previous
next



  ― 65 ―

3. CHAPTER III

WORK IN THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL BEFORE THE INTRODUCTION OF RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT

As explained in the last chapter, I was elected to the Legislative Council in May 1854, just two years before the first election to the new Parliament. I had at this time been engaged for over four years as the conductor of ‘The Empire’daily newspaper, and by the course taken by that journal, and by my speeches in public, I had made myself the object of much vituperation in some quarters, and of unfriendly, not to say hostile, criticism in others. One well-known gentleman of the old school used to think he had withered me up by denouncing me as a ‘double-tongued slanderer.’ But, on the whole, I received a very cordial greeting when I took my seat. Indeed, many of the leading men of the old party—among others I remember well Mr. Plunkett, the Attorney-General—had come to the polling booth and openly voted for me. Nearly all are now gone to their great account. Sir Charles Nicholson, Bart. (then Speaker), Sir Daniel Cooper, Bart. (Speaker of the first Assembly), Sir William M. Manning, and Mr. Augustus Morris still live (January 1890), but I cannot recollect another name.

I set about my new duties with a vigour and zeal


  ― 66 ―
which, I am afraid, were not always guided by a sound judgment. One of my first motions was in favour of a more liberal system of immigration. Though identified, if ever man was, with the working class, I was at the outset of my career, and have ever remained, the advocate of the introduction of new population from without as essential to the progress of a new country. My broad contention has ever been that the more men of the right class you have in a land ‘where life has ample room,’the better it must be for every man of every class; that where all is a wilderness before us, nothing is so valuable as human labour. Years afterwards, in my place in Parliament as Prime Minister, when speaking in support of a vote for immigration, I used this language:—

I want men and women—free men and women—of our own stock to assist us in laying the broad foundations of an Empire; and when the question is narrowed down to this inconceivable contention between labour and capital, I would like to ask this one pregnant question: Are not all, or nearly all, the employers of labour in this country men who have sprung from the ranks of labour? If we could trace the immigrants who have arrived here by the assistance of the State, we should find that they are the very men who, by their perseverance, by their provident habits, by their enterprise and their insight into industrial affairs, have become the great employers in this country. They do not come here to remain serfs, but to fight the battle of free men where there is ample room for their exertions. I do not feel surprised at the indignation of some of the first men in the mother-country at the illiberal views of colonists in trying to resist the influx of their brothers and sisters from the old country. It is incomprehensible to men of enlightened minds in England that such mean and detestable feelings can exist as


  ― 67 ―
would prevent others from coming to our shores to share in the benefits of these new lands, which are just as much a portion of the Empire as any other.

But my motion was defeated by a large majority; not that the Council was opposed to immigration, but that it was opposed to the principles which I attempted to enforce.

I was placed on nearly all the more important committees; among others, to enquire into the construction of the Metropolitan sewers, in respect to which much abuse and wrongdoing were alleged to have taken place, and the enquiry into which proved to be a most laborious investigation; to consider and report upon the question of education; to consider the expediency of forming Volunteer corps; to enquire into the evils of intemperance; and to investigate and report upon other matters of pressing public interest. If regularity of attendance and zeal were merits, I was a most meritorious committeeman. I was always in my place, and I took my full share in the examination of witnesses. But I soon was engaged in several enquiries originated by myself.

In 1854, I moved for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the expediency of establishing a Nautical School in the port of Sydney, which after some debate was carried. The committee sat and took a considerable amount of evidence, and in due time I, as chairman, brought up the report, which was in favour of the proposal. The report was adopted by the Council and sent by address, according to the usage of the time, to the Governor-General. His


  ― 68 ―
Excellency informed the Council by message in reply:—

With reference to the address of the Council of the 5th instant, the Governor-General fully concurs in the opinion expressed as to the advantages which might result from the establishment of a Nautical School. Such a school, if properly conducted, would be productive of many benefits, not merely to the mercantile and shipping interests, but to society at large. It would, however, be more likely to succeed were it to form part of some general educational system, and were it not impressed with the character of a charitable institution—a character which would have the effect of closing it against the children of respectable parents.

The report, which is now before the Council relative to the working of the Asylum for Destitute Children, would not lead to the inference that an eleemosynary establishment of the kind would be likely to produce very satisfactory results.

In deference, however, to the expressed wish of the Council, the Governor-General will give directions for the insertion, upon the Estimates for 1856, of a sum of 2,000l., for the purchase and fitting up of a hulk, and of a further sum of 1,000l. for the current expenses of the Nautical School, on condition that an equal amount will be contributed from private sources.

I give the message in full because it supplies a fair example of the way in which the Legislature was treated in those days by the Governor, who was, in fact, the real executive of the country. It was difficult to see how the working of the Asylum for Destitute Children could affect the argument in favour of the Nautical School; but the Governor said it did, and there was no more to be done for the time. Years rolled away, the old Council died, the new Parliament took its place; and still there was nothing heard of the Nautical School.


  ― 69 ―
Twelve years after the date of my report, I, as Colonial Secretary (then for the first time), bought the ship Vernon, on which the Nautical School was established, which is now admitted to be one of the most useful institutions in the colony. For nearly a quarter of a century the Vernon has been moored in sight of Sydney; hundreds of poor deserted boys have been gathered from the streets, carefully instructed, and trained to habits of industry and manly conduct on her decks, so that the name of a ‘Vernon boy’ is now received by good and kindly people everywhere with something like affectionate interest. During this period 2,090 boys have passed through the ship into various avenues of employment, and only 8 per cent. of the number have been reported as refractory or backsliding.

I obtained the appointment of another committee to enquire into the importation of Asiatic labourers. For some years past persons largely engaged in squatting pursuits had been casting about to discover an abundant supply of cheap labour. More especially in the far northern districts (now Queensland), South Sea Islanders had been tried; Indian coolies had been tried; other classes of Asiastics had been tried; and many disquieting reports prevailed of ill-usage and cruelty in the carrying on of this traffic. After taking evidence, the committee reported as their general conclusion that there was no necessity for any immediate legislation on the subject. Where this kind of labour had been tried on anything like a large scale, it had, from one cause or other, been found unsatisfactory, if not a total failure.




  ― 70 ―

Another committee was appointed, on my motion, to enquire into the adulteration of food. It held six meetings and examined six witnesses. At this time a committee of the House of Commons was sitting on the same subject, and the report which I as chairman was authorised to bring up concluded thus:—

From the evidence of Mr. Stubbs, it is obvious that the trade in unwholesome articles of food has been subject to no adequate check in the present state of our laws; but, in the opinion of your committee, as already expressed, the whole question is surrounded by such complicated and peculiar difficulties, that it cannot be safely touched by the Legislature, until a complete enquiry has been carried out.

The Select Committee of the House of Commons, now sitting on the same subject, will, your committee respectfully submit, supply information of great value for the guidance of any future similar enquiry that may be conducted in this colony, as the evidence of the eminent scientific persons examined by that committee, and which is based on actual experiments, will apply to many articles of consumption in this colony with equal justice as to the same class of articles in England.

On July 3, 1855, I moved for the ‘appointment of a Select Committee to enquire into the state of agriculture, with special reference to the raising of wheaten grain, and to the causes of hindrance or failure in that pursuit, whether arising from the habits of the people, the policy of the Government, or the physical character of the country.’To understand the interest that fairly attached to my motion, we must review, or rather glance at, the state of the colony. The colony still included the whole of Queensland, and embraced an area of 978,315 square miles. Men of leading positions,


  ― 71 ―
with seats in the Legislature, described it, for the most part, as incapable of tillage, and only fit for grazing sheep and cattle, and for ‘nomadic tribes.’A population not numbering more than 277,579 souls imported largely its breadstuffs from South America and other foreign countries. It is now well known that in all divisions of the colony—north, south, or west—there are as rich wheat lands as in any part of the world; but then the mass of the population were densely ignorant of the true character of the country, and those who knew better were in too many instances personally interested in keeping them ignorant. The stories that were told of the fruitless endeavours of industrious men to obtain patches of land for a freehold home under the Orders in Council seem, to the present generation, like cruel bits of romance. A steady man in service might have saved sufficient money to start himself as a small farmer; he might apply for 40 to 100 acres to be put up for auction sale; months would elapse before his application would be granted; when the day of sale arrived his wealthy neighbour would attend by his agent, and buy the land over the poor man's head for the mere vicious purpose of hindering him from making his home and to protect his own sheep-run from intrusion. While suffering these delays and disappointments, the intending farmer's little money would melt away, and often, if of an irritable temperament, he would give way to drink and become a ruined man.

In moving my resolution I made a short speech, from which I copy the following passages:—

It must be admitted that whatever might be the circumstances


  ― 72 ―
of happiness in which we were placed individually, these circumstances would lose all their importance to us if it were not for the ministrations of the crowds round about us. However fertile and however beautiful the country might be, if it were barren of human life and activity, beauty itself would become only another name for desolation, and the very light of heaven would be fearful to our eyes. This extensive city, so cheerful in the sunshine to-day with its streets of palaces, its thousands of secure homes, its spacious marts and banks, would to-morrow, if population floated away from it, present the awful aspect of the tomb. Seeing, then, that our importance as individuals was in every respect just in proportion to the progress of the population as a whole, the Legislature and Government should pay every attention to supplying the people with that great staple of food, the extreme scarcity of which would be more severely felt in its consequences than the sword of an enemy. At a time when flour was being sold at from 55l. to 60l. per ton, when it was believed that there was a very inadequate supply of this article of food in the country, it seemed more than ever necessary that attention should be paid to the subject.

After alluding to the statements that the country was unfitted for agriculture, I said:—

If it were the case that the country was unsuited to the prosecution of those agricultural pursuits which in all really prosperous countries were of such magnitude and importance; and that grain could not, under any possible circumstances, be produced in quantity adequate to the wants of the population, it would be best that whatever information could be collected should be brought together and published in a shape accessible to those persons whose energies were likely to be turned in that direction. Individual instances might be given of the failure of persons who had settled on the lands of the country for agricultural purposes, but such cases of failure might be accounted for by the spirit of neglect and suppression which had been manifested towards this interest in the public policy of the country.




  ― 73 ―

The committee was granted, and the enquiry was rendered more than usually interesting by the evidence of one witness who was afterwards elected to the first free Parliament, and who became the popular land reformer of 1861. Mr. Robertson (now Sir John Robertson, K.C.M.G.) was well known as a vigorous writer in the newspapers, and a gentleman who held what were called ‘strong Radical opinions’; he had for years resided in the country, and seldom came to Sydney. His knowledge of the operation of the Orders in Council, the abuses of the squatting system, and the hardships imposed upon the class of small settlers, and of the character of the soil in different districts, was that of a singularly quick observant mind, and it was derived from an extensive practical experience. In the light of his great moulding influence on the land question in later years, and his high public standing at the present time, Sir John Robertson's evidence, given more than a generation ago, possesses a curious and instructive interest for the student of land legislation. It is given here without abridgment:—

JOHN ROBERTSON, ESQ., called in and examined:—

1. By the Chairman: You were invited to attend this committee some time since?—I was.

2. You sent a letter, at that time, not expecting to be able to attend in Sydney?—I did.

3. Is this the letter sent by you (handing the same to the witness)?—It is. (Vide Appendix.)

4. Have you been long in the colony?—Thirty-four years.

5. Have you been engaged in agricultural operations any great portion of that time?—I have for twenty-two years—four


  ― 74 ―
years as the superintendent of my father, and eighteen years on my own account.

6. In what part?—On the Upper Hunter.

7. The whole of that time?—I have cultivated lands within thirty or forty miles the whole of that time.

8. At the present time, to what extent are you engaged in agricultural operations?—I have under crop about 250 acres.

9. Is that freehold?—It is.

10. Do you think a great proportion of the land in that district is fitted for agriculture?—There is a very great amount of land in the Upper Hunter fitted for agriculture.

11. Are you acquainted with any other district of the country?—I am acquainted with the whole of the Hunter, and there are large quantities of available land upon the Hunter, and also in New England, and on the Namoi.

12. From your experience of the character of the country generally, should you think as large a proportion of the country is suitable for agricultural pursuits as is necessary for the progress of population, according to any reasonable calculation?—There is sufficient for millions: there is not one acre in cultivation for every ten thousand that is fit for cultivation.

13. From your twenty-two years' experience, you would reject the idea that the country is unsuited to agriculture?— Entirely.

14. By Mr. Cowper: Even the upper part of the Hunter? —Even the upper part of the Hunter: my own experience bears me out there.

15. About Merton?—Perhaps that is the worst part; but, if you go higher, it is better: yet even about Merton and Jerry's Plains, and I apprehend that no part of the whole country bears a worse character than Jerry's Plains, I farmed during ten or eleven years, and never missed but one crop.

16. Was the country low or high?—I cultivated the alluvial flats.

17. By the Attorney-General: In what year did your crop fail?—My crops failed two years; one at Jerry's Plains and


  ― 75 ―
one at Scone. At Jerry's Plains the failure was twelve or thirteen years ago.

18. Was it in a season of drought?—Yes.

19. By the Chairman: You are also engaged in pastoral pursuits to some extent?—Yes.

20. Are you pretty well acquainted with the squatting system?—I have been acquainted with it ever since its first operation. I was one of the first that crossed the Liverpool Range.

21. Do you think there is much land occupied under pastoral leases that would be highly suitable for agriculture?—All the alluvial land in New England, under pastoral leases, is fit for agriculture, and a great portion of the land upon the Namoi, and the rivers in the district of Liverpool Plains.

22. By the Inspector-General of Police: Do you speak as regards climate as well as soil?—Yes. I believe the climate causes many difficulties, but it is not a drop in the bucket as compared with the difficulties which have arisen from the policy of the Government, which policy I have alluded to in the paper before the Committee.

23. By the Chairman: I should gather then that you have, for some years, paid particular attention to this?—I have, during many years, paid much attention to both agriculture and pasture.

24. Do you think the present squatting system imposes serious difficulties to the settlement of the country, having regard more particularly to small farmers?—I do. I have pointed out in the paper I have submitted, somewhat elaborately, the curious ways in which the squatting system has, in my opinion, checked agriculture.

25. By the Attorney-General: What remedy would you apply under the existing state of the law?—The remedy I would apply, in the existing state of the law, which I apprehend, by the way, is not a Minerva, is this:—I would submit large quantities of land for sale, in order that persons who wish to take up lands throughout the country could go at once to the Crown Lands Offices and obtain them, without the delay of applying


  ― 76 ―
for them to be submitted to auction, besides the risk of their being then purchased by a neighbouring proprietor.

26. Are you aware that the principal delay now arises from the survey; they cannot be disposed of by auction, or by any other species of contract, until they have been measured?—I would remedy that in a most simple way, as it is done in America: the intending purchaser should sit down on the land, and pay for it when the quantity is ascertained. I would, however, insist upon his carrying out the provisions I have suggested on the subject, at the conclusion of the paper I have submitted to the committee.

27. Is that the American system?—It is part of the American system. In America, a squatter is very different from one who bears that name here; he, as the word implies, sits down on the land, and is allowed to hold not more than two hundred acres, and this he pays for at the minimum price when it is measured.

28. In those cases, is not the survey in advance, so that a person squatting upon land in America, previously knows the quantity contained in that particular piece?—Assuredly not, for in America he may hold the land for years before payment. The title ‘squatter’is given from the fact of parties going on the ground, in advance of society, and sitting down in the meantime, until civilisation overtakes him, and the quantity of his land is ascertained by measurement. In the event of it not being possible, from legal difficulties, to adopt this plan here, I would suggest that, when a surveyor is called upon to measure off thirty or forty acres on any circle, for a particular applicant, he should be instructed to survey all the available land in the neighbourhood. The time of the surveyor would thus be saved, and there would be ample lands to submit to auction. I would, then, have the whole of these lands submitted at the same sale; and I assume that more might be offered than would be purchased, and this should afterwards be open to selection at the upset price.

29. By the Inspector-General of Police: That would amount to an evasion of the law, by allowing the lands to be taken at


  ― 77 ―
the minimum price?—You asked me how I would do in the present state of the law.

30. Would not that throw more lands into the hands of the surveyors to be measured in places where there was not a demand, and prevent the survey of land in other places where it was applied for?—I am much acquainted with surveyors, and I know they are now put to much expense, inconvenience, and in many cases to absolute loss, from being required to go, as at present, twenty or thirty miles in one direction to survey a small farm of twenty acres, and then, as many miles in an opposite direction, to measure a small piece of land on some creek.

31. But, if the plan suggested by you were adopted, these applicants would have to wait until a large tract of country were measured before they could be attended to?—I think time would be saved in the end; because, if a surveyor have not to move about to any distance, he can, in a few days, measure a quantity of land, which otherwise would occupy him for weeks. I have been with a surveyor measuring land, and I am aware that that can be done.

32. By the Attorney-General: You allude to licensed surveyors?—Yes.

33. By the Chairman: Is it within your knowledge that many persons are applicants, in different parts of the country, for small portions of land, who cannot get them?—Yes, many cannot get them. I have pointed out in this paper the difficulties that are in the way of many small purchasers getting them. I could get them, and any one, who has, or requires, a large quantity, can get them.

34. Have you, in this paper, stated fully the difficulties and remedies of the system?—Yes, I have stated fully my view of the difficulties; but the question asked by the Attorney-General had not occurred to me.

35. Are you aware that there is a general impression, that persons will not accept offers of settling upon land as tenants?— It is within my knowledge that a member of this House, who has property at Tenterfield, offered to let small portions of his


  ― 78 ―
land, twenty, thirty, or forty acres, and to furnish the tenant with rations for a year, and seed grain; that he posted up a notice to this effect upon his barn door, and yet he could get no applicants; and this feeling of reluctance, on the part of persons who might be supposed to be anxious to enter upon agricultural pursuits, is alleged as an answer to those who object to the present system. There is another case which has been mentioned. In the year 1843, when so many persons were out of employment in Sydney, a deputation waited upon Sir George Gipps, to request that they might be employed on public works and buildings, and it was generally admitted that there was much distress. At that time a gentleman advertised farms, upon similar terms to those I have mentioned, and could get no applicants? Yes, and I could give another instance. I have a large quantity of agricultural land myself, and would be very willing to let it; but I have not been quite so unfortunate as the gentleman you have referred to, as I have been able to get several tenants. But they generally object, for two very obvious reasons. Very naturally, coming to a new country, they calculated that they should have a piece of land their own to sit down upon—and they live in hope yet to do so. Another reason is, that they cannot sit down upon lands held by any landed proprietor without making improvements thereon—improvements which they will feel to be the reason of the offer made by the proprietor; but, when a man, with ordinary caution and fore-thought, sees a fine flat covered with apple and gum trees, and is told, ‘You may go and take that for seven years; you shall have it for four years for nothing, and the remainder of the term for a low rent,’ I take it that the man may say, very naturally, ‘By the time I clear this it will be yours, and the cost of my labour upon it will be greater than its original value.’This is a very different case from that of the farmer in England, where the owner of the property puts it into a workable condition. Here a man way spend his whole life in making improvements upon the property of others.

36. By the Inspector-General of Police: Might he not calculate that the rent which he would save would pay for the improvements?—If


  ― 79 ―
a man sees that there are lands adjoining those he cultivates, the freehold of which is only worth from 1l. to 2l. an acre, he will feel that he is paying an exorbitant rent when it will cost him 4l. an acre for clearing, besides the expense of erecting a house; that, in fact, although nominally paying a low rent, he is really paying, annually, more than the entire value.

37. Thinly timbered land would not surely cost so much as 4l. an acre for clearing?—It costs 4l. an acre to clear an apple-tree flat, which is the best for agriculture; and then it requires fencing, which cannot be done under 5s. a rod.

38. By the Chairman: Do you not think that the reluctance, in the mind of the working-classes, to enter upon agricultural pursuits, arises from the fact that agriculture has not a fair chance in comparison with the other industrial pursuits of the Colony?—I have shown in this paper ample reasons why men should be reluctant to enter upon agricultural pursuits, in view of so many advantages in other occupations.

39. Have you paid much attention to the course of legislation and the policy of the Government of the country?—Yes, I have watched the Government very closely during the last eighteen years, and the career also of a few gentlemen in the Council: I can almost give their votes upon most important public questions.

40. Has it appeared to you that there has been any unfair leaning towards pastoral pursuits, to the exclusion of the claims of other branches of industry?—Yes. I am thoroughly convinced, from whatever motive or object, that there has been a tendency in the whole course of the legislation of this country—certainly since we have had a slight approach to representative institutions, since 1843—on the one hand, to depress the agriculturist, and to raise, at his expense, the pastoral interest. I have entered into this matter fully in this paper.

41. You say you are engaged in squatting as well as in agriculture—are you as largely interested in pastoral pursuits as in agricultural? I have infinitely more capital invested in


  ― 80 ―
pastoral pursuits than in agricultural, in my own hands: but my income from the two sources is about equal. I have, however, several agricultural farms under lease to tenants, which about equalises my property in each pursuit.

42. Do you think if Government exercised forethought, and displayed public spirit as to the survey of particular districts which are sought for for agriculture, and go to the expense of opening them by means of improved communication, by constructing roads, or if on a river, by removing impediments to its navigation, so as to make the metropolitan and other markets of easy access, the increased value of those lands would pay the expense of the necessary improvements?—I think it would, especially if coincident with this the laws were made equal, and the facilities afforded to the pastoral interest were also afforded to agricultural.

43. What facilities do you refer to?—I refer to the amended Impounding Act, which gives the grazier an unfair advantage over the agriculturist; I refer to the Lien on Wool Act, which gives the grazier facilities to raise money upon his produce which the agriculturist has not; to the Mortgage on Cattle Act; to a system by which the grazier can, without any time, trouble, or difficulty whatever, and at a mere nominal rent for 640 acres, occupy the Crown lands for pastoral purposes, while the agriculturist is subjected to innumerable difficulties, some of which I have set out in this paper, and is also compelled to buy the land, perhaps at 10l. an acre, as it was in our district the other day.

44. Is there any other information you have to give the committee not included in this paper?—Referring to the 21st question of the committee, I may add that I have grown wheat on the Namoi, in the pastoral district of Liverpool Plains; at ‘Burrill’; and have seen it grown successfully, during several years, at ‘Baa Au Baa,’the station of the late Sir John Jamison, also on that river. To questions 24 and 43:—that there is a regulation by which holders of land to the extent of 640 acres and upwards, in the settled districts, may, without competition, lease until it is required for sale, three times the


  ― 81 ―
quantity of adjoining Crown land, at 10s. per annum for 640 acres; while no such advantage is extended to freeholders of smaller parcels of land than 640 in one block.

Appendix to the Foregoing Evidence.

ON entering upon the subject under enquiry by the committee, it is my purpose to assume that the state of agriculture in general, and of wheat culture in particular, in the colony is exceedingly unsatisfactory, and, if not absolutely declining instead of progressing, is at least so with reference to population. Because, on the one hand, I conceive that an elaborate exposition of facts, proving such to be the case, would be considered a work of supererogation; and, on the other hand, that should proof be required, it is to be found in the public statistics of the colony on the subject, and certainly can be obtained with greater accuracy and facility in the city than in a country district.

In considering the other branches of the matter, while promising not to be unnecessarily discursive, I hope I may be excused if I should require to travel out of the circle which the resolution of the Council, under which the Committee sits, may seem strictly to imply.

The causes of hindrance or failure of agriculture generally, and of the raising of wheat in particular, I take to be first and greatest, that for many years the policy of the Government of the colony, whatever may have been its object, has unquestionably tended not only to check the formation of new agricultural establishments but to depress existing ones.

While the agriculturist has been absolutely excluded from leasing any portion of the public land, and thwarted, harassed, and dispirited at every turn in his efforts to obtain the submittal of such lands to sale, and subjected to public competition at auction before suffered even then to purchase, the grazier has been allowed to use them under a system of leases, affording him the greatest possible facility of possession, and at the


  ― 82 ―
lowest imaginable rental, namely, at the rate of 10s. per annum for 640 acres, with the right, in an overwhelming majority of cases, to purchase choice spots therefrom, without the slightest delay or trouble, and at the lowest legal price, namely, 20s. per acre, and absolutely without competition.

Some of the difficulties above alluded to as attending the purchase of a farm from the Crown, by any other than the favoured pastoral class, may be stated thus:—The person seeking to do so must first make his selection—a matter not very easy of attainment—for persons holding land in a neighbourhood, instead of helping with information, almost invariably place every possible obstacle in the way of the new comer. The selection made, the next step to be taken is to apply by letter to the Surveyor-General to have it measured. Shortly thereafter that officer will reply and inform the writer that his application has been received and submitted to the District Surveyor for his report as to whether the land is fit for agriculture, &c., &c.,note and that when it is received the Surveyor-General will communicate the result, intimating at the same time that, should the District Surveyor consider the land suitable for agriculture, and should there be no other difficulty, such as its being held under a squatting lease, or any of several others, it will be submitted to sale by auction. The applicant may now expect to hear no more of the land for three or four months, when, if all goes on favourably, he will be informed that the District Surveyor, having reported satisfactorily, has received from the Surveyor-General instructions to measure it. Now another wearying delay of several months' duration will in all probability occur, before the expiration of which, if the applicant is not a person possessed of considerable determination of character, he will abandon, in despair, all hope of ever becoming an Australian farmer, and help to swell one or other of our overgrown towns, by accepting employment there. If, however, he possess sufficient perseverance, he may visit the District Surveyor, and probably learn from him that the land


  ― 83 ―
cannot then be measured because the district under that officer is so very large that it would be highly inconvenient for him to move from one portion of it to another to measure a single farm; that when several are applied for in the same vicinity, he will proceed there; in the meantime he has several months' work where he is; or the District Surveyor may, after expressing sympathy for the applicant's loss from delay, candidly assure him that, in consequence of the great delay in receiving pay for his public work, he is absolutely necessitated to accept private employment in order to obtain sufficient cash to keep himself and party of four men on until the Government make him his remittance, now three or four months due.

These and other preliminary difficulties the applicant must prepare to encounter; but, even when all are surmounted and the land measured, there will be two or three months' delay—in all probability eighteen months or two years from the date of the first application—before it is offered for sale. Then, at last, the applicant will obtain his land if he is fortunate enough to escape the determined opposition of some wealthy person in the neighbourhood, or has money enough and determination enough to purchase it, that opposition notwithstanding.

Calculated, on the one hand, to depress the agriculturist, and on the other to foster the grazier, as the particulars which I have mentioned connected with the administration of the public lands must be admitted to be, they are by no means the only disabilities which the former is by our laws placed under when compared with the latter.

That such a law as that at present in force for the regulation of the impounding of cattle could possibly be carried through the Legislative Council and assented to by the Governor of the colony, I take to be proof positive that the interests, and not only the interests but the absolute rights of the agricultural class, have been, by the policy of our Government, completely ignored.

I allude particularly to the amended Impounding Act which was passed for the purpose of providing an additional charge besides that for trespass, by making legal one for driving cattle


  ― 84 ―
that may have trespassed upon land held from the Crown under a pastoral lease—land which it would be illegal, under another law, to raise agricultural produce upon. Under that Act as much as 5s. and even 7s. 6d. per head for driving cattle to the pound, is frequently exacted throughout the colony by holders of pastoral leases.

No such provision is extended to the occupier of freehold land—the land upon which the country depends for agricultural produce. It matters not that he may have paid 10l., 20l., or even 30l. per acre to the Crown for the land he farms, or even a much higher price to a private individual, or that he is paying an exorbitant rent for it, he can make no corresponding charge upon the cattle of his Crown leaseholding neighbour, should they trespass upon his farm; and this entirely irrespective of the distance the different classes of land may be from the pound. It may be that the freehold land is situated many miles further from the pound than the land held under pastoral lease—still the rule applies.

The holder of a Crown pastoral lease may charge 5s., 7s., or more per head for driving the trespassing cattle of the free-holder to the pound, but the freeholder can make no such charge, under any circumstances, for driving the trespassing cattle of the Crown pastoral leaseholder to the pound.

I do not think it necessary to allude to more than one other proof that the acts of our Legislature and the policy of our Government have tended to depress agriculture. Laws have been enacted to facilitate the grazier through a simple and in-expensive instrument to obtain loans in anticipation of his coming produce, while no such aid has been extended to the agriculturist.

Like that of most other countries, the enterprise of the colony is mainly carried out with borrowed means by active and intelligent men of inconsiderable capital, and the effect of the ‘Lien on Wool Act’and the ‘Mortgage on Cattle Act’has been to allure such men into pastoral rather than into agricultural pursuits.

That such has been the case must be obvious, when it is


  ― 85 ―
considered that the main difficulty to his success, which first strikes the mind of a farmer on entering upon agricultural pursuits in this colony, is not, how shall I get my land cultivated, and my crops in the ground?—for this may be done extensively, at comparatively inconsiderable expense—but how shall I find means to carry me through the reaping, housing, thrashing, and conveying of them to market?

He dare not invest all, or nearly all, his capital in the first operation, but must reserve at least two-thirds of it to enable him to secure his crops after they are grown.

The grazier with small capital need fear no such difficulty. He may not only invest all his available capital with safety in a pastoral establishment, but by the aid of the ‘Mortgage on Stock Act’may make a purchase to the extent of double its amount—a course pursued at two-thirds of the stock sales in the colony. He may also, when his shearing is approaching, grant to any party who will lend him money to shear his sheep and bring their produce to market a preferable claim upon his wool to the extent of the money thus borrowed—a course pursued in hundreds of cases annually.

It may, and, doubtless, will be said, as a reason why a measure of the same character as the ‘Lien on Wool Act’has not been extended to agricultural produce, that the agricultural pursuits of the country are, in consequence of the frequent occurrence of droughts, less sure of yielding their produce than pastoral pursuits, and that hence the security in the former case would not be so good as that in the latter. Without admitting the correctness of the allegations, I beg to submit that, even assuming such to be the case, it is a consideration which, however proper to be taken into account by the capitalist in calculating the rate of interest he ought to demand from the borrower, to cover his risk, &c., cannot possibly touch the principle raised in the question—Should a farmer, who has a crop of wheat ready to reap, and has not sufficient capital of his own, be allowed to borrow funds for the purpose, and to bring the wheat to market, and grant a preferable lien on the same, to secure the repayment of the advance?




  ― 86 ―

If it is a fact that the agricultural interests of the country are subjected to more climatic difficulties than are the pastoral interests, I take it that that circumstance cannot, properly, be brought forward as a reason why the agricultural interest should not, under our laws, have a fair field and no favour, as compared with the pastoral interest, in entering the market to borrow money, in times of doubt and general want of confidence in monetary matters. If the agriculturist, in borrowing money to secure his crop, has to encounter a higher rate of interest than the grazier has to encounter, in consequence of the risk of damage to his crops, from an unfavourable season, being greater than the same in the case of the produce of the grazier, surely that is no reason why he should be compelled to submit to a still greater increase of interest, to compensate the capitalist for the additional risk of the borrower's insolvency before the crops are realised, especially when the grazier is, through the aid of the ‘Lien on Wool Act,’exempted from paying for such risk.

An advocate of protection would find, in the increased difficulties which our climate is supposed to place in the way of the agriculturist, a reason why he should have peculiar privileges extended to him; but I have no wish to ask for the cultivator of the soil anything more than ‘a fair field and no favour.’

It may not be out of place here to point out that, previous to the passing of the ‘Lien on Wool Act,’the pastoral interest was all but defunct, certainly in a more advanced state of decadence than the agricultural interest is at the present time, and that it is admitted, on every hand, that the ‘Lien on Wool Act’saved that interest. I confess that I have never been able to appreciate the strong objection which some persons have to the principle of that Act. It appears to me that if loans ought to be accepted at all, the least objectionable system, that they can be transacted under, is that which provides material pledges for their repayment.

As to the policy of facilitating loans of the class contemplated, I take it that, let the produce to be saved thereby be of what kind soever, it is an unmitigated benefit to the borrower,


  ― 87 ―
to the lender, and to the country, that means should be furnished to secure it. The registry of the pledge is a complete guarantee against a dishonest and plausible man imposing upon several credulous persons by promising each his crop, and taking advances from all on the faith thereof. Besides, in practice, during the ten or eleven years that the ‘Lien on Wool Act’has been in force, it has much tended to develop the resources of the country, and has, at the same time, proved a preventative to the perpetration of the frauds I have described.

Showing the advantage such a measure would be to the farmer with small means, I will mention a case, among many that have lately come under my observation. A tenant farmer in this district, in order to raise money to pay for gathering and bringing his wheat to market, actually submitted to a loss of 50 per cent. for the accommodation of a cash advance, and that at a time when, if he could have granted a preferable lien to secure the same, he would readily have obtained the money at 8 or 10 per cent.

The absence of a law of the kind, and the necessity of quick returns, have, in many instances, prompted the cultivation of lucerne hay, which yields five or six cuts in a year, instead of wheat, which can only be made available at one season.

The precedent relied upon by the proposer of the ‘Lien on Wool Act’was a West Indian Act, to enable planters to borrow money to aid them in bringing forward their crops, and to grant preferable security on the same for its repayment. There can be no question that wheat or maize culture in this country bears greater analogy to sugar-cane culture in the West Indies than wool-growing in this country does to the same. At any rate, the principle of the measure is either good or it is bad; if good, it ought to be extended to every class that requires it; if bad, it should be abolished altogether.

The effects of the policy of the Government, which I have described, may be found, on the one hand, in the fact, that the number of persons who have been bred to agricultural pursuits, at present residing in the towns of the colony, is, beyond example, excessive, showing our social condition, in that regard,


  ― 88 ―
to be in a most unsatisfactory state; and, on the other hand, in the other fact, that the wholesale price of flour in the Colony is three times higher, per pound, than the wholesale price of animal food, of the very best description—a state of things not to be found in any other civilised country.

I am aware that the deficiency of agriculture, which is so remarkable in this country, is attributed to the aridity of the climate by many gentlemen whose experience entitles their opinions to respect; but, as I have during the eighteen years last past annually cultivated and sown with wheat a large quantity of land, in various parts of the Upper Hunter District—a district generally considered to be unfavourable for the purpose —and have, in that long period, only failed twice in obtaining crops, and have reaped two self-sown, which, in a great measure, compensated for even their loss, I can come to no other conclusion than that, whatever may be the disadvantages of the climate, they are not sufficient to cause such neglect of agriculture as has occurred.

I think that if agriculturists would, where practicable, sow sufficient land with wheat to suffice their requirements, not only for grain but for hay, instead of sowing oats or lucerne for the latter, and would sow equal portions thereof in each year, on the 1st of April, the 1st May, the 1st June, and the 1st of July, or as near to those dates as there may be moisture in the land, instead of sowing all they intend to sow at once, as is usual, they would, by selecting for hay the least promising portion, seldom fail in housing a good average of grain, as well as a crop of hay.

Hot winds—the great enemy of the wheat-grower—are most injurious to a crop at the stage immediately preceding the bursting forth of the ear; therefore, as it is impossible to tell when they will come, it is only prudent to avoid risking on one chance all hope of grain for the year, by providing that all shall not be in that stage at the same time. For example; in 1849, my wheat sown on the 1st of April yielded upwards of forty bushels to the acre, that sown in May and June eighteen bushels, and that in July six bushels. The cause of the great difference


  ― 89 ―
was, that when the hot winds and dry weather came, the early wheat was out of danger, the two next lots were in ear, and, therefore, could only lose in quality and quantity by being ‘pinched,’but the lot sown in July was caught when the ear was bursting from its wrapper, and was, consequently, all but destroyed; however, the average of the whole was a good one.

The season was different in 1851; the wheat sown in April yielded but five or six bushels to the acre, that sown in May and June twelve bushels to the acre, and that in July upwards of forty-two bushels to the acre—in all a fair yield. In that year the hot winds came in September, just as the early wheat was coming in ear, and destroyed it; the middle crops did not suffer so much, and the late crop scarcely suffered at all, and was brought to an abundant issue, by the timely rains which fell in November.

It will be observed, that one of the seasons I have mentioned was previous to the gold discovery, and the other before the increase in the consumption of hay, which followed that event, had become perceptible; therefore, at either period it would have been useless to make hay of the inferior portion of the crop. Now, the case is different; the demand for hay is so great, that, in a majority of cases, where wheat crops are thought to be unlikely to pay as grain, they can be profitably converted into hay.

Connected with the climate, another cause of hindrance of agriculture was recently mentioned in Council by Mr. James Macarthur, namely, the difficulty of preventing the ravages of weevil and fly, after the crop is housed. Without making the slightest pretension to scientific knowledge, I will communicate a simple and inexpensive means whereby I have, for many years, preserved my crops from injury from those insects. If, for a few nights before building a stack, precaution is taken to hurdle a flock of sheep on its intended site, or, that being inconvenient, if a few cartloads of sheep manure are laid there, and sprinkled with urine, there will be no danger of weevil or fly. The ammonia that will be generated in either case will keep both away. I may add, that my friend, Mr. Robert Meston, to whom


  ― 90 ―
I communicated my plan for preserving wheat from weevil and fly, made some experiments, in Sydney, by which, I believe, he found that carbonate of ammonia may be used with advantage for the purpose. However, I merely state the fact that sheep manure is an effectual remedy, and leave the duty of further examination to those whose habit of thought is suitable for the enquiry.

On the whole, I am confident that the difficulties placed in the way of agriculture by the climate are as nothing compared with the overwhelming obstacles furnished by the policy of the Legislature and Government of the colony.

In urging upon the committee the expediency, as well as the justice, of extending to the operations of the agriculturist, wherever practicable, equal facilities to those enjoyed by the grazier, I hope my views may not be considered hostile to the pastoral interest. It appears to me that it can never be the real interest of the grazier to depress and drive out the farmer; one interest should support the other, for complete prosperity can never reach either until both are in a satisfactory state; certainly I can have no motive to foster their antagonism, as my property is invested in about equal proportions in each interest, and I have laboured, during many years—if not wisely or well, at least zealously—for the advancement of both interests.

Before concluding this communication, I cannot resist the opportunity it affords to place on record my opinion, that, even should all other means fail of providing the country with an ample supply of agricultural produce, a remedy may be found, by allowing any person to enter upon and occupy 80 acres of waste land, without competition or delay, and pay for it, at the upset price, four years thereafter; provided that he clears and cultivates 10 acres the first year, and ten additional acres in each of the three succeeding years, and is at the end of the time residing on the spot.

JOHN ROBERTSON.

Yarrundi, August 6, 1855.

In 1855 that portion of Australia now constituting


  ― 91 ―
the territory of Queensland was, as I have had occasion to explain, part of New South Wales. The district of Port Curtis, in consequence of its distance from the seat of Government, was honoured by the appointment of a Government Resident—a kind of deputy-governor —and, as nearly always happens in such cases, all kinds of complaints were made against the luckless functionary, though he had through life borne an honourable reputation. I was induced by representations made to me of the petty abuses of authority of this officer to move for a committee ‘to enquire into, and report upon, the establishment and working of the office.’The committee held eight meetings and examined fourteen witnesses, including the Government Resident himself. I am afraid the result of the enquiry was not worth our labours. The Report I was authorised to bring up stated:—

A careful consideration of the evidence leads your committee to the conclusions expressed in the following propositions:—

  • 1. That the creation of the office of Government Resident at Port Curtis by Sir Charles FitzRoy was an error, which has already involved the colony in a loss of several thousand pounds, without any determinable public benefit.

  • 2. That the gentleman appointed to the office was not peculiarly fitted for performing its duties, so as to promote the objects of the Settlement.

  • 3. That the appointment of a Police Magistrate to the Township of Gladstone would be a sufficient provision for securing the ends of justice, and the preservation of order at Port Curtis, under present circumstances.

  • 4. That, supposing this change were immediately effected,


      ― 92 ―
    the capabilities of the District would have an equal chance of development, and the progress of the Port would be in no respect retarded.

Another enquiry by a Select Committee which I obtained in those early days was ‘to enquire into all the circumstances connected with the unauthorised expenditure, by His Excellency the Governor, of the sum of 14,000l. and upwards, in the erection of that portion of the Semi-Circular Quay extending from the east side of the Tank Stream to Campbell's Wharf;—and the stability of the work; and to report thereon to the House.’ Undoubtedly a serious expenditure had been met in a manner quite unauthorised, and there were good grounds for believing that the work was bad. The Report of the Committee concluded in the following terms:—

If this expenditure were to receive the sanction of a simple vote of your Honourable House, it would establish a precedent highly inimical to the powers of the future Legislative Assembly; and, to guard against any such mischievous consequences, your committee are of opinion that the question ought not to be entertained, except on the introduction of a Bill of Indemnity by the Government.

Your committee are further of opinion, that the great and manifest injury sustained by the public in this instance, by bad work on the part of the contractor, may render it a question of grave consideration for the Government, whether this gentleman ought to be entrusted with the construction of any of the public works of the colony.

As the evidence of Mr. Rowntree and Mr. Russell leads to the conclusion that timber of the size and in the quantities required by the specification, and paid for, has not been used by the contractor, and that he has been overpaid, your committee


  ― 93 ―
are of opinion, that it is the duty of the Government immediately to institute a full enquiry into the facts of the case, and to direct the Attorney-General to take prompt measures for recovering any sums which may have been improperly overpaid, as well as compensation, by way of damages, for any work that may have been improperly performed.

Looking back upon my entrance upon the stage of Parliamentary life, I think it must be admitted that I was not idle. I at once entered into the work with an astonishing amount of zeal. Sitting up all night was a recreation to me. I did not know what weariness could mean. I would leave the Council when it adjourned and go to the ‘Empire’Office, where I would remain until daylight. Day and night I was at work. Very often I was thirty-six and forty-eight hours without going to bed. I believe in those days I could have gone into the fire

As blithely as the golden-girdled bee
Sucks in the poppy's sleepy flame,

for the sake of my convictions. I must have been made of the stuff of martyrs. But the great gain to me in those two sessions of hard work in the old Council was that I was drilled into the methods of political thought, and brought into intercourse with men who, whatever might be their opinions, had the education and breeding of gentlemen. There were Admiral King, Mr. Alexander Berry, Mr. Icely, Mr. C. D. Riddell, Mr. S. A. Donaldson, Mr. Plunkett, Mr. James Macarthur, and the Speaker, Dr. Nicholson (as we familiarly called him before the baronetcy), who, though they held no opinion in common with me, were


  ― 94 ―
always affable and kind. From Mr. James Martin (then in the dawn of his manhood) I learnt much. Not that I professed to learn or he to teach; but I had already cultivated the habit (quite unsuspected, I believe) of turning rebuke, ridicule, or condemnation to good account; I do not think I ever shut out a wise word because it came from an enemy. Mr. Martin was not an enemy, but he was a very self-sufficient man, with an absurd contempt for persons who did not agree with him. He had fine generous qualities, in spite of his efforts to imitate the rich and privileged, and, quite unsuspected by himself, I carried off many a bit of wisdom from his denunciatory conversations.

All this time my personal influence was spreading and strengthening among the people. I had committed no serious fault; I had the appearance of a young man, though I was thirty-nine years of age; I spoke out boldly what I thought, which people liked; and I did not think my manner was offensive or pretentious. I made friends rapidly, probably because I did not care about making them.

As the old Council came to the day of its last meeting, I began to think that I could not go on attending as I had done with such scrupulous zeal to the business of legislation and to the management of a daily newspaper. From the first I had laid it down as a rule of conduct not to accept any public position unless I was prepared to discharge the duties belonging to it. I have never been an alderman. I have always declined to act on committees of public institutions to which I have been elected as a compliment. Though my name


  ― 95 ―
as Minister has been appended to the appointment of thousands of magistrates, I have never consented to be a magistrate myself. As a member of the Legislative Council of 1854 and 1855, I made a point of being always in my place when the Speaker took the chair, and of remaining until the House adjourned. I voted in every division of the House, and I regularly attended the meetings of all committees. Without consulting anyone and without any break in my activity, having made up my mind to retire, I addressed the following letter to the electors of Sydney:—

Gentlemen,—In the course of the ensuing week, the Legislature, to which you did me the honour of electing me by an unprecedented majority of your votes, will virtually terminate its existence, and its actual dissolution cannot be very long delayed. It seems to me, therefore, that the time has arrived when I ought to inform you of my intention not to present myself again among the candidates for your suffrages.

During the two laborious sessions of my service as your representative I have felt the conviction gaining strength in despite, as I freely own, of some feeling of ambition, that neither my time nor whatever humble ability I might possess could be sufficiently subjected to my will to enable me to discharge the high and responsible trust reposed in me with that uniform devotion to the public interest which is implied in its acceptance. Though I have generally been in my place, I have attended the sittings by wrenching myself, as it were, away from other duties of an equally serious nature, which often left me wholly unprepared for the business of the Council; and in the part I have taken there I have never felt conscious of any success to satisfy my sense of what is due from the Representative to his Constituents. While feeling all this, I have also felt that the distinction conferred by your votes is the greatest within the reach of the servants of the people, and should only be


  ― 96 ―
enjoyed in association with the most efficient performance of public duty. Besides, the obligations of the trust are sacred, as covering momentous consequences to society, and neglect, as well as wilful violation of those obligations, must be positively sinful in proportion to the injury thereby inflicted upon our fellow-creatures. It is not, then, that I lightly value the post of your Representative, but because I am sensible of my inability to occupy it with advantage to the country, that I desire to give place to another, and, as I sincerely hope, a better man.

I am aware that, by taking this course now, I lay myself open to the taunt, in some quarters, of declining that which might never be offered; and I freely admit I have no reason to expect that I should be invited to stand a contest for your representation in the new Parliament. But I would rather incur this risk of ridicule than silently allow any trouble to be taken on my behalf by those from whom I have received such uniform kindness and so many marks of confidence.

The great change about to take place in our form of Government will, we all hope, be accompanied by vigour and enlightenment in the administration of affairs, diffusing the blessings of constitutional liberty through all classes and interests of the country. Outside the walls of the Legislative Assembly, it may yet be my privilege to assist in bringing about so desirable a consummation. In making up my mind to stay outside, I have had to conquer a strong feeling which my better judgment has told me ought not to be gratified; but the self-denial has been sweetened by the knowledge that I have before me another field, fairly won by my own efforts, for future usefulness. I leave the Legislature, as I entered it, from a sense of duty alone. You opened the door for me against singular obstacles. I cheerfully close it with my own hand.

If I am too poor to make the sacrifices incumbent on a Representative of the People, I am at least too proud to accept the honour and neglect the duties of that noble office.

I remain, Gentlemen,

Your very faithful Servant,

HENRY PARKES.

Sydney, December 8, 1855.




  ― 97 ―

Like many other men under similar circumstances, I did not adhere to my decision. I met with no one who approved of it; and a month afterwards, on January 7, at a public meeting of citizens convened for the purpose of ‘nominating four gentlemen as fit and proper persons to represent the city in the new Parliament,’I was selected as one of the candidates, and a week later, under pressure from all sides, I consented to stand. The result of the poll in that first election to the new Parliament was as stated below:—

         
Charles Cowper . . .  3,075 
Henry Parkes. . . .  3,057 
Robert Campbell . . .  3,041  Elected 
J. R. Wilshire. . . .  2,091 
J. H. Plunkett . . .  2,800 

I am now the only man of the five who is still living.

previous
next