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CHAPTER II. COLONIAL POLITICS.




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WE have introduced Dr. Arabin to our readers, but before we proceed with his history we are compelled to offer a few preliminary remarks on the Colonial policy of our Government. Reader, you have heard doubtless of the Colonies of Britain; you are, however, peculiarly fortunate if you happen to know the mighty interests comprehended under the name. The Secretary of State for the Colonies enters upon the duties of his office without perhaps having been aware of the existence of one-half of the Colonies of Britain; yet the dictum of such a person is the law which the oppressed Colonists must obey. We believe that many ministers have discharged the functions of this onerous office with great ability and energy; but, however anxious the Secretary of State for the time may be to govern the Colonies impartially, and how noted soever he may be for the possession of sagacity and energy, he must act in the twilight, for it is a moral impossibility that any stranger could legislate for so many conflicting interests. We must observe, moreover, that too much confidence is placed in Governors. The Secretary of State is very frequently misled by “Their Excellencies,” who, altogether, are far from being so honourable a class as might be at first expected. Many of


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these “excellent” men are adventurers of rather a high grade. It is far from uncommon to hear of Governors purchasing or reselling land, while others are landowners and stockowners, and perhaps speculators in Colonial trade. What more certain than that a large holder of land should desire his land to be enhanced in value? and any Governor who raises the Crown lands is certain to be popular with the landowners for the time being, though the measure might entail the most ruinous consequences on the Colony. Again, the majority of the Governors have too much in view the favour of the Home Government. To prevent unnecessary trouble, every complaint is studiously concealed; the real feelings of the Colonists are kept in the background, and the most arbitrary measures are carried into effect without any regard to the feelings of the suffering Colonists. Many of them, too, are paltry in their style of living, and instead of spending their salaries in the scene from which they have been wrung, they speculate and save every farthing: indeed, I could find many Governors with £3000 a year who do not spend beyond £500 per annum. This is unfair: the Colonial Secretary of State ought to know these persons, and prevent them from obtaining other appointments. A well-meaning, generous-hearted man of average ability will govern a Colony better (if he do not mix too much in Colonial politics) than a keen, active man of parsimonious habits, although the latter may possess abilities of a high order.

There is but one opinion as to the abilities of Sir George Gipps,—they are very good. Yet, strange to


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reflect upon, the Colony has retrograded from prosperity to adversity during the time that he has discharged the functions of Governor, and the causes of this singular revolution we are now to detect and describe.

A race of English economists has been at great pains to inculcate doctrines connected with Colonial policy, who happened at the same time to know nothing about either the Colonies, or the development of their resources. Edward Gibbon Wakefield ranks at the head of these fireside economists. In an evil hour the Home Government adopted the new-fangled principles; and since that time everything has gone wrong with our Colonies in the East. These principles, as we could show, are absurd: our limits, however, compel us to proceed. It is clearly impossible that Governors or Parliaments should affix a certain value to waste lands, and compel men to purchase; whatever the exchangeable value of land may be, it is evident that its intrinsic value is exactly in a ratio with the profits it can be made to yield. Speculation may advance it beyond this price, but legitimate demand never.

The price of land in Australia was originally the same as in our British American Colonies; in an evil hour it was advanced to 12s. an acre—then the large landowners rejoiced, because they considered that their property was doubled in value. South Australian land was settled at 20s. an acre, upon the principles enunciated by Gibbon Wakefield; and the Governor of New South Wales and the Bishop of Australia represented to the Government, that land in New South


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Wales was worth as much as land in South Australia, and the price of Crown land was immediately settled at 20s. an acre in New South Wales. To show that the measure had a contrary effect to what was intended, we may state, that in a few years afterwards there were no buyers at any price; land was when pressed into the market knocked down at anything, frequently as low as 1s. 6d. an acre. In British America land is sold at about 6s. an acre, and the price is determined by the Colonial Legislature; in no respect is Australian land more valuable than Canadian, except from the brighter skies of the former. The land in Canada is moist, and the crops luxurious. Australia is frequently visited by droughts, and, in some seasons, by myriads of destructive animalculae; therefore, the greater portion of the country can only be occupied as grazing stations. The rich "bottoms" —the deposits of alluvial soil, usually yield, however, luxuriant crops: in many parts of the country 25 or 30 bushels may be grown upon an acre. In general, however, want of moisture is the great drawback to agricultural pursuits. Of course we do not include the rich soil of Australia Felix, where droughts are almost unknown, and where anything may be produced.

When we take a retrospect of the policy of the Home Government towards the Colony, we are almost inclined to curse the ignorance and neglect which could have consigned a land so noble to almost premature decay; we are positive that, but for the invention of steaming down sheep for tallow, which affixed a minimum price to the surplus flocks of the Colony,


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the whole of the Colonial interest would have been ruined. View this in any way, it is a grand invention —tallow even at the low price of 41s. in the London market, will make ordinary sheep worth about 5s., and cattle £3; but the Government did not foresee this, and it deserves no credit on account of it. Does not the insolvency of nearly every man of note, in the length and breadth of the land, demonstrate more powerfully than our feeble pen can, the ignorance and baseness of our Colonial despots? more cruel and rapacious from their personal insignificance, while the supreme power in Downing Street knows nothing about the matter. What is there to encourage capitalists to come here? Let the land be reduced to 5s. and prosperity will once more dawn on our Australian settlers—an order little known, but which deserves respect from the indomitable perseverance, moral courage, untiring energy, and rough honesty of its members. They may be poor, for the race is not to the swift, but at any rate let them have bare justice: we should wish them to have fixity of tenure. At the present moment, the Australian settler may be deprived of his run of stock at the caprice of a Government pimp, called a land commissioner. The authority of these officials is supreme: there is no appeal from it, but to the land commissioner of a neighbouring district, who, as a matter of course, confirms the decision of his cotemporary; for, as the Scotch proverb goes, “one corbie will not pluck out another corbie's een.” These commissioners travel about the country to settle the limits of the runs of the different settlers; in all disputes they take part with those who happen


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to be favourites, and those who are injured are afraid to take any notice, because the commissioner might ruin them; they are idle fellows withal, and commonly to be found in the town, instead of attending to public business in their districts. We, therefore, hold that no settler will be comfortable while such persons are allowed to oppress him. The land should be given to the settler at so much per acre, with time to pay the money, or the stations ought to be leased for nineteen years at a certain annual rent. Were this effected, let us look on the probable result. The settlers now live in huts, hardly fit for the beasts of the field; their food is of the poorest quality, from negligence in preparing it; their minds have been tainted—and some, we regret to add, have sunk into immoral and dissipated courses; their independence is gone, for they feel they must be dependent upon the Government understrappers; they do not cultivate the soil, because any person might go to the Government Office, and request that the station should be put up to auction, and either purchase it, or purchase it for one year, as the case might be. On the contrary, however, if the Australian settler had fixity of tenure, he would conjoin agricultural and pastoral pursuits; he would build a comfortable house, and eat his food independently of the land commissioners. We except those whose souls have rusted from neglect, and who scorn the habits of civilisation; they are already independent, because they can go out into any part of the wilderness with their flocks. Government influence preponderates too much in Australia; the Governors can create their own tools magistrates, and extend


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their influence. The respectable settlers know but too well that no other door is open to preferment, but the door which the Governor can open or shut at his pleasure. The young of Australia know also that they must favour and flatter His Excellency before they can become rich or great; and this tends to check the development of that independent spirit which is so much to be wished.

If land were reduced to 5s. an acre, many small capitalists would hither emigrate; a demand would necessarily arise for stock and farming implements, and both production and consumption would increase. Instead of exporting £400,000 per annum in specie for wheat, as hitherto, the Colony would export wheat in large quantities.

The political economist, it is true, may here argue that the Colony imported grain at a cheaper rate than it could produce it; but we only answer—Then you must prove first, that the Colonists were more profitably employed—they were employed either in buying and selling land worth nothing, or in rearing stock; the last was as unprofitable as the first, because there did not exist a market for surplus stock; and thus any argument against our position must crumble down, for we are positive that before this splendid country can arrive at prosperity, the occupiers of stations must have a vested interest in the land, or they must have fixity of tenure. The next question would be, what is land worth for sheep farming? We answer, that it might be worth 2s. an acre, or it might be worth 40s. an acre. For sheep farming it is, in our opinion, worth 5s. an acre, payable


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by annual instalments for ten years. An acre is worth much more for agricultural purposes; but, of course, it would sell by auction at what it might be thought to be worth for either. The Home Government must bear in mind, that the Australian Colonies deserve attention, because each Colonist consumes more than twice the value of British manufactures that the Colonists of British America or the West Indies do.

We must not blame the high rate of land alone for the large amount of distress, because other causes have co-operated. These we must notice without comment: the sudden want of cheap labour when the assignment system ceased, at the very moment that land advanced, and the withdrawal of the Commissariat expenditure, the fall in the price of wool, and the advance in the price of labour; the extravagant credit afforded by the banks to land speculators, principally on the Government deposits, which were withdrawn for emigration purposes, in 1840; the ruin of both banks and speculators in consequence, the breaking up of all the Colonial companies, including banks, and perhaps the failure of the crops, in 1839 and 1840. We allow that much distress has arisen from over-speculation and the decay of commerce, and stoppage of emigration; but had the farming and grazing interests been in a healthy state, it would not have extended beyond the social conventions of the towns. Of late years, too, the Colonial shipping interest has suffered, especially that portion of it embarked in the whaling trade.

The Insolvent Law, which was framed by His Honour


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Mr. Justice Burton (and which has been facetiously termed “Burton's purge”), came into operation in 1842, and was just in time for the crash. Many availed themselves of the opportunity to clear accounts with their creditors by going through the Insolvent Court, who had no occasion to adopt any such course. The restraints which had bound society to honesty and plain dealing broken down, men turned round upon their creditors at pleasure. It was exactly the same as American repudiation. Those who would not pay, often could have paid. Upon the same principle that the bricks in a house hang by and support one another, are the members of our commercial societies dependent: the one pulled down the other, and the insolvency appeared nearly universal.

The storm has blown over: all the large speculators have been thrown out of the commercial circles; the business is now in the hands of safe men—the Colonial property is in the hands of real owners. It wants but some reform, to be the most prosperous Colony in the world. The settlers must, however, be protected in some way or other by the Home Government.

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