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Belstead, Charles Torrens (1832–1894)

by Gordon Rimmer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Charles Torrens Belstead (1832-1894), public servant, was born in England, son of Captain Henry Belstead (1794?-1859) of the 85th Regiment. The Belsteads with their five children reached Hobart Town in the Platina on 6 September 1845 en route for Norfolk Island where Captain Belstead was superintendent of convicts until 1848 when he returned to Van Diemen's Land as deputy-police clerk at Richmond and then registrar of the Court of Requests at Hobart.

Charles was appointed turnkey and overseer of convicts on Norfolk Island in March 1848 and became assistant superintendent in 1852. After Norfolk Island prisoners were transferred to Tasmania in 1854-56, he became chief clerk in the Prisoners' Barracks in Hobart in 1857. On 1 January 1859 he transferred to the Comptroller-General's Office, created in 1842 and responsible for the administration of Norfolk Island from 1844, then under the direction of William Nairn. In September 1868 when Nairn went on sick leave Belstead became acting comptroller-general. This office, with a salary of £800, was abolished after Nairn's death and in 1869-77 Belstead served as governor's secretary for the penal establishment at a salary of £400. In 1872-94 he was agent for imperial expenditure on the convict account in the colony at the same salary. He was thus the last British representative of the Convict Department in Tasmania.

The transfer of imperial assets to colonial control began before Belstead left Norfolk Island. In 1855 buildings not required by the Imperial Convict Department or military forces were handed over to the colonial government and surplus stores were transferred from outlying stations to Port Arthur. The net cost to the British government in 1860 for the maintenance of convict establishments at the Prisoners' Barracks, the Cascades Factory and Port Arthur amounted to £39,198, including £1224 for the Comptroller-General's Office with two clerks and a messenger. In 1865 the Houses of Correction for males at New Town and at Hobart for females were transferred to the colonial government. Proposals were submitted in 1869 to the British government for the handing over of Port Arthur and these became effective in 1871. The colonial government took over the remaining probation stations and the Port Arthur establishment, and bought the stores valued at £9362. The British government agreed to pay the colony on a per capita basis the cost of maintaining prisoners, paupers, lunatics and hospital patients chargeable to imperial funds. In addition the British government continued to contribute £6000 a year for twelve years to the cost of colonial police and gaols. Finally, instead of contributing to the cost of extra accommodation required in Hobart for the imperial inmates transferred from Port Arthur, the British government agreed to hand over the barracks and other military installations at Hobart and Launceston after the withdrawal of imperial troops in 1870. In 1877 the Port Arthur establishment was evacuated. Throughout these changes Belstead received all claims from colonial prisons, pauper and lunatic establishments, and transmitted them to the director of convict prisons in the United Kingdom, who in turn authorized reimbursement to the Tasmanian agent-general in London. Belstead was also responsible for the payment of pensions to former imperial service officers living in Tasmania.

In 1880 the remaining military installations held in trust by the British government in Hobart, Launceston and Richmond were handed over to the colonial government. Belstead died on 25 June 1894. In 1868 at St David's Cathedral, Hobart, he had married Ada, daughter of William Sorell; they had two children.

His brother Francis (1835-1898), who had been secretary of mines, was appointed temporary agent for imperial expenditure. Despite Premier Sir Edward Braddon's recommendation that the office be continued at a lower salary of £300 because payments had diminished to about £20,000 a year, it was eventually decided that imperial convict charges should be commuted; the colonial government agreed to pay pensions on behalf of the imperial government from 1895 in return for a 3 per cent commission. The office of agent for imperial expenditure was then closed.

Select Bibliography

  • Port Arthur, Dispatches and papers, Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1871, 2 (32)
  • Comptroller-General, annual reports 1858-62, CON II (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Tasmanian papers, 1154-55 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Ac no 2396 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 50/24, 29 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • GO 25/22-24 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Gordon Rimmer, 'Belstead, Charles Torrens (1832–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/belstead-charles-torrens-2971/text4329, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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