My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 27
A STRONG GOVERNMENT AND LARGE PROJECTS
Character and composition of the new Government—Foundation of the National Gallery—Complicated libel on the Land Department—My answer—Curious discovery after the debate—The Land Bill of 1862—Its main purpose and provisions—Southern industries—Tenure of the squatters—The Argus' estimate of the measure—How it was baffled and evaded—The drafting of the Bill - Its breakdown on legal provisions alone—Decision of the Supreme Court against the phraseology of the Bill—Measures taken by me to check the conspirators—A new Bill amending the measure introduced—Ill supported by the Government—A premature division demanded by the Attorney-General, and the Bill lost by a considerable majority—Letter of Mr. Higinbotham on the conduct of the Government—Intrigues to reorganise the Government fail—Letters from Mr. Childers, Robert Lowe, the widow of Colonel Byrne, Mr. Arthur Geoghegan, Sir James Martin—A Coalition Government of squatters and democrats is formed under Mr. McCulloch—I supported them in amending the Land Act—My late colleagues opposing them—Dissolution of Parliament—Project a visit to Europe—Letter to John O'Hagan—Letter from John Dillon—Death of Smith O'Brien—Letters from Childers, Henry Parkes, Cashel Hoey, Mrs. Charles Kean—Resistance to convictism—Bold stroke of Edward Wilson puts an end to the practice.
For the first time since the Constitution was proclaimed the colony possessed an Administration strong in capacity, experience, and influence, and above all in the robust will before which difficulties disappear. The new Cabinet consisted of eleven members, nine controlling departments of State, and two holding portfolios without special office—a number which it may be assumed was inconveniently large where something approaching unanimity in the conduct of business is necessary. The quasi-Cabinet of the President of the United States consists of seven, the Queen's Cabinet ordinarily of thirteen, members. But in Victoria there is an embarrassing provision in the law that all members of Parliament holding office must be members of the Executive Council, which excludes the salutary practice of accustoming young men to public business in secondary positions. All the new Ministers had been in office before, and three of them had held the post of Prime Minister. Mr. Haines represented the original Government, Mr. Nicholson the intermediate one, and Mr. O'Shanassy the original Opposition. The new Government were determined to undertake serious and permanent work. The public service was put on an independent footing, the rural districts were brought under local government—two tasks, each of which might have occupied an entire session. Mr. Haines, the treasurer, announced that I had induced him to put a sum on the Estimates for the commencement of a National Gallery. A Royal Commission was appointed to carry out this work, and I induced John Forster, Mr. Herbert, R.A., and some other artists and men of letters in London to aid us in founding an institution which has greatly prospered, and is now one of the treasures of the colony.
But the task which excited the widest interest was the long-desired settlement of the land question. Before dealing with this measure, however, it is necessary to report an episode of high importance to me personally. The Age, which went into furious opposition to the new Government, supplemented its criticism by a statement of alleged facts so discreditable that any Government might have fallen before it. In the original survey of the Loddon district it was alleged that all the water frontages were reserved for public use, but that after being so reserved the original surveys of the district were altered at the Head Office in Melbourne under the directions of Mr. Ligar, the Surveyor-General, sanctioned by Mr. Gavan Duffy, the Minister of the Department. The reserves, it was added, were then put up for sale, and purchased by Mr. Hugh Glass, a local squatter—a purpose which had been the design of the entire conspiracy. This destructive charge was mentioned in Parliament by Mr. Higinbotham, to give the Minister, as he said, an opportunity of answering it. I answered immediately that as far as I was concerned the statement was an absolute fabrication, without any foundation, great or small; and I suggested that Mr. Higinbotham should move for a select committee to investigate the charges and I would second the motion. Mr. Higinbotham said he was unwilling to take so grave a course till the Minister had made his defence to the House, when it might be unnecessary. I went into the entire facts alleged, and rebutted them all. The practice of the Department was to make such water reserves as were recommended by their local surveyor, and all the reserves so recommended in the Loddon district had been made, and never afterwards altered in any respect. The report of the original surveyor and the original plan were produced, and established these facts beyond controversy. The officers of the Department in Melbourne, those who designed and those who engraved the plans, stated the circumstances within their knowledge, and the alleged alteration of plans was shown to be untrue and impossible without leaving the means of detection behind. The sole evidence upon which the shameful story had been founded appeared to have been that a contract surveyor had told an Age correspondent in conversation that all the water frontages in the district had been reserved, and as these particular ones were found not to be reserved an ingenious and unscrupulous theory was founded on his careless and inaccurate statement, in which conjectures were presented as solid facts. My answer dissipated the entire case, and satisfied the House and the Press that as far as I was concerned it was a shameful invention. But as my answer had to be made very hurriedly, I did not know the force of my own case till it had passed out of the hands of Parliament, when I discovered the facts. I asked one of my friends, Mr. Kenric Brodribb, to take a message to Mr. Higinbotham, with whom I had held no personal communication since this charge was mooted, requesting him to ask me another question, which would enable me to throw an unexpected light on the transaction. Mr. Higinbotham thought enough had been done, as the House was satisfied, and there would be no advantage in reviving the subject. Mr. Higinbotham was egregiously wrong, for I had discovered a fact which had I known it in time would have rendered any other answer unnecessary. When I was preparing my hasty defence I sent a number of queries to the Surveyor-General, such as—Who made the survey? Can the original plan be produced? What was the date of the survey? Who engraved the plans? and so forth. On the answers to these questions my defence was founded, but when I had more leisure I discovered that one of the queries—the one demanding the date of the survey—had not been answered. I peremptorily required an answer, and when it reached me I found that the survey had been made, and the reservation of the frontages omitted, before I came into office, under the ministry of Mr. Brooke. Though a generation has since elapsed the records of the Survey Office remain, and whoever is my successor as President of the Board of Land and Works when this narrative reaches Melbourne will have the proofs under his hand.
After this episode I took up the land question promptly. At the close of the session of arduous labour a measure of large scope, and dealing with all the interests at stake became law, and is known in local annals as the Duffy Land Act. Before it came into operation, I issued a Guide to it which had an enormous sale, in four editions—one issued by the Government, two by ordinary publishers with my sanction, and one reprinted in London. What I designed to accomplish, and the measures I took to effect the object in view, I may borrow in a very slight précis, from that pamphlet:—
The main object of the law was to give increased facilities for the settlement of the industrious classes on the public estate. For myself my design was to make the possession of land as nearly universal as possible, to counterpoise the fact that political power was absolutely universal, and to give a healthy and pleasant pursuit to the large class of diggers who, when they became unfit for that trying pursuit, might become discontented and dangerous to the public safety; and I hoped to see a multitude of my own countrymen, who had been driven from the land in Ireland, find a safer and more prosperous home on the genial soil of Victoria. All the agricultural land of prime quality in the colony, estimated to exceed ten million acres, was reserved exclusively for agricultural settlement. Near the chief towns, goldfields, railway stations, seaports, and other centres of population, agricultural areas were ordered to be surveyed into farms ranging from forty to six hundred and forty acres. These farms could be selected by any person of either sex who was of age and domiciled in Victoria, provided he or she appeared personally before the land officer and made a statutory declaration, equivalent to an affidavit, that the land was selected for his or her own use and benefit, and not as agent for any other person. A selector prepared to occupy and cultivate the land was alone entitled to select, and the Act contained the most elaborate provisions to punish any one who attempted to evade the law. A selector selecting on behalf of another was liable to a prosecution for misdemeanour, and the person who employed him to a prosecution for conspiracy. If any one got into improper possession a sheriff could be required to empannel a jury, who were authorised to eject him and put the lawful selector in his place. The portion of the area not selected was to be declared a commonage for the benefit of the selectors as long as it was unsold, and the commonage fees expended exclusively on local improvements. The price of land was in no case to exceed £1 an acre, which the selector might pay at once and get his title deeds, or pay for one-half, renting the other moiety at 2s. 6d. an acre for eight years, this rent being credited as part of the purchase money; a .principle which I introduced into land legislation for the first time. The price and rent of the land went into the Public Treasury, but practically to be returned to the people who paid it, one-fourth of it being expended on paying the passage of immigrants to keep the labour market sufficiently supplied, and two-fourths to be expended on the great highways of communication on the local roads and bridges, in order to render markets accessible to the new centres of agricultural industry. Among the immigrants I designed to reach a new class, from whom I anticipated important advantages: Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, and Spaniards, capable of teaching those light and genial industries of Southern Europe for which the soil and climate of Australia are so propitious. A section (one square mile) of each area was to be reserved for public purposes, in order that churches, schools, savings banks, mechanics' institutes, courts, post-offices, public gardens, baths, markets, and other agencies of civilisation, might in good time follow the settler. In the same spirit licenses for the introduction of new r industries were authorised, not to exceed a hundred in a year, under which twenty acres of suitable land could be hired at a nominal rent and purchased at £1 an acre as soon as the industry for which the license had been granted was duly established. It was confidently asserted by persons of experience that there were already in the country men accustomed to many of the industries we hoped to introduce. Americans, familiar with the culture of cotton (for which the Murray district was considered to be well adapted); Ulstermen, trained to grow and dress flax (for which the demand is practically as inexhaustible as that for cotton or wool); Frenchmen, who have made mulberry plantations and conducted sericultural establishments in their own country; Italians, skilled in expressing the oil of the olive, that "mine over ground," as it has been called; Belgians, who have manufactured sugar from beetroot, and Californians, who have manufactured from sorghum saccaratum both sugar and syrup, of which many millions of gallons are consumed annually in the States; and Chinese, reared upon tea plantations, who, it was asserted, would not be unwilling to cooperate with Europeans in planting that profitable industry on our soil. Indian corn had not yet been acclimatised in Victoria, but in America larger and more populous cities had sprung from that wonderful cereal than from our goldfields. It was the prime resource of the settler in the American prairie, furnishing him in succession with a delicious vegetable, household bread, dainty pudding, and wholesome spirits; a cereal of which six hundred millions of bushels were produced annually. It was said that by these various liberal provisions we were giving land worth many pounds an acre to the first comer at a nominal price. We were giving it to settlers who could occupy the country, and to get settlers abundantly agriculture must have its prizes. Would mining have prospered if it had been declared that all nuggets beyond a certain size would be reserved from the digger? There must be large nuggets of land to tempt settlers and to reward settlement. But in truth the squatter who had got the land hitherto had bought it at an average of about £1 1s. an acre.
The squatter's tenure was put upon a, new footing, their claim to permanency or the right of pre-emption was extinguished, and their occupation authorised by an annual license, which was to terminate altogether at the end of nine years, the runs in the meantime being liable to be taken for public purposes or sold by auction by the Government, or occupied for mining purposes as before. A large party in the colony claimed the immediate abolition of squatting licenses, but as such a stroke would involve the destruction of a vast quantity of private property, and as more than one-fourth of the public lands were taken away for the purpose of agricultural areas, I considered it a just compromise to sanction this additional occupation. The squatters did not exhibit any violent discontent, and they were generally supposed to have made a good bargain. But in secret they plotted to evade, by shameless and unprincipled devices, the purpose and provisions of the law.
When the measure came into operation the Argus, in its character of leading journal, declared that it abounded in possibilities of good, and was capable of giving a greater impulse to the progress of the Colony than any event which occurred since the discovery of gold. This beneficent measure encountered formidable difficulties, and for a time failed in its main purposes. Dishonest persons, hired by the squatters, took up large quantities of land, not for their own use and benefit, as they falsely affirmed, but for the use of their paymasters. And the punishment which the act provided for such offences was skilfully and successfully evaded. Now, when the whole facts are familiar, we can fairly judge the causes of that failure. In truth it arose wholly and solely from the manner in which the measure was drafted. The principles of a Bill are settled in the Cabinet on the initiative of the Minister who is to introduce it to Parliament; the distribution of it into sections is as strictly a professional task as the building of a bridge or the construction of a railway. As a draftsman on this occasion, the Attorney-General selected Mr. Hearne, a professor in the University, and as it would need much care and long consideration, he determined to give him the unusual fee of £500 for performing the task. Every clause was submitted in proof to me and to the law officers. Mr. Dennison Wood, the Solicitor-General, did not concur in some of the provisions, but I have never doubted that this fact made him more careful to carry them out effectually. The Attorney-General, Mr. Ireland, made self-destructive admissions at a later period, of which the reader shall hear in due course, but at this time they were wholly unsuspected by me. When the first areas were thrown open for selection it was found that the squatters who had formerly held the land set deliberately to work to evade the law. They hired persons at so much a head to make falsely the declaration required by the Act—that the land selected was for the selector's own use and benefit, when it was notoriously not for his own use, but for the use of his employer. And to increase their chance of success they had several applicants for each allotment, certain banks having entered into a conspiracy with them to allow a number of cheques to be drawn against the same deposit, as only one cheque could be successful and need to be paid. On these facts being disclosed I stopped the banking device by ordering that only gold or bank-notes should be received for the future by the land officers, and I prepared to prosecute the violators of the Act. But now the draftsman's first blunder appeared. Under the Act the person making a false declaration was liable to a prosecution for misdemeanour, and the person employing him to a prosecution for conspiracy. I caused to be collected and submitted to the Law Officers evidence against a number of dummy selectors, as they were called, and their employers. They were prosecuted, the jury convicted them, and the reaction seemed complete, but a point of law raised for them was reserved. The Supreme Court quashed the conviction on the ground that the word "trustee" ought to have been used in the Act instead of the word "agent," and because the declaration required was one which (under an old Act of Parliament) ought to have been made before a Justice of the Peace. Is it necessary to argue that this was solely the blunder of the draftsman or the Attorney-General, under whose authority he acted? A little earlier I advised all persons who had been disappointed in obtaining land to summon the fraudulent selectors before a Sheriff's jury, and several immediately did so. When the proceedings commenced, however, it was discovered that there was no power to compel the attendance of witnesses, and from this defect the agency of Sheriff's juries, from which so much had been expected, was almost abandoned. There was another provision in the Act intended to secure the land to actual cultivators. It was provided that if the selector did not, within one year from selection, erect a habitable dwelling upon his allotment, or surround it with a substantial fence, or cultivate at least one acre in ten, he should be liable to a penalty of 5s. per acre. It is plain that this penalty would make it in most instances impossible for the squatter or monopolist to hold the land, as the penalty, in addition to the interest on his purchase-money, would amount to more than the most profitable pasturage would repay. But the Act omitted to make the assign of a selector liable to the penalty as well as the selector himself; and the consequence was that when the decision of the Supreme Court stopped the prosecution of fraudulent selectors they were enabled to assign the land to their dishonest employers, and these employers escaped the penalty of 5s. an acre. Thus every defect in the Act was a defect in its legal structure, not a defect in any of the principles it was intended to carry out! In the consternation which these failures produced, I took a course which would have been indefensible under ordinary circumstances. I insisted on submitting the opinion which the Law Officer sent for my guidance to a barrister unconnected with office, and sent it to Mr. Higinbotham, who advised that I was bound to follow the opinion of the legal advisers of the Government. The measure, amended by a subsequent Parliament, became the permanent law of Victoria, and has regulated agricultural settlement for more than a generation. The French Government in New Caledonia, where there were no squatters in possession to conspire against the law, adopted my Land Act almost in its entirety for use in that colony. Another division of the Act dealt with the rent of pastoral land. The undoubted and express intention of the measure was to obtain an increased rent; and from a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year was expected. When the increased rents were fixed by the Board of Land and Works appeals were taken out against them, and the arbitrators to whom the appeals were committed did not increase, but actually diminished, the entire amount heretofore paid for the use of the public territory. Against such a contingency we had provided in the Act. The Board of Land and Works were authorised to increase the rent, if it were too low, at any period during twelve months. But here again the draftsman failed fatally; it was decided that such increase could only be made in cases where there had been no appeal, and appeals had been nearly universal. I refused to acquiesce in this decision, and I immediately prepared a Bill to amend the Land Act in this respect, and in all other respects in which it had proved defective.
When the amended Bill came before the Cabinet it was encountered by divided counsels. A section of the Cabinet were of opinion that a thorough revision of the Act amending the legal phraseology re-establishing the original principles was altogether indispensable, but at least many were lukewarm or hostile. I would have resigned if the proposed reforms were rejected, and as that would have brought the Government to an end they were languidly accepted; but I had not a united Government at my back. When I submitted my amended Bill to Parliament, and a debate ensued, no member of the Government took part in it. At the usual hour a proposal was made from the front Bench of Opposition to adjourn the debate, which was expected to last for several days. I made no objection to the adjournment, and there was no other member of the Government, except Mr. Nicholson, in the House. While I was conversing for a moment with one of our supporters behind the Treasury Bench, Mr. Ireland walked rapidly into the House and interrupted the motion for adjournment by a vehement call for a division. The Speaker pronounced a peremptory formula, "The House will divide," and the division was taken. The Squatters and their friends united with the regular Opposition and defeated the Bill by a majority of twelve. What honourable spectators thought of the transaction will be represented in a significant manner by a note Mr. Higinbotham wrote me next morning:—
"My dear Sir,—The vote I gave last night occasioned me greater pain than any public act done by me since I entered Parliament. The circumstance of my giving a silent vote seems to me to require a word of explanation addressed to yourself.
"I voted against your motion because I was of opinion that a departure from the awards, with the view of increasing the revenue derived from the squatters, would furnish ground of complaint of a breach of public faith. I intended to state my reasons to the House", but the extraordinary conduct of your colleagues in withholding all support from the Government proposal prevented me. The two speakers who followed you both approved the motion, and I thought that if I followed on the same side it might be considered as an unnecessary and uncalled-for assistance given to the enemies of the Government. I therefore waited and waited for some one to rise on the Government side, until at last the question was put. A moment afterwards I felt that I was wrong, and that even though I should have had to oppose your motion I ought to have spoken what I thought about yourself, more especially when you were deserted by those whose support you had a right to expect, and were assailed by ungenerous and unjust words from Mr. Brooke. I know that my motives in voting against the Government on this occasion will probably be misconstrued, but I shall not care what others think if you do not suppose that at this time of personal trial to you I have, for an unworthy purpose, refused you my support or ungenerously held my tongue because the audience was unfriendly to you. I really think that I was silent for a reason you would not censure, and yet I am distressed by the feeling that I may have seemed to have treacherously abandoned you.
"I earnestly hope that your judgment will not lead you to this unfavourable conclusion.—Believe me, yours very sincerely,
Current political rumours declared that Mr. O'Shanassy would come to an understanding with his late squatter supporters, and a new Administration, from which Mr. Duffy would be omitted, would deal with the crisis to their satisfaction.
It is certain some of my colleagues thought there would be a speedy reorganisation. As we were leaving the Government House Mr. O'Shanassy told the Chief Secretary's orderly, in that bantering tone popularly called "half joking, whole earnest," that he need not send him his books and portfolios, as he would be wanting them again in about a fortnight. But he strangely miscalculated the result of his last stroke of policy. He lived nearly twenty years after, and was constantly active in politics, but never again attained office. The majority of his colleagues, on the contrary, were several times in office, with the exception of Mr. Ireland, who shared the fate of his chief.
During this period of engrossing business, correspondence flowed on for which I had little leisure. My old competitor, Mr. Childers, wrote:—
"17, Prince's Gardens, W., March 26, 1862.
"My dear Duffy,—The receipt of the photographed map which you were good enough to send me affords me an opportunity of writing to you after rather a long silence. You will, I am sure, understand with what satisfaction I heard of your return to office, and of the successes of your Government. I was not only glad to see so many friends of both the old parties well in harness together, but, in common with all who knew or cared anything about Colonial politics, I rejoiced at the chance which Parliamentary Government will, I hope, now have of a fair trial.
"You seem to be really doing wonders, and making up for the no-legislation of some years. I am particularly delighted with the Land Bill, and at the final explosion of your opponents' illegal scheme (the Occupation Licenses). The latter did great mischief here, not that anybody troubled to inquire how it did it, but because it was proclaimed to be an extensive act of repudiation and confiscation, and would be a precedent for any enormity.—Very faithfully yours,
"Hugh E. Childers."
Mr. Lowe, who had been wounded in a brutal election riot, reported himself recovered, and sent kindly wishes for the work we were doing in Australia:—
"Board of Trade, December 8, 1861.
"My dear Sir,—It gives me great pleasure to hear that you have not been disappointed with Australia, and that the climate is more after my notion.
"I am much obliged to you for your kind inquiries. I have, I believe, quite recovered the blow I received, and which so nearly cut short my career here.
"I have watched with much interest your proceedings, and on the only subject on which so remote a person both in space and time may venture to offer an opinion, 'The Land Question,' wish you very heartily success. The only thing wanting to place Australia on its true footing is cheap and abundant land, and I rejoice to see that the seed which I tried to sow ten years ago is at last beginning to ripen.—Believe me always, very truly yours,
Seventy years ago one of the most noted names among the Edinburgh Reviewers who were fighting the early battles of reform in law, politics, literature, and social progress, was Francis Horner. His sister married Myles Byrne, a Wexford rebel in 1798, later a Chef de Brigade in the armies of Napoleon, and recently dead. In later years he had written his memoirs from the beginning to the end of an honourable career, and his widow, who had published them in Paris and London, sent me a copy of them at this time, which I read with keen interest.
"I send you (she said) a copy of the memoirs of my beloved and lamented husband, Myles Byrne, knowing well how you will value these precious memoirs. My dear husband left them all quite fit for the press. He had the habit of writing some pages every day; I then copied them clearly, and then he revised what I wrote. You may well believe I have not had one word altered of what he wrote with so much care. In order that there might be no interpolations or omissions in the printing I kept everything under my own control, being at the whole expense of printing, &c., and of getting the etching done by a first-rate artist at Paris. It is after a drawing I did of my dear Myles twenty-three years ago, which was considered a striking likeness."
I have mentioned the generous conduct of a young Protestant official, afterwards one of the "Four Kings of Somerset House," when I was leaving for Australia. A letter at the period we have now reached closed the correspondence on that subject, but not my friendly relations with the writer, which were unbroken till his death.
"Londonderry, February 13, 1863.
"I did not receive your letter, my dear sir, in time to answer it by the next mail; the bill of exchange came safe to hand, and I enclose a voucher in return, which, I assure you, I part from with regret, as I never looked at it without a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at the confidence you reposed in me by permitting it to remain in my hands.
"Such a thing as interest should never, even for an instant, be thought of between us. It was merely an offer, frankly and heartily made, and kindly accepted, and to the latest hour of my life the recollection of it will be to me a source of unmingled pride and gratification.
"I send you by this post a number of the Kilkenny Archæological Society's proceedings. You will see at a glance that it supplies a want, and, in fact, is laboriously collecting material for some future Irish Macaulay. Shall I send you the past and future numbers?—Very faithfully yours,
Mr. Martin, afterwards Sir James Martin, and Chief Justice of the Colony, was long repressed in New South Wales by an opposition chiefly personal, which included leaders of both parties. I did not agree with his political views, which were too Conservative, but I was indignant to see him habitually intercepted in his career by men altogether inferior to him acting on motives in which envy of his superior abilities formed a manifest part. He came to office at length at this time, and to my congratulations he sent this reply:—
"Chambers, Sydney, 1862.
"Many thanks for your congratulations.
"Although my return has been effected in spite of the most persevering opposition of the so-called Liberal party, I very much fear that the hostility to intellect, which you deplore, is still all-powerful throughout this country. It will take years of bitter experience to teach the masses of the people that the business of legislation cannot with safety be entrusted to the ignorant stump orators and pothouse politicians who are now practically our rulers.
"It is possible that you and I, if in the same assembly, would not often agree in reference to the forms of the Constitution, but in all those matters which constitute the business of Government I am disposed to think that we should generally be found voting on the same side.
"Again thanking you for your kind remembrance of me, believe me to be yours most faithfully,
"James C. Martin."
A new Administration, under Mr. McCulloch, was now created, which exercised power under various modifications and some temporary interruption for eight years, a period nearly as long as the seven Administrations which preceded it had occupied. It was a coalition between the squatters and the more moderate of the democracy. The former were represented by three squatters, two of them were also import merchants, a banker, and two barristers at the head of their profession. The democracy were represented by a coachbuilder, a mining agent, an attorney, and an accountant. It did not include one of the discontented democrats who had gone over to the squatters on the fall of the Nicholson Government; and Mr. Brooke, the agent of that intrigue, and author of the illegal Occupation Licenses, was omitted. Mr. McCulloch was the head of the squatting party, and Mr. Heales of the democracy; the Law Officers, Messrs. Michie and Higinbotham, constituted a nexus between them. When I went, according to ordinary official courtesy, to introduce the new President of the Board of Land and Works to the Department I was quitting, I exhorted him to save my Land Act in the spirit he had always professed. He said he had only entered the Government on a strict understanding that he would be able to establish the principles he had always contended for, and he could count upon Grant and Sullivan to aid him. Mr. McCulloch told him that his friends would not endure Brooke, and so that ingenious person was happily got rid of. Dr. Owen was made Whip, neither he nor any of that connection being admitted to office. I told Heales I would support the Government in any genuine attempt to amend the Land Act, and concur in no party move against them until they had an opportunity of doing so.
When Parliament reassembled, my colleagues went into direct opposition to the Government; I announced to the House the same purpose I had stated to Mr. Heales, to support them in amending the Land Act, if such was their purpose, and to take no part in any hostile vote while they exhibited the intention of doing so. Mr. Heales was well-intentioned, but weak and uncertain. Mr. Grant was still untried, but I had confidence in the sincerity and strength of Mr. Higinbotham, who declared that the new Government were bound to accept the Land Act of 1862 as the basis of the land policy of the" colony. They would take steps to correct any errors or frauds that could be shown to have been committed in the making of the awards, and also to secure the agricultural lands for bonâ fide settlers. Mr. Grant introduced a Bill to revise the Land Act, containing many clauses from my recent Bill, and I was able to support it, and save the Government from defeat upon it, but their majority was a very small one, and it was manifest it would soon become necessary to appeal to the people.
When the dissolution of Parliament approached I determined to take the opportunity of making a visit to Europe for a couple of years. A physique which was not vigorous, and was highly sensitive, was strained by the emotions my career naturally produced, and ten years' constant labour entitled me to a holiday. From the correspondence of friends since returned to me I find I had intimated this intention from the beginning of 1864.
To John O'Hagan I wrote:—
"Do you know I confidently count upon seeing you some time next year. I propose to leave this in January, 1865, with a couple of my children (bound for Stonyhurst) and Mrs. Duffy, and after transacting some necessary business in London to go over to Dublin in June or July; thence to Italy, Germany (if you are not at war with our Teutonic brethren), France, Belgium, and perhaps Spain and Portugal, and, it may be, America. I recently fished up, and read for the second time at least, your journal of Continental travel ten years ago. It gave it a freshness and intensity to know that I may go over the same ground next year, see what you describe, and do what you have done, always excepting your flirtation with charming Italian peasant girls, of which there is nothing in the journal, but which I can fancy from my recollection of your rambles in Minister the time that we were gipsying a long time ago. A whole year with nothing to do but see old friends and explore new regions and races! It seems like the gift of some good fairy, beyond any reasonable work-day possibility, to one like me, whose life has had so little repose. For a quarter of a century the roll of the printing machine or some other call as imperative has been in my ears to banish enjoyment, except what one can get in the business of his life. But to propitiate Fortune (who might spoil the fine castles I have been building) I will endeavour to do some useful work by gathering information for Australia from the habits and industries of Southern countries in Europe, so that my enjoyment may not be altogether selfish.
"I am not sure that the excursions I look forward to with most pleasure are not trips to Howth and Bray with a few old friends. You know who they are—half a dozen, perhaps, whom this new world has not been able to replace. Though I have never for a moment regretted coming here, I have missed many things. If I could love my work as well as the work of old, and be as ready to spend and be spent for it, and love my associates half as well, this would be a heaven upon earth."
John Dillon had induced me to take an active part in conjunction with him in promoting a National O'Connell Monument in Dublin in the April of that year. He wrote to inquire what sum Australia would contribute, but spoke of a rumour of my visit which already prevailed.
"Reports reach us here occasionally of an intention on your part to pay us a visit. I think I am safe in promising you a right royal reception should you make your appearance here in the course of the coming summer or autumn. I should like greatly to see you in Ireland, not merely for the enjoyment of meeting an old and dear friend, but also because your appearance amongst us would greatly stimulate a public spirit which is slowly awakening."
I heard by telegram of the death of Smith O'Brien, one of the most upright and disinterested men I ever encountered in life. The event was unexpected, as he was a man of vigorous frame and simple habits, destined, it would appear, to live long. Cashel Hoey reported that the cause of his death was not known to his friends, to whom it was a great surprise.
Six months later Dillon wrote of the National Association, of which he had become honorary secretary:—
"You may perceive I have become to some extent a public character, and certainly have had no cause to complain of my reception after so long an absence from public life. It often occurs to me that if you were here now we could certainly rouse into action whatever force there is left in the country. The feeling towards me is favourable, and towards you I think you will find it enthusiastic. Be prepared, then, not only for a reception in the highest degree cordial, but also for every effort short of actual duress to keep you here. As one of Smith O'Brien's executors I hold for Mr. Lapham a sum of £500 bequeathed to him by O'B., and you will be doing a kind office to our lost friend by giving me reliable information as to the whereabouts of the object of his bounty. I am of course very anxious to be very sure of the man before I send him the money."
Childers, who was at this time probably First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote:—
"I shall be heartily glad to welcome you to the old country, and I hope to the House, again. I had some chat about you and the chance of your return with Maguire and a merry party of Cork men the other day when the Admiralty went over to see about docks for the South of Ireland. They all hoped to see you again and begged me to say so."
Before I started for Europe Parkes wrote to me: "Can I in any way return your kindness in giving me letters of introduction in 1861? The only person worth knowing of whom I think is the author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays,' except those who are better known to you than to me; but, would you feel disposed to look at the manufacturing wonders of Birmingham, I can give you letters that will open the sealed doors of that great workshop.
"I owe much to you, my dear friend—for strength in moments of weakness for consolation in severe trouble—for new lights of thought anent the barrenness of life. On your leaving this part of the world I would tender in lieu of payment my warmest wishes and my affectionate regards. Do not reject the worthless offering.
"For myself I am going through a wondrous change of thought and feeling, and when you see me again, if you ever do see me again, you will find me an altered man, perhaps neither a wiser nor a better.
"Adieu, my dear Duffy, and God grant protection to you and yours on your journey. May your life be long and prosperous, full of usefulness and honour."
Cashel Hoey at the same time recorded a strange adventure of his own:—"I believe I last wrote to you from Paris in April, and if I remember rightly I told you I was going to see the Emperor the next week. He gave me a very long private audience—that is to say, of thirty-five minutes—during which we both talked with uncommon activity. I need hardly tell you he talks well, clearly, easily, unaffectedly, and to the point. This you have heard, as well as that when he speaks to strangers in private audience he throws off the Emperor very completely. I was prepared for all this, and still the man's manner amazed me. I have seldom seen the face of a man of mature age over which expression flitted so fast, or which smiled so often in five minutes' time. He laughed until his great moustache broke into a jungle of jolly individual hairs at one or two things I happened to say, which were perhaps humorous, but not sufficiently so for transportation to Australia at this time of day. I had the idea that I was to deal with a Sphinx, and a man in a mask, and all that. I came away, sure at all events, that that reading of the riddle is rubbish. Physically he seems to be at present very strong—a clean, saffron skin, nerves perfectly taut, not a bloodshot vein in his eye. But he smoked all the time he was talking to me, and I believe smoked all day long. He is very small. You know my height. Our noses were within a foot of each other all the time we spoke, and I found that my eyebrows were on a level with the top of his head. It is the biggest head I ever saw—bigger than Macavoy's. He addressed me in English with—'I am very happy, sir, to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance'—and so set the conversation in that language, but he does not speak it so well as I had heard. His vocabulary is limited, his utterance slow, and he speaks with a certain German or Swiss accent.
"Herein, however, I perhaps did him an injustice from comparing his English with Montalembert's with whom I had spent several hours of the previous day. Hours of continuous single combat, in which I accused him of being that detestable character, a Frenchman more English than the English themselves, and so trying to blot out the ancient love and loyalty which ran between his country and Ireland. I got it all out—three hours of it in his library with a marshal of Louis Quatorze and a knight of the Golden Fleece looking down from the walls in dismay. But at the end he put his arm round my neck and seduced me. 'Why aren't you in Parliament—why aren't you in Parliament?' he said, 'You think we know more than we do. Your words stun me.' And like a palavering and insinuating deluder, as he is, when I was going away, he would still clasp me by the shoulders and hold me by the hand, and say, 'Why aren't you in Parliament?' I had not the cruelty to retort, 'Why aren't you?' I was speaking of Montalembert's English—which is the most masterly thing I ever heard. I don't know any Englishman who speaks such good English in conversation. It is quite as good as Gladstone's is in public parole—and with the fine French glancing academic grace, and the inbred ancient nobility of his manner, the effect is a thing not to be forgotten. I saw a good deal of him—I visited him, he visited me, and I went to Madame la Comtesse's reception—but I did not feel somehow that we were cordial at the end."
Charles Kean and his gifted wife were at this time in Melbourne, and all cultivated people had the highest enjoyment in their acting and reading, especially the lady's. I have never seen a finer piece of comedy than a bit of Mrs. Kean's performance of Portia, in which, without uttering a single word, she threw the house into roars of laughter. After the trial scene, while Shylock is being finally disposed of in the foreground, Portia retired to the rear, and received the congratulations of her friends with an air and attitude which were irresistibly comic. In some readings which she gave one got new impressions of the scope and penetration of the human voice. Towards the close of their stay I read one morning in a journal named the Victorian, which represented Irish interests in political affairs, an altogether shameful attack on Charles Kean, and as respects Mrs. Kean almost ruffianly. My first impulse was to write to Mrs. Kean to tell her how much disgusted I felt, and to beg of her not to believe that it represented the opinion of Irishmen in Australia. This was her reply:—
"St. Kilda, March 31, 1864.
"My dear Sir,—Allow me to thank you exceedingly for your most kind letter, and at the same time to beg that you will dismiss from your mind the thought that we could for one moment imagine you would directly or indirectly sanction any 'vulgar, foul misrepresentation' concerning us. I was aware of the unprovoked malevolence with which my husband had been attacked by a certain party in Melbourne, but we had neither of us seen the journal to which you allude nor were we even conscious of its existence.
"Mr. Coppin sends us our newspapers, but he has doubtless kept anything so offensive from our sight.
"Great men in all professions are the targets against which envious pretenders shoot their clumsy arrows, but when a rabble is hired to throw mud and stones, and there is no police to act, it is time to remove with all speed from so unprotected a locality. It is a great pity that all men of standing do not combine to put down by strong demonstration a system of low abuse that must be dangerous at least to a portion of society. If men are passively tolerant of wrong they will themselves shrink from committing, and allow the young to become familiarised with unfair dealing and coarse language, how degraded and brutalised the minds of these people must become in a couple or three generations.
"We shall soon be many thousand miles away, and it will be of little moment to us how a certain journal in Melbourne sullies its pages.
"We have received great attention, great kindness, courtesy, and hospitality from the Australians, and we shall carry home with us, besides the substantial results of our success, many delightful memories; but we shall also carry with us the recollection that the only annoyance we encountered in the Colonies emanated from a party of Mr. Kean's own countrymen.
"I shall prize your letter, and keep it as an evidence that there was 'one Irishman' who raised his voice against this vulgar persecution. "Mr. Kean is at present recovering the words of a character paper not cited for many years, and I have not disturbed his mind from study by mentioning this subject to him, but I shall take the earliest opportunity of placing your kind letter before him.—Again thanking you, my dear sir, permit me to subscribe myself yours sincerely,
I went to the office of the Victorian to ascertain who was the culprit, and to my profound surprise learned that the scurrilous writer was the regular theatrical critic of the leading journal, an Englishman who made the Irish Press the vehicle for slander he dared not print under his own hand.
Before I sailed for Europe a transaction occurred in which I took a lively interest, the chief promoter being Mr. Edward Wilson. From the period when Melbourne was a petty village in an outlying province of New South Wales, the project of making a convict depot there was resisted, but the Colonial Office would not listen to objections. In 1849 two shiploads of convicts were sent out by Lord Grey, the Colonial Secretary, and duly arrived in Port Phillip harbour. The indignation of the inhabitants was strong and universal. A great meeting was held to protest against this malign project. Multitudes marched down from Melbourne to the port, among them men who afterwards held the highest offices in the law and in the Executive Government. A deputation was sent to the quasi-Governor requesting him to order the vessels to proceed to Botany Bay a penal settlement—and announcing that the landing of the convicts would be resisted if necessary by force. The Governor agreed with the colonists, but the skippers refused to proceed to Sydney, as such a change of destination would forfeit their insurance. They were offered the choice of doing as they were ordered or returning to England, and finally they accepted the Governor's instructions. Thus the future colony of Victoria was saved from the taint of convictism. But a few years after when the gold discovery made the new colony the Mecca of the adventurous classes, the worst convicts in Tasmania and New South Wales found their way to the Victorian diggings, and a serious portion of the public expenditure was incurred in defending society against their exploits. The Colonial Office was repeatedly appealed to to stop a system of which, wherever the convicts were originally sent, Victoria was sure to be the victim. But the appeal produced no effect, and even after we had obtained free constitutions, we had not succeeded in stopping the discharge upon our shores of the most desperate and depraved ruffians in England. Some of their achievements exceed belief. They seized upon squatters' stations, and not merely plundered and destroyed at discretion, but amused themselves in their drunken revels by blazing away with revolvers at their prisoners. The destruction of the system was attributable to a bold coup struck at this time by Edward Wilson, the proprietor of the Argus. As England continued to send her convicts to Australia, he proposed to collect some of the worst of them whose sentences had expired, and send them back to their native country. A committee was formed of men willing to aid this project. A retired officer of the convict department in Tasmania, familiar with thousands of these ruffians, undertook to find any quantity necessary who were willing to return to England. The passages of about a dozen of them were paid, and an order given to each of them for a small sum to be handed to him on landing. The expense of returning one of these seasoned ruffians to London or Liverpool amounted to about £15, and Mr. Wilson was persuaded that there would be funds forthcoming for the passage of a thousand. But before a dozen of these prodigal children had returned to their country, transportation was abandoned, this bold stroke being, I am persuaded, the chief factor in our deliverance.
- Mr. Brodribb communicated the result of his inquiry to me in the subjoined note:—
"My dear Sir,—Mr. Higinbotham thinks that the fact of the completion of the survey before the passing of the Land Act has been suffi- sufficiently brought out, and the other fact is not important enough to be formally stated in the House (the fact, viz., that the surveyor was appointed by your predecessor). He thinks your vindication so complete that nothing further is needed on your part, and a recurrence to the subject in the House would appear as if intended to disarm suspicions which really have no existence.—Ever faithfully yours,
"K. E. Brodribb."
- See vol. ii. p. 287.
- Before parting from this era, there are many collateral incidents which I would gladly recall if I did not fear overloading my narrative. One trivial one is curious for its catastrophe. Before introducing the Land Bill I made a long journey with the Surveyor-General to become familiar with the territory, and an incident befel us in the Loddon district which moved mingled wrath and laughter. The district surveyor had laid out a new road which he had manifestly planned upon paper, for it ran into a precipice which it would cost some thousands of pounds to bridge. Within a few perches of the proposed road lay the one long employed in the country, which altogether avoided the precipice. When our carriage arrived at this point we found the ordinary road blocked by a gate, and a man in attendance to receive toll, who demanded half-a-crown to permit us to pass. We inquired if he had legal authority for levying a toll on a public pathway. Yes, he said, he had legal authority enough, for the land was his own property. We inquired when he had purchased the highway, and if he would show us his title deed. He had legal authority enough, he said; he held it by occupation license. We reminded him that no occupation license would entitle him to levy a toll, and we assured him that if the authorities in Melbourne heard of his proceedings, his license would immediately be withdrawn. "No fear," said he, "you may see the license hanging up in my hut; and it is signed by the President of the Board of Land and Works and the Surveyor-General, and nobody else can touch it." "You persist, then," said Ligar," "in levying the toll?" "Certainly I do." "Well," said Ligar, "let me have the honour of making you known to the present President of Land and Works, and of presenting myself—the Surveyor-General." That settler levied no more toll.
- The map Mr. Childers refers to was one of an agricultural area named after him. I named all the areas after men who had distinguished themselves in Parliament or the judiciary, and the Argus, which was then edited by Mr. Patmore, brother of the English poet, insisted that there were too many Irish names. "Too many!" cried Aspinall, "he means too few; there would not have been a murmur of complaint if you had only put in one Patmore."