Concerns over the unregulated occupation of land in New South Wales led to an Act (4 Wm. IV No.10) in 1833 for the appointment of Commissioners of Crown Lands to prevent unauthorised occupation of crown land within the settled districts.(1)
In 1836, Commissioners of Crown Lands were first appointed under the provisions of Act 7 Wm. IV, No.4 (1836) for the purpose of supervising Crown lands outside the settled district of the colony. The Act provided for the issue of licences for the depasturing of sheep and cattle on unoccupied Crown lands.(2)
The principal responsibilities of the Commissioners were: the prevention of Crown land being occupied without a licence, to collect the proceeds of the assessment on stock, and to ensure that law and order were maintained throughout their districts. They were also responsible for issuing passports for convict travel and for “arranging the transfer of convicts from their own districts to places elsewhere; for the reservation of sites for public purposes; for the granting of hawkers’ licences; and for the compilation of a great variety of returns reports.”(3)
The vast area of land outside the boundaries of the colony was divided into Districts, each with a Commissioner. The first seven Districts and their Commissioners were published in the New South Wales Gazette on 10 May 1837 and they were:
District No. 1: John Lambie, who was based at Braidwood
District No. 2: Evelyn Stuart, who was based at Yass
District No. 3: John Welman, also based at Yass and responsible for the area between the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers
District No. 4: Lawrence Dulhunty, who was based at Wellington Valley
District No. 5: Henry Bingham, based at Cassilis
District No. 6: Alexander Paterson, based at Jerry’s Plains
District No. 7: Henry Oaks, based at Port Macquarie(4)
Act 2 Vict. No.19 (1838) continued and amended the 1836 Act and in the following year the Act 2 Vict. No. 27(1839) established a Border Police under the control of the Land Commissioners to police regulations issued in 1839 for the management of Crown Lands.(5) The regulations issued under the 1839 Act reorganised the Districts, establishing nine, each with a Commissioner:
(1) Port Macquarie (formerly District No. 7) – Henry Oakes
(2) New England – George James Macdonald
(3) Liverpool Plains (formerly District No. 6) – Edward Mayne
(4) Bligh (formerly District No. 5) – Graham Hunter
(5) Wellington (formerly District No. 4) – Lawrence Dulhunty
(6) Lachlan (formerly District No. 3) – Henry Cosby
(7) Murrumbidgee (formerly District No. 2) – Henry Bingham
(8) Monaroo (formerly District No. 1) – John Lambie
(9) Port Phillip – Henry Gisbourne(6)
In time, as settlement spread, additional Districts were established.
The Commissioners of Crown Lands were the sole officials of Government in areas outside the settled districts and as such they had magisterial authority. Commissioners were to maintain law and order in their Districts and one of the principal objects of the 1839 Act “was to put a stop to the atrocities which have of late been so extensively committed beyond the boundaries, both by the Aborigines and on them.”(7) The Commissioners were instructed to hold an inquest or enquiry into every violent death of an Aboriginal Inhabitant as a result of “a collision with white men”.(8)
Commissioners In New South Wales were required to submit reports to the Colonial Secretary until 1849, after which time they reported to the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands. Commissioners in the Port Phillip District reported to the District’s Superintendent.(9) Reports prepared by the Land Commissioners included statistical information on the following: half-yearly returns of population and stock; quarterly returns of the conduct and employment of police; and returns of hawkers’ licences and of licencees fined for the non-renewal of their licences.(10) Commissioners investigated disputed ownership of land and it could take two full days to collect evidence that was often conflicting and inconclusive, and then a further three weeks to consider and deliver the judgement.(11)
On 13 September 1843, Foster Fyans was appointed first Commissioner of Crown Lands for the District of Portland Bay, an area located beyond the boundaries of location in the Port Phillip District.(12) Fyans was appointed a Police Magistrate and was succeeded as Commissioner of Crown Lands by William Gray on 1 August 1849.(13)
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.(14) Commissioners were no longer to have the power to settle disputes between occupiers of crown lands or 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.(15) In 1848, Act 11 Vic No.61 received its assent and provided for the appointment of Boundary Commissioners to examine and report upon disputes involving boundaries of Runs between claimants of leases.(16)
Orders in Council of 1847, issued under the authority of the Imperial Act 9 and 10 Vic.104 (1847) provided for the issue of leases for periods up to fourteen years in place of the annual licences.(17)
The Commissioners of Crown Lands in the Port Phillip area reported to the Superintendent of Port Phillip until 1851.(18) During La Trobe’s term as Superintendent, the Commissioners received administrative support from his clerks in relation to the management and sale of Crown land.(19) On 13 January 1851, Port Phillip became a separate colony and it is likely that responsibility for the Commissioners of Crown Lands in the Port Phillip District passed to the Victorian civil administration.
1. Act (4 Wm. IV No.10), An Act for protecting the Crown Lands of this Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass, assented 28 August 1833.
2. Act 7 Wm. IV, No.4 (1836)
3. McMartin, Arthur. Public Servants and Patronage: The foundation and rise of the New South Wales Public Service, 1786-1859, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1983, p206.
4. NSW Government Gazette, 10 May 1837, No.275, p362.
5. Act 2 Vict. No. 27(1839)
6. NSW Government Gazette, 22 May 1839, No.418, pp605 – 606.
7. Announcement by the Governor in the NSW Government Gazette, 22 May 1839, p605.
8. loc. cit.
9. Public Records Office of Victoria, registration for Victorian Record Group (VRG) 27: District Land Offices.
10. McMartin, op. cit., p205.
11. loc. cit.
12. NSW Government Gazette, 15 September 1843, No.77, p1190.
13. Returns of the Colony for 1849.
14. Public Records Office of Victoria, registration for Victorian Record Group (VRG) 27: District Land Offices.
15. Public Records Office of Victoria, registration for Victorian Record Group (VRG) 27: District Land Offices.
16. The Act received its assent on 17 June 1848.
17. Concise Guide to the NSW State Archives (Ca – Commissioners)
18. Public Records Office of Victoria, registration for Victorian Record Group (VRG) 27: District Land Offices.
19. loc. cit.