Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/47

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19
THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE.

legalise colonial distillation, and the eagerness for drink was such that the Government could not prevent its illicit distillation. But far worse than this was the system of the "rum-currency," by which labour, land and produce were bartered for spirit.[1] It was a currency of great elasticity, affected by the personal equation and still more by the length of time between cargoes and the quantity landed. No method could have been more effective in the oppression and spoliation of the weak, poor and ignorant. Yet it became the general custom with all classes, and though King and Bligh both forbade payment by rum, Macquarie had still to face the difficulty in 1810 and found it impossible to bring it to an end.[2] The quantity of coin was next to nothing, the paper currency depreciated and the debtor as anxious as the creditor to be paid in liquor, while the small settler would exchange house, land and stock for a few days' orgie.

The state of drunkenness had its most serious side in the pauperism and misery into which the poorer classes were led, and the impulse it gave to evil ways of gaining wealth in the rest of the community. Immorality as well as drunkenness was rife. Marriages between the convicts were infrequent before 1810, but cohabitation was customary. The female convicts lived not only with prisoners but with men of all classes. Few of the women transported were of good character, and there were fewer still who could retain their decency in companionship with the wretched dregs of humanity who formed the majority, and in face of the terrible practices indulged in on the female transport vessels.[3] After the long voyage out the women were assigned as servants to the settlers and officers of the Government. There were no regulations as to these assignments,[4]

and abuses whereby the servant became the mistress were general. So common were these and similar practices that when the New South Wales Corps left the Colony in 1810 Macquarie granted pardons to many female convicts in order

  1. Cf. "Gin-currency" of West Africa.
  2. See Chapter IV. and also Proceedings of a General Court Martial for the trial of Lieut.-Col. Johnston on a charge of mutiny exhibited against him by the Crown and for deposing W. Bligh, etc., London, 1811, p. 246.
  3. See also Chapter VIII.
  4. See Letter of Instructions to Macquarie, 14th May, 1809. H.R., VII. p. 143.