Land Ownership Timeline in New South Wales

Researching New South Wales land ownership is complicated by the changing regulations and historical events of the time, and it pays to know what regulations were in force at the time of purchase or transfer of ownership.

Here is a brief timeline of the land regulations and events that affected land holders at the time.

1788 – First settlers arrived in Sydney Cove. Governor Phillip was empowered to grant 30 acres of land to freed convicts, with an additional 20 acres if married and 10 acres per child.

1789 – Non-commissioned officers and privates were entitled to receive an additional 50 acres to encourage them to settle.

1792 – First free grants of land were made.

1810 - Many land grants had been made before Governor Macquarie’s arrival to replace the deposed Governor Bligh. Macquarie revoked many of these, although most were reinstated.

1825 – Orders received for a general survey of the 19 Counties of the Colony. Introduction of fees for large grants of land.

1826 – Land could only be taken up within the ‘limits of location’ within the 19 Counties.

1831 – Free grants abolished; land had to be purchased through public auction.

1833The Encroachment Act allowed for the appointment of 13 Commissioners of Crown Lands in an attempt to curb the settlement of Crown land (squatting) outside the 19 Counties.

1834 – Survey of the 19 Counties completed.

1836 – First act passed to formalise grazing rights beyond the 19 Counties for leases of £10 per year.

1847 – Colony was divided into Settled, Intermediate and Unsettled categories, with leases available for one, eight and fourteen years respectively.

1856 – Responsible Government granted to the Colony of New South Wales. Requests for land dealt with by Surveyor General rather than the Colonial Secretary.

1859 – Lands Department established under John Robertson.

1861Crown Lands Alienation Act introduced ‘free selection before survey’, or Conditional Purchases. The Crown Lands Occupation Act allowed all Crown land to be selected for purchase, including the pastoral leases of others.

1862Real Property Act introduced Torrens Title, a centralised, government-guaranteed, system of land title to replace the British Common Law system.

1884Crown Lands Act set out a comprehensive system of land tenures, including conditional leases for land adjoining conditional purchases, occupation licenses, homestead leases, and special purpose leases. Land districts were established and superceded the local land agents.

1900Real Property Act consolidated previous acts. Still in force today.

1907 - Closer Settlement Act allowed for land to be purchased by the government within 15 miles of a proposed railway line for division into small lots for farming purposes. Later acts followed.

1916Returned Soldiers Settlement Act relaxed the restrictions on the type of land resumed and allowed returned soldiers to settle on it.

1919 - Conveyancing Act established ‘good root of title’ for Old System land, requiring only a thirty year chain of title instead of all the way back to the first land grant.

1941 - War Service Settlement Act allowed for land to be set aside specifically for servicemen or ex-servicemen. A training certificate had to be obtained before land was allocated.

1961 – Strata titles commenced with the  Conveyancing (Strata Titles) Act.

1975 - government reorganisation brought the Torrens Title (Land Titles), the Deeds Registration, and the Crown Titles Branches into the Department of Lands when the Registrar-General’s Office was transferred. The name of the Land Titless Office has been changing ever since.

Sources and Bibliography

Hepburn, S. Real Property Law, 3rd edition. Pyrmont, NSW: Thomson Legal and Regulatory Australia, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, A Guide to Searching New South Wales Land Title Records in the Queens Square Office of Land and Property Information Department of Lands – User Guide – Searching the Records of the Registrar General. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2008.

NSW Department of Lands, From Crow Quill to Scribbling, History of Pre Computer Mapping, Lands Department New South Wales. Sydney: Department of Lands, 2005.

Ryan, R.J. (editor). Land Grants 1788-1809, A record or registered grants and leases in New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and Norfolk Island. Five Dock, NSW: Australian Documents Library, 1981. First published by Keith A. Johnson and Malcom R. Sainty, 1974.

State Records NSW. Archives in Brief 93 - Background to conditional purchase of Crown land.

State Records NSW. Short Guide 8 – Land Grants, 1788-1856.

Switch to our mobile site