Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/11

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
vii
PREFACE

its food-supply upon other countries, New South Wales grew during this period into an agricultural Colony providing its own food, beginning to establish manufactures and exporting wool. A few years after Macquarie's return it was even able to support a civil establishment without help from the Imperial Treasury. In these years also is seen under peculiarly simple and isolated conditions the working of "military" government—a curious and anomalous system of autocracy working through the forms of civil law. It is in the study of this system that the true significance of what at first sight seems merely a series of personal quarrels between the Governor and the judges emerges as a conflict of principles, as the outcome of the real intellectual difficulty of reconciling the due administration of the law with a judiciary dependent upon an autocratic Governor. The fact that it was a one-man government also renders very important the study of this one man's character and training, his prejudices and opinions. Macquarie, himself a man of very ordinary ability, is an intensely interesting figure in Australian history, because for twelve years the development of the country was almost wholly dependent upon his guidance. The period illustrates too the almost inevitable failure of such an autocracy, and it comes to an end with the commission of J. T. Bigge, who was sent from England in 1819 to investigate on the spot the complaints against the Governor, and to inquire generally into the Colony's affairs. Acting upon the reports of the Commissioner, the Home Government in 1823 granted to New South Wales some measure of Constitutional Government, and thus accomplished the first step in that progress which led to the great autonomous measures of 1855. The years from 1810 to 1821 form a distinct period in this transition, and behind the simple constitutional history of the time are all the complex elements which went to make up the social and economic organisation of the people. These Englishmen settled in southern seas found that they had to face old problems as well as new, and