Do you have ancestors who returned home from World War I to settle land in Victoria? Discover if they applied for a land lease under Victoria’s new Battle to Farm settlement scheme. Find out details about the land they leased and when they occupied it. You may be able to learn significant biographical details such as family names, past occupations, and financial details.
There are over 12,000 transcripts in this collection, each of which links to scanned images of the original soldier settler file. While the amount of information will vary, most will include the following information:
Parish – Victoria is divided into about 2,500 parishes, populated by numbered allotments.
Allotment – Number of each block in the parish. Over time, changes have occurred in the numbering system.
Roods and perches – The area of an allotment is further broken down into roods and perches.
X – Latitude of allotment in decimal degrees, where possible, it has been derived from databases of current-day land parcels.
Y – Longitude of allotment in decimal degrees as above.
By following the link to the scanned images, you will find several different documents, each providing valuable information about your ancestor and the land leased. This information will help illustrate what struggles your ancestor may have faced when trying to develop the land. It may also help explain why an allotment was given up, for instance, if the area was liable to flood or in need of drainage, or if your ancestor had no previous experience with farming.
Please note that for some individuals there are no images available, likely due to mould on the original file. Public Records Office Victoria is working on a solution for mould-affected files with the hopes that the images might be made available in the future.
Not all of the documents in each soldier settler file have been digitised. However, the Public Record Office Victoria has aimed to present those documents that provide the key details of each soldier settlement. Some of the documents you may be able to view are as follows.
Acquisition of Land for the Purpose of Settlement of Discharged Soldiers
Date of inspection
Details on surrounding area distance
Type of district (agricultural, pastoral, fruit-growing)
Ruling price of similar land in the locality
Date of latest sale and price obtained
Description of the land – For example, whether any portion of the land is liable to flood or in need of drainage, the depth and character of soil and subsoil, what the land was chiefly adapted for, and if the land is healthy.
Details pertaining to the cultivation of the land – estimated yield per acre of crops, if the land is suitable for crops other than those currently grown, if the land is easily worked, and so forth.
How long the present owner has held the land and whether the current owner resides on the property
Estimates regarding profitability of the land - probable earnings per annum, whether the land could be sold or leased readily, and so on.
Whether there is a demand existing for small farms in the neighbourhood – one seller wrote, “No demand except by soldiers.”
Whether the seller recommends the purchase of the settlement for returned soldiers – one wrote, “In conjunction with Allotment 40 & 40a opposit [sic], yes. By itself it is too small and too poorly improved.” This highlights a major problem that the scheme faced when it was first rolled out – the lots were too small to allow settlers to succeed in cultivating the land and making a living. The scheme was later altered to allow for the lease of larger plots of land.
Application for lease
Questions answered by soldier settlers were as follows:
Whether they have previously held land
If they (or spouses) currently hold or have any interest in any land
Whether they could make their home on the land at once if approved
Whether they were prepared to insure with the Board all buildings and fencing now on the land and which may subsequently be placed on the land.
Declaration by Applicant
Age and height
Service history, including where enlisted
Residence for 12 months prior to enlistment
Occupation prior to enlistment and occupation since discharged
Purpose in leasing land
Past farm experience
Amount of capital at disposal
Declaration to be made by Applicant at Discharged Soldiers Settlement Inquiry Board
Details any assets or liabilities the soldier settler has
Purpose in acquiring the land
Declaring how soon the settler would take up residence on the land
Conditional Purchase Lease
Date of lease and length of term
Purchase money and rate of interest
Adjustment amount (if any)
Information regarding payments
Some documents may provide details of a soldier settler’s family, particularly those who were likely to come along to settle the land.
With the return of thousands of soldiers from World War I, the Victorian government faced a challenge on how best to reabsorb this population. From this dilemma came the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act of 1917, known as the Battle to Farm scheme, which allowed discharged soldiers to lease land to settle in an effort to provide work for these returning soldiers. Large rural plots were subdivided into smaller units for farming and were then leased to soldier settlers. These soldier settlers leased land in Victoria from 1919 to 1935. You can read the entire Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act of 1917 by following the link provided in the Useful Links & Resources section.
Returning soldiers faced many challenges from shellshock to physical disabilities, which only added to struggles faced on the leased land. Two main issues that soldier settlers faced were too-small allotments and problematic irrigation. With collapse of the world trade market during the war and the ensuing world agricultural crisis, the price of wheat and other staples plummeted. Many soldier farmers with small allotments became trapped prisoners in this crisis as their debts mounted. Thankfully, in the 1930s the government enacted certain reforms, which allowed for larger plots of land to be leased and for some debt write-offs.
Within these records, you can find John McEwen, the 18th Prime Minister of Australia.
At the age of 19, he applied for a land lease as a soldier settler. Prior to the war, he worked as a clerk and for the three month since his discharge, he had been working as a farm hand before making this application. The documents inform us that he had £50 capital and was interested in acquiring land for mixed farming. He was in excellent health having suffered no physical disabilities as a result of service.
We are able to learn significant details of his war service. He enlisted in Melbourne and served for 138 days in Australia. He was discharged on 24 December 1918 due to demobilisation. He notes that he had no active service and that he was a Private.
Data provided by Public Record Office Victoria and published under Creative Commons Licence 3.0 Australia: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/