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Mr. Wakefield approved, the “special survey system,” which enabled them to raise large sums of money, by offering special privileges to capitalists, and it proved most effective in England. Under this system a capitalist was entitled to have 15,000 acres surveyed in any part of the province, on condition that he purchased not less than 4,000 acres at £l an acre. In South Australia, as in New South Wales, there is a great scarcity of water, and good cultivable land lies only in patches surrounded by other land which is, at best, only fit for pasture. By judicious management the purchaser of a special survey could command all the water, and all the pastoral advantages of 15,000 acres, by purchasing 4,000; the remainder, 11,000 acres, being useless to any one else, fell naturally in his occupation, at an average of 5s. 4d. an acre. To increase the mischief, purchasers of special surveys were permitted to establish secondary towns, in addition to Adelaide, which was twenty times too large for the population; while the staff of surveyors were continually interrupted in their regular work, to the great injury of cultivating emigrants, in order to make these special surveys, at an expense often exceeding the total value of the purchase-money.
In a very short time all the good land in the neighbourhood of Adelaide was monopolized by the absentee capitalists and proprietors of the South Australian Company, one of whom alone had the misfortune to thus invest sixty thousand pounds.
In a word, the whole system discouraged the proper pursuits of colonists, and propagated a spirit of land-jobbing, which, by its apparent profits, very soon infected the neighbouring colonies, and bewildered and deceived the merchants, the legislature, and the colonial department of Great Britain.
At an epoch in the existence of an infant state, when the first settlers ought to consist of a few gardeners, a few shepherds, a few maize-growers, and a few mechanics, with half a dozen men of superior attainments and energy, and when a village with a wharf is all the town they need, South Australia had nine square miles of building land, a bank, two newspapers, and a population of speculative gentlemen ; while paragraphs carefully culled from the colonial press circulated as accompaniments to flaming advertisements in the English newspapers, lectures and speeches of zealous disciples of Wakefield, and well-paid agents of the South Australian interest, combined to raise the colonizing speculations and movements in England and Scotland to fever pitch about the time that Colonel Gawler anchored in St. Vincent's Gulf.
COLONEL GAWLER'S GOVERNMENT.
1838 To 1841.
INJUSTICE TO GOVERNOR GAWLER - FALLACIOUS CALCULATIONS — THE STREET
MANUFACTURE IN ADELAIDE-A CONTRAST—COURT OF GOVERNOR GAWLERTHE OVERLANDERS—THE CRISIS-A RIVAL COLONY_THE BUBBLE BURSTS. YOLONEL GAWLER arrived in South Australia on the 13th
October, 1838, and was recalled in May, 1841. Under his administration the colony attained the highest state of external prosperity, the population quadrupled, the port was filled with ships bringing imports and emigrants ; public buildings, shops, mansions, warehouses, and paved roads were constructed on land which four years previously had been an uninhabited desert, wharves and roads on a swampy creek which was converted into a convenient port; ornamental gardens were laid out, farms were cultivated, live stock introduced by tens of thousands, a large amount of English capital invested, the interior explored, and the whole colony rendered more familiarly and favourably known to the intellectual portion of the British community than any other colony; and under Colonel Gawler the land sales ceased, labour could find no employment, capital and labour emigrated, insolvency was universal, and the colony, loaded with public and private debt, collapsed almost as rapidly as it had risen.
The powerful party whose pecuniary interests and personal pride, as colonizing philosophers, are alike interested in upholding the system on which South Australia was founded, have long been in the habit of attributing the rise of that colony to the merits of their system, and its fall to the extravagance of Colonel Gawler's, and they have generally passed uncontradicted, because actual colonists are ill represented in Parliament and the press, and it has not been worth the while of the public, which endured the speeches of Mr. Aglionby or read the caustic colonizing essays of the Spectator, to dive into blue books or examine colonial evidence for the truth.
A very slight examination of the history of South Australia will show that it was not what is called the extravagance of Colonel Gawler which caused those sales of land, that export of emigrants, that speculation in building lots and houses which was taken to be prosperity. If a million sterling had been at the disposal of the governor at the time when, to speak commercially, the colonial government stopped
payment, the mania for land-buying might have been continued some time longer, but it must have stopped sooner or later, just as the railway-scrip mania came to an end, because the purchasers and sellers were producing nothing; and no amount of imported population and capital could have made the colony produce enough to pay for its consumption until time had been given to raise some staple article saleable in a foreign market. Wool cannot be produced, like calico or cloth, by steam power; for agricultural produce there was, and is, no foreign demand worth mentioning; the existence of mineral wealth was not suspected. When Colonel Gawler resigned his office into the hands of his successor, South Australia was in debt about £400,000, on account of the colonial government; the private debts of the colonists to English merchants were probably as much more. The utmost extent of excess in Colonel Gawler's expenditure was £20,000, or 5 per cent. on the expences. We have thought it right to devote some space to the history of the rise and fall of this speculation, the first authentic and complete statement that has ever been published, because, from time to time, efforts are made to repeat the South Australian colonization scheme on new ground.
It always takes a considerable time to inoculate the English people with new ideas. About the time that Captain Hindmarsh was recalled and Colonel Gawler sailed, the fruits of skilful agitation began to be reaped by the South Australian commissioners. No unfavourable accounts of the new colony were allowed to appear in any organ of influence; flourishing reports of the beauty, the fertility, and the commercial importance of the new city were industriously circulated. Colonel Torrens, in lectures he condescended to deliver, stated, and believed, that the situation of the city of Adelaide would give it the same importance with respect to the valley of the Murray that New Orleans held with respect to the valley of the Mississippi. The Murray in 1851 had not yet been navigated by anything beyond a whale-boat, and a range of lofty mountains divides it from Adelaide! An influential agent in the South Australian interest not only produced a magnificentlycoloured plan of the new city, divided into streets and squares, but, by a further stroke of imagination, anchored a 400-ton ship in the Torrens, opposite Government House—the River Torrens being a chain of pools in which the most desperate suicide would ordinarily have difficulty in drowning himself, and across which a child may generally step dryshod.
Thus land was sold and emigrants were shipped off before the commissioners had time to receive further accounts from their new and trusted governor and commissioner.
FALLACIOUS CALCULATIONS OF THE COMMISSIONERS.
The statements made in a despatch written by Colonel Gawler, immediately after his arrival, show that, if Colonel Gawler had been less zealous to carry out the views of the commissioners and more cautious about his own personal interests, he would have at once brought the progress of colonization to a stand-still, strictly followed his written instructions, and retired with his private fortune uninjured to his own profession.
Under the original plan of the colony the commissioners had calculated that an annual sum of £10,000, over and above any revenue to be derived from customs or local taxation, would be sufficient to defray all the expenses
of South Australia. This calculation was mere guesswork, or rather founded on what they hoped to be able to raise, and not on the necessities of the case. In order to make it fit they fixed on an arbitrary number of officials at arbitrary salaries, and left altogether out of consideration the nature of a country in which dispersion is essential to existence, and the cost of subsistence in a country in which every pound of meat and flour had to be imported, in which there were neither navigable rivers nor roads, nor wild animals of such a size and in such number as to be a resource of any importance for food.
Colonel Gawler being an amiable, enthusiastic, simple-minded, yet ambitious man, was dazzled with the idea of becoming the founder of a great civilized, self-supporting community. He accepted the theories of Mr. Wakefield as solemn, immutable truths, and the calculations of the bubble-blowing commissioners as the emanations of the highest financial ability. He placed confidence in the private assurances of the commissioners, and was most bitterly and cruelly deceived.
He found the treasury empty—the accounts in confusion. Twelve thousand pounds, being two thousand pounds more than the whole amount authorized to be drawn for in England in the year, had been drawn in the first six months; a large expense was required for the support of emigrants sick of fever and dysentery; provisions, wages, and house rent were enormously high ; custom-houses, police-stations, a gaol, and offices for transaction of public business were urgently required; a police establishment, at colonial wages, in the absence of a military force, was indispensable; the commissioners in their calculations had omitted to provide for a postmaster, a sheriff, or a gaoler; the surveys were seriously in arrear; the head of the staff and all his attendants had resigned; the late resident conmissioner and accountant-general, the colonial treasurer, and several other officers were found insubordinate, irregular in their accounts, and grossly inefficient; it was necessary to
supersede two of them peremptorily—almost immediately; all officials were dissatisfied with low salaries in the face of the high prices of provisions, house rent, &c.; Governor Gawler himself, with Mrs. Gawler, his children, private secretary, and servants, was compelled to occupy a small hut and expend £1,800 a year on a salary of £800. With this imperfect machinery, and an empty treasury, a population of some four or five thousand, not concentrated, according to the impracticable theories of the commissioners, on ten square miles, engaged in reproducing English agriculture, but partly encamped on the site of the city of Adelaide, and partly dispersed in pastoral pursuits over a tract of country 100 miles long by 40 miles broad, had to be governed, customs dues and debts had to be levied, criminals imprisoned, and aborigines repressed.
As to the prospects of the colony, and character of pursuits of the colonists, the inspector of the Australasian Bank at Sydney wrote in October, 1838, about the time Governor Gawler landed :
“I venture to express my fears that the price received for the sale of land will be found insufficient to pay for the transplantation and government of emigrants; and, unless funds be provided by the British government, it will be impossible to provide for the administration of police and law. There appears also to have been a great want of experience and decision in directing the energies of the colonists to that source from which alone they can hope to rise to wealth or prevent themselves from sinking into poverty, until an article of export be produced in considerable quantity; as otherwise the funds of the colonists must be expended in paying for articles of import and luxuries considered as necessaries of life. Wool is the only article of export that can be produced, and on this subject the colonists seem as supine as they have been eager to purchase town allotments and build houses, giving the place what seems to me a false appearance of commercial prosperity. Had it been left to me, I should have delayed establishing a branch bank until I could be sure there were at least 100,000 sheep in the settlement, and that provision was made for the efficient administration of the law.”*
The new governor, full of colonizing enthusiasm and innocent of colonial or commercial experience, was dazzled and deceived by the building activity which had excited the serious apprehensions of the experienced bank manager. He found a large body of educated, apparently intelligent, men, who had encamped on the site of the city
* Report of House of Commons on South Australia, 1841, p. 146.