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GOVERNMENT OF SIR GEORGE GIPPS.
Evil breeds evil. In proportion as the governor was insolent and despotic, the opposition became unreasonable, factious, virulent.
The temper of a statesman dealing with colonial affairs, is even of more importance than his talents.
The obstinacy of George III, and the insolence of Wedderburne cost us the Americas, a load of debt, an ocean of blood and guilt. If ever—which heaven forbid-Australia should rise
and violently sever her connection with the British crown, the origin of so dire a calamity may be distinctly traced to the manner in which, with the high approval of Earl Grey, Sir George Gipps insulted and coerced the colonists—forcing, with threats and blows, his legislative shoes on their unwilling feet-shoes of the best Downing-street manufacture, of very handsome shape and capital workmanship, everything in fact but a good fit. One pair crushed the toes, the other pinched the instep, the third cut the heel; but of what consequence are the cuts, the corns, the blisters of a colonist, so long as the Downing-street manufacturer and his foreman are satisfied with their own work ?
“I think I hear a little bird that sings,
The people will be wiser by and by.” Yet Sir George Gipps was not without noble as well as brilliant qualities. His hands were clean; in a different sphere, matched and subdued by the even competition of English public life, he might have done himself honour and the state service; but his was a temperament ill-suited for the exercise of powers so absolute as those of a colonial governor--powers which he had acquired without any tedious probation. At one stride he passed from a subordinate military rank to the government of a great province of wealthy and discontented men, having in his hands authority which could make or mar a whole class or a whole district.
Had Sir George Gipps been a man of less mark, or a governor of less power,
his faults and foibles should have been buried in his grave; but as he sowed Cadmian seeds of which we may yet have to reap
the harvest in armed men, the errors of the man form a part, a most important part, of the history of Australia.
Sir George Gipps was sworn in on the 20 February, 1838.
In 1838 New South Wales, which was supposed, when he was summoned to assume the government, to be in the highest state of prosperity, was already beginning to feel symptoms of the reaction consequent on hasty legislation and over-speculation.
The increasing free population was, not without ample reason, dis
satisfied with the form of government, and with the manner in which the Colonial Office in England exercised what, in a sort of mockery, are called the rights of the crown.
It is a curious circumstance that under either Whig or Tory government every obnoxious regulation, every discreditable piece of patronage which the colonial minister claims to exercise, is put forward under cover of the sacred rights of the crown.
An ungracious refusal to bestow on some deserving object, at the request of the Colonial Legislature, a few acres of the nation's worthless land,an insistance in appointing to some office, at an extravagant salary, some English protégé,—are both defended on the plea of “ asserting the rights of the crown.”
The secret Executive Council, which under Sir Richard Bourke had been converted into a Legislative Council, composed of the salaried officers of the local government, with the addition of an equal number of colonists nominated by the governor, had already nurtured enough of the spirit of independence to occasionally dissent from the views of the home government or the governor.
But Governor Bourke took a colonial view of colonial subjects, and, although he was compelled to enforce some jobbing of colonial money, he maintained amicable relations with his council.
Sir George Gipps adopted a different course. Nothing could exceed the contempt with which he treated colonial opinions, or the implicit obedience with which he carried out the views of the Colonial Secretary of State.
From a host of disputes on every possible question, we select four which are still matters of contention between the colonies and the mother country :
First, as to the manner in which the price of crown lands was
raised, lowered, fixed, unfixed, and raised again. Secondly, as to the employment of the revenues derived from
the sale and lease of crown lands. Thirdly, as to the extent to which the colonists were taxed for
paying expenses consequent on the transportation system, by
the cost of gaols, police, &c. Fourthly, on the manner in which the home government exer
cised the patronage of the crown—by passing over colonial claims,-by appointing unfit persons to exercise responsible offices, and by fixing unreasonable salaries on easy appoint
ments. These four grievances were discussed on one or more distinct cases.
REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE.
On all the governor took up the position of high “prerogative” in the most offensive manner, and found his conduct approved and applauded by the home government.
The revenue dispute in a new shape, but on the same substantial ground, exists to this day,—a new form of the old grievance of “taxation without representation."
It commenced in 1832, when Lord Goderich, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, directed Sir Richard Bourke to submit annually to the Legislative Council an estimate of the expenditure proposed to be charged on the colonial revenues. This estimate, if passed by the council, was to be embodied in an ordinance, and forwarded to the home government for his Majesty's approval. If rejected, the majority were to be requested to furnish their estimate, and the two were to be forwarded for “his Majesty's approval.” With this illusory control, the non-official but nominee members and the colonists were obliged to be content. It was not of much use to object to an estimate that had to travel round the world ; and, although they sometimes protested against any particularly scandalous job, their protests were received, and—laid up with other dusty papers.
At that period the administrative powers of the governor had been so far clipped, without addition to the legislative powers of the colonies, that he could scarcely erect a pair of stocks without first reporting to Downing-street, with plan and estimate. No wonder that almost all the non-official party in the colony were republicans.
In 1835 the expence of maintaining the police establishment and gaols was made a colonial charge. Every non-official and two official members of the council protested against this heavy burden, on the ground that these expenses were largely increased by the presence
of all the transported felonry of Great Britain, either as prisoners or freed
To this it was answered, that the colony had had the benefit of their work. However, as a per contra, the surplus of the fund derived from the sale or lease of crown land was allowed to be taken to assist the colonial revenues, after defraying the expenses of emigration. The terms of this arrangement or contract, as the colonists assert, are to be found in despatches with enclosures from Mr. Spring Rice, and from Lord Glenelg, dated respectively 15th November, 1834, and 10th July, 1835.
It is not now worth while to quote or discuss them. The truth seems to be, that, while the returns from the land revenue were trifling,
the officers of the crown did not care to have the spending of them, having admitted that it was “just and reasonable that the revenues should be applied wholly and exclusively for the benefit of the colony." But, when the land revenues rose to hundreds of thousands of pounds annually, the question assumed a different aspect in the eyes of a young but accomplished bureaucrat like Sir George Gipps.
Sir Richard Bourke, after receiving the despatches in question, believed that the Legislative Council had the complete control of the land revenue. He seems to have been always anxious to extend the legislative powers of the colonies.
Sir George Gipps commenced what may be called, to use a slang term of modern politics, his reactionary course of policy, by repudiating the assumed contract, in the extract from a despatch, dated November, 1838, which alone affords a complete key to the favour in which he was held at the Colonial Office, and the detestation in which he was held in the colony :
“It is asserted in the colony that the right to appropriate this revenue was conceded to the governor and council by a despatch, &c., and that this right was recognised by Sir Richard Bourke.
“ Notwithstanding the strength of these expressions, I must say that I
very much doubt whether, by the Treasury letter of the 24th September, 1834, it was intended to give up unreservedly, and for ever, the right to select the objects on which the crown revenue (viz., from colonial land) should be expended ; and I therefore, whenever occasion required, maintained, during the last session of the council, that the crown has still power to do so— feeling that, if wrong in this opinion, I could easily set myself right with the council ; but, if I committed an error the other way, I might involve myself in difficulties from which there would be no escape.”
And he proceeds with great ingenuity to "get up a case” to enable the Colonial Office at home to shear the colonists of the trifling powers recently conceded to them.
This was a very pretty quarrel to begin with, and the governor lost no opportunity of improving it.
Whether the contract existed or not, it is quite clear that the powers claimed and exercised by the governor and the colonial secretary, in the much-abused name of the sovereign, amounted to revolting despotism under a caricature of free discussion.
The colonists were expected to defray the cost of their own government, with all the addition of police and gaol expenses incident to a periodical inoculation of British-grown felonry, and, with the sham of
a Legislative Council and financial discussions, all sources of revenue, except additional taxation, being removed from their control.
As to the crown or waste lands, the price, the management, the expenditure of the funds arising from them in emigration, were settled by English commissioners; the surplus was appropriated by the Crown.
The custom-house tariff and the rules for levying it were settled and the officers appointed by the English custom-house.
As to the funds raised by local taxation, the Colonial Secretary, in the name of the crown, created offices, fixed fines, salaries, and appointed officers, without the slightest regard to the wants or wishes of the colonists.
The grievance with respect to the appropriation of the land revenues became more unbearable in consequence of the orders and acts of the home government in respect to the land question, which were in direct opposition to the feelings and interests of the colonists.
In 1842, a representative character was given to the Legislative Council, by introducing into it twenty-four elective members.
It was with this body, while the colony was in a state of insolvency, that Governor Gipps's battles commenced, and were carried on with an acerbity on both sides which did not breed a rebellion, because the materials in the shape of coercive powers had not been conceded to the governor.
The new council lost no time in investigating the grievances of the colony, and soon collected a most formidable list, although the most oppressed class of all, the small settlers, were entirely unrepresented.
The revenues, the price of crown lands, the assessments on the pastoral proprietors, the abuses in the exercise of crown patronage, successively attracted the attention of the opposition, vigorously led by William Wentworth, a gentleman of brilliant talents and great oratorical powers, whose influence was unfortunately impaired by a violent temper and want of taste, the necessary result of a provincial education among men vastly inferior in intellect, and long exclusion from a legitimate exercise of his powers.
Without the evidence extracted by these Legislative Councils of New South Wales it would be impossible to credit that a government at home professed to be formed on “reform” and “retrenchment” could perpetrate and maintain powers so oppressive and jobs so corrupt.
But jobbery and despotism seem incident to all corporate bodies which have the control of sea-divided territories. It was impossible to imagine anything worse than the administration of the Colonial Office