The Present State and Prospects of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales/Chapter 2

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Having given a general sketch of the country and climate, I now come to the inhabitants, and their means of acquiring wealth and comfort. The population of the district of Port Phillip is estimated at 20,000; of these about 9,000 are supposed to be resident in Melbourne and its suburbs. This is far too large a proportion; in fact, the town of Melbourne is large enough to supply the wants of a rural population of 60,000 souls. This will in time cure itself, but not without considerable individual distress. At present the population is diminishing, by the inhabitants dispersing themselves over the rural districts, and there is a large number of houses unoccupied. This huddling together of a large population in a town, is the result of the present mode of disposing of crown lands, combined with the system, adopted by the Emigration Commissioners, of encouraging the emigration of artizans in preference to that of agricultural labourers, and of men with families in preference to that of single men. The artizans naturally remain in towns to seek employment in their trades, but these being soon overstocked they find it impossible to succeed in obtaining it, and if they have not energy to look for situations as farm-servants in the bush, become discontented and miserable. Several of this class have re-emigrated to Valparaiso. Men with families are very often worse off, and, as long as the present mode of dealing with squatters remains in force, it is impossible that married men can find accommodation and employment, in any numbers, on sheep or cattle stations, as men have no fancy for laying out money in improving government land. At Sydney, where this evil has been felt more than at Melbourne, a committee of the Legislative Council examined many witnesses on the subject, and the result of their inquiries was to establish the facts which I have stated above.

The exports from the Port Phillip district in the year ending 31st July, 1843, being the close of the wool season of 1842–43, amounted to £232,602 in value, made up of the following items:—

From Tables published by Messrs. Kilburn, Brothers, Custom-house agents, from official documents.
£ s. d.
Shipped at
and Geelong
Wool 3,327,763 lbs. at 1s. ⅌ lb. 166,388  0  0
Bark    903 tons at 80s. ⅌ ton 3,612  0  0
Oil    4½ tons at £24 ⅌ ton 104  0  0
Sheep   87,880 at 78. ⅌ head 13,258  0  0
Cattle    735 at £6 ⅌ head 4,410  0  0
Salt Beef   1,294 23s.4d. ⅌ cwt. 1,509  0  0
Tallow   1,017 cwt. at 288. ⅌ cwt. 1,423  0  0
Hides    793 at 9s. each 357  0  0
Horns   3,580 8  0  0
Sheep Skins   3,526 147  0  0
Butter 200 cwt. at £5 2s.9d. ⅌ cwt. 1,026  0  0
£192,242  0  0
Shipped at
Portland Bay,
Port Fairy, and
Gipps Land.[1]
Wool about 600,000 lbs. at 1s. ⅌ lb. 30,000  0  0
Sheep  „   20,000 at 7s. each 7,000  0  0
Cattle  „    560 at £6 each 3,360  0  0
£232,602  0  0

The amount of exportation in July, 1844, probably amounts to upwards of £300,000. This I conclude from the natural increase of the sheep, which is generally calculated at one-third of the whole amount, and from the export of tallow, which is likely to be very large, owing to the system of boiling down the surplus stock for the tallow, which is at present largely acted on. It is also likely that there will be increased activity in the export of mimosa bark, that which was sent home last year having realized a high price.

By the annual report of the Commissioners of Crown Lands the number of stock in the Port Phillip district,[2] on the 30th September, 1843, appears to be—

1,404,333 Sheep100,792 Cattle4,605 Horses.

As these returns were obtained from the settlers in July, they do not contain either the autumn or spring lambs of 1843—these probably amount to 400,000; so that taking the lambs and sheep together, about 1,800,000 fleeces have been shorn in the season of 1843-44. There are 820 stations, on which this stock is reared, the revenue derived from which by the government is as follows: —

1843.    Estimated for 1844.
Licenses  £8,200  0  0  £9,660  0  0
Assessment    6,276  16  2  10,000  0  0
£14,476  16  2 £19,660  0  0

The export of the wool is not entirely confined to the sheep reared on these stations, for already the squatters have pushed across the Glenelg, and formed numerous stations in a fine country to the north of a place called Port Rivoli, in the district of South Australia, and on the disputed territory between the boundaries of South Australia and Port Phillip; for even here the absurdity of bounding territories by an imaginary line has led to a dispute, probably not so grave as that of the Maine or Oregon boundary question, but quite enough to beget confusion. These men, though out of the jurisdiction of the Port Phillip Commissioners of Crown Lands, and obtaining their licenses, if any where, from Adelaide, ship their wool at Portland Bay, and draw their stores from thence.

The revenue of the district for the years ending 31st December, 1842, 1843, and the estimated revenue for 1844, are respectively as follows:—

1842. 1843. Estimated for 1844.
 £87,371  1 11   £73,724 19 10   £83,390  0  0 

The falling off in the revenue in 1843 proceeded principally from the reaction occasioned by the market having been glutted in the former years by the over-importation of English goods; this will be evident from the fact that the decrease on the duty on the importation of spirits alone amounted to £5,974 8s. 8d. and on that on other foreign goods to £2,368 19s. 4½d.—these two items making up more than half the deficiency.

It is interesting, as illustrating the progress of Port Phillip, to compare the foregoing statement with one extracted from the "South Australian Newsletter," of the r2th December, 1843, which gives some of the statistics of South Australia, and which professes to be made up from official sources: from this the following particulars are taken:—

Population 16,000; of whom 10,000 are scattered over the rural districts.
Estimated Revenue for the year 1844, £27,900 0 0
Estimated Expenditure 28,425 0 0
Return of Stock in 1843:—

350,000 Sheep,  25,000 Cattle,  2,000 Horses.

Exports:— £ s. d.
Wool (exported in the season 1842—43, 854,815 lbs. at 1s. per lb.  42,740  0  0
Wheat, Flour, Barley, and Bran exported from 1st January to 31st Decr. 1843  11,510 0 0
Miscellaneous, to the end of the year (estimated)  5,750 0 0
 £60,000 0 0

The wheat is valued at 6s. per bushel, and the flour at £14 per ton, which is one-fifth too much. There is stated to be a surplus quantity of grain, amounting to 200,000 bushels.

It gives me pleasure to be able to say, that I have heard from several sources that South Australia is fast emerging from her difficulties, and that there also the revival of prosperity is attributed to the throwing overboard the Wakefield system of concentration, and giving their attention to pastoral pursuits. The British government have, however, made a free gift to South Australia of £150,000, and have allowed the governor to draw on the treasury for about £60,000 more; while Port Phillip has not only never received one farthing of government money, but, as I shall show, has not even had the advantage of the expenditure of her own revenue, a great part of which, on the contrary, has been applied to objects in which she is in no wise interested.[3]

The new export of tallow is one which has been forced on the attention of the flockmasters of New South Wales, by the necessity of finding some outlet for their surplus stock, and it is one likely to produce very important results. The mode adopted is this: A man selects a number of old ewes from his flock, say five hundred, and, if necessary, fattens them for some time. These ewes, when in good condition, are driven to one of the boiling-down establishments; they are there slaughtered, and cut up into pieces of a convenient size; the bones are broken, and the whole packed closely in a wooden boiler, strongly clamped with iron: the hind legs being, however, reserved for a different use. Steam is then let on, by a pipe constructed for the purpose, and after a few hours the tallow is run off into casks, through another pipe leading from the bottom of the boiler. The refuse which remains in the boiler is then placed in a screw-press, and subjected to a high pressure, until all the tallow has been squeezed out; this is then put into an iron boiler, and refined previous to being put into casks. The wool is stripped off the skins, washed, and packed for exportation; the trotters are boiled for their oil, and the bones exported to make hails for knives. No use is as yet made of the refuse, except as manure, or to feed pigs, which, in process of time, are to be themselves boiled down; nor is the blood (which would be valuable for the manufacture of Prussian blue) turned to any account: but the thing is as yet in its infancy. The legs are either sold in Melbourne at eight pence each, or else cured, and exported to Van Dieman's Land, as mutton hams, and as the sheep must be old and in good condition, the meat is very good. The proprietor charges one shilling for boiling down the sheep, and the legs are taken in payment at one shilling the pair; there is a small extra charge for cooperage. An old ewe, weighing about sixty pounds, when treated in this way will, if fat, yield about twenty-four pounds of tallow, worth three pence per pound in Melbourne. Taking, however, the ewes of the country at fifty pounds, you can, if they are really fat, reckon on twenty pounds of tallow, worth at the least five shillings.[4]

I have thought it necessary to go into the details of this process, as the matter is one of great importance to the colony, and is one on which the most conflicting statements have appeared in the Sydney papers. This system is chiefly valuable as establishing a sure market for sheep, at a minimum price. When completed, one establishment alone, near Melbourne, will be capable of boiling down 1000 sheep a day, if required; and when more economy is used in turning every part of the animal to account, probably a less charge than one shilling a head will afford ample remuneration for rendering them down. A similar experiment has been tried with cattle, but they are not found to yield so large a per centage of tallow as sheep; old ewes answer better than wedders, and old cows than bullocks. There are two or three establishments for this purpose near Melbourne, one at Geelong, one at Port Fairy, and one at Portland Bay. The same system is not pursued in all, as in some the sheep are rendered down in their own fat, but that which I have described is the method most approved of. The only danger is that people may overdo the thing to such an extent as to injure the export of wool, the real mainstay of the country. As, however, the annual increase of sheep is upwards of 400,000, there will be room left for a considerable export of tallow, without producing this effect. Probably a more profitable mode of disposing of part of this tallow would be to manufacture stearine candles at Melbourne. Stearine is obtained from tallow, either by pressure, or by a chemical process. The ceoline, or oily principle, which remains after the separation of the stearine, is said to produce an oil superior to sperm oil. The candles have the appearance of spermaceti candles; and might be manufactured, not only for colonial use, but for exportation: the freight and charges which now amount to one fourth of the whole value of the tallow, would of course bear a much smaller proportion to the value of the manufactured article.

Salt beef is another article likely soon to be of importance as an article of export. No where can be seen finer natural pastures than are to be found in the fertile plains of Australia Felix; and in no part of Ireland can fat beasts be turned out in greater perfection—the mildness of the climate rendering all artificial food unnecessary. The climate, too, is favourable to the curing of meat. It is evident then that the thing can be done, and done well; the only question is whether it will pay or no; and hitherto it has been difficult to ascertain this fact, for, owing to the alteration in the tariff, salt provisions have been sent into the English market, as an experiment, from many places which probably will not continue to export them; but whether this be the case or no, at present they have equally the effect of disturbing prices, and of making it difficult to ascertain at what they will ultimately settle. Three half-pence a pound for fat beasts at the slaughter-house, or even less, will afford the Australian stockholder a very fair remuneration. But, whether the export to England pay or not, I think that we ought to be able to undersell all competitors at the Mauritius, in China, Singapore, and all through the Indian seas, besides supplying the Australian trade. Some idea of the value of this latter market may be obtained from the following consideration. The average number of ships entered inwards in the colony of New South Wales in the four years ending December 31, 1842, is 650, and the amount of tonnage 160,000, giving an average of 248 tons for each ship: of course many of these are coasters. If the English ships were only to bring out salt provisions enough for the passage out, and were to take Australian provisions for the passage home, it would save them so much freight out, besides giving them the advantage of purchasing in a cheaper market. However this they cannot be expected to do, until the thing is so established that they can always depend on a plentiful supply of good meat at a low rate. The experiment has already been tried on a small scale, in 1842, by a company, and in 1843, by two stockholders, who only salted down their own bullocks, and the detail was managed by an overseer, hired for the purpose. But what is wanted is some man who thoroughly understands the business, who would give to it his undivided attention, and who should have sufficient capital to carry it on properly. In the hands of such a man, I have myself no doubt of its success.

Preserving meat fresh in tins hermetically closed might also, I am pretty sure, be made a very profitable business where meat of the very best quality can be had at so low a rate. Turkeys, fowls, geese, &c., might also be had on very reasonable terms; and I should think it would be worth the while of some person having sufficient capital, and who is practically acquainted with the process, to set up an establishment for this purpose at Melbourne. All extra fat might be rendered down for exportation. In this, as in the other branch of the provision trade, the Colonial, India, and China shipping would afford a market, in which we could appear with decided advantage over all competitors.

Many persons are very sanguine about the export of horses to India, Manilla, and other places where they are in demand. The voyage from Sydney to Calcutta is on an average from two months to two months and a half; that from Melbourne would be somewhat shorter at one time of the year, and longer at another, according as the season suited for going round Cape Leewin, or through Torres straits. At present ships frequently go to India in ballast, so that the freight would not be very high. The terms on which horses have been shipped this year at Sydney have been £5 for every horse put on board, and £15 more for every one delivered safe over the ship's side. The ship provides stable fittings and water, and the owner of the horses attendance and provender. One cargo sent as a trial realized very good prices (they averaged £60); and there were few, or no casualties. It is supposed if an overland route is opened to Port Essington, the extreme northerly settlement of New South Wales, which is within fourteen days sail of China and Singapore, and one month of India, that horses may be sent with greater facility in that way. Port Essington is nearly the same distance, namely, two thousand miles, from Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. Supposing this road to be established, horses would make this journey in about two months and a half, and at little or no expense, except that of the wages and rations of the men in charge. But if this ever becomes available, the persons who will derive the greatest advantage from it will be the settlers to the north and north-west of Sydney, who would be much the nearest to the port of shipment. There is but little expense in rearing horses, and there is a fine breed of them at Port Phillip, chiefly of Van Dieman's Land extraction, or from imported sires. I like them better than those which I have seen at Sydney. If the stockholder could reckon on £15 for the ordinary run of horses, and £25 for good ones, it would pay him well to rear them. The price at which the Indian government furnish horses to their cavalry officers is six hundred rupees, or £60. This is considered a boon to them, and allowed only under certain restrictions; but then they have the pick out of a large number of splendid colts. Still if £60 be a low price for horses in India, there is a good deal to work on between that sum and £25. One cargo of horses was also shipped this year from Sydney to Manilla, which realized about the same prices as those sent to India. Mauritius is also spoken of as a place to which it would be advantageous to send horses.

Mimosa bark has been for some time an article of export from New South Wales; but it is only lately that much attention has been paid to the mode of collecting it, so as to send it into the market in the best condition. The mimosa which yields this is the green wattle of the settlers. It is a beautiful shrub, or tree, growing to about twenty feet in height, and abounds in many parts of the district, chiefly in soils containing sand; it is pinnatifoliate with dark green leaves and clusters of golden flowers. Government charge £5 a year license for each labourer employed in stripping bark. This, together with the expense of labour in stripping, carting, and breaking the bark, and the cost of sheds to house it in, constitute the whole expense; and I am told that a large profit is reaped by those engaged in the business. At present the mode in which the bark is stripped is sufficiently rude. It is delivered by the stripper, broken by manual labour, into pieces from four to eight inches long. Buckets full of these are thrown down into the hold, where it remains in bulk. Water-casks are then rolled over it, in order to press it a little; but still it remains a very cumbrous article. If without injury to the bark, or without danger of making it rot on the voyage home, it could be broken by a machine, similar to that known (I believe) as a devil, into very small pieces, and then put into bales well secured and pressed in a hydraulic, or a screw press, it would much economize labour in the breaking, and freight in the sending home. But it must be fully ascertained that these advantages are not gained at any sacrifice of the goodness of the article. Some attempts have been made to extract the tanning principle, but as yet the results have not been such as to lead to the expectation that this mode will supersede the simpler one of exporting the article itself. But the most economical and simplest mode of saving the expense of the exportation of bark and of hides, as well as of the importation of leather, would be to tan the hides of our own cattle to supply the Colonial market in the first instance, and to export the remainder in the form of leather. A good deal of leather is at present made at Sydney, both kangaroo-skin and ox-hide, and it is remarkable for its softness and pliancy; but still a great deal of English leather is imported, which is a perfect absurdity, while we are exporting bark and hides. I do not know any trade in which there is a better open than in that of a currier and tanner for a man who has got sufficient capital, and who thoroughly understands his business.

  1. The shipments from Portland Bay, Port Fairy and Gipps Land are approximations furnished by the Collector of Customs, the actual returns not having been received, so that the total amount may vary slightly from the actual exports.
  2. In the other districts of New South Wales the return is as follows:—
    Sheep. Cattle Horses.
    Within the boundaries of location  1,596,417 304,386 40,184
    Beyond the boundaries   „ 1,804,016 491,541 11,796
    3,400,513 796,427 51,990
  3. The revenue of Western Australia is about £9,000 per annum.
  4. The tallow will probably realize 3½d. per lb. Most of what was sold in London fetched 4½d. per lb., and one penny is considered a Urge allowance for charges—freight is only sixty shillings a ton.