THE CONVICT SYSTEM
In the year after the establishment of Sydney a military force was raised in England especially for the new colony. It was called the New South Wales Corps. The First Fleet had been accompanied by marines, and the intention had been that a detachment of the regiment should be stationed permanently at Sydney. but the officers and men disliked the service, and the Government therefore determined to organize a special corps of infantry The policy was to encourage the members of the corps to settle in New South Wales, and land grants were promised to them as an inducement. A very prominent and occasionally turbulent part was henceforth played by this military force, which, though designed to aid the Government, stove to become its master. Every Governor after Phillip until the corps ceased to exist in 1810 (when the practice of stationing detachments of regular troops in Australia was commenced) had trouble with it. It flouted Governor Hunter, who had to complain that it violated peace and order and defied the plain the law; it insulted Governor King; and it deposed Governor Bligh.
River at National Park postcard, New South Wales, c.1910
The second Governor of New South Wales, Captain John Hunter, who had commanded the Sirius with the First Fleet, was not appointed till more than a year after the departure of Phillip, and did not arrive in Sydney till September 1795. During the interval of nearly three years the government was administered first by Major Francis Grose, and in the last nine months by Captain William Paterson, both officers of the New South Wales Corps. It was a great misfortune that this period of military rule occurred; because in the course of it the colony was brought to degradation by drink, corruption, and general iniquity, which required years to mitigate. Phillip had imposed restrictions on the distribution of spirituous liquors, reorganizing the evils which would inevitably follow from the common use of them among a morally weak population. But Grose permitted large quantities of spirits to be imported and to come into the possession of officers and settlers, who freely used them for rewarding the convicts who worked for them. Rum, as spirits of all kinds were called, was a curse and a calamity in Sydney for years to come. Officers profited from the distillation, importation, and sale of it, soldiers and convicts alike consumed large quantities of it; and it bore an evil fruit of disease, crime, outrage, and rebellion.
Grose was particularly tender towards his brother officers, in permitting them to acquire landed estates and to have the services of convict labourers. When Hunter took charge he found that no land had been cleared for public purposes and no public works carried out since Phillip left, nearly the whole of the convict labour having been utilized for the profit of the officers. The Government fed and clothed the convicts, the officers had their labour for nothing, and the Government purchased the commodities produced by it at prices fixed by the same officers.
Captain Cook postcard, New South Wales, 1900
The officers were also permitted to enjoy a monopoly in the purchase of spirits and other commodities imported for general sale, and pocketed large gains from them. Their military duties and the honour of their uniform were subordinated to sordid avarice, and the entire community was debauched in order that they might grow rich. Maurice Margarot, a political prisoner, was examined before the House of Commons Committee on Transportation on the return to England in 1812. He was asked, 'Do the majority of the officers to whom the Government of the colony is entrusted embark in trade?' 'All, to a man,' he replied. 'What is that trade?' 'It consists first of all of monopoly, then of exportation; it includes all the necessaries of life which are brought to the colony.' In 1787, said Margarot, a 'combination bond' was entered into by the officers, 'by which they were neither to under-buy nor undersell the one from the other.' It was the first example of a 'trust' in Australia. The same witness spoke of spirits which had cost 7s. 6d. being sold in this way for 8 pounds per gallon. A letter written by Mrs. John Macarthur explains how the monopoly was managed. 'The officers in the colony, with a few others possessed of money or credits in England, unite together and purchase the cargoes of such vessels as repair to this country from various quarters. Two or more are chosen from the number to bargain for the cargo offered for sale, which is then divided amongst them in proportion to the amount of their subscriptions.'
At the same time as he allowed this trading system to be commenced, Grose suppressed this civil magistracy and placed the entire administration of justice in the hands of the military men. When Governor Hunter insisted on restoring the justice to their functions, they were subjected to annoyance by the soldiers, and he felt compelled to report to the Secretary of State that 'for these shameful and unpardonable purposes the most improper means which a mischievously fertile imagination, a malicious, restless, and vindictive disposition could invent,' had been used. Grose frankly disliked all in the community whom he could not pamper as soldiers or control as convicts. He spoke testily of having been 'much plagued with the people who become settlers."
The corrupt military autocracy established under the administration of Grose and Paterson had to be broken down during the governorships of Hunter (1795 -1800), King (1800-1806), and Bligh (1806-1808), all of whom found the officers tenacious of their profile and privileges, and determined to fight for them by all means available. Inasmuch as a Governor had no force to back up his administration except such as was commanded by those officers, and as they commonly worked against him, it was very difficult for him to maintain respect for his office, much less rightful authority and obedience.
The foundation of society in these early years in New south Wales was the convict system. For that the colony was established, for that it was maintained. No country in Europe had a harsher criminal code than England at this time. At the beginning of the nineteenth century over two hundred offences were punishable with death; and public executions, performed amid the revolting ribaldry of gaping crowds, were amongst the common spectacles of London. but in many cases it lay within the option of the judges to impose sentences of transportation for terms of seven or fourteen years, or for life; whilst in years of war many convicts were permitted to enlist in the Army and Navy. As late as 1837, the year of the accession of Queen Victoria, an official list of offences for which sentences of transportation might be inflicted contained over two hundred items. Many were very serious, but others were offences for which sentences so harsh would be deemed barbarous nowadays, such as slaughtering butcher's meat without a licence, damaging trees and saplings to an extent exceeding 5 pounds, stealing oysters from an oyster-bed, defacing marks on government property, poaching, or being upon any land armed by night for the purpose of taking or destroying game or rabbits. Not all convicts who were transported had committed offences even of this kind. An Irish knight was sent out for abducting the wealthy heiress of a Quaker banker, and an officer of the Indian army for killing his opponent in a duel.
Governor Phillip postcard, Sydney, New South Wales, c.1910
Convicts were conveyed from England to New South Wales in hired transports, the owners of which as well as the captains and officers entered into bonds for the safe custody of those placed on board. The earliest transports carried military guards, but when England became deeply involved in war with France, and could ill spare troops, they carried extra numbers of seamen to act as guards. Contractors received between 20 pounds and 30 pounds per head; and, as their profit depended upon the number of convicts carried, there was an inducement to cram as many on board as the ships would hold. Consequently the death-rate on the passage was very high. On the ship Neptune in 1790, 158 died on the passage out of 502 who were put on board, and those who did arrive in Sydney were all pitiably ill. Out of 300 on board the Hilsborough in 1799, 95 died on the passage, and those who arrived were 'in the most sickly and wretched state.' The prison authorities in England did not always see that those embarked were properly clad. Governor Hunter reported the arrival of a shipload who were embarked with only the clothes in which they stood, and who 'consequently arrived here naked.'
The horrors of the passage were, however, mitigated after 1802, which the Government adopted the system of sending out convicts twice a year in ships fitted up for the purpose, under the direction of a Transport Board, and commanded by officers of the Navy.
Phillip commenced the plan of 'assigning' convicts to settlers for work on farms, and assignment remained an essential feature of the system as long as transportation endured. A convict upon arrival might never be placed in confinement. The whole colony was the jail. It is true that log prisons were erected both in Sydney and Parramatta, but those were intended rather for those who broke the law after transportation there than as places of punishment for offences committed in England. Very refractory cases were sent to Norfolk Island. Legally the Governor was endowed with a 'property in the services' of a convict for the term of the transportation; and when he was assigned to a settler or an officer the property in his services was transferred to the assignee. After the abolition of negro slavery within the British Empire the question was sometimes put whether the transportation system was not another form of the evil thing which had been suppressed. Lord John Russell did not hesitate to affirm in the House of Commons that it was 'pure slavery.' Earl Grey in his book on Colonial Policy, wrote that 'the assigned servants wore in fact slaves, and there is only too painful proof that in many instances the evils inseparable from slavery were experienced.' Lawyers insisted on the distinction between property in the person, as in slavery, and 'property in the services,' as in transportation. Inasmuch, however, as the 'services' could not be rendered without the 'person.' the difference was somewhat subtle.
Hyde Park, Sydney, New South Wales, c.1907
Merely nominal wages were required to be paid to the assigned servants, and these were usually paid not in money but in such goods as tea, sugar, and tobacco, which were not included in the regulation rations. The assigned servants had to be fed, clothed, and housed to the satisfaction of the authorities. Some masters were undoubtedly cruel, and express orders had to be issued forbidding 'beating or horse0whipping any prisoner whose labour has been assigned.' Any person proved to have beaten assigned servants instead of having recourse to the magistrates when punishment was deemed to be deserved, was liable to be deprived of the labour. Good masters gave their well-behaved assigned servants a more liberal diet than the government regulations required. A Sydney merchant who employed large numbers on his country properties recorded that he rarely experienced trouble with them, though he managed them chiefly by 'moral influences.' One of his men was a Trafalgar hero transported for striking an officer when in a state of intoxication; and this man remained forty years in the merchant's service. The letter of a convict lad to his mother in England contains the pathetic passage: 'I am doing a great deal better than ever I was at home, only for wanting you with me; all my uncomfortableness is in being away from you.'
There is excellent reason for accepting the statements of contemporaries who knew the conditions prevailing in rural England and could compare with conditions in New South Wales, that the convict assigned to a farmer was better clothed and better fed than the honest English labourer, and at least as comfortably housed. But the discipline imposed was often ferociously harsh. The lash and the noose swung ever ready, and were freely employed. After a rebellion of Irish convicts, fifteen ringleaders were summarily hanged in one batch, and others received sentences of two hundred, five hundred, and even a thousand lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails. As soon as s wretch had recovered from the prostration caused by one portion of his sentence, he was taken out and given another.
Convicts were allowed to marry, and were in some instances assigned as servants to their own wives. In one notorious instance a convict transported for forgery was followed out from England by his own wife, who brought with her a considerable sum of money which the authorities had reason to believe represented the proceeds of robberies. She opened a shop in Sydney, and secured her own husband as her assigned servant. She managed the business, and he lived a luxurious life on the profits derived from it. In one of the official reports there is a quaint letter from a convict asking his sweetheart to to come to him from England. 'I can get a petition drawn up to marry her,' he wrote; 'she can take me of Government free from all expense.' The practice of assigning convicts to their own wives was afterwards discontinued, on the ground that 'it tends to do away with the punishment' - which says something for the amiability of the wives.
Neutral Bay ferry, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c.1910
A convict who, because of good conduct or commendable service, was liberated from servitude was called an emancipist. The word was often applied also to those whose term of sentence had expired and who continued to reside in the colony, but more usually these were called expirees. An emancipist was free to engage in any industry for his own profit, instead of as a servant of another. There were emancipist clergymen, merchants, bank directors, attorneys, surgeons, and schoolmasters. Not a few emancipated convicts became wealthy men. there is record of several who lived at the rate of 3,000 pounds a year, and one was stated on high authority to 1837 to draw 40,000 pounds a year, principally from Sydney property. Except in the case of political prisoners concerning whom special instructions were given, it was not difficult to win emancipation, and those to whom it was granted could easily obtain grants to land, upon which they might prosper. The rendering of useful service was encouraged by this inducement. Thus, when Captain Flinders required additional seamen for a voyage of exploration, he was allowed to select nine convicts, who were promised conditional or absolute pardons according to his recommendation. Officers of the French scientific expedition which visited Port Jackson in 1802 formed a highly favourable opinion of the means adopted for reforming the convicts and converting them into useful and dependable citizens.
Convicts who were employed on Government work were encouraged to win their release from hard labour by their own good conduct. Thus, when Governor Macquarie founded a settlement at Newcastle in 1810 for working the deposits of coal, he ordered that convicts were to be informed that they could procure relief from that service, which was not popular among them, by diligence and creditable behaviour. He was strict to enjoin that they should be treated justly. If they were called upon to work overtime, they were to be allotted extra rations, and they were to be persuaded to rear poultry and pigs and to cultivate gardens 'for their own use and comfort.' The commandant was enjoined to administer justice with clemency; and 'you are at all times rather to forgo punishment than to inflict it where the evidence of guilt is not perfectly clear and satisfactory.'
During the first thirty years tickets of leave - that is, certificates of permission to convicts to work for their own benefit instead of being consigned to a master - were granted without any regular system, at the discretion of the Governor. but governor Brisbane established a regular scale, under which a convict sentenced to seven years' transportation could obtain his ticket after four years of good conduct; a convict sentenced to fourteen years could obtain one after six years; and one sentenced to transportation for life could secure this measure of prescribed freedom after eight years. There were many instances of masters who had especially valuable servants assigned to them - clever mechanics, for instance - and not desiring to lose them - concocting charges against them in order that the grant of their tickets of leave might be withheld for a few years. The capacity of the colony to absorb labour sent from England depended on course upon the number of settlers, farms, and industries. In the earlier years there were more convicts than the administration could conveniently place, and to relieve itself of the cost of maintaining them in granted special indulgences to settlers and officers to induce them to receive more labourers than they actually needed. but with the extension of settlement the case was reversed. For about twenty years from the beginning of the nineteenth century the whole number transported could easily be assigned, and from about the year 1823 the demand for labour generally exceeded the supply. Sometimes, however, there would be a temporary glut of labour; at other times a pressing demand for it. Once, when a Governor had more men on his hands than he could place, he made a contract, with a wealthy merchant to grant to him 10,000 acres of very rich land at Shoalhaven in return for his taking a hundred convicts. The merchant profited exceedingly from the bargain, because the full number was never supplied, their services being required elsewhere. At another time (1826) there were applications for 2,000 more convict servants than the Superintendent could furnish. At length another highly interesting phase developed. When the number of free interesting phase developed. When the number of free settlers became large, there arose a repugnance to receive any more convicts, however, profitable their labour might be.
Political agitations in Great Britain which were obnoxious to the Government, and rebellious in Ireland, brought to New South Wales a class of convicts who were wholly different from the ordinary criminals supplied from English jails. The case of the 'Scottish martyrs' is one of outstanding interest. Societies for the promotion of parliamentary reform had been formed in Scotland, and at their meetings speeches had been made which reflected such advanced opinions as had become widely current under the influence of the French Revolution. the government was alarmed at the dissemination of these sentiments among the working classes, and determined to lay some of the ringleaders by the heels. In 1793 they arrested Thomas Muir, an eloquent advocate who had attained some distinction as a political leader; the Rev. T. F. Palmer, Unitarian minister at Dundee; William Skirving, secretary of the Edinburgh Friends of the People society; Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerrald. These men were tried for sedition before the notorious Lord Justice Clerk, Braxfield, in Edinburgh, and were sentenced to transportation to New South Wales, although the Acts in force in England enabling prisoners to be transported did not apply to Scotland. Braxfield's brutal conduct at the trials and the illegality of the sentences were denounced in the House of commons, where Charles James Fox exclaimed, 'God help the people who have such judges!'
Muir managed to make his escape from Sydney in an American ship, and died in France. Palmer served his sentence and died on his way home to England. Skirving, an eminently high-minded and honourable man, died in Sydney as also Gerrald. Margarot was the only one of the five 'martyrs' who on personal grounds does not command a full measure of respect, and he was the only one of them who saw his native land again. The others were victims of official and judicial vindictiveness, if not of positively illegal treatment, as well as of the nervous fear of necessary and long-delayed reform to which Wordsworth referred when he wrote, 'In Britain rules a panic dread of change.'
The Irish rebellion of 1798, and the seditious risings which proceeded it, resulted in the pouring of a turbulent stream of convicts into Sydney. Inasmuch as their rebellion sprang from feelings of bitter discontent, it was but natural that they should bring their sourness towards British rule oversea with them; and though many of the Irish prisoners were on personal gro9unds reputable men, they contributed to the life of the colony elements of violent hatred and conspiracy which had to be stamped out by vigorously exemplary means. It is a remarkable fact that tough the convict colony was filled with people who had broken the law in a variety of ways, and many of whom had done desperate things, there never was any serious danger of disruption except from these Irish political prisoners. The gallows and the cat demanded a heavy toll for the mutinies of 1803 and 1804. But Governor King could not afford to treat them lightly, for if there had been a general rising among the thousands of convicts whom he controlled, the whole settlement would have been reduced to the wildest anarchy, and the slender forces of his command might have been annihilated. He may not have known then, but there is the clearest evidence now, that the French were secretly informed that if an attack were made on Sydney the assailants might count upon the assistance of the Irish rebels. We must remember the extraordinary circumstances which had to be dealt with when we find so arbitrary a decree as that of King, that if any two persons were found conferring together, and did not disperse within half an hour of being ordered to do so by any free person, official or otherwise, they should suffer death.
One of the worst features of the treatment of these people was that very many of them were transported without any papers to show the term of their sentences. Governor Hunter, though he thought them 'turbulent and worthless characters,' admitt4ed that many had a serious grievance n that they did not know, nor did he, for what periods they had been transported; and Governor King, who admitted that many of them were 'real deserving character,' notwithstanding that he found a 'restless and diabolical spirit' working amongst them, had the same complaint to make. Indeed, when reference was made to the Government in Ireland for particular, it was acknowledged that many convicts had been transported without trial by legally constituted courts, and that a record of convictions had not been kept. Soldiers in regiments which had shown signs of disaffection were clapped on board ship and transported by the simple order of a commanding officer, without even a list of their names being sent with them.
Rebels by life-long disposition, bitter enemies of the authority which had exiled and now held them, with a feeling of injustice ranking in their hearts, these Irish exiles, who numbered about two thousand, were a continual cause of unrest. They were far more troublesome than all the forgers, burglars, and thieves with whom the governors had to deal. Many attempts to escape were made by groups of them. Some seized boats and got away to sea, generally perishing in the attempt. Wild imagination, heightened, perhaps by the despair which grasps at shadows, spread amongst them the idea that somewhere to the north of the settlement, right away across the mountains which looked so blue in the distance, lay other communities of white people; that China might be reached by tramping; that it was possible by flight into the interior to get away from the restraints which maddened them. They thought, reported Governor Hunter, that they could escape 'to this fancied paradise or to china.' Few who made the attempt in this manner ever returned. Their bones were left to bleach in the deep, rocky hollows of the mountains.
The little colony upon the shores of Port Jackson, a few square miles shut in between the hills and the sea, contained during the half-century after its foundation as queer a community as has ever been gathered together. There were rogues with the incomes of millionaires jostling persons born to rank who had encountered the fate of the man who once 'went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.' A visiting ship's captain who wrote his memoirs described how he met in a Sydney shop a pretty young woman who, though dressed as a servant, appeared from her manner and speech to be of gentle birth and good education. he learnt her story, and at her request sought out her brother in England, a man of position, to tell him that she still lived. On another day the same visitor met a fine, handsome man dressed in 'a new blue coat with black velvet collar, like a gentleman should be, which he was every inch of him'; he had been a leader of the Irish rebels in Wexford. One who had held the office of sheriff of a country might have been seen upon the footpath alongisede3 a clever French forger who had essayed to help his own country by ruining the Bank of England. A high-minded political idealist like Skirving rubbed shoulders with a boisterous ruffian like Sir Henry Brown Hayes. Men who sought relief in adversity by reading the dialogues of Plato and the poetry of Lueretius, loved cheek by jowl with those who could not read anything. A talented artist who 'was always distinguished by his skill in the arts of imitation,' was sent out for forgery, and, as an official report quaintly said, secured a mitigation of punishment 'in consideration of his having painted an altarpiece for the church.' The penal laws of Great Britain tossed them all down together in one of the most beautiful situations in the world, now suffused with an atmosphere of rum and rascality - a jumble of thieves, cut-throats, swindlers, forgers, rebels, poachers, ruined gamblers and fraudulent debtors. The lines attributed to the pickpocket Barrington - who at Sydney became a religious convert and preached sermons on Sundays - covered the whole of them:
THE FOUNDING OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The scene shifts to the western lobe of the continent, to the shores which the Dutch navigators had so often seen on their voyages to and from the East Indies, and which Dampier had dismissed with the cold disparagement that 'if it were not for that sort of pleasure which results from the discovery even of the barrenest spot upon the globe, this coast of New Holland would not have charmed me much.'
Here, as elsewhere in Australia, the explorer pointed out the way to the settler. It has previously been shown that suspicions concerning French designs - afterwards designated 'false rumours' by Lord Ripon - induced governor Darling to send Major Lockyer to occupy King George's Sound (Albany) in 1827. At the same time, Captain James Stirling in H.M.S. Success, made an examination of the Swan River - which the Dutchman Vlaming had named ('Swaenerevier') because he found there a species of black swan (cen soorte van swarte swanen'). Stirling was charmed with what he saw, and the botanist who accompanied him, Fraser, gave a glowing account of the beauties of the river and the capabilities of the soil. Not only in his official report, but also in private letters to influential persons, did Stirling proclaim the value of his discoveries. In one such letter he said that the land on the banks of the Swan, 'of all that I have seen in various quarters of the world, possesses the greatest natural attractions.,' It was a spot 'so eligible for settlement that it cannot long remain unoccupied; it is not inferior in any natural essential quality to the plain of Lombardy.'
As soon as Darling received the report he was anxious that a settlement should be founded on the Swan River. Lockyer's little colony at Albany had no promising back country, but Stirling's report indicated boundless possibilities. The Governor therefore sent him to England in order that he might present it to the government in person, and back up Darling's very strong recommendation that the Swan River should be peopled without delay. Some people were still imbued with ideas as to French designs. Curiously enough, too, the Secretary to the Admiralty pressed the point that there was a danger lest the 'French or the Americans should assume possession of the only safe anchorage on the west coast of Australia' - though it is not apparent that America, in 1828, took any interest in Western Australia apart from the profit which a few whalers might make. But the government, however willing it might be that the Swan River should be occupied, was determined not to incur expense. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was cutting down expenditure, and his colleagues did not see any advantage in extending the area of British occupation in Australia. The Colonial Secretary, Huskisson, suggested that the East India Company might found a colony, the government promising every facility; but the Company would not undertake the venture. Then Stirling undertook to form a company of private capitalists to colonize under a Royal Charter; but the Government would not entertain that proposition. Indeed, they did not seem to see any particular reason for exerting themselves. There was, it was now abundantly clear, unbounded scope for expansion in New South Wales. At long as foreigners could be kept off other portions of the coastline by waving the Union Jack, dumping down a few convicts at points like Westernport, Albany, and Melville Island, and saying firmly in diplomatic language 'This is all ours' - that was sufficient. The lion lay couchant after a heavy meal, with his paws on what he intended for his supper.
But there were Englishmen who, attracted by Stirling's account of the Swan River, believed in the possibility of making a profitable investment and at the same time of performing valuable Imperial service there. Following the flow of free immigration to Australia, masses of English capital were awaiting scope for investment in the country. The Australian Agricultural Company, with a capital of 1,000,000 pounds, commenced to operate in New South Wales in 1824; in 1825 the Van Diemen's Land Company acquired a great estate in the southern island. News about the Swan River came to hand just at the time when these enterprises had been taken in hand. Mr. Thomas Peel, a relative of Sir Robert Peel, was the prime mover in the new scheme. He undertook, on behalf of a syndicate formed for the purpose, to convey 10,000 immigrants to Western Australia and settle them there, at an estimated cost of 30 pounds per head, or a total of 300,000 pounds, in return for a grant of 4,000,000 acres, valued at 1s. 6d. per acre, which would exactly recoup this outlay. Peel had sundry interviews with colonial Office officials, from which, being a man of extremely sanguine disposition, he drew the inference that the syndicate's terms were accepted. He even went so far as to purchase a ship for conveying his first batch of immigrants.
But though the government did not wish to incur financial obligations in behalf of the Swan River, the Colonial Office considered that Peel's terms were extravagant. They knew from their experience of conveying convicts that the cost per head would not run 30 pounds, and a grant of 4,000,000 acres 0 a larger area than Yorkshire - of unknown value, was rather a stiff price to pay; though the Company undertook to grant 200 acres to each of the immigrants, thus disposing of one half the total domain. the Colonial Office cut down the land grant to 1,000,000 acres. Each immigrant was to get 40 acres for every 3 pounds invested by him in land - that is, one acre for every 1s. 6d. per acre in improving it within the first three years. Peel's partners did not see much prospect of profit in these terms. But he himself aspired to be one of the founders of 'new majesties of mighty states,' and to make a name for himself, like Penn and Delaware in America, as well as to invest his money to advantage; and, as he was to get 250,000 acres for himself as the founder of the colony - and that area, after all, was a bigger piece of territory than the county of Huntingdon - he decided to proceed.
Peel invested 50,000 pounds of his own money in the scheme, and lost most of it. Stirling was appointed Governor, and he arrived in the Parmelia with fifty-five passengers on June 1, 1829.
Exactly where the administrative center would be located had not yet been determined. The port of Fremantle was deemed unsuitable, and, until the beautiful site of Perth was chosen and the foundation of a township laid (August 12), Stirling encamped his people on Garden Island, a sandy waste a few miles from the mouth of the Swan. Her they endured severe privations for several months, many living like black-fellows, sheltered from the sharp ocean winds only by brushwood screens. From this place exploring parties were sent out to look for cultivable land. Meanwhile, more immigrant ships in quick succession brought their living freight, the hopeful colonists having been induced to leave England by the attractive reports circulated by Peel's agents. Peel himself took out 300 people, whom he engaged to work upon his own land. by January 1830 twenty-five ships had landed 850 persons in the Swan River colony, there was a total population of 1,300, and 525,000 acres of land had been allotted. During that year about a thousand more arrived. There were cattle, sheep, horses, fruit-trees, plants, seeds, tools, and all the necessary equipment of a colony.
But the experiment was a failure; and the philanthropic investor burnt his fingers. It failed for several reasons. to plant some hundreds of settlers upon large areas of land necessarily meant creating a very scattered community. Every man lived miles away from every other man. He was monarch of all he surveyed, but he surveyed only solitude. there were no roads. These English people had not been accustomed to a life of that kind. some, it is true, were bravely venturesome. 'Acting under the impulse of novelty,' reported Stirling, 'there were many who at once established themselves on their land, regardless of danger from the natives and of the difficulty they encountered in removing their goods from the coast.
Then, the Western Australian aboriginals resented the occupation of their happy hunting-ground by this horde of white people who had descended suddenly upon the country. Dampier had not liked the look of the Western Australian blacks -'the Hodmadods of Monomatapa,' he said, 'though a nasty people, are gentlemen to these' - and Peel's settlers liked them less. They attacked the intruders, and the few soldiers whom "Stirling had with him were forced to shoot some. Further, the task of building houses in the wilderness, of clearing land, cultivating, and tending stock, was desperately hard work. Western Australia is a country four and a half times as big as France, three times as big as Germany, a country of huge forests and bush land, and of immense, waterless plains. It was not easy for immigrants from a thickly populated country to make homes for themselves there, especially as there was nobody to take them in hand and show them the way of it. Very stout-hearted men were required to succeed in such circumstances, and not a very large proportion of the settlers were of that kind. 'Many of the settlers who have come,' said Stirling, 'should never have left a safe and tranquil state of life.' Naturally, many gave up the attempt in despair, and clung to the centre of the settlement, Perth, where they had to be fed from the Government stores. Others left the Swan river altogether, to try their luck in other parts of Australia. One such family, as we shall see, became the first settlers in Victoria.
Peel's own company of selected immigrants melted away from him. Others who had obtained large grants of land and had brought their own labourers from England endured a similar experience. These servants had not been chosen with care. 'Many indented servants,' Stirling reported, 'were recommended to their employers by parish officers,' and 'their habits were of the loosest description.' Indeed, the 'greater part' of the servants were the 'outcasts of parishes' in England, persons who, being a constant charge on the poor-rates at home, parish officers were very glad of the chance of sending abroad. At the same time it must be said that some of Peel's people were competent farm workers and were willing to give him loyal service. But he had indentured them for a wage of 3s. per day, and they could earn more by working for other settlers; and though he did secure the punishment of some for breach of indentures, he gave permission to others to leave his service. 'A Number of them' wrote Captain Irwin, who published a little book about the colony, 'were excellent men who would have conscientiously adhered to him had he not given them the option of working for others.' But Peel, though his aims were good, was not a successful leader of men. The magnitude of the task he had undertaken was beyond his powers. He knew nothing of pioneering work in an untamed wilderness, and his personal characteristics were not those of an organizer. finally, when brought to ruin, he induced the Government to make to him a grant of 250,000 acres on Cockburn Sound, and there for thirty years, until his death, he lived the life of a solitary and disappointed man.
But though Peel's experiment failed, and his settlement was described as 'the scarecrow of civilisation,' the colony of Western Australia endured; and the very failure brought into existence another colony on the southern coast of Australia. That Western Australia was not abandoned after the collapse of the first mistaken endeavour was due principally to the energy and resource of Stirling. It was on his recommendation that the Swan River Settlement was founded, and, though he had had no experience of colonising and had both seriously underrate the difficulties and inadequately prepared to encounter them, he did not mean to let his colony die on his hands. He was in the prime of life, thirty-eight, and his training as a naval officer had made him an adept in leadership and in finding expedients. He had brought his young wife of twenty-two out with him, to 'rough it' in the wilderness, and she, with her refinement and social tact, was no inconsiderable factor in making possible a tolerably agreeable life for the people over whom her husband ruled. He was indefatigable in personally conducting exploring parties and in directing the efforts of intending settlers into probably profitable channels. For nine years (till 1838) he was at the head of the government, except for two years when he was in England explaining to the Colonial Office the causes of the initial failure and securing support for his future efforts. Patience and an intelligent optimism were his guiding lights, and with these and his administrative ability be pulled the colony through the troubles of its infancy.
There was no suspicion as yet of the gorgeous deposits of gold which lay under the sands of Western Australia. The colony had to endure from the products of its soil. Stirling realized that it was hopeless at this stage to establish a thriving community on small holdings. It was no country for peasant proprietors. It had magnificent timber resources, but there was at present but a small market fort that commodity. The only chance of success was to offer inducements to those who could take up fairly large areas for mixed farming and grazing. Agriculture alone offered no fruitful prospects, but sheep and cattle raising and horse breeding could be made to pay. In more recent6 times, when a larger population has created more demands for land for wheat farming and fruit culture, the large holdings have been felt to be an embarrassment; but it has to be remembered that the creation of these estates in the earlier years of Western Australia's existence was the policy which saved it from bankruptcy and abandonment.
The curve of the population figures shows how the colony fared. In 1830 there had been as many as 4,000 persona in Western Austrralia. The greater part of them drifted away, and in 1832 there were only 1,500. Then, little by little, a period of growth commenced. It was a very slow process, truly, but the corner had been turned. In 1840 there was a population of 2,350; in 1850 it numbered over 5,000.
These people were separated from the other Australian colonies by vast trackless deserts and 2,000 miles of ocean. It was easier to trade with London than with Sydney. Nearly everything produced in Western Australia was also produced in larger quantities in the other settlements. consequently there was little scope for trade with them. The colony came to feel that it was divided in its interests as well as geographically from other colonies on the same mainland; and it showed that feeling in an acute fashion when it asked for convict immigration several years after transportation to New South Wales had creased, and the public conscience had revolted from it. The story of the ending of the convict system elsewhere will be told in a later chapter; here it is necessary to explain why it was inaugurated in Western Australia.
In the beginning there was a district determination that convicts should not be introduced, and a feeling of pride that the western colony had come into existence by other means than New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land had done. Captain Irwin, in his State and Position of Western Australia 1835, spoke of the 'feeling of disgust' aroused by a proposition to bring convicts to King George's Sound; it was, he said, a 'monstrous project,' which was 'not likely8 to gain many adherents in the country.' Peel had stipulated that convicts were not to be taken to the Swan River, and the house Government never violated this condition. Anxiety was even expressed least convicts who had served their sentences in the penal settlements should come westward, and in 1845 there was a demand that expirees should be prohibited from landing at Perth.
But at this very time a change was brewing. Labour was scarce. The population increased by immigration, but at the same time the colony lost laboutrers by emigration to the eastern and southern colonies. The supply of hands was inadequate to work the fams and tend the stock. Western Australia was threatened with stagnation just when the preliminary rough work of pioneering had been done, and an era of prosperity had seemed to be within sight. Moreover, the Imperial Government had lately introduced a new land plolicy. Acting on ideas which will be explained later, ministers raised the minimum price of land to one pound per acre throughout the Australian colonies without regard to differences in quality. This regulation hit Western Australia in three ways. First, it deprived the colony of the opportunity of attracting settlers by the offer of very cheap land. If an immigrant to Australia had to pay at least a pound per acre, he would be likely to go elsewhere than to the Swan river. Secondly, by thus decreasing the land sales it deprived the colony of the fund which it had been using for bringing out labourers. Thirdly, it prevented the inflow of fresh capital, which every immigrant brought with him to a greater or lesser degree. Depression and gloom hung over the Swan River. Trade was at a standstill. Land was unsaleable.
In 1848 the English Government inaugurated a new system of treating convicts. Here it is sufficient to indicate that in the year mentioned governor Charles Fitzgerald, who had just assumed office in Perth, inquired among the leading colonists whether they would be willing to relieve the situation in regard to the shortage of labour by receiving convicts under this plan. The subject was much canvassed for several months, and early in 1849 a public meeting held at Perth passed a resolution asking the Imperial government 'to erect this colony into a regular penal settlement.' Fitzgerald forwarded the resolution to London with the expression of his opinion that the majority of the people would gladly learn that Western Australia had been chosen for the reception of convicts. Accordingly, on May 12, 1849, Orders in council were passed appointing Western Australia a place to which such persons might be despatched, and the first batch arrived in June 1850.
In these circumstances Western Australia became a penal settlement after the other Australian colonies, except Van Diemen's Land, had by their own determined efforts thrown off the incubus of conviction. The system endured for sixteen years. It resulted in nearly 10,000 convicts being introduced; but, at the same time, in accordance with an understanding made at the commencement, and scrupulously carried out by the Imperial government, an equivalent number of free immigrants were conveyed to the Swan River. This, in the nine years from 1855 to the end of 1863, 4,800 convicts and 4,850 free immigrants, whose passages were paid from England, arrived. Some of the participants in the Irish rebellion of 1848 were amongst the convict class.
The system ended very largely in consequence of vigorous protests made by the other Australian colonies against the continued shipping of British felons to any part of the continent. The last convict ship to bring its unhappy freight to these shores arrived in 1868.
The introduction of a labour supply, even from this muddied source, did undoubtedly relieve the depression of 1840 and the following years, and it was especially valuable in providing the Government with labour for the construction of roads and bridges and the erection of public buildings. Moreover, the maintenance of the system on the banks of the Swan cost the Imperial government 98,000 pounds per annum, and the expenditure of a large part of this money on commodities produced in the colony necessarily benefited the settlers. But in the long run the system was not advantageous. The deposit of 600 convicts per annum in Perth soon made the portion of the population who had been sentenced more numerous than the free settlers. Many of those whose term of service expired drifted to the other colonies, or, as a memorial forwarded to the Imperial government from those colonies stated, 'Western Australia is, in fact, a mere conduit pipe through which the moral sewage of Great Britain is poured upon those communities.' The expirees who remained in Western Australia entered into competition with the free people and made them discontented with the system, which constantly tended to drive out the free class. From England's point of view convictism, as practised in Western Australia, was a costly failure. As the Under-Secretary for the Colonies said, 'Our experiment has been anything but successful; the establishment has been enormously costly in proportion to the relief which this country has enjoyed.' England, indeed, would have dropped the system before 1867 had it not been believed that is continuance was a convenience to Western Australia. When it became clear that such was no longer the case, and the eastern and southern colonies very deeply resented the further contamination of the country, it ceased.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA AND THE WAKEFIELD THEORY
The failure of Thomas Peel's Swan River experiment occurred at a time when much interest was being taken in England in systematic colonization. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars had thrown Europe into disorder for a quarter of a century, and parallel with them went the creation of the great change in conditions of manufacture which is known as the industrial revolution. the new system, while it made employers rich, plunged the mass of the working classes into deep poverty. Pauperism was 'breaking down the country,' though the total wealth of England was increasing enormously. Wages were miserably low, food was dear, and there was not sufficient employment to absorb the thousands who saw their old hand-industries rapidly disappearing in consequence of the application of steam-driven machinery to production. Emigration was advocated as a remedy for these painfully manifest ills. England was believed to be over-populated. But she had vast empty possessions oversea. These could be used to relieve the pressure at home. But there was a desire to use them in a systematic, scientific manner. the time was ripe for some one to show how this was to be done.
The man who came forward with the most convincing plan was Edward Gibbon Wakefield. This ingenious and persuasive writer (who had spent some time in Newgate prison, whither he had been consigned marrying a ward in chancery), published in 1829 a little book called A Letter from Sydney, which immediately captivated the minds of many politicians and officials who were searching about for a rational theory of colonization. It was written in so attractive and vivid a style that not only contemporaries, but some later historians also, thought that it proceeded hot from the personal experience of one who had studied Australian conditions on the spot. This, Sir Spencer Walpole, in the History of England (vol. vi., p. 300), stated that 'the letter was written from Sydney.' But, in fact, Wakefield had never been to Sydney, nor to any other colony. He wrote his little book in London; but he was so plausible, and he put into it so many cunning and racy little touches, that he made people believe that he was describing what he had observed.
Wakefield followed up his success by writing numerous articles and letters in public journals, and by discussing his ideas with prominent men, until quite a large party was formed which believed in him as the genius who had at last given to the world the true and only plan of foundation and working a colony on sound lines. The Wakefield Principle was always mentioned by some journals with the reverential homage of a capital letter, and there were advocates of it who, as a distinguished critic said, regarded it as 'the one thing needful to make mankind rich, virtuous, and happy for the rest of their time on earth, a specific for all the disorders of the world.' Now, the Wakefield Principle was the very opposite of the plan which Thomas Peel had endeavoured to carry out in his Western Australian colony; and, as the news of that failure was being much discussed in the very year when the Letter from Sydney was published, Wakefield and his supporters wer3 able to stress the virtues of their own theory by reference to the obvious defects of others. Peel had sought to attract settlers by the offer of an abundance of cheap land. The very essence of Wakefield's system was that land in a new colony should never be sold cheaply, but always at a 'sufficient price.'
Wakefield developed his ideas in a number of books and minor publications, but they may be explained in simple terms as follows. A colony depends upon three main elements for success! land upon which to settle capital to apply to the land and labour to work it. If land in a new colony is obtainable very cheaply, he argued, labourers will not continue to work for settlers; fort they will soon save enough money to buy land of their own. Consequently, there will be no dependable supply of labour. But a colony cannot prosper unless there is an abundance of labour. Settlers with capital will not come out unless they can get labour to work their properties. therefore you require two things; first, a fund by means of which you can bring to your colony labour from the mother-country, where there is an excess of it; and, secondly, a means of keeping them in the position of labourers when you get them to the colony. If, then, you sell your colonial lands, not very cheaply, as was done at the Swan River, but at a 'sufficient price' to enable you with the proceeds of the sales to bring out alls the labour which the colonists require, and if you devote the entire proceeds of your land sales to this purpose, you will maintain an exact balance between the land you desire to have occupied, the capital necessary to develop at, and the labour required to work it. Your labourers will have to remain labourers for two or three years, because the savings from their wages will not be sufficient to enable them to buy land of their own until they get enough to pay the 'sufficient price'; and the 'sufficient price' obtained for the land will enable you to maintain a constant supply of fresh labour from the overflowing reservoir of Europe - provided (and this was an essential feature of Wakefield's system) that you do not use the proceeds of land sales for any other purpose than paying for immigration.
In 1830 Wakefield formed a Colonization Society to carry out his ideas; and, by a coincidence fortunate for him, it happened that in that year news arrived of Charles Sturt's great boat journey down the Murray and his discovery of great areas of fertile land in the basin of that river. Here, then, were (1) a man with a theory; (2) an organization formed to give effect to it; (3) an unoccupied territory where there was scope for an experiment; and (4) a strong public feeling in favour of a scientific immigration policy. South Australia was the result. But, it must be confessed, the experiment was not carried out under conditions which gave a fair chanced to the Wakefield Principle. Politicians and responsible officials are shy of philosophical theorists, and many doubted the wisdom of giving over a great province as a social laboratory wherein an ingenious and pertinacious author might try his ingenious plans. Wakefield, indeed, had made a sufficient impression to convince everybody that old modes of colonization were wrong, but not enough to convince the government and Parliament that his own mode was inevitably right.
Moreover the Colonial Office was here, as in Western Australia and later at Port Phillip, strongly opposed to the chief official in 1830, 'does not feel at liberty at the present moment to hold out any encouragment to schemes which have for their object the extension of the number of His Majesty's settlements abroad, and which, whether formed in the outset by individuals or the Government, are always liable to end in becoming in some way or other a source of expense to the revenue of this country.' Thisantipathy was the first barrier which had to be broken down. Wakefield desired to proceed by means of a chartered company, and the South Australian Land company was formed for this purpose (1831). But the Colonial Office objected to 'transfer to the company the sovereignty of a vast unexplored territory,' and the negotiation broke down. In 1833 the South Australian Association took up the problem, still under Wakefield's inspiration, and with the active aid of such influential Englishmen as Gorge Grote, the historian of Greece, Sir William Molesworth, and the Duke of Wellington.
The Government, under pressure of opinion, at length agreed that a new colony should be founded, but would not grant a charter to the company, and insisted that the colony should be placed under a Governor appointed by the Crown. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1834 establishing the colony of South Australia, with a Governor to preside over it, but also with a body of Commissioners who were to finance the concern by raising a loan, and were to control the sale of land, which was not to be disposed of for less than 12s. per acre. The transportation of convicts was expressly barred. The whole project would have collapsed for lack of financial backing but for the exertions of George Fife Angas, a wealthy and influential merchant who had taken great interest in it and was appointed a member of the Board of commissioners. A capital of 200,000 pounds was required to float the colony. but how was that money to be raised? The Exchequer set its hard face against government aid, and rich philanthropists did not open their cheque-books with any noticeable eagerness. Wakefield's own band of disciples were not well pleased with the way in which the Colonial Office had handled the Principle. 'Without some association to assist the commissioners,' Angas said, 'I do not see how the Act is to be carried into effect.' He therefore formed a company with a working capital of 200,000 pounds - the south Australian Company, of which Angas himself was the chairman. This company, which within six years invested in south Australia 320,000 pounds, established a bank, and engaged in a number of industries, was more influential in promoting the success of the young colony than the Government or the commissioners; and of course those who invested their money in it looked for a reward.
Sir Charles Napier, who had written a book on colonization, was offered the governorship; but he foresaw that there would be financial difficulties, and would not accept the post unless he were given some troops and authority to draw on the British Treasury 'in case of necessity.' The government, however, did not intend to accept any financial obligations, and declined Napier's terms; whereupon he refused office - and went to India, as every student of the history of that country is aware. The governoship was then accepted by Daptain Hindmarsh, R.N., who had been one of Nelson's officers at the battle of the Nile.
Two ship-loades of colonists left England in 1836, and arrived at Kangaroo Island in July of that year. Nobody had been sent in advance to find out whether Kangaroo Island was a suitable place for settlement. All that the promoters new about it they had learnt from the description of Flinders in his Voyage to Terra Australis, and from the artist Westall's charming drawings, prepared as illustrations to that work. On the strength of that meagre amount of knowledge they had circulated a little book to attract immigrants, illustrated with an idyllic picture, and an assurance that in this abode of bliss, where kangaroos and emus placidly grazed under palm-trees, 'there would be little more revolting to the feelings of an immigrant than if he had merely shifted his residence from Sussex to Cumberland or Devonshire.' but the first immigrants found Kangaroo Island no more suitable for founding a colony than Peel's people had found Garden Island seven years before.
When colonel William Light, with his surveying party, arrived in the Rapid in August he saw at once that this would never do. He therefore commenced to search for a better place. Having rejected Port Lincoln owing to its arid environment, and made an examination of St. Vincent's gulf, he determined that the best available site was that upon which the city of Adelaide was afterwards reared. When governor Hindmarsh arrived in the Buffalo in December he was ill pleased with the choice. A muddy creek, sending its trickle of water through a mangrove swamp, afforded no fitting spot for the capital of a colony. there was not a good natural harbour, and Colonel Light's city-area was seven miles from the sea. there was bitter controversy over the site question. Hindmarsh favoured Encounter Bay, others preferred Port Lincoln. But Light persisted that his choice was the right one; and, as the final authority in this matter had been entrusted to him, his view prevailed. Light undoubtedly aas further and clearer into the future than his critics did, and probably nobody nowadays would assert that he was wrong. In fact, Hindmarsh, though he publicly sided with Light's opponents, wrote in quite a different strain to London. The city site, he said, in a letter to Angas, was 'on the bank of a beautiful stream, with thousands of acres of the richest land I ever saw; altogether a more beautiful spot can hardly be imagined.' The city was named Adelaide, after the Queen, at the express wish of William IV.
But the quarrels over this issue developed into others. The Governor and the representative of the Commissioners could not agree; and, as the Commissioners were responsible for the business management of the colony, the colonial Office recalled Hindmarsh in 1838. He was succeeded by Colonel George Gawler. To Avoid further trouble between the Governor and the resident Commissioner, the functions of both were combined in Gawler. But, even so, he found himself confronted with serious difficulties. The treasured was 'absolutely empty' - at one time during Hindmarsh's period the iron safe which held the Government funds had contained only 1s. 6d. Debts had been incurred, salaries were overdue, and, as Gawler wrote home within a fortnight of his arrival, 'the credit of the Government is injuriously low.' What was a distracted new Governor to do, with officials and creditors clamouring for payment and no money to meet their claims? 'I must,' wrote Gawler, 'surpass my instructions, and look to England for considerable unauthorized financial assistance.' In other words, he felt compelled to issue bills, which he expected the commissioners afterwards to honour.
What had happened in south Australia was that, instead of land being cultivated and the produce being sold, thus bringing in a legitimately earned revenue, an orgy of land speculation had been started. Wakefield's perfectly balanced system, which ought to have run automatically like a piece of beautifully designed clockwork - land sold, labourters imported, land cultivated, more land sold, more labourers imported, more land cultivated, and so on ad infinitum - had failed to make allowance for that singular human frailty, the desire to get rich quickly and without working hard. 'Nam dives qui fieri vult, et cito vult fleri,' as the poet Juvenal wrote. What actually happened was that land was duly sold, and the money was sent to England to stimulate immigration, and more people came out, and bought more land - but (and here the scheme went awry) instead of cultivating the land, buyers gambled in land values. the first comers, who had selected the most desirable pieces of land, found that they could make more money by selling land to new-comers than by growing wheat or wool. So they sold, and bought more land, and sold that; and the second comers did the same; and the third comers joined in. The South Australia Company itself became no longer a promoter of colonization but an organization for speculation.
Meanwhile the labourers had no work to do; so they crowded into the town and clamoured at the doors of the government offices for food. for a while things 'boomed,' because Gawler, with his bills - which were believed to be as good as cash - promoted public works. Money, the proceeds of land sales, went to England, and the commissioners sent out some thousands of immigrants. In 1838 nearly 40,000 acres were sold at 1 pound per acre, and 2,000 persons arrived. In 1830 nearly 50,000 acres were sold, and 6,000 immigrants arrived. By 1841 299,000 acres had been sold. But only 2,500 acres were under cultivation. Speculation had plenty to play with, and the scramble for town allotments was exciting while it lasted; but the plough rusted for lack of a furrow. Meanwhile there was no legitimate field of employment for the immigrants. If Gawler had been a resolute statesman, with a clear understanding of what was happening, he would have realized that the young colony was simply bouncing down the road to ruin. But, though an excellent, well-meaning man, and a brave soldier - he had fought nobly in the Peninsular War - he had no sense of the kind of desperate remedy which the situation required. He set the unemployed labourers to work erecting expensive public buildings. Roads and bridges were built. Harbour works were commenced. Everything was done on a scale of substantial completeness that might have caused an ill-informed stranger to draw the inference that the Governor had a flourishing revenue at his disposal. but, in fact, Gawler was paying for his elaborate buildings with bills. Adelaide was spreading I.O.U. in stones and mortar. He had actually spent in excess of revenue to the amount of 291,000 pounds.
When the bills rolled in upon the English Commissioners, and they reported to the Exchequer, ther3e was a sensation. News drilled through to Adelaide that the bills had been dishonoured in London. Gawler could not believe it. The Commissioners had not stopped him while the expenditure was in progress, and he protested that he considered that he was pursuing a proper policy in building up the colony and giving employment to the labourers. But the dishonouring of the bills pricked the speculation bubble. When those who had purchased the documents for paying their London creditors found that the paper was worthless because the Commissioners could snot honour it and the Exchequer would not, there was a total collapse of credit, and thousands who had fancied themselves rich staggered on the brink of ruin. On May 10, 1841, a slim, bronzed young officer of twenty-eight, with piercing blue eyes and a confident, masterful manner, stepped off the ship Lord Glenelg at Port Adelaide and made his way to government House. The same ship carried an important despatch for Gawler. The officer was Captain George Grey, and the despatch informed the governor that, as he had drawn bills in excess of the authority given to him, he had been relived of his office, and that Grey had been appointed to succeed him.
A committee of the House of Commons afterwards inquired into Gawler's administration, and admitted that the condition of the colony on his arrival made it necessary for him to exceed his instructions. They blamed the Act under which the colony was founded, and thought that the commissioners had not shown 'any clear foresight of the necessities at such a community placed in such circumstances.' Gawler's failure ended the control of the Commissioners, and the Act 'for the better Government of the Province of South Australia,' passed in 1842, placed the administration on the footing of a Crown Colony.
Few men have had a more thankless task to perform that George Grey had when he took up his post. 'the colony was bankrupt. Many men who came out with money to invest were penniless. It was the task of this remarkable imperial statesman, whose connection with Australia extended from these early days of distress and failure down to the beginnings of the federation movement, to rescue South Australia, to place it firmly on its feet, to make production take the place of speculation. Grey acted with firmness, and occasionally with audacity - but he performed his task. The British Exchequer at first absolutely refused to accept financial responsibility for the debts incurred during Gawler's administration. But Grey saw that he could not make the colony a success if the colonists who had taken up the dishonoured bills were not paid. He therefore persisted in his demand that the Government should wipe out the obligations, amounting now to a total of 405,000 pounds, in order that South Australia might make a fresh start. It was a pill which the Exchequer did not like to swallow, but Grey's stubbornness won. The British Government, though it had previously refused to comply, was not inclined to relax its attitude and make the concession, as Grey was ruling with such rigorous economy and such reforming energy that the colony promised soon to be self-supporting and prosperous. By the end of 1842 he had 'stopped the leak,' and the financial crisis was at an end.
Naturally, the cessation of lavish expenditure made Grey unpopular with those who had profited from it. Even the aboriginals, it is reported, were wont to say, 'No good Gubner Grey, berry good Gubner Gawler - plenty tuck out.' But 'plenty tuck out' based on fictitious credit was what Grey had set himself to end; and he knew that the progress of agriculture, which he had the satisfaction to witness, would make for sound and enduring prosperity. He not only did not refute the attacks upon him, he never read them. But his firm, judicious, and wise rule amply earned the handsome tribute paid by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who said in the House of Commons, 'I must say that in four or five years of his administration he has solved the problem with a degree of energy and success which could hardly have been expected from any one. He has extricated the colony and gained the good-will of both settlers and aboriginals.' Grey's very memorable governorship of South Australia ended when he was appointed Governor of New Zealand in 1845.
The first settlement at Moreton Bay was founded in September 1824, under the command of Lieutenant Murray of the 40th (South Lancashire) regiment, principally as a place of punishment for convicts who had committed offences after transportation to Australia. But Governor Brisbane also had in view the preparation of the country by convict labour for habitation by a farming class. The establishment of penal depots at points favourable to cultivation was, he considered, 'the best way of paving the way for free populations.' The rough labour of clearing and of making highways would thus be done at little cost. It is hardly doubtful, however, that from the point of view of pioneer development the experiment was expensive out of proportion to the beneficent results obtained from it. The convicts did clear the site of Brisbane town, where the Quaker philanthropists Backhouse and Walker, who visited the penal settlements in 1836, found 'some fine cleared and cultivated land on the south bank' of the river.
Forest in Queensland, 1912
Experiments were also made with sugar-cane growing and other varieties of culture, but much of the work was unskillfully directed. Dr. Lang related that when rice cultivation was attempted, instead of the natural seed being sown, manufactured rice bought from a grocery store was used; whereupon the climate was reported to be unsuitable for rice growing! In view of the fact that some thousands of men were kept at hard labour during the fifteen years that Brisbane was a convict settlement, and that the establishment cost many thousands of pounds, the amount of useful work done was very small. governor Bourke in 1832 advised the abandonment of the Moreton Bay settlement, and in 1859 the prisoners were withdrawn from it. The original site was not up the river, where the city of Brisbane was built, but at Redcliffe, on the shore of Moreton Bay. After the abandonment of this position on account of the absence of water, the aboriginals called it Oompiebong, an 'oompie' (or, as more commonly spelt, humpy) being a hut, and 'bong' signifying dead; it was the place of the abandoned huts. Hence it is called Humpybong to this day.
During the penal period free settlers were strictly excluded from within fifty miles of Brisbane. The precaution was taken in order to make it very difficult for convicts to escape. Many did attempt to do so, aided by the thick scrub and the long grass, and perished. Others got away and lived for years with the aboriginals, but some of these became weary of the life, and at length surrendered. Messrs. Backhouse and Walker recorded that they found even women convicts wearing chains 'to prevent absconding, which they have frequently done under cover of the long grass.'
Gladstone, while Secretary of State for the Colonies in Peel's administration (1846), determined to resume convict transportation to Australia. As part of his policy he ordered the establishment of a new penal settlement at Port Curtis, 350 miles north of Brisbane. It was to be called Northern Australia, but is more generally known as the Gladstone Colony; and it must not be confused (as it has sometimes been) with the district of Gladstone on the west side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Colonel George Barney, of the Royal Engineers, had been sent out to report upon the side, and he condemned it as unsuitable; but Governor Fitzroy rejected his advice, and founded the Gladstone Colony there in January 1847. The intention was that some prisoners who were sent abroad under the conditional pardon system should be deposited at the tropical station. They were to be called exiles, not convicts, and Gladstone had an idea of sending out women from the poorhouses of England, who were presumably to be married to the 'Pentonvillains.' Barney, who was to govern the establishment, was especially commanded by the Secretary of State to 'promote by all possible mans a healthy moral tone in the community.'
But Gladstone was in office only a few months at this time, and his successor, Lord Grey, considered that the founding of the Gladstone Colony was 'a needless and impolitic measure.' Indeed, the despatch cancelling the order to found it was on its way before Colonel Barney, in the Lord Auckland, sailed from Sydney. He was ordered to remove the whole company forthwith, and by August not a soul remained at Port Curtis. When the Battlesnake put into the bay in November she found only a few piles of bricks, some posts, wheel-ruts, and empty bottles, to indicate the former whereabouts of the last penal settlement controlled from New South Wales. Robert Lowe, in his Atlas newspaper, made much fun out of the failure, and Barney especially became the mark of his satirical muse. In verses ridiculing the Colonel's search for a place for the erection of buildings Lowe wrote:
The Gladstone colony had, however, one permanent result. Northern Australia was to have comprehended all of New South Wales above the latitude 16 degrees S. It included very fertile land, and Governor Fitzroy was afraid that, if care were not taken, it would be all occupied by squatters in an unauthorized manner, much as the land north-west of Sydney had been in the early squatting days. He therefore decided to lay out a town at Port Curtis, and to place a Government Resident there to protect the rights of the Crown over the land. In these circumstances the town of Gladstone was founded in 1853. Captain Maurice O'Connell was appointed Government Resident, and held the office as long as the country remained part of New South Wales. When a separate colony was formed many favoured making Gladstone its capital, instead of Brisbane, on account of its more central situation; but the movement in that direction did not succeed.
In consequence of the discoveries of Oxley, Mitchell Leichhardt, and other explorers, attention was directed to the richness of the Moreton Bay district, and immigration to it became general shortly before the middle of the nineteenth century. By 1880 it had a population rapidly approaching 30,000. The great progress which had been made by the Port Phillip District after it had been erected into the independent colony of Victoria by separation from New South Wales stimulated these settlers of the north to agitate for a new division. At present the entire territory of eastern Australia, from Cape Howe to the Gulf of Carpentaria, was governed from Sydney, and the northern people did not think that their interests were sufficiently considered. The Imperial Government, in granting a constitution to New South Wales, under the Act of 1842, had reserved power to erect into a separate colony 'any territories then included with it - provided, however, that no land should be detached from New South Wales southward of the 20th degree of south latitude. That provision is important as showing two things: first, that the probability of a necessity for the creation of a separate northern colony was foreseen as early as 1842, and secondly, that at that time it was intended that the country in the latitude of Moreton Bay, where the penal settlement then was, should not be removed from the control of the Governor in Sydney; for the 26th parallel cuts the country near Wide Bay, which is a hundred miles north of Brisbane.
Aboriginals, Townsville, Queensland, 1904
But the separation did not take place till seventeen years after this date. In the meantime the agitation for it continued. Moreton Bay had its representatives in the Legislative Council of New South Wales, but was not content. Under the Act of 1850 'for the better government of Her Majesty's Australian colonies,' power had been reserved to constitute a new colony 'northward of 30 degrees of south latitude.' The departure from the terms of the Act of 1842 would have given to the new colony, when formed, the whole area from Wide Bay to a point south of the mouths of the Clarence and Richmond Rivers, an especially rich district. But powerful influences were exerted to retain this belt for New South Wales, and when the colony of Queensland was proclaimed in 1859 the southern boundary was fixed at the 28th parallel, which left the Clarence and Richmond Valleys under New South Wales jurisdiction. With this alteration, however, the territory northward from the 28th parallel to Cape York was, by letters patent dated June 6, 1859, erected into 'a separate colony to be called the colony of Queensland.'
Very many of the separationists were disappointed that the boundary line was moved, and Dr. Lang, who had been for years a fervent champion of independence for Queensland (which he wished to have named Cooksland) boiled over in angry denunciations. The means employed to effect the change were, he said, 'discreditable.'; But it seems clear that the majority of the inhabitants in the district concerned wished to remain in New South Wales; that the Colonial Office was influenced by their desire; and that the result was not arrived at because, as the furious Presbyterian divine alleged, Sir William Denison, governor of New South Wales, having two brothers holding nearly a quarter of a million acres of land as squatters in the northern frontiers of that colony at a merely nominal rental of a twentieth of a penny per acre,' could scarcely be expected to be a disinterested referee' when the question was 'referred to him for his decision.' It is true that a petition signed by many inhabitants of the Clarence and Richmond Rivers district asked for transference to the now colony; and much stress has been laid upon this petition in later years by the advocates of the formation of a new state in northern New South Wales. But a petition from a section of a population is an important index of general public opinion. There was, also, a petition to the contrary effect. As there was opposition in New South Wales to the separation of Queensland as being 'premature and inexpedient,' and as this opposition would certainly have been stronger had it been proposed to detach the Clarence and Richmond, the boundary decision was prudent.
Queensland was the only one of the six Australian States which did not require a separate Act of the Imperial Parliament for the establishment. The letters patent were sufficient to confer upon it separate being and constitutional authority. It was also the only State of the group which did not pass through the probationary period of government under a Legislative Council before full rights of representative government were conceded. Two houses of Legislature were established, the Legislative Council, according to the New South Wales model, consisting of members appointed for life, whilst the Legislative Assembly was elective. The manner in which the Parliament was to be constituted, and the Executive Council appointed, was fully set forth in the letters patent.
The Victoria Bridge, Brisbane, Australia
Sir George Bowen, the first Governor, set the necessary machinery to work directly after his arrival in Brisbane in December, 1859, and the first Parliament of Queensland commenced business on May 7, 1860. In the interval Bowen managed affairs with admirable discretion. He had no funds, no civil service, no police, no military force. The whole mechanism of administration and order had to be created. 'As to money wherewith to carry on the Government,' he wrote, 'I started with just 7.1/2d in the Treasury. A thief-supposing, I fancy, that I should have been furnished with some funds for the outfit, so to speak, of the new State - broke into the treasury a few nights after my arrival and carried off the 7.1/2d. mentioned. However, I borrowed money from the banks until our revenue came in.'
Bowen exposed himself to much hostile criticism by appointing to be the first premier of the colony a young man of twenty-eight, Robert Wyndham Herbert, who had come out from England with him as his private secretary. Certainly it was a surprising selection, and it naturally occasioned jealousy and heart-burning among local politicians. Herbert was a scholar, who had been private secretary to Gladstone, and had a thorough knowledge of British parliamentary practice. Bowen doubtless felt the need of the assistance of a well-trained mind in inaugurating parliamentary government in a new State; and, after all, if the Queensland Parliament did not like Herbert, it could turn him out.
But, strange to say, the first Queensland Parliament found this polished son of Eton and Oxford very much to its taste, and had no wish to turn him out. Herbert's aptitude for business, his agreeable manner, his political skill, made his premiership a pronounced success, and he retained office till 1866, by which time the Queensland Parliament had given scope for several men to manifest capacity for leadership. After his return to England Herbert became Permanent Secretary for the Colonies, and held that post for twenty-one years.
A Short History of Australia - Part 3
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