Notes re the alienation of Land


Takinginthewheatsheaves_id_2363514590_PD‘Sowin’ things an’ growin’ things an’ watchin’ of ’em grow:
That’s the game,’ my father said, an’ father ought to know.
‘Settin’ things an’ gettin’ things to grow for folks to eat:
That’s  the life,’ my father said, ‘that’s very hard to beat.’
For my father was a farmer, as his father was before,
Just sowin’ things an’ growin’ things in far-off days of yore,
In the far off land of England, till my father found his feet
In the new land, in the true land, where he took to growin’ wheat.

‘Wheat’  C. J. Denis

Some Notes regarding the Alienation of land


The alienation of land in the colonies of NSW and Victoria has a long and convoluted history with complex land laws adding to the process. These notes, hopefully, will provide some background.

The intent of the land policy of the colonial government from 1788 on was to promote the self-sufficiency of the colony by the system of quit-rent or the so-called free grants of land. The first land was granted in 1792.The applicant furnished to the government of the day a letter supporting his application from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Then depending upon his means, normally 600 acres for every £500 of capital, he was granted or promised up to a maximum of 2560 acres ( 1055ha) or four square miles. He in turn had to fulfil conditions of improvement to the land such as buildings and fences. The land had to be cultivated over a period of seven years to a value calculated by multiplying his holding size in acres by 20 and then times two pence; a value for a holding of 2560 acres of £426.13s.4d. At the end of the seven years the landholder could apply for his title deeds. He then over a period of twenty years paid an annual quit rent determined by the number of acres times two pence which in the case of a holding of 2560 acres amounted to £21 13s 4d. This ‘free land’ policy continued until 1831 when the sale of land by public auction was introduced.

map-1888-page3The 1831 land regulations provided for reserve prices for the land set by the government. Prices ranged from a minimum of 5/- per acre in 1831, 12/- in 1839 to £1.0.0 in 1842. The proceeds from the sales were used to provide a fund for new immigrants.

The passage of the ‘Squatters’ Act of 1846 – 47 replaced the system of annual tenure and gave to the pastoral industry beyond the ‘limits of location’ a fixity of tenure , albeit only from eight to fourteen years but during that period only he could purchase the land.

In 1861 Sir John Robertson introduced his ‘free selection before survey’ Act. Robertson’s act gave selectors the right to select a living area in any Crown Land, leased or unleased. A ‘living’ area was from 40 to 320 acres with an obligation to live on the property for at least three years. The relatively high purchase price of £1 per acre (PDV $83.46) was payable by a deposit of 25% and the balance almost at will with interest at 5 %. The selector also had a requirement to effect improvements at £1 per acre. Title was then given provided that the conditions regarding improvements and residency were being fulfilled. These small farmers were known as ‘selectors’ and the land as ‘CP’ or ‘Conditional Purchase’ blocks. In 1875 an amendment act increased the maximum size of conditional purchase to 640 acres and a further amendment Act in 1880 reduced the value of the improvements to 10/- per acre. However it should be noted that Robertson’s Act did not replace the sale of crown land by auction, which continued to provide an important source of revenue. Indeed in the period after the passage of Robinson Free Selection Land Act intended to ‘unlock the land’ the amount of freehold held by the big grazers and pastoral companies rather than ‘settlers’ actually increased. As Manning Clark points out, of over 170,000 applications for selections between 1861 and 1880 only about 20,000 or 12% had gained title by 1880.

Robertson’s Act remained in force in principle for twenty-three years, but in 1884 pastoral leases was exempted from selection. The 1884 Act, which followed, accounted for the 1885 census of landholders and livestock.

The census was based on Police districts and at that time there were 55 districts. These were Albury, Armidale, Balranald, Bathurst, Berrima, Bombala, Bourke, Braidwood, Brewarrina, Cannonbar, Carcoar, Casino, Cobar, Condobolin, Cooma, Coonabarabran, Corowa, Deniliquin, Dubbo, Forbes, Glen Innes, Goulburn, Grafton, Gubdagai, Hay, Hune, Kiama, Maitland, Menindie, Merriwa, Molong, Moree, Mudgee, Murrurundi, Narandera, Narrabri, Picton, Pilliga, Pt. Macquarie, Pt. Stephens, Queanbeyan, Singleton, Sydney, Tamworth, Tenterfield, Urana, Wagga Wagga, Walgett, Warialda, Wentworth, Wilcannia, Windsor, Yass, and Young.

It is important to note that the listing of a person in the 1885 census as the occupier of the holding does not necessarily mean freehold ownership as there were forty different types of Crown tenures by which land could be occupied. Also the owner’s postal towns are not necessarily that of the holding as they are not all in the police district listed and many of the post town have no longer exist.




Ward ,R, Australia Horwitz Publications Sydney 1965


Clark, Manning. A Short History of Australia. Penguin, Ringwood, 1992. p. 126-127.


Hirst, John Sources and Nonsense in Australian History. 2009.


Cochrane, Peter. Colonial Ambitions. Foundations of Australian Democracy. MUP. 2007.


Walker, R. B. Squatter and Selector in New England 1862 -1895 ( Source unknown)




1 square mile = 640 acres = 259 hectares.


Terry Callaghan


© 2006. Terry Callaghan. All rights reserved




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