The history of Australian Torrens Land Titles and Procedures

In the 1850’s Robert Richard Torrens a South Australian statesman devised a system to simplify the cumbersome Land Title registration procedure, which was based on the old British system. This “Old System” consisted of a chain of documents/deeds detailing the lands past and present ownership and mortgage history. This bundle of documents could be quite bulky and was usually tied together with pink cotton ribbon. It is thought this is where we get the term “Red Tape”.

Torrens’s idea was based on the British system for insuring shipping manifests. Basically, two identical manifests would be produced, one of which would constitute the official record of the manifest, which was held by Lloyds of London. The owner of the Goods would hold the other as proof of his “Title” to the goods listed in the manifest. When applied to land ownership the system became known as “Torrens Title”

Torrens Title became the standard when introduced into New South Wales with the commencement of the Real Property Act in 1863.

The Registrar General issued a “Certificate of Title” (CT) to the owner of a parcel of land that was a counterpart of the relating folio of the Register. Then, as now any new dealings with the land are submitted with the CT, which is updated together with the relative folio. The CT is then reissued and delivered to the lodging party.

Certificates of Title were initially made of Parchment. Parchment has a slightly oily feel, which is not surprising considering that it is made from stretched and dried sheepskin. It is longer lasting than paper and has been used from historical times.

The folios of the Register were bound in book volumes in lots of 250. By 1887, there were over 800 Volumes.


A good example from this period is Volume 829 Folio 119 shown here. This is in fact a “Land Grant”. A Land Grant, now more accurately known as a “Crown Grant” is the first Title for a parcel of land. Prior to being “Granted” it was “Crown Land”. This particular CT has many interesting features including.

  • The Seal of the Colony of New South Wales impressed by using sealing wax sandwiched between two small patches of parchment, one of which is threaded through the Title. The cuts in the parchment can be seen on the reverse side. Searchlink-The-Seal-of-the-Colony-of-New-South-Wales
  • The “Duty Stamp” on the top left corner evidences liability to Stamp Duty of Five Shillings. Note the small metallic insert imbedded in the seal and the “paid” stamp dated 23/3/87. The Duty Stamp is an integral part of the CT and is continued on the reverse side of the document.
  • The full wording of a reservation of minerals and in this instance an early Drainage Easement.
  • The designation and signature of the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales.
  • A hand written description of the locality of the land and a locality sketch showing its relationship with adjoining lands, streets and lanes.
  • Measurements are in Chains and Links.

Each dealing with a Title is evidenced by a Registrar Generals’ endorsement on the reverse side of the CT. The last dealing noted on this particular title was entered in 1968. The title was subsequently cancelled when a far more recent dealing was lodged and an “Auto Folio” created. Note the rubber stamp impression under the “Vol. and Fol.” The “Auto Folio” notation refers to the creation of an edition of a computerised folio, a system introduced in 1983. Further about this later.


Vol. 1688 Fol. 18 also being a Land Grant is a good example from the early 1900’s.

  • The Duty Stamp impression has been simplified
  • The Seal of the State of New South Wales was impressed without the use of sealing wax. It is just visible in this image.
  • Note the changed wording of the designation of the Governor since Federation.

The use of parchment was phased out shortly thereafter and replaced with a heavy paper.

By the middle of the 20th Century, although physically the same size (340mm x 500mm), the Certificate of Title had been simplified leaving room for endorsements on the front before then continuing on the back. Stamp Duty was not affixed to the CT by way of a Duty Stamp but assessed with regard to the transfer document (Dealing), as is the current practice.


Vol. 6534 Fol. 96 seen here still shows:

  • the location diagram done by hand with the use of different coloured inks identifying the easements referred to in the notifications.
  • The reference to prior titles.
  • The standard “Reservations and Conditions contained in the Crown Grant” statement.

Title Searchers of the day worked by inspecting the actual folio at the Registrar Generals’ Office and reporting the current Registered Proprietor and all current notifications. The locality sketch was reproduced using appropriate coloured pencils. All searches were done in pencil as pens were prohibited in the search area for fear of marking the folios.

In 1961 a new Loose Leaf system was introduced and CT’s were reduced in size to 254mm x 393mm.  (shown below)



The convention of 250 folios to a Volume was retained for consistency.

  • New technology enabled the Plan showing the location of the land to be reproduced onto the CT directly from the Deposited Plan.
  • The “First Schedule” related to the “Registered Proprietor”. Changes to the First Schedule, that is, any change to Searchlinkthe owner/s, were made by ruling through the old entry and making a new entry in the “First Schedule (Continued)” panel on the reverse side of the CT.
  • Similarly, additional endorsements and encumbrances (Mortgages, Leases etc.) were recorded in the Second Schedule.
  • As the ruled through entries are still legible, the historical information is preserved.

The job of the Title Searcher became easier when the only means of searching a Loose Leaf Folio was to purchase a photocopy.

From the late 70’s various models for computerisation of the Land Titles Register were investigated and in 1983 the Integrated Titling System commenced. Initially all the Loose Leaf Titles were converted using the unique Lot and DP (Deposited Plan) number as identifiers. Lot 1 in DP 123456 became 1/123456, Lot 2 in Strata Plan 1234 became 1/SP1234 and its common property title became CP/SP1234.

The CT’s became an A4 dot matrix printout on heavy paper with a blue patterned background. Searchlink-CT See the example from 1986.

  • The Edition Number, its date of Issue and Folio Identifier are shown in a panel on the top right hand corner.

Only one side bears any information. Additional endorsements are shown on subsequent pages. Multi page Titles are securely bound together.

Only current information is shown on a “Computer Folio” Title. Historical Information is obtained by doing a “Historical Search” which documents the dealings since the creation of the folio. As dealings take place, a new “Edition” is issued.

  • The first item in the Second Schedule is usually a reference to the Reservations and Conditions contained in the Crown Grant.

By 1988 CT’s were Laser printed onto a plain blue background and some 10 years later, a yellow background with an image of the Queens Square Registrar General’s Office. Searchlink

A number of different styles followed, reflecting the growing concern with fraud and the need to include various security features.


An ongoing project is the creation of computer folios for all Titles, the scanning of cancelled Titles, historical dealings and plans. Many of these images are now available online and additional images are constantly being added.

Welcome to Searchlink

Searching can be complex with complicated options. VJ Ralph Co along with Searchlink was established in 1943 has now combined with City Legal Services which was established in 1975 and, as the name implies, our services include property settlements, property enquiries (both manually and online), searching Land Titles, ASIC and other government authorities, court filing together with loan processing and document preparation.

We are well aware of the potential for breach of client confidentially and our business has been built on the integrity of our experienced staff, backed by our attention to detail and outstanding customer service that goes beyond the normal expectation. Our relationships with our clients and business partners are based on absolute trust and confidence in our ability.

We look forward to providing a premier searching service for our current and new customers.

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