Australia Research Guide | Land & Property Records
Deeds and other land records are a potential source of information about family members, family ties, and other areas in which your ancestor resided, in addition to informing you what land your ancestors may have owned and where it was located. This makes research into land and property records an important component of every family history.
In Australia, historic land records were divided into two major categories:
Alienation – The permanent transfer of land from the Crown to a person either by Land Grants or the sale of Freehold Titles.
Occupation – Occupation Licences or Leases allowed a person to occupy the land on an annual basis. This was later referred to as tenure.
Forms of Alienation were:
Crown Land Grants (1788-1831) – A grant provided, without compensation, a parcel of land for private use. Some land grants also stipulated that the land had to be developed within a specific time frame. Grants from the Crown are the most valued records to use when searching for early settlers. These documents often include the grantee’s name and occupation, as well as the location of the land being awarded. Other grant-related documents include military volunteer land grants, listings of Crown property occupiers, land orders, and registers.
Sale of Land by Private Tender 1824 – In 1824, a new system was implemented that permitted settlers to purchase Crown property. A deed was written to record when the land was transferred from the Crown to an individual or from one individual to another. It contained the names of both parties engaged, as well as their vocations and areas of abode. Registers, applications, description books, schedules of lands sold, memorials, and deeds for the transfer of property are some of the other records available for land sales.
Public Land Auctions 1831 – When land grants were discontinued in 1831, the land was made available to be sold by public auction without restrictions on the area to be acquired. This system generated new records, including records of auctioned-off lands, registers, and applications.
Forms of Occupation or land tenure were:
Licences – Settlers were allowed to graze on Crown property if they secured a licence that could be renewed annually. The Ticket of Occupation was the earliest of these permits, issued around 1820. These permits granted owners the rights to grazing land within two miles of their residence. Later, Depasturing Permits granted owners’ rights to empty Crown lands outside the boundaries of their dwellings. Licensing had an influence not just on the grazing sector, but also on the mining industry. Mining permits were first issued during the 1851 gold rush and are still issued today.
Leases – As the wool industry grew, squatters began to unlawfully occupy Crown properties to graze their sheep. From 1836 squatters were required to pay an annual licence fee for use of the land. In 1847, the Crown created a lease system, which provided squatters with more secure possession. Leasing enabled the squatter to legally occupy the property for more than a year and as it was common for squatters to make improvements on the property (usually the homestead and other buildings) they purchased the property directly around the homestead. As a result, pre-emptive purchases made under Section 54 of the Pastoral Leases Act of 1869 transferred a portion of the lease to freehold title. Note: s. Pastoral leases are sometimes referred to as runs, stations, blocks or pastoral holdings.
How can I find out about land owned by an ancestor?
Note: For records relating to Queensland and Victoria prior to Separation check land records for New South Wales.
Post Office Directories, Pastoral Directories and Almanacs list most business and private residents by township or street and include useful statistics about townships.
Council Rates Assessment Books may be used to trace previous owners and occupants of a property, as well as the worth of a property. These books keep track of the fees paid to the local government. Looking back over a number of years might reveal improvements made to the property’s buildings.
Until the 1860s, land administration in Australia followed the British system of ‘Old Title,’ in which information regarding each piece of land was stored against the name of the owner of the title. Early squatting or pastoral maps are maintained by the National Library and most state libraries provide the names and area of these early allotments. State land departments or record offices hold grants and titles to Old System allotments.
Torrens Title was introduced in the 1860s to replace this system. Torrens Title is a mechanism for registering title information against individual parcels of land. Each colony (State) in Australia was split into counties and parishes. Parish maps, along with village and town surveys, serve as the foundation for land management. They include the fundamental references needed to identify the initial owner of a piece of land from the start of Torrens Title and to search for subsequent owners.
Pictured: Chinese Garden in Victoria, James Charles Armytage (1802-1897)