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A scheme for converting emancipated convicts into useful members of society, by giving them grants of land to cultivate, was clearly outlined before the First Fleet sailed, and Phillip was instructed to give farms to all convicts whose industry and good conduct showed them to be deserving of such consideration. The regulations embodying this scheme were laid down without any knowledge of the special circumstances in which the colony might be placed, and were such as English agricultural conditions suggested, combined with the practice in the settled colonies of America. Each man was to receive 30 acres if single, if married 50 acres, and 10 acres in addition for each child living with him at the time of the grant. These grants were to be free from any payments whatsoever for ten years, but after that time a quit-rent was reserved to the Crown, the amount of this rent being left undetermined. Circumstances prevented Phillip from making any grants of land during the first year he was in New South Wales, although in order to stimulate the clearing and cultivation of land he permitted the civil and military officers to occupy small areas for their private use. In August 1789 the Governor received additional instructions permitting him to grant, without payment, portions of land to free settlers, as well as to non-commissioned officers and privates of the marines who should retire from the service and desire to remain in the colony.
It is at best very doubtful whether the organizers of the first expedition to Australia had any clear notion how they would be able to utilize the labour of the transportees in their new homes. It is not impossible they saw in imagination spacious farms called into being almost immediately, and harvests gathered therefrom in the first year of settlement. Otherwise it is difficult to understand how the inadequate supplies of food in the First Fleet were so poorly supplemented that within a few months of Phillip's arrival the colony was on the verge of starvation. The Governor's first inspection of the new territory made it obvious to him that many months must elapse before the soil could be got ready for the plough, and in the hilly and infertile land around Sydney large farms were impracticable. Hence the Governor found himself in the face of conditions against which no provision had been made, and saw that it would be necessary to disperse his population and permit the civil and military officers to occupy land and establish homes for themselves, while the severe work of pioneering was being undertaken. As there was no other labour obtainable—there being not a dozen free men outside the ranks of the soldiers, sailors, and civil officers—the Governor found it expedient to grant to those whose position admitted of the concession being made, the services of convicts to clear the ground, build houses, and do such other work, both mechanical and domestic, as might be required.
It was the pastoral industry which naturally received the first and greatest impulse from the crossing of the Blue Mountains. Much of the newly discovered country was open plain, free from timber and clothed with succulent grass and herbage, well watered, and in every respect suitable for depasturing stock on a large scale, and many of the settlers transferred themselves with their stock and other belongings to the Bathurst plains. In 1822, that is to say, shortly after the flocks had begun to make their appearance west of the mountains, the sheep in New South Wales did not exceed 139,000 all told; thenceforward the increase was extraordinary, the numbers doubling in little more than four years, and in large stock the increase was relatively as great. The demand for land was incessant, but the methods adopted of satisfying that demand were surprisingly inadequate.
Brisbane's original instructions in regard to the disposal of land were the same as those given to his predecessor. He was authorized to make grants of 30 acres or slightly more to ex-convicts, and grants of an additional 100 acres to other suitable settlers. Free settlers were beginning to arrive in considerable numbers, and to any of these who had a capital of more than £250 the Governor was authorized to make grants at the rate of one square mile of territory for every £500 immediately available for its cultivation—the maximum area allowed to one individual being 2560 acres.
After the suspension of assisted immigration in 1868, New South Wales continued to attract some 2000 to 4000 persons yearly, chiefly from the neighbouring colonies; but with the return of good times about the beginning of this period, there was a demand for the revival of assisted immigration. When Parkes became Premier in May 1872 he determined to accede to this demand, and obtained from Parliament a vote of £50,000 for immigration purposes, which was available for expenditure during 1873. A new scheme was devised, under which mechanics, farmers, agricultural labourers, vine-dressers, and domestic servants were to receive assistance, the immigrant paying one-third of his passage to Sydney, and the colony paying the balance. The benefits of the scheme were to be confined to married persons not exceeding thirty-five years of age, and single women up to thirty years. There was a further restriction in regard to single women, namely, that the number assisted in any year should not exceed one-fifth of the total number of all classes. In order to prevent Irish Catholics coming to the colony in large numbers, the regulations provided that the proportion of immigrants of any religion should not exceed the proportion of persons professing that religion then in the colony to the whole population. The predilection of the governing authorities for Germans was shown by a provision allowing one-tenth of the immigrants to be of German nationality.
The renewal of bushranging formed a very serious feature of the early years of this period, especially in New South Wales and in the districts of Queensland and Victoria which adjoin that colony. This outbreak was due partly to the remnant of the convict class which still remained, and partly also to an element of population drawn to the colonies by the gold discoveries. A large proportion of the men who came to the country at the time of the gold rush were of fine physical type and in the prime of manhood. The adventurous spirit that carried them over the seas did not desert them in their new homes, when, giving up the quest for gold, they tempted fortune in other directions, and many of the pastoralist farmers, merchants, and professional men whose careers were most successful, during the two decades following the gold discoveries, had commenced work in Australia as diggers. Besides these excellent colonists there were a large number of undesirables, persons who were already criminals when they left their Motherland, and others who inclined to crime as soon as they found themselves in the unsettled conditions then prevailing throughout Australia. It was from this class that the bushrangers and their numerous sympathizers were largely drawn.
The Land Act of 1861 was also not without its effect in making lawlessness more difficult to repress.
Sir Richard Bourke was followed in the governorship of New South Wales by Sir George Gipps, who found the conditions of colonization very different from those prevailing at the beginning of the second period. The main settlements of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land were still convict colonies, but the assignment of convict labour had been abolished in New South Wales, and transportation was about to cease; independent colonies had been established on the shores of the Gulf of St. Vincent and on the Swan River; there were subsidiary settlements at Port Phillip and in New Zealand; and the convicts were being withdrawn from Brisbane to make the way clear for free settlers.
This third period in the history of Australia extends to the year 1851, when the great gold discoveries were made, which, in Wentworth's expressive phrase, precipitated Australia into a nation. It was a period of very great changes, especially in New South Wales, which at the beginning passed through two years of raging and tearing speculation leading up to a disastrous financial crisis, which reached its acutest phase in 1842. During the rest of the period the colony remained in a very depressed condition. The depression affected Van Diemen's Land and South Australia as well, but its evil effects were most persistent in Sydney. In spite, however, of its bad economic condition, New South Wales made great progress towards political freedom.
Sir Timothy Coghlan (1855–1926) was the statistician for New South Wales from 1886. He produced the world's first example of national financial accounts, and is regarded as Australia's first 'mandarin'. His advice was sought by state and federal governments on matters as diverse as tax, public sanitation and infant mortality. In 1905 he took up an appointment as a New South Wales government agent in London, remaining there for the rest of his life. First published in 1918, this monumental book is Coghlan's very personal history of Australia, embracing materials, population growth, trade and land. In Volume 2, covering the period to the late 1860s, Coghlan again highlights population growth, and in particular the role of the state and colonies in organizing immigration, as a key factor in the development of the economy. A theme throughout this volume is the growing independence and confidence of each individual state.
The report of the Committee of the House of Commons on transportation, to which reference has already been made, raised the whole question of the treatment of convicts in the penal settlements, and directed the indignant attention of Great Britain to the harshness of the system, and the need for a speedy change. Blame was freely attributed to the Colonial Office, but that office, owing to its anomalous position, could not justly be held responsible. After the separation of the department of the Colonies from that of Home affairs, the control of the convicts in the penal colonies had rested nominally with the Secretary of State for the Colonies; but it had been the practice to refer any question raised by the government of a penal settlement, either as to any particular convict or as to the treatment of convicts generally, to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and his answers to such questions invariably formed the basis upon which the Colonial Secretary grounded his replies. This division of the administration between two ministers was very unsatisfactory in its result. The Home Secretary declined the attempt to control the conduct of officers with whom he did not correspond and who were not subject to his authority; while the Colonial Secretary, in the same manner, declined to direct or initiate measures on a subject affecting British, rather than Colonial, interests.
At the beginning of the period a movement was set on foot to link up the various colonies, so as to form one front to oppose the further transportation of criminals to any part of Australia. The Launceston Association took the initiative, having first secured the adhesion of leading citizens of Hobart, and two delegates (the Reverend John West and W. P. Weston) were deputed to visit Australia as representatives of the colony of Van Diemen's Land. At Melbourne a conference was held; with the local association, and expressions of goodwill having come from Adelaide and Sydney, the Australasian League and Solemn Engagement was formed, which undertook to use every effort to put an end to transportation, the individual members pledging themselves not to employ any person arriving under sentence after 1st February 1851, the date of the formation of the Association. A delegate was sent to England, and the headquarters moved to Sydney, where the movement was taken up with the greatest vehemence. In acceding to the wishes of New South Wales that there should be no more criminals transported to that country, Earl Grey indicated that there might be a slice of territory in the north cut off, for the formation of a colony willing to receive convicts for the sake of the free immigrants who would be sent with them, and whose passages would be paid for out of the grant made by the British Parliament for emigration.
There was a legend diligently circulated during the reconstruction period which followed the failure of the banks in 1893, that the disasters of the time were due to the crass stupidity of British depositors, who, without any real justification, withdrew their confidence from the great financial institutions of Australia; and that this withdrawal of confidence received its original impetus from the labour disputes and social unrest which afflicted all the eastern colonies from the year 1884 onward. That there were fierce labour disputes and much social unrest during the period mentioned will be seen from the chapters devoted to labour and industry, but it will also be discovered that this unrest and these disputes were merely symptoms of a disease with which the whole industrial and financial life of Australia was then afflicted. A study of the financial history of Australia from 1872 to 1893 shows that the causes of the crisis were deeply rooted in the events of the middle part of the period, which produced a thoroughly unsound condition of business and did much to justify the distrust and panic which culminated in 1893.
The development of the country had proceeded very slowly from the close of the gold period until 1873, and in the case of some colonies until even later, but was then materially hastened owing to the expenditure of money obtained in Great Britain by the various Governments and by private capitalists.
Australia commenced this period with a public debt of twenty-six and a half millions, and if to this be added thirty-three millions which had been invested in the country by private persons and monetary institutions, the total, fifty-nine and a half millions, represents the indebtedness of the country to its outside creditors. Of all the colonies Victoria was paying most attention to the development of its resources, but even in that colony the annual expenditure on public works did not exceed £460,000, of which about two-thirds were provided for out of loans.
In 1871 there was a plentiful lack of enterprise in all the colonies and a general acceptance of a policy of stagnation. There were of course exceptions to the general lethargy. Some politicians and a few newspapers demanded from the Governments a policy of progress, and now and then one or other of the Governments made a show of adopting such a policy, but there was a want of force behind any efforts that were made, and the old idea that Australia was a country of boundless possibilities seemed no longer to prevail. On 3rd June 1872 Sir Hercules Robinson arrived in Sydney to take up the duties of Governor of New South Wales. A week later the Parkes Government, which was then in office, announced a policy of railway extension, but it was one of those announcements, frequently made before, which would in ordinary circumstances drop out of mind when its purpose had been served.
Proposals to import coloured labour had been made in Queensland before its separation from New South Wales, and it will be remembered that a small number of Chinese were introduced into the Moreton Bay district and that a not very successful attempt was made to employ them as shepherds. The ostensible reason given for the demand for coloured labour was the heat of the climate, especially of the northern districts, and so far as it was due to this cause it was accentuated by the development of the cotton and sugar industries, which occurred immediately after the separation of the colony. But there were other and more potent reasons which induced the settlers of Moreton Bay to seek for coloured labour, in fact the sames reason as led them formerly to petition for convict labour. They looked to coloured or convict immigration to provide them with large numbers of men unencumbered by families, who would accept low wages and who could be bound for lengthy terms of service. It was the desire for convict labour which first led to the demand for separation from New South Wales, and which first led English statesmen to look kindly upon that demand. Before the actual separation could be made the Queensland settlers were compelled to give up the hope of obtaining convict labour, and they turned naturally to coloured labour as a substitute.
The things most nearly affecting the Labour movement in Australia—immigration, land legislation, prices, and political action—are dealt with herein almost to the exclusion of other matters to which historians usually devote their chief attention, and therefore while this book is a history of Labour it is not a history of Australia. It is based on official records, contemporary newspapers or other publications, and on information obtained direct from many persons who played a prominent part in Australian affairs from 1880 onwards. For the statistics I am my own authority, as also for the account of the banking crisis of 1893 and for some phases of the Labour movement.
In compiling this work I have had help from many quarters. I am especially grateful for the co-operation of Mrs. J. St. H. Lander, whose wide knowledge and great industry I cannot praise too highly. I stand indebted to the late Captain J. Nowell Sievers for notes and suggestions on the later history of the Labour movement, and to Mr. J. Le Gay Brereton for researches in regard to the developments of the second period.
During the first few years of settlement nothing could have seemed less likely than that the production of wool would ever become the most important industry of Australia. It seemed rather that the climate and other natural conditions of the country were fatal to the miserable sheep, which found themselves driven ashore to wander on the scrubby hills about the anxious little settlement. Forty-four sheep were landed from the First Fleet in 1788. Sickness attacked them immediately, and they were greatly worried by the dingoes, so that at the end of three months fifteen were dead, and the mischief continued until only one was left. However, greater care was taken of later importations, and it was found that sheep might be bred with some success, even in the moist coastal regions about Sydney, though many died of foot-rot and water in the head.
In the year 1791 there came to Sydney with the New South Wales Corps one Captain John Macarthur, a freshcomplexioned, handsome soldier with blue eyes and auburn hair. The son of a Plymouth tradesman, he had married the daughter of a gentleman farmer, and had himself engaged in farming in England. At one time he had held a commission in the Militia, but had resolved to transfer himself to New South Wales as an officer in the newly formed Corps. He was a man of great business ability, with a remarkable aptitude for farming, and in this pursuit he was admirably seconded by his wife.
When the assignment system came into force as detailed in a foregoing chapter, it was not the intention of the Governor that wages should be paid either to men working for the State or to those in assigned service, and it was not until it was found expedient to work the convicts beyond the ordinary hours, that the question of wages arose. In determining the amount of work required from his convict subjects, Governor Phillip took as a guide his experience of English labourers, but he had also to consider the character of men for whom he was legislating. He did indeed consider it, but not in the way an economist would have suggested. The men were ill-nurtured, and physically and mentally depraved, and these characteristics would seem to have demanded a mitigated task as compared with what a normal man might be called upon to perform. But Phillip was not an economist. He had generous feelings towards his subjects, but he was also a moralist, and it was in this last-mentioned capacity that he proceeded to determine the hours that his men should labour.
His laws were all conceived in the spirit of the primal curse, which designated work a punishment, the life of man a warfare, and his time here below probation, to be spent in weariness and sorrow.