Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/39

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11
THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE.

who had been convicts and who formed Riley's third class was comparatively free, and marriage between them and the children of freedmen or prisoners was frequent and generally approved. Indeed such connections were far more encouraged and less a matter for reproach in early years than at a later date.

The lowest rung of the social ladder was made up of convicts still under sentence and "free labourers". This was, of course, a social and in no sense a legal equality. The development of a class of "poor whites" was an inevitable consequence of the existence of servile labour. The free man fell from the social and economic point of view when he became a competitor of the bond-servant whose labour was compulsory although paid for by food, clothes and a yearly wage. The normal condition of a free man in a country where land might be had for next to nothing and cultivated with scarcely any capital was that of proprietor not labourer, and when Riley placed the latter beside the convicts, he described with perfect accuracy such a man's status in the Colony.

Probably no more extravagant and careless system of land distribution has ever been adopted in a British colony than that of the first fifteen years of Australian settlement, for already, at the beginning of 18ii, 117,269 acres had been alienated. The administrators of the new Continent had two objects before them—one, to rid England once for all of her delinquent population—the other, to make the Colony self-supporting. In the beginning it was not thought necessary to do more than establish the convicts on the land at the expiration of their terms of servitude. Phillip's instructions were quite explicit.[1] Emancipists[2] were to receive grants of 30 acres if single, 50 acres if married, with 10 more for each child. The grants were to be free of all fees and taxes for ten years, after which a quit-rent, fixed at sixpence for every 30 acres, was to be charged.[3] In addition to these advantages, Government undertook to provide the ex-convict and his family with rations for twelve months, to give the necessary tools and seed

  1. See Instructions, H.R., I., Pt. II., p. 85, pars. 9, 10.
  2. i.e. Men who had been convicts. This was a usual term in New South Wales.
  3. The amount of the quit-rent was left blank in Phillip's instructions, but was settled soon after at the above rate.