Generally, early European settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador was discouraged by Great Britain in order to promote the lucrative cod fishery and to supply the ranks of the British navy. Attempts at colonization from 1610 to 1661 by Guy, Kirke, Vaughan, Baltimore and others resulted in failure and confirmed the official British policy towards preserving the Province as a fishing colony in order to protect the fishing interests of the mother country.
In 1699 Britain finally allowed a limited form of land ownership based solely on the prosecution of the migratory fishery. It was not until 1824 that the British Parliament passed legislation which empowered the Governor to grant or lease vacant "waste" land for any purpose, whether fishery related or not. The legislation remained in effect until 1844 when the first Crown Lands Act was passed by the Newfoundland legislature. Despite these legislative improvements permitting land ownership, many persons continued to take possession of Crown land without obtaining a land title and claims to land based on adverse possession, commonly referred to as squatter's rights, remains a key aspect of the land tenure system of the Province.
In 1824 the British government enacted the Judicature Act which created the first land registration system based on a District Court model with a Northern District Court in Harbour Grace, a Southern District Court in Ferryland and a Central District Court in St. John's. All deeds, wills, grants of land and other instruments were required to be registered in the District Court within six months. The requirement for compulsory registration within six months was subsequently removed by the legislature because poor transportation and communications systems prevented the public from meeting this six month deadline. This requirement was never re-introduced and many persons continue to hold land by means of unregistered deeds or squatter's rights.
The registration of Crown grants in the District Courts ended in 1849 when the Crown Lands Registry was created under the Crown Grants Registration Act. The Registry remains in existence to the present day and houses approximately 72,000 grants, leases and licences of Crown land. Approximately 1600 titles to Crown land are registered yearly.