Group VRG 27
District Land Offices
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1836 - cont
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
This group includes the records of local land authorities including Commissioners of Crown Lands, District Surveyors, Bailiffs of Crown Lands, Land Officers, Local Land Boards and District Land Offices.

Commissioners of Crown Lands

In accordance with the provisions of An Act for protecting the Crown Lands of this Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass 4 Will IV No.10 1833, "Commissioners of Crown Lands in the Colony of New South Wales" were to be appointed. They were to have the power of Bailiffs and were to prevent any unauthorised intrusion, encroachment or trespass on crown lands. They were authorised to make "perambulations and surveys" of crown lands and to require the assistance of Justices of the Peace when necessary. They were also authorised to erect landmarks or beacons in a manner approved by the Surveyor-General to denote crown lands and their boundaries.

Early Occupation of Crown Lands in the Port Phillip District

In response to claims that "certain subjects had taken possession of crown lands within the Colony under the pretence of a treaty with the Aborigines", Governor Bourke, in a proclamation dated 26 August 1835, declared that all such treaties were void and that all persons occupying land without the authority of His Majesty's Government would be considered to be trespassers.

In the following year, settlement in the Port Phillip District was authorised and Captain William Lonsdale was appointed Police Magistrate. An Act to restrain unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands 7 Will IV No.4 became operative in 1836. This Act provided for the issue of annual licences to depasture cattle and other animals on lands beyond the limits of location. Regulations governing the issue of these licences were published in the New South Wales Government Gazette of October 5 1836 and the Commissioners of Crown Lands were to be responsible for giving effect to the regulations. Renewal of depasturing licences was subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Crown Lands on whose report a licence could be cancelled. Surveyors Robert Russell and Frederick Robert D'Arcy were appointed Commissioners of Crown Lands in September 1836.

The Civil Establishment of 1839 for Port Phillip District cites a single Commissioner for Crown Lands - H F Gisborne. By 1840 there were Commissioners for Western Port and Portland Bay and by 1843 there were Commissioners of Crown Lands for Portland Bay, Western Port, Gippsland, Murray, the County of Bourke and the County of Grant. By 1846 a further Commissioner for the Wimmera District, proclaimed on 9 November 1846, had been added to the Civil Establishment.

Administration of Crown Lands

The Commissioners of Crown Lands reported to the Superintendent until 1851 and then to the Colonial Secretary until 1853 when F A Powlett was appointed as Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands and head of the Crown Lands Department (VA 2878). This Department was to be responsible for the sale, occupation and exploration of crown lands. With the establishment of responsible government in 1855, the Surveyor-General became the Minister responsible for the Commissioners of Crown Lands until March 1857 when the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey was appointed to the Ministry.

In 1857 the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was established and the powers of the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey were vested in the Board. In 1858 a Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey was reappointed to the Ministry, but statutory responsibility remained with the Board of Land and Works of which the Commissioner was President. From 1857 the Commissioners of Crown Lands were located within the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538), a sub-department of the Board of Land and Works.

Duties of the Commissioners

The duties of Commissioners of Crown Lands included the prevention of unauthorised occupation of crown land; regulation of the boundaries of pastoral runs; prevention of encroachment and settlement of disputes; prohibition of cattle stealing and the impounding of stray beasts; collection of fees payable for government licences and collection of the stock assessment tax. The Commissioners dealt with applications for depasturing licences and provided each settler with a stock assessment notice. Commissioners also prepared returns for the Colonial Secretary regarding licensed runs and their occupants, the employment and conduct of the Border Police under their command and a monthly itinerary of their own activities. The Commissioners were also responsible for preventing clashes between the settlers and the Aborigines and as part of their duties as honorary protectors of Aborigines, they were required to visit reserves, report on the condition of the Aborigines and to supply them with food and clothing in cases of extreme emergency.

In 1853, the recently appointed Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, F.A. Powlett, described the field duties of the Commissioners as being, "estimating the grazing capabilities of runs, the value of land allotted under pre-emptive right, visiting the localities where new runs have been tendered for, preventing the unlawful occupation of Crown Lands, and the performance of other services..". He described their official duties as being, "the recommendation of all transfers of runs, the examination of claims to purchase land under the eighth clause of the Orders in Council. The preparation of reports and returns and general correspondence with the Government and the public.

In the unsettled parts of the colony and in Districts beyond the boundaries of location, the Commissioners of Crown Lands also acted as Stipendiary or Police Magistrates. In correspondence accompanying the Return of duties performed by the Commissioners of Crown Lands from 1 January to 20 October 1853, (Papers Presented to Parliament 1853/54, Vol.3), F.A. Powlett, reported that the discharge of their Magisterial duties occupied so much of the Commissioners' time that they were unable to properly perform their duties as Commissioners of Crown Lands.

Border Police

In 1839, an Act (2 Vic No.27) provided for the establishment of the Border Police. The Act authorized the levying of a tax on cattle and other animals depastured beyond the boundaries of location to defray in part the expense of maintaining the Border Police. Standing Orders for the Border Police published in the Victoria Government Gazette of 22 May 1839 placed the Border Police under the command of the Commissioners of Crown Lands who were to report monthly on the conduct of each individual. Instructions from the Colonial Secretary's Office to the Commissioners of Crown Lands dated 20 June 1846, required them to discharge the Border Police from 30 June 1846 since no further provision had been made for them within the Appropriation Act, although they were permitted to retain half a division if there had been a recent clash between the Aborigines and the settlers.

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. They were no longer to have the power to settle disputes between the occupiers of crown lands nor 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.

Replacement of Commissioners with District Surveyors

Some secondary sources such as the Victorian Year Book (e.g. 1968) have suggested that following a reorganisation of the Department in 1857, Commissioners of Crown Lands were replaced by District Surveyors. There is some support for this view in the report of the Civil Service Commission of 1859/60 which states that the Legislative Assembly had made no provision for the continuation of the Land Occupation Branch to which the Commissioners belonged. This report also affirms that District Surveyors had been appointed to act as Commissioners of Crown Lands. The Civil Establishment for 1858, however, continues to cite a Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands and Commissioners of Crown Lands for Wimmera and Portland Bay but there is no reference to the Commissioners for the other districts.

There is evidence to suggest that the duties of the Commissioners of Crown Lands were carried out by officers who held other positions in the Civil Service. William Piper, who was the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Murray District (VA 2711) continued to carry out duties associated with this position at least until 1860, although from 1858 he is listed in the Civil Establishment as the Police Magistrate, Benalla (see VPRS 7294). Appointments of Commissioners of Crown Land are found in the Government Gazettes for this period, but the appointees usually hold another substantial position eg. as Police Magistrate or Resident Warden and the Commissioner of Crown Lands positions are not designated by district. Further research is required to determine the final year in which Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed.

District Surveyors

Settled, Intermediate and Unsettled Districts

Orders in Council dated 9 March 1847 (Historical Records of Australia, Vol.25, p.430) had significantly changed the regulations regarding pastoral occupation of crown lands. The land was to be divided into settled, intermediate and unsettled districts. For land within the settled districts, annual leases for pastoral purposes were to be available. In intermediate districts, the land could be leased for eight years and whilst it could become available for sale, the lessee was to have first option to purchase. In districts classified as unsettled, a lease of 14 years duration was available; rent was to be based on the stock carrying capacity of the land, a joint valuation of which was to be carried out on behalf of the lessee and the Commissioner of Crown Lands. During the period of the lease, the occupant had sole right of purchase.

In a despatch to Earl Grey on the implementation of the Order-in-Council of 9 March 1847, Governor Fitzroy reported that there had been difficulties in carrying out the necessary surveys to establish the boundaries of runs for which leases had been sought. Consequently lands classified as intermediate or unsettled were to be divided into districts comprising one or more Commissioners' Districts and in each of these a Government Surveyor with a party of six men was to be stationed. The Surveyors' duties were to survey the general features of the country; to fix starting points for the survey of boundaries of runs; to lay down main lines of thoroughfare with township reserves to be placed at intervals along them and to check and supervise the work of contract surveyors who were to determine the boundaries of the pastoral runs.

Responsibilities of the District Surveyors

The report of the Civil Service Commission of 1859/60, described the activities of the Field Branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey. District Surveyors were responsible for the supervision of surveys within their districts; for supplying the Surveyor General with information relating to land proposed for sale; for recommending a maximum price for such land and for determining sites which should be reserved for public purposes. They were also responsible for providing the public with information about surveyed lands and for the compilation of maps which were to be available for inspection at district survey offices. They occasionally conducted land sales and they had been appointed to act as Commissioners of Crown Lands.

In those districts where there was less correspondence or less need to arrange examination of the land to determine whether it was auriferous (gold bearing) and thus whether it could be recommended for sale, the district surveyors also conducted some surveys. The Civil Service Commission also recommended that in those cases where it was necessary to estimate the grazing capabilities of runs; to report on the subdivision of runs or on applications for new runs, the information could be obtained direct from the District Surveyors.

The District Surveyors were responsible for the work of the field surveyors who marked out land into allotments ready for sale; laid out roads and lines of telegraph; marked out sites to be reserved for public purposes such as schools, churches and cemeteries; laid out carriage and footways in municipal districts; occasionally determined the boundaries of electoral districts and took levels for sections and contour lines for other Departments. Some field surveyors were also exclusively employed on the geodetic survey under the direction of R. Ellery.

Clerks and draughtsmen employed at district survey offices were responsible for the compilation of plans, the preparation of tracings and the sale of lithographic plans of land proposed for sale.

The report of the Civil Service Commission also noted problems that had been encountered with the employment of contract surveyors and recommended that only licensed surveyors be employed. It noted too, the difficulty experienced by the survey department in meeting public demand for surveys required prior to the lease or purchase of land. The Commission recommended that the general survey of land for sale should be separated from the topographical survey of Victoria and expressed concern that there were parts of Victoria, the topographical features and geological formation of which were utterly unknown.

By 1884 duties of District Surveyors appear to have been more narrowly defined. In the Public Service List for that year, their duties are described as being to direct and inspect all surveys in their district, to examine and certify plans and surveyors' accounts and to advise Land Officers. Subsequently the District Surveyors are also described as being responsible for reporting generally on applications. (? to select land) and dealing with the classification of crown lands. The Final Report of the Royal Commission on the State Public Service in 1917 described their duties as being to open up roads; to make recommendations for settlement in new country and to check surveys. They also classified lands and made valuations.

Survey Districts and Administrative Arrangements

By 1966 there were five survey districts in Victoria known as Melbourne, Eastern, North Eastern, Western and North Western. Each district had a District Surveyor who was in charge of all departmental survey operations in the district with the exception of geodetic and topographic surveys and Housing Commission surveys which were then centralized. Each District Surveyor was responsible for "survey parties" consisting of surveyors, survey assistants and field assistants. The District Surveyors were responsible for the conduct of cadastral surveys in their area and for the conduct of inspections and the preparation of reports.

District Surveyors have always been responsible to the Surveyor General and from 1857 were located in the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538). From 1983 to 1985 they were located in the Department of Conservation Forests and Lands (VA 1034) and since 1985 they have been part of the Department of Property and Services (VA 430).

Bailiffs of Crown Lands

By 1867 the Civil Establishment includes one Crown Bailiff who is located within the Administration Branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538). By 1876 the Civil Establishment includes many district Bailiffs of Crown Lands. The Bailiffs were required to inspect and report on selections; to prevent illegal occupation of crown lands and to initiate proceedings against trespassers. In 1917 the Royal Commission on the State Public Service noted that "it is officially recognized that their time is not fully occupied ..... The Secretary for Lands and the Chairman of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission have conferred with a view to the services of officers attached to the staff of the latter being utilized as Bailiffs". At that time there were twenty-two Crown Lands Bailiffs and seventy Inspectors under the Vermin Destruction Act. The Royal Commission recommended that the Bailiffs take over the duties of a considerable number of Inspectors.

Bailiffs of Crown Lands are still cited in the Public Service Lists of the 1920's but by 1932 the few remaining are shown as belonging to the District Land Offices which were then established. By 1939 only two Bailiffs are cited in the Public Service List and from 1940, there is no further reference to them.

Land Officers

By 1882 Land Officers and Officers in Charge had been appointed to local Survey Offices which were the responsibility not of the Surveyor General but of the Administration Branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538). In 1885, their duties were described as being the conduct of land sales and membership of Local Land Boards which considered applications for selection. Further research is required to determine the exact nature of the duties performed by these Officers. The Victorian Year Book 1968 suggests that a decline in the importance of surveying led to a replacement of District Surveyors by Land Officers in country districts and that by 1895 all District Surveyors had been replaced, except that in Gippsland, where surveys were still of importance, the Land Officers were qualified Surveyors. This information has yet to be confirmed and indeed there is some evidence to suggest that it may not be completely accurate, e.g. subsequent references to District Surveyors in Public Service Lists and Annual Reports of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey.

District Land Offices

By 1932 District Land Offices had been established to deal with all aspects of the administration of the sale, occupation and management of crown lands within a given district. Further research into the exact responsibilities of these Offices is required. When first established the District Land Offices included Land Officers, clerks and draughtsmen and Crown Lands Bailiffs.

By 1966 there were ten District Land Offices throughout the State where administrative staff, District Land Officers, were stationed to handle local inquiries concerning the various Acts administered by the Department and to administer Local Land Boards and sales by auction of crown land.

Local Land Boards

Local Land Boards had been established to provide an opportunity for interested persons, applicants or objectors to submit evidence to the Department in a public hearing on matters relating to crown lands administration. By 1966 there was one Chairman of Local Land Boards who together with the local Land Officer constituted a Board. The Chairman was responsible for providing a uniformity of approach and for co-ordinating the activities of the local Boards. The most common task of the Local Land Boards was to interview applicants for Crown Lands and make recommendations to the Minister as to the applicant best qualified to be granted occupation.

Location of Records

Many of the records created by District Land Offices and their predecessors may have been subsequently transferred to the central Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538) and its successors. The boundaries and locations of local land authorities have changed frequently and several District Land Offices have been amalgamated. Records of an earlier authority may therefore be found with the records of a subsequent authority.

For records of District Land Offices and their predecessors see also List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 4.0.0.

Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
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Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1836 - 1840 Commissioners of Crown Lands, Port Phillip District VA 2715 Other Instrumentalities
1840 - ? 1858 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Grant VA 4739
1840 - ? 1860 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Portland Bay VA 4737
1840 - 1857 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Westernport VA 2710 Other Instrumentalities
1841 - ? 1860 Commissioner of Crown Lands, County of Bourke VA 4729 Other Instrumentalities
1843 - ? 1858 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Murray District VA 2711 Other Instrumentalities
1843 - ? 1858 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Gippsland District VA 4738
1846 - ? 1858 Commissioner of Crown Lands, Wimmera District VA 4740
1851 - 1855 Resident Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Gold Fields at Ballarat VA 4378 Other Instrumentalities
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