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Archives In Brief 60 - Commissioners of Crown Lands

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A brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to the main records of the Commissioners of Crown lands and key related series.

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.

Commissioners of Crown lands were first appointed under the provisions of Act 7 Will. IV no.4 (1836). The Commissioners of Crown Lands were the sole officials of Government in areas outside the settled districts and as such they had magisterial authority.

The Commissioners were responsible for preventing Crown Land being occupied without a licence, collecting the proceeds of the assessment on stock, and ensuring that law and order were maintained throughout their districts. They were also responsible for issuing passports for convict travel and for 'arranging the transfer of convicts from their own districts to places elsewhere; for the reservation of sites for public purposes; for the granting of hawkers' licences; and for the compilation of a great variety of returns and reports.'  [1] 

Under the 1836 Act licences were issued to depasture sheep and cattle on unoccupied Crown lands and Commissioners policed these regulations.

Legislation in 1839 (2 Vic. no.27) established a Border Police under the control of the various Commissioners.

Orders in Council of 1847, issued under the authority of the Imperial Act 9 and 10 Vic. c.104 (1847), provided for leases to be issued for periods up to fourteen years in place of the annual licences. In 1849 a Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands was appointed and local Commissioners were made directly responsible to the Chief Commissioner instead of the Colonial Secretary as was originally the case. The office of the Chief Commissioner was transferred to the Department of Lands in 1856 and the Crown Lands Occupation Act 1861 repealed the Orders in Council of 1847 in relation to the lease and alienation of Crown lands in the pasture districts.

In 1870 the office of the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands lapsed and the department became known as the Occupation Branch of the Lands Department. Control of the local Crown Lands Commissioners was transferred to the Department of Mines in 1878 and the local Crown Land Commissioners were abolished about 1880. Records of the Occupation of Lands Branch of the Department of Mines were destroyed in the Garden Palace Fire on 22 September 1882.

Online indexes

Index to Squatters and Graziers, 1837-49
This index was compiled by Kaye Vernon and Billie Jacobsen. It is an index to the Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands. The itineraries and returns are listed in more detail in this Archives in Brief under the heading Related Series.

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

A select list of sources

Chief Commissioner

NRS 1351, Letters received from the Colonial Secretary, 1854-55

NRS 1352, Letters received from Commissioners, 1850-62

NRS 1353, Letters received from individuals, 1854-55

NRS 1356, Papers re pre-emptive purchases, 1856-57
Gives names of district and lessee; name and size of run; amount of purchase money and of survey fee; and date of payment.

NRS 1357, Registers of accepted tenders for runs, 1848-57
Reel 1441
These volumes include information as to lessee, district, station and estimated capabilities of station (cattle and sheep).

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Armidale (New England)

NRS 1358, Copies of letters sent, 1844-55
Reel 2677
This series includes letters about prisoners, land and timber; letters to Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, Colonial Treasurer and other public officials.

NRS 1360, Description of runs, c.1851
Reel 3127

NRS 1361, Returns of population and livestock, 1845-56, 1848-56
Reels 2677, 1483
The returns show names of station and of licensee; estimated area by acres; number of horses, cows and sheep; and amount of assessment based on that number.

NRS 1362, Register of timber licences, 1850-55
Reel 1483
This series shows name of licensee; nature of wood to be cut; amount of fee; date of forwarding fee to the Treasury and of delivering the licence; and acknowledgment of receipt of such licence.

NRS 1363, Returns of licensed occupants, 1851-56
Reel 1483

NRS 1364, Register of licensed runs, 1857-66
Reel 1482

NRS 1365, Register of licensed runs (McLeay District), 1857
Reel 1482

NRS 1368, Lists of runs in New England and McLeay Districts, 1866
Reel 1482

NRS 1370, Register of land sales held at Armidale Police Office, 1850-56
Reel 1481

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Darling Downs

NRS 1373, Copies of letters sent, 1843-48 [ML A1764-2]

NRS 1374, Returns of persons occupying Crown lands and description of runs, 1845-52 [ML A1764-1]

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Gippsland

NRS 1375, Lists of runs assessed, 1843-62
Reel 3127
These comprise detailed lists of stock on various stations in the district of Gippsland, which was beyond the limits of location.

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Gwydir

NRS 1376, Letters received, 1843-71

NRS 1377, Copies of letters sent to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, 1849-56
Reels 3123-3124
These letters include requests for information and assistance; and reports on Aboriginal people and the goldfields.

NRS 1378, Copies of letters sent to individuals and public officers, 1853-68
Reel 3124

NRS 1381, Descriptions of runs, 1843-69
Reel 3123
The descriptions were submitted in support of tenders for runs. They give name and address of tenderer; name of run; acreage; estimated grazing capabilities; and a brief description of its boundaries.

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Lachlan District

NRS 1382, Copies of letters sent, Jun 1864-Dec 1866
The letters concern the appraisement of runs, disputes over boundaries between runs, and the acceptance of tenders for runs.

NRS 1383, Descriptions of runs, c.1869-79
The descriptions were submitted in support of tenders of runs. They give name of lessee, estimated area of the run and detailed description of its boundaries. Changes of ownership of the runs are also shown and there are notations in the volumes up to 1884.

Commissioner of Crown Lands — Liverpool Plains (Tamworth)

NRS 1384, Letters received, 1843-47

NRS 1385, Copies of letters sent, 1846-69
Reels 3125-3127

NRS 1386, Returns of population and livestock, 1845-57
Reel 1483
The returns show names of station, owner and superintendent; extent and area of run; how watered; number of free and bonded persons on run; number of horses, cows and sheep; and amount of assessment.

NRS 1387, Alphabetical lists of individuals recommended as fit and proper persons to depasture stock upon stations in the district, 1845-48
Reel 1483

NRS 1388, Returns of licensed occupiers of Crown lands, 1847-51
Reel 1483

NRS 1389, List of parties recommended as fit and proper persons to cut and saw yellow woods in the district during the year ended 30 June 1848
Reel 1483
This list shows name of person recommended, whether free or not, and location of the wood.

Commissioner of Crown Lands — McLeay River

(For later records see Armidale — New England)

NRS 1390, Copies of letters sent, 5 Sep 1842-14 Apr 1848
Reel 2500

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
Reel 2756
The returns of population and livestock include names of station, owner and superintendent; extent and area of run.

Related series

Colonial Secretary

NRS 906, Special Bundles
* Miscellaneous returns and tickets of occupation, 1826 [4/1917.10]
* Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands, 1837-49 [X811-18]
Reels 2748-2749
Information recorded includes: name of each station visited; licensees; superintendents; number of residents; nature of buildings on each station; number of acres in cultivation; and stock (cattle, horses and sheep).

* Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands, John James Allman, Wellington 20 Jul-3 Aug 1840 [4/10803.1]

* Itineraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands, John Lambie, Monaroo 31 Aug 1843-26 Apr 1844 [4/10803.2]

* Itinteraries and returns of Commissioners of Crown Lands, Henry Fysche Gisborne, Port Phillip:

30 Aug-26 Dec 1839 [4/10803.3]

28 Jan-18 Feb 1840 [4/10803.4]
The itineraries and returns are indexed online.


William Colburn Mayne, 15 Dec 1846 - 17 Apr 1847, 9 Sep 1847 - 8 Sep 1848
[X817], Reel 2748


Graham D Hunter, 8-23 Aug 1839, 6 Dec 1839 - 14 Jan 1840, 1 Mar - 20 Nov 1843, 22 May - 6 Jun 1844, 16 Oct 1845 - 7 Jan 1846, 10 Jul - 6 Nov 1847 [X814], Reel 2748

Clarence River

Oliver Fry, 7 Jan 1844 - 14 Nov 1845 [X813], Reel 2748

Darling Downs

Christopher Rolleston, 10-24 Nov 1843, 24 May - 18 Jun 1844, 2 Jan - 25 Feb 1845, 8 14 Apr 1846, 1 Jan - 26 Apr 1847, 10 Apr - 19 May 1848, 16 Oct - 9 Nov 1848 [X817], Reel 2748


Charles James Tyers, 29 Jan 1844 - 31 Dec 1845 (duplicates) [X818], Reel 2749


Edgar Beckham, 27 Nov - 16 Dec 1841, 17 Apr 1843 - 10 Jan 1846, 10 Apr 1847 - 20 Feb 1849
[X811] Reel 2748
Henry Cosby, 22 Sep - 13 Oct 1839, 1 Jan - 26 Feb 1840. Half yearly return of population and livestock in the Lachlan district from 1 Jan 1840 [X813], Reel 2748

Liverpool Plains

Roderick Mitchell, 5 Apr - 6 May 1844 [X817], Reel 2748

McLeay River

Robert George Massie. Inclusive dates not noted. Itineraries dated 10 Jul 1844, 4 Feb 1845, 14 Feb 1846, 30 Mar 1847 [X816], Reel 2748


John Lambie, 29 Jul 1839 - 24 Nov 1840 [X815], Reel 2748
31 Aug 1843 - 26 Apr 1844 [4/10803.2]
3 Jun 1845 - 29 Feb 1848 and Return of stations in Monaroo district, Mar 1848 [X815], Reel 2748

Moreton Bay

Stephen Simpson, 7 May - 17 Jun 1844, 8 Dec 1844 - 1 Mar 1845, 13 Dec 1848 - 2 Mar 1849
[X818], Reel 2749


Henry Bingham, 10 Jul - Nov 1839, Aug 1843, Jul 1844, Mar - Nov 1845, Apr - Jun 1847 [X812], Reel 2748
Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt, 10 24 Jun 1837 [X818], SR Reel 2749


Henry Wilson Hutchinson Smythe, 25 Sep 1843 - 3 Apr 1846 [X818], Reel 2749

New England

George James MacDonald, 16 Jul - 20 Sep 1839, 1 Jan 1840 - 30 Apr 1841, 1 Jan 1844 - 31 Dec 1845 [X816], Reel 2748

Port Macquarie

Henry Oakes, 7-28 Mar 1837, 13 Oct - 2 Nov 1837, 16 Jul - 19 Aug 1839, 14 Feb - 24 Sep 1840, 1 Jan - 30 May 1841
[X817], Reel 2748

Port Phillip

Henry Fysche Gisborne, 30 Aug - 26 Dec 1839
[4/10803.3] 11-27 Jan 1840 [X814], Reel 2748 28 Jan - 18 Feb 1840 [4/10803.4]

Portland Bay

Foster Fyans, 1 Jan - 31 Dec 1842, 1 Jul - 31 Dec 1845. Half yearly returns of population and livestock from 1 Jul 1842 and 1 Jul 1845 [X814], Reel 2748
See also NRS 1391, Fyans' Itineraries 1844, Jan - Jun 1846; and Returns of population and livestock, Jan 1844 - Jan 1846, [X690-91], Reel 2756.


Lawrence Vance Dulhunty, 17-30 Sep 1839 [X813], Reel 2748
William Colburn Mayne, 15 Dec 1846 - 17 Apr 1847, 9 Sep 1847 - 8 Sep 1848 [X817], Reel 2748
William Henry Wright, 28 Aug - 13 Nov 1843, 10 Apr 1844 - 26 Jan 1846 [X818] Reel 2749
John James Allman, 20 Jul - 3 Aug 1840 [4/10803.1]

Western Port (Victoria)

Frederick Armand Powlett, 1 Feb - 31 Jul 1842, 1 Jan 1844 - 28 Feb 1846 [X817], Reel 2748

Colonial Secretary — Letters sent

NRS 948, Copies of letters to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, 29 Dec 1848-12 Nov 1856
Reel 2980-81

NRS 958, Copies of letters to Commissioners of Crown Lands, 1834-47
The letters illustrate some of the difficulties facing the government in the administration of the scheme.

NRS 959, Copies of letters to Commissioners of Crown Lands within the boundaries, 17 Mar 1849-21 Oct 1856
Reel 2997

Surveyor General

NRS 13859, Crown plans, 1792-1886
Areas outside the 'limits of location' are shown on some maps.
Search the online index

Treasury, Revenue Branch

NRS 14363, Certificates for depasturing licences, 1837-51 *ARK
Reels 5067-5081
Depasturing licences permitted settlers to graze stock on Crown Lands 'beyond the limits of location'.

For further information

The Colonial Secretary's main series of letters received, NRS 905 should also be consulted for correspondence received from the Chief Commissioner and individual Commissioners of Crown Land. Additional records relating to the Commissioners of Lands may also be found under Surveyor General and Treasury in Archives Investigator.

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator, and the Guide to records relating to the occupation of Crown Lands (Crown Lands Guide). The Public Record Office Victoria and the Queensland State Archives also hold a number of pre-separation records.

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.

ML indicates that the record is held by the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW).

[1]  McMartin, Arthur. Public Servants and Patronage: The foundationand rise of the New South Wales Public Service, 1786-1859, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1983, p.206

*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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