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Archives In Brief 22 - Occupation of Crown Land prior to 1856

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Provides a brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to the occupation of Crown lands in the period prior to 1856.

Categories of land records prior to 1856


The alienation of Crown Lands, leading to the granting of freehold title - these holdings were referred to as Land Grants. See also Archives in Brief 23 and Short Guide 8.


The occupation of Crown Land, often on an annual basis, where freehold title was NOT granted - these holdings were later referred to as tenure.

Historical Background

By a Government order on 5 September 1826 Governor Darling created an area known as the 'limits of location'. Settlers were only allowed to take up land within this area. A further Government order on 14 October 1829 increased this area of approved settlement to include an area called the Nineteen Counties.

From the earliest days of the Colony there was some unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands both within and outside the 'limits of location' and outside the Nineteen Counties. Various acts and regulations were in operation from as early as 1824 in an attempt to curb this type of settlement, which we often refer to as squatting. As a result of these legislative measures, such authorised occupations as grazing leases and depasturing licences were introduced to regularise settlement on Crown Land.

In 1833 the Encroachment Act authorised the Government to appoint 13 Commissioners of Crown Lands in an attempt to prevent the extensive unauthorised occupation of Crown Land. Occupation of Crown Land continued to spread outside the nineteen counties. In 1836 the Legislative Council passed the first Act to legalise and regulate squatting, giving squatters grazing rights beyond the Nineteen Counties for £10 per year.

In 1847 the colony was divided into three categories - Settled, Intermediate and Unsettled. The Settled area included the nineteen counties and leases were granted for one year, rental estimated according to livestock carrying capacity. In the Intermediate area leases were for eight years. Leases were granted for fourteen years in the Unsettled area.

The Robertson Land Acts introduced a new system of land occupation in 1861. All Crown Land, including that held on pastoral lease, was open to free selection without survey (conditional purchase). The tenure of pastoral leases was reduced. These Acts determined the land system of New South Wales until 1884.

Online indexes

Index to Depasturing Licences, 1837-46, 1851
This index includes people who leased Crown land beyond the nineteen counties.

Index to Squatters and Graziers, 1837-49
This index was compiled by Kaye Vernon and Billie Jacobsen. It is is an index to the Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands.

Within the Settled Districts

Colonial Secretary

NRS 906, Special bundles
* Miscellaneous Tickets of Occupation, 1826 [4/1917.10]
* Returns of applications for Crown lands to be held on Grazing Leases, 1826-31 [4/7005]
Reels 1491, 3118
* Returns of applications to rent Crown Lands within the boundaries under Government notice No. 22 of 1831, 1831-41 [4/7000A-02C]
Reels 1488-1490, 3118-3120
* Returns of applications to rent Crown Lands within the boundaries under Government notice of 24 Aug 1841, 1842-47 [4/7003A-04C]
Reels 1491, 3120-3121

Outside the Settled Districts

As well as the records listed below researchers should also consult the correspondence of the various Commissioners of Crown Lands, listed in Archives Investigator, under the headings Colonial Secretary, Commissioners of Crown Lands, Lands, Surveyor General and Treasury.

Colonial Secretary

NRS 906, Special bundles
Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands, 1837-49, [X811-18], Reels 2748-2749, [4/10803.1], [4/10803.2], [4/10803.3], [4/10803.4]
The itineraries and returns are listed in detail in Archives in Brief 60. There is also an online index.


NRS 14363, Registers of depasturing licenses, 1837-46, 1851 [4/91-108, 4/112] *ARK
Reels 5067-5081

NRS 14364, Annual returns of depasturing licenses, 1850-54 [X721-24] Reels 3121-3123

Commissioner of Crown Lands - Portland Bay

NRS 1391, Itineraries of Commissioner Foster Fyans, 1844, Jan-Jun 1846; and Returns of population and livestock, Jan 1844-Jan 1846 [X690-91], Reel 2756
The returns of population and livestock include names of station, owner and superintendent; extent and area of run.

Additional sources

Surveyor General

NRS 13736, Letters received from Surveyors, 1822-55 [2/1509-96]
Reels 3051-3098
An index to this series is available online

NRS 13859, Crown plans, 1792-1886
An index to this series is available online

NRS 13886, Sketch books, 1828-90 [X751-78]
Reels 2778-2782

NRS 13889, Field books, 1794-1861
Search the online Index to Surveyors' Field Books, 1794-1860

Further information

Further information relating to land may be found by consulting the Archives Investigator under the following headings:

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator, as well as the interim Guide to Records Relating to the Occupation of Crown Lands, which is available in the reading room. A collection of indexes relating to land records is also available.

Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

*ARK signifies that a copy of the record or guide is part of the Archives Resources Kit and is held by the community access points.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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