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Researching land history in ew Zealand
Presented at Auckland City Library 28 April 2010 by Lisa J Truttman
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Commentary Title New Zealand’s land registry is divided into twelve districts. For Northland and Auckland, the district is North Auckland. Survey plans and land titles for all districts are now available online via Landonline. A brief history of land registration in New Zealand, by no means all-inclusive. Pre-1840, informal agreements between Maori and non-Maori settlers, traders, merchants etc. took place. These came under the jurisdiction of the Crown after the Treaty of Waitangi, with Governor Hobson declaring that the Crown alone had the right of pre-emption regarding dealings in land with Maori. This was to ensure some sense of fairness in the land dealings, as decreed by London at the time – but also to provide a source of income for the fledgling colony: land sales to settlers.
The 1841 Land Registration Ordinance Act led to the establishment of the Crown Grants System. The term “grant” can appear misleading to today’s researchers, as a grant today is more or less a gift. However, a crown grant is the granting of a title in return for some form of compensation, either monetary, or in the form of an exchange of land claimed. The latter case is often seen in the early 1840s crown grants, where those who had the opportunity to lay a claim to land on pre-1840 agreements with Maori in rural areas were often granted a title for urban and suburban land in exchange. The early crown grant documents are bound together like this in volumes, each one numbered in a “G” series on the shelves: so, you will see 1G volume 1, 2, 3; 2G volume 1, 2, 3 and so on. Each grant within the volume series has its own number. A map of the land granted can be seen on the reverse of each grant, and on the front details of the name of the grantee, the amount exchanged (or description of land exchanged), and legal description of the land to which title was granted.
Map shows land claim by Robert S Thompson for the watershed of Canty’s Creek, next to Henderson. His claim was ultimately only half successful. In December 1843, Governor FitzRoy arrived after briefings and communications with the Colonial Office in London regarding land dealings in New Zealand. In 1844, he instituted the waiving of the Crown’s right of pre-emption in terms of land dealings direct with Maori landowners, and sparked off a year of confusing edicts and regulations which caused grievance among the settlers against him and led, among other reasons, to his recall in 1845. Old Land Claim maps (OLC series) provide details of file references to seek further information at Archives New Zealand (Wellington), acreages, boundaries – but can also be quite attractive when they are in colour. 2
1860: Land Registration Act When conducting land history research, you will often see a deeds index page which contains a series of registrations which appear to be not in date order. A crown grant, for example, appearing well below later registrations, mortgages, etc. This is due in part to the 1860 act, which collected together transaction details (instruments) for each property under private title.
The system involved: Parish indexes, Deeds indexes, and Instruments.
Parish Indexes. Land districts were divided into parishes, most descriptive of the area they included (City of Auckland, Suburbs of Auckland, Waikomiti, Town of Onehunga). But then there is the Parish of Titirangi, in which Titirangi is not included (it is actually Blockhouse Bay, Avondale, Waterview, Pt Chevalier, and part of Mt Albert/Owairaka). The parish indexes are index books, with the names of the parishes in alphabetical order, divided into allotments, further divided into Lots where necessary (Suburbs and City of Auckland is an example), and provide either deeds index references or post 1870 title references for each piece of land. Today, due the extreme fragility of the North Auckland parish index books, they have been scanned, and are available via a computer terminal at the LINZ office at the moment.
Deeds Indexes. From the parish indexes, you go to the Deeds Index, the index pages for each allotment within the parish registration district. These provide the references for the instruments, as well as description of type (mortgage, conveyance, etc.), dates of the instrument, dates it was received at the registration office, and following references (in this case, the Parish of Titirangi record leads to a post 1870 title.) Note that pages are often shared by other parish information totally irrelevant geographically to that at the head of the page. Also, there are times, annoyingly, where it seems the poor clerks working by gas or candle light have made errors in recording the reference details properly. There will be dead ends, but hopefully for the researcher not too many. At the moment, deeds indexes have not been digitised. The sooner they are, the better – the books are in an increasing vulnerable state.
Early deeds sometimes show more than just the usual information such as transaction parties, sale prices or agreements, land description, whether there were any buildings on the site … These examples show William Parker’s mark (he was illiterate), and the Chinese character signatures of Ah See and Ah Chee when they look out the lease of the Carlaw Park land in the 1880s for a market garden. 3
1870 Land Transfer Act Main feature was that while this was the first introduction to New Zealand of modern titles for land (and the earliest available on Landonline date from this period) – it was voluntary, so there is a mix of titles for land (which have now been digitised) and deeds (which have not) until well into the 20th century. Those applying for a formal title under the new system, for various reasons, made an application (hence the use of application files with post 1870 titles).
Features of a post 1870 title.
Application files. These can be a family historian’s gold mine. The application itself.
Land Schedule, birth and death certificates
Legal declaration (this one from Australia).
Government Settlement Schemes From the 1880s, the Government either subdivided their own waste lands or purchased private farms to establish settlements in rural areas of the country. In the early 20th century, this had developed into the “hamlet” schemes, such as those close to Auckland. This slide shows a settlement scheme title, where the “right to occupy” had been granted – therefore, this was a leasehold arrangement, not freehold. The property in question, in West Auckland, became freehold in the middle of the century. 1924 Land Transfer (Compulsory Registration of Titles) Act As you can see, not an immediate success. Post 1924 titles show priors going back not just to an application file (although as you’ve seen, these can be useful), but also a deeds index reference. Survey Plans
Legal descriptions and building outlines or “footprints”.
Maori land blocks, Whangarei district.
Blockhouse Bay land purchases
Charles Heaphy’s 1854 survey map of Waiwera.
Cadastral plan of half of the County of Eden (Counties in New Zealand dated from the 1876 Counties Act. The one for Eden was, after a brief time, a county in name only). Map of the Fencible allotments in the Town of Onehunga, complete with names. Detail from above.
Another one of those little gems found suddenly in the midst of hunting through old survey plans. This, from LINZ plan Deed Blue 52 (crown copyright) dates from some period after 1874 and seems to illustrate "Wapiti", the homestead of Major Nelson George. I don't often see perspective drawings like this in the plans -- it must have come from a real estate sale for the property just across Market Road, there in the Epsom-St John's area. Note the smoke coming from the chimney. "Wapiti" was expanded and added to over time. Bought by the McCrystal family in 1920, according to The History of Epsom by the Epsom & Eden Districts Historical Society (2006), it ended up part of St Cuthbert's College campus in 1925, and converted into the Melrose House hostel.
Other sources Auckland City Archives – subdivision plans, valuation field sheets Auckland Regional Council website’s Regional viewer http://www.arc.govt.nz/council/maps/public-web-maps.cfm Survey Plans, historic maps, directories, electoral rolls at Auckland City Library Militia Database
Auckland Research Centre hold 6 cabinets of survey plans from 1880s to 1990s Donated by Ascension Surveyors, these are aperture card format, covering Cape Reinga to Mercer Search library catalogue under “LINZ” (Land Information New Zealand)
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