Concerns over the unregulated occupation of land in New South Wales led to an Act (4 Wm. IV No.10) in 1833 for the appointment of Commissioners of Crown Lands to prevent unauthorised occupation of crown land within the settled districts. (1)
In 1836, Commissioners of Crown Lands were first appointed under the provisions of Act 7 Wm. IV, No.4 (1836) for the purpose of supervising Crown lands outside the settled district of the colony. The Act provided for the issue of licences for the depasturing of sheep and cattle on unoccupied Crown lands. (2)
The principal responsibilities of the Commissioners were: the prevention of Crown land being occupied without a licence, to collect the proceeds of the assessment on stock, and to ensure 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.” (3)
The vast area of land outside the boundaries of the colony was divided into Districts, each with a Commissioner. The first seven Districts and their Commissioners were published in the New South Wales Gazette on 10 May 1837 and they were:
District No. 1: John Lambie, who was based at Braidwood
District No. 2: Evelyn Stuart, who was based at Yass
District No. 3: John Welman, also based at Yass and responsible for the area between the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers
District No. 4: Lawrence Dulhunty, who was based at Wellington Valley
District No. 5: Henry Bingham, based at Cassilis
District No. 6: Alexander Paterson, based at Jerry’s Plains
District No. 7: Henry Oakes, based at Port Macquarie. (4)
Act 2 Vict No.19 (1838) continued and amended the 1836 Act and in the following year Act 2 Vic. No. 27(1839) established a Border Police under the control of the Land Commissioners to police regulations issued in 1839 for the management of Crown Lands. (5) The regulations issued under the 1839 Act reorganised the Land Districts, establishing nine Districts, each with a Commissioner:
(1) Port Macquarie (formerly District No. 7) – Henry Oakes
(2) New England – George James Macdonald
(3) Liverpool Plains (formerly District No. 6) – Edward Mayne
(4) Bligh (formerly District No. 5) – Graham Hunter
(5) Wellington (formerly District No. 4) – Lawrence Dulhunty
(6) Lachlan (formerly District No. 3) – Henry Cosby
(7) Murrumbidgee (formerly District No. 2) – Henry Bingham
(8) Monaroo (formerly District No. 1) – John Lambie
(9) Port Phillip – Henry Gisbourne. (6)
In time, as settlement spread, additional Districts were established.
The Commissioners of Crown Lands were the sole officials of Government in areas outside the settled districts and as such they had magisterial authority. Commissioners were to maintain law and order in their Districts and one of the principal objects of the 1839 Act “was to put a stop to the atrocities which have of late been so extensively committed beyond the boundaries, both by the Aborigines and on them.” (7) The Commissioners were instructed to hold an inquest or enquiry into every violent death of an Aboriginal Inhabitant as a result of “a collision with white men”. (8)
The Commissioners were required to submit reports to the Colonial Secretary until 1849, after which time they reported to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands. Reports prepared by the Land Commissioners included statistical information on the following: half-yearly returns of population and stock; quarterly returns of the conduct and employment of police; and returns of hawkers’ licences and of licencees fined for the non-renewal of their licences. (9) Commissioners investigated disputed ownership of land and it could take two full days to collect evidence that was often conflicting and inconclusive, and then a further three weeks to consider and deliver the judgement. (10)
On 11 May 1843, the District of New England was divided into two Districts; New England and the Darling Downs. (11) The Darling Downs District was “bounded on the south by a line extending due west, so as to intersect the top of Mount Girard, which is near the head of the north branch of the Clarence River, and dividing this from the New England District; on the east by the range dividing the eastern and western waters, separating this from the Clarence River District and from the County of Stanley; and on the north and west the boundaries are indefinite.” (12)
On 16 May 1843, the Governor appointed Christopher Rolleston as the first Land Commissioner for the Darling Downs District. (13) From 1 February 1853, Rolleston took eighteen months leave from his position as Commissioner and during this time his duties were performed by the Commissioner for Moreton Bay, Stephen Simpson. (14)
A Confidential Circular to Commissioners of Crown Lands from the Colonial Secretary’s Office dated 20 June 1846 warned them of an imminent loss of powers following the expiry of provisions of Act 2 Vic No.27. Commissioners were no longer to have the power to settle disputes between occupiers of crown lands or to call for returns of stock. They were further informed that while their powers to remove intruders were in doubt, it remained unlawful for anyone to occupy crown lands without a licence and the Commissioners were to continue to report any unauthorised occupation. (15) In 1848, Act 11 Vic No.61 received its assent and provided for the appointment of Boundary Commissioners to examine and report upon disputes involving boundaries of Runs between claimants of leases. (16)
Orders in Council of 1847, issued under the authority of the Imperial Act 9 and 10 Vic.104 (1847) provided for the issue of leases for periods up to fourteen years in place of the annual licences. (17)
In 1855, Rolleston was appointed Private Secretary to the Governor General and the District of Darling Downs was annexed to the Land District of Moreton Bay. (18) On 1 January 1856, Arthur Manning was appointed Commissioner for the Districts of Darling Downs and Moreton Bay.
The Commissioners were responsible to the Colonial Secretary until the appointment of a Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands in 1849. In 1856, the office of the Chief Commissioner was transferred to the control of the Department of Lands and in time was listed in the Blue Books for New South Wales (Public Service Lists) as the Occupation of Lands section within the Department.
When Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony on 6 June 1859, control of land administration automatically passed to the Queensland Government and New South Wales ceased being responsible for Crown Land in that territory. (19) A Crown Lands Office was established in Queensland under a Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands.
1. Act (4 Wm. IV No.10), An Act for protecting the Crown Lands of this Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass, assented 28 August 1833.
2. Act 7 Wm. IV No.4 (1836).
3. McMartin, Arthur. Public Servants and Patronage: The foundation and rise of the New South Wales Public Service, 1786-1859, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1983, p.206.
4. NSW Government Gazette No.275, 10 May 1837, p.362.
5. Act 2 Vic. No.27(1839).
6. NSW Government Gazette No.418, 22 May 1839, pp.605-606.
7. Announcement by the Governor in the NSW Government Gazette No.418, 22 May 1839, p.605.
8. loc. cit.
9. McMartin, op. cit., p.205.
10. loc. cit.
11. NSW Government Gazette No.40, 12 May 1843, pp.645-646.
12. NSW Government Gazette No.41, 16 May 1843, p.666.
13. NSW Government Gazette No.42, 19 May 1843, pp.676-677.
14. Returns of the NSW Colony for 1853; Rolleston’s leave was extended a further six months.
15. Public Records Office of Victoria, registration for VRG27 District Land Offices.
16. The Act received its assent on 17 June 1848.
17. Concise Guide to the NSW State Archives (Ca – Commissioners)
18. Returns of the NSW Colony for 1855.
19. Queensland State Archives, Agency registration number QA10425 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Wide Bay District.