Page:History of West Australia.djvu/207

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161
WEST AUSTRALIA.


in 1851 £17,883 3s., in 1852 £16,768 7s. 8d., and in 1853 £19,870 15s. 6d.

A comparison of the retail prices of foodstuffs in March, 1850, immediately before the arrival of convicts, and in December, 1853, will be interesting. With the increased demand and the limited supply prices in certain cases rose enough to gratify the desire of the most envious colonist. The first quotation of each article gives the price in 1850; the second that of 1853:—Bread, 5d. and 8d. a 2 lb. loaf; flour, 2d. and 3d. a lb.; wheat, 5s. to 6s. and 10s. a bushel; barley, 4s 6d. and 7s. a bushel; eggs, 1s. 6d. and 1s. 6d. a dozen; butter, 1s. 9d. and 3s. a lb.; mutton, 1d. to 3d. and 7d. to 8d. per lb.; beef, 2d. to 4d. and 6d. to 7d.; pork, 5d. to 6d. and 10d.; cheese, 1s. 2d. and 1s. 1d. a lb.; milk, 4d. and 6d. a quart; potatoes, 9s. to 10s. and 16s. to 18s. per cwt, and wool, 8d. to 11d. and 8d. to 14d. per lb. Live stock—fat cattle, £3 to £6 and £8 to £15; sheep, 3s. to 6s. and 15s. to 20s. (wethers), and horses, £5 to £20 and £25 to £40.

By the aid of the large rise in prices the incomes of producers were doubled and hence prosperity was once more within their grasp. The chief rise took place during 1853, when so many additional consumers arrived. A great improvement was manifested in the appearance of the country districts. The York Agricultural Society in 1852 congratulated settlers on their flourishing condition; Governor Fitzgerald also expressed his delight at the more prosperous appearance of country-people, and the newspapers referred to the "splendid progress" apparent on all the farms. The Leschenault and Vasse districts by reason of higher prices extended their agricultural operations. Several houses were erected in Busselton in 1853, and gave it a village-like appearance, while the Government erected new buildings in Bunbury, Albany, and other districts. Albany mainly depended on whaling for its support.

Of nascent industries the most important were the attempted utilisation of guano deposits, renewed enterprise in mining, and the manufacture of wine. Several samples of wines were produced in 1848 which were reported as being of excellent quality. The prohibition of distillation was viewed with great disfavour. In 1849 vignerons persistently laboured to improve their gardens, and in February, 1850, a cask of colonial wine was sent to London per the barque Mary. One vine planted by Mr. Gallop in 1845 produced abundance of fruit in 1850. It was of the Wortley Hall variety. Fifty-seven bunches averaged 3½ lbs. in weight, and one bunch weighed 5½ lbs. There were some large vineyards at Northam, Guildford, and Toodyay. In 1852 wine valued at £12 15s. was exported.

In 1848 indications of guano were discovered in Shark's Bay, and thenceforth for several months attention was directed to establishing an industry. Parcels were despatched to Mauritius and highly commended. The discovery of guano on Egg Island was reported in England, and in 1850 the ship Laurel was commissioned by capitalists to proceed to the spot to confirm the statement. The captain found deposits, and immediately sailed to Singapore; acquainted his principals with the fact by mail, and, it is said, asked that vessels should be chartered to carry away 8,000 tons.

The local Government also took early steps to confirm these reported discoveries, whereupon they decided that the Government was justified in exacting royalties. They first proposed to impose a royalty of £2 10s. per ton. Under this arrangement, five vessels loaded in Sharks Bay in 1850 (island not mentioned). Among them were the Carriban, Nimble, and Merope. The Governor despatched, per the Champion, one sergeant and four soldiers to the mainland to watch over Government interests. In May these men were reported to be in bad heallh through drinking too much water. They were relieved by others. Only a few hundred pounds were obtained by the Government on this royalty. What with high rates paid for charters, and low prices at port of discharge, the shippers lost in their deals. The Government did not receive the due amount of royalty.

In January, 1851, an offer was received by the Government for the purchase of 20,000 tons of guano at £1 per ton. The offer was declined; the Government determined to protect local interests. In May, 1850, a cargo of Western Australian guano from the Tippo Saib was put up for auction at Liverpool, when the highest bid was £5 10s per ton. The lot was withdrawn. One hundred tons were subsequently sold at £6 a ton—a most unsatisfactory price for the shippers. This discovery of guano was considered to be of great interest to agriculture in England, and representations were made to the Secretary for the Colonies on the high royalty charged by the Western Australian Government. The Duke of Richmond complained in the House of Lords. Earl Grey instructed Governor Fitzgerald to reduce the royalty to £1.

The reduction was made in August, 1851. An agreement was entered into with Gibson and Co. (a local house) and Schneider and Co. (of Germany), by which those firms were allowed to remove guano from the north-west (no place mentioned) up to 50,000 tons, at 16s. a ton. Even this arrangement did not succeed. The expense of obtaining the guano, and the low market prices caused the industry to be almost abandoned for some years.

In 1850-51 several vessels loaded in Sharks Bay without permission from the Government. When Lieutenant Helpman was making his explorations on the north-west coast in 1851, he observed vessels in Sharks Bay. Two, the Samuel and Union, were anchored at Monkey Island, and two others, the Sir Edwin Head and the Candace, had full cargoes, and were about to proceed to sea. He discovered two islands near by, whereon he estimated there were 700 tons of guano. Later in the year, in June, he again sailed up the coast, on this occasion bound for Exmouth Gulf, where he hoped to find deposits. Discoveries had been announced on islands in these waters, and vessels were expected to load there. A few days satisfied him that no guano was to be found in the Gulf. One object of these voyages was to subserve the interests of the Government by preventing ships from loading guano without paying royalty. While returning to Fremantle, Helpman met two vessels at Quoin, the captains of which assured him that there was more than sufficient guano to load ten vessels in Freycinet Harbour. On a third voyage, made in October, November, and December, Lieutenant Helpman found five islands in Sharks Bay, which, he said, contained guano of a superior quality. Similar discoveries were made in other places, particularly on Long Island. Rootless vegetation of a singular kind lay upon these guano deposits like a carpet, which they were able to roll up in patches of fifty and sixty yards with the greatest ease. Other deposits were found further south. The soldiers were removed from Sharks Bay in 1851.

Navigators and cursory visitors had occasionally reported the presence of pearl oysters in the north-west. Dampier