The great concussion which the agricultural interests thus sustained at the epoch when the productive powers of the colony exceeded the consumptive, and the continued shocks to which they have been exposed ever since, have not unfortunately affected the agricultural prosperity alone, but have shaken to the foundation the commercial edifice also. Unluckily both the agricultural and commercial classes seem to have been alike ignorant of the death-blow which had been struck at their welfare. The settler continued in the same career of thoughtless extravagance which his circumstances when they were even in their most flourishing state had scarcely permitted, and the merchant went on without hesitation, advancing him goods in the hope of extricating his old customer from difficulties which he only imagined to be of temporary pressure; never for a moment suspecting that they were the forerunners of deeper embarrassment and ultimate ruin. Need I state the consequences. The extended credits which the first merchants thus gave the settlers on the strength of the progressive increase of their produce, rendered them at last unable to fulfil the engagements which they had contracted with British and East India houses, and they were eventually involved in the destruction which had so suddenly overwhelmed the great mass of their debtors, on whom they were necessarily dependent for support. All of them who had been distinguished by their equitable dealings, and by their liberality of conduct, received at this moment so rude a shock in their affairs that they have been unable amidst the increasing decadence of the community at large to re-establish their credit, and after disposing of the scattered wrecks of their fortune, have not only been reduced to penury, but are still indebted to their correspondents in the amount perhaps of L100,000. These gentlemen thus driven from the commercial circle by their liberality, unwillingly inflicted a deadly wound on the credit of the colony. Foreign merchants would no longer have any account dealings with their successors; and generally ever since the commercial intercourse with England and the East Indies has been maintained without any confidence on the part of the merchants of these two countries; the money has been received in one hand, and the goods delivered in the other. This cautious system has given birth to another race of merchants, much more prudent than their predecessors, but also much less serviceable to the colony, and much less adapted to its emergencies. These in their dealings have been forced to observe the same circumspection which had been adopted towards themselves, and have given no credit but to those whose means of payment were unquestionable. As the majority of the colonists have been always in the back ground, since the epoch which I have just described, and have in consequence been unable to produce ready money, a subordinate class of traders, but still superior in their circumstances and the extent of their transactions to those little inferior dealers, who are to be found in all countries, started up, and have since acted as intermediary agents between the importers and the great body of consumers. The object of this class has been, and continues to be, not so much to realize large fortunes in money, which indeed under existing circumstances would be scarcely possible, as to acquire immense landed possessions: and their system, which, in fact, is the natural consequence of this policy, is to require of the settlers mortgage securities anterior to the supply of such articles as they may be in need of. As they are frequently unable punctually to comply with the conditions of these mortgages, their creditors eagerly embrace the opportunity, whenever it offers, of foreclosing them, and are thus gradually becoming proprietors of the finest estates in the colony; estates which whenever its capabilities shall be called into unrestrained action will ensure them and their posterity fortunes of a colossal magnitude. While this class of traders are thus becoming the most considerable landholders in this settlement, they have not only taken care not to give credit to such an extent as might occasion a diminution in their trading capital, but have even contrived to increase it very materially. This system, therefore, of buying goods, and afterwards selling them at an almost arbitrary profit, the greater part of which is thus converted into landed property, is daily gaining ground, and will infallibly in the end, unless proper measures be speedily taken to counteract it, reduce the great majority of the agricultural body to the same state of vassalage which a large proportion of its members are already enduring. And what renders the increasing wealth and power of the small number who thus profit by the embarrassments of the settlers, and make themselves masters of their persons and properties, still more odious and galling, is the consideration that in most instances they are the least deserving, and yet the only class of the community to whom the present order of things is favourable. While all the rest of the population are groaning under the aggravated pressure of toil, privation, and despair, they are fattening on the surrounding misery, and every day making rapid strides towards the attainment of immense riches, under the propitious shelter of a system which would appear to have been expressly contrived for their especial aggrandisement, at the expence of the freedom, prosperity and happiness of the whole social body besides. Like vultures, that in the midst of combats soar in safety above the destruction raging beneath, but descend at its close and tranquilly devour the mangled carcases which the exterminating engines of war have laid prostrate for their repast, these men out of the influence of the oppressive disabilities which are overwhelming all but themselves, eagerly watch the progress of the surrounding misery, and impatiently await its completion; more cruel than vultures, since covered with the aegis that has unnerved the force and paralysed the energies of their neighbours, they introduce themselves into the midst of the havoc of their own species, and prey upon the living victims who are sinking around them.
And here, it may not be inexpedient to reconcile the existence of so much distress, with so large an income, and so small a population as the colony and its dependent settlements are known to possess. The former, it has been seen, may be estimated in round numbers at L170,000, the latter at 20,000 souls: so that if the annual income were equally divided among the entire population, and they were all agriculturists, and could furnish themselves with food, (I make this supposition, because it is at their option to become agriculturists, and it is consequently a legitimate inference, that it is not the interest of such as have not embraced this alteration to do so) they would each have man, woman, and child, 8l. 10s. yearly for the purchase of articles of foreign growth and manufacture alone. This I am ready to allow, is comparatively a much larger sum than could be appropriated by the inhabitants of this country to similar purposes; and it would therefore appear on the first view, incompatible with the doleful picture of distress which I have drawn. If, however, the remoteness of the colony from England, India, and China, the three principal supplying countries, be duly considered, and the great expence of freight and insurance unavoidably attached to so long a navigation, an expence which in the first of these instances, is augmented in a two-fold degree, by the entire absence of return cargoes; if it be stated that these local disadvantages alone, render it impossible for the importers to dispose of their merchandize for less than fifty per cent. on the prime cost to their immediate purchasers, and that at least three fourths of the population are obliged from the want of ready money, to buy on long credits of these secondary agents, who fashion their prices according to the nature and extent of their customers' embarrassments, sometimes contenting themselves with a second advance of fifty per cent.; but more frequently affixing to their goods a profit of a hundred, a hundred and fifty, and two hundred per cent.: if it be recollected how far these grievous exactions are aggravated by the system of vassalage just described, a system which places all the unfortunate wretches who are reduced to it at the absolute mercy of their rapacious landlords; if the profligate and improvident habits and disposition of the generality of the colonists be taken into the estimate, and their total disregard of order and economy in their domestic arrangements; but above all, if their unfortunate propensity to the excessive use of spirituous liquors be superadded; a propensity which like Aaron's rod swallows up every other passion, and for the momentary gratification of which they willingly sacrifice every prospect of present enjoyment, and deliberately entail on themselves and their families lasting privation and want; I say if due consideration be given to all these circumstances, it will be no difficult matter to believe in the sad reality of the general wretchedness and penury which I have depicted. But it must be further evident that this equal division of the colonial revenue has been assumed merely by way of exemplification, and that it is a fiction, the realization of which is beyond the extreme verge of possibility: a fiction which never has been and never can be verified. In this colony as in every other community, there is a regular gradation of property, and perhaps there is no country on the face of the earth, except Russia, where it is so partially distributed. If then I have reconciled the probability of the wretched condition of the colonists, with the assumption of an equality of wealth, when there is, in fact, the greatest inequality, it must be evident that the picture which I have drawn, pregnant and glowing as it is with distress, is far from surcharged, and still requires both colouring and expression to convey a perfect representation of the scene.
Of the whole colonial income about L100,000 annually may be considered as arising from the labours of the agricultural body. This is undoubtedly that portion of the colonial wealth which gets into most general circulation; but even it is far from undergoing that minute subdivision and universal diffusion which are requisite for the maintenance of a constant internal circulating medium. Created in the first instance by the government in payment of the grain, meat, etc. furnished by the settlers, it is immediately handed over by them to the traders to whom they may be indebted, and from these again passes to the importing merchants, on whom they may be dependent for their supplies of merchandize, who in their turn eventually transmit it to their foreign correspondents. It may consequently be perceived that the purchases and sales which must be incessantly occurring, besides those to which this part of the colonial income is thus devoted, such as the sales of provisions in the markets, the payment of wages, and, in fine, the infinite transactions to which the wants or the whims of society are eternally giving birth, and to which a common medium of determinate value is essential are but little, if indeed at all facilitated by a sum of money, which after passing through a few hands, disappears from the colony for ever. To prevent, therefore, the interchanges and activity of the community from being brought to a stand, it became necessary to create some other circulating medium; and as the government took no part in this highly important affair, the whole burden of the arrangement fell upon the inhabitants. The arrangement itself was, in consequence, such as might have been expected from their circumstances and situation: the whole of them who had any real, or apparent pretensions to responsibility, became with one accord bankers; issuing small promissory notes to provide for their minuter occasions, merely on the strength of their credit, and frequently in anticipation of their means. This "Colonial currency," as it was termed, soon experienced that depreciation in the market, compared with the government, or sterling money, which it was natural to expect from the doubtful circumstances of many of its issuers. In a short time government money could not be had for it under a discount of fifty per cent.; still the drawers of these promissory notes were compelled by the decisions of the court of civil jurisdiction to pay them at par, whenever they were presented; so that all the persons of real responsibility, who had been induced in the first instance from necessity to adopt this system, withdrew their bills from the market, and naturally preferred purchasing with government money the notes of others at this depreciated rate, to the issuing at the same rate notes of their own, which they would be eventually obliged to take up at par. The consequence was that all the subsequent issuers of these notes were needy adventurers, who possessing little or no property adopted this method of supplying their extravagance, or entering into desperate speculations that could hardly succeed, in violation of every principle of honesty, and at the expence of the industrious and responsible part of the community. This subsequent currency, therefore, encountered a still further depreciation; and when government money could be at all obtained for it, it was only at a discount of 100, 150, and even 200 per cent. Such, however, has been the necessity for a circulating medium of some sort or other, that the public, as if by a general implied consent, without any expressed convention, have permitted the existence and increase of this worthless substitute, and have thus affixed a kind of nominal value to that which is in reality worth nothing.
To any one, who has not fully considered the difficulty attending the exchange of one commodity for another, and the impossibility of apportioning at all times, what one man may have to dispose of to the exact value of what another man may have to offer in return, an impossibility that would frequently prevent the exchange altogether, and thus subject the parties to mutual inconvenience and distress, the rude system of barter would appear preferable to so vile a common standard of value as the existing currency. Its badness, indeed, has been the means of introducing the system of barter as far as it was practicable; but as the entire introduction of this system would be hardly compatible with the first imperfect elements of society, the civilization of the colonists has imposed a limit to it, and prescribed a necessity for the toleration of the present circulating medium, which nothing but the creation of a better can supersede. Two attempts were made to remedy this evil, but they both in the event proved abortive; the richer class of the inhabitants on these occasions formed combinations and entered into resolutions not to receive in payment the bills of any individuals who had not been admitted into their society. To prevent a recurrence of the loss, which the original responsible issuers of currency had sustained by its depreciation in the market, they affixed to it themselves a specific depreciation, promising in the body of their notes to pay them on demand in government money at a discount, in the first of these instances, of twenty-five per cent., and in the last of fifty per cent. But it must be evident that a currency of this nature, payable on demand, became of equal value with the sterling money of the government, to those who took it at the stipulated depreciation; and it was accordingly no sooner in circulation, than it got into the hands of the importing merchants, and was presented to the drawers for payment. It was thus too good for its intended purpose; and the old worthless currency, which had been for a while proscribed, gradually returned into circulation. The present governor, sensible of the advantage which the colony would derive from its supercession, and from the substitution of another of intrinsic value in its stead, caused ten thousand pounds worth of dollars to be sent from India, and had a piece struck out of the middle of each, to which he affixed by proclamation, the value of fifteen pence, and to the remainder that of five shillings, making the whole dollar worth six shillings and three pence. This money he caused to be given in payment of the various articles of internal produce received into the king's stores; but as they were exchanged every month, if presented to the commissariat department, for bills on the lords of the treasury, in the same manner as the government receipts had been exchanged previously, they have not realized the hopes of abolishing the currency, with which they were issued. Some few of them, indeed, have from time to time eluded the grasp of the merchants and traders, and got in consequence of the minuteness of their separate value into temporary circulation; but the use of the original currency has neither been superseded nor diminished.
That the colonists should have been thus forced during so long a period, in spite of all their efforts, and contrary to the desire of their government, to tolerate a medium of circulation possessing no intrinsic value whatever, and dependent solely on a general, constrained, and tacit consent for its support and duration, is, I should apprehend, one of the most forcible proofs which it is in the nature of things to adduce, in illustration of their present poverty and wretchedness. It is impossible to offer a more satisfactory demonstration of the inferiority of their means to their necessities. Important under every point of view as is the establishment of a safe currency, such is the irresistible pressure of their debts, so much is their expenditure superior to their revenue, that they can devote no portion of it to the most urgent purpose of domestic economy: the whole is absorbed, and does not suffice to procure those articles of foreign supply, which are absolutely indispensable to civilized life.
By the last intelligence from the colony it appears, indeed, that a company has undertaken the establishment of a colonial bank, and obtained a charter for this purpose from the governor; but I should imagine they cannot possibly succeed in creating a permanent medium of circulation. The constant run that their bills will have on them for payment, in consequence of the imports of the colony being so much greater than its income, will soon occasion them to exchange the whole of their capital for the mortgage securities on which they at present issue it; and although this circumstance will not perhaps detract from the profits of this institution, it will render the toleration of the existing currency, if not of undiminished, still of indispensable necessity.* The introduction, therefore, of a safe and sufficient medium of circulation may be still pronounced a desideratum, and one of the first importance to the general prosperity of the colonists. The government in their present distressed situation, is perhaps the only power competent to the accomplishment of this beneficial object, and it is to be hoped that they will no longer delay effecting such a great and substantial amelioration.
[* This is an event which the colonists do not appear to anticipate. It is the general belief that the colonial currency has been crushed for ever; but I am greatly mistaken if that vile medium of circulation will not again revive before the expiration of another twelve-month, unless either the capital of the bank be greatly increased, or its operations be in future confined to the discounting of bills at a short date, to the utter exclusion of the system of advancing money on mortgage securities.]
Amidst the numerous deplorable consequences that have been attendant on this constant state of embarrassment, none perhaps is more deeply to be lamented than the great check which this difficulty of finding a profitable occupation for labour has proved to the progress of population. Mr. Malthus, who has immortalized himself by his essay on this branch of political economy, has so satisfactorily shewn that the increase of population is proportioned to the facility of procuring subsistence, and administering to the various wants of a family, that it is quite unnecessary for me to repeat arguments with which every one ought to be familiar, to prove that this colony has not been exempt from the destructive influence of causes whose operation has been steady and invariable in all ages and in all countries. The inference that this difficulty has been a preventive to marriage, and to the consequent progress of population is self-evident: to be understood it only requires to be stated. But the numerical increase of the colony has been checked in a still greater degree, perhaps by the constant returns from its shores which are daily occasioned by the same causes. What inducement, in fact, exists for any person to remain there who has the power of quitting it? Who would voluntarily become an inhabitant of a country where he has no rights, no possessions, that are sacred and inviolable? And where to this insecurity of person and property are superadded the greatest impediments to the extension of industry? A country of this kind, it may be easily imagined, possesses no allurements for those who have ever breathed a freer atmosphere; and it is not to be wondered at, that hundreds of convicts on the expiration of their several terms of transportation should be continually leaving a country, where the freeman and the slave are alike subjected to the uncontrolled authority of an individual; where the trial by jury is unknown, and an odious military tribunal substituted in its stead; and where there is no representative body to protect them in the enjoyment of their rights, and to secure them either from the imposition of arbitrary and destructive taxes, or from the influence of unjust and impolitic laws.
How far these two great checks to population which I have just mentioned, have operated, may be best ascertained from the last census taken in the colony in the month of November 1817. At that time it appears that the population of all the settlements, whether in New Holland or Van Diemen's Land, amounted only to twenty thousand three hundred and seventy-nine souls. It is not in my power to obtain returns of all the convicts who have been landed at various times in this colony; but as it is now about thirty years since the period of its foundation, very little doubt can be entertained that the total of them must have nearly equalled the amount of the actual population.* The number transported thither for some years past cannot be estimated at less than two thousand annually; yet notwithstanding this vast yearly numerical accession, notwithstanding the unparalleled salubrity of the climate, and the consequent small proportion which the number of deaths bears to the number of births, the population of the colony has been found to advance at a comparatively slow pace. It cannot be supposed that it could ever have been in the intention of the government, that those persons whom the sentence of the law had exiled to these remote shores, should thus be incessantly returning to those scenes, which had witnessed their former irregularities and condemnation. However sincere their reformation, it must be evident that with a blemished character, the difficulty of obtaining employment and procuring an honest livelihood, would be almost insuperable. It has been accordingly found that these unfortunate persons have generally renewed their ancient habits, and ended their career either by falling sacrifices on the scaffold to the often violated laws of their country, or by imposing on the government a necessity for the second, and in many instances for the third time of re-transporting them to this colony, where, if sufficient encouragement and protection had been afforded them in the first instance, they would have gladly remained, and have continued good and useful members of society.
[* This conjecture has been verified by a publication which has lately appeared from the pen of the Honourable Henry Grey Bennet, M. P. intituled, "A Letter to Lord Viscount Sidmouth on the Transportation Laws; the State of the Hulks, and of the Colonies in New South Wales." From this it appears that from May, 1787, to January, 1817, the number of convicts transported thither amounted to seventeen thousand; so that the entire increase which has taken place in the population in the course of thirty years, both from emigration and births, cannot be estimated at more than four thousand souls, so numerous have been the returns of convicts after the expiration of their sentences.]
It is here but candid to confess, that one of the leading causes why so many of this class are continually quitting the colony, has been their desire to rejoin their wives and families. This motive, however, no longer exists; since in a dispatch from the noble secretary of state for the colonial department, to Governor Macquarie, of which the receipt has been for some time past acknowledged, it was directed that "returns should be occasionally sent home of such convicts as may have applied for permission for their wives to join them; and that it should be therein stated whether such persons have the means of maintaining their wives and families, in the event of their being allowed to proceed to the colony." Measures have been already taken to carry the humane intention here manifested by his majesty's government into effect; and many hundreds who would otherwise have quitted the colony, will now remain there, and thus both the permanency of their reformation will be guaranteed, and the march of colonization greatly accelerated. Generous Britain, not more renowned in arts and arms, than in mercy and benevolence; may thy supremacy be coeval with thy humanity! Or if that be impossible; if thou be doomed to undergo that declension and decay, from which no human institutions, no works of man appear to be exempt, may the records of thy philanthropy hold the world in subject awe and admiration, long after the dominion of thy power shall have passed away! May they soften the hearts of future nations, and be a shining sun that shall illuminate both hemispheres, and chase from every region of the earth the black reign of barbarism and cruelty for ever!
While the existing system of government is thus rapidly undermining the general prosperity and freedom, and presenting the greatest checks to the progress of colonization, it is but natural to conclude from the pertinacity with which it is maintained, that it is at least productive of some beneficial results to the power to which it owes its origin and existence. It were a species of political anomaly to suppose that any order of things diametrically opposite to the interests of the governed, should be persisted in, unless it were attended with some positive advantage to the governors. Ridiculous, however, as in every case perhaps but the present such a supposition would be, it is verified in the instance of this colony; since the system pursued there, is not only destructive of the vital interests of the inhabitants at large, but at the same time, burdensome to this country, and contraventory of the very intentions with which this settlement was established. This assertion I shall shortly prove, and then leave it to more sagacious politicians than myself, to demonstrate the consistency of what appears to me the most absurd and incongruous paradox that is to be met with in the history of governments. And first that the present system is burdensome to this country, and what is worse, must become every year still more so, is evident from the gradually progressive augmentation which has taken place in the expenditure of this colony. From 1788 to 1797, the total expence was L1,037,230, or L86,435 per annum; from 1798 to 1811, it amounted to L1,634,926, or L116,709 per annum; and from 1812 to 1815, both inclusive, to L793,827, or L198,456 per annum. In 1816, the expence was L193,775 10s. 83/4d. and in 1817 it was L229,152 6s. 31/4d. being nearly treble the annual amount in the year 1797. This estimate, indeed, includes the cost of transportation; and the rapid increase that has taken place of late years in the sum total, has been in a considerable degree occasioned by the great increase in the number of criminals sent out to the colony; but still that there has been a regularly progressive augmentation to the internal expenditure is quite incontrovertible.
It requires no great portion of discernment to foretel that while the present prohibitory system remains in force; while the colony is alike prevented from profiting by its natural productions, and from calling into life the artificial ones of which it is capable, that it must continue an increasing burthen and expence to the power on which it is dependent for support, and which thus unwisely restrains its exertions. If the consideration of the benefits which this country might eventually derive from encouraging the growth and exportation of such products as this colony might furnish; if the prospect of finding at no very remote period in a part of our own dominions, various raw materials essential to the fabrication of some of our staple manufactures, and for which we are at present wholly dependent on foreigners; if, in fine, the certainty of extending, instead of destroying, a market for the consumption of those manufactures themselves, be not motives of sufficient weight and cogency to draw the attention of his majesty's ministers to the impolitic and destructive order of things, which prevents the accomplishment of these desirable ends; it is at least to be hoped in these times of universal embarrassment, when the cry of distress is resounding from one end of the kingdom to the other, that the desire of effecting a retrenchment in this part of the public expenditure, which has swelled to so enormous an amount, solely from ignorance and mismanagement, will at length excite inquiry, and give rise to a system that will unfetter the colonists, and by gradually enabling them to support themselves, no longer render them an unproductive and increasing burden to this country. It is useless, and indeed absurd, for the government to be sending out incessant injunctions for economy, and to be eternally insisting upon the necessity of effecting retrenchments, which their own impolitic restrictions render impossible. The addition which is annually made to the population of the colony must occasion a corresponding expenditure on the part of the colonial government. The convicts, who are transported thither, were maintained at a great expence while in this country, and cannot be supported without cost there. So long as the avenues to industry and enterprize are closed, it is ridiculous to imagine that the colonists can undertake the maintenance of a body of men, for whose labour they can find no profitable occupation. The expence, therefore, of supporting the great mass of convicts who are constantly arriving in this colony, must necessarily increase in spite of all the exhortations of the government, and all the efforts of the governor, whoever he may be, to carry them into effect. The present governor, indeed, has contrived in some measure to comply with these recommendations of retrenchment with which he has been harrassed; but his obedience has been attended with the adoption of a most pernicious and indefensible system, that of granting too promiscuously tickets of leave to convicts, before sufficient time had elapsed for ascertaining the reality of their reformation, and their title to so important an indulgence. This privilege, which exempts them from the public works, and enables them to seek employment in every direction throughout the colony, it may be perceived, turns loose a set of men, who had been solemnly pronounced to be improper and dangerous members of society; and affords them an unrestrained opportunity of preying upon the industrious and deserving, and of committing fresh enormities, before they have made the atonement affixed to their original offences, and required not more to uphold the distinction which ought always to be drawn between virtue and vice, than from a due regard to their future welfare and regeneration. It is principally to the introduction of the ticket of leave system that the considerable reductions which have been effected of late years in the expences of the colony are to be ascribed. How far this most pernicious and immoral system has been carried, may be seen by reference to the colonial expenditure for the four years anterior to 1816. In 1812 it amounted to L176,781; in 1813 to L235,597; in 1814 to L231,362; and in 1815 it had fallen to L150,087. In the two following years, indeed, it has been seen that there has been a considerable increase of expenditure; but still such has been the extension of the ticket of leave system that notwithstanding four thousand six hundred and fifty-nine convicts were transported between January, 1812, and January, 1817, the expences of the colony for this latter year were L6445 less than for the year 1813; those of 1817 only amounting to L229,152, while those of the year 1813 were L235,597. This violent and unjustifiable mode of retrenchment, however, has not been put into such extensive practice with impunity: it has been attended with its natural and inevitable results, a proportionate increase of demoralization and crime. The proof of this assertion I shall rest on the following government order:—
"Sydney, 30th August, 1817. In consequence of the frequent robberies which have been of late committed between Sydney and Paramatta; his Excellency the Governor deems it expedient earnestly to recommend to persons in general to travel only during the day time, and particularly to those who have the charge of loaded carts, to set out from Sydney and Paramatta respectively so early after sun-rise as to be enabled to reach the place of their destination before sun-set. And with a view to afford all possible protection to travellers, his Excellency directs the principal superintendant of police at Sydney from and after Wednesday the 3d of September next, to order two constables from thence to patrole the road every night between Sydney and Powell's Half-way House; and in like manner the principal magistrate at Paramatta to order two constables from that place to patrole the road every night between Paramatta and Powell's Half-way House. The duty of such constables to commence at sun-set and cease at sun-rise, until further orders. "The magistrates are particularly enjoined not to grant passes to convicts either having tickets of leave or otherwise, excepting on actual duty, or in cases of real emergency where the object is satisfactorily explained to the magistrate."
This injunction to the magistrates not to grant the ticket of leave-men passes except under particular circumstances would afford the public very little additional security against their depredations; since their total exemption from public or individual employment, places them out of all restraint except such as may arise from the surveillance of the police, which even in Sydney is badly organized, because not sufficiently numerous, and to which in the interior towns and districts it would be a farce to apply the name of "Police" at all.
I am aware that the governor has been induced to this measure in compliance with positive instructions, rather than in conformity with his own judgment. But a system in such direct violation of every principle of justice, morality, and expediency, can never be long tolerated. Its continuance, in fact, would soon annihilate all industry, and convert the colony into a den of thieves and murderers, unfit for the abode of virtue and honesty, and dangerous to the government itself which had authorized it.—It is an extreme which cannot endure, and which is of so violent a nature that it will beget a remedy for itself, and compel the government to recal into its employment, and reduce under salutary restraint, a set of persons, who ought never to have been freed from it till the expiration of their sentences, or, at most, till they had given the clearest proof of a sincere reformation. This system, therefore, of granting tickets of leave to convicts shortly after their arrival, though undoubtedly attended with a considerable saving to the government, is of too immoral and dangerous a tendency to be carried to any considerable extent; so that the expences of the colony great, unnecessarily great as they are, must infallibly increase with the progress of transportation, so long as the grievous disabilities and impolitic restrictions under which the colonists are groaning, remain unrepealed.
Having thus shewn that this colony has hitherto been an increasing burthen to this country, and that it must necessarily continue so under its present unwise constitution, I proceed in the next place to prove that its existing system of government is also contraventory of the philanthropic intentions which gave rise to its foundation. The principal object which the government of this country had in view was undoubtedly the reformation of the thousands exiled to these distant shores. The punishment which it thus inflicted, in banishing them from their native country, and separating them from their friends and connexions, was not the end itself, but the means which it employed to effect this humane and laudable purpose. Has then the colony in any one point of view realized this comprehensive and philanthropic scheme of morality and regeneration? It has, indeed, proved a receptacle for those whose crimes rendered them unfit for the community which rejected them from its bosom, and in so far has been of some utility to the public; but have the restraints to which they have been subjected; has the system, in fact, by which they have been governed during their exile, generally revived that morality and virtue, the absence of which propelled them in the first instance to the commission of crime, and will always continue them in the same career of vice and punishment? Have those, who have expiated their original offence, by undergoing the penalty which the law annexed to it, experienced a reformation in their principles and conduct? And are they generally qualified either to return to the country that banished them, or to become good and useful citizens in the one by which they have been adopted; and which, since it has constantly witnessed their deportment, can best appreciate the reality and extent of their merits? The records of the several courts of criminal judicature are the surest criterion by which to judge of this important particular, and will be found decidedly confirmatory of the alarming augmentation of immorality and crime, which distinguishes every succeeding year, and that too in a proportion far exceeding what would be naturally consequent on the increase in the population.
On reference to the Sydney Gazattes for the year 1817, I find that there were in all ninety-two persons tried by the criminal court. The offences with which they were charged were as follow: 1st, For murder eleven; four of whom were convicted and executed: two were adjudged only guilty of manslaughter; and five were acquitted. 2dly, For burglaries, eight, five of whom were capitally convicted, but their sentences afterwards commuted into transportation to the Coal River for life; five were transported thither for fourteen years, one for seven years, and one was acquitted. 3dly, For highway robbery, one, who was transported to Newcastle for fourteen years. 4thly, One incendiary, transported for life. 5thly, One for cutting and maiming, acquitted. 6thly, Nine for cattle stealing; of whom two were capitally convicted, their sentence afterwards commuted into transportation for life; five were originally sentenced to the same punishment, one transported for fourteen years, and one was acquitted. 6thly, Three for sheep stealing; all capitally convicted, but their sentences commuted into transportation for life. 7thly, Two for horse stealing; one of whom was capitally convicted but not executed, the other sentenced to solitary confinement. 8thly, One for rape, but acquitted. 9thly, Twenty-seven for privately stealing in dwelling and out-houses; two of whom were transported for fourteen years, nine for seven years, one for four years, four for three years, two for two years, one sentenced to solitary confinement, and six acquitted. 10thly, Two for forgery, found guilty, but sentence deferred. 11thly, Two for receiving stolen goods, one of whom was sentenced to the pillory and to four years transportation, and the other to transportation alone for the same period. 12thly, Five for pig stealing; of whom two were transported to Newcastle for fourteen years, one was flogged and put in the pillory, one transported to Newcastle for two years, and one acquitted. Lastly, Nineteen for petty larceny; of whom one was sent to Newcastle for four years, one for three years, fourteen were sentenced to various terms of solitary confinement, and three acquitted.
From this statement, therefore, it appears that during the year 1817, out of the ninety-two persons who were tried for various offences, which it will be seen were for the most part of a heinous nature, no fewer than seventy-three were convicted, fifteen capitally, four of whom were executed, the remaining eleven had their sentences commuted into transportation to the Coal River for life; that there were six others originally sentenced to the same punishment; that there were five transported for fourteen years, ten for seven years, and that the remaining thirty-seven were either transported for terms under seven years, or were punished by solitary confinement. Appalling, however, as this catalogue of crime must be acknowledged, when compared with that which could be produced in any other community of similar extent, it would still appear on the first view to argue well in favour of the reformatory influence of this colony: since Governor Bligh in his examination before the committee of the House of Commons, in the year 1812, presented a document purporting to be a list of criminals tried between August, 1806, and August, 1807, from which it appears that one hundred and seventeen* persons were arraigned before the criminal court during this interval. If we were therefore to abide by the records of the criminal court alone, we should draw the most satisfactory conclusions with respect to the progress of reformation in the morals and habits of the people since that period. The comparison, indeed, between the catalogue of crime in the years 1806 and 1817, would be most gratifying; as notwithstanding that the population of the colony rather more than doubled itself since the former year, the latter presents a decrease in the number of criminals of twenty-five, or in other words, crimes would appear to have diminished in the ratio of about 9/4 to 1. If the records, therefore, of the criminal court were decisive on the subject, it would be impossible not to confess that the system pursued in this colony has fully answered the humane intentions for which it was founded. But unhappily these records are no standard by which to judge of the reformatory tendency of the system. During Governor Bligh's administration, all offenders except those who were charged with the most trifling misdemeanors, were tried by the criminal court. He was a second Draco, who considered the smallest offence deserving of death: and wo to the wretch whom the criminal court doomed to this punishment, for he invariably carried its sentence into execution. His successor, however, has acted on more merciful principles; and, besides, crimes have so rapidly multiplied of late years, that the judge advocate would not have sufficient time for presiding in the two civil courts of which he is the head, were he obliged to dispose of all the culprits that might be arraigned in the criminal court. But it is well known to those who are at all conversant with the state of the colony, that but a very small portion of the offences which are committed there, are now brought under the jurisdiction of this court. The majority of the criminals who are now tried by it are either free persons, or such as have obtained emancipations; i.e. those whom the various governors have made free in the colony, but who are not at liberty to quit it. The benches of magistrates, and the superintendent of police, are delicate of deciding on charges in which the members of these two free classes are implicated; but they dispose of offenders already under the sentence of the law in a summary manner, either by transporting them to the Coal River, by putting them in the gaol gangs, by sending them (if they happen to be females) to the factory, or by simply ordering them corporal punishment, unless they are charged with murder, or some capital felony; and even in this latter case they frequently inflict some summary punishment. With respect to the first of these summary modes of punishment, transportation to the Coal River, it has already been stated that the population of this settlement amounted in the year 1817, to five hundred and fifty souls: of these not more than one hundred, including the civil and military establishments, and the settlers and their families on the upper banks of the river, were free. The remaining four hundred and fifty, therefore, were persons who had been convicted of crimes either by the criminal court or by the magistracy, and retransported thither for various periods. Those few, it has been seen, who are condemned to this punishment by the criminal court, are for the most part sentenced to long terms of transportation; but as nine-tenths of the criminals at this settlement are sent thither either by the benches of magistrates, or by the superintendent of police, who seldom transport for a longer period than two years, and more frequently for one year, or six months, the population may at a very moderate calculation be considered as undergoing a complete change every two years, or in other words, it may be concluded that two hundred and twenty-five persons are annually transported thither by way of punishment. We must therefore add this number to the culprits convicted before the court of criminal judicature, and we shall then have a total of three hundred and eighteen persons annually convicted of crimes in the colony. This is of itself an alarming sum of criminality; but we must not stop here, since it only conducts us to the second of the summary modes of punishment which I have enumerated; viz. the gaol gangs. There are upon an average about fifty persons in the gaol gang at Sydney, and about the same number in the gaol gangs belonging to the other towns and districts in the colony. These are criminals convicted of smaller offences than those who are transported to the Coal River; they are worked from sunrise to sun-set, and are locked up in the prisons during the night. This mode of punishment is seldom inflicted for a longer term than four months. It may therefore be safely computed that these gaol gangs are changed once in this period, or in other words, that three hundred persons annually pass through this ordeal. This further addition to the formidable catalogue of crimes already made out, increases the total to six hundred and eighteen persons, yet only leads us to the third mode of summary punishment, viz. labour at the factory at Paramatta. The number of women sentenced to this mode of punishment may be averaged at one hundred and fifty, and as the average term of their sentences does not exceed six months, we have a farther number of three hundred to add to the above estimate. This increases it to nine hundred and eighteen persons; but we have still one other mode of punishment in petto, corporal punishment simply; and I have no doubt that the numbers on whom it is annually inflicted will at least swell the grand total of persons convicted of various criminal offences during the year 1817, either by the criminal courts, by the benches of magistrates, by the superintendent of police, or by the district magistrates to one thousand. We may now draw some sort of a comparison between the amount of crime in the years 1806 and 1817. I should imagine, on the highest calculation, that not more than one hundred persons in addition to those tried by the criminal court during that year, could, from the system then in practice, have been summarily dealt with by the magistracy; but allowing even that there were two hundred, and that the whole number of persons stated by Governor Bligh to have been tried by that court were found guilty, a most improbable supposition, the year 1806 will only then give a total of three hundred and sixteen offenders, i.e. not one third the amount of those who were convicted in the year 1817. Crime therefore has been trebled, while the population has only been doubled, or in other words, the increase of the former has been to the increase of the latter as three to two.
[* Page 42 Appendix to the Report of the House of Commons in 1812.]
What else, indeed, could be expected from a system which is every day enlarging the circle of poverty and distress? Is it within the possibility of belief that people should become more honest as they become more necessitous? That they should scrupulously refrain from making inroads on the possessions of their richer neighbours, while they themselves are suffering under the influence of progressive penury? Under such circumstances it would be the very height of absurdity to expect an increase of virtue and honesty. Wherever it is not within the compass of industry to provide for its wants, a recourse to crime in order to make up the deficiency is inevitable to a certain extent even in a moral country. What then must be the result of this inability in a felon population, long habituated to theft, and naturally predisposed to criminality? In such a community as this, the government are doubly bound to neglect no measures which may be calculated to repress this vicious propensity. If they adopt the contrary line of conduct; if they administer stimulants to vice instead of anodynes; if they, in fact, create incitements to dishonesty too potent even for virtuous misery to withstand, are not they the authors of a system thus impregnated with corruption, virtually the parent of the monstrous litter to which it gives birth? And though according to the inflexible principles of justice, any violation of the property of another is not to be exculpated, humanity will always pity the distressed delinquent, and wish that she had the power of substituting the primary author of the crime in the place of the condemned criminal. How would the world be reformed, if the framers of the unjust and impolitic laws, which are every where the bane of mankind, and the cause of so much misery and vice, were arraigned at the bar of justice, and compelled to answer for all the depravity that might be traced to the demoralizing influence of their measures?
The picture of the colony which I have presented, aggravated as it is, faithfully delineates the different descending gradations by which it has sunk to its present abyss of misery, and is of itself sufficiently demonstrative of the radical defect that there is in its polity, and of the necessity for an alteration in it: nevertheless, it may not be altogether inexpedient to dive a little into futurity, and to view through the mirror of the imagination the further results which the experience of the past may convince us that a perseverance in the same course of restriction and disability will infallibly lead to. It requires not the gift of divination to foresee that the manufacturing system, which has already taken such deep root, and so rapidly shot up towards maturity, will still further confirm and consolidate itself with the increasing poverty of the community. For several years the importation of British manufactures, particularly of cottons, has been comparatively speaking on the decline, in consequence of the competition occasioned by large importations of those articles from India; which though in general of inferior quality, have been more adapted to the circumstances of the colonists from their inferior price. The consumption of hats and woollen cloths has also been diminished, but not to the same considerable extent by the colonial manufactures of the same denomination, which are likewise much inferior to the British, but have the two-fold advantage of being cheaper, and to be obtained for wool, grain, meat, etc. without the intervention of money, which it is generally out of the power of the consumers to furnish.
This system of barter, which has materially favoured their growth, and must necessarily still further encourage and extend it, is not, as might at first be imagined, prejudicial to the manufacturer; since the wool which he thus receives in exchange for his commodity is the raw material required for its reproduction, and therefore saves him the trouble of seeking it in other quarters; and the meat, grain, etc. are distributed among his workmen at the market prices of the day, and free him from the necessity of paying the full value of their labour in money, which under existing circumstances would most probably be impracticable. The system itself, therefore, seems to have been engendered by events, and to be peculiarly adapted to the present state of poverty and wretchedness, to which the great mass of the colonists are reduced. And although in other countries, and even in this, if its agricultural powers were unfettered, the workmen employed in the fabrication of these manufactures would not perhaps consent to receive this mixed compensation for their labour, yet amidst the actual difficulties of procuring a subsistence, and possessed as they are of trades, for which till lately there was no demand whatever, and for which at the present moment there is far from an active competition, they are not only glad to accept this mode of payment, but would even submit to much harder conditions. We may therefore perceive, that if the manufacturer can sell for ready money as much of this commodity as is requisite to the payment of the residue of their wages, and at the same time equivalent to the profit which he may derive from his concern, it is all that he need absolutely require. This manufacturing system being thus not only suited to the increasing poverty of the community at large, but also favourable to the interests of all the parties concerned in it, whether the proprietors or the workmen, cannot but gain ground. A few years, in fact, will completely put it out of the power of at least seven-eighths of the population to have recourse to the manufactures of this country: the expences of the colony will, indeed, as I have satisfactorily proved, continue to increase, but still only in proportion to the augmentation in the body of convicts and others, maintained at the charge of the government; while, on the contrary, the population of the colony, in spite of all the checks imposed on it, will be extending itself more rapidly within, than by transportation and emigration from without. Its revenue, therefore, will be every year to be divided among a number of competitors increasing much more rapidly than itself. Thus their ability to purchase the more perfect and expensive commodities of this country, will become daily more circumscribed, till at length the use of them will be entirely superseded, or at best confined to the higher orders of society; who, it is probable, may be induced in the long run both by the growing perfection of their native manufactures, and by patriotism, to abjure the consumption of all goods that may have a tendency to augment the prosperity of their common oppressor. The colonists, in fact, have only to advance a few steps further in the manufacturing system to be completely independent of foreign supply. Already fabricating to a considerable extent their own cloth, the first perhaps of manufactures in utility and importance; already furnishing in a great measure their own hats, leather, soap, candles, and earthenware, they have only to provide their own linen, and to erect iron founderies, to become possessed of all that can be termed strictly necessary to their subsistence and even comfort. And these two objects will doubtless be soon effected by the active agency of the same powerful necessity, which has so rapidly given rise to the various manufactures already mentioned. It is, indeed, rather a matter of surprise than otherwise, that attempts have not been already made to establish manufactories of these two highly important articles; since the colony, on the one hand, is peculiarly adapted to the growth of flax, and on the other abounds, as it has been seen, with iron ore of the richest quality.
To what feelings, then, to what conduct, it may be asked, will this independence in the resources of the colonists, the bitter fruit of so much privation and misery, give birth? Will this, the painful result of so many years' injustice and oppression, tend to strengthen the bond of union between the colony and this country? Or will it not be the crisis that will sever it for ever? England, placed as she is at present on the pinnacle of glory, and reposing in security on the basis of that commercial and maritime greatness, from which the gigantic efforts of united Europe have not been able to remove her, may laugh to scorn the presumption of any colony, however powerful, that might attempt to shake off her authority. Like Jupiter on Olympus, she has only to stretch out her hand and overthrow the united force of all her colonies with the chain to which she has bound their destinies. No one can doubt, that such an attempt would be preposterous at the present moment, nor would the most strenuous advocate for colonial independence, the most violent enemy to the supremacy of this country, dream of its immediate execution. Still let her not lull herself into a false security; let her not measure the forbearance of the colony by its own impotency and insignificance. Despair always begets resources, and inspires an unnatural vigor. The enmity of the most feeble becomes formidable, when it has justice ranged under its banners, and ought not to be excited without necessity. Besides, is it worthy the character of a nation, who has evinced herself the determined enemy of tyrants, and the avenger of the freedom of the world, to become the oppressor of her own subjects, and that too for the mere sake of oppression, in subversion alike of their interests and of her own? Has she not, and will she not always have external enemies enow to contend with, without thus creating, unnecessarily creating, domestic ones? Let her from the midst of the glory with which she is environed compare her situation, brilliant and imposing as it is, with what it might have been: let her look at the consequences of her former injustice. Is not the most formidable on the list of her enemies, a nation, which might have this day been the most attached and faithful of her friends? A nation which, instead of watching every occasion to circumscribe her power, would, if its rights had been respected, have been still embodied with her empire and confirmatory of her strength? Will this terrible lesson have no influence on the regulation of her future conduct? Will not this dear bought experience teach her wisdom? Or has she yet to learn that the reign of injustice and tyranny involves in its very constitution the germ of its duration and punishment? Let her ask herself, "what would have been the consequence if, during the late war with America, the ports of this colony had been open to the vessels of that nation?" How many hundreds of the valuable captures, which the Americans made in the Indian seas and on the coast of Peru, might have safely awaited there the termination of the war, which were recaptured by her cruisers in view of the ports of their country? How many hundreds of their own vessels, that shared the same fate, would have still belonged to their merchants? And is there no probability, that a perseverance in the present system of injustice and oppression, may on some future occasion, urge the colonists to shake off this intolerable yoke, and throw themselves into the arms of so powerful a protector? May they not by these means acquire independence long before the epoch when they would have obtained it by their own force and maturity? Or at least may they not place themselves under the government of more just and considerate rulers? How would this country repent her folly, if she should thus become the instrument of her own abasement; if she should herself be the cause of establishing a power already the most formidable rival of her commercial and maritime ascendency, in the very heart of her most valuable possessions, at the main external source of her wealth and prosperity?
To those who are acquainted with the local situation of this colony; who have traversed the formidable chain of mountains by which it is bounded from north to south; who have viewed the impregnable natural positions, that the only connecting ridge by which a passage into the interior can be effected, every where presents; to those who are aware that this ridge is in many places not more than thirty feet in width, and have beheld the terrific chasms by which it is bounded, chasms inaccessible to the most agile animal of the forest, and that will for ever defy the approach of man; to those, I say, who are acquainted with all these circumstances, the independence of this colony, should it be goaded into rebellion, appears neither so problematical nor remote, as might be otherwise imagined. Of what avail would whole armies prove in these terrible defiles, which only five or six men could approach abreast? What would be the effect of artillery on advancing columns crowded into so narrow a compass? A few minutes exposure to such a dreadful carnage, would annihilate the assailing army; or at best only preserve its scattered remnants from destruction by raising an intervening barrier of the carcases of its slaughtered martyrs. If the colonists should prudently abandon the defence of the sea-coast, and remove with their flocks and herds into the fertile country behind these impregnable passes, what would the force of England, gigantic as it is, profit her? She might, indeed, if they were unassisted in their efforts by any foreign power, cut off their communication for awhile with the coast; but her armies entirely dependent on external supply, and at so great a distance from the centre of their resources, would gradually moulder away, as well by the incessant operation of a partisan warfare, as by defection to their adversaries, whom her troops would be led to combat only with regret. They would not enter into a war of this description with the same animosity and desire of vengeance that might actuate their leaders. They would behold in their opponents, Britons, or the descendants of Britons, placed in hostile array against them unwillingly, and not from any ancient and inveterate spirit of hatred and rivality, but from constrained resistance to tyranny, and in vindication of their most sacred and indubitable rights. Nor would they in the midst of their disgust for so unjust and unnatural a contest, behold the beauty and fertility of the country without drawing a comparison between their condition, and what it would be, were they to quit the ranks of oppression, and become the champions of that independence, which they were destined to repress. Such will be the consequences of the impolitic and oppressive system of government pursued in this colony; such the probable results of the contest to which it must eventually give rise. If I have been unqualified in expressing my reprobation of such unwise and unjust measures; if I have evinced myself the fearless assertor of the rights of my compatriots; and if I have spoke without reserve of the resistance which the violation and suppression of those rights will in the end occasion, I must nevertheless protest against being classed among those who are the sworn enemies of all authority, and who place the happiness of communities in a freedom from those restraints which the wisdom of ages has established, and demonstrated to be salutary and essential. I hope, therefore, that my principles will not be mistaken, and that I shall not be exposed to the hue and cry which have been justly raised against those persons who are inimical to all existing institutions. There is not a more sincere friend to established government and legitimacy than he who mildly advocates the cause of reform, and points out with decency the excrescences that will occasionally rise on the political body, as well from an excess of liberty as of restraint: such a person may prevent anarchy; he can never occasion it.
These are the views by which I have been actuated in writing this essay. If my hopes should be realized, if I should happily be the means of averting the thunder cloud of calamity and destruction which is even now gathering on the horizon of my country, and threatens at no very remote period to burst over its head, and to scatter death and desolation in its bosom, it is all the recompence I seek. If my efforts should unfortunately prove abortive; if I should fail to rouse the friends of peace and humanity to its succour and relief, I shall have experienced a sufficient mortification, without undergoing the additional one of being classed with a band of ruffian levellers, who under the specious pretext of salutary reform seek, like the jacobin revolutionists of France, the subversion of all order, and the substitution in its stead, of a reign of terror, anarchy, and rapine, amidst the horrors of which they may satiate their avarice, and glut their revenge. Let then the purity of my motives be unimpeached, if I should be defeated in the accomplishment of my object. But why should I despair of success, when I have every support that ought to ensure it? Right, reason, expediency, morality, religion, are all on the side of my oppressed country, and must eventually procure the termination of her sufferings. The disabilities, indeed, under which she has been so long groaning, grounded as they are in no motives of policy, but averse to them all, ought rather to be ascribed to inadvertence than design. Engaged as this country has been in a tremendous conflict, on the dubious issue of which her very existence as a nation was staked, she has had little or no leisure for attending to the internal economy of her colonies: in the midst of her own unparalleled sufferings and sacrifices, theirs have been disregarded or forgotten. It is the knowledge of this circumstance that has shed a ray of hope and consolation athwart the gloom which has been thickening year after year around the colony. It is this consideration that has enabled its inhabitants to support burdens which would otherwise have been found intolerable. Let then their just expectations be at length fulfilled, and let them not continue the only portion of the king's subjects, who have no personal reason to rejoice at the happy termination of this long and arduous contest. Their moderation and forbearance under their grievances, have given them an additional claim to redress, scarcely less forcible than the existence of the grievances themselves. Yet already years have elapsed, since the consolidation of general peace and tranquillity, and no attention has been paid to their situation and remonstrances. Already, therefore, the spirit of discontent so long repressed by hope, but reviving with the progress of this unnecessary, this unaccountable delay, has begun to manifest itself, and will soon assume a determinate shape and form. Let the government repress this feeling of hostility, while they have yet the power: a few years further inattention will render it hereditary and rivet it for ever. It is in the tendency of colonies to overstep even legitimate restraint; they will never long wear the fetters of injustice and oppression. I am aware that it is not one of the least difficult proofs of legislative wisdom to frame regulations adapted to each progressive stage of colonization, and that this difficulty increases with the maturity which the colony in question may have attained; but although the treatment of colonies upon their arrival at that degree of ascendency, when the enforcement of ancient restrictions, founded on the interests, or supposed interests of the parent country, but contraventory of the prosperity of the colonies themselves, becomes dangerous or impracticable, is, it must be allowed, a point of extreme delicacy and tenderness; there can at no time be any doubt entertained of the propriety of abandoning a system founded upon error and injustice, and productive of detriment, as well to those who have imposed it, as to those who are suffering under its baneful operation. It is therefore to be hoped that so unwise and unjust a system will no longer be continued; that his majesty's government will at length allow the colonists to use freely the natural productions of their country, and to increase to the utmost its artificial ones; that they will, permit them to call their own energies, their own resources, into life and action, and no longer impoverish them by rendering them the prey of richer colonies, and what is still more absurd and vexatious, of foreigners; that they will, in fine, grant them the free unrestricted enjoyment of those privileges which the bounty of the Creator has extended to them, and which it is not in any human authority to withhold, consistently with the eternal, immutable principles of right and equity.
These privileges consist in the removal of certain agricultural and commercial restraints, which I shall separately enumerate; and in a free government, under the protecting shade of which, the colonists may fearlessly exercise and enjoy their personal and private rights, without molestation or hindrance.
VARIOUS ALTERATIONS SUGGESTED IN THE PRESENT POLICY OF THIS COLONY.
Of all the steps that could be taken for the relief of the colony, none certainly would prove of such immediate efficacy, as the creation of distilleries, and the imposition of so high a duty on the importation of spirits from abroad, as would amount to a prohibition. The advantages that would be attendant on this measure may, perhaps, be most forcibly illustrated by a short review of the actual loss which the colonists have sustained during the last fifteen years, from the want of its adoption. The spirits imported during this period may be safely estimated on an average at the annual value of L10,000, amounting in fifteen years to the sum of L150,000: and if we add to this L100,000 more, which it may be calculated that the government have expended in this interval, in the importation of corn, flour, rice, etc. from other countries, we have a grand total of L250,000, that would have been saved to the colony by the erection of distilleries. The application of so large a sum to the immediate encouragement of agriculture, would have imparted life and vigor into the whole community, and would have effectually prevented that increasing poverty, and the black train of evils consequent on it, which I have already depicted. And although from the increased demand for foreign luxuries, which so great an addition to the colonial income would have naturally occasioned, but a small part perhaps of this sum would have eventually continued in general circulation, still the means of the colonists would have at least been brought to a level with their wants; and a sterling circulating medium would have remained sufficient for all the purposes of domestic economy. Under such circumstances there can be little doubt that the active and enterprizing spirit of our countrymen would have long since effected the establishment of an export trade, which would have freed the colony from future embarrassment, and the mother country from the enormous expence which she is annually forced to incur in its support. But the continual and amazing fluctuations which have taken place in the price of corn, have been a death-blow to the success of every effort that has been directed to this most important object. At least but one out of all the numerous attempts that have been made by individuals, (for none have been made by the government,) to raise various articles of export, has realized the expectations of its sagacious author, and promises to become eventually of permanent relief and importance to the colony. But it will be more in the order of the arrangement which I have marked out for myself, to treat of this very important subject hereafter: I recur, therefore, to the conclusion which I was about to draw from the foregoing premises; that to the perfect success of every enterprize of a manual nature, it is essential that the price of provisions in general, but of corn in particular, should be reduced to such a point as to afford a fair profit to the grower; and at the same time that it should not be subject to any such extraordinary rise as to superinduce a proportionate increase in the price of labour. To keep the value of corn in this just mean, it is necessary that the growth of it should be encouraged to a pitch far beyond the sphere of the ordinary demand; and this is to be effected generally in two ways, by augmenting the internal consumption by artificial means, as by breweries, distilleries, etc. and by permitting a free exportation of the surplus. But the colony is at present unable from the smallness of its resources and its remoteness from Europe, the great mart for the surplus corn of other countries, to become a competitor with them in this branch of commerce: it follows, therefore, that the constant abundance of corn indispensable to the establishment and maintenance of an export trade, can only be guaranteed by the enforcement of all such measures as have a tendency to increase internal consumption; and of these I again repeat that the erection of distilleries, etc. is the most easy and the most efficacious.
Independent of this general reasoning, which is equally applicable to all countries, the colony can unhappily furnish particular grounds of argument in the unfortunate localities of its agricultural settlements, which render the adoption of this measure of still more imperative necessity. Allured to the banks of the river Hawkesbury, both by the superiority of the soil, and the facilities which the navigation of this river afforded for the conveyance of produce to market, a circumstance of material advantage even at this moment, but of incalculable importance at a period, when as yet there were few or no cattle for the purposes of land carriage, the first colonists were encouraged by Governor Phillip to establish themselves on this low fertile tract of country, not so much perhaps from choice as necessity. His successors, influenced in part by the same considerations, followed his example in directing the current of colonization into the same channel, till in the lapse of about fifteen years the whole of the fertile lands on the banks of this river were completely appropriated. Thus unfortunately for the colony, its principal agricultural establishment was formed in a situation subject to the inundations of a river, whose waters frequently rise seventy or eighty feet above its ordinary level.
The present governor, to his lasting honour be it mentioned, has done all that prudence could effect with the limited means confided to him, for the prevention of the calamities invariably consequent on these destructive inundations. He has placed the great mass of the colonists, who have been settled during his administration, in districts that are not subject to flood; thus securing to themselves and the community at large the fruits of their industry. He has also established townships on the high grounds, which generally at the distance of a mile or two from the river border its low fertile banks, and has held out various encouragements, in order to induce the settlers to remove their houses and stacks to them. The richer class have in most instances been alive to their own interests, and have abandoned their ancient abodes on the verge of the river: so that the destruction occasioned by future floods will be infinitely less extensive. But, still, a great part of the poorer class adhere to their ancient habitations, impelled by the double motive of avoiding the cost of carrying their crops to these townships, and from thence back again to the river, in order to send them to market by the boats, which ply on it for this purpose. And to such as have not horses and carts of their own, and would consequently be obliged to hire them, a residence on the banks of the river is a saving of greater magnitude than might be at first imagined.
The greatest obstacle to the complete realization of the governor's project, arises from the extreme poverty of the great body of the settlers, occasioned, as I have already noticed, by the limited and precarious market afforded for their produce. To build a house, however small, is an undertaking in this colony as every where else, which can only be effected with adequate means; and if the colonists do not resort in crowds to these townships, it is not because they are insensible to the advantages which they would derive from a removal to these seats of security, but because their penury chains them to their present dangerous and miserable hovels, and compels them in spite of their better reason to hold their lives and property on the most precarious of all tenures, the caprice of the elements. But could the governor succeed in this, his project to the utmost, could he induce every settler on the banks of the Hawkesbury to remove to these townships, he would be still far from guaranteeing the colony from the calamitous effects of these inundations; since they are not periodical, like the risings of the Nile, but happen at all times, as well when the crops are in stack as when growing, when they are in the infancy of vegetation, as when they have attained maturity and are fit for the sickle. Some other expedient, therefore, would still be necessary to guard against those inundations which may happen at such disastrous periods; and there is but one that will be found sufficient at all times and under all circumstances. It is to encourage by artificial means, the growth of corn so far beyond what is necessary for the bare purposes of food, that in years of scarcity, whether arising from flood or drought, these artificial channels of consumption may be stopped, and the whole of the corn in the colony appropriated to the supply of the inhabitants. And this encouragement would be amply afforded by the establishment of distilleries; since allowing the colony to require sixty thousand gallons of spirits annually, twenty thousand bushels of grain would be expended in distillation, the whole of which, when necessity required, might be diverted from its ordinary course of consumption, and directed to the purposes of subsistence.
These advantages, great as they must be allowed to be, are not the only ones that would follow the erection of distilleries. This measure would still further promote the prosperity of the agricultural body, by creating in the market a competition with the government for the purchase of grain, and would thus destroy the maximum, that has been hitherto arbitrarily assigned as an equivalent for their produce generally, without reference to the state of the crops, whether they have been productive or otherwise. The prejudicial operation of this maximum was noticed in the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons made in the year 1812, and the propriety of devising some remedy for this evil strongly enforced; but this recommendation has hitherto been disregarded, from the want, perhaps, of information sufficiently precise to enable the government of this country to attend to it.
I close the catalogue of arguments which I adduce in support of this measure with the last and most powerful of them all, its beneficial influence on the morality of the rising generation. I do not so much take into calculation its probable bearing on the existing race of colonists, the greater part of whom are and will, perhaps, always be more or less addicted to the pernicious habits contracted in their early days of riot and debauchery, as on their posterity, who will necessarily soon form the majority of this colony, and whose amelioration or reformation all legislative measures should have principally in view. With those the immoderate use of spirituous liquors is a long contracted disease, which it is perhaps past the skill of legislation to cure. It is like an old inveterate ulcer, whose roots have penetrated into the seats of vitality, and are so intimately interwoven with the very principles of existence, that the knife cannot be applied to the extirpation of the one, without occasioning the destruction of the other. But though this gangrene can never be entirely eradicated, the experience of late years has shewn that it may be prevented from increasing, and even considerably reduced. Drunkenness has been observed to be less frequent since the unlimited importation of spirits was permitted, even among that class who were most addicted to this vice during the long period when the importation was in a great measure restricted, the price of liquor exorbitantly enhanced, and the consequent difficulty of obtaining it much more considerable. Great, therefore, as are the present facilities to the indulgence of this propensity, they should be still further extended, and this would be effected by internal distillation; for although the importation of spirits from other countries has been for many years past subject to no restriction, but the payment of a certain duty, which would be equally levied on all spirits made in the colony, still the expence of freight, insurance, etc. would be avoided, the price proportionably abated, and the means of indulgence increased in the same ratio.
The immediate effect of this free circulation of spirits having been so beneficial, we may easily infer what would be its remote consequences; and it is to these, to the gradual developement of moral perfection, that all laws which are framed with a reference to this end, should be directed, and not to sudden and violent reformations, which are seldom or never attended with the desired results. It was, indeed, natural to expect that this pernicious drug would be depreciated, in the estimation of its consumers, in exact proportion to its superabundance; and although the removal of all restriction to the importation of spirits, might in its immediate beneficial operation on the morals of the existing generation, so long curtailed in the use of them, and so long habituated to excess, whenever occasion offered, have been a matter of serious speculation, before this experiment was tried, its immediate result has far out-stripped the expectations of its most sanguine supporters. The present influence of this measure having been so satisfactory, there cannot be a doubt that the effect of internal distillation on the morality of future generations will be still more salutary and decisive. It is well known that in the countries that are celebrated for the production of wines and spirits, as France, Spain, Italy, etc. so great is the sobriety of the people, that a drunken person is an object of contempt, and a sight which is but very seldom witnessed. This sobriety, therefore, can only be the consequence of a steady, equable supply, which induces moderate enjoyment, without holding out any temptation to excessive indulgence. And however strange or unaccountable this fact may at first appear, the reason of it may be traced to the nature of man, the same inconsistent creature in all ages and in all countries. Intervening obstacles to enjoyment, far from repressing his desires, serve but to stimulate and inflame them; and so perverse and capricious is he in his conduct, that he despises, or at best holds in but secondary estimation, the real substantial good that is within his grasp; while remote or unattainable objects fire his ambition, and swell into fanciful and preposterous proportions the treacherous illusions of a fertile imagination, which possession alone can dissipate and reduce to their proper standard and value. It is thus that lofty mountains seem to connect themselves with the heavens by enveloping clouds; but stripped of their deceptious covering, they stand reduced to their primitive dimensions, the blue vault towers far above their heads, and the eye sees and defines their just limits and magnitude.
There can be but one objection urged against the establishment of colonial distilleries; that it will deprive the resident merchants in India, from whence by far the greater proportion of spirits is at present imported into the colony, of this branch of commerce. The trade, however, of that country is on too extensive a scale, to be perceptibly affected by so trifling a restriction, which, in fact, has always existed till within the last five years; as the importation of spirits, till that period, was always subject to limitation, and only permitted by express licence. But were the case otherwise, what right has one portion of the empire to look for aggrandisement at the expense of another? Ought the welfare and happiness of twenty thousand persons to be sacrificed, in order to promote the views of a few interested individuals? If it were politic in his majesty's government to concede any superiority of privilege to any one body of the king's subjects over another, surely a colony composed entirely of Englishmen has reason to expect that such a concession should be made in its favour, and not to its prejudice in favour of a country acquired and in some measure maintained by force, and connected with the parent country by no ties of common origin and affinity, by no congeniality of habit, by no similarity of religion. But the colonists neither expect nor desire any such concessions: they seek the possession and enjoyment of their own indubitable rights; they would not curtail those of others: they neither want to render other colonies tributary to their prosperity, nor to continue, as they have hitherto been, tributary to that of others.