A Peppercorn Rent Forever


Apologies for the misleading title - I don't know of any property offered at the yearly rent of a peppercorn, at least not on this continent.

The term "Quit Rent of One Peppercorn for ever" shows up in colonial land grants, such as the above example from 1861. The inner suburbs of Brisbane were covered by a patchwork of hundreds of grants and the "peppercorn rent" clause appears in deeds until the late 1800s and possibly later. A few readers have asked me about this strange phrase so let's break it down.

Firstly, Peppercorns were used to establish a one-sided agreement under English common law. A contract couldn't be made for "something for nothing" and it had involve a two-way exchange of assets, however nominal, to be enforceable in court. A peppercorn is a hard asset and could therefore be used in agreements where one party surrendered specific rights for the benefit of the other party.

Land grants throughout the Empire also had Quit Rent clauses. The term harks back to medieval days when feudal land titles often had obligations to the ruling "Manor", such as provision of labor, horses, soldiers or hunting grounds. A yearly Quit Rent liberated the land holder from any such duties or "land taxes", whatever they may be.

So - the Peppercorn Quit Rent clause relieved the buyer of the land from any legacy obligations to the Crown, in exchange for an optional peppercorn payment per year. The system was abandoned in the UK in 1922 and probably also discontinued in Australia about that time. We can safely assume that no peppercorns were actually collected by the Crown or by the Queensland government, depriving them of yearly banquet of pasta carbonara, or perhaps steak au poivre.

Colonial land grant map, Western suburbs (click to enlarge). 
The crown was entitled to a yearly peppercorn "quit-rent" 
from each grant - if demanded. Click picture to enlarge.

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