The history of legal restrictions imposed upon Victorian departmental public servants dates from the introduction of responsible government in 1856. This article examines the evolution of Victorian public service regulations by paying particular attention to the historical influence of the master and servant legacy. Viewed through this lens, it becomes apparent that the ‘public servant’ was subject to political coercion and persistent accusations of ineptitude by successive governments down to World War I, being labelled as self-interested and seditious. In response, public servants, with the aid of the public service union, collectively opposed the limited parameters of their political status. By daring to challenge the rationale underpinning political rights regulations, public servants came into direct conflict with the political executive and a unique public service work culture emerged.