Land Commissioners

The Land Commissioners were appointed in 1825 by Lt-Governor Arthur, on orders from Britain, to survey the settled districts and value the land to prepare for the sale of Crown lands. The Chief Commissioner was Edward Dumaresq, Surveyor-General, succeeded in both roles by George Frankland in 1828. Other commissioners were Lt Peter Murdoch, Commandant of the Maria Island penal settlement, and Roderic O'Connor, a practical engineer with farming experience. From 1826, O'Connor and Murdoch sent monthly field journals to the Chief Commissioner, who commented on them before passing them to Arthur.

The commissioners divided the settled districts into counties of 1600 square miles, containing 'hundreds' of 100 square miles, and four parishes in each hundred. They valued the land according to quality, and recommended reserves for towns, villages, churches and schools, and alignment of roads. Their findings, reported from 1829, showed the shortcomings of the land grant system: to gain larger grants, many settlers had inflated the value of assets they brought to the colony; others failed residence and improvement requirements, through lack of funds or experience; many had entrusted the land to unreliable overseers. It seemed that frequently land had been granted to speculators. In a straightforward, conversational tone, the commissioners' journals give an amusing account of the landholding community. Arthur proposed that conditional tenure with grants forfeited for failure to perform replace the existing system, but in 1831 Britain replaced free grants with land sales at public auction. The Commissioners' valuations were adapted to assess quit rent on existing holdings.

Further reading: A McKay (ed), The journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, Hobart, 1962; ADB 1 (Dumaresq, Frankland), 2 (O'Connor).

Anne Rand