Open main menu

Australia and the Empire/Preface

PREFACE


In submitting this little sheaf of Essays to the British public, as a slender contribution to the great Imperial discussions of the day, I have only to express my regret as a loyal colonist that I cannot support the policy enunciated by that respectable section who are known as Imperial Federationists. With the object of their League, and particularly with the aims of its late lamented Chief, William Edward Forster, I feel the greatest sympathy; but the means suggested, and the policy formulated, seem to me the reverse of wisely constructive. Certainly, unless the whole character of our Parliamentary Government undergoes a radical change, a common Imperial Assembly, meeting at Westminster—or elsewhere—would simply be a cumbrous and unwieldy engine, only capable of bursting and blowing its engineers into fragments.

The opening political sketch of Lord Sherbrooke in Sydney has been compiled largely from information and printed papers supplied to the author by that distinguished statesman. It has purposely been made short and sketchy, but will, I trust, be read with some interest in Australia, where Robert Lowe, though bearing an honoured name, has by no means as yet received the full measure of recognition due to his services for the commonweal.

Chapters III. and V. originally appeared in a briefer form, as two articles by a "Colonial Contributor" in the Morning Post. I can only hope that the additions made to them for the purposes of this book will not lessen the good opinion which some influential persons were kind enough to express of them in their original shape.

With regard to Chapter VIII., I would say here that it would not have appeared in this volume save for the recent upheaval of a class of publications about the colonies, of which Mr. Hogan's Irish in Australia, and Sir C. Gavan Duffy's magazine essays, are the most typical specimens. If my readers will turn to these effusions, they will not fail to recognise that however outspoken I may be in expressing my opinions on the subjects in dispute, I at least am not the aggressor. Referring to the two gentlemen I have named, let me also add, that however much one may dissent from their sentiments and views, it is idle to deny that they both have what we Australians particularly prize, as "colonial experience"—which in one case is turned to the best account by considerable literary skill. From a careful perusal of these writings, I have come to the conclusion that their chief aim is to show, by the successful working of responsible government in Australia, that Englishmen should advocate the policy known as "Home Rule" for Ireland. I have attempted to prove that there is no analogy between the two cases. If, moreover, it be considered laudable for colonial Irishmen to write the history of Australia from a purely Irish standpoint, surely a colonial Englishman may be permitted to tell the same story in his own fashion, I am thus frank in avowing the controversial, but I trust not bitter or unfair, spirit of this section of my book. Personally I would have preferred to give my views and opinions on Australia and the Empire free from the fray of party polemics. My book was, in fact, almost finished when I became acquainted with the recent writings of these Irish- Australian annalists. Nor would I have deemed their views of any significance as bearing on my subject, but for the mysterious "conversion" of Mr. Gladstone to the principles, if not the practices, known as "Parnellism," which are in my judgment fatal to the continuance of the British Empire. The effect of Mr. Gladstone's Irish Home Rule Bill on the Australian public mind is best typified by the contrast between Mr. David Gaunson, then the leading Native Victorian politician, speaking eloquently on behalf of the "Australian Natives' Association," in support of Mr. Service and Mr. Francis, on the occasion of the great Beaconsfield demonstration, at the Melbourne Town Hall, on July 29th, 1878 (see page 69), and the "base uses" to which, according to Mr. Gowen Evans (see page 250), these "Australian Natives' Associations" are everywhere being turned since the "conversion" of Mr. Gladstone, and the surrender of so large a section of his party, to the policy of disintegration.

It is lamentable, but very natural; for—as Sir Samuel Griffith, the late Radical Premier of Queensland, pointed out in an admirable address delivered in Wales during his recent visit to this country—If the so-called Imperial Parliament is to retain any of its imperial character, and to hold its rightful position as the paramount British Legislative Assembly in the world, it is above all things necessary that it should remain the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Once disintegrate the "Home" Parliament, and we leave no central legislative body whose decisions would carry any weight outside the limits of its local territory; and though I am not an advocate for creating a brand-new centralised Imperial Parliament to which all the Colonies shall send delegates—preferring an alliance of Great Britain and her Colonies, by means of the "restoration" of some of the ancient prerogatives of the Crown—yet I think no calamity could be greater than to degrade the great historic Parliament of Westminster into the position of a mere local assembly. Sir Samuel Griffith was, in my opinion, absolutely correct in his prognostication of the evil of dividing the "Home" legislature and executive; and the English student of current Australian affairs may already notice in Sir Thomas M'Ilwraith's change of policy the direct result of Mr. Gladstone's deplorable surrender.

Under these circumstances, it seemed to me important that something approaching to an impartial estimate should be made of the Irish element in these British colonies. As a Victorian 'Englishman, I found it quite impossible to accept, on this question, the verdict of the two Victorian Irishmen; but I do not ask my readers to accept my views without thorough ratification, and I would even urge them to peruse the writings of my opponents before surrendering their judgments. I am quite aware of the distorting bias of all controversy, and in attempting—too eagerly it may be—to point out the mistakes of others, I have probably fallen into error myself.

I have only to add that Chapter VIII. was thought out and written many months before the imbroglio between the Colonial Office and the Local Government of Queensland. Rightly considered, as I have attempted to prove in the concluding Chapter, this event is a strong though unfortunate illustration of the necessity of the reform I have advocated.

In the Appendix (Note G) will be found a brief obituary of the late Dr. Hearn, of Melbourne, which originally appeared in the Athenæum, April 28, 1888. By a strange coincidence, as I was writing the reference to him, to be found on p. 142, the morning's paper was brought to me containing the cablegram from Melbourne, which announced the Australian philosopher's death. It was, of course, in the fewest possible words, nor had the Editor, as often happens, even in "colonial cases," supplemented Baron Reuter's intelligence by even the briefest biographical details. So I put my work ^side and wrote down the bare facts of Dr. Hearn's distinguished career for the Athenæum.

It is a remarkable circumstance that, so far as I observed, this very imperfect sketch of Dr. Hearn was the only one that appeared in the London press. A "Society" paper, it is true, made the following suggestive comment on this still more suggestive silence on the part of the great daily journals:—"The news received within the last few days of the death of Dr. Hearn, in Melbourne, has by no means created the amount of attention in England which such an event should arouse. It does not tend to the much talked-of Imperial Federation when we see that the death of incomparably the greatest thinker and most profoundly learned man who has ever made his home in a British colony, calls forth so little comment in the centre of the Empire."

Had the death announced been that of some "tenth transmitter of a foolish face," on his Antipodean tour of vacant-mindedness, or that of an itinerant member of the House of Commons, of whom the most skilful flatterer would find it difficult to record any distinguishing moral or intellectual achievement, there would have been "biographies" in plenty. Nay—had Professor Hearn, instead of being a "mere colonial" who had written so admirable a work as The Aryan Household, been an Oxford or Cambridge Professor, his deeds would have been fully set forth at his death. Furthermore—and this is the rub—had Victoria been an independent State and not a mere "dependency," and had she thus nurtured a writer of the eminence of Dr. Hearn, and rewarded his great learning and his gigantic labours in codifying the laws of his country, by a seat in the local House of Peers, would not the British press have published some special account of such a public career? I lay stress on this, in itself, small matter, because the real moral of my book is, that if this complex and widely divided Empire is to be kept together, or rather, if it is to be consolidated into a real and not to remain a sham Empire, then it is essential that the dwellers at its periphery shall be under no "disabilities" as compared with their fellow-subjects at its centre. If we can bring about such a state of things, I venture to think that our race has sufficient common-sense to evolve some permanent plan whereby a world-wide alliance may be formed, based on those deep sentiments and ties which are thus eloquently dwelt upon by Bishop Thirlwall in his account of the colonisation of the ancient Greeks:—

"There was in most cases nothing to suggest the feeling of dependence on the one side, or a claim of authority on the other. The sons, when they left their home to shift for themselves on a foreign shore, carried with them only the blessing of their fathers, and felt themselves completely emancipated from their control. Often the colony became more powerful than the parent, and the distance between them was generally so great as to preclude all attempts to enforce submission.… The place of such relations was supplied by the gentler and nobler ties of filial affection and religious reverence, and by usages which, springing out of these feelings, stood in their room, and tended to suggest them where they were wanting.… But the most valuable fruit of this feeling was a disposition to mutual good offices in seasons of danger and distress."—(History of Greece, vol. ii. p. 98.)

Mainly through the progress of modern science, we British colonists are, according to Lord Salisbury, now also "connected by the hands of mutual interest," which Bishop Thirlwall in those very words excluded from the ties which bound the Greek colonies to the parent State.

But I agree with Dr. Lang that much may be learned from a careful study of ancient Greek colonisation, in many respects a far nobler chapter in human history than our own; nor, while smiling at his arrogance, can I refrain from quoting the Doctor's really suggestive reminder to the supercilious modern Briton that, "Homer, the first of the Grecian poets, was an Ionian Greek colonist of Asia Minor; and so also was Herodotus, the first of her historians."

Dover, Christmas Day 1888.