Primary application packets guide

The Real Property Act, 1862 established a system whereby owners could convert land granted prior to 1863 to Real Property Act title. This is done by what is called a Primary Application. These records are an important research resource as the supporting documentation lodged with the application often remains in the packet.

Why are Primary Application packets important for research?

NRS-17513 Primary Application Packets are an important resource for researchers because the supporting documentation lodged with the application often remains in the packet. This can include:

  • the survey Plan
  • correspondence, including Lands Department working papers and memos
  • reports from the Title Examiner's and the Survey Draftsman
  • the draft Certificate of Title
  • caveats against the Application by adjoining owners or others claiming an interest in the land, and
  • deeds, possibly including mortgages, and other dealings with the land.

The packet may also contain other documents or copies of documents used as evidence to prove title. These may include some or all of the following:

  • Statutory Declarations
  • Birth, Death and Marriage certificates
  • wills
  • valuations, and
  • subdivision plans.

The Primary Application forms are not in the Packet as they were removed for filming prior to their transfer as State archives. They are held as a separate series - see NRS 13012 below.

Legislative background

There are two ways of evidencing or proving freehold title to land by documents. One is by what is sometimes known as Torrens Title. In NSW this is more correctly referred to as Real Property Act title. This is the system of registered title to land administered by the Department of Lands (formerly Land Titles Office) under the provisions of the Real Property Act 1900. This system started in NSW on 1 January 1863 under the Real Property Act 1862 (the forerunner of the current Act).

The other way of evidencing title to land is what is now known as Old System Title. This is the way it was done before Robert Torrens had the main elements of his proposed system adopted in all Australian colonies. This is the system of proving title to land by producing the deeds by which successive owners of the land transferred or conveyed title until it reached its present owner. Land granted to settlers before 1863 was conveyed under this system. After 1863 land grants were made under the Real Property Act system.

Torrens devised his system of government-sponsored registration of title to land to overcome difficulties in the existing system - the uncertainty, expense and delay in conveying and holding title - caused by a variety of possible problems including competing claims, missing documents, incorrect description of lands and the system's inherent complexity.

Converting Old System Title

To convert land held under Old System Title the current owner needed to lodge the completed Primary Application form together with a survey of the land and documents proving title, which included a set of deeds, with the Department of Lands. This supporting documentation - including any correspondence between Lands and the owner(s) about the land - was placed in a 'packet' known as the Primary Application packet. Note that the Application forms themselves have since been separated from the packets (see NRS 13012 under Related Records below).

If the application was accepted, a Certificate of Title was issued.

Applications were sometimes rejected. In these cases, the application form and some minor documentation was kept and other documents were returned to the applicant.

How to locate a Primary Application packet

If the land you are researching has been the subject of a Primary Application you will need to locate the relevant Real Property Application number. This is also the number of the Primary Application. To find this you need to know where the land you are researching is situated, who made the application or the name of a person(s) who may have owned the land at some time.

NSW Land Registry Services will be able to assist you in locating the Real Property Application number using Lands Department records. The Historical Land Records Viewer (HLRV) can be searched online to view historical maps plans, titles and indexes.

It is also possible that Parish maps and Government Gazettes held by us may be of assistance in locating the Application number. Please be aware that this could involve very time-consuming research, with no guarantee of success.

How to access Primary Application packets

Primary Application packets are available to view in our State Archives Reading Room.

To find a Primary Application Packet that has been transferred to our custody follow the steps in the table below:

If you cannot locate the Primary Application packet in our catalogue, contact NSW Land Registry Services. Also note that the conversion of land holdings from Old System Title is an ongoing process and more recent Primary Application packets may still be held at the NSW Land Registry Services.

Department of Lands

Related records

NRS-13011 Documents relating to Primary Applications Nos 2 to 14157 (with gaps), c.1802-c.1950


This series comprises supporting documents (including deeds of grant of some interest), which were culled from packets 1-14157 by the Department of Lands and have been retained as State archives. The documents are arranged according to the Primary Application number.

NRS-13012 Primary Applications,1862-1986

[6/10035-454, 6/11432-607]

The Primary Application forms were removed from the Primary Application packets and filmed by the Registrar General's Office (the office which was responsible for these records), prior to their transfer as State archives. The forms are arranged according to the Primary Application number. Early applications give a full description of the land, valuation, or original grantee and date, any tenants or encumbrances, owners and occupiers of adjacent land, and details of the applicant's marriage. While the format has changed over time, all still give a description of the land and subsisting interests, for example, leases or mortgages.

NRS-13018 Index to persons applying to buy land under the Real Property Act, 1868-1891


These volumes record applicant's name, primary application number (Real Property number). The location of the land concerned is not recorded.

NRS-13021 Land title primary application registers, 1884-1902


These volumes record Primary Application number, applicant's name, residence, location of land concerned, area, valuation of property and date of various stages of applications movement through the department. There is an index in the front of the volume covering 1884-92 [5/3551]. [5/3552] covers 1898-1902 and is unindexed.

NRS-21527 Primary Application Search Books, 1863+

Part of the examination processing of a Primary Application involves LPI officers undertaking searches of Old System records on the basis, and in conjunction with the records supplied in the Primary Application. One of the resulting reports from the search conducted is known as an epitome of title. The epitome of title will show in chronological order the devolution of title to the land in the application from a selected commencement point to the date of the search, and will include reference to all documents whether registered or not appearing to affect the title over the period searched.

This report and other reports are relied on by legal officers in approving the application and providing direction on how the unqualified Torrens Title should issue. 

Epitomes of title prepared by LPI Officers bearing the same number reference as Primary Application, and have been made available as a public record under the description of Primary Application Search books. These volumes contain the applications lodged and supporting documentation required to undertake the search.Records are organised numerically by Primary Application Search number, and section-sewn into bound volumes of no more than 100 searches.The Search Books can be searched on the NSW Land Registry Services Historical Lands Records Viewer (HLRV). You will need to know the Primary Application number. 

NRS-21565 Primary Application Search Sketches, 1863-1999

Search Sketches were once regularly prepared as part of the investigation and processing of a Primary Application. Search Sketches are plans drawn by Primary Application examiners to provide a graphical representation of the land described in the documents that form the chain of title that supports an applicant’s claim to title as disclosed in their Primary Application. Often these documents in the chain only provide a description of the land, with no reference to a plan or diagram, these sketches are therefore useful in identifying the land parcels in these documents and any successive subdivisional actions over these parcels.

The Search Sketches can be searched on the NSW Land Registry Services Historical Lands Records Viewer (HLRV). You will need to know the Primary Application number. 

NRS-21566 Primary Application Miscellaneous Search Books, 1863+

Similar to NRS 21527, Primary Application Search Books, the Miscellaneous Search Books include searches that have some level of complexity.

These volumes contain the applications lodged and supporting documentation required to undertake the search. Records are organised numerically by Primary Application Miscellaneous Search number.

The Miscellaneous Search Books can be searched on the NSW Land Registry Services Historical Lands Records Viewer (HLRV). You will need to know the Primary Application number. 

Land records available at NSW State Archives

A joint initiative between NSW State Archives and Lands and Property Information (LPI) to provide online access to a number of historical land title records was announced in November 2010. Using the popular search tool PIXEL (now HLRV) researchers can now search and view Old Form Torrens Title Registers, Charting Maps and Crown Plans online

Commissioners of Crown Lands guide

A brief overview of the major sources we hold that relate to the main records of the Commissioners of Crown lands and key related series

Conditional purchase of crown land guide

This Guide provides an historical background on the conditional purchase scheme in NSW from 1862 to 1951, also known as 'free selection before survey' along with a list of the major record series and step-by-step guidance on how to access them


County & parish maps guide

An overview of county, parish and town/village maps created by the Department of Lands and its predecessors