The State and Position of Western Australia/Chapter 8

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Colonization—Colonel Napier and the “Self-supporting Principle”—Mistaken Policy pointed out—Article on Colonization in Archbishop Whately’s Work.

Having now completed the view the writer had designed to take of the “State and Position of Western Australia,” and brought down the information respecting it to the period of the latest arrivals, there remain a few points closely connected with the general principles of Colonial Legislation and Government, which he is desirous very briefly to notice. And first, though he has felt it incumbent upon him to notice certain errors into which Colonel Napier has inadvertently fallen respecting Western Australia, still he feels called upon to do justice to the validity of the reasons on which that officer has declined “the government of the South Australian colony, without troops, and the power to draw upon the British Government for money, in case of need.”

“My demand,” says the Colonel, “for soldiers and money is not at variance with the ‘self-supporting principle of the new colony:’ the expression ‘ self-supporting principle’ is as pretty a little philosophical expression as may be; but reflection will show the commissioners that it is not strictly applicable in the present case; for that the very existence of the colony, as we see by the Act of Parliament, depends upon a loan of 200,000 l. from the good folks in England; that is to say, upon extraneous support: what then becomes of the ‘self-supporting principle?’ The Commissioners must mean ‘loan-supporting principle,’ and the word ‘self’ was an accidental slip of the pen? And how is my demand at variance with this loan-supporting system? In case the loan of 200,000 l. should not prove sufficient to establish the colony, to pay its own interest, and to defray the cost of Government, till the state of the colony produces a revenue equal to all this expense, I demanded to have a pledge from the British Government, that it would supply the deficiency, and enable me to protect the colony, which might otherwise be destroyed by the miscalculation of people in London, on whose correctness alone I do not think it safe to hang the destinies of some thousands of people: therefore, my demand was that, in case of need, the British Government should advance the loan, instead of private people. How, in the name of common sense, this is at variance with the ‘loan-supporting principle’ I cannot imagine, and must leave the Commissioners to explain.

“As to the troops, I recommend sending out 200 British soldiers, because they would be by far the cheapest force that can be employed. Some force must be employed, and, besides being the most effectual force, English soldiers would save expense, both to the mother-country, and the colony. If the Commissioners abandon the really ‘self-supporting’ system of economy, they will soon see the result.”

The writer trusts that the remarks into which he may be drawn by having had his attention turned to the work just quoted for the purpose of correcting the errors lately adverted to, will be taken in good part. Attached, as he is ready to acknowledge himself, to the colony of Western Australia, he is conscious of no feelings of hostility to the sister settlement, which it is indeed his cordial wish to serve, rather than to injure, by warning its Directors of those rocks and quicksands upon which he fears they may be running their vessel.—If they persist in their endeavour to found and establish their intended settlement without the aid of a military force, not only to protect the settlers from the aborigines, but to assist in keeping order among the colonists themselves, and to ensure obedience to the laws, they will, he feels assured, be only eventually serving the settlement of Western Australia. His experience and observation of what settlers ordinarily can accomplish in an infant colony, and his conviction that few in any hundred of them possess all the requisites necessary for very speedily mastering the difficulties they have to encounter, induce him to caution the projectors against the line of policy which they propose to adopt, in attempting to dispense with public money, and especially with troops.

As to any jealousy of the sister colony influencing the mind of the writer, he utterly disclaims it. It may be as well, in confirmation of this, to state, that in his opinion, the situation, the geographical position alone, of Western Australia, gives it a great and permanent advantage. That in addition to this, it is no trifling point in favour of the latter, that it has the start of the new settlement, and that many who leave Great Britain to go to South Australia, impatient of the total absence of the comforts they leave behind them, will be likely to transfer themselves and their capital to the colony which has passed through the initiatory stage. These reasons alone are sufficient in the writer’s opinion to prove that the capital, and the energies which the friends of the South Australian project may be able to call forth, will, under any circumstances, benefit the settlement of Western Australia. But, if to these causes, which nothing can keep from operating in a greater or less degree in the direction described, a third be superadded—if the ordinary precautions for the security of the settlers are to be dispensed with, and they are to be constantly liable to be called off from their proper pursuits, to defend themselves and the infant settlement—it requires no gift of prophecy to predict, that the result will be, a rapid and general migration, as opportunity and means may offer, to other colonies; and that as Western Australia is near at hand, and in the full enjoyment of free institutions, it cannot but largely participate in the benefits that must result from the failure of so improvident an attempt as that in which Colonel Napier has declined risking his reputation.

The daily employment of settlers in a new colony demands and engrosses their attention to a degree that people at home, who have always been used to a long-established and completely organized state of society, are but little prepared to conceive. The occupations of such persons being pastoral as well as agricultural, lead to their distribution over a considerable extent of country. A colony also like the one proposed, though happily not intended as a penal settlement, will have its ports open to all who have the means and inclination to find their way thither; and granting that it could commence with a greater proportion of settlers of character and intelligence than ever yet found their way to the shores of a colony—still the stream of emigration will bear along with it many who have not the qualities that render them desirable to a new settlement, and who soon evince they need the restraint of a strong and efficient executive.

Again, many who are good and well-conducted members of an old community in which they have been brought up, are greatly indebted, for the character they possess, to those restraints which it has wisely, and from long experience, provided. The entire change of habits, and the wider range which a new settlement involves, not to mention the contact and neighbourhood of tribes in the lowest state of barbarism, have more or less a relaxing tendency as regards the moral texture of such minds; and, if the laws of the colony into which they are transplanted are not strictly maintained, but, on the contrary, impose little or no restraint, society must of course deteriorate, and the entire community ultimately suffer. It is indeed a truism, but one involving grave considerations, that it is much easier to prevent the disorganization of a community, than to reunite and restore it when once it has been suffered to lapse into disorder and demoralization.

It is also of the utmost importance to bear in mind, that a colonial Government that cannot secure, in ordinary cases, protection to the settlers and their property, must operate most injuriously and cruelly upon the aborigines themselves. These encompass them on every side—they cannot help doing so. Each tribe has its recognised boundaries and landmarks. If but one is disturbed, it experiences a difficulty in falling back, and retiring upon the tribes in its rear, who are similarly situated in their turn. They continue, therefore, to hover about their ancient grounds, and depend for their subsistence upon them. The more incompetent the colonial establishments to keep order in the colony and prevent depredation, the more liable will be the dispersed settlers to take the law into their own hands; or rather, to make law for themselves, and unreservedly to execute such law as they think fit, or as passion or caprice may dictate, in every case in which the natives may be involved. The mere feeling of insecurity has this tendency; and the result of such a state of things would be the gradual extermination of the natives, while the sanguinary and lawless spirit engendered and encouraged, would re-act, and be productive of frightful consequences to the settlers themselves, continuing to pervade the community long after the aborigines had ceased to be objects of terror.

The writer has ventured thus freely, and at greater length than he had intended, to express his opinion, from the deep conviction he entertains that a serious error in colonial policy is about to be committed, which may still be corrected before any mischievous consecpiences ensue.[1] In the mean time he congratulates the colonists of Western Australia, that no such visionary experiment is operating there.

Whenever that colony shall have arrived at the point at which it can be fairly considered capable of providing for its own establishments, no principle can be more equitable than that it should be called upon to do so; but, till then, if the colony is to be suitably maintained as a part of the British dominions, it is essential that the mother country continue to extend her aid.

But hastening from these questions, the writer cannot let this opportunity pass without expressing the gratification he has experienced while considering the grand and statesman-like principles propounded in an article which forms No. III. of the Appendix to Archbishop Whately’s “Thoughts on Secondary Punishments,” and which consists of “Suggestions for the Improvement of our System of Colonization,” written by a friend of that Prelate. After noticing the instruction to be derived from the ancients, with respect to the settlement and growth of colonies, and contrasting their success with that of modern European States, the writer thus continues:—

“The main cause of this difference may be stated in a few words. We send out colonies of the limbs, without the belly and head;—of needy persons, many of them mere paupers, or even criminals; colonies made up of a single class of persons in the community, and that the most helpless, and the most unfit to perpetuate our national character, and to become the fathers of a race whose habits of thinking and feeling shall correspond to those which, in the mean time, we are cherishing at home. The ancients, on the contrary, sent out a representation of the parent state—colonists from all ranks. We stock the farm with creeping and climbing plants, without any trees of firmer growth for them to entwine round. A hop-ground left without poles, the plants matted confusedly together, and scrambling on the ground in tangled heaps, with here and there some clinging to rank thistles and hemlocks, would be an apt emblem of a modern colony. They began by nominating to the honourable office of captain or leader of the colony one of the chief men, if not the chief man of the state,—like the queen bee leading the workers. Monarchies provided a prince of the blood royal; an aristocracy its choicest nobleman; a democracy its most influential citizen. These naturally carried along with them some of their own station in life—their companions and friends; some of their immediate dependants also—of those between themselves and the lowest class; and were encouraged in various ways to do so. The lowest class again followed with alacrity, because they found themselves moving with, and not away from, the state of society in which they had been living. It was the same social and political union under which they had been born and bred; and to prevent any contrary impression being made, the utmost solemnity was observed in transferring the rites of Pagan superstition. They carried with them their gods—their festivals—their games; all, in short, that held together, and kept entire the fabric of society as it existed in the parent state. Nothing was left behind that could be moved,—of all that the heart or eye of an exile misses. The new colony was made to appear as if time or chance had reduced the whole community to smaller dimensions, leaving it still essentially the same home and country to its surviving members. It consisted of a general contribution of members from all classes, and so became, on its first settlement, a mature state, with all the component parts of that which sent it forth. It was a transfer of population, therefore, which gave rise to no sense of degradation, as if the colonist were thrust out from a higher to a lower description of community.”—pp. 190–2.

The foregoing writer not only contrasts this with all that happens in a modern colony, but particularly traces its results in the United States of America, where, he says, whatever admixture they had of the higher ranks of the British community, “the advantage, such as it was, was accidental,” and formed “no part of the legislative project.” He adds,—“our later colonists have not had even this security and ill-administered aid;” and, after remarking that “honour, rank, and power, are less ruinous bribes than money, and yet more to the purpose, inasmuch as they influence more generous minds,” he maintains that if some half dozen gentlemen of influence and competent fortune were thus tempted out, their united influence would draw after them numbers of respectable emigrants, including many a clergyman,” whose acquirements would give him weight with the better sort, and whose character and talents would, at the same time, answer for the particular situation in which he would be placed.” “Such a colony,” says he, “will be united to us by ties to which one of a different constitution must be a stranger. It will have received from us, and will always trace to us, all its social ingredients. Its highest class will be ours—its gentry ours—its clergy ours—its lower and its lowest ranks all ours; all corresponding and congenial to our manners, institutions, and even our prejudices. Instead of grudgingly casting our morsels to a miserable dependant, we shall have sent forth a child worthy of its parent, and capable of maintaining itself.”—p. 199.

An apology is due to the writer of the splendid article from which the above extracts are taken, for the very imperfect attempt at analysis which has been made. The whole paper is well worthy the consideration of the public and the legislature; and it is to be hoped that the “detailed scheme,” to which that article is announced as only prefatory, will be speedily forthcoming.

  1. The following is an extract from Colonel Napier’s review of the letter he received in reply to his demand for money and troops, from the South Australian Commissioners, and which letter bears date May 22, 1835:—

    Paragraph 4. “‘The most flourishing British colonies in North America were founded without pecuniary aid from the mother-country, and without the aid of military force, though planted in the immediate neighbourhood of warlike Indian nations.’”—See the Commissioners’ Letter.

    On this sentence the Colonel makes the following “Observation:”—“I have only to refer to any history of the British colonies in North America, to contradict the assertion contained in this paragraph. By such reference the Commissioners will see that, for many years, these infant colonies struggled with the greatest hardships, and that some were entirely destroyed! When Pennsylvania, which suffered the least, was granted to Penn in 1682, the country had been previously occupied for above fifty years: it had numerous settlers, and was not a desert. Besides, he went with Quakers. If all the colonists going to Australia were Quakers, and that I was William Penn, neither would I ask for troops! But what was the consequence of the peaceful government established by that great man? It was this, that in 1764 a body of Presbyterians chose, in their zeal against ‘the heathen,’ to massacre a whole tribe of harmless Indians; and ‘the weakness of the Government,’ says Robert Proud, the historian, of Pennsylvania, ‘was not able to punish these murderers, nor to chastise the insurgents.’ For my own part, I have no ambition to be at the head of such a milk-and-water colonial government, and, while fancying myself a governor, discover that I was only a football! But we find the great Penn himself complaining that it was ‘controversy, not government,’ in Pennsylvania. Let us then put Penn and his Quakers out of our heads.

    “All other settlements were retarded in their progress by wars. The want of regular soldiers obliged the settlers to arm, instead of attending to their peaceful avocations. Dr. Trumbull, in his History of Connecticut, says, ‘These infant settlements were surrounded by savages.’ (So the Australian colony will be.) ‘They conceived themselves in danger when they went out and when they came in; every man was a soldier, which produced war, and of course injury to the colonies.’ Thus it appears that, contrary to the assertion in the Commissioners’ letter, there was ‘a military force;’ and, had it been of a proper description, the colonies would not have suffered injury.

    “In 1606 King James formed a colony in America, ‘under the superintendence of a council in England, composed of a few persons of consideration and talents.’ King James made many blunders during his reign, and this seems to have been one of them! These Councillors directed the colony in Virginia. For near twenty years, under their superintendence, the colony suffered all kinds of misery, and was ‘a prey to folly, crime, riot, and insubordination.’ During that time ‘one hundred and fifty thousand pounds and nine thousand people had been sent from England;’ and when these Commissioners (whose power it was at last deemed necessary to abolish, and who thought they could govern across the Atlantic) were upset, there remained but eighteen hundred miserable colonists in Virginia! And moreover, the famous Captain Smith, a man of extraordinary courage and talents, governed this colony for a time, and by his great abilities prevented its total ruin. Once these wild colonists expelled him, and afterwards, when danger pressed, elected him President! Another colony, planted near Cape Hatteras, disappeared altogether, and was never heard of more! Twenty-one years are now past since I landed, at the head of 900 British troops, on this very spot, near Cape Hatteras; and, from the nature of that coast, I can easily imagine that a colony might be there surprised and totally destroyed, either by enemies or sickness. Some of the Australian Commissioners were, probably, then at school, so I may take the liberty, appertaining to grey hairs, and tell them that colonies, like camps, are exposed to many dangers, and, among others, those of site, which gentlemen, living always in London, are not exactly the people most fitted either to estimate or provide against.”—pp. xx–xxiii.