Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/January 1899/The Evolution of Colonies: Industrial Evolution VI

Popular Science Monthly Volume 54 January 1899  (1899) 
The Evolution of Colonies: Industrial Evolution VI by James Collier




JANUARY, 1899.




THE earliest nomadic stage of mankind has left traces in many of the colonies. The first age of French Canada, of New York, of great part of North America, was one of hunters and trappers, and it has continued in the Northwest till recent times. The first brief period of Rhodesia was that of the big-game hunter. The Boers of the Transvaal are still as much hunters as farmers. The American backwoodsman who clears a patch, then sells his improvements to the first newcomer, and, placing his wife and children and scanty belongings on a cart, proceeds da capo elsewhere, is a nomadic pioneer. The stage is in one way or another perpetual, for the class never quite dies out. The drunken English quarryman who, driven by a demon of restlessness, continually goes "on tramp," and in his wanderings covers on foot a space equal to twice the circumference of the globe, is a demi-savage whose nomadism is only checked by the "abhorred approaches of old age." If he emigrates, he repeats the old, wild life as a pick-and-shovel man in Queensland or a quarryman in New South Wales. The soberer colonial youth, who more luxuriously canters from farm to farm in New Zealand on the back of a scrub, is a tamer specimen who settles down when he marries. Nay, the "restless man" who periodically applies for leave of absence from a colonial legislature in order to travel in India, China, and Timbuctoo, is a still milder but not less incorrigible example of the same indestructible type.

The pastoral stage is all but universal. Wherever grass grows (and there is wild grass almost everywhere) sheep can graze, and where there are succulent twigs cattle will fatten on them. The South American estancias and the ranches of Colorado, the cattle runs of Queensland and northern New Zealand, the sheep runs of Victoria and New South Wales repeat and perpetuate this stage. The genesis of it may even now be daily observed. A Manchester accountant who has never before been astride a horse will in twelve months learn the mysteries of cattle and sheep farming, then purchase a hundred acres or two from the colonial Government, gradually clear it of timber, build of his own trees, with no skilled assistance, a weatherboard cottage, and take home a swiftly wooed wife to lead with him a rather desolate existence in "the bush." Or (on a larger scale) a squatter,[1] who is commonly a gentleman by birth and education, comes out from England with inherited wealth, buys or leases from the Government a large inland tract of grazing land, takes with him flocks and herds, shepherds and stockmen, builds a bark or wooden manor house, and settles down to the life of Abram on the plains of Mamre. In earlier days, when the colony was in its infancy, he would not have had to purchase or lease his "run." One country after another saw the golden age of a would-be landed aristocracy. As Norman William parceled out all England among his nobles and knights, rulers of conquered countries were then mighty free with what did not belong to them. Possessing the authority of a sovereign, Columbus made lavish grants of land, and thus pacified his rebels. Charles II presented Carolina to eight proprietors. Baronies of twelve thousand acres in South Carolina, manors of twenty thousand acres in Maryland, were dwarfed by territorial principalities of more than a million acres in New York. The absolute governors of early Australia gave away wide tracts. When land was not given it was taken, on Rob Roy's principle. During the interregnum that followed the recall of the first Governor of New South Wales, military robbers seized fifteen thousand acres, and under subsequent administrations they continued their depredations. Land was held on various tenures. The first American forms were varieties of belated feudalism; of a hundred often strange and ridiculous emblems of suzerainty perhaps a dozen repeated Old World customs,[2] Sir H. S. Maine has proved that nearly all the feudal exactions that maddened a whole people to mutiny in 1789 were then in force in England. How shadowy they must have grown is shown by the fact that none of them was transported to Botany Bay in that or later years. They were atrophied portions of the British land system when Australia was founded in 1788. For fully sixteen years the possession of lands granted or seized was as absolute as the English law ever allows it to be. Then the landholders, finding the large tracts already conceded insufficient for the development of the pastoral industry, applied for more, and themselves suggested in 1803 a plan of leasing crown lands which in the following year was legalized as "the first charter of squatterdom"; it was the beginning of a system that has brought under pastoral occupancy territories as extensive as the largest European countries. The land system formed part of or gave birth to a political organization. A host of so-called seigneurs imported into old Canada as much of the ancien régime as would bear the voyage. Manors in Maryland reproduced the feudal courts-baron and courts-leet. The great New York landowners, as inheriting both English and Dutch institutions, presided in such courts and were at the same time hereditary members of a powerful legislative order.[3] The courts were dropped on the way out to Australia, but the political influence of the English landed aristocracy inhered in their representatives at the antipodes. As the Southern slavearchy, through its Washingtons and Jeffersons, Clays and Calhouns, was for three quarters of a century the driving force in American politics, the Australian squatterarchy for one generation or more ruled the seven colonies with a sway that waxed as the absolute power of the governor waned. It composed the legislature, appointed the judges, controlled the executive, and if the governor was refractory it sent him home. In both southern countries social life reflected its tastes and was the measure of its grandeur. It constituted "society," ran the races, gave the balls, and kept open house; the surrounding villages lived in its sunshine. Why could not this patriarchal state last, as it has lasted in Arabia for thousands of years and in Europe for centuries? In the Southern States it was brought to bankruptcy by the civil war. In Australia it collapsed before two enemies as deadly—a succession of droughts and a fall in the price of wool. The banker has his foot on the squatter's neck. If one may judge from the published maps, three fourths of the freehold land in the older colonies is in the hands of the money lenders. The once lordly runholder, who would have excluded from his table, or at least from his visiting; circle, any one engaged in commerce, is now the tenant of a mortgage company which began by using him too well and ended by crushing him unmercifully.

It is also brought to a close by the rise of the agricultural stage. The colonial latifundia gets broken up for the same economic reasons as that of the mother country. Whenever from the increase of population wheat-growing becomes more profitable than grazing, land rises in value, and vast sheep walks are subdivided into two-hundredacre farms, which are put under the plow. The transition may be retarded in some countries and altogether arrested in others. Nasse has shown that, in consequence of the moisture of the climate, there was in the sixteenth century a continual tendency in England to revert from agriculture to pasture. The light rainfall, high temperatures, and unfertilized soil will forever keep nine tenths of Australia under grass. Most of the mountainous north and the glacier-shaved portions of the south of New Zealand must be perpetual cattle runs and sheep walks. A century or perhaps centuries will pass before much of the light soil of Tasmania, hardly enriched by the scanty foliage of the eucalyptus, is sufficiently fertilized by grazing to grow corn. Rich alluvial or volcanic lands are put under the plow, without passing through the pastoral stage, as soon as markets are created by the advent of immigrants. There is a cry for farm lands. Companies that have bought large estates break them up into allotments. When they or other large landholders still resist pressure, the radical colonial legislature accelerates their deliberations by putting on the thumbscrew of a statute which confiscates huge cantles of their land. Or the colonial Government, if socialist-democratic, purchases extensive properties, which it breaks up into farms and communistic village settlements. Over wide tracts the agriculturist, great and small, takes the place of the pastoralist. He holds his lands under a variety of tenures. New South Wales, in its search for an ideal form, has flowered into fifteen varieties. Other colonies are stumbling toward it more or less blindly through a succession of annual statutes. Where land is abundant the tenure will be easy. In North America nominal quitrents were general; the system was long since introduced into South Africa, and it has lately been imported into New Zealand in spite of all previous experience to the effect that such rents can not be collected. Mr. Eggleston remarks that in the United States the tendency was to "a simple and direct ownership of the soil by the occupant." Since those days Henry George has come and (alas!) gone. A craze for the nationalization of the land buzzes in the bonnets of all who have no land. There is an equal reluctance on the part of colonial legislatures to grant waste lands as freeholds and on the part of purchasers to accept them on any other terms. Hence the constant effort to devise a tenure which shall reserve the rights of the colony and yet not oppress the tenant. One legislature has blasphemed into the "eternal lease," which would seem to be almost preferable to absolute ownership in a country subject to earthquakes! But the tenure in the early days is unimportant. With a virgin soil yielding at first seventy and then regularly forty bushels to the acre, and high prices ruling, the farmer can stand any tenure. Seen at market or cattle show, his equine or bovine features and firm footing on mother earth suggest a sense of solidity in the commonwealth to which he belongs. He gives it its character. The legislature consists of his representatives. Laws are passed in his interest. He controls the executive. His sons fill the civil service. Judges sometimes come from his ranks, and lawyers easily fall back into them. He supports the churches and fills them. Small towns spring up in place of the pastoral villages to supply his wants. As the period of the Golden Fleece was the colonial age of gold, when Jason, the wool king, made a fortune, received a baronetcy, and, returning to the mother country, founded a county family and intermarried with the British aristocracy, so the agricultural stage is the colonial age of silver, in money as in morals. It lasted in England till well into the century, in Germany till the other day, in France till now. It is, in the main, the stage of contemporary colonies. What brings it to an end? The soil gets exhausted, prices fall, and a succession of wet seasons in New Zealand or of dry seasons in Australia or South Africa sends the farmer into the money market. Nearly every province of almost every colony gets mortgaged up to the hilt. The foot of the land agent is on the neck of the farmer, who becomes his tenant or serf—adscriptus glebæ as much as the Old English villeins who were the ancestors of the farmer, or the Virginia villeins who repeated in the seventeenth century the Old English status. But tenancy does not always arise out of bankrupt proprietorship. A capitalist may drain an extensive marsh (like that along the valley of the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales) and divide the rich alluvial soil into hundreds of profitable dairy farms. More inland marshes, like the Piako Swamp in New Zealand, have been so completely drained as to make the soil too dry to carry wheat, and so have swamped both capitalists and banker. Where the squatter owner keeps the land in his own hands, he may lease an unbroken-up tract for three or five years to a farmer who plows and fences it, takes off crops, pays a light rent of from five to fifteen bushels per acre, and leaves it in grass. On one tenure or another the whole colony gradually comes into cultivation.

The predominance of the agricultural interest is long threatened and at length shaken by the rise of the industrial stage. It is partly evolved from the pastoral and agricultural stages and partly independent. Nor do these stages at once and necessarily give rise to collective industry. In all young colonies where the population is scanty and processes are simple there are no division and no association of labor. The account that one of the best of American historians gives of the Northwest Territory might be accepted as a description of this primitive state, and realizes Fichte's ideal of a geschlossener Handelstaat (closed trade state). Shut in by mountains, the people raised their own flax and sometimes grew their own wool, which they spun and wove at home. They made their own spinning wheels and looms, as they made their own furniture. They tanned their own leather and cobbled rude shoes of it. Of Indian-corn husks they spun ropes and manufactured horse collars and chair bottoms. Barrels and beehives were formed of sawn hollow trees. They extracted sugar from the maple and tea from the sassafras root. Their boats were dug-out canoes. In colonies of later foundation this self-sufficing stage, which repeats an earlier period in the mother country than the time when the colony was given off, is dropped, though there are traces of it everywhere to be found. Sheep countries give birth to the woolen industry. New Zealand reduplicates the woolen manufactures of England and, owing to protective duties, has attained a deserved success. New South Wales, with finer wools, has not succeeded, for no other apparent reason than that she refuses to impose such duties. For it is to be observed that it is under legislative protection—bounties, bonuses, drawbacks, export and especially import duties—that almost every colonial industry has grown up, as the industries of the mother country grew up. Sometimes the profit in a particular undertaking is exactly equal to the amount of the import duty, and it is seldom greater. By taking extravagant advantage of the liberty long refused (as leave to manufacture was long refused to the North American colonies), but at length conceded, to impose import duties, an Australasian colony, misled as much by its own splendid energy as by evil counselors (Carlyle among them), built up a whole artificial system of industries which sank in ruinous collapse when the boom had passed. Independent industries spring first from the soil. Gold and silver mining lose their wild adventurous character, and become regular industries, worked by companies with extensive plants. The digging of gum in Auckland (bled from the gigantic Kauri pine) is operated by merchants who keep the gum diggers in a species of serfage. The discovery of coal makes native industries possible or remunerative, but till iron has been found the system is incomplete. All countries, and therefore all colonies, are late in reaching this stage; the most advanced contemporary colonies have not yet reached it. None the less have they followed England with swifter steps, if with less momentum, into the modern age of iron—that Brummagem epoch which has the creation of markets for its war cry, state socialism for its gospel, Joseph of Birmingham for its prophet, and the British Empire for its deity.

The iron age is fitly inaugurated by the most degraded relationship that man can bear to man—that of slavery. Only the oldest of modern colonies imitate the mother countries in passing through this stage; in those of later foundation a mere shadow of it remains, or it takes other shapes. Colonists first enslave the natives of the country where they settle. In the South American colonies, where they went to find gold, they would work for no other purpose; they therefore needed the natives to till the soil; they needed them also as carriers. For these purposes they were used unscrupulously. They were distributed among the Spaniards under a system of repartimientos which repeated the provisions of Greek and Roman slavery, and was itself reduplicated three centuries later in the convict assignment system of New South Wales. With such savage cruelty was it worked that, according to the testimony of Columbus, six sevenths of the population of Hispaniola died under it in a few years. The same form of slavery, but of a very different character, prevailed in Africa down almost to our own times. In the British colonies it was submerged in 1834, from causes exterior to itself, by the humanitarian wave that wrecked the West Indies; in the French colonies it was abolished by the revolutionary government of 1848; in the Dutch colonies it possibly subsists to this day. Theoretically abolished or not, the relationship between civilized whites and savage blacks must be everywhere a modified form of slavery; and a white colonization of the African tropics can only take place under conditions indistinguishable from a limited slavery. In colder or younger colonies, even if a more refined sentiment had permitted it, there could be no question of enslaving the fierce red Indians, the warlike Maoris, or the intractable Australian blacks. The Indians rendered some services to the northern colonists. The Maoris worked for the first immigrants into Canterbury, but as free laborers, and the phase soon passed away as more valuable labor arrived. Blacks were in the early years employed by the Australian settlers, but like nearly all savages they were found incapable of continuous industry. The next step is to import slaves. To lighten the oppression of the Mexicans, negroes were introduced, as they had previously been into Europe. There, and still more in the southern colonies of North America, they were the chief pioneers. They cut down forests, cleared the jungles, drained the swamps, and opened up the country. For the best part of two hundred years the world's sugar, rice, cotton, tobacco, and indigo were grown by negro labor. The effect on the negro himself has been to raise him one grade in the scale of being. If, as Mr. Galton believes, he is naturally two grades below the European, a place in the "organization of labor" will have to be found for him midway between the white workman and the slave. It is, indeed, being found. As a farmer the negro has totally failed. "But he is a good laborer under supervision. He is a success in the mines. He has found acceptance in the iron furnaces and about the coke ovens. He is in great demand in periods of railroad construction," and he is a Western pioneer. Above born and bred slaves for life there is the status of imported slaves for a term. For years Kanakas, hired or captured from the Melanesian Islands of the Pacific, were used as slaves by the sugar planters of Queensland, until the outcry in England put a stop to an ill-conducted traffic. It has since been resumed under humaner conditions, which make it as defensible as slavery can ever be. Coolies from India are imported into Fiji and Hongkong practically as free laborers. They are also employed on board the great liners that ply between India, China, Australia, and England, much to the discontent of the working class and to the great satisfaction of the well-to-do, who thus gain cheaper passages and lower freights. The radical opposition is no more likely to prevent this form of native labor from spreading to all suitable environments than the conservative opposition has prevented women from filling the employments within their improved capacities. The ubiquitous Chinaman, again, has imported himself into most colonies, and so long as he takes a place that the white laborer refuses to occupy, he will present the ugly problem of the coexistence of an indestructible alien race with a civilized people whose type of civilization and his are irreconcilable. European colonies have also known white slavery, as Greek and Roman colonies knew it, and slavery of their own race and nation, as European countries knew it. Its most degraded type has doubtless been Spanish, English, and French convictism. The Australian-English is the most familiar and the worst. The Australian convict was a slave for life or a long term. Like the slave, he was at the mercy of his master, excepting that corporal punishment could not be inflicted by the master's hands. The lash was none the less kept going; in a single year, in New South Wales, nearly three thousand floggings were administered. The Roman ergastula were pleasure bowers compared with the convict hells of Parramatta, in New South Wales, and Port Arthur, in Tasmania. Marcus Clarke's terrible fiction proves to be still more terrible fact. Convicts were herded together like pigs; kindness was rare, oppression general, and many fine men died inch by inch. Such was the state of things even after the introduction of the assignment system. According to that system, convicts were assigned as agricultural laborers and shepherds to settlers who cried out for them, as the American planters did for slaves. Craftsmen were allotted to high officials in lieu of salary or to influential persons who hired them to others (herein repeating English serfdom) or permitted them to work for themselves, receiving a portion of their earnings (herein repeating Greek slavery). Mechanics were employed on public works, and hundreds of buildings were erected by convict masons, bricklayers, and carpenters. Day laborers were employed on roads, and hundreds of miles of solid highway are a durable monument to the memory of the convict. They were the true pioneers of the country, braving the dangers of the "bush," resisting the aborigines, clearing and cultivating the land, and developing the resources of the colonies. For themselves they did well and ill. Many reformed, and after manumission, which was at first special and at length general, became respectable citizens, dealers, and traders. Some grew to be prosperous merchants, wealthy squatters, editors, legislators, and all but ministers. Their sons are judges, legislators, solicitors, Government officials, newspaper proprietors. After lasting for sixty years the system of transportation was at length abolished in consequence of the opposition of the working class, who objected to competition, and of the respectable classes generally. The legislative body and the large landowners were rather in favor of its perpetuity, and there are still members of the old "slave-driving party" in Tasmania who regret its discontinuance.

The bond servants, who were common in New England and at first more numerous than slaves in the Southern States, repeated the status of the English serfs. Their origin was various. Crime, debt, sale by parents, voluntary surrender, and kidnapping all contributed their quota. The period of indentured service was at first from seven to ten years, and was ultimately reduced to a fixed term of four years. They were exchanged and sold like any other commodity. Their treatment seems to have been often harsh. Like the Australian convicts, many of them prospered. Leading families in the United States trace their origin to bondmen. Not a few of the Southern overseers, free laborers, and small farmers are believed to be descended from them. The vagabond element in all the States, the "white trash" of the South, and the criminal and pauper inhabitants of certain regions in the North are also affiliated on the more degraded sections of the class.[4]

The worst of modern inventions, it has been said, is the invention of the workingman. The workingman, however, has a pedigree; he is the son of the bondman or the serf, and the grandson of the slave, who would have been still more discreditable "inventions" if they had not been the outgrowth of their time and place. The servile character of the workman long survived in European countries; it was not till the beginning of this century that the last trades were emancipated in England. While in North America and New South Wales the transition is plainly traceable, all vestiges of it have disappeared in the younger colonies. In these, almost from the first, the mechanic is master of the situation. The carpenter who can put up a wooden cottage commands regular work and high wages, while the preacher who builds him a house not made with hands is starved. The anomaly is in perfect consistency with the biological analogy; the brain is everywhere of late development. As the colony grows, wages fall, and the position of professional men becomes more tolerable, but, en revanche, the workman acquires and at length almost monopolizes political power. The premier and cabinet ministers are sometimes former peddlers, gold diggers, coal miners, shepherds, etc. The legislative bodies consist largely of labor representatives. Laws are passed in the interest of labor. Not content with a share of political power out of all proportion to their numbers or importance, the regimented trades, under the command of unscrupulous leaders, deliver a pitched battle against the employers, with the object of gaining practical possession of the agencies of production and distribution. They are necessarily defeated. The value of labor and the importance of the mechanic decline with the application of machinery to all industrial processes. Accumulated wealth, subsidizing inventions, acquires an increasing ascendency. The industrial system is in no greater danger from the onslaughts of labor than civilized countries from the invasion of barbarians.

Only the beginnings of the commercial epoch, or age of bronze, are to be found in colonies. In production we witness the same supersession of individual enterprise by the limited liability company. This is also the case in distribution, where many obsolete Old World stages are recapitulated. We may still see the long, slow bullock team, the wearied pack horse (the fur trade in Canada was carried on by "brigades of pack horses"), the hawker, purveyor of news and gossip. We easily trace the evolution of the shop: at first a ship, then landed, with everything inside—groceries, meat, bread, fruit, and vegetables, clothes, crockery, ironmongery, stationery, and tobacco; the butcher first hives off, then the baker, the grocer; in course of time reintegration takes place, and shops are to be found in the colonial cities which reduplicate Whiteley's in London, where everything may again be had as in the beginning. The processes of exchange likewise recapitulate the past. Barter is long universal, and is still common in colonial villages. Even then a standard is needed. In the Old English period the "currency" consisted of cattle, named by a facetious writer "the current kine of the realm." In Virginia and Maryland tobacco was the circulating medium for a century and a half, supplemented in Maryland with hemp and flax; taxes were paid in tobacco, and rent in kind. In Illinois and Canada, skins and furs, with wampum for small coin; in New England the latter singular currency was used far into the eighteenth century. New South Wales has the demerit of inventing the destructive medium of rum; wages were paid in it or in wheat; meal or spirits were taken at the doors of theaters. Store receipts for produce were given by the Government and passed current, not without depreciation; military officers issued bills for all sums up to one hundred pounds; private individuals, in the lack of specie, gave promissory notes. Fixed prices were long unknown; extortioners in the early days of all the colonies made a profit of a thousand per cent; and in quite recent days usurious attorneys exacted interest at the rate of a hundred per cent.

Colonies sometimes anticipate the development of the mother country. The communistic dreams of the forties in France and England were for a brief while realized in old Virginia, as they are at this hour being realized in the village settlements of South Australia; and the state socialism rendered popular by the German victories of 1870 was perhaps more thoroughly embodied in convict New South Wales than anywhere else outside of Peru under the Incas, as it is now sweeping all of the Australasian colonies onward to an unknown goal.

  1. In its primary American sense the word squatter denotes the backwoodsman described in the foregoing paragraph. In its secondary Australian sense it means the large landholder now described.
  2. See an instructive article by Mr. Edward Eggleston, Social Conditions in the Colonies. Century Magazine, 1884, pp. 849, 850.
  3. Eggleston, op. cit., p. 850.
  4. Eggleston, op. cit., p. 858.