Although control of Lord Howe Island was first vested in the British Crown, and later in the Parliament of New South Wales, the earliest settlers appear to have been too distant to warrant much attention from the authorities.
The first resident government official, Captain Armstrong, arrived in 1878 after the Island had been proclaimed a Forest Reserve. Captain Armstrong was a retired sailor of the Royal Navy, and held many posts including Forest Ranger, Resident Magistrate, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Postmaster and Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Alas, Captain Armstrong also came into conflict with a section of the Island community. Local complaints were soon heard on the mainland, and in April 1882 the Hon J Bowie Wilson was sent to investigate the situation. He recommended that Armstrong be removed from the Island, though the Captain was subsequently vindicated by two Select Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry.
In the years following Armstrong’s departure, Island affairs were supervised by a series of visiting magistrates. These men usually visited the Island annually unless there was some particularly urgent matter that required their attention, in which case they came as required. Government House was built about 1890 as a residence for these visiting officials.
In 1912 a Board of Control was set up in Sydney to take control of the affairs of the Island. A three man local committee was established to advise the Board on all matters connected with the Island, and to carry out policy decisions arising from the Board’s deliberations.
This delicate balance between mainland and Island interests was maintained until August 1940, when the Board took the unprecedented step of appointing a Superintendent Mr Kennett the first resident administrative official since Captain Armstrong’s departure in 1882. Since 1940 a succession of administrators or managers have been appointed to the position.
Today the Lord Howe Island Board consists of four elected Islanders and three government appointees. The Board is responsible for all local government functions on the Island, including electricity generation, aerodrome operation, maintenance of public roads, buildings and tourist facilities, and supervision of the Island’s two main industries - tourism and palm production. In 1982, with World Heritage Listing the responsibility for the environment became a major role of the Board. To carry out these functions, the Board employs a permanent staff of around 22 people.