In the first years of the NSW colony there were no provisions for recording land transactions. In some cases brief particulars of a sale were written on the back of a land grant and in many cases ownership changed without any documentary evidence at all. In 1802, a register was provided by the Judge Advocate and parties were invited to place their dealings on record. These are the first recorded registrations forming the first book of the 'Old Register'. Only brief particulars were recorded and it is often quite impossible to relate these items to any particular parcel of land. On 18 January 1817 a proclamation issued by Governor Macquarie provided for registration of deeds relating to land by the entry of a memorial in the Office of the Judge Advocate. A register was established to commence a system of memorials with essential particulars extracted from the deed entered under official seal. This is also part of the Old Register. As a result of letters patent, issued in 1823, known as the Charter of Justice, the Supreme Court of New South Wales was constituted and the Office of the Judge Advocate abolished.
On 16 November 1825 the first Registration of Deeds Act came into force and substituted the Supreme Court as the place for the registration of Deeds. This Act introduced a special form of memorial and the principle that any Deed or instrument executed bona fide and for valuable consideration should take priority according to the date of registration and not of execution. At this time the 'Vendors Index' was established.
The Registration of Deeds Act of 1843 established the Office of the Registrar General and provided a Register for the lodgment of a sworn, complete copy of a deed in that Office. All existing records were transferred to the Registrar General in 1844, but on 31 December 1849 the Office was abolished and its responsibilities were transferred back to the Supreme Court.
However, on 1 January 1856 the Office of the Registrar General was re-established for the first compulsory registration of births, deaths and marriages and from 1 May 1857, responsibility for registration of deeds was returned to the Registrar General.
An amendment to the Registration of Deeds Act in 1896 established the Purchasers Index for Old System land. This system, based on English Common law, had manifest inadequacies. Each time land was sold or mortgaged, a separate deed was drawn up. Proof of title required the tedious examination of a series of deeds, known as chain of deeds. The system was cumbersome, expensive, uncertain and not guaranteed by the State, particularly as there was no statutory requirement to register deeds. Additionally it was not mandatory to register plans of subdivision of Old System land prior to 1961.
Old System Records
Grant Registers (1792 to 31.12.1862)
The Grant Registers were originally grouped in various series such as Land Purchases, Town Purchases, Special Grants etc. and were allocated a letter or numeral in that series or referred to by the year of the grant e.g. 1861 Land Purchases. In the last case mentioned, the page number would carry on from register to register, the last grant of that year having a four figure page number. In 1896, a new serial number was allocated to each Grant Register, the new number being stamped under the prior allocated letter or number.
Fifteen indexes have been compiled to the Grant Registers. All indexes refer to the name of the grantee and the area of the land. Seven of them are typed in alphabetical order of surname and given names, quote the current serial number of the register and, in all except one case, the page. The eight handwritten indexes are in alphabetical order as regards the initials of surnames only, do not quote the current serial number and in at least one index refer to the page of the Grants Register in the Office of the Colonial Secretary, not the page number as presently bound.
The Old Register (1802 to 1825)
comprises nine volumes in chronological order and one index, holds many entries which do not relate to land transactions, was re-indexed in 1856 to exclude all entries not affecting land, thus the index is incomplete (the previous index was apparently destroyed at this time), Vendors Index The Registration of Deeds Act of 1825 established a General Register for recording transactions with land and the associated index, now known as the Vendors Index. The Vendors Index is the operative index for all registrations in the General and Miscellaneous Registers and entries are made under the names of all persons granting or creating an estate or interest. From its commencement in 1825 until 1898 entries were made in this index in alphabetical order of last names only. Since 1898 the index is a complete alphabetical index in order of first and last names. It is important for researchers to note that other transactions, not relating specifically to land, are also contained in the Register.
From 1 November 1992 (Book 4000) under the Automated Deed Indexing System (ADIS), manual indexing ceased: all indexes since that date relating to Old System land are held in Integrated Titling Systems (ITS).
The Purchasers Index which commenced on 1 July 1896 is an index of persons acquiring an estate or interest in land, compiled from the entries recorded in the Vendors Index. The index is completely alphabetical and is used as an aid in searching, eg where there is a break in title or where an owner but no reference to title is known. Purchasers Index entries are not made for registrations in the Miscellaneous Register.
The modern part of the Index is not as complete as earlier volumes, as it contains only references to owners of land.
As its name implies, this Register contains a wide variety of transactions. The most important of these for land title searchers are Powers of Attorney, Changes of Name and Appointments of Receivers. From its commencement on 1 July 1920 until 10 March 1950, a separate Miscellaneous Index was maintained. From that date until the close of the Register, on 30 June 1976, entries were indexed in the Vendors Index.
Index to Instruments Evidencing Change of Name (1875 to 1967)
A series of six index books relates to instruments evidencing change of name recorded in the following record series:
instruments enrolled between 29 January 1875 and 30 September 1925 with the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court and transferred to the Registrar General on 1 October 1925 (Book 1 only), instruments enrolled in the then Bills of Sale Section during the period 1 October 1925 to 30 June 1967, instruments registered in the Miscellaneous Register during the period 22 July 1942 to 30 June 1967 - earlier registrations being indexed only in the Index to the Miscellaneous Register. Instruments evidencing a change of name have been accepted from time to time in the following NSW registries and record series:
Supreme Court: Prior to 1 October 1925 (when the Transfer of Records Act 1923 became operative), it had been a long established practice to enrol instruments evidencing change of name in the Prothonotaryâ€™s Office at the Supreme Court. The instruments enrolled in that Office up to 30 September 1925 were transferred to the Registrar General with other instruments and records covered by the provisions of the Transfer of Records Act 1923. Instruments evidencing change of name were also for a time (limited for the most part to the period 1914 - 1918) accepted for enrolment in the Equity Office and these records have not been transferred to the Registrar General. Since 1925 it has been the policy of the Equity Office not to accept enrolments of this nature.
General Register of Deeds (prior to 1 July 1920): Although enrolment in the Supreme Court was the generally accepted method for the recording of deeds and instruments evidencing change of name, registrations were effected occasionally in the General Register of Deeds prior to 1 July 1920 (when the Conveyancing Act 1919 became operative). Bills of Sale Section: Following the transfer on 1 October 1925 of the deeds and other instruments evidencing change of name (which had been enrolled in the Prothonotary's Office), it became the practice for some years to accept for enrolment in the Bills of Sale Section, deeds and instruments of the same nature. In view of the facility for registration in the Miscellaneous Register, the practice was terminated on 30 June 1967 and, after that date, the Miscellaneous Register was used exclusively until its closure in 1976. Miscellaneous Register (constituted 1 July 1920): Deeds and instruments evidencing change accepted for registration in the Miscellaneous Register from its inception on 1 July, 1920. All Changes of Names were registered in the General Register of Deeds and indexed inclusively in the Vendors Index from 30 June 1976 until April 1996 when this function was transferred to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Guidelines and standards for the preparation of dealings and Old System instruments for registration in the General register of Deeds must be adhered to when producing or completing:
Real Property Act dealings and instuments, registration copies of Old System deeds and instruments, originals of Old System deeds and instruments where Lands is to prepare the registration copy, or any annexure to the above.
Processes exists to convert land held under old system to Torrens title see:
RGs Directions Plans - Chapter 15 - Conversion of Old System land. Old System Conversion or Removal of a Caution by the lodgment of an Official Search Guide to Preparing and Lodging a Primary Application
Categories of land records prior to 1856 Prior to the introduction of Responsible Government in 1856, land records were divided into two major categories.
The alienation of Crown lands (leading to the granting of freehold title) — these were referred to as land grants.
The occupation of Crown land was often on an annual basis where freehold title was not granted — this was later referred to as tenure. For more information, consult Archives in Brief 22: Occupation of Crown Land prior to 1856.
One of the responsibilities entrusted to Arthur Phillip as the first Governor of New South Wales was the power to grant land. The first land was granted in 1792. Phillip insisted however, that land must have a particular use. As a result he only granted approximately 4,000 acres in almost five years. It was not until 1792 that larger grants were made, although these were frequently subject to exploitation and land speculation.
Who was entitled to a land grant?
Free Settlers and Emancipists
Free settlers and ex-convicts who were 'of good conduct and disposition to industry' were entitled to a land grant. The grant consisted of up to 30 acres of land. If the person was married they received an extra 20 acres and if there were children a further 10 acres was granted.
Women were also entitled to receive a grant of land — the first possibly being Ellenor Frazer on 20 February 1794.
From 20 August 1789, non-commissioned Marine Officers were entitled to receive 100 acres more (and Privates up to 50 acres more) than the quantity allowed for convicts. Commissioned Officers were excluded from land grants under the original instructions. It was not until 1792 that land grants were made to officers by the Acting Governor Francis Grose.
Fees for land grants
Fees did not have to be paid for land grants until 1825. After this date it was still possible to obtain a free land grant although the grant was not to exceed 2,560 acres or be less than 320 acres (unless in the immediate vicinity of a town or village).
Limits of location and the nineteen counties On 5 September 1826, a Government order allowed Governor Darling to create the limits of location. Settlers were only permitted to take up land within this area. A further Government order of 14 October 1829 extended these boundaries to an area defined as the Nineteen Counties.
No free land grants after 1831
The Governor was instructed to make no further free grants (except those already promised) after 1831 when a new land-policy was adopted. Revenue from the sale of land was to go toward the immigration of labourers. Following this, land was sold by public auction without restrictions being placed on the area to be acquired. After 1831 the only land that could be made available for sale was within the Nineteen Counties. This restriction was brought about to reduce the cost of administration and to stem the flow of settlers to the outer areas.