Transportation and colonization/Chapter 11



The discontinuance of the assignment system in the Australian penal colonies necessarily presupposes a facility of obtaining free labour in that colony to whatever extent it may be required in future, by all the three classes of colonists above enumerated. It would obviously be preposterous for any person at all interested in the welfare and advancement of the colony to recommend the discontinuance of the assignment of convict labour to colonial proprietors, if no other species of labour of a more eligible character were procurable. This was undoubtedly the state of things in New South Wales five or six years ago. At that time free labour was not to be had in the colony; and it was not to be procured from the mother country but at great pecuniary expense and risk. In such circumstances, convict labour could not possibly have been dispensed with by the free inhabitants of the colony without absolute ruin; and the subject, therefore, of the continuance or discontinuance of the system in practice could not admit of argumentation. I am happy to state, however, that while the assignment system has, during the last five or six years, been becoming more and more objectionable every day, from the combined operation of the causes above enumerated, as well as from the assimilating property of concentrated depravity, when allowed to exert its natural influence on the matériel within its reach; the circumstances of the colony have during the same period become completely changed, both in regard to the practicability of procuring free labour from the mother country to any extent, and to the means of enabling the colonial executive to employ at the public works of the colony, and under efficient superintendence, the whole convict population.

In the year 1831, His Majesty's government were induced, on the representations of certain philanthropic persons in England, to discontinue the practice of making free grants of land to free emigrants in the Australian colonies, and to order that all Crown land in these colonies should thenceforward be sold by public auction, on being applied for by intending purchasers; (the upset or minimum price to be five shillings per acre;) and that the revenue arising from all such sales of land should be devoted exclusively towards the encouragement and promotion of emigration. Numerous and strong objections were advanced at the time both in Great Britain and in New South Wales against this change of system; and it was long and loudly asserted, that the proposed arrangement would completely put a stop to emigration, and that no revenue of any amount could ever be realized from the sale of waste land in the colonial territory. I am happy to state, however, that these objections have all proved unfounded, and that the system of selling land has already enabled the colonial government to realize a large and rapidly increasing revenue from that source; the future and exclusive appropriation of which to the encouragement and promotion of emigration promises not only to supply the free colonists of New South Wales with free labour to any extent, but to introduce an entirely new era in the colonial history of the empire, by rendering those transmarine and expensive appendages of the country, which have hitherto been regarded as drags and dead weights upon its body politic, of which it has sometimes even been represented as inexpedient to retain possession, useful and unexpensive outlets for its superabundant population, and sources of employment and wealth to all classes of its inhabitants, to an extent never dreamt of even by the most sanguine speculators.

At the time when the granting system was superseded by that of selling Crown land by public auction in the Australian colonies, the colony of New South Wales was slowly recovering from the effects of a severe and protracted drought, as well as from an unprecedented depreciation of property of all kinds, induced by extensive and ruinous speculations in sheep and cattle during the years 1826 and 1827. From these unforeseen and calamitous circumstances many of the colonists were deeply involved in debt, and many estates of great extent and value were, from time to time, disposed of at Sheriffs' sales for much less than the minimum price of Crown land established by government. In such circumstances, it was not to be expected that a large extent of such land could be disposed of for some time, even at the minimum price; and accordingly the purchases were at first very limited. In proportion, however, as the colonists began to recover their ground, and especially when the rapid increase of their flocks and herds rendered the extension of their estates, by the purchase of additional tracts of waste land from the government, absolutely necessary; these purchases increased with great rapidity, insomuch that the revenue arising exclusively from the sale of Crown land in the territory of New South Wales already amounts to considerably upwards of £100,000 per annum; the following being the extent sold during the last six months before I left the colony, with the prices annexed, as compared with the extent sold during the four previous years:—

From the 1st of January to the 30th of June, 1836.
Number of acres Amount sold for
January 36,960 0 0 £ 12,358 12 9
February 5,027 0 30 2,080 12 3
March 38,872 0 0 13,429 6 1
April 49,395 2 10 15,439 0 1
May 23,728 0 25 7,137 18 3
June 15,951 0 0 4,440 7 6
Total No. of acres 169,933 3 25 £ 54,885 16 11
January 16 1 0 £576 18 4
February 8 0 0 121 0 0
March 17 2 0 550 13 4
May 28 0 37 1,919 11 6
June 11 0 0 25 6 8
Total No. of acres 80 3 37 £3,193 9 10
Total for the six months 170,014 3 22 £ 58,079 6 9

Extent and proceeds of land sold in New South Wales
during the years under-mentioned.
Year Extent in acres Amount
1832 20,860 1 15 £6,513 11 6
1833 29,001 2 3 12,528 0 8
1834 91,399 1 31 ½ 28,589 10 5
1835 271,945 2 3 ¾ 87,097 9 2
1836 till June 30. 170,014 3 22 58,079 6 9

This amount, however, large as it is beyond all reasonable anticipation, is likely to be doubled, if not immediately, at least very soon after the colonial boundary to the southward shall have been extended to Bass's Straits,[1] and the extensive tracts of land of the first quality, in the vicinity of Port Philip and Twofold Bay, thrown open to the numerous intending purchasers, who are at present anxiously waiting for the annexation of these districts to the present colonial territory. In the former of these localities,—in which a government settlement was formed and speedily abandoned, through some extraordinary and unaccountable mismanagement, in the year 1804,—a settlement of squatters from Van Dieman's Land has been formed during the last two years; and so highly eligible has the situation been found for a permanent settlement, that it already contains a population of upwards of 200 persons, possessing or having the management of 30,000 sheep, with a proportionable number of horses and cattle. The whole of this agricultural stock and population has been imported into Port Philip from Van Dieman's Land during the last two years or thereabouts; there being now no fewer than eight or ten colonial vessels constantly employed in the transport of stock of all kinds to that settlement from Hobart Town and Launceston. The extent of available land of the first quality, which has already been discovered in the immediate vicinity of Port Philip, amounts to upwards of three millions of acres; but the nature of the country beyond a moderate distance from the settlement is as yet unknown.

The extensive tract of table-land lying beyond the present colonial boundary to the southward, between the Great Warragong Chain, terminating in Wilson's Promontory, and now called the Snowy Mountains, or Australian Alps, and the mountainous range abutting on the east coast, is also occupied at present by numerous squatters, with large flocks and herds from New South Wales. This elevated tract of country is called Maneira, or Monaroo Plains, and consists of eligible pasture-land of the first quality, very thinly wooded and well watered; forming a square of a hundred miles each side, and consequently containing upwards of six millions of acres, having for its outlet to the eastward the small but convenient and safe harbour of Twofold Bay, about twenty-five miles to the northward of Cape Howe. The nature of the country still farther to the southward, from Cape Howe to Wilson's Promontory, a distance of a hundred and eighty miles, is still unknown. The Snowy River skirting the plains to the westward, and sweeping along the base of the Snowy Mountains, descends into Bass's Straits on this part of the coast, forming numerous cataracts in its course; its embouchure, if I am not misinformed, being sufficiently wide and open to be practicable for colonial vessels.

The extensive tract of picturesque and pastoral country still farther to the westward, along the left bank of the Morumbidgee, which is at present the boundary of the colony to the southward and westward, is also occupied for pastoral purposes by numerous colonial squatters from within the present limits of the colony. These squatters are all rapidly increasing their flocks and herds, and thereby enriching themselves through the permissive occupancy of the Crown land beyond the present limits,—a privilege which has hitherto been most judiciously allowed them by the colonial executive: for these persons are thus acquiring the means of making extensive purchases of land from the government in their respective localities, whenever the colonial boundary shall have been extended to Bass's Straits; and are thus forming an important link in the new chain or system of Australian colonization.

Now, as it is equally the interest of the British government and of the colonial executive, as well as of all classes of free colonists in New South Wales, that the revenue arising from the sale of Crown land in that colony should be as large as possible, and that the number of free emigrant agricultural labourers, shepherds, and mechanics, which this revenue has been appropriated to import into the colonial territory, should also be increased to the utmost; I would beg leave to suggest that the minimum price of all Crown land in the colony should henceforth be raised to seven shillings and sixpence, and, in particular districts, to ten shillings per acre. A large proportion of the land recently purchased by resident proprietors in New South Wales, in extension of their respective estates, would have been purchased at these rates as readily as at five shillings; for much of the land hitherto sold at the government minimum price has been purchased on speculation, to be afterwards resold at a greatly advanced price. Good land, whether for agriculture or for grazing purposes, especially in such vicinities as Twofold Bay and Port Philip, is well worth ten shillings an acre, and the colonial proprietors of sheep and cattle are well able to afford that price. Nay, Mr. Commissioner Bigge, in his Report to the House of Commons on the agriculture of the colony in the year 1821, recommended that good land in New South Wales should then be sold at not less than ten shillings per acre; and if the colonial settler could have afforded such a price at that period, much more will he be able to afford it now. Besides, it would be positively unjust for the British government to be selling waste land at Port Philip at a minimum price of five shillings per acre, when the minimum within the limits of the South Australian colony, almost in its immediate vicinity, has been fixed by Act of Parliament at twelve shillings; a minimum, which the colonization-commissioners of that colony have since increased to one pound: for as the price of all descriptions of agricultural and grazing stock, as well as of the necessaries of life, will for some time be much cheaper at Port Philip than in Southern Australia, it is not to be supposed that a prudent capitalist, arriving in the latter colony, would be deterred from crossing the meridional line that separates the one colonial territory from the other, when the comparative advantages of the two localities are in all these important respects—the price of land, of stock, and of provisions,—so very dissimilar. That line will soon be crossed in every part of its extent by sheep and cattle tracks innumerable, from the territory of New South Wales; and the emancipist, the ticket of leave man, and even the convict still in bondage, will ere long find their way across it into the land of freedom, let the colonists of Southern Australia do what they may to prevent them. In justice, therefore, to the inhabitants of that infant colony, His Majesty's government will undoubtedly be eventually constrained to raise the minimum price of land in New South Wales; and the sooner they do so, the more effectually will they protect the interests of the embryo colony: for it cannot be supposed, that in the present age of steam-conveyance, any great inequality in the price of land, any more than in the price of labour or in that of provisions, can possibly be maintained long between two settlements so easily accessible from each other both by sea and land, however differently they may have been originally constituted in other respects.[2]

But there is also a large increase of the land revenue of New South Wales to be expected from the sale of town allotments. In a letter, which I did myself the honour to address to Lord Viscount Goderich in December 1830, previous to the adoption of the present system of selling land, and in which I took the liberty to recommend that the government should sell certain Crown lands and town allotments in that colony, and appropriate the proceeds towards the emigration of agricultural labourers and mechanics, of whom a large number were then in great difficulty from want of employment in England, I pointed out certain town allotments belonging to government in the town of Sydney, which I conceived would at that time realize £200,000. Measures are now in progress for the sale of these allotments, of which, from the greatly increased value of property in the colonial capital, the present value has been estimated by competent persons at not less than half a million sterling. Besides, the formation of towns at Twofold Bay and Port Philip, which must necessarily become sea-ports of first-rate importance within a very short period, as well as in various other parts of the territory, will enable the colonial executive greatly to increase the land revenue, from the sale of town allotments. The minimum or upset price of town allotments belonging to government in the town of Sydney is at present £1000 per acre, the price actually realized by private individuals for eligible allotments during the last few years being uniformly much higher. In the future towns of Twofold Bay and Port Philip, £50 or £100 per acre would, I am confident, be a very moderate amount to be established as a minimum price; as even at Bathurst, a rising town beyond the Blue Mountains in the interior, £50 an acre has been obtained for town allotments. The present minimum price in Parramatta, the second town in the colony, is £20, but the allotment obtained from government for the Scots church in that town during the year 1835 has been since valued at £1000, although not more than half an acre; and in the town of Maitland at Hunter's River, where £7 an acre is the minimum price, a half-acre allotment has brought £56.

At all events, it may be calculated that the revenue arising from the sale of land in New South Wales will very shortly amount to £200,000 per annum; and if that revenue is exclusively appropriated to the introduction of useful emigrants of the working classes into the colony, it will enable the free colonists to import a sufficient number of virtuous and industrious labourers, artisans, and other operatives of all descriptions, not only to supply the existing and rapidly increasing demand for labour in the colony, but also to form a reputable free emigrant peasantry, to cultivate the soil, either as tenants or as small proprietors, and a middle class, consisting of reputable mechanics and other operatives in the towns; thereby gradually elevating the moral character of the colony, and supplying the likeliest means of ensuring the progressive amelioration of its anomalously constituted society. It is therefore unquestionably evident, that the colony of New South Wales possesses the means of supplying itself with free labour, to the utmost extent required by its free population; and that the discontinuance of the assignment system might therefore be effected without the slightest injury to the colony, as far as the necessity of providing a substitute for assigned convict labour is concerned.

To encourage and promote the importation of free labour, in accordance with the views and intentions of His Majesty's government as above-mentioned, the colonial executive give a bounty of £30 from the colonial land revenue for every married couple, of the class of agricultural labourers, shepherds, or mechanics, imported into New South Wales, provided the persons so imported have been selected by some agent duly authorized by a colonial proprietor; five pounds additional being allowed for every child above a year old. On a large scale, this sum would probably be sufficient to cover the whole expense of the emigration of such persons; but the system has not yet been sufficiently long in operation for the colonists to have adopted any plan for carrying it into effect with combined exertion; and the expense to individuals is consequently somewhat larger than the sum allowed.

It will naturally occur to the reader, however, that so long as convict labourers can be procured for nothing by colonial proprietors, the latter are not likely as a body to make the requisite exertions to procure free labour from the mother country. The change of system would necessarily subject them, moreover, to some temporary inconvenience, and would require considerable effort; and men who are tolerably comfortable in their circumstances already, are not likely to disregard such considerations, even for the prospect of ultimate pecuniary advantage, much less for the promotion of the moral welfare of their families and of posterity. In short, strong representations and combined exertions on this subject are not to be expected from the colonial proprietors. The government must discontinue the assignment system forthwith, if they are really desirous that transportation should be made efficient as a punishment, and that the colonists should put forth their energies in availing themselves of the means they have now so amply at command, of eventually raising the character of the colony in the scale of civilized communities, by the annual importation of numerous industrious and virtuous free emigrants from the mother country.[3]

In regard to the probability of finding a sufficient number of virtuous and industrious persons in the mother country willing to emigrate to New South Wales, there can be no doubt whatever on the subject. It is well known that distress, arising from the want of food and clothing and fuel, or rather from the want of remunerating employment for an overgrown population, prevails at this moment to a most appalling degree over an extent of country in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, containing a population of 160,000 souls; and the only means of affording permanent relief to that population, in the opinion of all parties interested in the subject, is emigration. The following are extracts from a paper circulating at present in London, and illustrative of the state of things in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and of the quarter from which alone a remedy for so calamitous a state is to be looked for.

"The Rev. Mr. Macgregor, of Kilmuir, in Skye, thus writes, under date of February 3rd, 1837:—

'The present population of Kilmuir is 2275 souls;—of which,

99 families, consisting of 431 souls, are quite destitute.

31 families, consisting of 128 souls, have only food for one month.

44 families, consisting of 222 souls, have only food for two months.

27 families, consisting of 144 souls, have only food for three months.

71 families, consisting of 365 souls, have only food for four months.

Very few families in the parish will have any food of their own by the end of July.'

"The reverend gentleman goes on to state the causes which have led to this fearful state of destitution, and the best means of preventing the recurrence of such a calamity.—In regard to emigration, the reverend gentleman adds:

'But, among any measures to be taken with the view of permanently preventing or alleviating such distress for the future, I humbly think that emigration should be a preliminary step. The apparent increase of the population of this parish, in the census of 1831 over that of 1821, was only 28. This small difference is, however, accounted for, by the fact, that, in the interval, about 250 individuals had emigrated to America. But emigrations of this character are not calculated to give much relief; as it is only able-bodied people, and in good circumstances, who can leave the country at their own expense, while the poor and helpless are left behind; so that emigration, in order to be beneficial, will require to be taken up as a public measure. If the country were thus relieved of its surplus population, I am perfectly satisfied that the introduction of an improved system of agriculture would go very far to prevent such a visitation as we are afflicted with at present.'"

A similar state of appalling destitution prevails also in the parish of Sleat in the same island, where a public meeting, convened for the purpose of taking into consideration the actual condition of the parish on the 22nd of December, 1836, sum up their report with the following observations:

"With respect to the application of a remedy, to prevent a recurrence of such painful circumstances in future, the meeting see none, except emigration. The country is altogether adapted for pasture, and suited only for a limited population: when the population exceeds these limits, poverty and distress must ensue. It appears to the meeting, that neither manufactures nor fishing could be introduced with advantage; great distance from the raw material, and also from a consuming market, being an insuperable objection to the former; and the fact, that fishing has failed for some years on this coast, after a fair trial, appears to prove that the latter cannot be looked to as a permanent source of employment and support."

From the island of Lewis, containing a population of 14,541 persons, the minister of the parish of Stornoway, in which alone there are no fewer than 1530 persons in a state of absolute destitution from the want of subsistence, of clothing, and of fuel, concludes his report by observing:—

"I can, however, have no hesitation in stating my opinion, that no means of relief would be more effective, than promoting the emigration of a certain number of the more vigorous to the British possessions in America."

The inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have peculiar claims on the British government. They have uniformly supplied a large proportion of the gallant men who have fought the battles of their country for a century past. The destitution they are suffering at present has been induced, moreover, in a great degree by a government measure in favour of the free-trade principle, the result of which was the immediate and entire destruction of their only manufacture—that of kelp. They are a frugal and industrious people,—eminently virtuous and religious and I need scarcely state, that whether as agricultural labourers or as shepherds, they would be peculiarly welcome, and would be sure to find immediate employment and sufficient subsistence in New South Wales. In short, that colony could very easily find room for not fewer than from five to ten thousand Highlanders, including men, women, and children, every year; and while I have already shown that the colonial land revenue would be amply sufficient to effect the entire emigration of even a much larger number of virtuous and industrious persons, without cost to the mother country; it is difficult to say whether Great Britain would be more benefited on the one hand by the gradual removal of such persons from a country that cannot possibly support one half their number, than the colony of New South Wales on the other, by their progressive settlement in its ample and fertile territory.

  1. This, I understand, has already been done.
  2. It is the general desire, however, of the free colonists of New South Wales, and it has also been a special recommendation of a committee of the Legislative Council of that colony, with a view to the encouragement and promotion of emigration to its extensive territory, that respectable free emigrants arriving from England at their own charges, with the view of settling in the colony, should each be allowed to purchase one or two sections, that is, 640 or 1280 acres of waste or Crown land, at the established minimum price, wherever they can find an eligible locality, without being liable to the mortification and disappointment of being outbidden at a public sale by some colonial land-shark, after all their trouble and annoyance in traversing the country, perhaps, for months together. It is also the desire of the colonists generally, and the recommendation of a committee of the Legislative Council, that every such emigrant should also be allowed a certain drawback from the purchase-money of his land, to cover the expense of his passage out. In the propriety of both these suggestions I entirely concur.
  3. The remainder of this chapter was written in London (March 1837) while the work was in the press.