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Price of Labour.

The price of labour is at present very low, and is still further declining in consequence of the demand for it not equalling the supply. Upon the establishment of the Colonial Bank, and the consequent suppression of that vile medium of circulation, termed the colonial currency, between which and British sterling there used to be a difference of value of from £50 to £100 per cent. the price of labour was fixed at the rates contained in the following general order, dated the 7th of December, 1816:

“In consequence of the recent abolition of all colonial currency, and the introduction and establishment of a sterling circulation and consideration in all payments, dealings, transactions, contracts, and agreements, within this territory and its dependencies, his Excellency the Governor


  ― 105 ―
having deemed it expedient to take into consideration the general rates and prices of labour and wages within the same, as affected by the alteration of the mode of payments at a sterling rate, or value, and of the degree, measure, and sterling amount of the same, upon a fair and equitable proportion and modus; and having also adopted such measures in that respect as seemed best calculated to fix and make known the same, is pleased hereby to declare, order, and direct, that in addition to the rations according to and equal with the government allowance, the sum of ten pounds sterling per annum to a man convict, and seven pounds sterling to a woman convict, as including the value of the slops allowed, and the sum of seven pounds or five pounds ten shillings exclusive of such slops; computed at three pounds per man, and one pound ten shillings per woman, shall be allowed, claimed, or demandable, or such part or proportion of such sum or sums as shall be equal and according to the period and continuance of actual service, and no more in respect of yearly wages, and in the same manner as yearly wages for the extra work and service of any such male or female convict respectively, duly assigned to any person or persons, by or upon the authority of Government.

His Excellency is also pleased further to


  ― 106 ―
declare, order and direct, that in consideration of the premises, the undermentioned sums, amounts, and charges, and no more with regard to and upon the various denominations of work, labour and services, described and set forth, shall be allowed, claimed, or demandable within this territory and its dependencies in respect thereof”.

                                     


  ― 107 ―
     
£  s d
For falling forest timber, per acre, 
Burning off ditto, per ditto, 
Rooting out, and burning stumpson forest ground, per ditto,  10 
Falling timber on brush ground, per ditto,  12 
Burning off ditto, per ditto,  10 
Rooting out and burning stumps on ditto, per ditto,  17 
Breaking up new ground, per ditto, 
Breaking up stubble in corn ground, per ditto,  10 
Chipping in wheat, per ditto, 
Reaping ditto, per ditto,  10 
Threshing and cleaning wheat, per bushel, 
Holeing and planting corn, per acre, 
Chipping and shelling corn, per ditto, 
Pulling and husking ditto, per bushel, 
Splitting pales, (six feet long) per hundred, 
Ditto, (five feet long) per ditto, 
Shingle splitting, per thousand, 
Preparing and putting up morticed railing, five bars, with two pannels to a rod, and posts sunk two feet in the ground, 
Ditto, ditto, ditto, four bars, 
Ditto, ditto, ditto, three bars, 
Ditto, ditto, ditto, two bars,  9” 

The rates limited in this order are pretty well proportioned to the present state of the colony; but the attempt to reduce the value of labour to a permanent standard, further than regards the convicts, must evidently be abortive; since labour, like merchandize, will rise and fall with the demand which may exist for it in the market where it is disposable;—and although the above order might prevent the labourer from recovering in the colonial courts, a greater price for his labour than is stipulated in the foregoing schedule, still the moment it becomes the interest of the employer to give higher wages, he will do so, and the discredit attached to the non-performance of a deliberate contract will always prevent him from having recourse to the courts for avoiding the fulfilment of it. The above rates, it will be seen, only refer to the various species of labour immediately attached to agriculture. The wages of artificers, particularly of such as are most useful in infant societies, are considerably higher: a circumstance which is principally to be attributed to the practice of selecting from among the convicts all the best mechanics for the government works. Carpenters, stone-masons, brick-layers,


  ― 108 ―
wheel and plough-wrights, black-smiths, coopers, harness-makers, sawyers, shoe-makers, cabinet-makers; and in fact all the most useful descriptions of handicrafts, are consequently in very great demand, and can easily earn from eight to ten shillings per day.

The price of land is entirely regulated by its situation and quality. So long as four years back, a hundred and fifty acres of very indifferent ground, about thre equarters of a mile from Sydney, were sold by virtue of an execution, in lots of twelve acres each, and averaged £14 per acre. This, however, is the highest price that has yet been given for land not situated in a town. The general value of unimproved forest land, when it is not heightened by some advantageous locality, as proximity to a town or navigable river, cannot be estimated at more than five shillings per acre. Flooded land will fetch double that sum. But on the banks of the Hawkesbury, as far as that river is navigable, the value of land is considerably greater; that which is in a state of nature being worth from £3 to £5 per acre, and that which is in a state of cultivation, from £8 to £10. The latter description rents for twenty and thirty shillings an acre.

The price of provisions, particularly of agricultural produce, is subject to great fluctuations,


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and will unavoidably continue so until proper measures are taken to counteract the calamitous scarcities at present consequent on the inundations of the Hawkesbury and Nepean. In the year 1806, the epoch of the great flood, the old and new stacks on the banks of those rivers were all swept away; and before the commencement of the following harvest, wheat and maize attained an equal value, and were sold at £5 and £6 per bushel. Even after the last overflow of these rivers, in the month of March, 1817, wheat rose towards the close of the year, to 31s. per bushel, and maize to 20s., and potatoes to 32s. 6d. per cwt. although a very considerable supply (about 20,000 bushels) was immediately furnished by the Derwent and Port Dalrymple. But for this speedy and salutary succour, the price of grain would have been very little short of what it was in the year 1806; since the whole stock on hand appears, from the muster taken between the 6th of October and the 25th of November, to have only been as follows: wheat, 2405 bushels; maize, 1506. This was all the grain that remained in the various settlements of New South Wales and its dependencies, about a month before any part of the produce of the harvest could be brought to market; and when it is considered that this was to administer to the support of 20,379 souls during that period, it will appear truly astonishing that the prices continued so moderate.




  ― 110 ―

By way, however, of counterpoise to these lamentable scarcities, which in general follow the inundations of the principal agricultural settlements, provisions are very abundant and cheap in years when the crops have not suffered from flood or drought. In such seasons, wheat upon an average sells for 9s. per bushel; maize for 3s. 6d.; barley for 5s.; oats for 4s. 6d. and potatoes for 6s. per cwt.

The price of meat is not influenced by the same causes, but is on the contrary experiencing a gradual and certain diminution. By the last accounts received from the colony, good mutton and beef were to be had for 6d. per pound, veal for 8d. and pork for 9d. Wheat was selling in the market at 8s. 8d. per bushel; oats at 4s.; barley at 5s.; maize at 5s. 6d.; potatoes at 8s. per cwt.; fowls at 4s. 6d. per couple; ducks at 6s. per ditto; geese at 5s. each; turkies at 7s. 6d. each; eggs at 2s. 6d. per dozen; and butter at 2s. 6d. per pound. The price of the best wheaten bread was fixed by the assize at 5¼d. for the loaf, weighing 2 lbs.

The progress which this colony has made in manufactures has perhaps never been equalled by any community of such recent origin. It already contains extensive manufactories of coarse woollen cloths, hats, earthenware and pipes, salt, candles, and soap. There are also


  ― 111 ―
extensive breweries, and tanneries, wheel and plough-wrights, gig-makers, black-smiths, nail-makers, tinmen, rope-makers, saddle and harness-makers, cabinet-makers, and indeed all sorts of mechanics and artificers that could be required in an infant society, where objects of utility are naturally in greater demand than articles of luxury. Many of these have considerable capitals embarked in their several departments, and manufacture to a considerable extent. Of the precise amount, however, of capital invested in the whole of the colonial manufactories, I can give no authentic account; but I should imagine it cannot be far short of £50,000.

The colonists carry on a considerable commerce with this country, the East Indies, and China; but they have scarcely any article of export to offer in return for the various commodities supplied by those countries. The money expended by the government for the support of the convicts, and the pay and subsistence of the civil and military establishments, are the main sources from which they derive the means of procuring those articles of foreign growth and manufacture which are indispensable to civilized life. They have, however, at last a staple export, which is rapidly increasing, and promises in a few years to suffice for all their wants, and


  ― 112 ―
to render them quite independent of the miserable pittance which is thus afforded them by the expenditure of the government: I mean the fleeces of their flocks, the best of which are found to combine all the qualities that constitute the excellence of the Saxon and Spanish wools. The sheep-holders in general have at length become sensible of the advantage of directing their attention to the improvement of their flocks; and if their exertions be properly seconded by the countenance and encouragement of the local government, there can be no doubt that the supply of fine wool, which the parent country will before long receive from the colony, will amply repay her for the care and expence she has bestowed on it during the protracted period of its helpless infancy. The exportation of this highly valuable raw material, is as yet but very limited: last year it only amounted to about £8000; but when it is considered that in the year 1817, there were 170,420 sheep in the colony and its dependent settlements on Van Diemen's Land, and that the majority of the sheep-holders are actively employed in crossing their flocks with tups of the best Merino breed, it may easily be conceived what an extensive exportation of fine wool may be effected in a few years.

The whole annual income of the colonists


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inhabiting the various settlements in New Holland, cannot be estimated at more than £125,000, and the following sub-divisions of it may be taken as a very close approximation to the truth:

             
£  s d
Money expended by the government for the pay and subsistence of the civil and military establishments, and for the support of such of the convicts as are victualled from the king's stores,  80,000 
Money expended by shipping not belonging to the colonial merchants,  12,000 
Various articles of export collected from the adjacent seas and islands, by the colonial craft, consisting principally of seal skins, right whale, and elephant oils, and sandal wood,  15,000 
Wool grown in the colony,  8,000 
Sundries,  20,000 
Total  £125,000 

The imports levied by the authority of the local government form two distinct funds, one of which, as has been already casually mentioned, is called the “Orphan Fund,” and the other “the Police Fund.” The former, it has been seen, contains one-eighth of the colonial


  ― 114 ―
revenue, and is devoted solely to the promotion of education among the youth of the colony; the latter contains the other seven-eighths, and is appropriated to various purposes of internal economy; such as the construction and repair of roads and bridges, the erection of public edifices, the maintenance of the police, the cost of criminal prosecutions, and the pay of various officers, principally in subordinate capacities, who are not borne on the parliamentary estimate of the civil establishment. These two funds amounted in the year 1817 to the sum of £20,272 6s. 2½d. which was derived from the following sources:

             
£  s.   d.  
noteDuties collected by the naval officer,  17,240  7¼ 
Market, toll, and slaughtering duties,  872  7¼ 
67 Spirit Licences,  2,010 
10 Beer ditto,  50 
4 Brewing ditto,  100 
Total  £20,272  2½ 

If we add to this £907 6s. 9¼d. which is the amount of the naval officer's commission on the duties collected by him, we have a grand total of £21,179 12s. 11¾d.; or, in other words, about


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one-sixth of the whole income of the colony, absorbed by an illegal taxation. This is an enormous sum to be levied in such an infant community; and it will appear the more so if it be recollected that nineteen-twentieths of it are collected from the duty which has been imposed on spirituous liquors, and from licences to keep public-houses for the retail of them.

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