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gration (of small capitalists), to withdraw capital, and to prevent the permanent occupancy of the soil.”
In 1844 “select committee on grievances connected with land in the colony” examined twenty-six witnesses, and received answers to a printed circular of questions from one hundred and twenty-two justices of the peace.
The attention of the committee was directed, among other subjects, to the minimum price of land, and to the attempts to harass the squatter, not being a purchaser of land, by rendering his tenure of crown lands as uncertain and onerous as possible.
All the witnesses who were asked the question (except Mr. Deas Thompson, the Colonial Secretary, who declined, on the ground of his official character, to give an answer), and all the replies to the circulars, except three, expressed decided opinions against the measure which raised the minimum price of crown land from 5s. to £l; all justly taking it for granted that at £1 an acre the purchase of pastoral lands was impossible, claimed fixity of tenure by lease, and right of preemption for the squatter. The latter was the grand point with the squatters ; that gained, their interest in the land question, except in promoting sales to create an emigration fund, ceased.
The opinions of the three dissentients from the report of the committee exhibit very exactly the feelings of the small class, resident chiefly in Port Phillip and South Australia, who advocate the high "price of land. These three gentlemen are
John Fitzgerald Leslie Foster, of Leslie Park, Melbourne ;
John Moore Airey, of Geelong. Mr. Foster says very candidly, "I look on the price of one pound as not too much for agricultural land, and as a prohibition on the purchase of mere pastoral land. Being both a landholder and a settler, I would, in both characters, regret to see any reduction in the price, as it would not only reduce the value of my (purchased) land, but, by rendering it easier for others to purchase my (rented) runs, would diminish the permanent interest I now hold in them."
Mr. Moore thought the country destined, from its physical character, to become an aristocratic one;" that “the class of emigrants really beneficial to the country, English country gentlemen with some property, but with large families and limited means, would not be deterred by £1 an acre ; that a class of small but independent farmers will never be
DEMANDS OF THE SQUATTERS.
generally adapted to the country ; that it will eventually fall into the hands of a landed aristocracy, who, possessing the frontages to water convenient to the residence of tenants, will possess capital sufficient to guard them against the vicissitudes of the seasons, as well as means to cultivate the interior to advantage.”
Mr. Peter M'Arthur (no relation to the M'Arthur of Camden) “arrived in the colony in 1834, specially introduced to the favour and protection of the governor by the Secretary of State.” He recommends that “the governor should have the power to grant twelve thousand eight hundred acres to respectable parties of station and education and capital, and of habits worthy of being imitated by the humbler class ;" one thousand acres to be purchased at £l an acre, payable by instalments in ten years; the remaining eleven thousand eight hundred to be held on a perpetual quit rent of £12 per annum.
These three gentlemen evidently considered that imperial and colonial interests were bound up in the encouragement of their class, in the protection of their interests, and the keeping down of aspiring yeomanry.
The report of this committee on crown-land grievances was the foundation of a fierce agitation on the part of the pastoral interests for the suppression of the obnoxious regulations as to the pastoral occupations, and for fixity of tenure. In this agitation, which was also directed against the £1 acre minimum, the whole colony joined. Public meetings were held in every part of New South Wales ; petitions and memorials addressed to the home government were signed, sent to England, and placed in the hands of political men of influence; and influential organs of the English press were enlisted in defence of the great pastoral interest.
The governor stood firm; determined to make war on the squatters, determined to maintain the obnoxious £l an acre, and to carry out the spirit of the act which imposed it, by throwing, as he was instructed, all possible obstacles in the way of men of small capital investing their savings in land; and he was supported not only by the British Colonial Office, but by the consciousness that, if the squatters succeeded in their demands, millions of acres, including land admirably adapted for settlements and agriculture, would be handed over to them for ever at a nominal rent.
But the colonial public, seeing the injustice of endeavouring to harass the squatters to their ruin by forcing them to purchase their holdings, lent them a moral support which enabled them, after some years' battling, to obtain a virtual fixity of tenure, a result similar to the eopartnership of the giant and the dwarf in Goldsmith's story. The squatters gained all and more than all they could have hoped by ordinances promulgated in 1847, after the retirement of Sir George Gipps; they obtained leases, the right of pre-emption for 320 acres or more at a fixed price of £l an acre without auction, thus enabling them to secure the finest spot on each run, compensation for improvements at the termination of a lease : their rent was calculated on the capabilities of each run for carrying stock, and on a poll tax which, by being fixed at the minimum rent of 4,000 sheep or 600 head of cattle, effectually protected them from the competition of the class of small settlers whom Sir Richard Bourke described as the objects of so much jealousy and unjust persecution by the great pastoral proprietors.
The results of this compromise, which ended a fierce battle, to be renewed at no distant period, are admirably summed up in the report of a “ select committee of the Legislative Council” in 1847, over which Robert Lowe, Esq., late fellow and tutor of University College, Oxon, then a practising barrister in the courts of New South Wales, presided as Chairman.*
But the maladministration of the crown lands was not, and is not, the only cause for the chronic discontent of the colonists, a discontent fostered by the perverse tenacity and insolent defiance of colonial opinions with which a series of colonial secretaries adhered to chamber theories, for the management of an Anglo-Saxon race at the antipodes.
In 1844 a select committee of the Legislative Council investigated and reported on “grievances unconnected with land.” The principal of these grievances remains unredressed to this hour.
They complain of being saddled with taxation for a civil list which they were not empowered to discuss, to the extent of £81,000. By the act of 1850 this civil list has been increased to £150,000 a year.
Of the total failure of the “ district councils,” which created municipalities where the sparse population render popular election and local taxation impossible, and which placed in the hands of the governors the nomination of an officer with powers of local taxation.
Of the want of a “responsible government,” the governor being, in fact, merely a subordinate officer of the Colonial Secretary of State for the time being; and the governor's official advisers in a position which made them practically as independent of the Legislative Council as if they had been merely his private friends. Thus, so long as the governor and his official advisers satisfied the home authorities, the colonists were without a remedy for any illegality
Mr. Lowe has since returned to England, has taken an active and influential part in colonial questions, and become M.P. for Kidderminster.
committed by the colonial government, however flagrant. As an instance of the working of the system, the report cites £127,000 applied to various illegal (not fraudulent) purposes by the governor, in the course of seven years; and specially “a sum of £15,189 1ls. 5 d., expended
y the governor, in excess of the appropriations for certain authorized services, and a sum of £30,743 15s. which was not only expended by his excellency, without any authority of the Legislative Council, but a large portion of it was applied, by the governor's mere fiat, to the payment of debentures and other purposes to which the ordinary revenue was not applicable by law.”
Thus, in New South Wales, the liberty of talking and taxing themselves was the only liberty allowed the local parliament: they might vote supplies, protest against illegal acts, and, “having protested," as Lord Ellenborough said to Hone, “go about their business."
A fourth grievance was the expense in police, gaols, and judicialexpenditure imposed upon the colonists by New South Wales being made the receptacle for the felons of England, after it had ceased to derive the profits of the assignment system, and the violation of the alleged) compact by which, under Sir Richard Bourke, in return for assuming this expense, which had, previous to his time, been paid by the home government, the surplus land revenues and other casual revenues of the crown were ceded to the colonial treasuries.
Under this head the committee claimed the repayment of £831,742 3s. 7d., and for the future an annual payment towards police, gaols, and courts of assize of £74,195 6s. 8d.
Fifthly, they desired that persons having claims of any description against the local government should, by act, be enabled to have a public officer as nominal defendant.
Sixthly, they claimed that the judges of the Supreme Court should be placed in the same position as to tenure of office and security of salary as belonged to the mother country ,and not suspended by the fiat and removed by the report of the governor.
These grievances, so distinctly set forth and vigorously protested against in 1844, had already been the subject of contest with the governor in the first session of the Legislative Council, when the representative members asserted their privileges by cutting down the estimates, and refusing to vote the sums required for police and judicial expenses, in addition to the civil list of £81,000.
But it would be impossible within any reasonable space to detail the series of overt acts which characterized the sedition-breeding policy of Sir George Gipps.
Session after session it was a game at cross purposes and crooked answers between the representatives of the colonists, the governor, and his patrons in Downing-street. For instance, the colonists propose to reduce the salaries of certain colonial custom-house officers; in the next session of the British Parliament, it is presumed at the instigation of Governor Gipps, the Colonial Secretary passes a special act taking that department from the control of the newly-created colonial Parliament.
The colonists propose to spend £9,000 of their own money in building a lighthouse in Bass's Straits; they are informed that they must first consult the home government on its situation—a matter of two years' delay.
The colonists pass an act establishing mortgage and register for mortgages on wool; the Colonial Secretary of State disallows the act as repugnant to the laws of England, without consulting the colonists, and is soon compelled to retrace his steps.
Eventually, after long delay and great loss of property, the home government is obliged to yield and sanction a most valuable colonial institution.
The colonists examine and unanimously protest against the land system established by the Imperial Parliament, and still more unanimously against the ordinances affecting pastoral occupation; the Secretary of State, without waiting for the arrival of memorials and petitions which, as Sir George Gipps admitted, expressed the almost unanimous opinions of the colonists, hastens to pen in a despatch “his determination to uphold the land system, and perfect approval of the arbitrary powers exercised by the governor against the squatting interest.”
There, again, the home government was afterwards compelled to retreat.
A bill is introduced into the British Parliament for establishing a new system of pastoral occupation—the ex-governor is consulted—the Legislative Council are left in ignorance of the provisions of the bill. In fact, the records of the Legislative Council are largely occupied with discussions between the governor and the elected members on every possible subject, the governor constantly adopting a line of defiance, always treating the opposition as if it were rebellion. On the one side were the colonists, on the other the governor, backed by the home government, and concentrating in his own person all power and patronage, supported by the official members, and the nominees, who were plainly instructed that, unless prepared to support the governor, “right or wrong," if a governor could be wrong, they must resign.