Transportation and colonization/Chapter 13



So long ago as the year 1817, the Right Honourable Earl Bathurst, who had then been but recently appointed principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, appears to have come to the conclusion, that some change was requisite in the mode of distributing and employing the convicts in New South Wales, and that the formation of other penal settlements on different parts of the coast had become necessary. The following judicious sentiments on that subject are extracted from his Lordship's letter to Lord Viscount Sidmouth, of date, "Downing Street, 23d April, 1817," recommending the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to proceed to the colony and to ascertain its general condition.

"I have for some time past had under consideration the present state of the settlements in New South Wales, principally with a view of satisfying myself whether they are now calculated to answer the object for which they were originally established, or whether it might not be expedient to introduce some alteration in the existing system.

"Until a recent period, the transportation of offenders to New South Wales appears to have answered, in a great degree, the ends for the attainment of which it was adopted. * * * So long as the colony was principally inhabited by convicts, and but little advanced in cultivation, the strictness of the police regulations, and the constant labour, under due restriction, to which it was then possible to subject the convict, rendered transportation, as a punishment, an object of the greatest apprehension to those who looked upon strict discipline and regular labour as the most severe and least tolerable of evils.

It was not long, however, before the settlements were found to hold out to many individuals inducements to become cultivators; and thirty years' experience of the climate and fertility of the soil, has, for some time past, rendered a permission to settle in New South Wales an object of anxious solicitude to all who were desirous of leaving their native country, and had capital to apply to the improvement of land. This, together with the number of convicts, who after the expiration of their sentences remain with their respective families growing up under them, has so increased the population of free settlers, that the prosperity of the settlement, as a colony, has proportionally advanced; and hopes may reasonably be entertained of its becoming, at no distant period, a valuable possession of the Crown. It is this very circumstance which appears to me to render it less fit for the object of its original institution: nor can I conceal from myself that transportation to New South Wales is becoming neither an object of apprehension here, nor the means of reformation in the settlement itself; and that the settlement must be either placed upon a footing that shall render it possible to enforce, with respect to all the convicts, strict discipline, regular labour, and constant superintendence; or the system of unlimited transportation to New South Wales must be abandoned."

In his Lordship's instructions to Mr. Commissioner Bigge, of date, "Downing-street, 6th January, 1819," he developes more particularly his views on the subject of transportation to New South Wales.

"I deem it necessary to premise," observes his Lordship, "that in any opinion you may be led to form with respect to any change in the existing regulation of the colony, you must always bear in mind the possibility of an abandonmnt of the present system of transportation, so far as regards the existing settlement; and must, therefore, in recommending any measures for adoption, carefully distinguish how far you consider them applicable to the settlements in their actual state, or only to that in which they would be placed in the event of the convict part of the population being henceforth diverted to other stations.

"Should it appear to you, as I have too much reason to apprehend will be the result, that the present settlements are not capable of undergoing any efficient change, the next object for your consideration will be the expediency of gradually abandoning them altogether as receptacles for convicts; and forming on other parts of the coast, or in the interior of the country, district establishments, exclusively for the reception and proper employment of the convicts who may hereafter be sent out. From such a measure it is obvious that many advantages must result. It would effectually separate the convict from the free population: the labour of forming a new settlement would afford constant means of employment, and that of a severe description. By forming more than one of such separate establishments, the means of classifying the offenders, according to the degrees of crime, would be facilitated, and that salutary apprehension of the punishment revived which can alone make it available for the grave offences to which it is at present applied."

In accordance with these suggestions, Mr. Commissioner Bigge, coinciding entirely with Earl Bathurst, as to the propriety of removing a large number of the convicts from the existing settlements in New South Wales, recommended the progressive establishment of three new settlements to the northward of Sydney; viz. at Moreton Bay, Port Curtis, and Port Bowen; the last of which lies within the southern tropic, in lat. 22° 28' south. Orders to that effect were accordingly transmitted to Sir Thomas Brisbane, governor of New South Wales, in the year 1823; and during the following year an expedition was fitted out by His Excellency's orders, to ascertain the comparative advantages of these localities. The result of this expedition was the discovery of the Brisbane river, one of the largest on the east coast of New Holland, which empties itself into the extensive inlet of Moreton Bay in lat. 27½° south. The great importance of this discovery, and the vast extent of available land which it opened up for future settlement and cultivation, having rendered the examination of the other localities above-mentioned unnecessary, a new settlement was immediately formed at Moreton Bay, pursuant to Earl Bathurst's directions. That settlement has hitherto been a penal settlement, intended exclusively for the reception and employment of convicts re-transported from New South Wales. For some time after its formation, the number of convicts at the settlement of Moreton Bay was very considerable; but another penal settlement having been subsequently formed at Norfolk Island, and the government having found it inexpedient to incur the expense of more than one settlement of that description, the practice of re-transporting criminals to Moreton Bay was afterwards discontinued; and orders were eventually forwarded to the present governor, by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, for its entire abandonment. It is probable that His Excellency Sir Richard Bourke has represented to the authorities in Downing-street the inexpediency of such a measure, which indeed would have implied the absolute loss of the whole expenditure which had been already incurred, together with all the improvements which had been effected at Moreton Bay; for although the number of the convicts at that settlement has been progressively reduced, it is still kept up; the number of convicts at the settlement being, by the last accounts, 293 male and 60 female.

The improvements effected at Moreton Bay consist in the erection of certain buildings, most of which will, doubtless, be useful for some purpose or other, should the settlement be thrown open to free emigration; and in the clearing and cultivation of land. But as penal settlements in New South Wales have hitherto been conducted without any view to their ultimate destination, as localities for the future establishment of free emigrants; and as there could be no apparent necessity for bringing a large extent of land into cultivation at such settlements; the real value of the improvements of all kinds effected by means of convict labour at Moreton Bay would probably not amount to more than a tenth or perhaps rather a twentieth part of its actual cost to the mother country, if the property so improved were to be brought to the hammer. And so long as penal settlements are conducted on the same principle, they will be equally costly and unprofitable.

The results of the land-selling system, however, even at the present moment, would enable His Majesty's government to maintain the settlement of Moreton Bay, and thereby to turn the labour expended in that vicinity for the last twelve years to immediate account, if not so as to realize the full amount of its actual cost, at least to preclude the possibility of incurring so enormous a loss as would necessarily be implied in its entire abandonment; while a settlement, hitherto exclusively penal in its character and exceedingly expensive to the mother country, could be transformed forthwith into a free and flourishing settlement, affording the government the means of permanent and profitable employment for any number of convicts for the future.

So long as the system of granting land in the Australian colonies was continued, it was the policy of the British government to encourage the emigration of capitalists only to these colonies, i. e., of persons who could afford to take the convicts off their hands, and to employ them for their own advantage. The results of this system we have already seen in the present condition of the colony, as to the moral character of its anomalous population. But the new system, which is just coming into operation, will enable the government to create a class of capitalists in the colony, who will afford permanent and profitable employment for the convicts, and eventually relieve the government of the whole cost of their maintenance without setting them loose in any degree from the salutary restraints and inflictions of penal discipline.

Let the settlement of Moreton Bay, therefore, be immediately thrown open to free emigration, under the following restrictions; viz., that no convicts shall be assigned to private individuals, and no ardent spirits be allowed either to be imported or manufactured in that settlement; and let whatever convicts it may be expedient to employ in future in that part of the territory, be employed exclusively in clearing land for free settlers, and in such public works as the formation of roads, &c. Let a portion, moreover, of the land-revenue of the colony, which is at present rapidly accumulating in the colonial treasury-chest, be employed forthwith in carrying out free emigrants of the class of farm-labourers, mechanics, &c. to be settled at Moreton Bay, having a clergyman and schoolmaster for each hundred familes; and let these families be settled on the land already cleared by the government, the said land to be divided for that purpose into small farms of perhaps twenty acres each; the settler engaging to pay the estimated price of his farm by instalments, bearing interest after the first year, in five or six years. And the convicts retained at the settlement being employed in the mean time in clearing land for additional emigrants, in the proportion of ten acres, or thereabouts, for each farm of twenty to fifty acres, let such emigrants be carried out to occupy these farms as fast as they can be got ready for their reception; the emigrant settler engaging to pay a certain fixed price per acre for the whole of his land, together with the stipulated additional price for the portion cleared, on the conditions above-mentioned.

At the commencement of the year 1835, the amount of the balance of unappropriated land-revenue in the treasury-chest of New South Wales, including £10,000 which had been advanced on loan to the deputy commissary-general, was £52,521. 16s.d., which, added to the amount received for land sold up to the 30th of June, 1836, made the whole amount up to that period £193,619. 6s.. 7½d. Of that amount not more than £8663 had been paid for the passage of free emigrants during the year 1835, while about £30,000 additional had been appropriated by the colonial government for paying the passage of additional emigrants to be sent for by the colonists during the year 1836. At all events, it is unquestionable, that by the first of January, 1837, there would be not less than £150,000 of unappropriated land-revenue in the colonial treasury-chest. If, therefore, only £40,000 of that amount should be appropriated forthwith in carrying out a thousand virtuous and industrious families to Moreton Bay, including a fair proportion of children, with a clergyman and schoolmaster for each hundred families, ten parishes would be formed and settled in that district in the course, perhaps, of twelve or eighteen months, not only with every prospect of success to the free emigrants, but with every prospect of exerting such a powerful moral influence on the convict population of the district, as has never yet been exerted on that class of the inhabitants of the Australian colonies.

As there are three parties that would be differently affected by such an arrangement, it may not be out of place to form an estimate of its probable bearings on each of them; I mean the emigrants themselves, the government, and the convicts.

In regard to the free emigrants, the climate of Moreton Bay, though somewhat hotter than that of Sydney, is equally salubrious; while the banks of the Brisbane river, and of the other two navigable streams that empty themselves into the Bay, together with the upland interior, present a vast extent of land of the very first quality, sufficient, at all events, to afford eligible localities for at least ten thousand families. Wheat grows sufficiently well on the uplands at Moreton Bay, but maize, or Indian corn, is a much more certain crop on the low grounds; the produce of the latter species of grain being from 60 to 100 bushels per acre. Indian corn is little used as an article of food for men in New South Wales, although it forms a palatable diet, and constitutes a principal part of the sustenance of the virtuous peasantry of New England: it is of great value, however, in the colony for the rearing of all sorts of domestic stock, such as pigs, poultry, &c. The sweet potato, which also forms a palatable food for man, is wonderfully prolific at Moreton Bay; and arrow-root of the finest quality has been grown in the government-garden at Brisbane river, at the rate of a ton per acre. The vine, the peach, the pine-apple, the orange, the pomegranate, the banana, the guava, the sugar-cane, the tobacco-plant, the coffee and cotton-bearing shrubs, and indeed, all sorts of semi-tropical fruits and productions, grow luxuriantly at Moreton Bay; while the climate would admit of various important branches of cultivation that have hitherto been untried in New South Wales. In short, with ten acres of cleared land to begin upon, and rations for six or eight months, to be repaid within a given period, an agricultural labourer from Great Britain or Ireland would have no difficulty in paying for his land in the course of a very few years, and in making his family comfortable and independent for life; for, as the emigrants would of course be all settled on the banks of the Brisbane river in the first instance, steam communication with Sydney, which would be established forthwith as a matter of course, would supply them with a ready market for all their surplus produce, whether grain, fruit, pigs, or poultry. And if each detachment of a hundred families should contain such artisans and other operatives as would be required in such a locality, they would have all the more common appliances of civilization at command; while the clergyman and the schoolmaster, forming a necessary part of their parochial establishment, would, in all probability, maintain in their full force and operation all the moral restraints of their native vicinage. In short, as far as the emigrants are concerned, the transition from the state of the humbler classes of society in the mother country would be most desirable, while the benefit to the whole colony of New South Wales would be incalculable.

In regard to the pecuniary and other bearings of such an arrangement upon the government, I would observe, that as the public faith has been virtually pledged for the appropriation of the whole amount of the land-revenue of New South Wales to the encouragement and promotion of emigration; and, as it is evidently of the utmost consequence to the future welfare of that colony, as well as to the future working of the transportation system, as a species of punishment, that this pledge should be redeemed; it is undeniable, that the sooner any portion of the large balance at present remaining in the colonial treasury-chest can be appropriated in carrying out settlers to any part of the territory, the greater public benefit will accrue from the measure, and the greater probability will there be of rendering transportation really efficient as a punishment. Besides, overburdened as the mother country is at this moment in certain parts of the empire, with a superabundant and unemployed population calling loudly for succour, and looking to emigration as the only source of permanent relief, the proposed appropriation of apart of the colonial land-revenue, in carrying out a considerable number of emigrants to a locality so well adapted for their immediate settlement as Moreton Bay, would evidently be not less beneficial to the mother country than to the colony. Moreover, by the arrangement proposed, the government would have a fair price for their waste land, and a fair equivalent for the convict labour employed in clearing portions of it for free settlers: their security for payment would not only be the land itself, of which the market value would immediately be doubled by being settled with a free emigrant population; but the moral character of that population itself, headed as it would be in every instance by a clergyman and schoolmaster, both dependent in some measure for their maintenance upon the government, and consequently directly interested in seeing the demands of the government duly met by their people. Supposing that each farm should average thirty acres, estimated at seven shillings and sixpence per acre, and that the price of clearing ten acres for each settler should be estimated at £3 to £4 per acre (the price for clearing heavily-timbered land within the colony); the debt of each settler, on taking possession of his land, would be £46. 5s., and the whole debt of each parish or settlement about £4,600. Now, from what I know of the colony of New South Wales, and of the facilities which it holds forth to virtuous and industrious persons of the humbler classes of society, I am confident that a debt of this amount could be cleared off with the utmost facility, by a virtuous population of a hundred families, in two or three years. The government would therefore have good security for the repayment of the whole amount expended on each settlement in convict labour, as well as for the payment of the estimated value of the waste land; especially as the employment of a large number of convicts in the district would enable the government to receive a considerable portion of the payment in produce.

In regard to the convicts, the sort of labour in which they would thus be engaged, in clearing land for the settlement of free emigrants, and in forming roads from one settlement to another, would combine all the requisites which Earl Bathurst so judiciously establishes as indispensably necessary in a system of management for transported criminals, by affording the means of enforcing strict discipline, regular labour of a severe description, and constant superintendence." Besides, if transportation should be restricted in future to convicts under sentence for fourteen years or for life, and if the present ticket of leave system, by which a convict for these periods respectively is allowed conditional freedom within a certain district at the end of six or eight years,—if this system should still be continued; the convict, who had been constantly employed for either of these long periods in labour of this description, would naturally be induced, on the attainment of his conditional freedom, to set up for himself as a free labourer in the district in that particular line; in which there will always be a great demand for labour in the colony. He would be able, for instance, to contract with the free settler of the description above-mentioned, having ten acres of cleared land on his forty or fifty acre farm, for the clearing of an additional portion at the usual price per acre. He would be able also to contract for fencing, cutting posts and rails, and putting them up, and for the erection of barns or other out-buildings. He would be able to earn an honest livelihood by manufacturing and selling shingles, trenails, sawn or split timber to the settlers or to the masters of coasting vessels.[1] In short, after six or eight years' apprenticeship, the convict would become a useful labourer of the class most wanted in agricultural districts in a new country; or, if he preferred hiring himself as an agricultural labourer, he would be sure to find a ready demand for his labour among the free settlers. At the same time, being debarred from spending the profits of his labour at the public-house, on the supposition of an entire prohibition of the importation or manufacture of ardent spirits, he would be rescued from that gulf of perdition into which the ticket of leave holder, or emancipated convict, in the present settlements of New South Wales, almost uniformly plunges; and by a sort of necessity arising out of his peculiar circumstances, rather than from personal inclination, he would eventually be led to attach himself to one or other of the parishes in his district, either as a tenant or a proprietor of land. He would thus be brought within the direct and salutary influence of correct moral example and sound religious instruction; the result of which on his whole character and conduct, would, I am confident, be, in the great majority of instances, gratifying in the extreme. In short, the convict would be the greatest gainer of all, under the proposed new system of management; in being preserved, on the one hand, from numberless and strong temptations, and in being strongly stimulated, on the other, to industry and virtue. Transportation would thus be a punishment in reality, and would be found sufficiently formidable to deter many from crime; while it would prove subservient in the highest degree to extensive colonization, and to the establishment of a moral influence of incalculable value for promoting the ultimate reformation of transported criminals. It is scarcely necessary to add, that in a community constituted in this way, there would be little danger of the emancipated convict, who had eventually become a landholder, insinuating self into the jury-box, or petitioning for the elective franchise. These anomalies of the New South Wales political system would be unheard of under a different and rational system of management. The emancipated convict would know his place in society, and would keep it; and would not require to be repressed.

In short, the main points of difference between the system of management recommended for the future, and the one hitherto in practice, are,—

1st, That during the period of their penal servitude, the convicts are, under the present system, dispersed over the territory in the service of private individuals;—a mode of employment, which relieves them in great measure, if not entirely, from that "strict discipline, regular and severe labour, and constant superintendence," to which they would necessarily be subjected under the system of management proposed for the future: and,

2nd, That on their obtaining tickets of leave, or conditional freedom, the convicts are at present allowed and encouraged to concentrate themselves in towns and villages, in which the temptations to drunkenness and every other species of dissipation are almost irresistible; whereas, under the proposed system, they would be dispersed over the territory, and attached to free settlements, in which such indulgences would neither be tolerated nor procurable.

In other words, the principles of the present system are, "dispersion and inefficient discipline, or rather, no discipline at all, for the convicts; concentration and unbridled licentiousness for all ticket of leave men and convicts conditionally free:" the principles of the system proposed are, "concentration and strict discipline for the convicts; dispersion, and restraint, and good example, for all ticket of leave men and convicts conditionally free." Of course, no person of common understanding will hesitate for a moment as to which of these systems is to be preferred.

I am quite aware that the sort of plebeian emigration I have recommended in the preceding pages, will scarcely accord with the views of certain Utopian speculators, of whom a whole host has recently been called into existence by the South Australia scheme; and who, it seems, conceive that a colonial settlement cannot be successfully formed without a sprinkling of aristocracy, i. e. without representatives of all the different classes of society in the mother country. It must be borne in mind, however, that the successful establishment of a few such communities of virtuous and industrious free emigrant agricultural settlers, as I have described, on any part of the coast of New Holland, would eventually attract persons of a higher class, in the shape of merchants, graziers, wool-growers, professional men, together with a host of well-born and well-bred adventurers of all classes. But in proportion as the humbler class of settlers should succeed in establishing themselves in comfort and independence, they would be induced, under the guidance of their ministers and schoolmasters, to secure the benefits of a superior education for their children; and would thus be the means of eventually raising up an aristocracy of virtue and talent, of incomparably more value, in a convict colony, than an aristocracy of birth, or wealth, or employment. Of the reputable Scotch mechanics, whom I carried out to New South Wales in the year 1831, to erect the Australian College buildings, there were individuals who had only been earning from fourteen to sixteen shillings a week by their labour in Scotland, and who had been frequently out of employment. Of course, persons in such circumstances were unable to raise a single shilling to assist in paying the passage of their families out, and had consequently a debt, amounting, in some instances, to upwards of £50 to pay for their passage, from their labour in the colony. In the instances I allude to, these persons had not only discharged the whole of that debt, but had purchased allotments of ground in the town of Sydney, where the minimum price of land is £1000 per acre, on which they had built two story stone-houses, and had sons at the Australian College, for whom they were actually paying £10 or £12 a year, in order to their receiving a liberal education, before I left the colony on my present voyage, i. e. in four years and a half after their arrival in New South Wales. Out of such materials, there will be no difficulty in eventually forming a colonial aristocracy.

The soil and climate of the country adjoining Moreton Bay would suggest the propriety of encouraging the settlement of emigrants from the continent of Europe, and especially from the German provinces on the Rhine, in that district; several of the productions which it is practicable to raise, in that part of the colonial territory, being altogether different from those to which persons trained to agricultural pursuits in the United Kingdom are at all accustomed. The practice of encouraging Protestants from the continent of Europe to settle in the British provinces of America, and to carry their industry and their arts along with them, was pursued systematically in the early part of the last century. General Oglethorpe, an extensive proprietor in the colony of Georgia, in the reign of George the Second, obtained a grant from parliament of certain revenues arising from the confiscation of the property of certain French inhabitants of the island of St. Christopher in the West Indies, to assist in carrying out foreign Protestants to that colony; and the numerous and industrious German population in the United States at the present day, especially in the state of Pennsylvania, evinces the extent to which this principle was subsequently carried under the British colonial system in America. The practice, however, was of old standing in the colonial history of Britain.

"In the year 1708", observes Bishop Burnet, in his 'History of His Own Times,' about fifty Palatines, (Germans from the Palatinate,) who were Lutherans, and were ruined, came over to England: these were so effectually recommended to Prince George's chaplain, that the Queen allowed them a shilling a day, and took care to have them transported to the plantations: they, ravished with this good reception, wrote over such an account of it, as occasioned a general disposition among all the poor of that country to come over in search of better fortunes; and some of our merchants, who were concerned in the plantations, and knew the advantage of bringing over great numbers to people those desert countries, encouraged them with the promises of lands and settlements there. This being printed and spread through these parts, they came to Holland in great bodies: the Anabaptists there were particularly helpful to them, both in subsisting those in Holland, and in transporting them to England. Great numbers were sent to Ireland, but most of them to the plantations in North America, where it is believed their industry will quickly turn to a good account."—Burnet, vi. 33. 34. Oxford edition.

To facilitate arrangements of this kind, An Act passed in this session," observes Bishop Burnet, under the year 1709, "that was much desired, and had been often attempted, but had been laid aside in so many former parliaments, that there were scarcely any hopes left to encourage a new attempt: it was for naturalizing all foreign Protestants, upon their taking the oaths to the government, and their receiving the sacrament in any Protestant church. The bill passed with very little opposition."—Burnet, v. 399.

Nearly a century after, President Jefferson, then Secretary of State for the United States of America, under the presidency of General Washington, proposes the following question to one of his correspondents: Do you not think it would be expedient to take measures for importing a number of Germans and Highlanders?"—'Memoirs and Correspondence of President Jefferson.' If such a measure would have been expedient in America, surely it would be tenfold more so in New South Wales!

Foreigners from the south of Europe would introduce the culture of the vine and the olive, would rear the silkworm, and prepare various sorts of dried fruit; for all of which occupations the soil and climate of Moreton Bay are peculiarly adapted, but which are all foreign to the habits and pursuits of the natives of the British isles. It should also be borne in mind, that from the mere difference of their language, emigrants from the continent of Europe, and especially from the German states, would be much less likely to be contaminated by association with the liberated or emancipated convicts, than natives of the mother country, while their virtuous example would be equally efficient in promoting the reformation of the convicts. It may be urged, indeed, that employing the funds of the colony for carrying out emigrants from the continent of Europe, instead of from Great Britain and Ireland, would be exceedingly unwise, as it would be diverting these funds from their proper object, and diminishing the means of carrying off the superabundant population of the United Kingdom. It is not proposed, however, to supersede emigration from Great Britain and Ireland, by recommending a limited emigration from the continent of Europe, but to multiply the means of subsistence and employment for future British emigrants; to develope and to turn to immediate account the vast resources of the Australian territories; and eventually to extend the range of British commerce, by multiplying and increasing the colonial productions of the British empire. In fact, the colonial government are so sensible of the benefit to be derived from importations of this kind, that the same bounties are at present offered for agricultural or other labourers from the continent of Europe, as from Great Britain and Ireland.

  1. These operations might be combined with the clearing of land by the government, and might thus be made, especially in a district rapidly settling, to contribute considerably towards the maintenance of the convicts.