VICTORIA by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting.
Whereas, by an Act of Parliament passed on the ninth day of July One thousand nine hundred, in the Sixty fourth year of Our reign, intituled “An Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia,” it is enacted that “it shall be lawful for the Queen,” with the advice of the Privy Council, to declare by Proclamation that, on and after a day therein appointed, not being later than one year after this passing of this Act, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto, of Western Australia, shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia. But the Queen may, at any time after Proclamation, appoint a Governor General for the Commonwealth:”
And whereas We did on the seventeenth day of September One thousand nine hundred, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council declare by proclamation that, on and after the first day of January One thousand nine hundred and one, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania and also Western Australia, should be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia: And whereas by the said recited Act certain powers, functions, and authorities were declared to be vested in the Governor General: And whereas We are desirous of making effectual and permanent provision for the office of Governor General and Commander in chief in and over Our said Commonwealth of Australia, without making new Letters Patent on each demise of the said office Now know ye that We have thought fit to constitute, order, and declare, and do by these presents constitute order, and declare, that there shall be a Governor General and Commander in Chief (hereinafter called the Governor General) in and over Our Commonwealth of Australia (hereinafter called Our said Commonwealth), and that the person who shall fill the said office of Governor General shall be from time to time appointed by Commission under Our Sign Manual and Signet. And we do hereby authorize and command Our said Governor General to do and execute, in due manner, all things that shall belong to his said command, and to the trust We have reposed in him, according to the several powers and authorities granted or appointed him by virtue of “The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900,” and of these present Letters Patent and of such Commission as may be issued to him under Our Sign Manual and Signet, and according to such Instructions as may from time to time be given to him under Our Sign Manual and Signet, or by Our Order in Our Privy Council, or by Us through one of Our Principal Secretaries of State, and to such laws as shall hereafter be in force in Our said Commonwealth.
II. There shall be a Great Seal of and for Our said Commonwealth which Our said Governor General shall keep and use for sealing all things whatsoever that shall pass the said Great Seal. Provided that until a Great Seal shall be provided the Private Seal of Our said Governor General may be used as the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Australia.
III. The Governor General may constitute and appoint, in Our name and on Our behalf, all such Judges, Commissioners, Justices of the Peace, and other necessary officers and Ministers of Our said Commonwealth, as may be lawfully constituted or appointed by Us.
IV. The Governor General, so far as We Ourselves lawfully may, upon sufficient cause to him appearing, may remove from his office, or suspend from the exercise of the same, any person exercising any office of Our said Commonwealth, under or by virtue of any ---- Commission or Warrant granted, or which may be granted, by Us in Our name or under Our authority.
V. The Governor General may on Our behalf exercise all powers under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900, or otherwise in respect of the summoning, proroguing, or dissolving the Parliament of Our said Commonwealth.
VI. And whereas by “The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900,” it is amongst other things enacted, that we may authorise the Governor General to appoint any person or persons, jointly or severally, to be his Deputy or Deputies within any part of Our Commonwealth, and in that capacity to exercise, during the pleasure of the Governor General such powers, and functions of the said Governor General as he thinks fit to assign to such Deputy or Deputies, subject to any limitations expressed or directions given by Us: Now We do hereby authorise and empower Our said Governor General subject to such limitations and directions as aforesaid, to appoint any person or persons, jointly or severally, to be his Deputy or Deputies within any part of Our said Commonwealth of Australia, and in that capacity to exercise, during his pleasure, such of his powers and functions, as he may deem it necessary or expedient to assign to him or them: Provided always, that the appointment of such a Deputy or Deputies shall not affect the exercise by the Governor General himself of any power or function.
VII. And We do hereby declare Our pleasure to be that, in the event of the death, incapacity, removal, or absence of Our said Governor General out of Our said Commonwealth, all and every the powers and authorities herein granted to him shall until Our further pleasure is signified therein, be vested in such person as may be appointed by Us under Our Sign Manual and Signet to be Our Lieutenant Governor of Our said Commonwealth: or if there shall be no such Lieutenant Governor in Our said Commonwealth, then in such person or persons as may be appointed by Us under Our Sign Manual and Signet to administer the Government of the same. No such powers or authorities shall vest in such Lieutenant Governor, or such other person or persons, until he or they shall have taken the oaths appointed to be taken by the Governor General of Our said Commonwealth, and in the manner provided by the Instructions accompanying these Our Letters Patent.
VIII. And We do hereby require and command all Our Officers and Ministers, Civil and Military, and all other the inhabitants of Our said Commonwealth to be obedient, aiding, and assisting unto Our said Governor General, or, in the event of his death, incapacity, or absence, to such person or persons as may, from time to time, under the provisions of these Our Letters Patent, administer the Government of Our said Commonwealth.
IX. And We do hereby reserve to Ourselves Our heirs and successors, full power and authority from time to time to revoke, alter, or amend these Our Letters Patent as to Us or them shall seem meet.
X. And We do further direct and enjoin that these Our Letters Patent shall be read and proclaimed at such place or places as Our said Governor General shall think fit within Our said Commonwealth of Australia.
In witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent Witness Ourself at Westminster the twenty ninth day of October in the sixty fourth year of Our reign.
By Warrant under the Queen’s Sign Manual
About this record
This document signed by Queen Victoria on 29 October 1900 established the office of the governor-general of Australia. Known as the 'Letters Patent', it comprises two large pages of parchment measuring 60 centimetres x 58 centimetres with an elaborately decorated border that includes the royal coat of arms and figures representing justice, defence, agriculture and science and mercy. Two supporting angels also appear in the border. A large heading says 'Victoria, By the Grace of God'. Attached by a cord to the second page is the Queen's royal seal inside a round black shellacked metal case.
- The Letters Patent, seen here, established one of the most important offices in the new nation of Australia, that of the monarch's representative, the governor-general. The signing of the Letters Patent by the Queen legally established this office. The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, passed by the British Parliament, the royal assent to that Act, the Royal Instructions to the Governor-General, and the Letters Patent are the key documents creating the Commonwealth of Australia.
- While the wording of the Letters Patent appears to grant considerable authority to the governor-general, including that he or she is commander-in-chief of Australia's military forces, in practice the office has largely been symbolic. In Australia, as in the United Kingdom, royal powers to appoint judges and ministers of state and to summon, prorogue or dissolve the federal parliament are exercised only under the advice of the ministers of the government in office at the time. An exception in Australia was the governor-general's dismissal of the government in 1975.
- Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch as the head of state. All bills passed by Australia's federal parliament require royal assent to become law. This is usually granted by the governor-general as the monarch's representative in Australia. Until the diplomatic post of British High Commissioner was established in 1936, the governor-general also acted as the de facto representative of the British Government in Australia.
- Reflecting centuries of royal authority, the language of this document is highly formal and legalistic. It details the powers of the governor-general set out under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. As well, the Letters Patent outline the procedure for replacing the governor-general in the event of death, incapacity, removal or absence.
- This document was made of high-quality durable materials, reflecting its importance as a legal instrument delegating some of the Queen's powers to her representative in the new nation. The document is housed in a wooden box lined with royal purple velvet, and with a red leather cover. In the centre of the lid is the royal coat of arms, embossed in gold. The document bears the name Muir Mackenzie, Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's office in the United Kingdom.
- The signing of this document by Queen Victoria on 29 October 1900 came after she had already appointed Australia’s first governor-general on 14 July 1900. He was the Scottish-born seventh Earl of Hopetoun, John Adrian Louis Hope (1860–1908). Known as Lord Hopetoun, he was sworn in as Governor-General at the Commonwealth of Australia inauguration ceremony in Centennial Park in Sydney on 1 January 1901, when the Letters Patent were read out.