In 1854 Governor Sir Charles Hotham approved an Act to establish a Volunteer Corps not exceeding 2000, with officers appointed by the Governor. The first unit formed was the Melbourne Volunteer Rifle Regiment. Soon there were the Richmond Rifles, The Emerald Hill Rifles, the East Collingwood Rifles and the Fitzroy Rifles, commanded by Judge Redmond Barry. Cavalry and artillery units quickly followed. By 1860, the Act had been amended to allow a Volunteer force of 10,000.
The volunteer system was replaced with a permanent (paid, full-time soldiers) and militia (paid, part-time soldiers) system in 1884. Volunteer artillery units were disbanded and re-raised as two brigades of garrison artillery, one based at Geelong and the other at Portland. In 1895 they were re-organised again and the Geelong, Port Fairy, Warnambool and Portland batteries became part of the Western District Garrison artillery.
In March 1901, the Commonwealth Government assumed responsibility for defence matters and the colonial armies were merged to form the Commonwealth Military Forces. The Commonwealth Miliatary Force comprised Citizens Forces and Permanent Forces.