Imágenes de página

servants for both domestic and field work at the mere cost of clothing and maintenance. He was directed to discontinue the assignment of convicts by a despatch from Lord Glenelg, dated 26th May, 1837, which took effect in 1840.

In answer to inquiries contained in that despatch, Sir Richard Bourke stated that from four to five thousand convicts might be profitably employed on public works in the colony, under the control of military officers and non-commissioned officers. He observes, with his usual good sense, “If the abolition of (the assignment of convicts) be resolved on, it should without doubt be gradual, as the sudden interruption of the accustomed supply of labour would produce much distress.”

The system was suddenly discontinued during the administration of Governor Bourke's successor. Great distress among the colonists did ensue, and there can be no question that tenfold more crime was created and perpetuated by the gang system, which under Lord Glenelg's orders superseded the assignment, than had ever existed in the colony previously.

Undoubtedly the time had arrived when the colony was sufficiently productive and attractive to secure a stream of free emigration. The assignment or white-slave system cannot go on together with immigration of free labourers. The two systems will not work together. The best class of emigrants of any rank, but especially labourers, will not resort to a convict colony. The masters of convicts do not know how to treat free men. In New South Wales it took some years to teach them.

It was not extraordinary that an excess of crime arose. population so constituted as that of New South Wales during the existence of the convict system, with such imperfect discipline, such an inequality of sexes, such absence of means for regularly training and educating the rising generation, it is not the amount of native felonry that astonishes us, but that it was not universal. God scattered seeds of virtue in the land which the statesmen and saints of the home country forgot, while all their care and cost were spent on barbarous tribes of cannibals, on Hindoos and negroes. The unbaptized child of the white convict grew up with no more training or teaching than the savage he displaced.

The abolition of the assignment system and of transportation to New South Wales, the result of the selfish conspiracy of a party of landjobbers, was effected in a hasty ill-considered manner, by the enthusiastic exertions of a number of excellent men, who were overpowered by a

In a

cooked in a manner then new to the House of Commons, but now perfectly understood. A change that should have been effected





gradually was made hastily, to the serious pecuniary injury, and eventual benefit, of New South Wales and Port Phillip, but to the ruin, social and financial, of Van Diemen's Land, on which alone was poured the stream of felonry previously distributed over New South Wales.

But this is one of the questions environed in so much difficulty that the government of the day were not specially to be blamed. After fifty years' neglect they were forced by active public opinion to do something. Not knowing how to dilute or deodorize the open drains of human crime which they had been sending through New South Wales for that period, after a series of vain experiments, they ended by turning Van Diemen's Land into one vast overflowing cesspool, ten thousand times more noxious than the evil it was intended to cure.

When Sir Richard Bourke retired—deeply regretted by all the colony, except a small section of prison-flogging magistrates and officials of the true colonial school-New South Wales had attained the highest state of prosperity; Port Jackson was crowded with shipping bringing free labourers and capitalists, the banks overflowing with money, and the whole population full of the happiest excitement.

The discussions of the Council, although still secret and irresponsible, had assumed a real character, and prepared the way


representative institutions. Restrictions placed upon the

summary conviction of prisoners by magistrates, and preparations for the abolition of the assignment system, concurrently with the introduction of free emigrants, by funds derived from the sale of lands, had laid the foundation of a free colony. The colonization of Port Phillip and South Australia by emigrants of a superior class had done much towards directing the attention of this country to an island which had previously been only considered a receptacle for criminals; while the discovery of vast tracts of fine land in the interior, with an overland communication between the three districts, greatly stimulated the increase of live stock, the growth of wool, and the general value of Australian exports. Australians began to think they could walk alone without the aid of convict labour, and the money of the commissariat.

The great event of Sir Richard Bourke's government was the land mania, which, acting and reacting from colony to colony, drove some of the soundest heads to acts of the wildest folly, in which the wealthiest families were involved in ruin, and from the effects of which Australia was eventually relieved by the perpetual increase of flocks and herds feeding on boundless pastures, and tended by the emigrants whom the funds derived from the land mania helped to introduce. He was succeeded by Sir George Gipps.



1838 to 1846.




HE appointment of Sir George Gipps was, at the same time, most

creditable to the government and unfortunate for the colony. He was, when an officer of engineers quartered in Canada at the time of the rebellion, appointed secretary to a commission with Lord Gosford, and then wrote and published an ingenious plan for educating colonies to the use of representative institutions, by establishing a kind of municipal government, under the name of District Councils.

At a time when the colony had advanced from the Algerine rule of Phillip, Macquarie, and Darling, to enjoy the externals of a free state; a legislative council, no longer secret, although not elective; courts of law regularly constituted ; trial by jury for political offences; the right of unlicensed printing; and the liberty, freely exercised, of assembling to discuss political questions—at a time when all the fiery intellect of the colony was burning to acquire the rights of representation and taxation which they had forfeited by becoming colonists, Sir George Gipps arrived, determined to govern on high prerogative principles; to carry out the determined plans of his master's and his own preconceived views, however distasteful or unsuitable to the colonies. He was a man whose really great abilities were neutralized by a violent, jealous, over-bearing temper. Inflated with pride, he assumed to unite the characters of sovereign and prime minister, to be the chief of the legislative and of the cxecutive. In the one capacity he framed, introduced, and pressed on his pre-conceived schemes, supporting them with vigorous eloquence of tongue and pen ; in the other, he treated opposition, or even that fair discussion which a British minister would expect and invite, as so much personal insult, almost as high treason. Like a true despot, every political opponent was in his eyes a rebel. He was a vain man, too, and could not endure that any measure likely to be creditable to the author, or of benefit to the colony, should originate with other than himself.

[ocr errors]


« AnteriorContinuar »