From grants to sales in the 1820s

When the Blue Mountains were crossed and the value of the lands beyond was appreciated, capital as well as immigration was attracted. The implementation of Bigge’s report paved the way for the settlement of vast tracts of land by British-backed investment companies like the Australian Agricultural Company and the Van Diemen’s Land Company and in the division of land into counties, hundreds, and parishes. The Australian Agricultural Company incorporated by Royal Charter under a special Act of Parliament, in 1824, ‘for the cultivation and improvement of waste lands in the colony of NSW,’ obtained 500,000 acres for nothing.[1] It was even given coal-mines at Newcastle. Part of the company’s estate was selected after 1831, when Governor Bourke energetically protested against the alienation of so huge an area, but was overruled by his official superiors. The company thus richly endowed still carries on its profitable operations. The Van Diemen’s Land Company also worked under a Royal Charter (1825) and secured over 400,000 acres for a trifling quit-rent of £468.[2]

It was not until Bigge’s reports that some English politicians recognised that land had been given away too freely. ‘Large grants of land to individuals have been the bane of all our colonies,’ Under-Secretary Goulburn wrote in 1820, ‘and it has been the main object of Lord Bathurst’s administration to prevent the extension of this evil by every means of his power.’ But, the granting of large areas was continued for some years after 1820. During Governor Brisbane’s term, however, land grants were more readily made.  In addition regulations introduced during Brisbane’s term enabled settlers with his permission to purchase up to 4,000 acres at 5s an acre with superior quality land priced at 7s 6d.[3]  During his four years in office the total amount of land in private hands virtually doubled. Lord Bathurst’s spasm of moderation did not affect his successors. Free grants were made down to the year 1831, when the Colonial Office ordered the substitution of the method of sale by auction. By this time 3,963,705 acres had been granted either freely or at a trifling quit-rent.

In 1825, Bathurst instructed Brisbane to survey the territory to allow for more planned settlement. During the survey one seventh of the land in each county was to be set a side for the Church of England and an educational system under the control of the church. Income from this land was to be managed under the Church and Schools Corporation.[4] When Governor Darling was commissioned in July 1825, his commission extended the NSW boundary six degrees to the west compared with the commissions issued to previous governors. In September 1826, Darling announced the boundaries within which the survey was to be conducted. It would allow the allocation of land grants and the boundaries, known as the limits of location, were used for other administrative purposes including police administration. The nineteen counties were proclaimed by Darling in the Sydney Gazette of 17 October 1829. The boundaries were the Manning River to the north, the Lachlan River to the west and the Moruya River to the south. In some places there were already squatters beyond these ‘limits of location’.

The Nineteen Counties were the limits of location in the colony of NSW. Settlers were only permitted to take up land within the defined area. From 1831, there were no more free land grants and the only land that was for sale was within the Nineteen Counties. The Ripon Regulations were introduced in 1831 by the Earl of Ripon (then Viscount Goderich), instigating a new system for the sale of Crown land in the Australian colonies. Crown land had previously been acquired through grants or sale by tender. The Ripon Regulations standardised the sale process by introducing compulsory sale by auction and by setting a minimum sale price of 5s per acre; this rose to 12s per acre in 1839 and to £1 in 1842. The proceeds from land sales were used to fund the assisted immigration of labourers and servants into the colonies. Despite the uncertainty of land tenure, squatters ran large numbers of sheep and cattle beyond the boundaries. The legitimate allocation of land, whether by grant or sale, in large or moderate areas, was disturbed by the unauthorised proceedings of the squatters.


Parramatta, c1826

Much commotion was caused among the land-owners in 1835, when doubts were expressed as to whether the whole of the land grants made in NSW and VDL since the very beginning of settlement were not illegal. The lords of thousands of acres trembled at the prospect. The point was first raised in Hobart that these grants had not been made in the name of the King but of the Governor. The practice began in the time of Phillip, and had been continued by every successive Governor. When the law officers of the Crown in England were consulted, they gave it as their opinion that the whole of the grants from the foundation of NSW were invalid. The insecurity was removed by the passing of an Act in 1836 (6 William IV, no. 16), ‘to remove such doubts and to quiet the titles of His Majesty’s subjects holding or entitled to hold any land in NSW.’

[1] See, ibid, Roberts, Stephen, History of Australian Land Settlement 1788-1920, pp. 57-62 and King, Hazel, ‘John Macarthur junior and the formation of the Australian Agricultural Company’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 71, (3), (1985), pp. 177-199.

[2] Ibid, Roberts, Stephen, History of Australian Land Settlement 1788-1920, pp. 62-68 and Meston, A.L. and W.M., The Van Diemen’s Land Company: 1825-1842, (Museum Committee, Launceston City Council), 1958

[3] In 1824, Brisbane approved the sale of Crown Lands in accordance with one of Bigge’s recommendations. Previously only a nominal ‘quit’ rent was required for grants by the crown.

[4] Grose, Kelvin, ‘What happened to the Clergy Reserves of NSW?’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 72, (2), (1986), pp. 92-103 and ‘Scott, Arthur and the clergy reserves of Van Diemen’s Land’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 75, (3), (1989), pp. 153-169.

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