The Company now, towards the close of 1840, sent out Mr. Clifton, their "Chief Commissioner," with directions to remove the whole of their establishment then settled at Australind, to the new settlement of Port Grey. On arriving at Australind, Mr. Clifton was agreeably surprised to find the country much superior to what he had expected, after hearing Captain Grey's account of it. So differently do the same objects appear to different eyes! And perhaps Captain Grey had only viewed the sandy banks of the inlet, without having passed into the interior, and seen the flats of the Brunswick, etc. There is a very great deal more of worthless than of good land at Australind, which is the case throughout the whole of New Holland, in the very best districts. The general character throughout all the settled parts of the island, or continent, is bad, with scattered patches of good.
The Chief Commissioner, however, prepared to carry out his instructions, though with much regret, as he doubted greatly whether the proposed alteration would prove for the better. These preparations were put a stop to by a communication from his Excellency the Governor, informing him that the Government schooner had recently returned from a survey of the coast and district of the so-called Port Grey, and that no sufficient harbour could be discovered along the coast; whilst the country in every direction appeared barren and incapable of cultivation. Mr. Clifton therefore remained at Australind with his party, and used every effort and exerted every energy to found a flourishing colony. But unfortunately, the change of site to Port Grey, and then the return to Australind, and the various conflicting accounts promulgated by the Company themselves, now lauding and now condemning the two places in turn, operated so unfavourably upon the public mind that no more sales of land could be effected. It became, therefore, inexpedient to maintain the expensive establishment of Commissioners, Secretaries, and Surveyors at Australind, who were accordingly conge'd without much ceremony; and the Western Australian Company, like the "unsubstantial pageant," or Port Grey itself, "melted into air, thin air," leaving "not a rack behind." Yet not exactly so, for it has left behind, like some stranded wreck by the receding tide, a most worthy and high-minded family who deserved a brighter fate.
Such has been the lamentable result of Captain Grey's discoveries in Western Australia; for whether there be or not a good tract of land in the neighbourhood of Champion Bay, Captain Grey's denunciation of Australind, and his strongly urged advice to the Company to change the site of their settlement, have undoubtedly been the chief causes of their failure.
Three expeditions have been sent to the scene of this Australian Fata Morgana, in the hope of beholding it again, but like the door of the fairy palace in the rock, it is visible only to Prince Ahmed; and unless the Governor of New Zealand will himself found a colony there, it is most likely ever to remain desert and valueless. The first expedition was that in the Government schooner, in 1840, already alluded to; the second was made in 1841, by H.M.S. Beagle, Captain Stokes, accompanied by the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Clifton. A careful survey was made of the coast as far north as the spot were Captain Grey was wrecked, and began his march southward, but nothing was discovered at all resembling the description given of Port Grey. The only bay in which a ship could lie, and that with very doubtful security, was Champion Bay; but unfortunately the country in every direction from this spot is most barren and miserable. Captain Grey travelled close along the coast-line, according to his journal, but those who have gone in search of his "fertile valleys" have penetrated some distance into the interior, without discovering anything but scrub and desert.
Captain Stokes, in his published "Letter to the Surveyor General of Western Australia," detailing his proceedings, mentions having "now seen and examined an extent of country little short of forty miles, nearly the whole of which deserved the character of sterility." In another place, he related the discovery of "the only piece of grass of a useful nature seen in this route; it was, however, quite parched, and occupied a space of three or four acres."
Not being able to find any tolerable shelter along the coast besides Champion Bay, he concludes that it must be the spot designated as Port Grey; and after exploring the country behind it, with the effect just stated, he sailed away one morning towards the north-west and meeting with a "favourable westerly wind," by afternoon was carried "past the bight south of Point Moore, sufficiently near to see that its shores were fronted with many sunken rocks." This also led to the conclusion that "Champion Bay is the port Captain Grey speaks of in his journal, placed in Arrowsmith's chart twelve miles south of its true position."
Since the date of Captain Stokes's survey, Captain Grey has himself virtually admitted Champion Bay to be the locality visited by him. In a letter to that officer dated, "Government House, Adelaide, January 28, 1842," and published in the South Australian journals, Captain Grey observes, "I have attentively read your letter to the Hon. the Surveyor-General of Western Australia; and have also considered the observations made by you to me, relative to the error you suppose I have fallen into in mistaking the Wizard Peak of Captain King for the hill named by him Mount Fairfax, and I find I have certainly fallen into this error — a by no means unlikely one, considering the very similar character of the singular group of hills called Moresby's Flat-topped Range, and the circumstances under which I was journeying."
The hill, therefore, at whose foot Captain Grey halted on the afternoon of April 7, 1839, was not Mount Fairfax, but the Wizard Peak, or some other hill "to the north of Mount Fairfax." From thence the "sandy downs," (mentioned in the extract from his Journal that I have given above) over which he passed in the evening continued to within "half a mile of the sea," where "they terminated in cliffs." To have seen all this he must have been walking at no very great distance from the shore during that day's marsh. His object was to reach Perth as quickly as possible; and he steered in the most direct course — "south by east." We know, therefore, exactly the line of country traversed by Captain Grey — the "singular group called Moresby's Flat-topped Range" being unmistakeable.
In December, 1844, H. M. colonial schooner, Champion, under the command of Lieutenant Helpman, R.N., accompanied by Mr. J. Harrison, Civil Engineer, etc., was again despatched by Governor Hutt to make further observations in the neighbourhood of Gantheaume Bay. Lieutenant Helpman says in his report, "I coasted close in from Champion Bay, collecting angles and soundings until in latitude 28 degrees 10' 30", S. the low ridges of sand along the shore induced me to land, being then (as I concluded from the latitude given by Captain Grey) in the immediate vicinity of the estuary." This estuary is described by Captain Grey in his diary of the FIFTH April, who states that "for one mile we continued along THE RICH FLATS which bordered the estuary" ... "we ascended the limestone range, and got a view of the country to the eastward and found it STILL GRASSY, and exactly the same character as far as we could see. For the next five miles we continued along the top of the limestone range, the estuary still occupying the valley which lay to the west of us." ... "At the end of a mile in a south by east direction, we found ourselves on the banks of a river, the Hutt, from forty to fifty yards wide, which was running strong, and was brackish at its mouth," etc. Such was the appearance of the estuary and of the Hutt River in the eyes of Captain Grey.
Lieutenant Helpman continues his report as follows: —
"On reaching the summit of the highest coast hill I found myself abreast of the centre of the inlet, which was void of water, but presented the appearance of a continuous sheet of salt as far as the eye could reach. Passing over the coast ridges, I came down, in about half a mile, to the edge of the estuary, and followed it in a southerly direction for about two miles, when I ascended another hill, from which I could clearly see the south end of it, which was covered with the same description of incrustration of salt.
"A gorge at the south-east corner of the estuary is probably where the Hutt River discharges itself during the rainy season, but there was no appearance of water in any part of the flat, which was about two miles wide between the hills and the south-east shore of the inlet.
"Observing that the north extremity of the estuary, as seen from the hill just referred to, presented some slight appearance of water, I was induced to examine it, and found the sand ridges on the coast extremely low, nearly destitute of herbage, but giving the idea of having had water passing over them. This I judged to be the case, from a few blades of very coarse grass which were laid flat on the ground, as if from the effects of running water.
"From the highest point of these ridges, notwithstanding the smoke from the numerous native fires, the whole north end of the inlet was plainly seen to be covered with salty incrustations, similar to those previously referred to.
"I conceive the point of land near which these latter observations were made, and where I landed the second time, to be Shoal Point of the chart; but, except that it is very low, I see no cause for its name, as the water was deep close to it, and having only a few rocks close off its extreme west point, within a quarter of a mile of the shore.
"Following close in from Shoal Point, the coast is perfectly clear of dangers; but I observed no opening in the hills indicative of a river, nor could I discover any bay or place of shelter for shipping to resort to.
"Red Point, which is the western entrance of Gantheaume Bay, is a very bold headland of considerable elevation, it is circular, and about four miles in extent. I landed at the east end of the red sand cliffs, taking a specimen of the rock.
"The land to the northward from this promontory is of a white sandy appearance, having ridges of sand hills along the coast of moderate altitude.
"The low state of the barometer, and the strong northerly winds, induced me to keep the vessel at a considerable offing. During the day the breezes were very fresh, and had it not been for the whale-boat with which I was furnished, I should not have been able to have effected a landing on any part of the coast which came under my observation. Under these circumstances, I was compelled most reluctantly to abandon the idea of spending much time in examining the interior.
"The VERY DRY STATE OF THE HUTT AT THIS SEASON seems to indicate that but little water flows into it at any time; and I am disposed to fancy, that the lagoon, or estuary, owes its formation to the breaking in of the sea over the low sand hills during the tempestuous gales of the winter months, more especially towards the north end of the inlet, where the sand ridges are lower than in any other part of the coast in that vicinity."
Thus the luxuriant country of Captain Grey, like the water-pools seen in the mirage of the desert, when approached, vanishes from the view of the traveller.
It is to be observed, that Captain Stokes and Lieutenant Helpman surveyed these districts in the early part of the summer season — November and December — when they were more likely to appear fertile than on the 5th and 7th April, quite at the end of that season, and just before the commencement of the winter rains.
Since the above passages were written, I have read an account in the Perth journals of January, 1847, of the discovery of coal by the Messrs. Gregory, about forty miles east of Champion Bay. These gentlemen relate, that in journeying towards the coast, they passed through a tract of country capable of being settled. This may possibly be Captain Grey's luxuriant district; and yet the district which he describes was close upon the coast. It is also stated, that there is now ascertained to be a corner of Champion Bay in which small vessels may find a safe anchorage; and this is conjectured to be that Port Grey whose existence has been so long denied. But, although a few miles of country may be found in this neighbourhood capable of supporting a limited number of flocks and herds, it is certain that there is no such district here as would suffice for the purposes of a colony of the magnitude contemplated by the Western Australian Company. The advice, therefore, given them to change the site of the operations from Australind, or Leschenault, to Champion Bay, or Port Grey, was the most pernicious that could have been bestowed.
But it may certainly be doubted whether the principles on which the settlement of Australind was founded were in themselves of a sound and permanent nature. They were those propounded originally by Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and applied with extraordinary success to the formation and to the circumstances of the colony of South Australia. The most prominent features which they present are, — the concentration of population, and the high price of land.
The land in the immediate neighbourhood of Adelaide is very fine, and capable of supporting a dense population; it was therefore perhaps, good policy to divide it into eight-acre sections, valued at one pound per acre, which supported a body of agriculturalists, who found a ready and near market for their productions in the rapidly rising town. But there are few theories that will bear universal application; and the mistake made in the case of Australind was, in expecting to obtain the same result from principles which were to be applied under very different circumstances.
The land adjoining the town-site of Australind is generally very indifferent, though the flats of the Brunswick and Collie Rivers afford perhaps some thousand acres of excellent land, but still not sufficient to maintain a large and dense population. The Company's property was divided into farms of 100 acres, and these were valued at 100 pounds each to the emigrants, who drew lots for the choice of site.
When the settlers arrived and took possession of their respective grants, they soon discovered that if they all produced wheat, there would certainly be plenty of food in the settlement, but very little sale for it; whereas, if they intended to become sheep-farmers, and produce wool for the English market, one hundred acres of land would not suffice in that country for the keep of fifty sheep. The sections of one hundred acres were, therefore, far too small for the wants of the settler, who found that, although he might probably be able to supply his table with vegetables, he had but small prospect of ever applying his capers to boiled mutton, or initiating his family into the mysteries of beef a la mode. Disgusted with the narrowness of his prospects, and recoiling from the idea of a vegetable diet, the sturdy settler quickly abandoned the limited sections of Australind, and wandered away in search of a grant of some three or four thousand acres, on which he might reasonably hope to pasture a flock of sheep that would return him good interest for the capital invested.
The Western Australian Company gave far too much for their land in the first instance, and were therefore compelled to set a much higher value upon it than it would bear. The ministers of the Crown, who have adopted the principles of Mr. Gibbon Wakefield, require one pound per acre for waste lands; and the Company, though they purchased their property from private individuals at a somewhat lower rate, expected to sell it again at the same price. There is very little land (in proportion to the vast extent of poor and of entirely worthless land) throughout the length and breadth of all New Holland, that is worth twenty shillings an acre. In the more densely populated parts, arable land is worth that sum, and often much more; but in the pastoral districts, three shillings an acre is in truth a high price.
It has long been acknowledged in New South Wales, as well as in other parts of Australia, that it takes from three to five acres to support a single sheep throughout the year. An ewe-sheep is worth about nine shillings; and if you have to buy three and a half acres of land, at three shillings, to keep her upon, the amount of capital you invest will be nineteen shillings and sixpence. The profits on the wool of this sheep, after paying all expenses of keep, shearing, freight, commission, etc., will be barely two-pence, or about one per cent upon the capital invested. But then you have her lamb? True, but you must buy an additional quantity of land to keep it upon. Still there is a gain upon the increase; and in process of time the annual profits amount up to ten and even twenty per cent. But suppose the three and a half acres of land, instead of 10 shillings and 6 pence had cost 3 pounds 10 shillings and 6 pence, it would then be perfectly absurd to think of investing money in sheep.
The course pursued by the home Government, in fixing the uniform extravagant price of twenty shillings an acre upon the pastoral lands of Australia, is probably more the result of ignorance of their real value than of a desire to check or prevent emigration to that country. It is an ignorance, however, that refuses to be enlightened, and has therefore all the guilt of deliberate injury.
The monstrous demand of twenty shillings an acre for crown-lands, has not only had the effect of deterring capitalists from embarking in so hopeless a speculation, but has grievously wronged the existing land-owners, by raising the price of labour. When land was sold at five shillings an acre, a fund was accumulated in the hand of the local Government that served to pay for the introduction of labouring emigrants. That fund has ceased to exist in New South Wales and in Western Australia. The value of labour has therefore risen, whilst the value of agricultural produce, by the increase of the supply beyond the demand, has grievously diminished. The advocates of the Wakefield system triumphantly inform us that there never can be a labour-fund in any colony in which private individuals are able to sell land at a cheaper rate than the Government.
They point to South Australia, and bid us note how different is the state of things there, where land universally is worth a pound an acre or more. But to us it appears, that the character of the soil is much the same throughout these countries — if anything, being superior in Western Australia, where there are no droughts, and where the wool produced, though the worst got up, from the want of labour, is stated by the London brokers to be pre-eminent in quality — that colony would most naturally be sought by the emigrant in which the price of land is the most reasonable. It is not the high price of land that has caused the prosperity of South Australia. Every one who is well informed on the subject, is perfectly aware, that in 1841 and 1842, before the discovery of copper-mines, South Australia was universally in a state of bankruptcy. Never was a country so thoroughly smitten with ruin. Almost all the original settlers sank in the general prostration of the settlement, and never again held up their heads. The inhabitants slunk away from the colony in numbers; and property even in Adelaide was almost worthless. The holders of the eighty-acre sections produced far more of the necessaries of life than the non-producing population required; and the neighbouring colonies were deluged with the farm-produce of the bankrupt agriculturalists of South Australia. This model colony afforded itself the most signal refutation of the truth of the Wakefield theories; and the whole world would have been compelled to acknowledge the falsehood, but for the opportune discovery of the mineral wealth of the colony. It is to its mines that South Australia owes its good fortune, its population, and its riches, and not to any secret of political economy bestowed upon it by adventurous theorists. According to the opinion of these philosophers, New South Wales and Western Australia can never again by any possibility possess a labour-fund, because the private owners of large grants of land, which they obtained for nominal sums, can always afford to undersell the Crown. So long as the Crown refuses to sell for less than a pound an acre, this will certainly be the case; but the day will doubtless come when our rulers will condescend to enquire into the necessities of those over whose fortunes they preside; and will adopt a policy suited to the actual circumstances of the case, and not vainly endeavour to apply, universally, abstract opinions which have long been proved to be, in almost all parts of Australia, totally useless and inapplicable. THE ONLY WAY TO RAISE A LABOUR-FUND IN THESE COLONIES IS, BY OFFERING CROWN-LANDS TO THE EMIGRANT AT THE LOWEST MARKET PRICE. The Crown could always afford to undersell the private land-speculator, and might establish a permanent fund for the introduction of labour, by selling land at a low rate, AND RESERVING A RENT-CHARGE, IN THE SHAPE OF A LAND-TAX — OF ONE HALF-PENNY PER ACRE. Thus, every grant of five thousand acres would pay an annual tax to Government of 10 pounds 8 shillings and 4 pence; and would, therefore, in a very few years, accumulate a fund sufficient to supply itself with a labouring population. When it is remembered how very small was the original cost to the owners of most of the lands in Western Australia, there will not appear much hardship in imposing this tax upon all the private property of the colony, as well as upon lands to be hereafter sold by the Crown. This course of legislation would infuse new vitality into the colony; and at the end of the short period of five years, the tax might be suspended as regards all lands purchased by individuals PRIOR TO THE PASSING OF THE ACT, but continued for ever upon lands purchased under the Act, and in contemplation of having to bear such a rent-charge.
This is the only way by which emigration can be insured to the colonies of New South Wales and Western Australia; and the time will sooner or later arrive when this suggestion will be adopted, though it may not be acknowledged.
Her Majesty's present Secretary of State for the Colonies is the first really liberal minister we have had; and to him the distant and struggling settlements of Australia look with reviving hope. THE OBJECTS MOST EAGERLY SOUGHT BY THOSE COLONIES ARE — A NEW SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT, WITH LESS OF COLONIAL-OFFICE INTERFERENCE; A REGULAR POST-OFFICE COMMUNICATION WITH ENGLAND; AND A TOTAL REFORM IN THE EXISTING REGULATIONS FOR THE SALE OF CROWN-LANDS, WITHOUT WHICH, IN COUNTRIES PURELY PASTORAL AND AGRICULTURAL, THERE CAN NEVER AGAIN BE FORMED A FUND FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF LABOUR.
In the hope of making colonial subjects more familiar to the general reader, and more popular than they are at present, I have perhaps given to this little work a character so trifling as to make it appear unworthy of the attention of political philosophers; and yet, inasmuch as it points out some of the wants of a large body of British subjects, whose fortunes lie entirely at the mercy of distant rulers, who have but little sympathy with a condition of which they possess but a most imperfect knowledge — it is a work (inadequate though it be) not altogether undeserving of the consideration even of Statesmen.
NOTE TO CHAPTER 30.
I am happy that this work will become the medium of informing the Colonists of Western Australia of one of the most promising events that has ever happened to that country.
The ship-timber of the Colony, a trial cargo of which arrived in England this month (October, 1847), has just been admitted into the Royal Navy. A highly favourable report has been made upon it by the Government surveyors, and it is pronounced admirably adapted for kelsons, stern-posts, great beams for steam-frigates, and other heavy work. If a company be formed, on good principles, and under proper management, a timber trade for the supply of the Navy will be found most lucrative.
The principal portion of the labour should be performed by Chinamen, to be obtained from Sincapore.
For this great boon, the Colonists are indebted to LORD AUCKLAND, the First Lord of the Admiralty, for his ready acquiescence in agreeing to receive the timber, by way of experiment; to Mr. G. H. Ward, the Secretary, for the kind attention he has paid to every request made to him on the subject, notwithstanding that he has been sufficiently pestered to have wearied the patience of the most amiable of mankind; and, above all, to our late Governor, MR. HUTT, and his brother, the Honourable Member for Gateshead, who have been indefatigable in their exertions to promote the weal of the Colony.