Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Old and new flittings

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The old sarcasm of “leaving one’s country for one’s country’s good” is losing its point under the present remarkable conjuncture of circumstances. Many thousands of English men and women will soon have left their country for its good without any discredit to themselves; and it is quite plain that there will be scarcely anything more seen of that compulsory emigration which is indicated by the old sarcasm, and which we are accustomed to call Transportation.

The conjuncture of circumstances I refer to is the strange outbreak of crime of a special sort which will for ever mark the close of last year, and the singular calamity which we call the Cotton-famine. The two together will be cited hereafter as having settled the destiny of the two opposite kinds of emigration in the social system of our country.

When the citizens of London and Birmingham and Liverpool were going to and from their homes armed, and in parties, during the dark days and nights of last winter, in fear of garotters; and when we mountaineers looked to our bolts and bars and alarm-bells, and were severe with tramps, and apt to be very light sleepers for fear of ticket-of-leave men in the capacity of burglars, there was a good deal of crying out for a revival of transportation. For a little while the cry was loud; but old and experienced citizens knew that it could only make some temporary mischief, ending in an exclusion of that punishment from our system for ever. The mischief is, we may trust, mainly over already. It consisted in the diversion of the citizens’ minds from practicable and wise methods of dealing with criminals, and in the wrath it could not but excite in the colonies. Already, before the commission appointed to inquire into our system of penal servitude has delivered its report, we all find, as some of us expected, that we had sufficient ground to proceed upon, without the expense and delay of a commission; the demand for a renewal of transportation has died out; and the indignant protests returned by the colonies find us quite ready to agree with their views, and to satisfy them that they shall hear no more of any proposals to empty on their shores cargoes of crime from the mother-country.

The truths which have brought about this agreement are these. They have been stated at home during the winter, and they are now re-stated by the colonists as faithfully as by an echo, with the difference that the later voice is clearer and stronger, instead of fainter, than the earlier.

When transportation was assumed to be a successful method of punishment, the convicts were of a far milder class than our garotters and burglars. The shortest and cheapest way was taken with all who had committed serious felonies. Not only murderers, brutal assailants, and burglars were hanged, but forgers and coiners, burners of houses and goods for the sake of the insurance, rioters, and thieves, down to a very low denomination of theft. The convicts whose labour was desired for the new settlements in Australia and elsewhere were the light-fingered gentry, the smugglers, poachers, passers of bad coin, rural malcontents, seditious speakers, cheats, and rowdies who might be employed by colonists without alarm, and were as likely as not to turn honest under encouragement and favourable circumstances. As Romilly and his coadjutors rescued one class of offenders after another from the gallows, those classes, more and more gravely guilty as the amelioration at home went on, became the subjects of transportation, till at last, when hanging was nearly confined to wilful murder alone, the new convicts became the terror and despair of every colonial household, and the system came suddenly to an end in all our chief dependencies.

But, again, the method never did anywhere answer in the long run. It is impossible to relate the facts, as recorded in the evidence abundantly furnished to parliamentary committees and in official reports, of the state of society wherever the poison of the system has been introduced. All who have any knowledge on the subject agree with Mr. Adderley in his recent declaration, that no man who would escape damnation would advocate a renewal of transportation as it has turned out in our hands. It is impossible to call a system a success, in any light, of which this could be said.

It will not do to say that only the milder sort of offenders shall be sent out; because this does not meet our difficulty. It does not rid us of our garotters and burglars, while the colonists would be but little better off for this, as the milder offenders become very gross criminals indeed in the course of the voyage, from the evil influences of the convict ship. The one colony which, being unprosperous, clings to the hope of enrichment by convict labour, stipulates that the offenders sent out shall not be very bad people, and that they shall not be more than a few hundreds a year (the largest number proposed is 1000); that an equal number of honest free labourers shall always be sent out, and women enough to be wives to the convicts. Some of these West Australian advocates have pretended to a preference between bonny Irish girls and our Lancashire lasses, for this singular conjugal destination. These odd notions and demands speak for themselves. They have shown all the world how little help we can have in regard to our criminals from the one colony which has not yet repudiated transportation; and they are sufficiently answered by the short questions,—why honest free labourers should submit to live among convicts, when there are better places to go to which are exempt from that curse? and why any company of convicts should expect such luck as having good girls from Ireland or Lancashire for wives? As for the rest, there will probably be a continuance for a time of an annual transportation of a few hundreds of thieves and cheats to Western Australia, till it is found that the voyage, and the influences of male convict society afterwards, turn the thieves and cheats into ruffians of a continually grosser quality. Then the colony will, like all the rest, refuse to receive any more criminals,—if, indeed, this has not happened sooner, through the inevitable failure of the stipulations about honest comrades and virtuous wives.

There remains only one more suggestion,—that some rough, remote, almost inaccessible place might be found, to which we might deport our really unmanageable criminals, where they must suffer so much from a rude climate and unfriendly soil, that only by the severest toil can they support life.

No scheme, of all that have been proposed, can be more impracticable than this. No place has been pointed out that would answer the purpose; and it may be safely said that none ever will. Such a place—a settlement of the worst of men, without any women, or with only a sprinkling of them, sure to die under the hardships of the life—would be a hell upon earth which no honest men would undertake to guard or govern. If the spot were practically inaccessible, it would be enormously expensive; and, if not, it would not answer its purpose. All the evils of the Transportation system would be added to a cost greater than that of keeping the felons imprisoned at home; and the cruelty would be such as Englishmen would not hear of, from the moment they understood the fact that a large proportion of our worst ruffians are weak in intellect, and no small number, half-idiots.

It is not my business here to go on to consider what should be done with our convicts. That is quite another topic, of which I have spoken before, and may speak again. I need only say that nothing could be more natural than the cry of last Christmas—“We must get rid of our ruffians! We must return to transportation!” and that, as the colonies must be by this time relieved of their fear and pain and anger at that saying, we need hardly regret it. We might fairly be vexed at the waste of time and talk that it involved, and ashamed of the want of knowledge and sense that it disclosed: but these may be worth undergoing for the sake of the thorough clearing-up of the case, which now enables us to speak of the transportation system as virtually at an end. It was before as impracticable as it could be: and now it is effectually understood to be so. Here, therefore, we may dismiss the old way of leaving one’s country for one’s country’s good, and turn to the new, and honest, and bright, and creditable way of rendering that service to Old England.

The change of the popular mind about Emigration, as a relief under the present calamity of the country, is of a later date and more remarkable character than that which has occurred about Transportation.

It would have been quite as good a thing—even better—for some hundreds or thousands of our Lancashire people to have gone to Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, or Canada last year as this: yet how differently has the idea been treated in 1862 and 1863! Some months ago, no friend of the cotton operatives could speak of emigration on ever so small a scale within the bounds of Lancashire or Cheshire without risk of being insulted. Poor-law guardians, millowners, organisers of relief, repressed all discussion of that remedy, or insisted on “keeping together” the whole host of operatives, or snubbed all applicants for servants or labourers to be employed in other counties, or threw out innuendoes against young women who went out under good guardianship to the colonies, or pressed the managers of such schemes to choose young thieves and disreputable girls for their protégées. From this extreme of reluctance a crowd of eager people have rushed into the other,—of eagerness to deport as many as possible of the sufferers, if not the whole mass. It really appears that, incredible as it may seem, there are persons passing for sane who propose the removal of the entire population of cotton operatives and their families! Though it is an understood fact that a very small number of destitute people in any society, necessarily cause a much larger number to be underfed, these daring philanthropists would throw hundreds of thousands of strangers on a sudden on the shores of new settlements which have had time only to provide barely for their own residents, and to invite a specified number, of fitting qualifications, to come and work and prosper as they themselves have done. This perilous precipitation is easily accounted for by the wayward tendencies of ardent and inexperienced minds. Those who were confident, last summer, that the manufacture would come all right in a few weeks, now insist that it is dead and gone for ever. The American cotton has not come in, and is not likely to come in,—being not only out of reach, but to a great extent destroyed or spoiled; and therefore these zealots give up the case altogether, though cotton is growing more and more largely in every producing country but North America, and though the glut in the world’s market is clearing off, and though cotton fabrics are as preferable as they ever were to other material for the greatest use of the greatest number; and though, as I may add, the manufacture at this moment shows abundant vitality in Lancashire itself. We need not dwell on this extravagant view. We may safely assure ourselves that the existence and prospects of the cotton manufacture are in no danger. For the present they are lowered and darkened: but, while cotton is growing, and mills are standing, and warehouses are emptying, and all nations are in need of cotton fabrics, it would be mere craziness or perverseness to doubt of a revival, more or less tardy; and we need not, therefore, sit down and cry that we cannot carry away a million of people in a hurry to the other side of the world. Several scores of thousands of operatives will be wanted at home before very long,—as indeed some tens of thousands are now. We have quite as much on our hands as we can manage in enabling those to emigrate whom the colonies can receive, and who are qualified to go.

I am not speaking of this desire to deport half Lancashire as a testimony in honour of emigration. Such a use of emigration is like the use of the broom to sweep flights of locusts into the fire in the plain, or into the river in the valley. The real testimony on behalf of emigration is on the part of those of us who thoroughly understand that any scheme of removal, or all together, must leave more hands idle and dependent in Lancashire than the cotton manufacture can employ for a long time to come. We help as many as we can to remove, because we believe that just so many are rescued from poverty and its pains, and because their departure somewhat lessens the pressure at home. There is no small difference between wanting to sweep our distressed operatives (as some want to sweep our criminals) out of sight, and striving to provide a real remedy for their calamity to a certain number of the sufferers, while lightening it to the country. We send away our emigrants, not as a nuisance or a distress, but as candidates for prosperity, and as citizens charged with upholding the honour and assisting the welfare of their country. There lies before me now a Queensland newspaper which strongly suggests the contrast between the two ways of leaving one’s country. The “Queensland Guardian” of Jan. 15th says that the emigrants arriving in consequence of recent efforts “sustain a character for virtue and honour surpassed by none who have preceded them. . . . . This fact is of the highest importance to us as a people at the commencement of our career. Nothing will be well done unless we lay our foundations deep and sure in the purest morality.” No wonder that a colony which holds this faith is vehemently alarmed at the barest mention of the revival of transportation to any part of the Australian continent!

It is quite natural that excitable citizens at home who want to send away a million of people at once should be able to think of only one place to send them to. We accordingly hear so much from these zealots about Queensland, that it might seem as if they were unaware that there is any other destination for emigrants. It is very like the one idea of the Irish peasants,—that emigration means going to the United States. This sort of possession by an idea is very sad in both cases. It is a melancholy thing now, as it was a dozen years ago, to hear of thousands of small farmers and labourers sailing from Cork to New York,—to meet the lot which we know awaits them there:—to be made tools of for the hardest and dirtiest work, physical and political,—to die of malaria or of intemperance,—to grow fierce in competition with negro labourers, or fiercer and crueller as the creatures of the Slave Power. This has always been painful; and now there is the added horror that the soberest and best of them can hardly escape from the perils of the ports into the back country, but are seized upon for soldiers. It is miserable to know that Irishmen are fighting with Irishmen in a cause which is none of theirs, while their wives and children—too likely to be their widows and orphans—are dependent on the charity of a people among whom they are strangers. The priests at home understand all this. I learn that it is piteous to hear their remonstrances with the departing throng, to the last moment; and to see them pacing the shore when their flocks are gone, irritated and grieved and helpless. Their people say they are angry at losing their fees: they themselves say that they are mourning over souls sure to lapse from the Church, and over lives and fortunes doomed to destruction in a horrid war.

Those of us who look on cannot but ask why all these thousands of emigrants go there,—rushing into the most awful tragedy now enacting under Heaven, when England has literally half-a-hundred colonies, in any one of which they might fare better than in the American States at this day? The only thing that can be said is, that the people are possessed with the idea of going where their countrymen have gone hitherto, and where there is a promise of blessings, which, however, they might see cannot coexist with civil war. Thus we find that there is but a very small sprinkling of Irish among the emigrants now flocking to our Australian colonies, though the facilities for getting land are, in some of them, as great as they ever were in the United States, and though, as labourers and domestic servants, the new settlers might hold a higher and safer position than anywhere in the Republic.

I do not mean to compare the English rage for going to Queensland with the Irish rage for going to New York or Philadelphia, further than as an illustration of working on one idea. The only mischief of it is that it would, if indulged, restrict the number that could be transplanted from Lancashire, and would be an injustice to other colonies. If Queensland receives as many as can be provided for, we have ten times more to whom emigration would be a blessing, and who would be a blessing to any colony which might secure them.

The estimate on the spot is that Queensland could receive and provide for 2000 duly qualified immigrants per month, for a long time to come. These 2000 must be men, women, and children, of all ages below five-and-thirty or so; they must be able and disposed to work heartily and steadily; and this includes steadiness and temperance of character and habits. If they are good-humoured and cheerful and sensible, they may begin to prosper at once,—may have land, may grow cotton for their old comrades to work up at home, and may be better off than they ever were, or ever could have been, in Lancashire. This is one side of the case.

As for the other, Mr. John Platt of Oldham declared at a recent public meeting at Manchester that he had seen letters from Queensland, in which the writers complained sorely of their lot, and entreated their Lancashire acquaintances not to go out to meet starvation on the Australian shores, instead of in Lancashire. No doubt, most readers of this anecdote anticipated what the explanation would be. Among the large number of letters from the emigrants, a very small per centage comes from discontented writers, while the rest are satisfied and thankful. The complainants are discontented because they are unreasonable. Some had no conception what hard labour was. Some had become so accustomed to be maintained in idleness from the Relief funds that all self-dependence appeared a hardship. Some had gone out in a romantic mood and found the poetry of adventure turn to very rough prose in the experience. (This is probably the case, more or less, with all,—from the wisest to the weakest.) But the main difficulty seems to lie in the reluctance of the new-comers to leave the spot they land on. The invitation to two thousand persons per month supposes that they will spread themselves over the country, to develop its resources in every way: whereas the discontented will not be persuaded to leave the port; and, when they cannot get an engagement there, where the labour-market is overstocked by such as themselves, they write home about being starved. Such are the explanations given, in reply to Mr. Platt’s statement: and there is plenty of evidence that they are true. The returns of the rate of wages in the labour-market form a part of this evidence.

The merest glance at these lists carries one all over the colony. Bullock-drivers, stock-riders, married couples for country stations, and “families for the bush,” command very high terms. So do wheelwrights, and blacksmiths, and shepherds, and gardeners, and house-carpenters, and plasterers, and saddlers, and cooks, and general servants, and farm-labourers. All these seem to be more highly paid than townspeople, and, certainly, much more highly than they could be if the colony was not underhanded on the whole. If there is anywhere a glut of new labour, there is a dearth almost everywhere else.

All this is outside of the distinctive benefit which attracts so much attention to Queensland,—its cotton culture. There are five companies now employing a great amount of labour in the production of cotton: and “many of the recent arrivals,” says the “Queensland Guardian,” “are taking up their farms, under the land-order system, and settling down upon them, with their families, for the purpose of cultivating the cotton-plant. Others are turning their attention to sugar, tobacco,” &c. After having gone through a good deal of rough work, and discomfort, and disappointment of one sort or another, these cultivators have sent home some capital cotton. Two of the companies have sent twenty-nine bales, and promise more and more every season.

Besides these recommendations of the colonies, there is the special encouragement offered by the local government, in the form, not only of land-grants, but of free passages for emigrants; and there is the aid offered by the colonists, in the form of subscriptions for the outfit of emigrants. The Government will carry over 1000 adults, which will cost it 16,000l. in passage-money; and the colonists have subscribed largely, and have been effectually supported by subscriptions here; so that the fortunate thousand will actually go. This is a great event, though it may be despised by the visionary patriots who recommend the removal of five hundred times the number.

The colony of Victoria is less favourably regarded here for the purposes of Lancashire relief; and this is natural, after all that has happened there since the discovery of the gold-fields. But the gold mania is calming down; the government policy about the disposal of land is improved; and agriculture is advancing in honour and profit. We may be glad, therefore, to hear of free passages being provided, and more hoped for. The Government has sent 5000l., which is laid out in providing passages for married couples not over thirty-five years of age, and young women fit for domestic service; and all that remains to be done here is to raise enough for their outfit. For this purpose the Mansion House Committee has set apart 5000l., of which 1000l. was granted to this Victoria enterprise.

New Zealand was early in the field. Auckland has sent 5000l.; and the second moiety of 10,000l. has been received from the province of Canterbury.

All this is well, as far as it goes: but there are many more colonies where immigrants might perhaps prosper as well, without the transit costing so much. I am not convinced that the hill-country of Jamaica, and some other West India colonies, are at all more unhealthy than the hill-country in India, where Englishmen can live as healthily as at home: and in Jamaica, fortunes may be made rapidly by cotton-growing. The labour is not severe: the Germans in Texas and other cotton States of America make no difficulty about it. No doubt the negro peasantry in Jamaica will grow more and more cotton: but we need an immediate and large supply of the excellent staple which the West Indies yield; and it is almost unaccountable that we have not got it yet. It seems to be a most promising field.

Then there are our North American provinces—at present flourishing in proportion to the disasters which are afflicting the neighbouring Republic. Some day I may speak of the new prospects opened by events on the great subject of food-production, home and colonial. At present I can only say that there is plenty of scope for strong, industrious, and sensible settlers in Canada and the neighbouring provinces. British Columbia is as fair a field as can be sought by men and women of energy and self-respect: but it is—like Australia—very far off.

On closing this review, what can be clearer than the duty of good citizens in regard to both ways of leaving one’s country for the country’s good? The old way we cannot but see is practically over and done with, and we must discourage any tendencies of the uninformed, the timid, and the indolent, to treat Transportation as an existing question. On the other hand, we must encourage Emigration, in any emergency like the present, to the utmost extent that prudence and experience allow. That utmost extent will not relieve us of Lancashire distress: but it will rescue some thousands of families from it. It will somewhat lighten the burden now; and it will more than repay its present expense in the produce it will send us,—whether of cotton or other commodities,—and in the new markets it will create for the products of industry at home.

It should, therefore, be our duty and our pleasure to help, as each one of us may be able, in bringing together the Colonies and the right sort of people to enjoy them and make the most of them. Any one of us who can dispatch a family, a young couple, or a servant girl, or farm labourer, is privileged to do a great and certain social and individual service. Any one who is not so privileged may contribute more or less to the several funds now being raised, and administered by experienced agents, for providing the outfit and passage of carefully-selected emigrants. Long after the cotton-famine shall have passed away, this choice seed sown on colonial soil will be bearing plentiful fruit for the enrichment of Old England, and of all the Young Englands which are growing up around her.

From the Mountain.