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II

When I was at Sydney the Royal Tar was in the harbour awaiting to take a party consisting of numerous families from Australia to found in the South American republic of Paraguay a socialistic colony to be called “New Australia.” It was an Utopian experiment. The leader of the movement, Mr. William Lane, was an idealist, and as editor of the Queensland Worker he had preached the doctrines of socialism. He evidently grew tired of theory and decided to put his principles to the test of practice. The people who joined realised all their assets and put their money into a common fund. The contribution of each was fixed at £60, though some gave more. The highest amount given was £1,500, and it was estimated at the time that there was an average of £100 a man. Most of the men who left were bushmen. Many of them had taken part in the disastrous shearers' strike in Queensland in 1890-1, which had left them sore and bitter.

It was pointed out that it was absurd to leave the free conditions obtaining in Australia for a country crushed


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by the burden of a big debt and heavy taxation; where the danger of civil war or conflict with neighbouring countries was ever present. But Lane had received a concession of some hundreds of thousands of acres from the Paraguayan Government, and he and those with him were deaf to all warnings.

The scheme, like so many similar projects, did not make sufficient allowance for the weaknesses of human nature. Quarrels and misunderstandings are the inevitable outcome of such enterprises.

I met and became friendly with a man who was sailing with Lane's party. He, too, was an idealist. I could not help liking him. I talked to him about such natural laws as the survival of the fittest and the struggle for existence. I asked him if his leader could change human nature. My friend would not listen. He and I agreed to differ. He was enthusiastic about the venture's future prospects.

“Every detail has been carefully examined and there is no chance of failure.”

He went on to say: “Three experienced men were sent to Paraguay. They carefully selected land which is good for agriculture and grazing.”

The society, of which Lane was the head, was based on common ownership of property, also common control of the means of production, exchange and distribution, as well as equality of the sexes and the maintenance of children by the community under the guardianship of the parents. It was a reversion to the old Australian tribal system. Private property is unknown amongst the Australian aborigines. Individuals possess nothing: everything that each member of the tribe uses belongs not to him but to the tribe.




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I tried to dissuade my friend from going to Paraguay, but nothing could turn him from his purpose. He assured me there was no need for concern.

The Royal Tar was a sailing ship of some 600 tons. It was purchased for about £2,000. Lane had received a total of £30,000 as contributions towards the scheme, which could not therefore fail through lack of funds. That was what my friend told me.

“We will go away,” said he, “where liberty, fraternity and equality will prevail.”

Like Lane, he thought that socialism and patriotism were incompatible and that to the poor toiler one country was no more than another.

About the middle of 1893, after various delays, the Royal Tar sailed with over 200 passengers and a crew of 32, all of whom were members of the association. Several shipments of emigrants followed.

Lane sailed with the first contingent. Trouble arose even on shipboard. There was opposition to an edict of his that no women were to remain on deck after nine o'clock at night. This was regarded as a gross infringement on personal freedom and contrary to the idea of liberty which they expected to enjoy.

As a student, a great reader, a deep thinker and industrious writer, Lane was much of a recluse. His head was in the clouds and he was somewhat autocratic. There were mutterings, amongst men and women whose allegiance to him was weakening, that he was the type of socialist leader whose notion was, “Let us all be equal and I'll be your king.”

The country that had been granted to them proved delightful. It was everything that it was represented to be and equalled the settlers' brightest expectations.


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It was fertile, well-watered and well-wooded, and no fault could be found with any of the conditions. Still, New Australia proved a miserable failure because of jealousies, suspicions and bickerings. There were disputes over who should ride round and herd the cattle and who should do the hard, disagreeable and dirty work of the settlement. One of the disillusioned idealists said that whilst it was Nature's paradise it had been made by man into “a hell upon earth.” Lane had to call in the Paraguayan police to restore order.

Groups of settlers seceded from the main body and formed distinct colonies. A spirit of selfishness prevailed, and what a colonist described as “an atmosphere of gross materialism.” Most of the settlers managed to get back to Australia, sadder and poorer, but wiser than when they left.

Finally, amongst the few remaining settlers in Paraguay, the position became utterly hopeless. The Government withdrew the original grant and divided some blocks of the land among the survivors, a few of whom then began to restore their shattered fortune by means of their individual efforts, working for wages when occasion offered.

Lane was in many respects remarkable. He was born in England, went to America when a boy, became a compositor, was promoted to the literary staff of a paper on which he was employed, showed that he was richly endowed with all the qualities of a writer, wandered as a journalist over the United States and Canada, and came to Australia, where he became interested in the labour movement.

After the New Australia failure he was a broken


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man. His ideals had been shattered. He wrote leading articles, abandoned the greater part of his socialistic ideas, and during the war was fervently imperialistic. He was editor of the New Zealand Herald until his death in 1917 at the age of fifty-six.

To the last his capacity for work and his courage were amazing. Many who had paid money into his Paraguay scheme demanded it back. He gallantly tried to let them have it, and was honestly returning what he could when the end came.

I never learned what became of my enthusiastic Sydney friend who went with Lane's followers to Paraguay.

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