Australia and the Empire/Australian Democracy
If a fresh De Tocqueville could arise, and were to make a wide excursion to the Antipodes, he would find ample material for a new work on "Democracy in Australia," or rather, in "Australasia,"—for the adjacent Islands of New Zealand would furnish a most important section. The political philosopher on his travels would encounter seven self-governing democratic States, all claiming to be members of a world-wide empire whose nucleus is a Constitutional Monarchy with an hereditary House of Peers. To such a mind these British colonies would present a series of problems of surpassing fascination; problems which can barely be stated, much less discussed, in a brief chapter, the object of which is simply to explain the ascendency of the democratic form of government in Australia.
And here, at the outset, I would remark that in my opinion the painstaking labours of more than one colonial historian have been entirely wasted by reason of an unconquerable anti-democratic bias. One need not go quite so far as that worthy old Victorian colonist who stoutly maintained that no one who did not firmly believe in democratic institutions had any right to live in Australia, Such a law would promote a very considerable exodus. But assuredly it seems to me that no one can be trusted to relate the annals, or trace the social and political evolution of Australia, who starts with an invincible prejudice against democracies. It is to be regretted that such writers, when they expatiate pungently on the degradation of their countrymen, whether of republican America or of self-governing democratic Australia, receive a too-ready and sympathetic hearing in England. Yet what would be thought if Mr. Henry Labouchere were accepted by our non-aristocratic kinsmen across the seas as the final and most philosophic authority on such an institution as the House of Lords?
It was inevitable that the Australians, as soon as the matter was placed in their own hands, would frame their political institutions on a democratic pattern. No doubt the greatest of Australian statesmen thought, or at least hoped, that it might be otherwise. While paying the largest tribute to the genius of Wentworth, it must be said that on this point he was grievously in error. Yet if such a man, with such commanding talents and so splendid a record of past services, utterly failed to create a patrician element in colonial society, what hope could there be save in the frank acceptance of democratic institutions? Wentworth's idea in brief was to make Australia a replica of England rather than of America. To effect this he boldly proposed, as a part of his Constitution Bill, the creation of a colonial House of Peers. His views on this question were not lightly formed.
He knew the curious elements out of which the new nation was to be evolved better than any other man. For years he had fought for the rights and liberties of the people, and throughout his whole life the love of his native country, Australia, was to him a passion. But his imperial instincts were likewise great, and in the full maturity of his splendid powders he could see no way of creating a free self-governed Australia, worthy of an ultimate partnership with the mother-country, without establishing, along with colonial autonomy, a colonial aristocracy. The subject had been for years maturing in his mind; he even expounded his views on this question of an Australian House of Lords in a long-forgotten article in the pages of an English magazine. Nothing can surpass the full tide of his eloquence, when on these momentous themes he essayed to address his fellow-colonists in Sydney, many of whom, even in his lifetime, had come to regard him as the Washington of the Antipodes. Yet on this point of creating a brand new colonial aristocracy he failed miserably. The commonest street orator in Sydney could raise a ready laugh by giving a list of the expectant "nobility." Robert Lowe opposed it in the House of Commons, and his criticism had all the weight of his "colonial experience"; while a "young Sydney tradesman, by name Henry Parkes," as Dr. Lang described the present Premier of New South Wales, first rose into public notoriety and favour by his diatribes against this feature of Wentworth's great measure. Despite the unrivalled weight of Wentworth's personal ascendency, his notion of "manufacturing" a privileged order was all but unanimously scouted, even in a colony that had been dry-nursed by Imperial officialdom and dragooned by military martinets. What chance then would it have had among the miners, artisans, and farmers of Victoria?
It cannot be doubted that in the latter colony, then newly born, there must have been many who watched Wentworth's daring experiment with eager expectancy, and a kind of despairing hope that it might succeed. Like the officials of the older dependency, they dreaded the plunge into the democratic cold-bath which they felt awaited them the moment the Imperial Government withdrew its guiding hand. Yet it is only fair to them to say that they put a brave face on the matter. As soon as the system of responsible government was inaugurated, there was a rapid quickening of the democratic pace. In an incredibly short space of time the local House of Commons in each of the colonies was elected by manhood suffrage and the ballot. Constitutional changes in a popular direction were made almost with a colony's birth. In Victoria, hardly had the first Ministry under responsible government fairly got into their seats, when Mr. William Nicholson, a quiet, respectable, private member, carried against them a motion in favour of vote by ballot, which almost immediately became the law of the land, and from the first has worked admirably. It is amusing to notice how anxious Dr. Lang is to claim the credit of any and every possible kind of reform inaugurated during his fifty years of political activity in Australia. Unfortunately he knew little or nothing of Mr. Nicholson, but he consoled himself with the reflection that the Victorian legislator must have acquired his notions about the ballot from a former literary assistant of his, who was then Town-Clerk of Melbourne. In this way, to the great satisfaction of the majority, but the evident alarm of not a few, did the colonists democratise their Constitutions. Hard and bitter were the recriminations of both parties during the brief but determined struggle.
It is a very difficult matter to review what is all but contemporary colonial history in an impartial spirit. For my part, I do not attempt to conceal my popular sympathies; but this does not imply surely that I should be prepared to justify every act of the popular party in these heterogeneous democratic colonies. Yet this is the assumption that runs through every page of a work like Mr. G. W. Rusden's History of Australia. Government is at best a rude human contrivance, but the justification of colonial democracy broadly rests on the fact that the colonies could not be governed in accordance with their progressive needs either from Downing Street or by Colonial Office nominees located in the colonies. That being granted, and as a consequence "responsible government" established, there was no possible halfway-house between an irresponsible bureaucratic system and open and avowed democracy.
But the real secret of the rapid triumph of democratic principles was simply this: the party opposed to them was in the truest sense of the term the anti-colonial party. In the early stages of these colonies the members of this party regarded their stay in these immature communities simply as a kind of exile. When they had amassed sufficient money they intended to retire and live in England. With all their gentlemanly characteristics and fine manly virtues, this was the case with a great majority of those splendid pioneer squatters of Port Phillip, now Victoria. With the heterogeneous influx of population, caused by the gold-fields, the aristocratic disgust of these men towards the colony was intensified. It therefore happened by a process of natural selection that the democratic party became identical with the colonial, or locally patriotic party; and of course when the conflict came it was victorious all along the line. I am endeavouring at every turn to keep clear of the petty details of party polemics in Australia, and the English reader will be good enough to believe that in refraining from illustrating my points by manifold examples, I do so mainly in his interest. If, however, he will bear in mind that democracy in this way came to be allied in the colonial mind with local patriotism, with a belief in the excellence and in the future of Australia as a land which a man might fitly regard as the patria of his race, he will readily understand its rapid triumph.
At the same time, this generalisation is somewhat too sweeping. As we have seen, the Greatest of Australian public men, and one who certainly was filled with Australian patriotism, favoured the formation of aristocratic, rather than democratic, institutions, for his own particular colony, New South Wales. Sir William Foster Stawell, whose Australian patriotism is quite as strong as Wentworth's, would have probably preferred an anti-democratic constitution fur Victoria. But these really great colonial anti-democrats were, after all, on this vital point of local patriotism, by no means typical of their class. The self-styled "upper classes" of Australia for many years (and the feeling is hardly yet dead) regarded their residence at the Antipodes, as I have already remarked, as a kind of exile. From this state of things arose what may be termed the optimism of the democratic leaders, grounded as it was in their firm faith in Australia as a permanent home for themselves and their descendants, and the equally marked, but fatal pessimism of the colonial "upper-class" party. Turning over the Victorian Hansard from 1865 onward, one must be struck with this essential difference in the tone of the two parties. It is often noticeable that the opposing disputants are very fairly matched, but one feels in reviewing these debates that the men who proclaimed their belief in the colony deserved to prevail over those who decried it.
On this particular point I was much impressed recently by reading a debate on a motion introduced on May 20th, 1869, by the present Judge Casey of Victoria, proposing to refer certain privileges of the Legislative Assembly to the decision of the Privy Council. It was an especially unpleasant case, but in reading this suggestive debate, one may see how vigorously a democracy, through its leaders, may assert both its rights and its public conscience.
Two members of the Legislative Assembly had been convicted of receiving bribes, and were expelled; more than this the two bribers, who had behind them all the weight and respectability of local "squatterdom," were committed to prison, but released by the Supreme Court. This was the point in dispute, and the lawyer who opposed the popular party in thus bringing to punishment the corrupters, as well as the corrupted, made out from a purely legal point of view a very good case. But no one whose own life and future were at all bound up in that of Victoria but must have felt the irresistible force of every word used by the popular democratic leader, Mr. Higinbotham (now Chief-Justice of the colony), in reply. He said:—
"Of course all depends on whether the mass of the population really desire honesty in public affairs, and will support their representatives in endeavouring to secure it, or whether they are prepared to desert us, and will, in deserting us, prove, as I think the honourable and learned member for St. Kilda has said, that politics and politicians, and all men in this country, are rotten to the core. I am willing to stand on that issue. If the people of this country will not support us in our endeavours to purify Parliament and to maintain the authority of Parliament, why then, sir, let corruption be established, and let every man who respects himself retire from public life. I have only one more word to say. I have faith in the honesty and integrity of the mass of the people of this country. I believe they will support us in our endeavours, and relying on that support—and until that support is withdrawn—I am prepared to take steps against both the bribed and the bribers, such as shall, if possible, correct the erring judgment of constituencies, and shall give a most certain and convincing proof to all persons, including the judges of the land, who interfere with our rights, that we have the power as well as the right to assert and enforce our rights, and in doing so to perform our duty."—(Victorian Hansard, vii. p. 783-8.)
Quite apart from the Constitutional question in debate, it will be noticed that, while the antidemocratic leader plainly avowed his pessimistic disbelief in the soundness of the body politic, the popular orator much more earnestly proclaimed his faith, as a basis for all legislative action, in the integrity of his fellow-colonists. These claims on behalf of the colonial democracy, based on its patriotism and public spirit, may even at this late day be met by the kind of cheap abuse that was once so common in the English press. Even so clever a man as Mr. Harold Finch-Hatton seems to think that he is dealing with colonial politics in a sparkling and yet strictly impartial spirit, when he has related two or three stale derogatory stories against sundry local demagogues. The worst of it is, he imagines that these stray crumbs of club scandal are quite sufficient to overwhelm the entire political constitution, which has been created, and is still sustained, by the labours of a number of men as patriotic as himself, and with much more experience of human affairs. Little as he suspects it too, the individual whom he gibbets as "Mr. Straight" began his public career, as every Victorian knows, as a nominee of the anti-democratic party. The superfine local grandees of Brighton, a fashionable seaside suburb of Melbourne, rejected the present Chief-Justice of Victoria, and returned to Parliament in his stead the subject of Mr. Finch-Hatton's gibes.
It is, in fact, only another instance that the anti-popular party in Victoria has often been the anti-patriotic one. Let us by all means frankly admit that colonial democracy, like every other human movement or institution, is full of imperfection. But let us at the same time make some approach to fair-dealing and justice. What is called "society" has perhaps grown to some extent alienated from politics in these young democracies. But whose fault is this? To my mind it is largely, though I do not say altogether, the fault of that small section of wealthy colonists, who arrogate superiority over their neighbours, purely on account of their bank balance. In no place is real superiority more readily appreciated than in the colonies, but nowhere is the counterfeit article more quickly detected and exposed. It was in Victoria that the biting phrase "the wealthy lower orders" was first uttered. Go where you will, politics is a rough-and-tumble, and there are many refined persons in England who would be quite out of place in the House of Commons. I guarantee that if Mr. Finch-Hatton, who has a politician's instincts and aspirations, were to make his home in Victoria, he would find his way very readily into the Legislative Assembly, and would soon regard the public movements of the colony in a very different light from that of the small and publicly impotent section of colonial society with which, like most aristocratic visitors, he appears, almost exclusively, to have come in contact, and from whom he has formed his ideas, if not of Queensland, at least of Victorian politics.
In a less recent diatribe against Victorian democracy, I find it stated that "one result of it is to exclude any man of inconveniently refined temperament, of a too fastidious intellect, and an oppressively severe independence of opinion, from any part in the representation of the colony." A very little time after this was written, Mr. Charles Henry Pearson, sometime Fellow of Oriel, and author of the History of England in the Middle Ages, was elected for such essentially working-class constituencies as Castlemaine and the East Bourke Boroughs, by the votes of diggers and quarry-men.
He is now the Minister of Education in Victoria. Of all Englishmen who have ever recorded their impressions of the Australian colonies, no one, in my judgment, has done so with so much political discrimination as Sir Charles Dilke. Though originally written twenty years ago, the two chapters in Greater Britain entitled "Colonial Democracy," and "Protection," may be read to this day as models of fairness and good-sense. Very different is the estimate that Sir Charles formed of the public men of the colonies from that of Mr. Finch-Hatton. For that gentleman's special behoof, as I know at heart he is really well disposed towards Australia, I will quote a brief passage from the admirable chapter on "Colonial Democracy":—
"That men of ability and character are proscribed has been one of the charges brought against colonial democracy. For my part, I found gathered in Melbourne, at the University, at the Observatory, at the Botanical Gardens, and at the Government Offices, men of the highest scientific attainments, drawn from all parts of the world, and tempted to Australia by large salaries voted by the democracy. The statesmen of all the colonies are well worthy of the posts they hold. Mr. Macalister in Queensland, and Mr. (Sir James) Martin at Sydney, are excellent debaters. Mr. (Sir Henry) Parkes, whose biography will be the typical history of a successful colonist. … The business powers of the present Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales are remarkable; and Mr. Higinbotham, the present Attorney-General of Victoria, possesses a fund of experience and a power of foresight which it would be hard to equal at home."
The entire chapter, as I have indicated, is specially deserving the attention of that class of itinerant Englishmen who, by reason of their own social status, are too apt to be duped by the superfine and dissatisfied type of colonist, whom even Sir Charles Dilke had to encounter in the person of the "Government clerk," who assured him that "the three last Ministers at the head of his department had been 'so low in the social scale that my wife could not visit theirs.'" Unlike Mr. Finch-Hatton, however, Sir Charles Dilke preferred to form his own estimate of Australian public men. If the impartial critic turns to the measures passed into law, or agitated for, by the democratic party, he will also find that the aim, even if the means be sometimes indefensible, has in every case been to make the colonies a permanent abiding-place for a happy, prosperous, and contented community. This was undeniably the intention of the popular struggle against the squatters for possession of the Crown Lands. The pioneer squatters were no doubt a very vigorous and picturesque body, but it is only a rightful social evolution that their place has been largely taken in the more favoured and settled parts of the continent by a much more numerous and equally worthy generation of farmers. It has often been pointed out that some of the legislative enactments, known as popular Land Acts, have been the means of handing over vast tracts of country in fee-simple to the identical "Squatter" class who were previously content to be Crown tenants. To some extent this is true, but it has only been effected by the squatters resorting to "dummying" and other dubious practices; and if this class have profited in pocket by these means, to them also should attach the dishonour of subverting the laws of the Commonwealth. But in innumerable cases the result has been what the reformers wished—the settlement of the people on the land.
Take again the question of National Education. Here we see, throughout the entire group of colonies, the democratic or popular party determined, whatever the cost might be, that every child born in the territory should receive, free of cost to the parents, a sound elementary education. Nothing seems to have struck the young Princes, or rather their mentor, the Rev. John Dalton, so much as the lavish expenditure on public education in Australia.
"It really does come upon one with a shock of surprise to find how very small in England the total expenditure on Education is, after all. For England and Wales the whole cost of elementary education is only six and a half millions, and whereas in the United Kingdom the cost of education (science and art and all included) is 6s. a head, in many of our colonies it is 14s., and in some of the United States it is 19s.; in New South Wales it is 15s. per head of the population."—(The Cruise of the Bacchante, vol. i. p. 570.) These figures are near enough for all practical purposes of comparison, and they certainly show democracy in a very favourable light. If, instead of this enormous expenditure on the education of the young, we saw these colonies, which are largely the outcome of a heterogeneous lower middle-class and working-class emigration, growing more and more careless as to the training of the coming generation, then we might give ear to the lamentations of the aristocratic Jeremiahs of our time. It may be that a good deal of this money is wasted, and that much of the education thus freely given by the State only tends to increase the terrible competition, in what I may term the "quill-driving" callings of modern civic life. But this is an evil that will work its own cure. In one of the best of General Gordon's recently published letters, he has a very pertinent remark about the necessity of imparting a knowledge of handicrafts at school, particularly to gentlemen's sons. It is very evident that those who are wise in the next generation will see that their children are taught a mechanical trade, in addition to what will then be the universal acquirement of the three R's—for it may be that a handicraft will be almost as essential to every citizen in the future, as the capacity of common speech, or the power of locomotion.
After the manful manner in which Sir Charles Dilke, a professed Free-trader, has dealt with the subject of Protection, no American or Australian need feel ashamed of what is regarded as so heterodox and illiberal a fiscal creed in Great Britain. Indubitably the Victorian public men, from Mr. Richard Heales to Sir Graham Berry, the present Agent-General in London who consummated the policy of Protection in the colony, were among the foremost leaders of the local democracy. Yet I can remember when almost every person removed from the class of artisans and labourers was in favour of Free-trade. To be a "Free-trader" was indeed a mark of social superiority, and a test of one's knowledge and education. And the Protectionists, overwhelmed with local scorn, and isolated sentences from Adam Smith, were left to preach their doctrines in the highways and marketplaces of Melbourne. But the logic of events after all fought on their side. When alluvial mining ceased to remunerate its eager votaries there was the spectacle of a large able-bodied, vigorous population, who, in the language of the pitiful London beggars, had "got no work to do." But they were not of the type who would drag their weary limbs along city thoroughfares, and dole out their miseries in discordant imitation of the Neapolitan lazzerone, who have at least the artistic sense to import an organ and a monkey into the business. This line of life would not have suited the Ballarat miner. It was clearly necessary that industries of some kind should forthwith be established and fostered in the land. "When in Collingwood, the working man's suburb of Melbourne, now in itself a corporate city of twenty-five or thirty thousand inhabitants, it was announced that "free soup-kitchens" had been started for the poor, a mixed feeling of panic and indignation took possession of the people. Had they wandered all those thousands of miles away from the old mother-land, and in the interval worked with the vigour of giants, only to find themselves at last paupers? Eight or wrong, and whether it squared with Adam Smith and the economists or not, the manhood of the colony then and there decided that no manufactured articles which could possibly be made in the colony should come into the port of Melbourne, untaxed. "What shall we do with our boy?" exclaimed a despairing Protectionist to Mr. (afterwards Sir John) O'Shanassy, always a consistent Free-trader—"Marry them to our girls!" said he with the proverbial readiness of an Irishman. But such an answer, though it might provoke a smile even on earnest faces, was of course no solution of the difficulty in which the colony found herself through the failure of the alluvial diggings. After the manner of colonists the entire fiscal policy of Victoria was changed with amazing rapidity. A Cabinet composed mainly of avowed Free-traders introduced the first Protectionist tariff, and since then the tendency has been to increase rather than diminish the duties. No Protectionist can possibly put the case fairer than does Sir Charles Dilke in the chapter of his admirable work to which I have already alluded: —
"The question of Protection," he says, "is bound up with the wider one of whether we are to love our fellow-subjects, our race, or the world at large; whether we are to pursue our country's good at the expense of other nations?" The working men of Collingwood, as soon as they beheld the parochial soup-kitchen, at once decided in favour of the local and patriotic, rather than the cosmopolitan theory
But as our greatest poet, as well as greatest philosopher, tells us—
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
So even out of this petty network of hostile local tariffs, under which each colony shows such an irritating disposition to levy duties on its neighbour's productions, and where so many combine to shut out the teeming industries of the mother country, there may yet be evolved a homogeneous system of British and colonial free-trade. This cannot be done thoughtlessly without producing disastrous results, as I have elsewhere indicated with regard to Victoria; nor would the Protectionist colonies ever enter into any Zollverein with Great Britain, unless with an understanding as to the exclusion of foreign products and industries in a manner apparently subversive of Cobden's most cherished theories. As a matter of mere abstract economic science, nobody can dispute the truth of free-trade. Not only, as Sir Charles Dilke points out, is it the cosmopolitan theory; but if the British Empire is an empire in anything but name, there should certainly be the freest interchange of commodities within its borders throughout the whole of its world-wide territory. Were it possible, then, to bring the great and growing sections of our empire to trade without restriction among themselves, though with a system of "Protection" or "reciprocity," as the case may be, against, or in favour of, foreign nations, surely a great advance would have been made even from Adam Smith's standpoint on the present state of things, when this country remains alone, preaching and practising a doctrine which even her children ignore or deride.
On this point a very suggestive conversation took place between one of the most representative of the young statesmen of Australia who attended the Colonial Conference in Downing Street, and a veteran English Free-trader of world-wide fame.
"Why," said the Englishman, "do you colonists come all the way to London to settle the matter of your own defences?"
"Because," said the Australian, "we recognise that we are a portion of the British Empire, and the question of common defence is an Imperial question. We meet in London as the centre, because we regard this as the mother country, and ourselves as the offspring."
"That is the reason, I suppose," interjected the old Free-trader, "why you exclude English products—a strange way for the offspring to behave to the mother country."
"You overlook," said the colonist, "that under the present British system of one-sided free-trade, we, the offspring, are simply placed on the same footing as the most hostile of foreign states. It is you who do not show towards us those feelings of partiality which, in individuals, are considered worthy of all praise as being parental, and according to the instincts of nature."
It must already have struck the English reader that, with all the talk about Australian democracy, the number of public men in the colonies with "handles" to their names is somewhat portentous. Yet any colonist who has arrived at middle age can remember the creation of the entire batch of K. C. M. G.'s, and other colonial knights, who, it must be confessed, have taken very kindly to the distinctive appellation of "Sir." It is true that at first when the order of St. Michael and St. George, originally intended, according to Sir George Grey, for "Maltese and Italians," was relegated to "distinguished colonists," there was a feeling against it, as though, like some kinds of merchandise, it was of an inferior quality and brand, "designed for colonial exportation." I remember hearing Mr. Higinbotham, then in the full tide of his amazing popularity, refer to the two orders of knighthood reserved for colonists in terms of intense bitterness. Like Dr. Johnson when questioned by Boswell as to his views on Voltaire and Rousseau, Mr. Higinbotham declared of these knighthoods that it was "impossible to discriminate their relative baseness." He had heard that Mr. Francis had been offered a title, but he trusted that his old political ally, "the rough virtues of whose very fine and manly character" he declared he warmly admired, would never descend to the degradation of accepting such an invidious distinction. The result of this speech was that Mr. Francis never did accept a title; and Mr. Higinbotham himself has of course consistently declined it. But with these two exceptions—to which must now be added that of Mr. Higinbotham's most promising disciple, Mr. Alfred Deakin, the youthful Chief Secretary of Victoria—I can recall no other public man in Australasia who has not cheerfully accepted a K. C. M. G.-ship, though several have declined the mere C. M. G. as being beneath their own opinion of their . On the whole, then, this recent system of recognising the merits of distinguished colonists would seem to be generally acceptable even to the most democratic leaders of Australian public opinion.
But while on this subject I would like to allude to a matter originally brought before the colonial public, by Mr. (now Sir) Robert Stout. That eminent New Zealand democrat set forth his opinions in an article called "Titles for Colonists," which was originally published in the Melbourne Review of July 1881. It is generally thought by that numerous class of persons who seem to acquire what they are pleased to regard as information from the comic journals, and who, for instance, dispose of the Darwinian theory by expatiating on the absurdity of the notion that man could have been descended from the monkey, that Sir Robert Stout, after writing such an article, subsequently stultified himself when he accepted a knighthood. Of course such persons either have never read or have not understood Sir Robert Stout's Essay on "Titles for Colonists." The first point insisted upon in that very excellent article arose out of the conflict of opinion between Sir George Grey and Lord Carnarvon, then Secretary of State for the colonies, who had notified to the Governor of New Zealand that the Queen was graciously pleased to approve of the title of "Honourable" being borne for life by two retired judges within the colony. This anomalous distinction, be it further observed, was conferred on the two ex-judges without consulting either the New Zealand Parliament, or even the Premier Sir George Grey, who very properly asked Lord Carnarvon the following pertinent question—"Can the Crown, after the grant of such a constitution to this country, create and establish in New Zealand, without the consent of the General Assembly, an order of rank and dignity which does not exist in Great Britain, which is to be confined within the limit of the islands of New Zealand, and the probable direct tendency of which (in the belief of many of the people of the colony) may be to bring about ultimately a separation of New Zealand from the Empire, because it establishes here a quasi-aristocracy which will have no recognised rank or position in any part of the Empire outside this dependency of the Crown?"
Nothing could be more clearly expressed than this; and it will be observed that Sir George Grey's objection was not to the conferring of a title itself on the colonists, but that the particular title in question was a merely local and an invidious one.
Subsequent to this, Sir George Grey had a fresh conflict with Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, on a grant of knighthood having been made to two prominent members of the Opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives without the consent of the Governor's responsible advisers, the local Cabinet. Here, it will be seen, the ground of Sir George Grey's opposition was entirely different from that which he raised in the case of the retired judges. Let me quote it fully in his own words:—
"To illustrate the remarks I have to make, I take the case of Sir W. Fox. The honour conferred on him—knighthood—is one known to the Constitution. It emanated from the proper source—the Crown, the fountain of honour. But the recognised rule is that such honours are only conferred by the Crown upon proper responsible advice. The Crown would not in England confer a peerage upon two leading members of the Opposition without consulting its actual responsible advisers before it adopted such a course."
It will thus be seen that Sir George Grey boldly raised a very broad and important issue, and one which, I think, will have to be met in a fair and impartial spirit by some not remote British Cabinet. It was on this point that Sir Robert Stout took the side of Sir George Grey in his contention against Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, as to the impropriety of the practice of conferring titles on colonists without the consent or recommendation of the local ministry. In justice to Sir Robert Stout, who has been most widely misrepresented even in the colonies, I will, at the risk of dwelling at undue length on the subject, quote his summary of the entire argument:
"It was the consideration of the right of creating a new order for the colonies, not recognised throughout the Empire, that led the Grey Government to comment on the despatches of August 29, 1877. If the Empire is one, how can it be said that the Crown has the right to limit the use of a title to one portion of the Empire? It is on the theory of unity that the Sovereign has the right of interference with the colonies; and one of the reasons given for the grant of titles to colonists is that such tends to mould the Empire into one. But if a title is only to be known in one colony, does not that at once create a separation and division which must, in its influence, do more harm than good? Besides, this is creating something unknown to the land, and in a colony where there is representative government—creating it without the sanction or concurrence of either the Colonial Parliament or the Colonial Ministry. On what ground can such a proceeding be defended?
"Coming now to the second question, viz., On whose advice should titles be granted? It may be remarked that if the titles are to be only colonial titles, not to be used beyond the colony, it should be the function of the Colonial Ministry to advise as to their bestowal. The Colonial Ministers are responsible to the Colonial Parliament, and to colonial public opinion for the advice they tender. If it was to be an Imperial distinction, no doubt much, at any rate, could be said for the Imperial Ministry being responsible for the honours conferred—though even in that case it is submitted the Colonial Executive should be consulted. For how can the Imperial Ministry know what colonists should be rewarded? What does the English Parliament know, and what can it know, of the colonists to whom distinctions are granted? If a Colonial Ministry on such a question tendered advice that was not backed by public opinion, their constituents have a ready means of calling them to account. Why, then, should a Colonial Ministry be placed in a position different from that of an English Ministry?"
In bringing to a close these somewhat casual observations on the democracy of the colonies, I may perhaps be permitted to reiterate my sense of the many imperfections and errors which must inevitably disfigure the career of King Demos as of every other earthly sovereign. Under universal suffrage, unprincipled and selfish men will clamber into the chambers of legislature just as, under a very different system, they have found their way into the palaces of kingly and priestly potentates. To such a pitch has the system reached of harassing the Executive, by the abuse of Parliamentary forms, that Mr. Alfred Deakin, whom Lord Knutsford will remember at the Colonial Conference, on his return to Victoria proclaimed that a remedy must be found, even if some points of the American Constitution are adopted in lieu of the English methods that colonists have hitherto followed. Let us be sure of one thing, that when such a change is deemed essential for the salvation of the State, it will be made in the twinkling of an eye. Nor will any one venture to propose that the Irreconcilables should be bought off by giving them a separate province to themselves to misgovern without let or hindrance. This is, after all, the strong side of what I must call a "Conservative democracy"—like that of Victoria. In such a community almost every man is actively on the side of law and order. When Mr. James Service returned to Melbourne from the Colonial Conference, he was naturally asked what he thought of the Trafalgar Square riots. Although an active politician, desirous of remaining in favour with the colonial working classes, the Victorian ex-Premier at once launched out into hearty laudations of the conduct of Sir Charles Warren and the police. He had seen the whole affair, he said, from his window in Morley's Hotel, and he thought it was a more or less organised attempt on the part' of the loafers and the unemployed to create a disturbance. "The conduct of the police," he added, "was most admirable and most forbearing." Now these are the words, it must be remembered, of a colonial public man, whose position depends mainly on the vote of the working classes. And we see he speaks out as plainly as only John Bright can speak in this country, on such a question as the murder of poor Sergeant Brett by the Manchester Fenians. The reason of the difference is that the colonial statesman is more in "touch" with the great mass of his fellow-countrymen, and therefore can afford to denounce in very plain terms any symptoms of national crime or public hysteria, which crafty or misguided men may be fostering to the peril of the community.
Perhaps I may here be permitted to allude to certain conversations I had on public matters with Mr. Service, whom I have elsewhere described as "a typical Australian statesman." As he was then attending the Colonial Conference in Downing Street, our conversation very naturally took a turn in the direction of the enormous outlay on modern armaments. I maintained, I remember, that the working classes could not be expected to support this heavy taxation very cheerfully; and that therefore a democracy might be at a severe disadvantage in the terrible "struggle for existence" against a despotically governed state. I was struck with Mr. Service's reply. He said: "For my part, if I were convinced of the necessity of an enormously increased outlay for defensive purposes, I should never be afraid to apply to the working classes for it. Only I should make it clear that every penny I asked for would, as far as possible, be expended for that purpose, and not be frittered away in ornamental salaries."
On another occasion, in an equally pessimistic mood, I chose to quote, or perhaps rather to distort, Lord Wolseley, to the effect that the British must inevitably fall behind the French and Germans unless they would willingly submit to the "discipline of the conscription." Mr. Service very properly thought that no people would "willingly" submit to the conscription. But he gave me to understand that, in his opinion, if a foreign coast could be seen from Wilson's Promontory as plainly as the French coast from Dover, and if the Victorians knew that on those foreign shores there were a million armed men, the conscription would be cheerfully undergone without a day's delay. And not only with Mr. Service, but perhaps even stronger with Sir Graham Berry and other popular leaders of Australia, I have noticed the same disposition to trust in the general good sense of the people, or, in cases of emergency, where the masses seem misdirected, to speak out without equivocation what must be at the time the most unpalatable truths. This is, I know, not according to the preconceived ideas of many persons, and therefore in dealing with the subject I purposely record my own personal experiences.
It is the same if you turn to the most democratic newspapers in Australia, wherever they are serious and intended to instruct as well as amuse their myriad readers. In the Leader, which, with the Age, forms what has been called the "working man's Bible" in Victoria, one lights constantly on such pithy paragraphs as this:—
"Mr. O'Brien, who whines over his breeches, is, according to the Pall Mall Gazette, of 'the kinglier breed,' a hero of the old heroic strain."
Only this, and nothing more; and in these brief words the whole sickening cant about "the patriot's martyrdom," which was for a time a main staple in certain English journals, aiming to be democratic, is thus disposed of in a colonial paper that is not only democratic itself, but exists in a purely democratic atmosphere. It is all the difference between the player-king and the genuine potentate.
Arising out of this, too, it seems to me that the average intelligent Australian forms a far fairer estimate of our American kinsmen than is prevalent in England. It is a suggestive fact, and one which I think makes for the inevitable alliance of the English-speaking peoples who now claim so magnificent a portion of this world's estate, that the heroes of American history have already taken their place among the traditional heroes of the English-speaking world. Unconsciously we have all come to recognise that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were as great leaders of what Dr. Freeman calls the "English folk movement," as any in the mere insular story from Alfred the Great, to Arthur, Duke of Wellington. It is only by so reading the history of our race that we can ever comprehend the great part we have played, and are still destined to play, in the history of the world. It is in this spirit that a thoughtful Australian, though his heart goes forth in the first place to the mother country—to the "isle of blowing woodland, isle of silvery parapets," yet has a profound and undying interest in the story that is in some respects more akin to his own, the great story of the colonisation and civilisation of America, by men and women who also
"Speak the language Shakespeare spoke,
The faith and morals hold that Milton held."
If asked suddenly who he regards as our greatest man in modern times, the reflective Australian would be not unlikely to answer "Abraham Lincoln," and in so answering would pay a profounder tribute to the greatness of our race than if he had named any one of the contemporary worthies of Great Britain. This state of feeling I hold to be an outcome, in great measure, of Australian democracy. I remember an American saying, with much truth, that to judge from the English papers there were only two people on the great American continent worth writing about, O'Donovan Rossa and Mrs. Langtry—"the one," he said, "a beautiful, and the other a very ugly, fleeting bubble on the great sea of American public life; and neither of them Americans." I have elsewhere, however, said enough on this point, as affecting the colonies.
In conclusion, I only ask the English reader to accept the situation as he finds it, and make the best of it. The democracies of Australia are far from perfect, but they cannot be sneered out of existence; and if we believe in the inherent vigour, veracity, and manliness of our race, they may yet be made important factors in our Empire, and sources of strength rather than of weakness to the mother-land. That they contain many disturbing elements, and that they may on occasion exhibit a low standard of national life mainly by reason of those elements, it will be the purpose of the two succeeding chapters in some measure to illustrate.
- The attitude of Mr. Higinbotham in this matter is not to be taken as in any way hostile to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as a final Court of Appeal. Perhaps that Committee might be strengthened by the accession of really eminent Colonial legists, such as Judge Molesworth of Victoria, but its decisions have ever been received with universal confidence and respect in Australia. Mr. Higinbotham's contention in this debate was that the local Supreme Court had no power to over-ride the decision of the local Legislature, on a matter affecting its own rights and privileges.
- See Advance Australia! by the Hon. Harold Finch-Hatton, a wonderfully graphic and interesting book.
- Victoria, having only a limited area, is now suffering from "over-production" and wants outside markets; hence, say her critics, her anxiety to "federate" with the other colonies.