Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/129

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115
A FEW IRISH CENTRES.

and alacrity. Having obtained the freehold of the land which they were previously only permitted to occupy on annual leases, the people of Belfast are now carrying out extensive permanent improvements in every direction, and pushing their town into that prominence as a Victorian centre which it would have attained long ago but for the adverse circumstances of its birth.

Briefly these circumstances are the following: About the year 1840 the Colonial Office in London, with a full belief in its own infallibility and a self-satisfied ignorance of what it was really doing, initiated a system of "special surveys," by which capitalists were allowed to select blocks of 5,000 acres each, payment to be made at the rate of £1 per acre and no competition to be permitted. The mere statement of the scheme is sufficient of itself to show its utter stupidity and recklessness. To part for ever with splendid blocks of land in rising colonies, and on such ridiculously easy terms, was playing into the hands of the capitalists with a vengeance. The Australian people, who were on the spot and could see the injurious effects of this ill-conceived project, naturally protested with all their strength against its continuance. The governing authorities in London soon recognised the blunder they had made, but not before some mischief was done. One of the few capitalists who were in a position to seize the golden opportunity was a shrewd Irish attorney, named Atkinson, who was living in Sydney and who had previously made some unsuccessful attempts to acquire a large tract of land. He now lost no time in putting in his application for a special survey of 5,000 acres on the conditions laid down by the Colonial Office. The locality he chose was the land abutting on the beautiful harbour of Port Fairy, in what is now the western district of Victoria, and