History of West Australia/Chapter 14
DEPRESSION; BIRTH OF INDUSTRIES; CONVICT AGITATION.
1843 TO 1848.
THE star of ill-omen under which Western Australia suffered for the first few years of settlement again projected its old rays upon her. For a brief period good progress had been made, but once more dull depression and years of tribulation were entered upon. The cause was variously accounted for. Some people discovered it in the want of labour; some in the conditions under which land was sold; some in the abnormal rates of interest, and the excess of imports over exports. The first signs were observed in a dispiriting fall in prices of stock, and in a lamentable and constant drainage of specie from the little colony. Various schemes were advocated to secure the inauguration of an era of prosperity.
Since the inception of settlement enormous prices had been paid for sheep, yet by laudable thrift colonists were able to purchase fairly large flocks. It came as a great surprise, now that they possessed sheep sufficient to establish a substantial export trade in wool, that prices should fall to almost a tithe of what they were in previous years. It was apparently an unexpected circumstance, and caused them to bemoan their bad fortune. In recent years prices of sheep had slightly receded, but early in 1843 the fall was remarkable. In February Messrs. L. and W. Samson held a sale, when ewes, which for years before had sold at from £3 to £6, only brought 10s. The prices of wethers receded to 19s. 6d., ewe lambs to 10s., wether lambs to 6s, 6d., and four and six-tooth to 14s. 6d.
But with the multiplication in number of sheep, there had not been a corresponding growth of population. While flocks had increased exceedingly, people had increased but little, and the ratio was not preserved. There were few consumers, and in the absence of a reliable and large export trade, the sheep market was bound to become depressed. Thenceforth the prices of sheep continued low, and no longer was a famine in fresh meat possible.
At the opening of the Legislative Council on 15th June, 1843, Governor Hutt delivered an important speech relating to the condition of the colony. The events of the past year had proved, he asserted, the stability of Western Australia, but although numbers of immigrants had arrived, who all found profitable employment, there was still a dearth of labour for farming and stock operations. He suggested that, since prices of stock had fallen so low, colonists should employ their capital in new spheres. The disparity existing between the amounts of imports and exports was great. There was an enormous balance of trade against the colony, which had to be provided for by either sending specie out of the colony or issuing extra Treasury Bills. Trade could not be beneficially prosecuted on such terms. To avoid embarrassment, some additional exchangeable commodities must be exported.
It was soon evident that the public considered the labour question contained the solution of the problem. The introduction of emigrants by the Western Australian Company for the settlement at Australind had, with those imported by the Government and private persons, afforded some relief to the market. In April, 1843, the emigrant ship Success landed others, but though these soon found situations, their numbers were not considered nearly adequate. At a meeting, on 21st June, 1843, of a society termed the Western Australian Society, formed in Perth to advertise the natural and acquired advantages of Western Australia as a settlement, the chairman, Mr. Peter Brown, observed that the progress of the colony was retarded by the want of labour. He advocated the requirement of special funds to encourage immigration. The Advocate-General, Mr. G. F. Moore, who had recently returned from a visit to England, was also convinced that immigration would result in greater prosperity, and regretted the continued misstatements which were being circulated concerning the colony. He collected a number of newspaper clippings which showed a lamentable lack of knowledge of Western Australia. Mr. Brown somewhat hastily congratulated the society that the English press was at last convinced of the importance of Western Australia. Increased immigration was advocated, and several colonists announced that the introduction of a band of couriers would stimulate prosperity.
That the English press momentarily began to espouse the cause of colonists is evident. The Times, in April, 1843, published an article on colonisation, together with a memorial presented to the Imperial Government by London bankers, merchants, and others, importuning the authorities to conduct colonisation on such a large scale and on such sound principles as would offer a safe and ready field for augmenting British trade. Many Englishmen were already looking with hope to the British colonies to afford an opening for home manufactures, and the House of Commons was devoting more attention to colonial affairs. But with all this beginning of interest at home in Britishers abroad, matter inimical to Western Australian affairs still found publication in England and the neighbouring colonies.
A committee was appointed by the Legislative Council to decide on the most appropriate method of obtaining a supply of labour. Its report, which was presented to the Council on 18th October, 1843, dealt with the question of raising sufficient money by land sales for assisting immigration. The members of the committee despaired of supplying the demand in this way, and estimated that in the ensuing year 400 servants would be required, made up of 100 shepherds or boys to mind flocks, farm servants, and 50 male and 50 female domestic servants. To secure this number, they advised that a loan be obtained from the Home Government, the interest to be provided for by an annual vote on the Estimates, by moneys derived from land sales, transfer duties, and other land fund sources. In the event of the non-acceptance of this suggestion, they counselled the establishment of a system of bounty. The report was adopted, and forwarded by Governor Hutt to the Imperial Government, who refused to accede to either recommendation.
Late in October, twenty-eight juvenile emigrants (boys) were brought to the colony by the Shepherd, and secured engagements in trades, or in farming and pastoral pursuits. The population of the colony at the end of 1843 was given as 3,853, of whom 1,155 resided in Perth. For all their years of striving against contrary circumstances the pioneers had gained little advantage, and Western Australia had but a small community.
While believing the labour question contained the solution of their distress, settlers did not disregard the advice of Governor Hutt. The readiest means of employing what little capital they had was in their forest resources, and by a timber trade and by generally increasing the exports they hoped to draw money into the colony. Mr. C. D. Ridley suggested in April that an export trade in eucalyptus timber (under the name of jarrah) be opened up on a substantial scale. He proposed that a company with a capital of £9,000 be formed for that purpose. Numerous supporters were found. A public meeting unanimously agreed to establish a company. The Gazette was delighted, the public enthused, but after making an attempt to find shareholders the projectors were compelled to abandon their hopes. Later in the year Mr. A. Stone sent various Western Australian woods to London and had them made up into cabinets, cases, and other contrivances. This again attracted limited attention to the timber resources. At the same time Mr. W. Cowan was erecting saw mills at Guildford, which, when opened early it 1844, performed such satisfactory work that hopes were entertained that with similar works an export trade would soon be established. To follow out the export sentiment a shipment of sheep was sent to the Mauritius in October, 1843, where the animals realised 28s. per head. This return caused gratification to settlers. Potatoes valued at £300, wool at £6,124 15s, and oil at £300 were exported, which, with other articles, totalled £7078 15s. for the year. One shipment of potatoes sent to the Mauritius was sold at 16s. per cwt. In December there was no money in the market, and the prices of stock were, if anything, below those ruling some months earlier. The press was made the medium of complaint, and numerous letters from colonists were published referring to the situation, and particularly advocating the encouragement of the wool industry.
In this early stage of the depression the Governor was exercising rigid economy in the finances to balance revenue and expenditure. The receipts during the financial year 1842-43 from colonial sources were £9,544 0s. 1d., a falling off of £536 18s. 6d. on the previous year, caused principally by a decrease in the amounts obtained from land sales and duties on wines. The expenditure was £10,246 15s. 11d., without reckoning what was paid out of the commissariat, and the labour fund established in previous years. His Excellency resolved to still further retrench in order to balance the amounts. He proposed an increase in the duties on imported spirituous liquors, and a bill was passed by the Legislative Council for that purpose. Mr. W. Tanner had retired from the Legislative Council, and his place was temporarily filled by Mr. F. C. Singleton, Government Resident on the Murray. Mr. W. H. Mackie had also temporarily occupied the seat of Mr. T. V. Yule while the latter was out of the colony; then he succeeded Mr. Lennard upon that gentleman's resignation.
The Surveyor-General's Department was meanwhile busy, and completed some valuable work. Hitherto a proportion of the survey boundaries of alienated lands had not been fixed, but with such vigour did the small department apply itself to this task that 208,181 acres were determined on in 1842-43. Governor Hutt's strong land policy had the effect of instituting order and simplifying transfer. So successfully did he apply the regulations dealing with improvement conditions that in 1843, out of 1,500,000 acres recorded in the Survey Office in the names of private people, there were not 100,000 for which the fee simples had not been issued, or were ready to be taken out.
A bill important to land administration was passed by the Council. It provided that no waste lands of the Crown should in future be alienated except by sale, and made gratuitous grants of land absolutely illegal, except where the public at large had a direct interest; other bills for simplifying land administration were also passed, as well as a bill for licensing boatmen, a bill for further regulating public houses, an Insolvent Debtors bill, and a bill to enable natives to give evidence in Courts without taking the oath.
The chief item of interest at the year's end was the harvest. Good returns were obtained, but, alas, in January, 1844, the Agricultural Society feared that, on the presumption that the colony now produced more wheat than was required for local consumption, a fall in prices must take place. There were eight hundred more acres under crop than in the previous year. In 1845 more attention was devoted to general culture. A splendid class of grapes was produced, and wine manufactured in the colony was exhibited at the annual meeting of the Agricultural Society. The planting of olive trees was warmly advocated. The report stated that labour was less scarce than previously. It regretted the discreditable and shortsighted policy of some pastoralists in carelessly washing and packing wool for export. During the year sheep had increased by one-fourth their previous number; York, Toodyay, the Swan and Plantagenet showed the largest progress in this regard.
One settler took enterprising steps to encourage production. Captain Swanston, a large landholder, subdivided his estate in 1843 and let it out to men of small means on a most liberal principle. Instead of exacting rents he allowed tenants to make up the first year's rent in improvements, and even offered each man a cow and four steers as an encouragement to stock the land. A few people took advantage of this magnanimous offer.
That the colonists fears of a depression were not groundless was abundantly proved in 1844. Gloomy pictures of the future of the colony were drawn, and a cry of depression sounded far and wide. A comparative statement of the prices of articles of food in 1839 and 1844 exhibit a wide difference. Thus in 1839 a 2 lb. loaf of bread sold at 10d., and in 1844 at 5d.; beef per lb., 1s. 6d. and 4d, respectively; mutton, 1s. 4d. and 4d.; lamb, 1s. 6d. and 8d.; potatoes per cwt., £1 4s. to £1 10s. and 10s.; and fresh butter per lb., 4s. and 2s. respectively. Within the same period rents and agricultural labour fell by 25 per cent.
Each progressive week seemed to lend a more serious aspect to the depression. Money was so scarce, prices so low, and hope so far away that the people unconsciously made the situation seem worse than it really was. The producer despaired of obtaining a payable price for his products; his land was mortgaged to the storekeepers or the banks, who in their turn restricted their operations; the labouring classes were compelled to accept large reductions in wages. The Governor was greatly concerned at the quarterly diminution of revenue, and the dearth of specie in the colony. The Commissariat Department was watched with keen scrutiny by him. Tenders had previously been issued for the supply of wheat to the department to militate against chances of famine, and for other purposes. They were now issued with a different object. Treasury Bills were offered by Government in exchange for specie, and for wheat grown in the colony, not so much because of a serious want of specie as to prevent, if possible, the continued export of specie. Tenders were accepted on 2nd of July, 1844, to the extent of £4,200, varying in the exchange from par to 1½ per cent. premium. Tenders opened earlier in the year were too low.
The revenue for the year 1843-44 showed a decrease on that of the previous year. The imports within the same period represented £46,880, and by adding 25 per cent. for freight the amount was brought up to £58,600. The exports represented only £13,609 10s. 0f the latter amount the chief item was wool, the quantity exported being 178,800 lbs. A small trial shipment of timber was exported during the year and sold at £10 a ton. The other exports were:—Sperm oil, 30 tons, £1,800; black oil, 60 tons, £1,800;
whalebone, 107 cwt., £481 10s.; bark, 30 tons, £6; salt fish, 5 casks, £15; potatoes, 1 ton, £12; and miscellaneous goods, £505. It will thus be seen that whaling was a primary source of wealth, and down the west coast and at King George's Sound it was being followed with as much zest as formerly. The disparity between the amounts of exports and imports had become larger and more serious.
A disagreement took place between the Governor and the Committee of Ways and Means in the Legislative Council. The Governor's estimate of expenditure for the ensuing year was £8,886 12s. 6d., which was amended by the Committee and reduced £7,283 12s. 6d. The Committee proposed retrenchment in various departments in order to meet the depressed state of the revenue. As significant of the opinions held concerning the depression, members set down the revenue for the coming year to be derived from duties on spirits, etc., at nearly £9,000 less than that of the year just closed. They, moreover, proposed to increase the ad valorem duties on all goods without exception admitted to the colony in order to make up the deficiency between revenue and expenditure. Strong objection was raised to this policy by the Governor. A warm debate took place on 5th July. Finally, the proposals of the Committee were carried, whereupon there was a solemn pause in the House. The members silently awaited the Governor, who had the power of veto, to rise and signify his intention. His Excellency broke the silence by intimating that he would not oppose the views of the Council, although he was convinced that members had acted unwisely, and that their proposals would cause much mischief in the future. Continuing, he congratulated himself that he was not a settler, nor likely to live among them, as he believed that the "doom of the colony was sealed" now that colonists had taken to taxing provisions all round. He did not exercise the veto.
In order to meet the exigencies of the times the banks reduced their rates of discount, but even then the Western Australian Bank was able to pay substantial dividends. On January 4 a dividend at the rate of fifteen per cent. was declared on the half-year's transactions, and on July 4 a dividend of twelve and a half per cent. was declared. At the annual meeting, on the latter date, the report alluded to the state of the colony, and stated that more than ordinary precaution was called for. Shareholders expressed the hope that the directors would carry men of business through the depression until the following wool season, when the returns would "undoubtedly relieve the pressure."
While affairs were so dull in Western Australia, colonial matters in England were no less gloomy. The society formed in London to watch over and subserve colonial interests was dissolved, and those gentlemen who five years before had been so confident of the success of Western Australian settlement were dismayed at the local situation.
Every branch of local industry was affected by the bad times. The newspapers were among the first to feel the pinch. In June, 1844, the Inquirer, published in Perth, appeared in only half the usual size. It told a doleful tale of subscriptions not having been paid, and of other means of newspaper revenue being depressed. Even the celebrations held on 1st June had none of their old vitality, and impelled the Inquirer to forebodingly speak of the "untoward aspect of public affairs" and the "dulness of the times." The Governor announced in the Council that the situation called for diplomatic legislation from members, and he urged the people not to give way to despondency, but to combine and find a remedy for their ills. The editor maintained that the colony could not become rich with only its existing population, for it was absurd to expect a society of 2,000 adults to prosper in the same ratio as a society of millions of members.
The Financial Committee of the Legislative Council stated in their supplementary report on 18th July that the imports of goods far exceeded the reasonable wants of the population, and on 2nd August Mr. Peter Brown, the Colonial Secretary, addressed members on the "cause, effect, and cure" of the depression. His speech was a remarkable one. He presented to the House a number of carefully compiled tables designed to show that in the preceding seven years the cultivation of wheat had increased out of all proportion to the population. It followed, therefore, that farmers must either find a market for their wheat or suffer constant embarrassment and eventual ruin. An increase of labourers by emigration would only increase the production of wheat, and in the absence of a market still further reduce prices. In other words, the quantity of wheat-land cultivated would be larger, while consumers would increase only in a trifling degree. Hence to talk of more immigration was idle. It was necessary, he contended, for the success of any recently established colony that its merchants should be sufficiently numerous to relieve the agricultural and manufacturing population. Some colonists had stated that a protective duty would tend to encourage farmers, but he could not suppose that such assertions were made after mature deliberation. The whole of the wheat raised in the preceding year would scarcely fill a tolerably sized ship, and most decidedly would not be a sufficient quantity to constitute an ordinary speculation of a second-rate corn merchant in London. Vessels would not be bothered with taking such a small amount of wheat to the home country.
The balance of trade against the colony since its inception was large, but, fortunately, a substantial annual government expenditure had served to minimise the influence of the disparity. He assessed the liabilities at £81,949, and the assets at enormously above that amount. A gradual increase of population, including some capitalists, had previously rendered progression possible, but now that the alteration in the price at which Crown lands were sold had put an end to immigration the case was very different, and the colony felt its liabilities more and more every day as the specie and power of drawing diminished. For years colonists had been compelled to make up a heavy balance in trade, and as a natural result they were brought to the verge of ruin. "Although," he asserted, "we have plenty of real property and stock of every description, we have not a shilling which, as a colony, we can call our own. We have no balance in our treasury; the balance in the commissariat chest is the property of the Queen. As individuals we have loose silver in our pockets—but only as individuals—for as colonists it is the property of the foreign creditor."
The remedy was at hand if colonists chose to avail themselves of it—they must make the colony an exporting as well as an importing one in every sense of the word. Let them pull together, drop all selfish and interested feelings, throw aside all idleness, and persevere in their laudable intentions. Merchants must, to a man, declare their willingness and intention to receive for export, on fair liberal terms, every product the settler could supply, such as timber, grain of every description, oil, bone, wool, gum, bark, skins, cheese, hams, tongues, salted provisions, and preserves. Agriculturists and other settlers must, thus assured of a market, extend cultivation and every other branch of avocation to their utmost, so as to reduce by quantity the expense of producing. The merchants would then be able to compete with the outsider. There was no alternative—an immediate export trade or approaching ruin. Settlers weighted by mortgages should, if possible, be relieved by a loan of money obtained in England at a low rate of interest. He thought if his export scheme were carried out that the Council might safely recommend, through the Governor to the British Government, the flotation of a loan. He recommended that £100,000 be raised and appropriated: one part to the discharge of mortgages, the residue to the introduction of such number of agricultural labourers as the improved circumstances of the colony required. He advocated the reduction of the minimum price at which Crown lands could be sold.
Mr. Brown, who estimated the taxation per head in 1843 at £2 13s. and the expenditure at. £5 7s., then moved five resolutions, mostly affirming what he had said. On 8th August the Council considered these resolutions, when all were withdrawn except the last, which was carried. This resolution read:—"That it is the opinion of this Council that a measure well calculated to advance the interests of this settlement would be the reduction in the price of Crown lands from 20s. to 5s. per acre, as it would have the probable effect of encouraging capitalists to settle in the colony, and be the means of providing a fund for the introduction of useful artisans, handicraft and agricultural labourers, in proportion to the capital which would be invested in land." The loan proposals were rejected.
One result of the Colonial Secretary's speech lay in the renewed thought which colonists gave to encouraging production, so as to obtain a substantial export trade. It was no easy matter to effect, as years must necessarily elapse before a settled market could be established and experience gained in the precise demands of the foreign buyer. During the interim colonists must suffer. Notwithstanding the dreary forebodings of certain colonists, they laid the foundation of an export trade which, though it took many years to attain considerable dimensions, was yet gradually productive of good.
A shipment of horses and cattle was sent to Mauritius during 1844, the principal shippers being Messrs. Leake, Samson, and W. L. Brockman. Satisfactory figures were realised; horses sold at £33 per head, and cattle at £12 14s. A stock market was established at Guildford. Some pastoralists boiled down their sheep for tallow.
Timber was their geat hope. Mr. P. Clifton, of Australind, cut and carted 100 tons of sawn timber to the beach at Bunbury, ready for export, and Mr. J. Knight stacked nearly 80 tons. The timber was estimated to cost on the beach £2 10s. per ton, and allowing for £3 as reasonable freightage to England, it was anticipated that a substantial profit would be obtained. The English Government, it was reported, had agreed to take timber at £1 10s. Bunbury was active in seeking to open up an export trade, and several settlers conveyed wood to the beach, until by the end of the year there were 250 tons ready for shipment, besides 100 tons of oil, hides, and bark. Settlement in that district was widening, and in each year an increase in stock, area of land cultivated, and number of people was announced.
The population of the colony in September, 1844, was estimated to be 4,301. Further Treasury Bills were issued at the end of the year. The principal measure passed by the Legislative Council in 1844 was designed to prevent intrusion, encroachment, or trespass on Crown lands, offenders under which were made liable to fines. Mr. F. C. Singleton was permanently nominated a Legislative Councillor in 1844.
The financial aspect in 1845 was even less encouraging than in 1844. When the Council met in April, Governor Hutt had again to announce a deficit. The revenue fell off to the extent of £2,627. The year's deficit was over £450—a large item where the total revenue did not reach £7,200. Governor Hurt was compelled to further retrench in the public service. The revenue totalled £7,127 17s. 2d., and the Governor expected that in the ensuing year the returns would be still less. So comprehensively did he intend to retrench that he estimated the expenditure for the financial year 1845-46 at £6,647 12s. 6d., or £273 7s. 6d. less than that of the preceding year. This mournful state of affairs impressed colonists, and on 24th April they presented a petition to the Governor and Council asking that "something" be done to relieve the people. The document set forth in tearful language that the colony was in a critical position, its circulation drained, immigration ceased and emigration begun, revenue failing, property rendered valueless, trade annihilated, energies prostrated, confidence shaken, and proclaimed that the Imperial Act for the disposal of Crown lands was ineffective and restrictive. At the meetings of the Council in May Mr. George Leake vainly moved for the appointment of a committee to enquire into the condition of the currency and the cause of its diminution in the colony. In his opinion the currency problem demanded immediate solving, for unless a preventive was applied the colony would be drained of the greater portion of its small remnant of specie before the end of 1845. Other members concurred with his views.
Governor Hutt declared that the system of trade adopted in the colony was a potent cause of the distress—so far as regarded the abstraction of specie. There were no real merchants; those people who did business on the principle of "Whittington and his cat" were not merchants. One councillor averted that the people of Western Australia showed no real energy; Mr. Leake replied in an earnest speech. In the short space of fifteen years, he said, the handful of men who founded the colony had—assisted by a few capitalists only, and unassisted by Government—stocked the country with 86,000 sheep, 5,000 cattle, and 1,200 horses, besides bringing 4,800 acres of agricultural land under cultivation.
Another effort was made to relieve the currency. Tenders were issued and accepted for Treasury Bills at 1½d., 2½d., and 4 per cent. discount, and also for wheat. The colonial schooner Champion obtained £4,000 in specie from Hobart, Tasmania.
Mr. Leake considered that a protective tariff would result in an improvement of prices, and on 5th June he moved that a Corn Law be established in the colony. The circumstances in which the colony was placed demanded that the producers should be protected from the foreign grower. A general debate ensued, but, in the words of one record, the motion received "unqualified and uncompromising rejection." While the Bank of Western Australia was transacting a remunerative business, and was able to declare on 4th July a dividend of 9½ per cent., the Bank of Australasia felt the full brunt of the depression, and announced early in June that the local branch was to be closed. No new business was being received, and the bank was kept open only until its affairs with colonists could be wound up. The Inquirer suggested that an effort be made to discover the precise indebtedness of the colony. Figures computed, from personal enquiries by this newspaper, gave the probable position in 1844 as:—Liabilities—External £20,000, internal £33,000. Assets (received from revenue, grants, commissariat, exports, incomes, drawn from England, &c.)—£54,000, leaving a balance of £1,000. No credit was taken for the value of goods on hand, and therefore the Inquirer now thought the view of colonists concerning their position was altogether too despairing. Individual colonists were certainly distressed, but as the colony was collectively sound, industry and perseverance would soon tide Western Australia into prosperity.
During 1845 many complaints were made that the land regulations were a primary influence in causing depression, in that they discouraged immigration. In this and the previous year numerous references were made, in the House and out, to the high minimum fixed at land sales. During the regime of the regulations providing that no land should be sold under 20s. per acre immigration of capitalists had practically ceased, and the revenue derived from the sales of Crown lands was infinitesimal. A concensus of opinion pleaded for the repeal of this inoperative regulation. The Legislative Council had already supported the proposal, petitions to that end were presented, and colonists at home rendered what help they could. But the Secretary for the Colonies was obdurate. So repeatedly did Lord Stanley refuse requests preferred by Western Australians that he became exceedingly unpopular among them, and his administration received their sharp strictures. Mr. Singleton obtained a return from the Council of the sale of Crown lands since the adoption of the £1 per acre system, which was laid on the table in June. The return calls for no comment, for it showed that the following ridiculous sums were received:—In 1841, £129; in 1842, £2; in 1843, nil; in 1844, nil; and in 1845, £25; total, £156—received from sales of Crown lands during the five years.
Notwithstanding the repeated public resolutions against this regulation, Mr. F. C. Singleton moved and carried several motions in the Legislative Council early in July renewing the protests. They characterised the system as noxious in its effects, having stopped immigration and reduced the value of property; regretted the Imperial Government's disregard of the remonstrances of the colony; contended that as the regulations applied only to Australasia, emigration was diverted to the African and American colonies; complained that, because colonists settled in Australia on the understanding that their interests would be consulted, legislation deterring immigration was unjust, especially when capital and labour were so superabundant in Great Britain; and asserted that it was unjust to charge the colony with the expense of importing labourers—that the system of occupation of Crown lands was opposed to the expressed opinions and wishes of colonists. The only dissentient to these resolutions was Governor Hutt, who announced that he would enter a protest in the minutes against them. Later in the month the Advocate-General carried other resolutions dealing with the same question, which declared that the system was inoperative, inapplicable to the peculiar circumstances in which the colony was placed by the Imperial Government, and totally at variance with the original liberal land grant system. These were all forwarded to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but met a fate similar to previous resolutions.
That the depression was materially affecting the progress of the colony is shown in the statistics of population and in the prices of stock. The arrivals from August 1844 to August 1845 were less than the departures, and it was only by the birth rate that the colony was able to maintain its population. In 1844 the number of people was estimated at 4,301, and in 1845 at 4,369. Prices of stock exhibit a decrease even on those ruling early in 1843. At a public sale held in October 1845 six hundred sheep were sold at an average of 7s. per head, cattle at from £4 10s. to £5 and horses at £9.
It was believed that a liberal public works policy would afford some relief, and Councillors and settlers advocated the raising of a loan, to be applied to erecting a gaol in Perth, and to the making of roads. Such works would circulate money, and be the means of bringing capital into the colony. A memorial, signed by 103 residents, was laid before the Council in April, requesting that a bill be passed through the House, authorising the flotation of a loan, particularly for the purpose of erecting a gaol. A committee was appointed to consider the matter, and reported in May. Its members supported the proposal, and advised that the gaol be built by loan moneys, in the form of debentures of £20 or £25 each, chargeable at a maximum of 7 per cent., and payable at the end of ten years, or sooner, at the option of the Executive Council. A further suggestion was made that the Home Government be asked by the Legislative Council for a loan of £10,000 or £12,000 for building public works. Accordingly, such a request was preferred, but refused.
In July a bill was introduced, authorising the Governor to float a loan of £2,000, carrying interest at the rate of 7 per cent. per annum, for the construction of a gaol. The main proposal was lost, and an amendment was carried affirming the raising and employment of £2,000, or smaller sums, to be applied in building a gaol or in other necessary works. The amendment sought to give power to the Executive to expend the money not only on a gaol, but also on a road between Fremantle and Perth, or on a jetty, as that body might think proper. On the same day a memorial was agreed to, addressed to the Imperial Government, praying for a loan, which should be expended on several requisite public works, roads, bridges, &c. Not content with this, a committee was appointed to decide on the advisability of raising a fund for the formation and improvement of roads, by an assessment upon the lands of the district through which each road might pass. Its members reported unfavourably, and suggested that the main lines of communication should be formed by funds taken from the general revenue. Tolls could be established to keep these roads in repair. The York Road urgently required improvement to facilitate the transport of wool.
In pursuance of these resolutions, tolls were collected by a General Roads Trust. This method of raising money for such purposes was adopted in February, 1843. When the ferry was opened at Peel's Inlet, communicating with the Murray district and Bunbury, a toll was declared of 1s. for each person, 2s. for a horse and rider, and 2s. 6d for bullocks and cows. The next toll established was at Perth. In September, 1845, a Government Gazette notice authorised the collection of tolls, rates, dues, and charges at the Town Trust jetty. In the same month another proclamation provided for the collection of tolls at Mahogany Creek, for the purpose of raising funds to effect repairs on the Northam and York Road. The tolls in both these cases were small. The Council passed a bill empowering the Perth Town Trust to raise money, and all the roads in the district were made over to its charge. In November the Trust resolved to advise the Government to construct a new line of road between Perth and Fremantle. The Government surveyed the route to be taken, which lay from the causeway at Perth, along the north side of the river, to the boundary of Fremantle. This work was not carried out until some years later.
Efforts to establish a permanent export trade were renewed. Early in 1845 another ship was sent to Mauritius, with six cows, six horses, one hundred sheep, and a mixed cargo of potatoes, fruits, and dried fish. To assist the development of inland country, the Agricultural Society proposed in January to memorialise the Government to introduce camels. Nothing resulted. In the same month several settlers proposed to establish a sandalwood trade. The colony possessed large tracts of sandalwood country, and it was believed that when a market was gained these waste lands might be made to realise considerable wealth. As an experiment, four tons were exported, and sold at £10 each. Official and other gentlemen sought to interest the English Government in the quality and utility of jarrah. Mr. Roe and Mr. M. W. Clifton communicated with the Admiralty on the question, asserting their conviction that this hardwood would be found of inestimable value for shipbuilding in the navy. Moreover, the Imperial authorities were asked to establish dockyards on the Western Australian coasts. At a reasonable estimate, the jarrah timber resources were stated to represent millions of pounds of wealth, and nought was required but capital and enterprise to turn them to account. A shipment of timber was despatched to Mauritius with disappointing results. In March the vessel returned, and reported that the venture was sold at the small price of £3 10s. per ton. Mauritius was the most convenient port to Swan River, but the market there was spasmodical; sometimes it was glutted, and sometimes there was a big demand; hence the discouraging return. This temporarily damped the hopes of those interesting themselves in the industry, but an announcement made in April served to encourage them again. Mr. Bland, while in England, personally advocated the claims of Western Australian timber for shipbuilding, and enterprisingly contracted to supply the Lords of the Admiralty with 400 loads of timber for use in the Royal Dockyards. The advantage of having the article tested by the naval authorities could not be over-estimated, and Mr. Bland was highly complimented for his action. Shortly after his return to Western Australia he issued tenders for the supply of the timber.
In March, Mr. Stephen Hale, of Perth, exhibited specimens of earthenware manufactured by himself locally, which won him congratulations for initiating a new industry. In 1844 a society was formed for the purpose of furthering vine and olive culture in the colony, named the Vineyard Society. In its annual report, issued in March, 1845, it exultingly stated that a member of the society had produced wine equal to the best imported Cape wines, from which circumstance it was inferred that the wine industry must prosper. Another gentleman had produced eighty bottles of salad oil, which were to be shipped to England. The report suggested that a Horticultural Garden be established in Stirling Square, where vines and other trees might be produced to demonstrate what the soil was capable of. On 10th June Stirling Square was set apart for public gardens by Government proclamation. At the opening of Parliament on 17th April, Governor Hurt congratulated the House upon the excellent prospects of the wine industry, and commended the actions and enthusiasm of the Vineyard Society. In July the society issued a "Manual for the Cultivation and Manufacture of the Vine and Olive in Western Australia," prepared by Mr. R. W. Nash, the Hon. Secretary.
In September the ship Halifax Packet left for England with a large cargo made up of whale oil and wool. Four hundred bales of wool were left behind owing to want of accommodation in the vessel. The Halifax Packet had remained in the colony for nine months owing to shipwreck. Her repairs, estimated to cost £2,500, were effected with colonial timber, a fact which was expected to convince English people of the value of colonial woods. From January to December the Blue Book for 1845 gives the total exports as valued at £13,353 12s., principally made up of wool £7,256 19s., oil £3,415 10s., whalebone £813; sandalwood £40, potatoes £392, salt fish £273, and stock £631.
In the midst of this troublous period, and after seven years of constant service in Western Australia, Governor Hutt decided to retire. In May, 1845, he announced this intention. His administralion fulfilled the promise of its initiation, and was strong and determined. Taking hold of difficult questions he sought to master them. He fearlessly expressed his opinions of colonists and their efforts, and often stood out firmly against their expressed wishes. The closing scenes of the Legislative Council in 1845 were enacted in September, when Governor Hutt took formal leave of members. Commandant Irwin (who had been raised to the rank of major) presented him with an address couched in eulogistic terms on behalf of councillors, who acknowledged his firm, temperate, and impartial conduct; thanked him for the freedom of debate he had allowed; and adverted to the benefits the colony had derived from his administration, in the introduction of clergymen, building of places of worship, and establishment of schools—not only for white children, but for the aboriginal race as well. To his sincere, anxious, and humane administration was due the friendly intercourse existing with the aborigines. His Excellency made a suitable reply, assuring members that in after life his best wishes and energies would be placed at the services of the community. Then, amid ringing cheers, the Council was prorogued.
The Inquirer observed that whatever differences of opinion might exist on certain points of Governor Hutt's policy, the whole colony heartily concurred with the Council's address. The distinguishing characteristics of his rule were dignity, impartiality, firmness, and liberty of thought allowed to members of the Council, the press, and the public. On 28th January, 1846, Governor Hutt formally left Government House. Perth residents gathered at the official residence and presented him with an address, felicitously expressed. Mr. Hutt replied, and immediately afterwards departed for Fremantle. He rode on horseback. A number of his friends escorted him along the route; a guard of honour saluted him in the Government Domain; and as he passed through the streets he was greeted with cheers by the assembled townspeople. On 19th February he sailed for England in H.M.S. Fly.
A trenchant criticism of Governor Hutt's land administration was published in the Inquirer on 4th February. In his desire to regain land from the settlers he was accused of interfering with their quiet possession, and of construing the regulations in a harsh and stringent light. While complimenting him on his honesty of purpose, the writer characterised his acts in the lands department as ruinous to the best interests of the colony, in that they discouraged immigration. He was undeservedly blamed for advising the British Government to raise the sales' price of Crown lands, and of being the cause of the depression from which the colony was suffering so keenly. He was not a popular Governor; he never abandoned principle to obtain ephemeral popularity, nor did he give personal offence even when resisting popular claims. In respects other than land administration he was applauded for his good sense and paternal acts.
Certain high officials at home sought to have Mr. M. W. Clifton appointed to the vacancy, but in August, 1845, Andrew Clark (late Lieutenant-Colonel of the 87th Regiment), was announced as the new Governor. When this news reached the colony it gave general satisfaction. Colonel Clark arrived in Fremantle per the ship Cumberland on 27th February, 1846. He was received with a salute of guns, and immediately upon landing proceeded to Perth, where his commission was read, and where he was duly sworn in. In their depressed condition the people made no notable demonstration of welcome, and his assumption of office was therefore quiet and unostentatious. On formally taking up his residence at Government House he was presented with an address, signed by Legislative Councillors, civil officers, magistrates, and representative colonists.
Colonel Clark was a native of the north of Ireland, and possessed some official experience. He was for some time Governor of St. Lucia. It was fondly anticipated by a few colonists that his arrival would give a stimulus and an impulse to the colony. These hopes were based on experience elsewhere—that with a change of Government would come a revival or stirring up of energy and trade. Governor Clark's advent certainly did justify the hopes expressed: His administration was not characterised by any startling policies or alterations in laws. It was quiet; he ruled with no iron hand. The state of his health, which during the year became weakly, prevented him entering actively into public affairs. But he was in kindly sympathy with individual colonists, and, like Sir James Stirling, whose policy he seemed to follow, was ready to give advice and favours to his people, and anxious to encourage them in their labours. His first notable proposal was to abolish the pilotage dues, which had for years been levied, and make the ports of Western Australia free to the world. This intention of the Government was announced in March, and when the Legislative Council met in April a bill was introduced to that end. The dues were abolished, which caused jubilation among a section of colonists, for they hoped greatly from the new system. A pilot, paid by the Government, was stationed at Rottnest, and guided ships into Fremantle and out again. While vessels were in port no charge was made.
The Secretary for the Colonies disallowed the duties imposed by the Legislative Council in 1844 (to which Governor Hurt took such strong exception) on the grounds that they were faulty in principle. Governor Clark called the Legislative Council together on 3rd April, 1846, particularly to consider suggestions made by the Secretary for the Colonies. A new Customs Duties Bill was introduced, imposing duties on the colonial value of imported goods, and was expected to provide for such new items of expenditure as £200 per year for a pilot and boat's crew at Rottnest, £200 for roads and bridges, £100 to pay off church debentures, £150 for repairs to Government House, £100 issue to natives, and £100 in part payment of £900 due to the Treasury. This measure was passed on 16th April, and provided that 20 per cent. be added to the invoice price on the colonial value of goods, duty to be charged at that rate. The new duties came into immediate operation.
Owing to the ill-health of the Governor no other measures of importance were considered by the Council in 1846. His Excellency made some slight alterations in the distribution of funds to schools, the object being to have one school in every principal town or district open to all sects alike. The returns of revenue and expenditure indicated the improved condition of government wisely followed by Governor Hutt. Revenue and expenditure were made to balance, the receipts amounting to £7,866 6s. 8d., the expenditure to £7,531 8s. 9d., leaving a surplus of £334 17s. 11d. Treasury Bills were issued during the year.
The last act of the Council in 1846 was to consider certain resolutions relating to the land question. A return laid on the table of the House on 7th May, 1846, showed that the sale of Crown lands from January, 1842, to date realised only £178 15s. from 167¾ acres. In July resolutions were carried embodying the principle of previous resolutions forwarded to England, and objecting to the system generally. Despatches were received from Mr. W. E. Gladstone, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in October, replying to similar resolutions passed in 1845, which were referred to the Land Commissioners associated with Colonial affairs, who decided that the "system of land sales must remain untouched." Gladstone concurred in this decision. The Council had asked for a modification of the land system by which settlers could temporarily occupy Crown lands for "squatting" purposes. The regulations generally prevented "squatting," and gave no right of pre-emption. The English Government refused the request. Another proposal was disallowed, namely, the ordinance providing for the raising of a loan of £2,000 to build a gaol, or other public works. Strong disapproval was expressed to any mode of anticipating revenue.
The finances of the Perth Town Trust were impoverished, and the body was unable to carry out certain useful works. It was the intention of its members to form a carriage road through Perth, but there was not sufficient money to undertake the work. In August Governor Clark was petitioned for assistance. He offered to place a number of prisoners at the disposal of the trustees, so that they might try the experiment of laying down certain pavements with wood. They gratefully accepted this offer. In that and the two subsequent years the streets of Perth were improved.
There was still a woeful ignorance existent in England of the exact condition of colonial affairs. In 1846 a bill dealing with Australian affairs was before the House of Lords. Extracts from the debate are interesting in two ways; first, for the prescient opinion expressed by Earl Grey; secondly, for the complete ignorance shown by other peers of the conditions of the colony. Earl Grey appreciated the spirit pervading the true welfare of young colonies. His mental vision peered through superficialities into the peculiar conditions surrounding Colonial Government, and rising in his place in the House of Lords, he uttered the conviction that colonists should be allowed a free hand in their government. He considered that the ancient system of colonisation, by which colonists were allowed to manage their own affairs without interference on the part of the mother country, was infinitely safer and wiser than that which of late years had been adopted. The whole system of the government of Australia required revision, and to be placed on an improved and permanent footing. Then the Duke of Richmond rose, and excitedly gave notice that if there were "no remedy for the frightful evils existing in this colony (Western Australia) from the state of the convicts transported, he would move for a committee of enquiry, for in no country calling itself Christian was there a worse state of depravity." Lord Lyttleton, who moved the second reading, averred that he had "paid attention to this subject," and had strong hopes—amounting almost to a certainty that he would be able to produce a measure during that session to "redress" those "evils."
The Inquirer, in wrathfully criticising these statements, used such phrases as "gross and shameless lie," "the slander," "the infamous lie." The writer considered the "precious ignorance" of the Duke of Richmond would "disgrace his footman's child," telling "the Duke of Richmond, Lord Lyttleton, and their peers in ignorance, that such exhibitions—reckless carelessness of the solemn trust reposed in them—are very dangerous; that they led the colonies to ponder on the admirable words of Earl Grey, and to reflect whether the time has not come for a unanimous and combined effort to obtain their liberation from the interference of rulers so palpably, grossly, and criminally incompetent." There was joy in Western Australia when it became known a few weeks later that Sir Robert Peel's Government was defeated, and that Lord John Russell had made Earl Grey Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Although prices did not rise after Governor Clark's arrival, yet the depression lessened in tension. The year 1846 was significant for the increased dimensions attained by the export trade, and for other potentialities of Western Australian wealth being forced to yield their portion to the general weal. The seeds of export planted under such necessitous circumstances, and amid tribulations in previous years, took root and made a promising growth. Governor Clark lent hearty encouragement to the producers and exporters, but he did so quietly and with as little ostentation as was exhibited when he assumed his gubernatorial office. But though this hopeful state existed, the colony continued to suffer from depression, and had to face stern difficulties.
The clip of wool in the spring of 1845 was so large that pastoralists impatiently awaited the departure of a ship for England by which they might send the article to market. In January, 1856, the barque Unicorn left Fremantle with the largest cargo of Western Australian produce yet exported. Wool, oil, and timber were the main items. The winter of 1845, although long and wet, produced, with a propitious spring, a good crop of wheat. The area cultivated was larger than in any previous year, but the total returns were affected by heavy losses occasioned by bush fires. Several fields of wheat were completely destroyed, and it was estimated that upwards of 4,300 bushels of corn were burnt. Mr. J. T. Cooke, of Northam, was one of the principal sufferers. So frequently did these bush fires occur in January, 1846, that the Inquirer asked for special legislation to deal with the evil. A bill with this object was passed.
Horticulturists obtained splendid returns, and in February the first of an annual series of fruit exhibitions was held in Perth. Most of the exhibits were grown in the vicinity of the capital, and were an undeniable proof of the splendid capabilities of local soils for fruit production. Almost every grape grown in Europe was shown, large and of a lovely bloom, while there were fine specimens on the benches of peaches, apples, melons, and figs. Through lack of interest, and as a result of bad times, that splendid institution—the Agricultural Society—was allowed to drift into a moribund state. The annual meeting of the society was advertised to take place on 30th September, but was unattended by a single member. The institution, as old nearly as the colony, had, throughout its existence, been a primary factor in and stimulator of development—the parliament of the producers, nurturing the agricultural and pastoral industries—and was permitted to lapse for want of support. The newspapers scathingly criticised the office-bearers for their luke-warmness.
Since the beginning of 1835 a number of people at York, Toodyay, Bunbury, and on the Murray had devoted time and labour to the timber industry, and had succeeded in exporting small quantities of jarrah and sandalwood. As a rule difficulty was experienced in obtaining ships to take in cargoes, for the export trade of the colony had been too small to encourage vessels to put into local ports. But the experiences of 1846 caused more attention to be concentrated on the industry. From time to time in earlier years small craft had been constructed of local timber, but now at Fremantle, on the Murray, and at King George's Sound, building assumed sufficient dimensions to be of importance. In August, 1846, three small ships were in course of construction at Fremantle, the largest designed to carry 300 tons of cargo, and in the following month two more were begun. At the Murray, also, the building of boats was quietly carried on. The utilisation of timber for these purposes resulted in the attention of shipbuilders elsewhere being attracted to local woods. Upon the arrival of the Halifax Packet in England, the repairs that had been effected upon her came in for careful and interested inspection from some quarters. Such high encomiums were passed by Lloyd's surveyors as to greatly gratify colonists. Sir James Stirling, Mr. Dale, and Mr. Bland worked zealously in the old country in the interests of Western Australian timber, and a letter was received by certain settlers advising colonists to despatch shipments of jarrah, jam wood, sandalwood, and tuart, all of which would obtain a ready sale. Some Leeds cabinet-makers experimented with jarrah for furniture making, and gave favourable reports of its suitability. The Swan River News, established in London in 1843, also eagerly applauded the excellence of local timbers in its columns.
When this encouraging news reached the colony, settlers were prepared to immediately despatch timber to England, but were mortified to have no ship to carry it. Towards the end of 1835 and early in 1836, trade with Mauritius improved, and the foundation of the sandalwood trade with Ceylon and China was laid. Some large shipments were sent and sold at remunerative prices. It was desired to carry on jarrah timber operations on a large scale, and the Western Australian Bank offered liberal assistance. In August an arrangement was entered into by which the bank agreed to advance £2 for every load of timber a party of sawyers and hewers might deliver on the beach, and a further advance of 10s. when the timber was shipped. The party began operations on the trees in Mr. Peel's grant. The timber so obtained was designed for Her Majesty's Dockyards and for the English market generally.
The further development of the industry in 1846 principally lay in the disseminating of information concerning local timber in England. A market was opened, which the colony could not satisfy to any appreciable extent. Mr. Andrews was at this time Acting Agent for the colony in London, and he energetically advertised colonial timbers. A sample of sandalwood was given by him to an expert to test, and was pronounced equal to East Indian wood. He stated his conviction that large quantities of this timber could be absorbed by the home market at enormous prices. Samples of "raspberry jam" wood were also tested, and Mr. Andrews advised West Australians to ship as much sandalwood, jarrah, "raspberry jam" wood, and other timbers as they could get ships to carry. At the end of 1846 there were estimated to be over 200 tons of sandalwood cut and ready for export. The export from January to December was:—Sandalwood, £320; other timber, £255.
An encouraging revival of interest in whaling took place in 1846. Several exciting chases were witnessed, and the returns were large. On 14th August two whaling crews at Geographe Bay had phenomenal success. A school of about 200 sperm whales was met with and during the day, and even into the moonlight, the small craft chased the monsters: Nineteen whales were killed and beached. The spectacle of this enormous school was one long remembered by those who witnessed it and took part in the day's work.
More enterprise was directed to fishery matters, and in May 1846, a proposal was made to establish a joint stock fishery on the Abrolhos Islands. The scheme so far succeeded that an application was made to the Government for a lease of the islands, but when the applicants were informed that a longer term than one year could not be granted, the project was allowed to lapse. It was revived in the following year, and the Pelsart Fishing Company was established.
Rumours of the discovery of minerals had repeatedly been made during the past few years, but they were generally rumours, and nothing more. Explorers in examining the country had discovered undeniable proofs that Western Australia was not devoid of mineral wealth, and quasi-geologists expressed the opinion that some good mines would be found. It was not, however, until colonists were excited by the rich mineral developments in South Australia that any deep interest was taken in local geology. News came from the sister colony late in 1845 and early in 1846 of the success of copper mining there, and when this was confirmed, and it was announced that a fortune or two had been made, settlers began to look about them. A few Western Australians migrated to South Australia.
A discovery of coal at Kelmscott was reported in 1845, but did not cause excitement. One colonist—Mr Birch, a Staffordshire chemist—had frequently stated that coal would probably be found to the southward of the Murray River. It had already been announced that coal had been discovered in that district, but there was no foundation of truth in the reports. About the middle of July, 1846, Mr. Beacham, a settler on the Murray, and his sons, while cutting a ditch in a cold stiff clay on the southern plain of the Murray, about 35 miles from Fremantle, came upon detached stiff specimens of a substance resembling coal. The same substance was met with at the bottom and on both sides of the ditch. Samples of the stuff were immediately conveyed to Mr. Birch, who pronounced them coal, but of the inferior quality usually found on the surface. Mr. F. C. Singleton, Government Resident on the Murray, with Mr. A. O'Grady Lefroy and Mr. G. Nash, instantly proceeded to make an investigation. Mr. S. Moore also visited the spot. They confirmed the report.
The Inquirer of 29th July, in making the discovery public, heartily congratulated colonists, and thenceforward exultingly published all information concerning such "an important and promising find." Excitement took hold of the public, and each resident of Perth eagerly watched for new developments, and numerous pilgrimages were made to the Murray banks. It was taken as a fortunate circumstance that the find lay near to the navigable part of the river. The coal was said to emit hydrogen gas when burnt.
Mr. Singleton wrote a highly favourable report to the Governor, and Mr. Samuel Moore supplied the Inquirer with additional particulars. The first stratum was found about three feet from the surface, and Mr. Moore compared it with the shale clay of Lancashire. In this pieces of a shining substance were embedded, which produced gas and flame when burned, and a slight smell of coal. Both Mr. Singleton and Mr. Moore believed that the locality was well worth searching for coal, and suggested that funds should be obtained to prospect. Mr. Moore even drew up a list of plans for the future. First, colonists must discover a "thick stratum of coal," and then foreign capitalists and English miners must be obtained to glean the hidden wealth, to erect a steam engine, and run an iron steam tug-boat up the Murray fit to tow barges to carry away the article.
And now the excitement became all-absorbing. The discovery of coal had its humourous aspect in Perth. Every resident seemed to be a coal "expert," and the ears of Perth people were everywhere assailed with such terms uttered in conversation as coal, granite, gneiss, grit, old red sandstone, primary, secondary, and tertiary. The situation is humourously summed up in the Inquirer:—"We cannot peep out of our door but we are assailed by, 'Have you seen it?' ' What do you think of this specimen?' The invasion of the Huns was a trifle to the hosts of specimens of blackboy, gum, charcoal, clay, and other swindling pretenders who march in hourly calling themselves coal, and if we fly from them we are met by gangs of iron, pyrites, mica, and such vagabonds, tramping along, with trumpets blowing, under the ensign of copper. We never did hope to see Perth so much awake. We dread that the excitement may be too much for the good town, which may suffer a relapse of another eighteen years' duration. Every unfortunate corpse of an old burnt gum tree is dragged from its resting-place, divided into morsels, wrapped in shrouds of whitey-brown paper, and triumphantly carried about St. George's Terrace in the waistcoat pocket of some excited citizen, clerk, or member of the Council, who with a pompous strut or a confidential wink lugs out the unhappy little blackened scrap and applies it to the nose of everyone he meets, with, 'Does it not smell like coal?'—till at length he reaches our office, and, bespeaking a special supplement for his discovery, deposits it, with solemn injunctions for its safety, on our table. What is the subsequent fate of the little wretch is a secret which in the present state of public feeling we dare not avow."
Regrets were expressed that there was no one in the colony of high geological attainments to definitely pronounce on the quality of the coal. News came to hand in Perth in August that an encouraging discovery of copper had been made at Toodyay. The ore was smelted, and yielded good copper. New flights of imagination pictured a wealth of this mineral equal to the best in South Australia. The report was a hoax, worked on the abnormal excitement pervading the community. Then at the same time basalt taken in by a coaster as ballast at Bunbury was declared to contain copper, and the hope was fondly entertained that copper mines would soon flourish in the southern port. It was also publicly announced that ore had been found somewhere in the colony which contained both tin and silver. The local Government considered the indications of coal so important that they offered a reward of 2,500 acres to anyone who discovered a coalfield.
The mining fever raged unabated throughout August. The Government was asked to send to England for an experienced geologist and pay him a salary of £200 per year for a few years. It was proposed to form a small company for the purpose of concentrating power and skill on mineral development. A meeting, with this object in view, was held in Perth on August, when Surveyor-General Roe took the chair. Several resolutions were unanimously carried supporting the proposal. Messrs. G. F. Moore, S. Moore, R. Habgood, J. W. Gregory, James Stokes, L. Birch, R. W. Nash, J. W. Davey, and J. Tare were appointed a committee to raise funds for the purchase of labour materials, to supervise boring apparatus lent by Mr. S. Moore, and to make arrangements for experimenting. The Murray coalfield was ordered to be the first locality exploited, and the committee, of which Mr. S. Moore was elected chairman, was instructed to apply to the Government for monetary and other assistance. Mr. S. Moore was warmly thanked for his services and liberality.
The committee immediately set to work, and at a meeting held on 16th September produced the prospectus of the company, which was to be termed the Western Australian Mining Company. The capital was fixed at £20,000, in 10,000 shares of £2 each—10 per cent., or 4s. per share, to be paid on the subscriber's name being entered in the books of the company. No calls greater than 10 per cent. per quarter were to be made unless by the authority of a special meeting of shareholders. The committee, or directors, elected were—Messrs. J. S. Roe (chairman), S. Moore, Wm. Knight, B. V. Vigors, H. C. Sutherland, and R. Habgood. Mr. Charles Sholl became honorary secretary.
It was announced a few days later that another discovery of coal had been made E.N.E. of Toodyay by the explorer Assistant Surveyor-General A. C. Gregory. That gentleman and his brothers returned from an exploration in the "interior" with what was alleged to be a large block of coal taken from a seam six feet thick. They found this at the basement of a cliff 210 miles north of Fremantle and 40 miles inland on the Irwin River. Fifteen specimens of a series of strata taken from the cliff were conveyed to Perth. Mr. A. C. Gregory applied to the Government for the reward of 9,500 acres of land previously promised. Thus colonists were led to believe that their deposits of coal were scattered over an immense area. The Messrs. Gregory considered that a road could be easily cut from the locale of the find to Champion Bay, where vessels could anchor. The Government immediately contemplated sending out another expedition to search the district. They were delayed in this project.
The settled districts throughout the colony were now scrutinised for minerals. The mining committee erected the boring apparatus offered by Mr. S. Moore, and operations were started in October. A slight accident occurred in the first few days, but in December depth of over 40 feet was reached. At 40 feet from the surface a seam was cut containing coal of a quality higher than that previously discovered. Operations were continued in 1847, but difficulties arose in the path towards mining dividends: The Western Australian Mining Company obtained sufficient capital to carry the work on the Murray, but the list of shares was not filled. Soon the reaction of the mining excitement seemed to set in. Shareholders in the company became dissatisfied, and grumbled and complained that nothing had been done with their money. The discontented people held a meeting in Perth on January 27, 1847, with the intention of closing he lists, obtaining a deed settlement, and terminating the existence of the company. Mr. J. S. Roe, on behalf of the directors, explained he position of affairs. The first percentage received from the allotment of shares amounted to £1,300, of which £1,100 still remained in the bank. The preceding expenses had only absorbed £200. More animation was to be infused into the operations in future. The discontented shareholders were apparently satisfied.
Shafts were now sunk through the clay, and hard country was met with where the quality of the specimens depreciated. An expert, Dr. F. Von Sommer, Ph.D., was commissioned to report on the coalfields and the mineral potentialities of the colony. His first report was made public in March, and dealt clearly with the locale of the property, but was vague on the main points. At the foot of the Darling Ranges, near the Canning location, he announced, there were direct and indirect signs of the presence subterranean lead veins. Shafts sunk in this district were not promising or worth continuing, for with the increase of depth iron took the place of lead. As to coal deposits, he wished to make a more systematic search before reporting. Mr. Roe announced that while the company, or Mining Association (as was now called), had sunk one shaft on their property with discouraging results, the committee was determined to sink other to prove the value of the field.
In May, Dr. Von Sommer analysed 100 lbs. of ore taken from excavations at Kelmscott. His report gave 66 lbs. 11 ozs. of pure zinc, 13 lbs. 5 ozs. sulphur, 10 lbs. iron, and 10 lbs. earthy matter. This rendered Perth people jubilant.
Meanwhile a party had been sent to the Irwin River to report on the coal discoveries of the Gregory brothers. Lieutenant Helpman had charge of the expedition. His report states that he traced the coal seam for many miles, and the samples he brought back were pronounced to be good by the "experts" of Perth. The Government Gazette announced that the party proved "the existence of a large and open bed of coal" on the spot formerly indicated by the Messrs, Gregory.
The indisposition of Governor Clark continued during 1846, The Government was further inconvenienced by the illness of Mr. Peter Brown (or Broun), the Colonial Secretary. From August, 1846, these gentlemen were unable to attend to their duties, and the administration was consequently carried on under disadvantageous conditions. On 5th November Mr. Brown died in Fremantle, of overwork and the effects of constant anxieties. The death of one who was so closely connected with Western Australia naturally left a deep impression on colonists. Arriving in the colony in the Parmelia in 1829, the Colonial Secretary had from that time been one of the most prominent and active colonists. His zeal and splendid citizenship received the highest encomiums. The Government Gazette, at the dictation of Governor Clark, paid a tribute of respect to his memory, and the newspapers published eulogiums which embodied the kindly views of all the people. Writes the Inquirer:"Earnest in public duty—hospitable and kind in public life—through evil report and good report—through the early miseries and hazards of the settlement—through the dark and trying periods, now only recorded in the anxious appeals of the alarmed colonists for aid—through the fever or speculation and the paralysing panic which succeeded it, not one hour was he absent from among us, nor did he fail to take his share of suffering and the struggle." The Perth Gazette praised his amiable qualities, and solemnly referred to the debt which Western Australia owed their Colonial Secretary of eighteen years' service.
The funeral of Mr. Brown (who was but forty years of age) in sad pageantry had never been equalled in Western Australia. As the body was lowered into a boat at Fremantle minute guns were fired, and gloom was fixed on every face. A procession of boats proceeded up the river to Perth. Around the bends, into the expanses, past the overhanging shrubs which Mr. Brown beheld in their primal state, the cortege slowly wended and approached the town that he had helped to build. Congregated on the banks of the Swan at the Perth landing-place were the civil and military officers in full dress, the principal settlers from various parts, and citizens of every rank and class, who in solemn manner paid a melancholy tribute of regard to the departed, and escorted his remains to the grave.
Lieutenant-Colonel Clark did not long survive his Secretary. After a protracted and painful illness he died on 11th February, 1847. His body was consigned to the grave with appropriate military honours on 13th February. As with Mr. Brown appreciative notices of Governor Clark appeared in the newspapers. His administration met with unqualified approbation, and good results soon became apparent. It came, therefore, as a keenly felt blow that his rule so early ended. His few acts bespoke a liberal policy, and in the words of Major Irwin, "gave promise of a just and paternal administration."
With two such prominent members dead the Administration was in an awkward predicament. The Advocate-General, Mr, G. F. Moore, temporarily took up the duties of the Colonial Secretary, and performed them until the arrival of Dr. Madden in 1848, who was appointed by the Secretary for the Colonies. As Commandant of the Military Forces and senior member of the Executive Council, Major F. C. Irwin assumed the reigns of Government until Her Majesty's pleasure was announced. The first act of Governor Irwin was to publish in the Government Gazette a laudatory notice on the late Governor. The office of Advocate-General was filled by Mr. R. G. Nash.
The Legislative Council was opened on 3rd June, 1847, when Governor Irwin (who had meanwhile been raised to the rank lieutenant-colonel) again referred to the lamented loss caused to
the colony by the death of Governor Clark. The Govenor's speech then allowed to an improvement which had taken place in local affairs. More internal wealth had been acquired during the preceding year, and a slight revival was apparent in almost every branch of industry. This was most evident in an increase of revenue on the year 1845-46 of £610 3s. 8d., the receipts amounting to £8,453 5s. 4d. As only £7,966 5s. 4d. had been expended there was a balance (with the surplus of the preceding year) of £821 8s. 2d. Owing to this improvement in the finances Governor Irwin announced that he had arranged for the colonial schooner Champion to proceed to Singapore for a supply of Chinese labour, in the hope that it would relieve the labour market. The speech then referred to the satisfactory facilities offered by Rockingham as a shipping port, which had been thoroughly examined by direction of Governor Clark. Governor Irwin also announced that he had directed that a stone jetty be erected in South Bay, Fremantle, by which large boats might discharge their cargo. A macadamised road was to connect the jetty with Cliff Street, Fremantle. Finally, he informed member's that the exports had exceeded those of the previous year by £6,869 3s. 4d., which brought the exports within about five thousand pounds of the imports. A comparative table set forth that the revenue in 1846 exceeded that of 1839 by £2,438 18s. 7d., population by 2,136, stock of all kinds by 88,852, cultivation by 3,190 acres, and wool exported by 254,918 lbs.
Later in the year the Champion was despatched to Singapore, and returned with a few Chinese servants, who were mostly absorbed for domestic purposes. The Council appointed a select committee to report on how best to encourage German immigraton. At this time South Australia was reaping benefits from the arrival of colonising Germans, and Western Australia was extremely desirous of acquiring such people. The report was valueless. It oracularly deplored the want of labour, referred to the good qualities and habits of Germans in colonising work, and suggested that special inducements be offered to attract them to Western Australia. That was the end of the matter.
Governor Irwin was certainly active as an administrator, and numerous bills were introduced into and passed by the Council. The chief of these was a bill imposing an export tax on sandalwood. The proceeds of the tax were to be devoted exclusively to the making and repairing of roads—a step which His Excellency said was absolutely necessary to facilitate the carriage of sandalwood and other produce from the eastern districts. The bill was introduced in September, 1847. Loud and vehement opposition was offered to the measure. A public meeting was held in Perth, when numerous resolutions were carried, all of which, when reduced to readable dimensions, embodied the opinion "that the contemplated tax on sandalwood is mischievous and impolitic for many reasons." Governor Irwin promised a deputation to withdraw the original proposal, but he introduced instead one which finally became equally objectionable to the producers.
He proclaimed on 24th September that licenses must be obtained for permission to cut sandalwood; no license would be given for a shorter period than three months; the license to include cutting and removal; and the cost, payable in advance to be £2 10s. per month for two men and £1 5s. per month for every additional man. Subsequently, in November, the Sandalwood Toll Bill was carried through the House.
A new Board of Administration over the roads of the colony was constituted to supervise the application of the funds. derived from this tax. The General Roads Trust had proved inefficient, and quite unsuited to the circumstances of the colony. A bill, passed by the Council in November, abolished the Roads Trust, and constituted a Central Board of Works. The Board consisted of official and non-official members, the former being represented by Messrs. William Knight (Chairman), G. F. Stone, Charles Symmons, and F. D. Wittenoom (Secretary), and the latter by Messrs. George Leake, Thomas Helms, Robert Habgood, and Joseph Hardey.
Early in 1848 the agitation against any sort of tax on sandalwood was renewed with intense rigour, the mode of raising funds for roads was deemed obnoxious, and universally unpopular, and was resentfully referred to as a direct tax on industry. In January the Government abolished the collection of tolls at Mahogany Creek, considering that the sandalwood toll would supply the Board of Works with all the funds that were necessary. Regulations were issued, making it criminal to cut sandalwood on waste lands without a license. Governor Irwin and the Executive Councillors were bitterly attacked, and a strong feeling of antagonism was shown by producers. A deputation waited on the Governor-in-Council, announcing that a fall had taken place in prices of timber, and that unless the impost was abolished the industry must collapse. In May the tax was repealed for six months, to allow time for the Government to obtain an expression of opinion from the Secretary for the Colonies. It was not again imposed in 1848.
The schools of the colony within the preceding few years had been improved. In 1842 there was not one Government school—the Government paying for the education of paupers but in 1847 and 1848 there was one in each chief centre of population. It was proposed in October, 1847, to erect a Government schoolhouse in Perth, to cost £300, but the work was not immediately carried out. The first public examination of children attending public schools was held in December, 1847. A Board of Education was established, and some difficulty experienced between the Catholic and Protestant members thereof.
No other measure of importance was considered by the Legislative Council in 1847. An addition was made to the official members in both the Executive and Legislative Councils by the appointment of Mr. H. C. Sutherland, the Collector of Customs. Mr. Singleton had retired from the Council, and left the colony. Mr. W. B. Andrews was nominated in his place for a short period, when he was succeeded by Mr. S. Moore.
The year 1847 was in point of value of exports the most successful period which had been experienced in Western Australia. The sandalwood industry, notwithstanding the tolls, expanded phenomenally. In the eastern districts, at Toodyay, Northam, York, and Bunbury, numbers of settlers were devoting themselves almost exclusively to cutting this wood. Bullock carts and waggons carried it to the seaboard, over roads which in some places were almost impassable. The sandalwood export of 1847 was more than thirteen times that of 1846, the amount being £4,440.
Whaling by local companies and private persons was followed with some success, although it was still true that "foreign" owned vessels secured the largest quantities of oil and bone. Their returns are not included in the exports of the colony. In 1847 the first mention of the export of guano is made—a small lot valued at £18. The total exports for the year were valued at £24,535, and the imports at £25,463. In January, 1847, the Rockingham town site was proclaimed.
Perhaps it is but human for a community constantly assailed by disappointment and distress to complain. Since the inception of the colony, Western Australians had almost annually complained of one thing and another, and the year 1848 was no exception to the rule. The administrative acts of Governor Irwin had not found favour, and he was criticised freely by men throughout the colony. His method of raising money was the original source of contention, and for some months hard things were said of him. The people complained that he was merely an acting Governor without delegated authority. They had come to depend too much on the Administration, and it was even said that their minds were warped and dependent. A misgiving of what was before them seemed to burden them, and, no doubt, the recurring years of depression and blighted hopes had rendered them pessimistic. They wanted a change of Government, but what sort of change they hardly knew. Of one thing they were certain—they objected to the governorship of Colonel Irwin.
In January news arrived of the appointment of Captain Fitzgerald to the Governorship of the colony, and thenceforward colonists impatiently awaited his arrival. They prepared addresses, containing a list of their grievances, and severely animadverting on the administration of Colonel Irwin. On 22nd March the Legislative Council met to pass the Estimates. Dr. Madden, the new Colonial Secretary, and Mr. R. W. Nash were sworn in as members. Colonel Irwin alluded to the hopeful and even rapid progress the colony had made during the past year, adding that it might be asserted, "without fear of contradiction, that at no former period have its prospects of success been more bright and encouraging." What with exports nearly reaching in value the amount of imports, the arrival of more foreign ships for cargoes, and a demand for jarrah in India, which was likely to be greater than colonists could supply, he believed that a firm basis of success was at last found.
Exception had been taken by a section of the people to the constitution of the Legislative Council. There were seven salaried councillors, and only three unsalaried or non-official members. The officials had, therefore, absolute power, and were liable to the assumption that their votes were interested. The laymen had no power whatever except in debate; every measure that became law had to emanate from the Governor through his civil officers. In 1845 Mr. Leake sought to have non-official members appointed, and Mr. Nash, now a lay member, moved on 20th July, 1848, that a committee be elected to prepare a statement respecting the constitution, which should be forwarded the Secretary for the Colonies. Messrs. W. H. Mackie, G. Leake, and R. W. Nash were chosen to form a committee, and a few weeks later reported and proposed that the number of salaried councillors be reduced; that the unsalaried be increased; and that a negative power be given the latter. They did not ask for initiatory or affirmative power. The report was not accepted, but an amendment was carried recommending the Home Government to add three unsalaried members to the personnel of the Council. When this was agreed to, the Governor was requested by resolution to forward the report to the Secretary for the Colonies.
Proposals had from time to time been made to cut through the bar of the Swan at Fremantle. Governor Irwin was anxious to have this work done, and attempts were made to blow up portions of the rock with dynamite to make a channel for small vessels. A sum was put on the 1848 Estimates for that purpose, efforts were made to deepen the river in shallow parts, and subscriptions were even collected to assist the Government in the undertaking. Beyond deepening the river in certain places, nothing material was done, for the bar sternly defied all their efforts.
These were the last acts of Colonel Irwin as Governor. Owing to the enmity which was shown to his administration, it was a relief to him as well as to colonists when Captain Fitzgerald arrived in the colony. The new Governor reached Fremantle in the second week of August, and was enthusiastically received. Addresses were presented to him by residents of Perth, religious denominations, public bodies, and colonists from remote places. They extended a warm welcome to him, and collated their numerous complaints, and hoped he would redress their grievances. Governor Fitzgerald visited different parts of the colony, the principal public works and institutions, acquiring information that would be useful to him in his administration. The Legislative Council did no business of special interest in 1848, after the arrival of Governor Fitzgerald.
Upon the withdrawal of the tax on sandalwood, tolls were again collected at Mahogany Creek. A subscription was raised among eastern settlers to make a good road to York and Northam. There were two routes popular, and finally it was decided to form the track along what was known as "King Dick's" line. Plans were drawn in 1848 for the construction of a tram line from the Darling Ranges to the coast. In 1847 some relief was obtained in the labour market, but in 1848 clamouring for the introduction of workmen was renewed. Fifty-one juvenile emigrants arrived from London, and the Champion conveyed a second batch of Chinese from Singapore. As a result of agitation by colonists in England, the Colonial Office sanctioned the raising of money, by way of loan, upon the security of the land fund. There was no land fund in Western Australia, and therefore she gained no benefit.
The value of exports in 1848 exceeded that of any previous year, and showed with what good effect colonists proceeded to extricate themselves from their difficulties by these means. The amount reached the gratifying total of £29,598 9s., which when compared with the small total of £7,078 15s. in 1843 exhibits how sincere were the efforts of producers. Of this larger sum, sandalwood is answerable for £13,353 10s. In three years sandalwood had become the primary industry of the colony, wool now holding second place with £9,666, and oil third with £3,571. A regular trade in sandalwood was established with Singapore but the market was not to be relied on, as prices fluctuated. Sandalwood-cutting was pursued with avidity, even to the detriment of other industries.
Further attention was paid to the hardwoods in 1848. Early in the year a vessel reached Bunbury with orders to obtain a substantial cargo for India. It was designed for use for railway purposes, and if satisfactory to contractors an immense trade was promised. Mr. Pearce Clifton, assisted by other settlers, energetically endeavoured to supply the timber, and the vessel was soon loaded. Had colonists been able to supply Indian demands at this time a lucrative and ample industry would have been rapidly established, but they were only capable of cutting limited quantities, and the trade was diverted to other places. The timber that had been ordered by the Royal Dockyards was delivered in 1847-48 at £12 10s. per load, and was highly approved of.
A demand for Western Australian hardwoods had at last arisen, but colonists were quite incompetent to satisfy it. In April, 1848, Mr. Wilson, who had interested himself largely in the matter, proceeded to Madras in order to form a company to export Western Australian timber, but he was compelled to relinquish his scheme. Later in the year, the prospectus of a Timber Company was issued in Perth without avail. The proposals of the projectors were too large for local capital. They asked for £50,000, in 2,000 shares of £25 each. Finally, in October, a company was formed. It was proposed at a public meeting to float a company, to consist of 20 shares of £50 each. Nearly all the shares were subscribed for before the gathering dispersed. Messrs. D. Scott, Bland, G. Shenton, Helms, and Samson were appointed a committee of control, but the concern was short-lived. The export of hardwoods in 1848 only amounted to £333.
In 1848, Mr. Prinsep introduced a few horses from Tasmania for his horse-rearing estate near Bunbury. An effort was made early in the year to form a Vineyard Company, with a capital of £5,000, but failed. Arguments were adduced by a select committee of the Vineyard Society in favour of distillation from vine products, which was prohibited; prohibition, the report said, discouraged what might become a large industry. The Pelsart Fishing Company began the exploitation of the Pelsart Islands late in 1847. As its boats went to the grounds at the time of year when contrary winds prevented fishing operations they were able to do little until 1848. In that year they made some remarkably good catches. Mining was for a time persevered in with laudable determination, but the hopes of obtaining copper mines gradually diminished, and the shafts sunk for coal disclosed little that was encouraging. Metal was conveyed to Perth in 1847 from Kelmscott which was said to be copper, but shaft-sinking made but slow progress. There was general dissatisfaction among shareholders at the way the work was carried out, which was accentuated when in December, 1847, a call of 1s. per share was declared. The principal shaft on the Murray was closed owing to the workers reaching quicksand. Stone sent from Kelmscott to South Australia in 1848 was declared by authorities there to contain copper. Other likely metals were sent from the colony to be assayed. A labourer announced the discovery of copper on the property of Mr. Hardey, near York.
The expectations of getting payable coal on the Murray diminished, and Dr. Von Sommer was sent to various parts of the colony in search of the mineral. He visited the locality of the find of Gregory brothers, and made an encouraging report thereon, and in December, 1847, proceeded with Mr. Bland to the east of King George's Sound as far as Mount Barren Range. He found indications of coal near Cape Riche, and advised that an expedition be sent. Lieutenant Roe went to the southeast, and announced the discovery of promising coal beds on two rivers which he named the Fitzgerald and Phillips. An expedition to the Bowes River in the north-west, led by Mr. A. Gregory, observed, it was reported, indications of coal. Dr. Sommer prepared a geological map of Western Australia stretching from the Abrolhos Islands in the north-west to Doubtful Island Bay in the south-east.
A bill passed the Legislative Council in 1848 providing for the taking of a Government census. This disclosed that there were 4,622 persons in the colony in October, 1848, made up of 2,818 males and 1,804 females. There were 2,900 adults. The numbers of stock were 141,123 sheep, 2,095 horses, 10,919 horned cattle, 1,431 goats, and 2,287 swine. The acreage in wheat was 3,316¾, barley 672, oats 133¾, rye 100¼, maize 38¾, potatoes 120¼, vineyards 114, oliveyards 10, kitchen gardens 244, and green crops 2,320¾.
Mail communication was improved, both internally and with Great Britain. So serious had been the inconvenience caused to colonists by an irregular mail service, that in June, 1844, a memorial was presented to Governor Hutt, asking him to urge the Imperial Government to facilitate mail communication. A second memorial was presented in June, 1845. In August a bill was introduced, and subsequently passed, providing for a better mail service in the colony. In 1848 a despatch was received from Downing Street announcing that the Secretary for the Colonies was willing to make arrangements for a monthly service between England and Western Australia via Singapore. In July, 1847, Mr. A. Helmich was gazetted Postmaster-General.
To revert to topics apart from political policy and the growth of industry, some severe storms, experienced in 1843 and following years, must be noted. In April, 1843, the heaviest storm, probably, since the origin of the colony came from the north-west. Several vessels were driven ashore along the coast, and narrow escapes were experienced in Melville Water. A boisterous gale raged for several days at Koombanah Bay, Bunbury, in November of the same year. The schooner Elizabeth was wrecked, and valuable cargo lost. Numerous accidents to shipping took place at Fremantle from one cause and another. In June, 1844, the American whaler Cervantes was wrecked on a rock in Jurien Bay. The sailors, after a trying walk, reached Fremantle in safety. On the night of 24th February, 1845, a tremendous gale drove two vessels, the Halifax Packet and the whaler Merope, ashore at Fremantle. One life was lost. Heavy rains at Albany in 1846 did serious damage. In August of the same year floods caused loss among the gardens on the Swan, and damaged property at York, Northam, and Toodyay.
Fires were numerous. On 12th September, 1845, the steam flour mills of Mr. S. Moore, situated at Guildford, were burnt, and several tons of flour destroyed.
The power of steam for propelling ships was now established, and Western Australians apparently did not wish to be behind the times. In 1844 a deputation idly and vainly asked Governor Hutt to establish a steam ship service between England and the colony. When a steam vessel did happen to approach Western Australian shores, an amusing incident took place. In December, 1845, H.M. steam sloop Driver put into Fremantle in order to effect some necessary repairs. The man on the look-out at Arthur Head, observing her, gave the alarm of a ship on fire. Nearly all the people of Fremantle rushed excitedly to the beach. Their surprise was great when they found it to be a steamer, and with admiration and wonder they examined the object. A prospectus was issued on 21st August, 1847, of a company to establish steam communication on the Swan River between Fremantle and Perth. The capital was set down as £1,000, in two hundred £5 shares, but few subscribers came forward.
Some interest was excited by the arrival in March, 1846, of Captain Twiss (Royal Engineers), who advised on suitable sites at Fremantle to erect a five-gun battery and magazines for defence purposes.
The native question almost disappeared from serious politics. Beyond numerous eases of thieving, and one or two murders no difficulty was experienced with them. They were made of use by settlers, in the police force, and on exploring expeditions. In cases of theft offenders were tried before the Courts under the same laws as were the white people. In 1848, at one sitting, twenty-one natives were arraigned. Heavy sentences were inflicted, and the prisoners sent to Rottnest, whence they occasionally escaped to the mainland. The summary conviction of natives was provided for in 1848 by ordinance. The bounty system promised on teaching natives trades or other avocations was practically a dead letter. Numerous claims were recorded, but not granted.
Social intercourse up to this time was substantially unaltered, although colonists were possessed of numerous comforts which did not exist in earlier years. Society was generally united and cordial, but in the large towns a surviving spirit of conservatism was apparent. Classes were formed, which were often times as select and particular in Western Australia as were the patricians in England. But in the country a generous welcome was extended to each traveller by farmers and pastoralists. He put up at their houses as readily and confidently as if he were visiting an inn. He was plied, says one record, with eager questions by the younger people, and perchance the old gentleman would sit near the fire listening closely to what was being said. The same record feelingly describes this hospitality, and mentions that after the questioning was over the evening was spent in music, dancing, and much conversation on literature, politics, and the condition of the colony. Hunting wild cattle was now a favourite sport, and the welkin rang with the sounds of galloping horses, baying hounds, and gun shots arising from among the trees. Numbers of servants were slowly and surely rising to the position of masters. Awards were given by societies to the best servants. Complaints were occasionally circulated of the unfair conduct of farmers and pastoralists in charging their employés immense prices for stores. Colonists were essentially a law-abiding class; crime was circumscribed. For nine months in 1847-48 no Court of Sessions was held. Natives were the chief offenders.
On the Swan River the old time picturesque scenery was rendered more delightful. The houses on its banks were surrounded with ample grounds, and here and there were hedgerows of olives, almonds, and peach trees. A pretty church, with parsonage near by, nestled among the trees on the Middle Swan. The streets of Perth were generally unpaved, and sometimes almost impassable. The footpaths where wood had not been tried were sometimes formed of clay. The Perth-Fremantle road was six inches deep in sand. Most of the houses in the capital still stood alone, often surrounded by luxuriant fruit gardens. The town of Albany probably suffered from the depression more than any other part of the colony. An air of despondency pervaded the community there, which was only relieved by occasional successful exploits in whaling. York, Toodyay, and Northam became more important, and Bunbury also made excellent progress, and what with a church and a school, began to surround herself with the conveniences of civilisation. A bridge over the Collie River, near Bunbury, was finished in December, 1848. In November, 1848, overland traffic between Perth and Albany was established by Mr. Watson. A large spring-cart, the first vehicle used, ran by way of Mandurah, Australind, and Bunbury to the Sound. The single journey cost £5.
Churches were erected in different parts of the colony, and the Government rendered liberal assistance to the Anglican denomination. St. George's Church, Perth, was opened on 22nd January, 1845. The Rev. Wittenoom, assisted by the Revs. G. King and W. Mitchell, conducted the first services. The sum of £3,500 was spent in the erection of the church. A temporary church (with schoolroom) was opened at Bunbury in December, 1844. In March, 1845, a return shows that the "Established" Church had ten places of worship, the Society of Friends one, Roman Catholic one, while there were two dissenting chapels. A meeting was held in Northam in August, 1844, to arrange for the erection of a church, and in April, 1845, a church was opened at Busselton. The Church of England in the colony was erected into a see in 1848. The history of the Congregational Church in Western Australia began in 1845, when a meeting was held in the house of Mr. Trigg, at Perth, to consider the advisability of erecting a place of worship. The proposal was favourably received, a chapel was built in Williams Street, and opened in 1846. In the following year the structure was enlarged, and the Congregational Church had twenty-five members.
The most notable event in religious matters was the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bishop at Sydney, Dr. Polding, was urgently entreated in 1841 to send a minister to the colony, but owing to his temporary absence in Rome the petition did not come before him until 1843. Three priests were almost immediately sent to Western Australia, and arriving in 1843 they worked quietly for some time. Thenceforth the Roman Catholics were served with religious privileges equal to those of members of other sects.
The three priests had not been in the colony many months before they entertained the laudable desire to bring the natives within the pale of their church. In 1845 the Congregation of the Propaganda despatched Dr. Brady, an Irish Bishop, with an efficient and eager staff, to push the good work among the colonists, and right into the rough camps of the savages. The staff comprised seven priests, a sub-deacon (an English Benedictine), a French novice, an Italian, eight catechists, two laymen, and seven Irish Sisters of Mercy. This party arrived at Fremantle in the ship Isabella in January, 1846. While two landing boats conveyed them from ship to shore, they intoned litanies, and no sooner had they set foot on Western Australian soil than all knelt and solemnly chanted Te Deum laudamus.
The beauties of the River Swan delighted these altruistic workers, and each new scene presented "a fresh occasion for praising God." After Perth was reached, one of the priests died. A few days later Dr. Brady held a council, to consider plans of campaign for dealing with the aborigines. All coincided in believing that it was best to follow them into the bush. Three companies were formed for this purpose to inaugurate distinct missions, named the Missions of the North, of the South, and of the Centre of Western Australia. The Bishop obtained from the Governor a grant of twenty acres each for the south and central missions. The northern party was unendowed because the projected scenes of its labours lay beyond the limits of the local Government.
The southern mission was to be established at Albany, and on the 6th February its members began a long and tedious journey on foot to that district. After a wearisome march, they reached Albany in the following month, and sought for the children of the bush in their hilly homes. Although beset by privations and stern struggles, they flinched not, and penetrated the wooded country. They were unable to make a satisfactory beginning. Protestants, and especially sailors on vessels at Albany, lent them assistance, but being without regular food supplies, they abandoned their endeavours. The health of the men gave way under their severe sufferings, and they proceeded to Mauritius, where they received refuge in a mission supervised by an English Benedictine Bishop.
The northern mission was even more unsuccessful. To reach the northern coast nearly the whole continent had to be circumnavigated, and the three members of this party proceeded to Sydney. They there obtained a passage in a ship bound for the settlement at Port Essington. This vessel was wrecked in Torres Straits, and all on board perished except the captain and a Tyrolese priest. The latter was a brave man, and he worked incessantly among the northern natives for two years, when he died from the effects of the unhealthy climate.
Priest Powell and a catechist sought to found a small mission at Guildford, but in the absence of adequate assistance they were compelled to leave the colony. They joined a mission in Calcutta.
Of all the priests only two remained, and by heroic courage and impressive earnestness they established a permanent mission. They were two Spanish Benedictine monks, who, desiring to teach the heathen in foreign lands, obtained permission to leave their monastery of La Cava, Naples, when Dr. Brady was leaving for Western Australia. Their names were Rudesindo Salvado, and his friend Guiseppe Serra. These ardent men had some difficulty in choosing a suitable field where they might establish the central mission. It was desirable to go beyond the ken of white men, among natives who were unaffected by settlement, but how to secure regular provisions in such a place was a serious problem. Captain Scully, a remote settler north-east of Perth, visited Dr. Brady, and told him of a spot some distance from his station, where the natives were numerous and the land good. It was decided to proceed thither, especially when Captain Scully offered to gratuitously convey the necessary goods to the locality.
It did not take long to prepare the equipment. The mission was inaugurated with no settled means of support, but this did not deter or influence the fathers. They conceived that they had a great work to perform, and, strange as it may seem, went out into the bush, not knowing where sustenance would come from when what they had with them was consumed. At sundown, after a warm day, on 16th February, the Fathers Salvado and Serra, a French Benedictine novice, and an Irish catechist, entered the little Roman Catholic Church in Perth. They intended to begin the journey in the night, when it was cool. Each proceeded to the altar in procession, with staff in hand, breviary under the arm, and cross on the breast. The building was crowded with Protestants, as well as Catholics to bid farewell to the noble young men.
Then when the moon was risen they left the church and followed Captain Scully's waggons along the dusty road. The bishop and other friends accompanied them for some little distance, but presently they turned back, and the four strode onward to possible immolation in the bush. For five days they sturdily trudged through sand and dust and over heat-bathed plains, until, as Father Salvado in his book on the mission writes, they were so dusty and travel-stained as to appear like the savages they were approaching. A three days' rest was taken at Captain Scully's house, after which they resumed their journey, led by two of the settler's servants.
The sun gave out an almost tropical heat, and, to add to their discomfort, there was no water on the road. Now they entered the Australian bushman's school, and learnt what the anguish of thirst means when no water is near. On the evening of the 27th February they drew near to a spot where there was usually ample water; oxen and men rushed eagerly to the spring. It was reduced to a mud-hole, and after drinking the slimy liquid the men vomited. The servants wanted to go back; the missionaries persisted in going forward. A native met with had promised to lead them to water in the morning.
At break of day Father Salvado, a novice, and a servant were conducted by the savage to a place five miles away. The guide struck the ground with his hand in token of amazement. The spring had disappeared. There was yet another chance, the native said, some distance further on. The novice and the servant refused to budge, and Father Salvado therefore proceeded alone with the black man. To his delight a large pond was reached. Before night the whole party gathered round the welcome oasis.
This place was in the heart of the native wilds, and the monks determined to establish the mission there. Next morning, the 1st of March and fourth Sunday in Lent, the two servants unloaded the cart and after mass was celebrated started on their home journey. On the following day the missionaries prepared to erect a domicile which should also serve as a chapel. They dug the foundations and cut wood. With the twilight came a number of natives, who scrutinised these white men with evident suspicion. Then they lit a large fire about forty paces from the builders, and when darkness reigned slept within the encircling light on the edge of the pond. The missionaries also lit a fire, and standing round it chanted compline, but they could not sleep. Throughout the next day the natives absented themselves; but, as previously, they again approached with the evening, this time in greater numbers and completely armed. They built their fire a little nearer to the missionaries, who slept not, "expecting every moment to be killed and eaten."
No injury was offered, and again the curious dusky men disappeared in the surrounding bush in the morning. During the forenoon the missionaries hurried on with their building, although somewhat anxious concerning this strange coming and going of the natives. The picture of them labouring there remote in the Australian bush after so elevated an object is a thrilling one. By noon the structure only needed the roof to complete it. Just as the workmen sat down to their mid-day meal, they were startled to observe a large band of natives approaching, each man carrying several spears. They had come still earlier. Writes Father Salvado:—"We looked at them with cheerful countenances—God alone knowing the beating of our hearts—and made signs of invitation to share our tea and bread." But the natives paid no heed, and, talking loudly among themselves, sat down beside the pond. The white men had encroached on their tribal grounds, and evidently intended to remain, for they had erected their hut. Their appearance was so remarkable that all the natives were apparently debating, in their simple way, on what course to take.
The missionaries were intensely anxious, knowing not what their fate was to be. Finally, they could bear the suspense no longer, and, "after the fashion of throwing a sop to Cerberus," says Mrs. Millett, determined to make peace-offerings to the savages. They baked huge dampers, piled sugar on several plates, and, filling their mouths with the food to indicate that it was good, approached the assembled band, chewing in a demonstrative manner.
This was the decisive moment. The native men snatched their spears and the women and children howled dismally, and fled. The missionaries continued to boldly advance in the face of threatening spears, pretending the while to heartily partake of the damper, and made signs to the warriors to lay aside their weapons and eat of the food. Such courage evidently astounded the natives, some of whom took morsels of damper; greatly encouraged, the anxious white men offered sugar to a few children who, instead of running away, clung terror-stricken to their fathers' knees. The little ones took the sugar into their mouths, but fearsomely spat it out the same instant without tasting it. Again they were given a mouthful each, and this time, tasting and finding that it suited their palates, they nodded approval and seemingly advised the others to partake of the food.
The battle was won. Soon damper and sugar were eaten, and the natives were scrambling for the crumbs. It was a providential circumstance that the missionaries bridged the awkward silence between them and the natives and approached with such palatable peace-offerings. In those few moments the New Norcia Mission, now so well known throughout Western Australia, was assured, for the goodwill of the savages was gained.
During the remainder of the day the blacks examined the hut and the implements of husbandry, and evinced the utmost astonishment at what they saw. Next day they assisted in the work of completion, and even pointed out where the best material for the roof was to be obtained. At dinner natives and missionaries sat down together and partook of the meal in common.
In a few weeks' time the party was increased by the arrival of the English Benedictine from Perth, and the provisions were nearly all consumed. The missionaries made rapid headway with the natives, and roamed the woods with them, assisted in their primitive occupations, carried their children, and almost lived their life. It became necessary that someone should proceed to Perth to solicit assistance; Father Salvado undertook the task. He was accompanied as far as Captain Scully's house by a native, and the reverend monk was compelled to subsist on native foods. He was rather partial to lizards, but the grubs obtained from the blackboy tree made his stomach "writhe." Captain Scully presented him with sufficient food to last him on the road to Perth, a journey which he accomplished alone. Dr. Brady was applied to for assistance, but having no funds he was unable to help the mission, and advised its abandonment. Father Salvado would not forsake his ignorant savages, and, finally, the bishop promised to ask the support of his flock in a sermon. The Catholics were few in number, and could do but little, whereupon, after consideration, Father Salvado hit upon the happy expedient of giving a musical entertainment. He was an accomplished musician, and all sorts and conditions of Perth people sought to make the concert a financial success. The Governor lent the Court House for the concert room, several pianos were offered, a Protestant printer issued the programmes, the Anglican clergyman lent the church candlesticks, a Jewish gentleman distributed the tickets, and members of every denomination attended. The Court House was crowded with well-dressed people. Among them the poor performer cut a sorry figure. We are told that his frock hung from his knees in rags and tatters, his black breeches were patched in different colours, little remained of his shoes but the upper leathers, his face was tanned almost to the colour of a native, and his beard was more than three months grown. "In fact," says Father Salvado, "my appearance excited both laughter and compassion." His musical efforts were received with rounds of applause, which, however, could not banish from his mind the picture of his poor brothers "dying of hunger in the bush."
The concert was a success. Father Salvado was able to purchase provisions of all kinds, and oxen to draw the ploughs which he already possessed. He at once returned to New Norcia. During his absence his fellow-missionaries had starved, and the young catechist died of the extreme sufferings engendered. The French novice was in an almost worse plight, for his mind was so unhinged that he was sent back to Perth. The two monks were eventually left alone, and had but entered the arena of suffering. Soon they were barefooted, whereupon they made for themselves wooden shoes, covered with fur. They patched their monastic habits with skins, and buttons were improvised out of the sinews of the kangaroo. For twenty-nine days in October they tasted no bread, and it was only the thoughtful present of a poor serving woman at Captain Scully's that relieved them. The natives had apprised her of the sad condition of the fathers, and she immediately sent two of them to New Norcia with fourteen pounds of flour. Nor was missionary work an otherwise easy task. These quaintly-attired, high-minded men, who had willingly left the tranquil precincts of their Neapolitan monastery, needs must clear the bush and till the soil. Field labour in their state of health, weakened by privation, was accomplished only at the cost of much pain. Between their heavy toils they sought to master the native language. Their abode and chapel was often made into a hospital, where natives injured in their tribal frays were treated, and when a patient was cured he lavished affectionate esteem on the amateur surgeons.
To the primary object of the mission the worthy monks bestowed much recondite thought. It was the wont of the natives to sit round the camp fire at night and pass the evening with story telling and singing. The Fathers joined them and would take their share in the entertainment, and when they told tales of the customs of their country the natives looked upon them as highly ludicrous and laughed heartily. It was then that the fathers took the opportunity of imparting their lessons, and Father Salvado perceived that "greater benefit accrued from this mode of instruction than could have been produced by the most eloquent sermons." Difficulty was experienced in getting the natives to speak of their superstitions and in dethroning them to enthrone the beliefs of the monks' church. It was of no avail to follow the natives into the bush to convert them; of more service was it to keep them by the little camp, feed them, and seize the opportunities for inculcating the hopeful message. From this necessity of feeding them the missionaries decided that their best course would be to establish some sort of monastery or native village. It would serve the purpose of keeping the nomads in and about one locality, and of reducing their opportunities for murder and the other savage customs required by native laws. Cannibalism was slightly resorted to at intervals, and it was desired to prevent this horrible custom. Father Salvado writes:—"The object we had at heart was the establishing of a village of native proprietors, who should be husbandmen and artisans as well as real Christians."
The fathers implored Bishop Brady to build and found a monastery where such a work might be carried on. The necessary funds for establishing such an institution were not in hand, and Father Salvado then proposed to open a School of Music at Perth. Numbers of pupils offered themselves, but happily the Propaganda sent money to Dr. Brady with a promise of more. The music school was not opened, for Father Salvado had now sufficient funds to begin the erection of a building for the monastery. On the 1st March, 1847, the foundation-stone of New Norcia was laid upon a medal of St. Benedict. The structure was raised by volunteer labour from Perth. The Government presented thirty additional acres of land to the Mission, with the use of a thousand acres more for despasturing stock.
Cultivation was carried on; sheep and cattle were obtained as a nucleus for future flocks and herds; allotments of land were given to the natives, who apparently eagerly tilled them and seemed at first proud of their new possessions. Any work done specially by them for the Mission was paid for, and upon the advice of the Fathers the money was left in their hands. When sufficient was accumulated for one man, a cow, pig, or sheep was purchased for him.
Thus the New Norcia Mission was established, and the reverend fathers anxiously endeavoured to illuminate the darkened minds of the natives. They taught them useful mental lessons, laboured among them in the fields, roamed the woods with them, and tried to so civilise them as to inculcate a desire for real property in their minds. Out of the initiatory struggles and vicissitudes there came the most hopeful and valuable institution established in Australia. That it was not more permanently successful in "civilising" the aborigines was not the fault of the brave efforts of the high-minded Fathers.
The census taken in 1848 recorded that there were then in the colony 3,063 adherents of the Church of England, 276 Wesleyans, 187 Independents, and 377 Roman Catholics.
Exploration discovered some promising tracts of country between the years 1843 and 1848. Until 1843 research of this nature had for a period been followed with little energy, and for subsequent periods no expeditions went out. Geographers in the different colonies persisted in believing that the interior of Australia was occupied by a large sea. So far as Western Australians were concerned the tales told by natives lent additional likelihood to such being the case. Not many days' journey inland, they said, was a sea which none of them had walked around. But they might start from King George's Sound, strike the great sea, and walk round it to King George's Sound again. The popular assumption among local people seemed to be that this sea was nearly connected with Spencer's Gulf, in South Australia. It was an important question, and an interesting.
Messrs. Henry Landor and H. M. Lefroy were ambitious to discover the mysterious water. On 9th January, 1843, they left York with the native, Cowit, to look for it in the country to the south and south-east; but, though they struggled over scores of miles under exceeding great difficulties, they found no sea. Cowit was supposed to act as interpreter and to shoot kangaroos. For ten miles the little party held to the Albany Road; then they turned south-east into the Corbiding country. From Corbiding they proceeded to a place called by the natives Nymbatilling, and on to the Hotham River. Through rain and rough country they searched. First they examined Carbal—a fertile valley; beyond was Narjaling, with its grassy floors trending for miles. Lake Byriering was reached on 14th January, and round about were lakes so numerous that they might well think they were on the borders of an inland sea. From a hill-top, report the explorers, were observed a treeless plain of sand and scrub and a lake studded with islands in varied forms: they had never seen land and water so tastefully mingled. Eastwards they passed a series of salt lakes—Norring, Quiliding, Byriering, Quabing, Barkiering, Quiliwhirring, Goondering, Dambeling, and others. A river come upon was named Landor; a pool, the Cowit, and a second river, Lefroy. Hot scrubby repellant plains, upon which was no water, and a wretched class of country generally, were surveyed, and a point on the Williams River was reached. Altogether, the good country traversed was as nothing in extent to the bad. From the Williams River they went back to York.
Mr. Drummond still pursued his studies in botany, and traversed extensive areas in search of specimens. For his splendid work in this direction, Her Majesty awarded him an honorarium of £200. While exploiting country around Toodyay in 1844 he came upon two fine tracts of land hitherto unknown. These were situated about 50 miles north-east of Toodyay, and were described as of considerable extent and fertile, although want of water was a drawback. The most interesting feature about them was the discovery of bones of oxen—principally skulls—scattered over different parts of the surface. The skulls bore particularly wide branching horns, a peculiarity which Drummond said was not possessed by cattle imported into Western Australia by local colonists. Natives informed him that oxen visited those parts long before the foundation of the colony, and one man—about forty years old—remembered when he was but a child that his father had killed cattle there. Mr. Drummond conjectured that these cattle had slowly pushed over the continent from New South Wales.
Mr. Clark in the same year made excursions to the southern country examining the land at Nornalup and Deep River. The soil promised good results from cultivation, while the timber was described as magnificent. Mr. H. Landor visited those places late in 1844 or early in 1845, and depicted in enthusiastic terms the dimensions of the timber resources. Had he not seen them, he wrote, he could never have believed that there were such tall trees in the world. The mahogany and blue gum were not to be surpassed anywhere in the discovered parts of the colony—information which gave special pleasure to West Australians in view of their budding timber trade.
Those eager, hardy travellers, the Gregory brothers, began their exploring careers in 1846. For about eighteen months no interest was taken in exploration, but the Gregorys stimulated research work. On August 4, 1846, Messrs. A. C., F. T., and H. C. Gregory left Perth for Lake Brown, north-east of Toodyay, and the elevated sandy ridges beyond. Yule's farm at Boyeen Spring, beyond Toodyay, was passed on the 7th, and Captain Scully's land at Bolgart Spring was soon crossed. Thenceforward, the sandy, sterile flats, granite ridges, and dense thickets supplied but a melancholy tour. Innumerable difficult thickets of stunted acacia, cypress, and eucalypti were penetrated, Lake Brown (dry) was passed, and the furthest point eastwards yet surveyed was reached on 17th August. Near by, in latitude 30° 12' 28" and longitude 119° 16' 10", were the dry beds of salt lakes, uninviting trap hills, and a redeemless samphire flat. To go further east seemed vain, and the brothers struck for the west and north-west towards the coast and the Champion Bay district. Along their route were steep white cliffs, high sandstone cliffs, and granite hills, surrounded by expansive wastes. On the 25th they stood on the shore of an immense salt lake, and as it was dry they proceeded to cross it to the northward. They had not gone far, however, before the hard crust of gypsum and salt suddenly gave way, and three horses simultaneously sank into a bog, vainly struggling for release. The Gregorys went to the shore, constructed hurdles out of small trees, and by wearying exertion for six consecutive hours got the animals on hard ground.
Desolate plains were crossed to the north, and the Irwin River, discovered by Grey, was reached. Following the channel for some distance, they observed great sandstone cliffs, eighty to one hundred feet high, jutting over its bed. At their base, and in the track of the Irwin, east by south of Champion Bay, they reported discovering two seams of coal, five to six feet thick, and small detached pieces burnt in a rich flame. After obtaining specimens they journeyed to the coast, and turned southwards on the homeward journey. They crossed the Arrowsmith and Moore Rivers, and arrived at Bolgart Spring on 22nd September. During their journey the Messrs. Gregory travelled 953 miles.
The report of this expedition—especially that part relating to the discovery of coal—excited colonists, and as soon as possible the Government despatched another party to confirm the interesting news. Lieutenant Helpman, the commander of the schooner Champion, sailed to Champion Bay in his boat, accompanied by one of the Gregorys. On 6th December, 1846, the anchor was dropped, and the men landed horses and a cart for the journey to the Irwin. Next day they set in motion, and traversed wretched country. The scene of the discovery was reached on 12th December, and 3 cwt. of coal was dug out at a depth of four feet, and conveyed to the ship. Mr. Gregory led some of the party to the Hutt River. Lieutenant Helpman announced that the coal could be got to Champion Bay with little difficulty, where, he believed, was a fair anchorage during winter months.
Exploration again relaxed for a period. The next to go out was Surveyor-General Roe. On 10th July, 1847, he left Champion Bay, and examined the rivers Hutt, Bowes, and Buller, and much neighbouring country. Dr. Von Sommer, who accompanied him, scrutinised the likely places for coal. Mr. Roe reported favourably on the nature of the land, small parts of which were suitable for agriculture, and a large proportion for pastoral pursuits.
No more expeditions went out until September, 1848. Newspapers and Legislative Councillors complained often of the lack of interest in discovery, till the Government and private people were influenced to equip parties. On 2nd September, 1848, Mr. A. C. Gregory took charge of a band, consisting of Messrs. L. Burges, Walcott, Bidart, and a soldier. The leader was instructed to proceed to the Gascoyne River. About 1,500 miles were traversed, the furthest point northwards being 350 miles from Perth. Good country was discovered on the Bowes, Murchison, and Buller Rivers, and indications of coal and minerals were found. Splendid tracts of grazing land were observed contiguous to the rivers, and, as soon as Perth was reached, one of the pastoralists applied for land on the Murchison.
So delighted were the settlers and leading people by these discoveries, that Governor Fitzgerald, with Messrs. Bland and A. C. Gregory, three soldiers, and a servant lad visited them. They proceeded on horses to Bowes River, and after inspecting the country, started, on 11th December, 1848, to return to Champion Bay. When pushing through thickets, under rocky hills, some twenty miles from the Bay, they were surrounded by several natives. Every moment the number of blacks increased, and eventually they drew closer to the party, threatening them with spears. A few weapons were thrown, whereupon Governor Fitzgerald shot one native, and the soldiers fired a volley. Natives on the hills hurled spears down at them, one of which struck the Governor just above the knee, passed through the thigh, and stuck there, the point protruding about twelve inches. Had he not observed the weapon approaching, and stepped forward, he would have received it in his back. Spears continued to fall from the hill-tops and surrounding thickets, until the party succeeded in reaching open ground. Some fifty or sixty natives followed them to Champion Bay, which was reached after an exhausting journey of ten hours' duration. Governor Fitzgerald recovered from his wound soon after his return to Perth, and an address of congratulation for his providential escape was presented to him. Some three natives were believed to have been killed.
That redoubtable navigator and explorer, Lieutenant J. S. Roe, started on an important expedition over the sand drifts and rugged hills of the south-east in 1848. His party reckoned Messrs Gregory and Ridley, Privates Lee and Buck of the 96th, and a native named Bob. Dr. Von Sommer had suggested that the country was worth a careful examination for coal deposits. The indefatigable botanist, Mr. Drummond, had also exploited these regions for choice specimens. Lieutenant Roe was instructed to explore the country between Cape Riche and Russell Range, discovered and named by Eyre, east of Esperance Bay, and to specially search for coal.
On 8th September, 1848, the men left Perth with eleven horses. Before their return, 149 days later, they traversed nearly 1,800 miles of country, obtained useful geographical knowledge, and reported the discovery of extensive coal deposits. They proceeded through the settled and semi-settled districts to Cape Riche, where, at the residence of Mr. Cheyne, the first settler there, they rested their horses and prepared for the more serious exploration. On their way they examined new country, but none of great importance. The bounds of settlement left, their subsequent way was difficult and tedious. They penetrated dreadful regions, rocky, rugged, uninviting. Throughout a journey occupying 86 days from Cape Riche to Russell Range and back, their horses suffered seriously from privation. At first Mr. Roe went N.W., and examined the Pallinup River, the broad grassy valley of Teeramungup; samphire and rush streams, numerous salt lakes, limited stretches of good grazing land, and dreary wastes, where close thickets were the predominating feature. He named Mount Madden (after the Colonial Secretary), Mount Short (Bishop Short), Bremer Range (a naval officer), Mount Gordon, Fitzgerald Peaks (the Governor), Mount Charles, Mount Eleanora, Mount Ridley (a companion), and Mount Ney (a favourite horse). Parched stages were made, containing neither grass nor water. The horses famished, and frequent rests were taken. Frowning seas of scrub supplied a dreadful interest, and once or twice the men narrowly escaped entanglement in a series of salt lakes and unbearable thickets. Near Russell Range the outlook was no better. Finally, from a hill, Roe described, "at the distance only of four miles, the precipitous mass of rock composing the Russell Range, rising abruptly in a bare naked mass to the height of 600 feet out of the surrounding scrubby plains, and not a blade of grass or the least appearance of fresh water were anywhere to be seen." Thickets and
scrub and sand plain monopolised the country, except for granite hills which disturbed the uniformity of the horizon and appeared like unclothed rocky islands projecting sheer out of a dreary sable sea.
Here the men were cast into a dangerous dilemma. For days and days their horses had subsisted on a precarious supply of grass, and they pushed towards the ranges hoping that they would prove fertile. Almost their lives depended on the productivity of the neighbouring country. Their distress of mind was keen when they found the hills to be utterly sterile. Anxiously pushing to the south they happily came upon an oasis, where they soon obtained abundance of feed and water. On subsequent days they visited Mount Rugged, well named by Eyre, because of its rough, rent appearance. It contained considerable quartz, and was cut by numerous remarkable fissures, bare, repelling.
As a bird's-eye view obtained from an eminence presented little hope of good country being found further east, on 28th November Lieutenant Roe began the return journey to Cape Riche, taking a more southerly route than the out-track. The prevailing spirit of these regions was funereal and sullen. Rugged hills, with yawning rents on their sides, rose out of the dreary plains of stunted vegetation, and showed signs of mammoth disintegration. Presumably, they were once bold, elevated peaks. They frowned upon the travellers, offering no encouragement to those who would explore them. In the main, however, better country was traversed on the home journey; and tracts north of Esperance Bay, with others towards Cape Riche, were suitable for settlement. Roe named Howick Hill, Mount Merivale, Mount Hawes, Gage River, Stokes Inlet, Young River, Mount Desmond, Eyre Range, Phillips River, Culham Inlet, Mount Bland, Fitzgerald River and Inlet, Gairdner River, and Gordon Inlet. On Phillips River he discovered numerous evidences of coal, and extensive beds of the same mineral on Fitzgerald River. The coal on the latter gave off an excellent flame in burning, and collecting specimens, Lieutenant Roe conveyed them to Perth. He believed this discovery of coal would prove of paramount advantage to the colony, and being on the line of route of ocean steamers, hoped that Fitzgerald's Inlet would come to be a coaling station. The surrounding country was examined more critically. Some time was spent there, and numerous separate evidences of coal were found.
Suddenly while they were pursuing their quest, and while crossing an uncouth sand patch, the party observed the skeleton of a white man at their feet. Nearby were the clothes of the dead man. His was another dismal story consummated by the desolate parts of Australia. Three sailors landed from a Tasmanian whaler, near Middle Island, in 1847, and proceeded to walk to Albany, 350 miles away. Two died of starvation and exhaustion; one on this sand patch, the other apparently succumbed among the sand hills not far away. Roe collected the remains, and buried them in a quiet hollow west of Cape Knob. A mound of limestone, with a wooden slab, was raised as a memorial. Roe returned to Cape Riche, and proceeded to Perth, visiting Bunbury on the route.
For some years exploration had been intrepidly and actively followed in the eastern colonies, and the inland country was cut in numerous directions. Most eager among eager explorers was Leichardt, who made successful trips in the north-eastern parts of Australia. Eventually he entertained the bold but dangerous project of crossing the continent from east to west. It was a task as immense and risky as any ever essayed in the history of the world; but Leichardt's courage quelled not.
In 1847 he started out with eight men and provisions estimated to be sufficient for a two years' journey. The band seemed rather to be bent on colonising than on settlement, for before them they drove a flock of 180 sheep, and herds of 970 goats and 10 bullocks. They were mounted on and accompanied by 15 horses and 13 mules. Progress with such a number of animals was necessarily slow. Leichardt endeavoured to first follow the route of his expedition of 1844, when he crossed from Moreton Bay to Port Essington. It is not within the province of our history to give the details of this trip, as Western Australia was not reached. With such a cumbersome equipment there was but a small chance of success, and after seven months of disasters the party returned. They had lost all their cattle and sheep.
His unfortunate experiences did not dishearten Leichardt, and with imposing daring he again made arrangements to resolve the doubts concerning the interior of Australia, and to find a path to the western colony. A small party was organised with difficulty, and with 50 bullocks, 13 mules, 12 horses, 270 goats, 800 lbs. flour, &c., went on its way in 1848. A tragedy as grim and pathetic as any ever chronicled must have ensued. No one ever learnt what fate befel the explorer, and he found a nameless resting place somewhere in the inhospitable deserts of the interior. His last message to the world was conveyed in a letter written on April, 1848, on the Cogoon River, Fitzroy Downs. Hopeful and elated, he wrote:—"Seeing how much I have been favoured in my present progress, I am full of hopes that our Almighty Protector will allow me to bring my darling scheme to a successful termination." Then he entered the darkness. He said nothing of the track he proposed to pursue. Expeditions were organised to ascertain his fate, but few clues were found. Natives told stories of the murder of white men, and trees were found marked with the letter "L," but "Leichardt himself, on previous journeys, had met with trees so marked, by whom is unknown." Remarkable it is that not one skeleton of his stock was discovered. Whether he was murdered by natives and his body buried, or whether he died of starvation, and his bones left to whiten like those of his beasts under a tropical sun, cannot he told. The wild interior wastes hold their secret with sullen dumbness; and not Leichardt's secret only, but those of many intrepid prospectors and more humble travellers.
Opinion in regard to forced labour had gradually changed during the depression. Throughout the history of Western Australian settlement colonists had been constantly struggling to obtain permanent prosperity and its outcome—individual wealth. We have traced the passing of years through a series of dispiriting labours, at the end of which the people were little, if any, better off than when they began. Certainly, they had instituted order in the land, cleared parts of the wilderness, built themselves houses, and planted gardens; but though they possessed large areas of land, woolly flocks, towns, vessels, and other real property, yet they were practically without that symbol of wealth—gold. At what a cost years of labour they had obtained these we have slightly shown. But one difficulty was overcome only for its place to he taken by another.
In the thirties a few settlers at King George's Sound petitioned for the introduction of a band of convicts, but their artless request met with short shrift. Colonists shunned the thought that their country should be made the dumping ground of the outcasts of British society. But, the accumulating series of struggles, amid few bright gleams of permanent prosperity, led one person here and another there to consider that advantages might be gained by convict labour. There was so much development work to do, and so few people to do it, that they began to think this a cheap and ready means to the inauguration of a new era. They wanted foreign labour, and knew that with convicts they would necessarily obtain foreign capital and a larger local market for their perishable products.
The first proposals during the more recent period were ignominiously scouted, and opprobrious names were heaped on the inoffensive heads which propounded them. But the "wicked" thought was expressed, the luminous pictures of development and progress which it begot were retained in the mind, and after other years of unhappy striving the proposals were looked upon with more favour. The thought grew with what it fed on, and numerous colonists were finally won over to the proposal to make Western Australia a convict colony.
At a general meeting of the York Agricultural Society, held on 6th April, 1844, Mr. S. E. Burges moved this resolution:—"That it is the opinion of this meeting that, inasmuch as the present land regulations have entirely destroyed our labour fund, we conceive that the Home Government are bound in justice to supply us with some kind of labour, and after mature deliberation we have come to the determination of petitioning the Secretary of State for the Colonies for a gang of forty convicts—to be exclusively employed in public works." Mr. J. F. Smith seconded; the motion was not put. Instead, a committee was appointed to enquire into the matter. A public proposal for convicts was made, and, in a historical sense, their introduction became possible.
The newspapers published leading articles against them, on the grounds of costliness, undesirability, &c. Two weeks later Governor Hutt was interviewed, but refused to express an opinion. He promised, however, to forward a petition to the Secretary for the Colonies provided it was adequately signed, and really represented the sentiments of the people of the colony. Insufficient support was obtained for the petition, which therefore lapsed.
The next public reference was inimical to their introduction. In March and April, 1845, it was announced in the colony that the Tasmanian Government had promised pardons to certain felons conditional on their leaving the island and remaining in some one of the Australian colonies. A public meeting was held in Perth on 16th April to discuss this matter. The sheriff, who occupied the chair, described the evils likely to arise if Tasmanian convicts drifted into Western Australia. The meeting strongly disapproved of the action of the Tasmanian Government, and a memorial was subsequently forwarded to the Home Government asking, owing to the non-existence of safeguards, that any influx of convicts might be stopped. Colonists had long been praying for the presence of labour which never came, yet they conceitedly feared that convicts would be attracted. The Home Government refused to do what the memorialists wished, pointing out that if certain convicts had led a blameless life it did not seem just or reasonable that they should be refused the indulgence of seeking their own maintenance beyond the limits of Van Dieman's Land.
On 23rd July, 1845, a lengthy anonymous letter was published in the Inquirer in favour of introducing convicts. The writer observed that sixteen years of work had brought the people little prosperity, owing principally to the absence of sufficient labour. He asserted that some influential settlers favoured the "system," not because they admired it, but because they deemed it expedient. The proposal was one of policy, not principle; with the advent of convicts property would acquire a vast additional value; "imagine the numbers of increased officers of all Government grades, the numbers of houses they would require, to say nothing of the enormous consumption of all articles of food."
Two memorials had already been submitted to the people, and a third was now in course of circulation. The advocates for convictism were agitating with energy. Among the signatures already in the third memorial were the names of influential people. Mr. F. C. Singleton initiated a debate in the Legislative Council, on 24th July, 1845, in order to take the sense of the House. He described the arguments of the memorialists as specious, and said that it was positive madness to allow that convictism was the alternative before them. The colony did not want the "moral pestilence" and "frightful evil" which would result from it. Several resolutions were moved by Mr. Singleton, and were carried unanimously. They regretted that a memorial was being circulated favouring the inauguration of a penal settlement; explained that the colony was founded on the positive condition that convicts were never to be introduced; declared that the necessity for such an application was not apparent: for "no dearth of labour can be so extreme as to call for, or to warrant our having recourse to, such a hazardous expedient for a supply;" and hoped that the prospective moral evils would deter colonists from harbouring the idea for an instant. The Governor, the Commandant, and the Advocate-General strongly condemned the movement.
For the rest of 1845, and for all 1846, few public expressions of opinion were made; but the memorial slowly moved among settlers. At its draughting, in 1845, public opinion was generally against the introduction of convicts, but during its tedious progress the opinions of numerous settlers underwent a decided change. Constant deliberation on the subject was a natural sequel to their strong views concerning the necessity for more labour, and the impossibility of obtaining it while the land regulations were unchanged. They were converted to the opinion that a penal colony was expedient, and they signed the memorial. In this way the signatures of influential people were obtained.
The memorial, which purported in the preamble to emanate from "landowners, merchants, and inhabitants of Western Australia," set forth that capitalists were originally attracted to the colony upon certain principles, which were considered to be advantageous. Through "mismanagement, inexperience, and ignorance of the seasons, great numbers of the early settlers lost or expended the greater part of their capital" before they were able to obtain any interest, or produce, therefrom. But, from 1838 to 1842, struggling with "unparalleled difficulties," they began to entertain the hope that the steadily increasing influx of emigrants would raise the marketable value of land, stock, and other property. But Her Majesty's Government had, in 1841, seen fit to raise the price of Crown lands to £1 per acre, since which sales of those lands had ceased, and the fund produced from them and applied to import labour was no longer existent. The introduction of labour became impossible, and the immigration of both capitalists and labourers ceased simultaneously. Colonists were unable to extend their operations so as to produce a sufficient amount of exports to counterbalance the drain made upon the specie of the colony by the introduction of necessary imports. Emigration from this to other Australian colonies had begun; the rates of wages, in view of the scarcity of labourers, were expected to advance, thereby curtailing the operations of the agriculturist and flockowner, reducing the quantity of land which had been annually brought into cultivation, arresting the increase of flocks and herds and of all other sources of wealth, and enhancing the price of provisions and other necessaries to those whose means of procuring them were rapidly diminishing. Thus land and other property was deprived of any marketable value, and there was no probability, under existing circumstances, of capital and labour being attracted in the future. The memorialists entreated that "the importance of this colony to the British Empire" should be considered, for, from its geographical position, inexhaustible store of ship timber, desirable position in time of war, it "should become a populous and powerful settlement." Unless "Her Majesty's Government will reduce the price of land to its original standard, and resume the principle upon which this colony was founded, and act upon that principle judiciously and not lavishly as was the case formerly, or will devise some other expedient as shall cause the reintroduction of capital and labour, your memorialists conceive that this colony must become absolutely useless to the British Crown, an encumbrance on the Empire, and ruinous to those individuals who have been led to embark in it the whole of their fortunes," understanding that the original principles of colonisation would be adhered to. Should they not accede to any of these suggestions, there only remained the "hope that Her Majesty's Government will be induced to convert the colony into a penal settlement on an extensive scale." They recognised that the formation of good roads was most necessary and expensive, and, "perhaps, only to be accomplished by convict labour; that it is only by convict labour that the ports and harbours can be improved—bridges, jetties, lighthouses, wharves, and other public works be constructed—facilities for the advantageous establishment of a timber trade secured and an inland market guaranteed for agricultural and pastoral productions."
A temporary awakening seemed to take place. Convictism was no longer an abstract theory to be debated on. There was the strong possibility that the English Government would accede to the desire of the memorialists, not so much, perhaps, to benefit the colony as to obtain, now that other stations were being closed, a new outlet for their felons. The benefits to be derived from forced labour were believed to be many, and a comparison of present distress with possible future prosperity convinced people of its expediency. Both the newspapers had emphatically decried the suggestions, but now even they gave the proposal a qualified support. The Perth Gazette, after deploring the necessity for public works, proposed that convicts should be imported to make roads, bridges, &c., but when these were completed they should be returned to England again, and while they were at the colony they should be confined to hulks and prisons, and not be allowed to mix with other people. Such a system, it was believed, would obtain the support of the colonists and be productive of prosperity. In April and May the Gazette published favourable leaders, and the Inquirer also advocated the advantages which would accrue from having cheap labour and a progressive public works policy.
But Lieuteuant-Colonel Irwin, then Governor of the colony, when he opened the Legislative Council on 5th June, 1847, strenuously opposed the agitation. He regretted that the "dearth of labour or the desire to accumulate wealth on the part of a portion of the community" caused them to support so objectionable proposal in "opposition to the wish of a majority of settlers." He referred to the report of a committee of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, of 30th April, 1846, as a convincing proof of evils of the system. This committee was appointed as a result of a despatch from the Secretary for the Colonies respecting the renewal of transportation thither. It stated that "if the proposed renewal of transportation were any longer practically and substantially an open question; if it rested with the colonists themselves to decide whether the deportation of convicts to this hemisphere could cease or continue; if it were thus placed at their option whether they would at once and for ever free themselves and their posterity from the further taint of the convict system, doubtless a large majority, especially of the operative classes, would give the proposal for renewed transportation an unhesitating veto." Nor did the committee doubt that the majority of the middle and upper classes of society would agree with a committee appointed in 1846, when it reported that "the moral and social influences of the convict system—the contamination and vice which are inseparable from it—are evils from which no mere pecuniary benefits could serve as a counterpoise." The report concluded with unequivocally asserting that no further introduction of convicts would be conducive to the interests of Australia and Australians. Lieutenant-Colonel Irwin concluded by saying that "with the experience of other colonies before us, which we now witness struggling to free themselves from this system, as from a pestilence, I would strongly urge all who are favourable to the measure (except those who are bent on acquiring wealth at any risk) to consider whether the injury likely to be entailed on the community, and particularly on their own families, may not convince them, when too late, that they have obtained their object at dreadful sacrifice."
During the remainder of 1847 and in 1848 few public references were made to the question. Governor Fitzgerald, soon after his arrival, mentioned privately that it might be advisable to send for (say) 300 convicts from Pentonville, who should be accompanied by their wives and families. The expense incurred by the Government in passage money should be recovered by gradual reductions from their wages; the amount collected in this way to be applied to introducing a corresponding number of free labourers. At Pentonville the best convicts were kept, men who had been convicted for offences of a trivial nature under extenuating circumstances. It was suggested that upon their arrival in the colony a free pardon should be extended to them. Only a half-hearted support was given to this proposal, and for a time agitators for a penal settlement lacked vitality. Some weeks later the Gazette, under new management, published an editorial objecting to convicts without exception.
A deputation of gentlemen interested in Western Australia interviewed Mr. Hawes, the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, with reference to emigration. Mr. Hawes, before he dismissed them, asked those present whether they would favour the introduction of convicts of a superior type, mentioning the Pentonville exiles. The majority of them agreed as to its advisability, and Mr. Louis Samson, one of the number, wrote to the colony asking for an expression of opinion.
On 18th November a meeting was held in York, apparently the stronghold of the adherents for making the colony a convict settlement, at which it was announced that a memorial to the Secretary for the Colonies was in course of signature, advocating the introduction of convicts. Thus the matter stood at the end of 1848.