Australia and the Empire/Native Australians and Imperial Federation
NATIVE AUSTRALIANS AND IMPERIAL FEDERATION.
In one of his charming after-dinner speeches recently delivered in Australia, the Earl of Carnarvon, pleasantly paraphrasing the Laureate, was good enough to say that, "if fifty years of Europe are, in point of development and expansion, worth an unlimited era of Cathay, then I say that ten years in these great Australasian colonies match fifty years of Europe."
This truth was borne in upon me very forcibly when I took up one of the later numbers of the now unfortunately defunct Melbourne Review, in order to find out, if I might, what "Young Australia" was thinking about himself and the Empire of which he is at present a unit. The article to which I wish to allude is entitled "Australia for the Australians," and is one of a series by a young Victorian, who writes with a certain crude ability and much confidence, which it is to be hoped for his own peace of mind he may retain, even though his views may ripen as the years roll on. How far the positive opinions expressed in these immature essays are representative of the opinions of the rising generation of native Australians, it is perhaps impossible to determine. But I make no doubt that a goodly percentage of the members of such a body as the "Australian Natives Association" will re-echo these sentiments, if only for the purpose of annoying their fathers. Under the circumstances, and lest I should be accused of misrepresentation, I think it advisable to allow the writer of "Australia for the Australians" to state his own case.
"The census returns for 1881 are eloquent on the point that Victoria is rapidly becoming Victorian—that is, peopled by men and women of Victorian birth. Mr. Hayter estimated that the colonial-born population in Victoria on April 3d, 1881, numbered 539,060, and the "foreigners," or British-born, 282,339; that is to say, during the previous decade between one-seventh and one-eighth of the British population disappeared. Three in every five persons in Victoria at present are colonials."
In these words the "Australian native" opens what he intends shall be a very original and startling discourse, and then with much complacency, not to say joviality, proceeds to point out how in an increasing ratio the colonial-born will "supply the places of their fathers, who will vanish before the tooth of Time." He then lays down a series of sweeping generalisations or sociological dogmas, relative to the new national type of humanity now coming into existence in Australia. These racial speculations, I must frankly confess, read to me like an odd mixture of the phraseology of First Principles and the ideas of Alice in Wonderland. The coming Australian is to enter upon the stage freed from all the wretched impedimenta of the historic past. His advent is to mark an entirely new era. When he takes over his patrimony, Australia, from his father, the "foreigner," the astonished Old World will see something very like a new revelation upon this earth. Here is his glorious vision of himself in his future public capacity as political lord and master of the great island-continent.
"Knowing, therefore, that the interest of the few is the robbery of the many, the Australian will sternly repress log-rolling and swindling, and will only vote for the man who will represent general, and not individual and clique, interests. He will be influenced only by a public-spirited desire for the advancement of his native land, and not for the advancement of any particular statesman or party. The legislation of the future will be the reflex of educated patriotic electors, and they will only join one party, and that will carry the Australian flag and keep step to Australian music."
"Australians," he continues, with increasing self-appreciation, "are not hindered in their search for truth by the ivy-grown traditions of past ages. Common sense and education invite them to think freely for themselves; and they are accustomed to boldly investigate everything—past, present, and future. Nothing is too sacred merely because it is hoary and fossilised. Guided by truth, they tread down the corn of established opinions, separating the chaff from the grain, appropriating the portion their judgment approves, and rejecting whatever savours of darkness and ignorance."
If this is not enough to make the Pope tremble in the Vatican, and even disconcert the Archbishop of Canterbury, whatever may be his Grace's views on the right of private judgment, I know not what is. But the panorama of the forthcoming antipodean Utopia continues unrolling before our astonished eyes:—
"It is a magnificent period in the history of humanity, a very golden age; an age of glorious innovations, full of reforms, inventions, and revolutions, when men are emerging from darkness into light, from night into day. What has been accomplished is splendid, but what has to be done is sublime; and if the colonies would not lag behind in the race, their destinies must be controlled by men saturated with the comprehension of their sacred duties, and actuated by a burning desire for the elevation of their fellows, so that the race will receive an impetus in the struggle for perfection more powerful than anything it has yet received. Our modes of thought are becoming better every year, and we are discarding superstition and employing science, because we are accustomed to pass established opinions through the alembic of reason which a scientific age has moulded for us. … The rising generation has been nurtured under a new and dry light, mental and moral, while the old and decaying one was forced in a hothouse of falsity. Evolution promises that we shall be better thinkers and workers than our predecessors, and the dispassionate observer must admit that my proposition that Australia will never be properly governed till she is ruled by native-born (sic) Australians has after all more of a real than a hypothetical basis. Then will our destinies be in the hands of men who will be influenced only by a sincere and creditable amor patriæ, whose united cry may be earnestly resounded from York to Otway, from Perth to Brisbane—Australia for the Australians!"
Let us pause for a moment to take breath. It does not appear to strike the young enthusiast how oddly these old-world names sound in his new- world peroration. How much more effective it would have been if instead of York, that outlying peninsula had been named Croajingalong, and in lieu of Perth, the name had been, for instance, that of Sydney's populous suburb, Woolloomoolloo. Even then he would have been saddled with the old-world nomenclature of a cape named after an English naval officer, and a city after an old Scottish Governor of New South Wales. But surely this very initial incongruity in the matter of new-world nomenclature should have taught him the absurdity of imagining that it is possible to establish in Australia or elsewhere an entirely new form of civilisation. The ever-lengthening, though often imperceptible, link that connects all the ages can never be broken.
It seems almost an anti-climax, but perhaps I should remark that the future Australian is to be both a "Free-trader" and an "Atheist," which strikes one as singular, remembering that the essayist's fellow-colonists are at least professedly pious, and most undeniably Protectionist. Having, however, formed my own opinion of this literary effusion, I could not help wondering what some of the genuine old pioneers of the colony would have to say to it—the men who, despite this Sir Thomas More in short clothes, had planted the seeds of civilisation in these far-off sunny southern lands where they had built their home, and made the wilderness to blossom as the rose. I had not long to wait. After a due interval there came to hand a new number of the same salmon-coloured Review, containing an article by an old colonist who administered severe chastisement, more in sorrow than in anger, to the youthful visionary. With fine effect the older man began by recalling a memorable passage in the Aryan Household of Dr. Hearn—by far the greatest philosophical work yet written in Australia. In that passage the learned and profound writer observes that the "three hundred " who, at the cost of certain death, held the pass of Thermopylæ "were all of them fathers with sons living."
"According to modern notions," adds Dr. Hearn, "a forlorn hope would naturally be composed of men who had not given hostages to fortune. Such, however, was not the light in which the matter presented itself to the Greek mind. The human plant had flowered, and the continuance of the house was secure. It was therefore of comparatively little moment what befell the man whose duty to his ancestors had been fulfilled."
After quoting this singularly suggestive passage, the old Pioneer points out to the Native Australian that his desire to push the old race into the grave is, after all, but a reversion to the usages of the antique world. "Unlike his mythic forefathers, however," he adds, "the 'Young Australian' is not at all inclined to the practice of burying his departed parent beneath the hearthstone and worshipping his spirit."
"We old Australians," continues the worthy Pioneer, "are 'foreigners'—trespassers on the land that we have given to our sons. Our intellects are 'stunted as the feet of a Chinese dame,' and, says our cruel critic, 'despite their time-honoured boast of absolute freedom, many of our fathers actually did not know what freedom was till they came hither'! How the young cockerel crows! And how we crowed too when the down was on our lips, and we felt that our certain mission was to set the whole world straight. In those days 'Young England' was as fierce and as self-confident as 'Young Australia' is in these, and possibly felt as much contempt for the old fogeys who had made England arbitress of Europe, and first in arts and arms."
Point by point does the old colonist meet and confute the youth. How, he wants to know, can the old decaying generation, with its "hothouse of falsity," have possibly produced such brilliant successors? "The usual fruits of decay," he remarks, with a knowledge evidently not merely theoretical, "are mushrooms, or more frequently poisonous fungi. In which of these somewhat low organisms shall we class our coming rulers?"
The writer clearly shows that he has been ruffled, but his reproof is dignified, not petulant. Young Australia had pointed with youthful conceit, rather than manly pride, to the high state of general education in Victoria. Brides and bridegrooms who signed their names with a cross in the register are fewer there than elsewhere. "For this happy state of things," cuttingly remarks the old Pioneer, "we are of course indebted to the scholars, not to the teachers—who are chiefly 'foreigners'—nor to those who established and have administered our educational system, and who certainly belonged to the decaying generation."
I have perhaps already quoted sufficient to indicate to the intelligent English reader the general drift of this, to me, most interesting discussion. The Young (native) Australian, like the greatest of living poets in his youth, had, as we have seen, "dipped into the future far as human eye could see;" and perhaps, if one may be allowed to say so, somewhat further. The old Pioneer, after the pathetic manner of men who have turned the solemn side of fifty, prefers to look in the opposite direction.
"Surely this young Victorian forgets that to the unwearying energy, the strong self-reliance, the clear heads and stout arms of her early settlers, his country owes the very wealth and culture of which he boasts, and to the growth of which he and his fellows have yet contributed so little! Step by step the wild lands have been reclaimed; stone by stone the noble cities built; mile by mile the far-reaching lines of rail and wire have been stretched; foot by foot the buried treasures sought and found; one by one the schools of art and learning erected and endowed. By whom? Not by the 'Young Australian,' surely! Did that freedom, which he boasts as his, spring self-begotten from the earth? Was that noble educational system which he praises born of the soil? Have the grand gifts which the fast-vanishing generation of 'foreigners' will bequeath to their sons dropped from the clear Australian skies? The gifts of art and science, of learning and culture, of commerce and manufactures, of ripening harvests and glittering ores; the shady groves of 'Academe'; the gathered treasures of literature and of the sister arts; the temples of religion and of justice; the palaces of commerce, and the huge piles that quiver to the throbbing pulses of the tireless giant whose hot breath and iron sinews obey the master's slightest touch; the parks and gardens; and the thousand homes of comfort and of health;—are all these nothing in the eyes of those of our race who are so soon to fill our vacant places? Do our sons owe us no better guerdon than this sneer at our rapidly diminishing numbers—at our early and bitter struggles? Not so is kept the memory of the fathers of the Great Republic, to be able to claim whose ancestry is to be 'the heir of all the ages in the foremost files of time.'"
Surely this proud, but far from boastful, retrospect is more moving than all the crude previsions of youth. I have frankly stated that it seems to me impossible to ascertain how far the opinions expressed in "Australia for the Australians" are the evanescent views of individual immaturity, and how far they are the day-dreams of the rising generation. I find in other numbers of the same colonial magazine, the writer was allowed space for "An Australian Protest against Imperial Federation." This essay, in my judgment, is much more worthy of the consideration of grown men, whether English or colonial, than is the cheap rhodomontade of "Australia for the Australians." If the writer may be accepted in any sense as a mouth-piece of the rising (or should it be arisen?) generation, then the colonial-born voters, into whose hands such questions as those involved in Imperial Federation will be placed, are very emphatically opposed to any scheme that will bind them into closer legislative union with England. Before entering upon this subject, I would warn my readers not to imagine, because they see the crudity or, if they will, the folly of this unknown colonial writer, whom I have treated as typical of the intelligent native Australian, that those to whom he more directly appeals will read his pages with their eyes. It is worse than idle for grown-up serious men to continue to play a game of political blind man's buff, when it is admitted on all hands that the relations between Great Britain and her colonies are in a tentative, if not unsatisfactory and even critical, condition. Surely we should endeavour to remove the bandages of ignorance and conventionality, so as to see one another in our true aspect.
I propose to devote the remaining pages of this chapter to the consideration of the very complex problem of the relations between the mother country and her colonies. It is a singular fact that those of the younger generation of colonists, who are to-day loudly inveighing against any scheme of Imperial federation, are simply re-echoing the outworn traditions of Downing Street. In the admirable Autobiography of the late Sir Henry Taylor—a work which every thoughtful colonist with literary proclivities should peruse—there will be found the text of an official minute to Mr. Fortescue, afterwards Lord Carlingford, and then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, which gives expression to the views at that time held inside the Colonial Office, in very plain and unmistakable terms. So far as the opinions are concerned, much of this document might have been the production of a member of the Australian Natives Association. I will quote a sentence or two:—
"The North American, like the Australian colonies, and like the Cape, have very naturally renounced all consideration of English interests, and renounced and resented every exercise of English power, so often as they conflicted, in the slightest degree, with colonial interests or sentiments. If (notwithstanding the Irish element in their populations) they have any sentiment of attachment to England (which I doubt), it is one which is ready to be converted into actual animosity on the slightest conflict of interests, or interference with independent action. So long as the connection is an unequal one—all give and no take—and they enjoy real independence, they are content; but no longer."
This was written as far back as March 25th, 1865. Twenty years afterwards the retired Downing Street official appended the following footnote to the very passage I have quoted:—"Feb. 1885.—In the very week in which this chapter is passing through the press, the Canadian and Australasian colonies have taken steps which are at direct variance with the views I have expressed, whether as to facts or as to forecasts. They have offered to contribute at their own cost contingents of colonial troops to our forces at war in the Soudan. It was not without reason that I concluded my letter to Mr. Merivale, with the acknowledgment that on political questions my opinions are nothing more than conjectures." In these words Sir Henry Taylor, with the gracious frankness so characteristic of him, admits that these recent events seem destructive of the theory which he had held and endeavoured to enforce on the colonial question for the best part of a lifetime. It was until very recently the traditional policy of the head permanent officials in the Colonial Office, and originated with the ablest of them, Sir James Stephen, whose abilities and personality were so great that he not only dominated all the Colonial Ministers of that time, except the late Earl of Derby, then Lord Stanley, but succeeded in training such high-class permanent officials as Sir Henry Taylor and Sir Frederic Rogers (Lord Blachford) to uphold and promote this policy of disintegration. About this time this was also the accepted policy of many of the leading Liberal politicians of the day, and the granting of self-government to remote dependencies was based on its expediency as an intermediate and necessary step in the direction of their complete independence. The sooner, they thought, this final severance with Great Britain took place the better, so long as the separation was effected in mutual amity.
Now it is an undeniable fact that these opinions were never held by any considerable section or by any political party in Australia. In fact, with the solitary exception of Dr. Lang, no Australian public man of recognised position has ever formulated a scheme of Australian independence. In his case, too, it was simply regarded as an unaccountable eccentricity, although it would be very unjust to that self-willed, but singularly able and honest public man, to affirm that he had not given the subject much thought and attention. Of all his numerous political publications on the colonies, that entitled "The Coming Event, or Freedom and Independence for the Seven United Provinces of Australia," published in 1870, is the least like an elongated party pamphlet, and the nearest approach to a reasoned political treatise. This elaborate work Dr. Lang, in a glowing dedication, addressed "to the Electors of the City of Sydney,"—that city from which, fifteen years afterwards, the Australian Contingent sailed to the assistance of the mother country in the Soudan.
It must occur to any thoughtful mind that some explanation is necessary of the glaring failure to propagate this faith in the coming independence of these great self-governing colonies. Why, if Sir James Stephen's theory was correct, has there been such a lamentable reaction? Why do we find Liberal statesmen like the late Mr. Forster and Lord Rosebery deviating from the creed of their immediate predecessors, and vying with the Conservatives in their advocacy of a formless but patriotic policy of Imperial Confederation? To these questions, answers might perhaps be found, at least in some cases, in the mere political exigencies of the hour; but we should still want an explanation of the colonial rejection of all these well-meant projects in favour of colonial independence. On this point, too, the Native Australian will be ready enough with his answer. Such deplorable apathy, he will explain, arises from the fact that colonial politics have hitherto been in the hands of British-born colonists. Wait until he and his contemporaries are in their rightful place at the head of affairs, and we shall forthwith hear the new Declaration of Independence. Most of this, of course, is mere harmless bombast—sound without fury—signifying less than nothing.
At the same time, I frankly concede that the typical colonist is decidedly apathetic with regard to Imperial Federation. I am, of course, referring to Australia, but shall listen very respectfully if Mr. Edward Jenkins, or any other recognised authority, assures me that the case is different with regard to Canada. For my own part, I do not think that the mass of the electors in Australia, while undeniably loyal to the English Crown and connection, give a second thought to any scheme of Imperial confederation. And there are many reasons for this. Of all men in the world, colonists find it most profitable to mind their own business. Milton's sensible line might be the motto of every respectable and prosperous colonist—"To do that which before us lies in daily life is the prime wisdom." In a go-ahead colony there are no leisured classes—neither poets, philosophers, nor paupers. Hence, as soon as a political scheme is mooted that does not deal with an immediate pressing necessity, no one pays the slightest heed to it. This condition of things has its advantages, but also its drawbacks. As long as the political sea is smooth, the ship of State rides bravely, but should an unexpected squall arise, the crew may be taken at a disadvantage. In other words, the relation between England and her Colonies is one purely of haphazard; we do not steer,—we drift.
In his felicitous speech at the opening of the Colonial Conference in Downing Street, the Marquis of Salisbury showed himself cognisant of this prevailing condition of the colonial mind; and, consequently, the few remarks he made seemed to me more to the point than the volumes of well-meant eloquence that has been directed, for the most part, to deaf ears. In setting aside therefore all these generous "aspirations" in favour of a world-wide English-speaking Empire, his Lordship put the business of the Conference before the colonial delegates, largely as a matter of immediate self-interest. And he at once spoke to men whose ears were wide open. In the following sentences we have, I think, the very pith of Lord Salisbury's apposite and sensible address:—
"Supposing that the colonies were not part of the Empire, supposing the colonies were independent, do you think that they would be safe?" (At this query, the colonial delegates eagerly leaned forward, and one or two of them bespoke heightened attention by the Parliamentary, "Hear, hear!") "I know," pursued his Lordship, "that twenty or thirty years ago it was thought that they would be safe; that their distance from Europe would make them practically safe, and that their only risk was being embroiled in quarrels in which the mother country might have engaged. But matters have perhaps changed, and are changing. I am very far from suspecting or believing that the rulers of the great countries of Europe are likely to commit any act of violence upon distant territories; but what I cannot close my eyes to is, that the facilities for such action have enormously increased in recent years. The great increase in the naval power of the countries of Europe, the enormous increase in the means of communication, place the colonies practically so much nearer Europe. The improvements of modern science, and especially of telegraphic science, aid the concentration of force upon a single point. All these things have brought the distant lands which belong to the Empire in various parts of the world within the sphere of possible aggression. Do not so misinterpret my words as to imagine that I conceive any aggression likely or probable on the part of those who wield power in Europe; but the circumstances in which we live, and the tendencies of human nature, as we know it in all times of history, teach us that where there is liability to attack, and defencelessness, attack will come. The English colonies comprise some of the fairest and most desirable portions of the earth's surface. The desire for foreign and colonial possessions is increasing among the nations of Europe." (At this point his Lordship paused, and the Australian delegates, thinking evidently of the Germans in New Guinea, and the French in the New Hebrides, again ejaculated, "Hear, hear!") "The power of concentrating military and naval force," continued the English Prime Minister, "is increasing under the influence of scientific progress. Put all these things together, and you will see that the colonies have a very real and genuine interest in the shield which their Imperial connection throws over them, and they have a ground for joining with us in making the defence of the Empire effective, a ground which is not purely sentimental, which does not rest merely upon their attachment to this country, but which is based on the most solid and reasonable foundations of self-interest and security."
This was a mode of reasoning which, though couched in the unaccustomed phraseology of courteous diplomacy, was at once appreciated by the colonial delegates. If Lord Salisbury's contention that the colonies are safer from foreign aggression by remaining portions of the Empire be sound, then the problem of Imperial Confederation is practically solved. It would be presumption on my part to remind his Lordship that America profited wondrously through being an independent and neutral country during that long and anxious period in which England contested first with the French Republic, and then with Napoleon, for supremacy by sea and by land. Not only was an American Mercantile Marine created, but the internal resources of the country and its population were increased tenfold. We have, so far as I am aware, no trustworthy statistics to show what was the absolute emigration from these islands to the then newly created United States, but I imagine it must have been very much in excess of that of any period preceding the Declaration of Independence. And it would be emigration of a more valuable kind, commercially considered; for it would consist largely of the industrial middle-class seeking a safe refuge for themselves and their capital. It will be said that I am debating this question of the continuity of the relations between England and her colonies, on the very lowest ground—that of material self-interest. In doing so, I am simply following the lead of Lord Salisbury, who, while by no means ignoring sentiment, yet very wisely endeavoured to show the colonial delegates that it was to their interest to remain part and parcel of the Empire. I repeat, therefore, that if he can succeed in showing this, he has practically solved the Imperial problem. As his Lordship very properly points out, it is the progress of scientific invention, and notably of telegraphic science, which differentiates the case of the English Colonies in America in the eighteenth century, from those that now exist there, and from those in Australia. Not only, as he points out, do steam and telegraphy render remote dependencies more open to concentrated attack, but they also bring them in a perfectly marvellous manner within the radius, as it were, of the Imperial Government, or, as I should prefer to say, within the family circle. No one but a colonist who has resided in a remote province of the Empire, before and after the laying down of the ocean cable, can realise the difference. In all essential respects the resident in Australia or New Zealand is as well informed of what transpires at Westminster as though he were a denizen of London itself. In some respects he is in a better position to judge of the actual changes and movements of the time, for he receives his news in a concentrated form, and without any of the "dreary drip of dilatory declamation." In a word, the diurnal cablegram has the effect of making the remote antipodean realise that he is a member of the European family. How different was the case with the original British colonies of North America I need not point out.
But while fully admitting that Science has thus performed the greatest of miracles in bringing those who are divided by a world's breadth of waters into daily communion, I am far from seeing my way to the acceptance of any scheme of legislative union between England and her colonies that has yet been formulated. To my mind all these plans start on a false hypothesis. Herbert Spencer, in his felicitous manner, illustrates the evils of what he calls over-legislation by the instance of a man who slips and falls on the pavement. The crowd, instead of letting him lie quiet, immediately jerk him up, and probably increase the injury he has already received. In the same way, we feel there is something unsatisfactory in the relation between England and the colonies, and so we urge all sorts of violent remedies without pausing to consider that they might fatally dislocate the body politic. Nearly all of these schemes, however, are variations of one central idea—the establishment of an "imperial" something-or-other in London. Some of our would-be reformers propose that the colonies should send, in the ratio of their population, representatives to the existing House of Commons. Others would have a certain number of colonial peers in the House of Lords; while still another party would create a brand-new Imperial Parliament, composed of representatives of all or certain specified parts of the Empire, relegating to the House of Commons merely the domestic affairs of this portion of the British Islands. It is astonishing what nation-builders and nation-destroyers we all are with a pen and ink and a sheet of paper. There are even Australians and New Zealanders—not many, I admit—who are fascinated with one or other of these so-called Imperial Federation schemes. Can they for a moment realise what it all means? Take the case of Australia, with a kindred population, contiguous territories, and interests in common: it has, so far, been found quite beyond the skill of their most influential statesmen to federate any two of the colonies. Almost ten years ago Sir Henry Parkes proposed to establish what he called an "Australian nation," merely by federating New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia—thus simplifying the problem by entirely eliminating Queensland and Western Australia; but though the projector was a tried politician and a Prime Minister, no one paid the slightest attention to him except a Roman Catholic priest in Dublin, who composed and sent out a highly patriotic national song, entitled "Advance! advance Australia!" Yet, as one can well imagine. Sir Henry Parkes was able to show his fellow-colonists many reasons why such a local federation should at once take place. He pointed out that there were now three parliaments, where, owing to the agency of the electric telegraph, one would be quite sufficient; and this is a point that goes straight home to the tax-payer when the M.P.s receive a yearly stipend. He asserted that instead of three separate costly Civil Services, one could be established, which, by providing really high prizes to exceptionally capable men, would attract the best-trained intellects both of Australia and the mother country; and at a saving of a quarter of a million of money. He grounded his reasons for this by no means violent change on the highest considerations of statecraft. Could these three colonies be welded into "one powerful British state," he argued, "there would be a noble field for statesmanship, if the statesman could be found to occupy it. Sufficient immunity from the petty details of administration would attach to the principal offices of state to afford opportunity for the exercise of constructive capacity, which is hardly possible under the daily harassment of the politico-municipal labours of a colonial minister in the present state of things." And then Sir Henry, after asserting, of course, that other people's ideas of federation were quite impracticable, but that "the union and consolidation of the three colonies to which this paper refers could be carried into effect within a year," winds up with this very pretty display of blue-fire: "The United Provinces would rise, as it were, in a summer day, to an equality with old historical nations, and the flag of the Southern Cross would soon be known in every port of the civilised world."
Sir Henry Parkes is admittedly the shrewdest of Australian politicians, the typical "old parliamentary hand" south of the Line. And yet as soon as he takes to constitution-mongering his vanity bubbles forth like a boy's. There we see him, the political Bottom the Weaver, with his new and moving drama in which he is to play all the principal rôles, and, as the Lion, will roar you "an 'twere any nightingale." It is perhaps from a sense of the innate and boundless vanity of politicians that the public are so apathetic as to their nostrums. The great mass of the people are not unmindful of the laborious, and often disinterested, services of these performers on the public stage, but they sometimes grow weary of all this mouthing and iteration, and pay but scant heed to the trumpetings forth about new pieces and new players. For they have a shrewd idea that the pieces would be after all very familiar, and though the chief performer might come out in fresh and gorgeous dresses for which they would have to pay, he would be only the same familiar, much abused, but after all popular old favourite.
Since then, I admit, a practical step has been taken in the direction of Australian federation, mainly at the instigation of Mr, James Service, when Premier of Victoria. This was the result, as all such movements are, of foreign pressure. It arose from a sense of the weakness of the disunited colonies to resent the intrusion of powerful European states in the waters of the South Pacific, and was notably fostered by the characteristically reckless policy of France, which presumed to occupy the New Hebrides, a group of islands whose neutrality had been ratified by treaty, and then claimed the right to till her precious possessions with the thieves and cut-throats, the récidivistes of her cities and jails. But after all, this "foreign pressure" has not been continuous enough to weld the Australian colonies into a single dominion. A kind of loose Bund has been established between Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and the still inchoate Western Australia; the colonies of New South Wales, South Australia, and New Zealand remaining aloof. There is what is called a Federal Council, which Sir Henry Parkes describes in the spirit of Brown, the tragedian, gazing with undisguised contempt upon Smith's Hamlet, as "a phantom that pops up now and again at Hobart." So far the history of Australia presents a series of disintegrations, and the only successful attempt in the opposite direction has been effected in New Zealand, where the original provincial governments have been supplanted by a centralised authority, not, however, without the active opposition of a most influential section of politicians. Mr. Edward Jenkins would, of course, point to the example of Canada; but, if I mistake not, that great Dominion has been created purely by what I must call continuous "foreign pressure," both external and internal.
We thus see how difficult are the steps necessary to federate two or three contiguous self-governing colonies. How, then, can we expect at a bound to federate the Empire? For my own part, I do not believe it is possible to create an Imperial Parliament in the true sense of the term—a great Council of the Empire sitting in London and controlling all imperial, as distinguished from local, legislation and administration. From my point of view, the enormous amount of "foreign pressure" necessary to produce so vital a change in the Constitution would be much more likely to disrupt the outlying members. People who talk lightly of the task do not seem to me to realise what would be the immediate effect of their panacea. Even Mr. Jenkins freely concedes that Imperial Federation is a misnomer without Imperial Free-trade, which would mean to such a colony as Victoria the immediate loss of about a million and three-quarters sterling in Customs Duties. Is it possible even to conceive the misery that would result, and the wholesale destruction of vested interests, by the substitution for this of its equivalent in direct taxation? As far as I can see, such purely practical considerations as these never occur to the members of the Imperial Federation League, but they are the only ones that are present to the minds of colonial working-men.
Can nothing then be done, it will be urged, in lieu of the hopeless policy of drift? Is it, in a word, unavoidable that the British in Canada, in South Africa, in Australia, and in New Zealand, must inevitably disown the British Crown and connection, and become a set of independent and disunited Republics? He would have been a bold man who would have predicted anything to the contrary ten or twenty years ago, but, strange as it may seem, the unseen forces that are at work in the shaping of peoples and nationalities may now be tending in an opposite direction. Lord Salisbury has told us the effect of modern scientific agencies in exposing outlying colonies to the attacks of powerful but no longer sufficiently remote enemies. This fact has the immediate effect of compelling us, as it were, to huddle closer together for mutual shelter. In other ways, thanks to the cable, it is something more than a mere post-prandial phrase that Australia is as much a part of the Empire as Yorkshire. I think also there has been another potent agency at work to retard the formation of new English-speaking republics. Headers of that inimitable book, The Bible in Spain, may recall the dialogue that George Borrow relates as taking place between himself and the Alcalde of Corcuvion, that "mighty young Liberal," who, in the most backward and benighted province of Spain, held forth almost fifty years ago on " the grand Baintham."
"Excuse me, sir," said Borrow, "you speak of the grand somebody," Alcalde.—"The grand Baintham. He who has invented laws for all the world. I hope shortly to see them adopted in this unhappy country of ours." It then dawned on that most remarkable of English missionaries that the Spanish functionary was speaking of Jeremy Bentham, whom he went on to apostrophise as a "Solon! a Plato! a Lope de Vega!" The recorded scene is exquisite, but I refer to it now on account of the light it throws upon that great flood-tide of Liberalism, the aim of which was to renovate the world by subjugating its antique institutions, and which led the reformers of all countries to favour a system of republican equality. For a while this movement seemed to carry thing before it. South American republics were established, European monarchies were to be thrown down, and the Popedom finally extinguished. Then set in a powerful reaction. It is not possible now to trace this step by step, but some of the great central facts of recent history have burnt themselves into the consciousness of mankind. The American Civil War showed that the old Liberal theory, that war was a game at which kings played with the lives of their subjects, was no longer tenable. Republicans, it was seen, could shoot each other down in the most wholesale fashion on a mere question of State Rights. The South American colonies, after they had cut themselves adrift from Spain and Portugal, "those effete old sacerdotal nations," went on in much the same ignominious fashion as before. But, above all, France, which alone among the nations of Europe had entirely broken with her past, pursued, under republican institutions, the old traditional policy of bloodshed tempered by epigram; while, mainly owing to the instability of her institutions, the direful and direct result of the Revolution, she has been entirely overwhelmed by her hereditary foe, who, to complete the contrast, has been enabled to re-unite under a common Sovereign, through the genius of a despotic Minister.
It is this succession of mournful spectacles which has abated the enthusiasm of generous natures. Men no longer believe, like the Alcalde, that Jeremy Bentham, or any one else, could invent equitable laws capable of removing the ills of the world. The Republic of George Washington, or of Abraham Lincoln, undoubtedly cuts a great figure in history, but what of that of M. Grévy? Reflections such as these all unconsciously pass through the minds of the rising generation of Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders, whenever they can find time to idly speculate on the future of their countries. And, as Matthew Arnold would have said, they "make for" Imperial unity. Here, then, we have, I venture to think, the crux of the entire problem. Can these great and growing colonies forthwith form something approaching to an alliance with England? Can they, in other words, as they increase in power and population, be received on equal terms into the Imperial bund? Nothing else, I am convinced, will permanently satisfy them.
This is a subject which, I think, can be very fairly reasoned out between Englishmen, Australians, and Canadians to their mutual advantage. The only link now binding England to these great self-governing colonies, which may be described as a link of dependence, rather than one of fraternal alliance, is that of the Imperial officer, known as the Governor. Could not an immediate reform be instituted with regard to the method of his appointment? At present he is purely the nominee of the Secretary of State for the time being. Why should not the colonists, under the direct supervision of the Crown, have a voice in the selection of their chief official?
Would we keep together our world-wide Empire, we may learn something from that most venerable of human institutions, the Roman Church, which Hobbes so well described as "the ghost of the Roman Empire." Under the most absolute of bureaucratic despotisms, scope is yet permitted for what, in default of a better phrase, I must call "Home Rule." Particularly in modern times the Church has felt the danger of sending mere Italian nominees into distant provinces, a practice that more than anything else helped to destroy the prestige of the Pope in England, and to bring on the Reformation in both parts of this island. In the selection of a bishop, therefore, the diocese very properly has a voice, and the practice obtains of submitting the names of three eligible ecclesiastics to his Holiness, whose individual claims are further distinguished by the words dignus, dignior, dignissimus. Why could not this admirable plan be imitated in the matter of selecting a Governor for a self-governing colony? Under the present system, it is a mere matter of chance who is sent out, and the most politic thing for a Colonial Office nominee to do, whatever his individual capacity may be, is to transform himself into a gentlemanly cipher. Take the case of Victoria, which I do the more readily, because the present representative of her Majesty in that colony is admittedly an admirable Governor. Let us suppose Sir Henry Loch's term of office ended. During his régime events have moved quickly; a conference has been held in Downing Street, at which, for the first time, her Majesty's British Ministers have met her Majesty's Colonial Ministers on something like equal terms, to discuss matters affecting the whole Empire. This has very rightly been regarded as a distinct epoch in the relations between England and her colonies. But does it not make the selection of a Governor for any of the colonies, who were thus represented at the Council-table in Downing Street, a very invidious task for the Minister who may happen to be at the head of the Colonial Office? Would it not be much better if the colonies had an actual voice in the selection, and could submit to her Majesty, through the Imperial Prime Minister, three or more names from which the selection of a Governor might be made? Under this arrangement, without severing the Imperial tie, this supreme office would thus be open to the honourable ambition of a colonist. Let us imagine, as I have said, that a vacancy has occurred in the Governorship of Victoria, and that the two local Houses of Parliament meet in joint conclave to suggest to Her Majesty the names of the most eligible men in the Empire for that post. It may be that the selection would fall thus:—
- Hon. George Higinbotham.
- The Earl of Carnarvon.
- Sir William Foster Stawell.
Or if the present Governor intimated that he would be willing to accept a nomination, it is not improbable that Sir Henry Loch, who has been so successful as a Colonial Office nominee, would on that account be selected to inaugurate the new régime. If so, what a vastly improved position he would occupy as the man actually chosen by the accredited representatives of the colony, over whose destiny he would preside, and not by the English official, whom so loyal a man as Mr. Higinbotham was on one occasion compelled to stigmatise as the "foreign nobleman." Such a mode, too, of choosing a Governor would excite interest and attention in every part of the Empire, and the individual who attained to this supreme post would rank as a veritable colonial, perhaps Imperial, potentate, instead of being a mere highly-paid Downing Street official; and what an eligible set of Life Peers could be formed out of such a chosen body of ex-Governors, who would really be an acquisition to Lord Dunraven's reformed House of Lords. How, it may be asked, under an elective, or rather selective, Governor, would Victoria differ from an independent republic with an elective President? It seems to me, very materially, so long as the prevailing loyalty to the English Crown and connection exists. And so far as I see, there is no reason why it should not be permanent; no reason why the present tentative and unsatisfactory relation should not be transformed into a lasting alliance. In any case, the ultimate appointment would rest with the Sovereign, whose fiat should be final as to the personnel of her Representatives, and who, of course, need not be any of those suggested by the Colonial Parliamentary conclave. On his appointment, too, the new Governor, if a colonist, should come to Windsor Castle to receive his delegated authority from the Queen's hands. In other words, I propose to leave the final decision as to who shall represent Her Majesty in the great self-governing colonies to herself, advised, if necessary, by the local parliaments rather than that it should remain under the official patronage of the Secretary of State. It seems to me that my proposal would help to increase, or rather restore, the prerogative of the Crown; and by putting the British Cabinet more nearly on a level with Colonial Cabinets, it would, I think, tend to bring about that grand Imperial alliance between Great Britain and her colonies, which can only be effected under a universally recognised and, on Imperial matters, actually dominant Sovereign.
Whatever the Imperial Federationists may think, this alliance will never be effected by centralising the whole of the legislative and administrative machinery of the Empire in London. London is undoubtedly the chief city and metropolis of the Empire, but, for that very reason, care should be taken that it does not unduly drain the outlying provinces of their necessary intellectual life. This is precisely what an Imperial Legislature would do. We should all be, I think, fairly satisfied with the tentative success of the Colonial Conference, presided over with such marked ability, by a trained official, who has nevertheless, it seems to me, failed to grasp its most palpable lesson. Such a collection of really representative colonial public men had never before assembled. The all-important question of mutual defence, upon which after all the existence of the Empire depends, was thoroughly threshed out in debate, and already the effect has been, on the whole, all that could be expected. It is hoped that this Council will be the forerunner of many, and that each of them will be a fresh link in binding us together. But why should such Councils be always held in London? Surely this scientific progress in steam and electricity, upon which Lord Salisbury very properly laid such stress, has its uses for public men as well as for the common people. Why, therefore, should it not be feasible that some future Council of the Empire should be held in Melbourne, Wellington, Ottawa, Cape Town, or Sydney? Englishmen must notice the excellent effect produced (even though subsequent "party" manoeuvres wrecked his labours in America) by sending on a colonial mission a statesman of first-rate rank like Mr. Chamberlain. More than anything else it makes the colonists feel that they are of some account in the reckoning. It diverts, as it were, the public mind of the Empire to them, and they become for the time being the centre of attraction. This is exactly what is wanted as a check to the over- centralisation of London. Consider the effect of a Council held in Melbourne or Wellington, attended by the Secretary of State for the colonies and one or two prominent English politicians! We should have daily bulletins in the London press as to the discussions of such a body; and by thus making, even for a few weeks, an antipodean city the political centre of gravity, we should, in my opinion, be welding together the scattered parts of the Empire far more effectually than by establishing what even the Prince of Wales regards as an Imperial Institute at South Kensington.
These suggestions are the rudest of hints, loosely thrown out by one who sincerely prays that there may be no fresh disruption among the English-speaking races of the world; but who, at the same time, has a feeling amounting to conviction that any of the new parliamentary panaceas, proposed under the name of Imperial Federation, would be the sure and speedy road to that deplorable catastrophe.
- Vol.ii. pp. 237-8.
- See Appendix B, Sir C. Gavan Duffy's "Royal Commission."
- We just learn, by the cable, that South Australia has tardily consented to enter the Federal Council.
- The nominations of the joint Houses would, I think, be preferable to those of that "small Committee, generally of the Lower House, which has usurped the functions of the Executive, and which we call the Cabinet." Colonial readers who are familiar with Mr. David Syme's most original work, on Representative Government in England, will, I think, on this point, concur. Such a conclave, too, seems in every way better suited for the purpose than a plebiscite.
- See Appendix C, "The Colonial Office and the Foreign Nobleman."
- However far-fetched this proposal may seem, it is worthy of note that Sir George Grey has for some time advocated a system of elective Governors for New Zealand. True, he has been scouted by the "practical politicians" of the hour; but on many questions it is still true that what Sir George thinks to-day, "young New Zealand" may act upon to-morrow.