Australian agricultural and rural life


Land administration became one of the most important tasks overseen by the colonial government.

Before 1826, land grants were given exclusively by the Governor. Grants of land were free until 1825 and could consist of up to 30 acres. In 1826, the limits of location were decreed by Governor Darling and land grants could only be issued within these boundaries. In 1829, the boundaries were extended to encompass the Nineteen Counties surrounding Sydney.

People choosing to settle on unoccupied land outside the jurisdiction of the Nineteen Counties were classed as 'squatters'. The term (first appearing in 1828) soon came to refer to a person of high social prestige who grazed livestock on a large scale - often having no legal title to the land beyond being the first European to settle on it. Successful squatters were among the wealthiest class of people in the colony and came to be described (in a play on the English aristocracy) as the 'squattocracy'. 

The expanding market for meat due to colonial population growth, and demand for grazing land to meet the needs of the developing sheep industry, provided impetus for increased squatting activity during the 1830s.

In 1837, Robert Dixon, an assistant surveyor working in the Surveyor General's Department in Sydney, produced a unique map of New South Wales which attempted to record the spread of settlement across the colony. It was Dixon's intention to show exactly who owned land in NSW and exactly where that land was, and each property (ie. each piece of 'appropriated land') was annotated with the name of the landholder.

The concept of areas within and without the Nineteen Counties were discontinued in 1847. After this time New South Wales was divided into three areas - Settled (the former Nineteen Counties), Intermediate and Unsettled. Pastoral leases were available in these three areas for one, eight and fourteen years respectively. The squatter's grip on agricultural land in the colony was challenged in the 1860s.

Dr Doyle's sketch book / John Thomas Doyle & Samuel Thomas Gill

From 1861, the Robertson Act opened all Crown Land for selection until the law changed again in 1884.  During this period, land parcels of between 40 and 320 acres could be conditionally purchased without a survey - as long as the purchaser had the funds to improve the land acquired and the intention to occupy it for at least three years.

Squatters, like John Bingle of 'Puen Buen', near Dartbrook, played an important role in development of regional NSW throughout the nineteenth century. In 1879, he recorded his personal reminiscences of his squatting days in the colony.

Squatter's Map

Known as 'the Squatter's Map', this highly detailed engraved chart of New South Wales was drawn up in 1837, by the surveyor and explorer Robert Dixon (1800-1858). It shows the acreages of land granted and sold in the colony up to June 1836, with the added advantage that each landholding is annotated with the name of the owner of the property. 

As the earliest attempt to make a comprehensive graphic list of the individuals responsible for the spread of settlement across the state, it provides a unique record of the appropriated lands of the colony of New South Wales in a beautifully rendered yet practical format - it could be folded to fit into the pocket - to create an eminently 'collectible' work of art that is useful both for reference and display.

To this day, the Squatter's Map continues to provide family historians and researchers with a rich source of information about people and places in nineteenth-century NSW.   

This map of the Colony of New South Wales exhibiting the situation and extent of the appropriated lands including the counties, towns, village reserves etc.

Squatter's reminiscences

John Bingle (1792-1882), sailor and merchant, arrived in Port Jackson as a free settler on 16 December 1821. He established the first coastal trading service between Sydney and Newcastle in 1822, before acquiring 1800 acres of land at Dartbrook, in the Upper Hunter, which he named 'Puen Buen' and where he settled with his wife, Mary, and three children.

For the next 20 years, Bingle enjoyed the lifestyle of a minor member of the colonial squattocracy, playing a prominent part in the development of the local district, serving on the bench of magistrates and waging war against bushrangers. In later life, he compiled a fascinating, illustrated account of these years for his memoirs.

Squatter's reminiscences