents are reproduced in Table 1. On the basis of his data it would be possible to assess the “value added” to land encompassed in Macpherson's district, a general subject of fierce debate in the 1870s and 1880s.
The day to day operations of the Department of Lands and Survey in its role as the colony's principal land manager was thus of major importance to Casey. But he was also intent on reforming the Department from within; his papers give some measure of the constraints and opportunities which he faced in that regard. For one thing, although some of the inefficiency of the Department could be laid at the feet of senior public servants such as Hodgkinson, Casey could not simply ride “rough-shod” over them. Thus, when he incorrectly quoted his Assistant-Commissioner to the press he was quickly set right:
In this day's Age [9 August 1872] you are reported to have said that you learned from me that the trees planted in the various reserves about the city were all bought from Nurserymen.
The statement must have been imperfectly heard to have conveyed such an impression, as what I did say was that the Araucaria Excelsa [Norfolk Island Pine] trees (of which there are several hundreds in the Parks and Gardens) had all been bought from Nurserymen …
On the other hand a great number of trees therein were originally obtained from the Botanic Gardens.14
Now perhaps Hodgkinson was simply demonstrating that he was not going to be intimidated by yet another new minister — between 1855 and 1872 the position of Minister of Lands changed hands seventeen times — or that pride was more important than station. Whatever the case there is no doubt that Casey eventually won the respect and not the mere subservience of his senior officers. That in itself was a major step forward in revitalising the department.
Casey did, however, seek to upgrade the calibre of men who worked under him. One may read the successful application for promotion of Surveyor Alexander Black who in 1868, with A.C.A. Allan, carried out the task of running the Victoria-New South Wales border from the source of the Murray River to Cape Howe; this was achieved after traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Australia with the astonishing error factor of just 16′8″. As Surveyor-General Skene wrote, Black was a surveyor whose
skill, industry and perseverance, often in the face of great difficulties, privation and even danger have contributed largely to the successful issue of the survey of … the boundary line.15
Casey evidently agreed. He promoted him. Black, vindicating that judgement, later become Surveyor-General of Victoria.
Table 1: Macpherson's 1872 scale of land improvement valuations (Gippsland District)
Category Description Value
1. Buildings Slab and Shingle: 21′ × 12′ £30
Paling Hut: 1 room £10
Slab Hut: 24′ × 12′ £20
Slab and Paling: 12′ × 10′ £20
Weatherboard and Paling: 2 rooms 24′ × 12′ × 8′ £40
Weatherboard and Paling: 2 rooms 20′ × 12′ £30
Weatherboard and Paling: 3 rooms: 22′ × 12′ × 8′ — and verandah £60
Bark Hut: bad repair: 10′ × 8′ £10
Bark Hut: 3 rooms: 20′ × 12′ £20
Sawn Timber, iron roof: 24′ × 16′ £60
Slab, iron roof: 18′ × 14′ £35
Sawn hard wood: 22′ × 18′ £100
Sawn hard wood: 20′ × 16′ £60
Sawn hard wood: 20′ × 18′ £50
Three Roomed House £40 to £60
Two Roomed House £40
Weatherboard and Shingle, Stone Chimney, 16′ × 18′ × 9′ £72
2. Drainage Drain 5/- per chain
Drain, 2&6” deep 10/- per chain
3. Timber Clearance Ringing Timber 1/6 to 6/-*
Ringing and clearing 2/6
Clearing 3/- to 4*
Clearing and partial sowing with grass, stacking dead timber, and ringing trees 10/-
Clearing of dead timber and scrub, burning, partial ringing, and sowing with English grass, and draining 1/- to 30/-*
4. Cultivation Cultivating £1/10/- to £6*
Ploughing, seeding and sowing £2/10/-
Garden fenced with Paling and Logs £10
Grubbing, clearing and cultivating £14
Clearing of stone £3
Grubbing and clearing £2 to £10*
Grubbing and clearing and sowing with clover £11
Grubbing and clearing and planting with vines £20
Laying down with English grass 15/-
Partial clearing, burning and sowing 5/- to £1*
Partial clearing and burning 5/- to £1*
Partial clearing 10/-
Another singular Casey appointment was Alexander Wallis. One of the Francis government's election promises in June 1872 was to form a department of Agriculture. As Minister responsible, Casey decided to hold an essay competition as a means of identifying a suitable individual to fill the post of Secretary. This was duly won by Wallis who, when he officially commenced work in November 1872, was the new Department's sole employee. Now Wallis (who incidentally refused the foundation Chair of Agriculture at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, to try his luck in Victoria) was a twenty-three year old zealot in the cause of scientific agriculture, full of schemes and plans to improve the agriculture practice of the Colony — and he was unrelenting in his pursuit of that goal. With a commitment and intensity which leaps from the many memoranda contained in the Casey papers,16 he bombarded his Minister with requests for staff assistance, more office space, a larger operating budget and the appointment of an agricultural chemist; he stressed the importance of encouraging innovation in agricultural machinery, emphasised the contribution that annual shows could make to farming knowledge and demanded the professionalisation of the many regional agricultural societies, voluntary organisations which were a great drain on government finance. Towards the latter, Wallis was uncompromising: “small societies do little or no service to agriculture … I would discourage them to the utmost degree.”17 Even today Wallis' lengthy notes bear a strong trace of his aggressive personality.
Wallis and Black, then, represented the kind of skilled, meticulous and scientific government officer which Casey sought for the Lands Department and the Department of Agriculture. But he also had to contend with many personnel problems that were the legacy of past decisions and actions. One such difficulty, unfortunately never entirely absent from any large public or private organisation, was disharmony between officers. We overhear a snatch of this muttering from Assistant Surveyor-General Moore who recounted to Casey the circumstances that led to his promotion. Moore had been raised over the heads of a number of experienced surveyors, most notably W.T. Dawson and Lindsay Clarke, by an earlier Minister of Lands and Survey, James McKean — but we will let Moore explain the reaction in his own words:
As I was aware there would be some jealousy over the matter, I asked Mr. McKean not to mind about the Title [Assistant Surveyor-General] as 1 did not in any way wish to give any course for unpleasantness … Mr. Clarke wrote … that my appointment should be cancelled … I wrote to him [Macpherson, then Chief Secretary] offering (so little did I care about the matter) that if Mr. Clarke would come down and do my work he was quite welcome to the Title and I would exchange with him and become district Surveyor of Hamilton. I would willingly have done this as my health was suffering from over work.18
At the time, he continued, the Chief Secretary had indicated that he would always be preferred to Clarke, but, Moore warned Casey, “This might be considered a private conversation therefore I should not like the matter mentioned.” Moore's letter, prompted by a belief that he was about to be demoted, suggests some of the jealousy and competitiveness which at times rent the Department. It was also a feature of bureaucratic behaviour which neither Casey nor his successors even quite eliminated. Moore himself was dogged by animosity although he retained his post until the notorious “Black Wednesday” of 9 January 1878. In the interim he proved himself a most able and dedicated officer who Casey employed as an instrument of change.19
Casey, however, had to think beyond individual jealousies, injured pride and zealous advocacy to the operations of the Department as a whole. That was no easy task for, as a census of staff (name, rank in public service, salary, date of appointment, duties) found in Precis Book III shows, he had to bind together some 192 staff members.20 The staff register itself was part of the on-going assessment of finding out who was responsible for what task, just as subsequent inserts in the volume measure the impact that a number of temporary assistants, brought into the Department by Casey, had made on the amount of work completed. To that end, summaries of the Department's state of work,
on 1 July and 1 December 1872, and 1 May 1873, are provided. Yet however much Casey tried, the work, in the words of the draftsman in charge of the Licensing Branch, was continually “getting away”, although some quite effective changes were introduced.21
The most important response was the 1874 creation of a new administrative division, the Occupation Branch, under the direction of Assistant Surveyor-General Moore; it was designed to eliminate the tradition that had grown whereby the various sub-divisions of the Department independently managed any one piece of land, a practice which had generated enormous difficulties in the past. Such was the elan with which the Occupation Branch operated — it absorbed two-fifths of all Land and Survey business — that Casey thought “the liability to error had every perceptibly decreased, and complaints against the department are much diminished in number.”22 This bold move was one of Casey's most important organisational reforms. Another of his initiatives, carried out a good deal more stealthily, had a somewhat sharper edge.
One of the largest problems that Casey faced when he took the Ministry was Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller, botanist, explorer, Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and by mid-1872 the eye of a storm of controversy. Few doubted his scientific skills but many challenged his ability as a landscape gardener. He believed that the Botanic Gardens were primarily intended for the scientific display of flora; but the public of Melbourne wanted gardens laid out in the English and North American fashion where promenades could be taken by placid lakes and sweeping lawns, beds of flowers and copses of trees. So critical was public opinion that in 1871 the Government had appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the Baron's management practices. It recommended that Mueller be released from the Botanic Gardens and, ostensibly to enable him to pursue his botanical research unimpeded, be given sole responsibility for the Government Herbarium. Further it was suggested that a landscape gardener take control of the Botanic Gardens and adjacent Government House Reserve and develop the grounds in accordance with contemporary public taste. However, by the time Casey was made Minister nothing further had been done and Mueller, still ensconced in the Botanic Gardens, was keeping the press agog with the extraordinary lengths he was prepared to take in order to ensure his survival. Casey decided to end it.
His first step was to ask Hodgkinson to draft a new landscape plan for the Botanic Gardens but, pleading overwork, the Assistant-Commissioner refused. He did, however, propose an administrative reorganisation of the grounds. Mueller was to be given control only of the 78 acres which made up the Botanic Gardens proper; the remaining 227 acres were to be placed in the hands of a ‘skilled landscape gardener’. Casey accepted this advice, extracts of which were tabled in the Lower House on 3 September 1872. Hodgkinson's memorandum, complete with map, and dated 14 August 1872 may be examined in full in Precis Book III.23 The adoption of the report provoked angry reactions from Mueller's supporters but to no avail; the plan stood.
The next step in Casey's solution to the controversy was to find a suitable landscape gardener. The Casey papers are a prime reference to that search for they contain the glowing testimonial of Melbourne wine and spirit merchant, Frederick Klemm, who recommended that Casey appoint one W.L. Homeyer to the job for he was “a highly educated man altho' he does not look it”!24 Here too is Hodgkinson's minute to Casey supporting Homeyer's application, the basis of that support being Homeyer's friendship in Germany with Alexander von Humboldt, his past association with the present director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Richard Schomburgk, and a small sketch of a garden design which Homeyer had submitted as an example of his landscaping ability.25 Coincidentally, Schomburgk visited Melbourne in October 1872 and hazily recollected Homeyer. It was enough to tip the scales and Homeyer was awarded the position of Head Gardener. He was put under the control of Alexander Wallis who, armed with a landscape design prepared by Joseph Sayce, set him to work in the Government House Reserve. As subsequent events showed, Homeyer proved a most unsuitable appointment. He transferred Sayce's plan to the ground incorrectly, uprooted hundreds of trees and shrubs unnecessarily and in every way showed himself to
be most inept. Public condemnation grew so vitriolic that in February 1873 Wallis dismissed him. Shortly after, Sayce was induced to take over. When, in May 1873, it was decided by Casey and Hodgkinson to employ the services of William Guilfoyle, Sayce was in turn unceremoniously dumped. Again the hand of the Assistant-Commissioner can be detected in this action; certainly Sayce thought so. Both his letter of dismissal and the subsequent written attack he made on Hodgkinson are filed in Memo's, Reports etc.26
The government decision to terminate Mueller's rule at the Botanic Gardens and to place him in charge of the Herbarium, has of late become something of a cause celebre, the subject of all manner of speculation and discussion.27 However, one letter contained in the Casey papers suggests that although Mueller was formally dismissed to make way for William Guilfoyle in late May 1873, the decision was taken much earlier. The placement of the letter in Precis Book III and the reference it contains indicate that it was drafted on approximately 9 August 1872, just five days after Hodgkinson composed his memorandum on the Gardens' management. Written to Chief Secretary Francis by Robert Ramsay, Minister without portfolio, it somehow found its way to Casey:
My dear Mr. Francis
I am sorry I cannot well get back to the Cabinet this Evng., the more so as Mackay who takes the same view as I do regarding Mueller's matter will also be absent. As a matter of policy it will undoubtedly be to the [benefit?] of the Govmt. to let the Dr. have say one year's undivided rule at the Botanical gardens giving him at the same time distinctly to understand that the gardens must be made more attractive than they have hitherto been. There are a very large number of German Colonists here and I may add they are among our best settlers who will regard any injury sustained by him in the light of an almost national insult and I know that there are a very large number of members in the House who feel very strongly indeed on the subject — Mueller was prepared to resign at once had the vote being [sic.] carried the other Eveng. as submitted on the Estimates.
I wd. be glad if you would postpone dealing with the matter till the next meeting.28
The reference to “the vote” was to Mueller's anger over what he considered was inadequate financial support by the government for the Botanic Gardens and to the fact that Wallis' name was to appear above his in the printed copies of the Budget. Interestingly, whether by accident or design, Mueller was dismissed from office just ten months later.
The very next letter in Precis Book 111 was written by Mueller to Casey on 11 July 1872 and, while drafted before Ramsay's proposal, takes on a certain poignancy when set by it:
I feel my hopes of life quite revived and feel confident again under you and your honourable colleagues administration for the future. If in my deep depression of mind, which well nigh merged on desperation, I have ever said or done anything that could give the least umbrage, I trust it will be over looked under the very exceptional circumstances in which I was placed …29
Casey was intent on revamping his Department and there is little doubt that Mueller was regarded by him, Hodgkinson and members of the Government as a source of inefficiency and unpopularity. Despite his undoubted talents, he had to go. Mueller's letter did no good. As well as demonstrating the sterner side of Casey and the cold calculation with which colonial politics were sometimes played, the various letters and memoranda referring to the Botanic Gardens also indicate that there was a good deal more to Mueller's fall than bureaucratic small-mindedness. In addition, they stress the role that Clement Hodgkinson played in the controversy, an influence that has hitherto been obscure. There was, however, one further sad irony in the business. Just twelve months after Mueller's exile to the Herbarium, Hodgkinson himself retired under a cloud. The O'Ferrall embezzlement scandal showed that inadequate guidance from senior Lands Department officials had enabled the crime to be carried out. As senior administrative officer, Hodgkinson bore much of the blame. When coupled with a prolonged bout of

Casey in the Land Court with Skene on his left and Hodgkinson on his right. (Source: Illustrated Australian news, 15 July 1873, p.105).

rheumatic fever, it left the Assistant-Commissioner little choice but to retire.
Evidence, however, of an even murkier aspect of being a Minister is contained in the papers. Almost certainly a man in Casey's position heard all kinds of whispers and innuendo. But what did he make of the following letter, undated, written in faint ink, and almost indecipherable?
Suggestion, Respectfully submitted Men, who to get the ‘[?] acting of Titles Bill’ passed were so unprincipled as to corrupt Legislators by heavy bribes, and then on oath, declare they knew nothing of the purpose of their subscription to the bribery fund of £2000, are scarcely the men on whose oath, or word of honor, the peoples lands are to be given away, without so much as an investigation of their alleged improvements, by officers superior to bribery. Although what improvements, except Agricultural improvements the Land Bill inferred, would be curious to know.
Wm [?] Mc[?]30
Above £2,000 is written the word ‘member’. Such a note, conjuring up shadowy images of an O'Ferrall or Hugh Glass, may well have amounted to nothing. Be that as it may, the fact of the letter's existence suggests tantalising avenues for research.
And so the Casey papers continue. Legal opinions on the use of common lands sit alongside the 1843 Will of P.C. Buckley, a Gippsland land holder who died in 1872; letters from squatters can be found together with directives to the police constable at Phillip Island to patrol Cape Woolomai; Schomburgk rubs shoulders with Homeyer, von Humboldt with bailiff Macpherson, surveyor with minister, collusion with sympathy, corruption with reform. In all, the Casey papers throw some light on a number of issues which have recently attracted the attention of researchers, enable us to form our own judgements, independent of journalistic filters and parliamentary bombast, of some of the work duties of a Minister of Lands and Agriculture, and constitute a small but important collection of nineteenth century land miscellania.
Casey lost the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture in August 1875 but, ever the politician, continued to take an independent line in representing his constituency. That oddly maverick quality eventually proved costly for in February 1880, arguing firmly against the provision of state aid to denominational schools in an electoral district that was predominantly Catholic, he lost his seat. Nonetheless, he remained the quintessential public man. Between the loss of the Lands Department portfolio and his appointment as a County Court judge in 1884, he held a number of prominent positions. In 1878, after representing Victoria at the International Exhibition in Paris, he was awarded a C.M.G., the Legion of Honor and the Italian Cross of Holly. In 1880 he served as executive vicepresident of the Exhibition in Melbourne. He wrote a legal treatise, was Chairman of the Melbourne Federal Bank, a casualty of the 1880s land boom, and served briefly as a Supreme Court judge. In 1900 he retired but continued to be involved in Melbourne's political and cultural life by holding salons at his home where the issues of the day were discussed over tea. He maintained his reputation as a courteous, debonaire man until age and ill-health took him at his residence in Acland Street, St. Kilda, on 5 April 1913. He survived his wife, Maria Theresa, by ten years.
The La Trobe Library collection of Casey's official letters, reports and memoranda cannot do full justice either to the man or to his particular endeavours in the Department of Lands and Agriculture — but they at least suggest something both of the texture of the times and of the incidents and problems with which he had to grapple. As importantly, they enable us to step, if only briefly, from the bustle and hubub of the Lands Department corridors into the Minister's private room — and therein lies the real value of “King” Casey's papers.
R. Wright


Casey spent the years 1849 to 1854 in the United States working as a gaol warder and as a clerk on a Mississippi river boat. For biographical information see: Age, 7 April 1913, p. 9; Argus, 7 April 1913, p. 12; John C. Oldmeadow, “Casey, James Joseph (1831–1913)” in D. Pike (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, 3, 1851–1890, A-C, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne (1968), pp. 365–6.


Department of Lands and Agriculture, Victoria, “Report of the Proceedings Taken Under the Provisions of the Land Act 1869”, Victorian Parliamentary Papers (hereafter VPR), 1874, 2, No. 22, p. 20.


For general background see: “Civil Service. Report of the Royal Commission appointed to Enquire into the State of the Public Service and Working of the Civil Service Act”, VPP, 1873, 2, No. 10; Department of Lands and Agriculture, pp. 18–21; “Crown Lands Department”, VPP, 1874, 3, No. 41.


Argus, 7 April 1913, p. 12.


Casey Papers, MS. 9575, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria (hereafter Casey Papers).


Sludge question. Valley of the River Leigh (undated), Preces memo's etc. (v.2), p. 2, Casey Papers.


“Sludge — Inverleigh and Shelford”, Victorian Legislative AssemblyVotes and Proceedings, 1872, I, C6; Argus, 25 October 1872, p. 7.


[?] to Casey, internal memorandum, 27 September 1872, Precis vol. 1, p. 19, Casey Papers.


Moore to Casey, internal memorandum, 27 May 1874, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 4, Casey Papers; here, as elsewhere in the text, the conversion factors of 1 mile = 1.609 kilometres and 1 acre = 0.4047 hectares apply.


Extract of correspondence with regard to the Reservation of Cape Otway State Forest, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 9; Copy of remarks by Reginald A.F. Murray, Mining Surveyor: Tracks to Cape Otway, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 11; Extract from Report of Mr. C.L. Stacey, 5 April 1873, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 18, Casey Papers.


Victorian Government Gazette, 25 April 1873, p. 683; 16 May 1873, p. 829.


Archer to Casey, internal memorandum, 21 July 1874, Answers to Enquiries, Session 1874, Folio 18; Archer to Casey, undated, Answers to Enquiries Session 1874, Folio 26, Casey Papers.


Macpherson to Hodgkinson, 28 June 1872, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 16, Casey Papers.


Hodgkinson to Casey, internal memorandum, 9 August 1872, Precis Book 111 (unpaginated), Casey Papers.


Skene to Casey, internal memorandum, 21 October 1872, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 13, Casey Papers; for other State Library material on surveying see: R. Hoddle Papers; MS. 9725, H.B. Moore Papers; MS. 8963, K.L. Chappell, ‘Early History of Surveying in Victoria’, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.


Variable according to topography, accessibility, etc.


Wallis to Casey, internal memoranda, 18 August and 27 August 1873, Memo's, Reports etc., Folios 2a and 2b; Wallis to Casey, internal memoranda, 28 July, 15 July, 11 August, 14 August 1874, Answers to Enquiries Session 1874, Folios 3, 7 and 21, Casey Papers; for a further account of Wallis' activities see: R. Wright, ‘ “Dispensed with”. A.R. Wallis, first Secretary for Agriculture in Victoria, 1872–1882&, Research Project Series No. 150, Department of Agriculture, Melbourne (1982).


Wallis to Casey, internal memorandum, 14 August 1874, Answers to Enquiries Session 1874, Folio 7, Casey Papers.


‘Memo re. to Assistant Surveyr Genrls appointment’, undated, Memo's, Reports etc., Folio 4, Casey Papers.


The large but as yet unsorted collection of Henry Byron Moore Papers is at MS. 9725, La Trobe Collection, Stale Library of Victoria.


Summary of Department of Lands and Survey personnel. Precis Book III, Casey Papers.


Biers to Hodgkinson, internal memorandum, 8 August 1872; Hodgkinson to Casey, internal memorandum, 7 May 1873, Precis book III, Casey Papers.


Department of Lands and Agriculture, pp. 20–1.


Hodgkinson to Casey, internal memorandum, 14 August 1872, Precis Book III, Casey Papers.


Klemm to Casey, 17 October 1872, Precis Book III Casey Papers.


Hodgkinson to Casey, undated internal memorandum. Precis Book III, Casey Papers.


Morrah to Sayce, 26 April and 12 June 1873, annotated copy of Sayce's letter published in Argus, 16 July 1873, Memo's, Reports etc. Folio 3, Casey Papers.


See for example E. Kynaston, A Man on Edge. A life of Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, Allen Lane, Ringwood (1981), pp. 280–322; R.T.M. Pescott, The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. A History from 1845 to 1970, Oxford University Press, Melbourne (1982), pp. 77–97.


Ramsay to Francis, [9 August 1872?], Precis Book III, Casey Papers.


Mueller to Casey, 11 July 1872, Precis Book III, Casey Papers.


Wm[?] Mc[?], undated, Precis Book III, Casey Papers.