Trinity College was founded by Bishop Perry, was secured by several Acts of Parliament, and is governed by a written constitution.
Over its history, Trinity College has been subject to a number of different governing documents and has had a variety of forms of governance structure.
On 26 May 1853 a committee convened by Bishop Charles Perry resolved that 'a Collegiate Institution in connection with a Grammar School should be established in this city, with a view to affiliating the former with the Melbourne University'. The committee adopted a constitution in July 1853, under which the first Council was established. The first part of the committee's plan, the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, opened in 1858.
Funds and government support being short, it was not until 6 June 1865, when Bishop Perry convened another meeting of the Council and other interested persons, that a motion was passed that 'steps should be taken for the establishment of a Church of England College in connection with the University of which a theological institution shall form a part'. A committee was duly elected under the chairmanship of Sir William Stawell on 14 September 1865.
Although they lacked suficient funds to complete it, construction of the first building (now known as the Leeper Building) began in October 1869, and the foundation stone was laid with great ceremony, on 2 February 1870. Further funds would not be forthcoming until the question of the College's governance was resolved. On 31 May 1870, the Committee resolved that 'it is of great importance for the success of Trinity College that it should, both in its organisation and its government, be independent of any particular school or schools in the Colony'.
A member of the Committee, Professor William Wilson, began drafting a constitution. On 31 October 1870, the Committee adopted a final draft. This was submitted to a meeting of subscribers on 6 December and passed without amendment. The document was sent to the meeting of the Church Assembly that evening and, on a motion put by the Revd RB Dickinson, it was resolved that 'the Statutes of Trinity College and the arrangements for the government of the College … be approved by the Assembly.'
The first College Council, consisting of the five trustees proposed for a promised Crown Grant of the land, and representatives of the Subscribers and Members of the College who had been elected at a meeting on 3 October, met on 11 October 1871. With the Grant formally issued on 13 November, and its trustees duly gazetted, the College was now legally constituted. This first Constitution remained in force, largely unaltered, until after the retirement of the first Warden, Alexander Leeper in 1917. The Constitution was revised in 1918, expanding the membership of Council from 15 to 24, and making it more representative. The first Committees were also established to assist the Warden with Finance, Education, and the Women's Hostel, soon to become Janet Clarke Hall.
The first Trinity College Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament in 1927, transferring the Crown Grant from the trustees individually to the Trinity College (Melbourne) Trusts Corporation, a private trust company limited by guarantee, that had been established in 1924 in order to better manage benefactions. This removed direct control from the trustees who were not also diocesan bishops (and thus on the Council ex-officio), and this was rectified by changes to the Regulations in 1928 that expanded the Council yet again, this time to 30, including a representative from JCH. The College however, was still not a separately incorporated body run, as envisaged in Professor Wilson's original statutes, by a Provost and Fellows.
Promoted strongly by the second Warden, John Behan, a set of new draft statutes, to be proposed in a new Bill, was approved by Council on 6 December 1933. This faced significant opposition however and was not followed through. It was not until 1948, under Ron Cowan's wardenship, that new Regulations were enacted that reduced the Council to 21 members. The second Trinity College Act (1957) granted the College power to mortgage or otherwise deal with its land, and this allowed the College to borrow for new buildings but also the possibility of the separation from Janet Clarke Hall, which occurred in 1961.
In 1979, with the passing of the third Trinity College Act, a new Constitution was formulated and appended to the Act as a schedule. This dissolved the Trinity College (Melbourne) Trusts Corporation, and vested ownership of the Crown Grant lands in a newly created and incorporated Trinity College, which 'shall be a body corporate and politic and shall have perpetual succession'. Membership of Council was now set at 25 persons.
After several significant changes to the operation of the College, including the introduction of women to residence (1974), the creation of the College's philanthropic arm known as the Trinity College Foundation (1983), and the establishment of Trinity College Foundation Studies (TCFS) in 1989, a new constitution was adopted in 1992. The governance structure was substantially modified to include a new Board of Management appointed by the Council, with the Council remaining as a representative body of review and consultation.
The Constitution was revised again in 2005 to change the Board of Management simply to Board, and in 2009 when the number of Fellows was increased from 20 to 30, the various representative constituencies brought in line with current practice, the role and make up of the Board was modernised, and the place of various College officers whose portfolios had changed since 1995 was reviewed.
The Constitution was further revised in May 2019. This revision recognised the change in the representative constituencies following a period of growth within the College and increased the number of Academic or Teaching Fellows to 50, reflecting the intent to involve a greater number of people in the life of the College. A copy of the current Constitution may be downloaded below.