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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.

House history researchers come across the "Quit Rent of One Peppercorn for ever" phrase 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" clause appears in deeds until the late 1800s and possibly later. A few readers have asked me about this odd clause so let's break it down.

Firstly, peppercorns were used to establish a one-sided agreement under English common law. A contract  had involve a two-way exchange of assets, however nominal, to be enforceable. Peppercorns are hard assets by definition and could therefore be used in agreements where one party surrendered rights for the benefit of the other party - in exchange for a peppercorn.

Land grants throughout the British 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 taxes, whatever they may be.

So in summary - 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  the Queensland government, depriving them of yearly banquet of pasta carbonara, or perhaps steak au poivre.

Land grants of the Brisbane Western suburbs. The crown was entitled to a yearly peppercorn "quit-rent" from each grant - if demanded. Click to enlarge.

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