Chapter XXIII. What Makes a Colony Prosper.

CAPTAIN DOUGLAS sometimes ran against an old colonist in Hobart Town, who was then the man of one idea. The gentleman had been known to the oldest inhabitant from remote antiquity. Some men are said to have been in the mill and come out young again; but his tall, lean figure had undergone no perceptible change for the previous thirty years, and his mental and bodily vigour bid fair for another thirty in advance.

His one idea was a railroad from Hobart Town to Launceston.

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Did any one speak of bad times, he would solace the growler with a picture of the railway. When one pronounced the colony destitute of resources, he would say they would reveal themselves upon the opening of the railway. To desponding fathers who saw no fortune for their sons, he unfolded visions of transcendent prosperity upon the birth of the railway.

‘But really, Mr Glen, what does a colony of one hundred thousand people want with a railway?’ asked the Captain.

‘Everything, sir.’

‘What good is it to Hobart Town?’

‘To bring produce down on the road from Launceston.’

‘And what good, then, to Launceston?’

‘To bring produce down on the road from Hobart Town.’

‘But what good to the interior?’

‘Carry off their produce, and bring back cheaper supplies.’

‘Still, look at the expense. Can you afford, like the Victorians, to pay forty or fifty thousand pounds a mile for railroads?’

‘Those were mad days, and the colony threw away its money.’

‘Yet Victoria is far more level than Tasmania, and would present fewer engineering difficulties.’

‘Bless my heart, the thing is as easy as possible.’

‘For all that, Mr Glen, a very large sum of money

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would be wanted, and a heavy interest would be a great burden to the small island.’

‘My dear sir, that railway could be profitably made for five thousand pounds a mile. And as to the interest, the returns would pay that, and leave a margin for the gradual payment of the loan.’

‘If that could be done, Mr Glen, the thing would be a success.’

‘If, indeed! I assure you, sir, it is as simple as A. B. C. Better still, land now useless, because carriage absorbs profits, would become available, and mines could be wrought to advantage. Capitalists would then have no occasion to send out their cash to Melbourne, and labour would be drawn in crowds. The fact is, sir, they are all asleep here. They have been so long fed with the government spoon, that they have no energy to get their own living. The Treasury cow is dry now, and they must look for another milker.’

‘I can speak of what railroads have done for India,’ observed the other. ‘They are promoting civilization as well as developing wealth.’

‘And we have droned long enough here without them. The opening out of a country has a salutary effect, just as the clearing of a forest lets in the sun to sweeten the soil. Our sleepy hollows would then become hives of industry.’

‘It is certainly odd that while all your colonial neighbours had some iron-roads you should have been so long without.’

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‘There is only one way of accounting for that. We lost heart, Captain Douglas. After cracking up our island as the gem of the ocean, we had dropped down to a belief that it was the most wretched, God-forsaken place in the universe.’

‘No wonder, then, you lost so many of your people.’

‘Yes, plenty went off on the principle of rats and the sinking ship. But there is no sinking after all. The tight little island will right itself very soon. The runaway rats may then return to the bracing air of our mountains, and the beauty of our valleys.’

‘I don't see, Mr Glen, that your railway should not pay part of the interest at first, besides benefitting the country.’

‘If it can pay in a poor country like Germany, it ought to do here, especially as our working expenses would not be on the Victorian scale of extravagance.’

‘Working men would certainly find this a more enjoyable climate to labour in.’

‘And plenty of work there would be for them to do. What I want to see is a line across the island, and then branches from Hobart Town to Port Davey, cutting the Huon forests; from Campbell Town to the east coast, cutting through the gold and coal districts of Fingal; and from Launceston to Emu Bay, opening up the best land in the world.’

‘Is there not plenty of metallic wealth to the north-west?’

‘Abundance. Why, there are, according to our

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late government geologist, hundreds of thousands of tons of iron ore, from 55 to 75 per cent., quite surface workings, near Ilfracombe.’

‘It surely is worth constructing these iron-roads, too, for other than material advantages.’

‘Very true, Captain Douglas. They will not only enable produce to get out of a district, but valuable objects to get in. There will be books as well as groceries finding their way into distant homesteads. Newspapers will reach the workman, and the Bible enter his family. Had this island been opened up this way a few years ago, many of our young people that have wandered off to other colonies would have stayed here, and been a vast deal happier by it.’

Captain Douglas was very fond of a chat with a farmer at no great distance, and on his way to town. Mr Richards was a noble specimen of a thorough colonial. Strong in frame, active in movement, constant in energy, abounding in resources, he was the man for labour. He knew how to do work, and how to get it done. He did it well, and got it done well.

Though impelled by the very enterprise of colonial life into operations that were not always successful, he knew he had acted with good judgment at the time, and submitted to the vicissitudes of fortune, especially capricious across the line. With a good home, a beautiful garden, a well wrought farm, a splendid family, good health, and an excellent reputation, what could he want to complete happiness?

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The Captain sought him for information, but courted his society for the sake of the man.

‘You have seen lots of changes here, Mr Richards?’

‘Yes, sir, in about fifty years of colonial life one must pass through many changes.’

‘But you are far from being so prosperous as your neighbours across the straits.’

‘And yet I am always glad when my business is done in Melbourne, and I can get back to my nest here. We are not so grand and rich as they, as our resources are fewer. I can recollect the time when some of our Van Diemen's Land settlers established a colony there, and for many years after we used to pity the unfortunates there.’

‘But how they look down on you now!’

‘They do. They ask us to throw them a rope, and they will take us in tow. As they get richer we seem to grow poorer.’

‘Why is this, Mr Richards?’

‘They have the five talents, and get another given in. We cannot cope with their wealth and influence, and are drifting astern.’

‘Is there much change here since the gold fever?’

‘There is indeed. In 1852 we were prosperous, and Victoria was gently moving on. The gold burst forth that year, and we being near got the profit. Their people went digging, and immigrants poured in; so we Tasmanians fed them, and sent timber for their buildings.’

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‘That must have sent the gold to you.’

‘Certainly: in 1853 our banks had about ten times the specie they now hold. Our exports were twice the present value, and our imports even greater than that. Our beer importation was fully eight times what it is now. Property went up, and we were all crazy together.’

‘And then the bubble burst?’

‘Yes, thank God, it did.’

‘Why thankful for your decline?’

‘Because God in His mercy saved us. We were utterly forgetting Him, and He threw us back to stop us going over the precipice.’

‘Then you don't bow to the great idol?’

‘I believe, sir, that righteousness establisheth a nation. Babylon was a great and rich city, but a very bad one. I have seen two great floods of sin in this island. The first was when Britain overwhelmed us with her prisoners; and the second, when the gold fever plagued these ports.’

‘And what arrested the floods?’

‘Not the voice of man; for we pleaded very hard with the British Government, in the first flood, to have mercy on us, and on our children. But they only laughed at our prayers. God then pointed with His finger to the gold veins of Victoria, and the rulers of the Empire immediately stopped sending convicts here. We did not, we could not, arrest the plague of sin that poured in by the good times of 1852 and '53.

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But God stayed the plague by damming off the tide of wealth.’

‘Then you now believe Tasmania is better off?’

‘Most assuredly, in the best sense. Our young people are better off in being removed from many temptations. The fiery spirits left us, and a great number of queer fellows well known to our police left us; but we are growing up more thoroughly a Tasmanian settlement, than a land of immigrants.’

‘But you do get immigrants, Mr Richards?’

‘Yes, sir; we get the like of you, and rejoice at it. We ought to get plenty more like you, if they knew their true interests.’

‘I am quite of that opinion, and hope to see many more. But as so few working men come here, you will soon suffer from that cause.’

‘I know the pinch already. High wages in Melbourne drew off our best hands, and left us the worst. These we have to pay more for less work, and then cannot sell the produce to advantage.’

‘And yet you are offering land inducements for more farmers to settle here. You are even talking of a railway across to Launceston, through a country of only 100,000 people.’

‘Why not? We have been asleep long enough. Victoria took the wind out of our sails, and we thought we were never going to sail any more. But as we lived well before the gold, we should do so after it. Because we have not the wealth of our neighbour,

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it is not necessary to starve, nor fancy ourselves going to the dogs. If with less wealth, we have fewer cares and less temptation. Then, they may beat us in gold, but not in climate. Their gold comes through the skin, sir, and makes them sallow.’

‘What should be done, then?’

‘Use the means God has given us, and ask His blessing. I don't want our young folks to go mad after riches as most of us did nearly twenty years ago. But let them, while thankful to be in so healthy a country, try and work up what they have. Although Victoria has closed the gate against our flour, our potatoes, our timber, our very fruit, she is glad enough to have our hops, our coal, our building stone. We should turn to with the same laudable spirit of work they have, and get up a few more things they can't beat us in, with all their Tariffs of Protection.’

‘And what looming of the future do you discern?’

‘That north-west country of ours, when broken into, will be a mine of wealth. The north-east is not penetrated. Industries will utilize the western swamps and mountain streams. Iron-roads will lead capital in. The railway of ours across the island will open up the country bravely. Our fisheries have never been wrought. The coal will yet be got out of the mine to profit. India will one day get our famous apples, as Queensland is now glad to have. Instead of lazily importing manufactured articles, we should

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set about making them, and so give the farmer somebody to feed.’

‘I echo all you have said. I believe myself that this island, so compact and small, might become one of the happiest regions on earth.’

‘Yes, sir; but only by a people true to themselves and their God. And here we have more favourable circumstances for moral action. We shall not have our population scattered, as in Australia, but our hundred thousand are close in at home like. They will be within reach of schools and places of worship. They will be under eye, as it were. The sexes are very nearly equalized, people do marry here, and homes are less transitory. Moral forces can play upon folks easier here.’

‘I rejoice to see that you in Hobart Town and Launceston, especially, are preparing in the right way for a future. Your religious organizations are effectively worked, your Temperance Societies are exerting a good influence, and the Working Men's Clubs and Mechanics' Institutes are a real credit to you.’

‘Thanks for your good word, Captain Douglas. I wish more like you would come out here. We are not a fast people, but we are the happier for it. Now that our dear young folks are growing up strong, healthy, educated, and moral, I predict for this country a happiness and real progress, that will place it as a home above every place else. I fear nothing for it, if the fear of God be maintained here.’

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‘I do wish,’ said the Captain with emphasis, ‘that some of the scorners and growlers, without and within the colony, could have heard your talk this morning Good day, Mr Richards, and God bless you!’