Crown Lands Commissioners In Moreton Bay (1842-1859)
Dr Margaret Shield, Visiting Fellow 2017/2018


The system of land ownership in New South Wales was based on the premise that all land belonged to the Crown. Land that was not required by the government for towns, roads, reserves or other purposes could be sold or leased and thus formed the primary source of revenue for the colony.

However, from the earliest years of pastoral settlement in New South Wales unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands was widespread. In September 1826 Governor Charles Darling issued an order creating an area known as the ‘limits of location’. Settlers were only permitted to take up lands within this area. These ‘limits of location’ were expanded in 1829. However, settlers regularly defied these orders and ‘squatted’ on land outside the boundaries without leasehold or legal title. As a result, the New South Wales government introduced measures which required settlers to obtain grazing leases and de-pasturing licences in an effort to regulate the take up of land. During the 1830s and 1840s, in an effort to maintain control of Crown Lands, the government enacted further legislation to create pastoral districts and to appoint Commissioners of Crown Lands to administer them.[1]



On 8 August 1833 Governor Richard Bourke enacted a law entitled An Act for Protecting the Crown Lands of this Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass (Act 4 Will. IV no. 10) which prohibited squatting on Crown Lands and allowed for the appointment of Commissioners of Crown Lands who were tasked with ensuring that the rights of the Crown were not lost as settlement progressed.

Further legislation was introduced in 1836. The Act to restrain the unauthorized occupation of Crown Lands (Act 7 Wm. IV no. 4) ensured that occupiers of land purchased a licence to settle. This ensured that the legal rights of the Crown were preserved and that revenue from the licences could be collected to offset the cost of enforcing the system. Provisions of the 1836 Act were strengthened by a further Act (2 Vic. no. 19) entitled An Act to continue and amend an Act intituled ‘An Act to restrain the unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands’.

In 1839 further legislation was passed. An Act further to restrain the unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands and to provide the means of defraying the expense of a Border Police (2 Vic. No. 27) enabled the establishment of a Border Police Force under the control of the Crown Lands Commissioners to assist them to maintain law and order in the pastoral districts. This Force remained in place until it was replaced by the Native Police Force in 1846.

Between the years 1839 and 1842 the Crown also instituted a system of annual pastoral licences but under the 1847 Orders in Council, the government acceded to the demands of pastoralists for more secure, long-term tenure and cheaper rent. From then on, leases were granted for one year in ‘settled districts’, eight years in ‘intermediate districts’ and 14 years in ‘unsettled districts’.[2]







[1] Queensland Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying, ‘Surveying history’, available online at; Queensland State Archives Agency ID 10425, Commissioners of Crown Lands, Wide Bay and Burnett, ‘Description’.

[2] New South Wales Government Gazette, 11 September 1833, no. 80, p. 356; New South Wales Government Gazette 1839, no. 405 (Supplement), p. 393; Queensland Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying, ‘Surveying history’; Queensland State Archives Agency ID 10425, Commissioners of Crown Lands, Wide Bay and Burnett, ‘Description’.