Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/45

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THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE.

the Government to be bartered for corn and meat had been commenced. The growth of private trading enterprises had made this no longer necessary, and on Macquarie's assumption of office it was brought to an end.[1] For some time before that, however, the bulk of the trade had been in the hands of a few merchants who were able to charge exorbitant scarcity prices. To prevent such exploitation of the people's needs the Government placed a maximum price on imported goods, allowing in general 50 per cent. profit. In the dearth of competition the maximum price became the sole price of the merchant, though the retailer might still further heighten it.[2]

The trading population in these early years was indeed a strange one. Officers both civil and military were concerned in every kind of enterprise.[3] Division of employment was almost unknown. A man might be captain or commissariat officer in the army as well as sheep-breeder, farmer, butcher, merchant and ship-builder; and with scarcely one exception he was a rum-dealer as well. The subject of spirituous liquors, their importation, distillation, distribution and consumption, fills many pages of the history of New South Wales. It must be remembered that it was in England also an age of intemperance, and that the population of the settlement was recruited from the two classes most prone to drinking, the soldiery and the criminals. Amongst the rank and file as in the mess-room, a soldier was not long in learning to drink—just as a man who was a criminal, so to say, by accident, had little hope of escaping the vice in the prisons of England. The rest of the population, unprovided younger sons, failures and adventurers, were not men who would turn with horror from the excesses and immorality induced by reckless drinking. It is true that there were honourable exceptions, poor and rich,

  1. See Letter of Instructions to Macquarie, 14th May, 1809. H.R., VII., p. 143.
  2. There are no complaints to be discovered of the merchants against the fixing of the maximum price. This certainly suggests that the regulation was not strictly enforced.
  3. Marsden (Rev. S.) in An Answer to Certain Calumnies in the Late Governor Macquarie's Pamphlet, etc., published in 1826, pp. 8-10, explains that it was necessary in early times to give grants of land to officers of the Government in order to ensure enough corn being grown in the settlement to feed the people. This was undoubtedly the case before 1800.

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