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A home for hints, tips and interesting bits.

Handy Land Record Resources

I've been putting together a new presentation focusing specifically on land records and while there is a lot of information that is only available at PROV, there are some online resources that can help you out on your land records journey...if you dare take one!

Know your land districts

A lot of land files are arranged by file number and land district. File numbers are found predominantly on parish maps but land districts are not. Some are easy to figure out based on their proximity to the larger towns from which the districts get their names. But others might lay between two towns and are a little trickier to figure out.


PROV make this easy though - with a handy list of all the parishes in the state with the county, land district and municipality along with it. This is a list I refer to all the time and is a handy tool in my land records toolbox.


Read the Lands Guide

The Lands Guide is the go to place for information on land research. I purchased a copy of this years ago and it has been an indispensable resource as I've dug deeper into land records. Fortunately, you can now read this 400+ page behemoth online, for free! It runs through the basics of reading a parish map all the way to records from obscure sections of various land acts over the past 150 years or so.


Get searching

A lot of land records and correspondence files have been individually catalogued on the PROV website, in most cases providing the name of the selector/occupier, the parish and the allotment details. If you're just starting out, make sure a quick surname or parish search on the PROV website is one of your first tasks. Once you get your search results, filter for the various land records on the left hand side of the results screen.


And, as always, if you get stuck or have any questions - drop me a line!

Historic Plan Collection

If you're browsing digital records on the PROV website you will most likely see items from the 'Historical Plan Collection' in your search for records available online. These maps date from 1832 and can contain some of the following information:


• early descriptions of soils and native vegetation

• location of huts, fences, gardens and other capital improvements made by squatters

• location of other buildings

• tracks used by original settlers

• reserves set aside for public use

• early place names

• location of pastoral runs

• ship wrecks


The PROV description of this series provides the following disclaimer - "not all of the above features will appear on any one plan. In many cases the cadastral information is central, and all other details are incidental".


But, they are online and easy to download - so what have you got to lose!

Looking for Letters

In the past, I've been on the hunt for correspondence created by the Victorian Police in 1908. I found what I was looking for, through a process that can be applied to correspondence from a whole range of Government agencies. The system used to record, track and maintain correspondence the ‘Annual single Number’ system. Once you know how the system works, you can track down a single specific time of correspondence in the thousands upon thousands of files at PROV.


The system is basic – when an item of correspondence was received it was assigned a consecutive number eg 1234/1908 (being the 1234th letter received in 1908) and entered into an index and then into a register. The index entry would be determined by the subject or person who sent the correspondence eg. PUBLIC WORKS or GREALY. It would also be entered into a separate register – which allowed for any other related correspondence to be recorded with it. Understanding how the index and register work is important when a lengthy file with multiple items of correspondence is created.


Say for instance, a letter is received regarding the theft of property from the post office in Benalla – filed as 4567/1922. Then, more letters come in relating to that event eg. 6789/1922, 10267/1922 and 1267/1923. All these will be entered in the index as single items when received – but as more correspondence comes in the final location of the letters will change, which will be tracked in the register.


If we were looking for the original letter (4567/1922) we would look in the register and see that it was filed with 6789/1922. So, we look that up and see that it (along with the first letter) was filed with 10267/1922 and so on. Eventually – we would discover that all the correspondence is filed away under 1267/1923 – so we would order the box containing correspondence from that year within that number range, flick through the pile of papers and eventually find what you’re looking for.


That is as bad as it gets! Some items will just be registered by themselves, but, you never know so you should check the register anyway to save ordering a box of papers and flick through to find the one you’re after isn’t there.


Correspondence takes patience…and depending on what you’re chasing, it can take a couple of visits to PROV to get what you’re after.

Crown Reserves

The title suggests perhaps a nice bottle of red wine - but unless you get the same kick out of land correspondence files as you do from a nice shiraz, you may be left disappointed.


VPRS 242 - Crown Reserve Correspondence contains records relating to the proclamation and management of Crown reserves. Legislation passed in 1860 (Sale of Crown Lands Act) allowed the government to reserve land for public purposes eg. churches, schools, abattoirs, markets, cricket grounds, racecourses and cemeteries.


This gave the land in question protection in that it could not be sold, leased or used for mining or other purposes. Though, these proclamations were changed over time, with PROV's catalogue entry for this set of records stating 'many of these files are those for reserves whose status has since been revoked by legislation or by Order-in-Council'.


What can be found in these files? The content does vary depending on the site - I have seen some very brief files of only a few pages and some much larger. In general, the files contain correspondence relating to the administration of the reserve, maps or plans of the site and items relating to any changes or revocation of the reserve.


I'll be looking into this series shortly as I've been tasked with researching the history of the recreation reserve in Yackandandah.

The microfiche series VPRS 7312 is required to track down the details of these Crown Reserve files - fortunately, I made a copy of this extensive fiche collection a couple of years ago so the task ahead is made much easier (and if you have your own query about this type of record I can get back to you right away with an answer!).


The fiche shows five different files available for the racecourse and recreation reserve and tells me exactly where to look to find the files.

Among the other listing of Crown Reserve files for the area include:


• Telegraph Office

• Roman Catholic Church

• Railways

• Athenaeum

• Manure Depot

• Various Camp Sites

A Macabre Record

Within PROV's collection there exists a number of very peculiar records - a vial of poison, a bullet taken from a shooting victim and a register for recording the pudding and cigarettes dished out to prisoners in Melbourne.


One of my favourites is the 'Particulars of Execution' - a register detailing the results of various executions between 1894 and 1967. The last entry in this register concerns the execution of Ronald Ryan, the last person ever to be executed in Victoria.


The register includes a 'Table of Drops' - detailing the formula for a successful hanging, taking 840 and dividing that by the weight of the prisoner in 'his' clothes in pounds. Though, the formula does note that no drop should exceed eight feet and that it only applies to those weighing up to 210 pounds.

Special consideration was to be given where the prisoner was suffering from disease affecting the condition of their neck - in such cases the Governor and Medical Officer are to determine the 'drop'.


A fracture appears to be the goal, and the target was the 2nd cervical vertebrae - photographs of which have been inserted into the register with the fractures marked. In the image below, you'll see a sketch of the vertebrae of James Williams, executed in September of 1904 for the murder of Mary Amelia Veitch.

From the note in the register it seems that after his autopsy, the vertebrae was discarded before it could be photographed. In order to show further evidence of a successful hanging, a sketch was drawn instead. Williams' execution was described as follows:


"Death in this case was absolutely instantaneous. There was not the slightest quiver or tremor of a muscle after hanging".


William's last words were reported in the newspapers, this report from the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 19 Sep 1904: 

Speaking in very low tones, but with steady voice "I am very sorry for the deed that I have done." Here he made a brief pause, then added, slowly, ''Very, very sorry." 

The cap was drawn over his face, and the executioner was adjusting the knot in the rope, when, in almost inaudible tones, he spoke again, saying, "God forgive me."

The Point Henry Coffins

While reading through some inquest files I came across one of the more unusual tales I've read in a record from PROV. The document detailed the proceedings of an inquest held at the house of Mr George Coveney of Point Henry, just East of Geelong in May of 1853.


On Monday the 2nd of May 1853, William Roberts, a labourer, was out shooting duck at Point Henry. As he walked along the beach he came across two coffins lying on a bed of seaweed at the waters edge - one small, which he believed to be that of a child and the other large. On his way home he mentioned his discovery to local farmer Patrick Mahoney, who accompanied him back to the coffins.


Strangely, neither Roberts nor Mahoney notified the authorities of their discovery - it wasn't until John Lowther, an employee of George Coveneys was taking a walk on the beach the day after that he came across the same scene. Having ascertained there was a corpse in the larger coffin, Lowther left immediately for Geelong to notify the Coroner.


On examination of the coffins at the inquest a few days later it was determined that due to the type of wood used and the construction of the coffins, they were no doubt made on board a ship. The bodies themselves were too decomposed for any cause of death to be determined, believed to have been in the water for at least two months.


Other than being from a ship, no theory is given as to where the coffins may have originated. Did they fall from a ship as it sailed into Port Phillip or Corio Bay? Were they haphazardly buried at sea?


I went looking for answers in the marine births, deaths and marriages index - but just my luck those records only start in May of 1853!


The origin and identities of the occupants of those coffins looks to remain a mystery - but, I wonder if it is possible to find out where they may have been buried?

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