The State and Position of Western Australia/Chapter 5

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General State of Society—Indentured Servants—Aborigines—Native Institution—Sagacity of two Natives—Intercourse among the Agriculturists—Female Society—Settlers &c. in the Towns—Free Institutions—Trial by Jury.

Having now conducted the reader to the several stations in the colony, with the view of enabling him to form some idea of the state and progress of the settlement, it remains to complete this part of the subject by glancing at the general state of society. On this topic considerable light is thrown by a little volume made up of passages extracted from letters and journals[1] transmitted to his friends at home by Mr. Moore, the Advocate-General. Originally intended solely for the perusal of a private circle, and therefore thrown off in evident haste, and without the slightest view to publication, and often only recording the fleeting rumour of the day, it is to be regretted that these documents were not submitted to his pruning hand. Some inconvenience has arisen from this; and not the least is, that some of the acts of the colonial government have gone forth to the public with, though no doubt most unintentionally, a degree of false colouring; and this communicated by a gentleman described as filling at the time a judicial situation. But it is to be borne in mind, that Mr. Moore was then a judge in the Civil Court only, and had not the slightest connexion with the judicial inquiries and proceedings which terminated in the acts alluded to.[2]

As in this work there are frequent complaints of indentured servants, a few words respecting them may here be called for. The character of this class of persons is about the average of that of persons in similar occupations in England, except so far as it is modified by the new circumstances in which they are placed, of which they very naturally avail themselves. Feeling their own importance to their employer’s comfort and success, and that he cannot easily dispense with them, or in most instances readily supply their places, they are apt to presume on this knowledge, and thus, in some instances, become an occasion of considerable annoyance to their masters. Too much pains cannot be taken to draw them off from the use of spirits, to which they have already become greatly accustomed, from the absence of malt liquors in the colony. As brewing succeeds well, and the hop has begun to be planted, it is hoped that the evil will receive a timely check. The additional duties that have been lately imposed on spirits may also contribute to this desirable result.

In taking a general view of the state of society, it will be requisite to make some further allusion to the natives. The writer, indeed, has a particular inducement to revert to them, having been favoured with a sight of an additional file of the Perth Gazette, which has reached the Colonial Office, since the early sheets of this pamphlet went to press. It has been already noticed as a leading circumstance affecting the state and progress of society in this settlement, that the aborigines are so inconsiderable in point of numbers. This will greatly facilitate the humane and enlightened policy that the Governor is adopting; and which, if successful (and the writer confesses that he is inclined to be sanguine on this head), will not only bring these tribes within the pale of civilization, but speedily render them useful and valuable members of a British community, sheltering them under its protection, and enabling them to participate largely in the general prosperity of the colony. The last arrivals state that the Governor has formed an institution at Mount Eliza, near Perth, for the immediate purpose of civilizing the natives in that district. Mr. Armstrong, a settler who has acquired a considerable knowledge of their language, and has associated much with them in their primitive haunts, has been judiciously selected to act as interpreter and superintendent. A main object proposed is to teach and encourage the natives to acquire the means of regular subsistence, whether by working for individual settlers, or by following up, and improving in, the various arts to which they are already accustomed. In fishing, for instance, a pursuit in which they combine great ignorance with much dexterity, they are to be assisted by boats, nets, &c. To hunting also, and the rest of their useful occupations, they will be stimulated; as it will be a part of the duty of the Superintendent to give them increased facilities for the disposal of any surplus provisions they may he able to obtain. Grounds also are to be set apart for them, to which they are to have free ingress and egress, and no restraint or coercion will be attempted; while additional protection will be secured to them, and medical aid in sickness. They will thus, it is hoped, be gradually trained to make a wise provision for the future. The rules of the Institution, which seem to be admirably adapted to the purpose, will be found detailed in the Appendix.[3]

If this friendly and paternal system should answer the design proposed, it will, no doubt, be followed up by similar institutions throughout the colony, and thus many important undertakings of a public nature may ultimately be achieved with benefit to all parties. The plan, at all events, does great credit to the benevolence and wisdom of the Governor, and well deserves to be crowned with success.

A circumstance is related in one of the numbers of the Perth Gazette just arrived, so highly creditable to two of the Swan River natives, that no apology can be necessary for inserting it in the Appendix.[4] Many extraordinary cases have been related of the successful tracking of footsteps by savages through a wild and uncultivated country; but this recent instance exceeds anything of the kind which the writer remembers to have heard or read of. The Hottentot corps of riflemen, who are often employed at the Cape, in tracking the Caffres that have plundered cattle &c. from the settlers on the frontier, exhibit wonderful sagacity in this way. They will discover the track or spur, as it is called, of a man by marks which would escape the notice of the most observant European. Even the recent turning of a pebble, or the fracture of a spray, affords them a clue for continuing their pursuit. This the writer had the opportunity of knowing, when serving on the Caffrarian frontier. But however surprising it then appeared to be, the present instance seems to evince equal, and indeed superior sagacity, on the part of the Swan River natives, inasmuch as the track of a child must be more difficult to discover, than that of a bullock or a man.

The gentleman whose name is mentioned on that occasion as Superintendent of Police, is the son of General Sir Amos Norcott, and is singularly well suited for his office, which brings him in continual contact with the aborigines. He is possessed of energy and activity, and has acquired a considerable knowledge of their manners, habits, and language. Mr. Norcott has a great turn for imitation, and his popularity with the natives may be in part ascribed to his possession of a talent so conspicuous in themselves, as well as to his uniform kindness. Such is their attachment to him, that they are in the habit of shouting out his name on seeing him at a distance.

The state of society among the agriculturists themselves is, in general, of the most friendly description. A kind and cordial feeling is that which for the most part prevails, and a readiness to do good offices for each other. Much social intercourse is kept up, and the laborious occupations of farming are combined with a refinement of manners and taste, which has surprised and delighted many who have visited the colony. To the hospitality which is so generally practised, the writer has already borne testimony when treating of the Swan River District.

For proof that these statements are not overcharged, the writer may confidently appeal to a pamphlet on the colony, written by Lieut. Col. Hanson, Quarter-master-General of the Madras army, and also to the Journals and Letters of Mr. Moore, to which reference has already been made. At the dinners of the Agricultural Society, which occur four times a year, it is usual for a large party of gentlemen to dine together.

The last occasion is thus described in the Western Australian Journal of November 8, 1834:—

The Quarterly Meeting of the Members of the Agricultural Society took place yesterday at Guildford.

His Excellency Sir James Stirling, accompanied by Captain Blackwood of the Hyacinth, Mr. Taylor of King George’s Sound, and several other gentlemen, after visiting, in the course of the day, the farms in the neighbourhood of Guildford, and inspecting the stock brought to the cattle-show, at 4 o’clock joined the members of the Society, at the Cleikum Inn, where an excellent dinner was provided, and forty-eight persons sat down to partake of it.

To the ladies generally, of the settlement, the meed of praise is due. Some of them are highly educated as well as most amiable women. They have not neglected to cultivate and maintain, as opportunity has occurred, those elegancies and accomplishments in which they have excelled; and music, especially, forms a most pleasing part of the evening recreations of several families. The good sense and intelligence of the sex have been strikingly displayed in the readiness with which they have borne many privations, and encountered the difficulties incident to a new colony. A remarkable example of heroism, for such it really may be called, occurred some time since, in the instance of an estimable old lady, the mother of two gentlemen of the name of Leake, respectable merchants at Fremantle. This lady was induced by her attachment to her sons, already settled there, and to a grand-daughter who was coming out, to buffet the waves at seventy years of age; and is now actively superintending the domestic arrangements of their hospitable dwelling. The above-named merchants, as also the Messrs. Samson (gentlemen highly esteemed), have establishments both there and at Perth.

The town of Perth is particularly favoured in regard to its social circle, and much friendly intercourse is kept up. To Lady Stirling, the very amiable wife of the Governor, the colonists are greatly indebted. The families of the civil officers of government, and those of some other individuals, contribute to make this a very agreeable place of residence. The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, is published here under the auspices of the Government, and is ably edited by Mr. Macfaull, the proprietor. This is a very useful channel of communication, and circulates much valuable information among the settlers. It merits, as well by the style and temper in which it is written, as by the manner in which the mechanical part is conducted, to take a high rank among our colonial journals.

The town of Guildford may also be named as furnishing excellent society. The families of Messrs. Tanner, Whitfield, Walcot, Ridley, Boyd, and Captain Mears (several of them blessed with amiable and accomplished daughters), add greatly to the cheerfulness of this neighbourhood. A musical treat may often be had here, and also at Perth and Fremantle.

At a place called the Peninsula, between Perth and Guildford, there are located the families of the two Messrs. Hardy, Mr. Clarkson, and Mr. Drummond, the eminent botanist. Higher up the Swan River, there are those of Messrs. Brockman, Shaw, and Bull. Besides these, there are several bachelors located here and there, some of whom will probably, when they get thoroughly settled down, be following the excellent example of Mr. Bull, already quoted. Similar notice might be taken of the friendly intercourse, and pleasant society to be met with, at the Canning, York, the Murray, Augusta, and King George’s Sound.

The Colony is highly privileged in its legal institutions, which afford all the advantages of English law, without the heavy expense attending it here at home. The only criminal court in the settlement is the Quarter Sessions, the judges of which are unpaid magistrates, with the exception of their chairman, who also presides over the Civil Court, with the title of Commissioner; and which office, like that of judge in England, is held during good behaviour. In the Criminal Court the trial is always by jury, which is likewise the case in the Civil Court, whenever either of the parties chooses to incur the expense. The pleadings are oral, and all persons are permitted to practise as advocates. The fees are very moderate. The present commissioner is Mr. Mackie, before alluded to, whose first appointment was that of Advocate- General, or Counsel to the Government; which situation he held, together with that of Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, while Mr. Moore presided in the Civil Court; to which, on its formation, he had been nominated by the Local Government. On these appointments, however, being laid before his Majesty’s Government, it was decided that the same functionary should preside in both courts; and Mr. Mackie, as the senior law-officer, was made the sole Colonial Judge; the office of Advocate-General being offered to Mr. Moore, and accepted by that gentleman. The legal knowledge, professional talent, and equable temper, which Mr. Moore evinced during the two years and upwards he presided in the Civil Court, gave the utmost satisfaction to the colonists, as well as to the Governor.[5]

Into these particulars respecting the free institutions of the colony the writer has entered thus somewhat minutely, as they cannot fail to have a material influence upon the state of society, and greatly contribute to permanent prosperity. How these advantages are appreciated in the neighbouring penal settlements, the following extract from a letter in The Tasmanian, a Van Diemen’s Land journal of recent date, demonstrates:—

“The ‘penal settlement’ character of these colonies is a millstone round their necks, which effectually prevents their obtaining their rights of free institutions. Look at Swan River. Depend upon it that, poor as that colony is, her composition being free from penal settlementship, she commands infinitely greater attention in Britain, than does either this, or the great sister colony, with all its wealth. Thus it is that, while we are here subjected to the report of the Crown lawyers, whether we shall possess even the ordinary right of Trial by Jury, the colonists of the Swan River are in full enjoyment of every privilege of Englishmen.”

  1. Extracts of the Letters and Journals of George Fletcher Moore, Esq., &c., &c., edited by Mr. Martin Doyle, Orr and Smith, Amen Corner.
  2. Though not at all of the spirit, yet certainly of the heedlessness, with which Col. Napier has commented upon one especially of these acts, the writer feels he has occasion to complain. The following passage occurs in page 129 of the Colonel’s last work, when alluding to the execution of Midgegoroo. “Now, if this man had committed any crime, which may perhaps have been the case, though it does not so appear by Mr. Moore’s account, &c., &c., &c.” Will the reader believe that the Colonel had himself just recorded, in the next preceding page of his work, the following extract from Mr. Moore?—“May 22nd. Midgegoroo, after having been fully identified as a principal actor in three murders at least, has been shot at the jail door by a party of the military.” Incredible as it may appear, such is actually the inconsistency into which mere heedlessness has betrayed Colonel Napier.
  3. See Appendix, No. 7.
  4. See Appendix, No. 8.
  5. See Appendix, No. 9.