The narrative of a voyage to the Swan River/Appendix section III

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Of the unfounded Statements which have been circulated relative to the Colony and its natural Capabilities.

In no part of the globe do we find a country free from natural or artificial inconveniences, so salubrious in its climate as to prevent disease, so immaculate in its Government as to defy complaint. Some foreign countries may be eligible in some respects, either from the low price of provisions and labour, the lightness of taxation, or the facility of acquiring gain. Yet it cannot be denied, that in every one of them there is much to deter the Englishman from abandoning the comforts of his home, for a residence amongst those whose habits are dissimilar to his—whose laws are at variance with the equitable spirit in which those of the United Kingdom are framed— where the climate may be injurious to his health, and the only land he can conveniently obtain, of very moderate fertility, or at an immense distance from a mart for its produce.

The commencement of a residence amongst foreigners is almost always attended with serious inconvenience and mistakes, which commonly arise from the stranger's non-acquaintance with the language and customs of those with whom he sojourns. He is liable to be imposed upon by his not understanding the currency of the country, and by those who will eagerly take advantage of his inexperience in the value of the commodities he wishes to purchase, or the weights, measures, and customary dealing by which they are sold.

His ignorance of the laws of the country may subject him to punishment for unintentional transgressions, and his whole property may be lost by his investing it in the purchase of an estate from one, who could not, or did not legally convey it to him.

And a long time after his arrival he must feel himself alone; every one looking upon him with a jealous or suspicious eye, and he regarding them with the natural apprehensions which all men entertain towards strangers. But in the Colony on the Swan River none of these disadvantages or inconveniences exist. The currency, the administration of justice, the Governor himself, are all British. The Englishman, on landing in the Settlement, finds himself among his own countrymen; in one he sees the native of his own county, in another perhaps a friend. In short, in Perth and Freemantle he may make himself at home.

When this Colony was first established, under the most flattering representations and favourable auspices, we looked forward with sanguine expectation to its ultimate success: we eagerly received the reports which reached us from the newly arrived Settlers, trusting that they contained a confirmation of our hopes, and an assurance of their well doing. But, to our great surprize, the soil, described by Captain Stirling and Mr. Frazer as generally productive, was declared to be a barren sand: the harbour was represented not as a safe anchorage, as we were led to believe, but another Yarmouth Roads or Bristol Channel; and the Settlers, who sailed in the expectation of meeting with abundance, were stated to be perishing from want.

Deeply sympathizing with those who bewailed their miserable disappointment, we were naturally anxious to ascertain how far these statements were correct, and whether they might not have been exaggerated. Inquiries were made in every quarter, from whence information could be obtained, and some fortunate coincidences having occurred by which the accounts from disinterested persons of an opposite nature were corroborated. I have taken no little pains to ascertain the grounds and causes of complaints of disorderly labourers, disappointed Settlers, and real state of the alleged or supposed dangerous harbours.

Although great advantage is expected to result to the Colony from convicts not being sent to it, yet the present high price of labour induces many of the Settlers to wish the restriction removed ; and from the idle, dissolute character of the people taken out as labourers, who for the most part were of a very discontented disposition, and, most probably, no inconsiderable number of them bave saved this country the expence of their transportation. Such being the free labourer, who, from not being bound by indenture, possesses the liberty to work for whom he chooses, or not to work at. all, if he can get a livelihood by any other means, (honest or not) and which, from the abundance of fish, wild fowl, &c., if he has been a poacher in England (a class of persons from which our gaols are abundantly supplied) no work will he do, which renders him an incumbrance rather than a benefit to the community, and makes him a worse member of society than the convict, because he is more useless; the only difference between them is, one has been transported, the other has transported himself—to escape the sentence of a court; and the convict, being compelled to work, gives the balance for utility in his favour. I do not wish it to be supposed that this is the character of all labourers at the Colony, but that it is of many, I think there is little doubt from the accounts of their disorderly conduct, which has obliged the Lieutenant-Governor to appoint magistrates and constables to protect the persons and property of the honest and industrious from the depredations of the other class.

There is another cause which operates very prejudicially to the labourer from this country; if he is a man of industrious habits, a voyage of five months, during which time he has not an opportunity of exercising the vocation to which he has been accustomed, and is placed in a situation so different from what he has hitherto experienced, completely unnerves him, for a time at least, after his arrival; and should the person who takes him out be one of that class, of which I fear there is a majority, who expect to find roast beef and plumb pudding upon trees; fountains of old Port and rivulets of Geneva, running through valleys, producing spontaneously all the luxuries of life to those, who have no trouble but to gather and collect them; but who, on their arrival, have these very pleasing delusions swept away; they will find, in their stead, that they must depend on their own exertions, and the sweat of their brow, for even the common necessaries of life.

This home truth so disgusts them with the Settlement, that instead of making a virtue of necessity, and falling to work with the means they have taken with them, and immediately employing themselves and labourers to produce those necessaries, which they expected to have found ready provided, and by those efforts to shake off the lassitude produced by a long voyage; instead of adopting this most rational mode, they have set themselves down on the sands of Freemantle, and there vented their spleen in magnifying to the utmost every disadvantage under which the Settlers labour, not even allowing a single drop of water to be found in the Colony fit to drink ; they represent the soil to be incapable of producing any thing, the harbour so dangerous as to deter vessels from bringing supplies from other countries to save them from starvation, which they positively assert will be the fate of all who remain. All these dreadful calamities and prognostics, enough to daunt the stoutest emigrant, if true, are only laughed at by men of mere common sense[1], and especially when they ascertain the class of persons from whom these representations proceed. They are of various descriptions; one set are those who, in England, were grocers, drapers, manmilliners, liquor merchants, &c. who have started in trade with a private establishment, equal to what they might reasonably expect to be able to support after twenty or thirty years application to business: these have soon found it necessary to compound with their creditors, or otherwise "have cut and run," as they call it, that is, have collected as much of the effects, justly their creditors, as they could without exciting suspicion, and then eloped to some other country. America has been hitherto the "land of refuge" for this set, but some will find their way to the Swan River, and, most probably, a few have already arrived; but what are they to do there, without a knowledge of how to plant properly even—a potatoe? This they never thought there would be any necessity for their doing, but expected to have again commenced a career of idleness and dissipation, depending on their labourers to cultivate their land, and the labourers themselves picked up from the loose and disaffected of some manufacturing town; whilst the master was to amuse himself in shooting the numerous varieties of water and other fowl —catching fish, of which there is such abundance, of excellent quality—or hunting kangaroos. And his wife (should he have one) was to enjoy herself in visiting, card parties, assemblies, &c. These are the persons whose cry is the loudest against the Colony.

Military and naval officers, retired from the service or on half pay, who have seldom much practical knowledge of reclaiming land from a wild state, Attorneys, Doctors, and Music Masters, form another class, who must not be surprised at finding their expectations of the place not fully realized. A third class of persons, and who have a facility of spreading any report they may wish to propagate to a greater extent than almost any other, is composed of merchants, traders, and speculators, who have imported various goods, under the impression of "making a good hand of them" with the colonists; but, from having made a wrong selection, have not been able to dispose of them, and therefore lose money, instead of making the great gain they had anticipated. One person speculated in blacking and olive oil! as though men employed in felling trees, digging the ground, and other laborious occupations, would consider it necessary to see their faces reflected from their shoes by Hunt or Warren's "Real Jet Blacking;" or that their stomachs were so fastidious that they could not eat their fish or salads, without oil to give them a relish.

This "venture" not succeeding, the agent employed to sell, wrote to his employer a most deplorable account of the situation of the settlers at the Swan River, and assured him that "the soil was of so unproductive a nature that nothing would grow on it; the water so bad as to produce disease among the cattle, and, consequently, pernicious to man." And all this he positively asserted without seeing more of the country than the mouth of the River, where all the idle and disappointed were remaining, instead of going farther up the country in quest of better land; and he furthermore desires his employer "by all means to dissuade all persons from going to the Swan River Settlement, but, if they are determined to emigrate, to do so to Hobart Town;" and why? because the aforesaid person has a large stock of goods there, which he finds almost as much difficulty in disposing of as he did at Freemantle.

Having paid a good deal of attention to the intelligence from the Swan River, communicated through the newspapers and other periodicals, and having seen some private letters also, I find that the chief part of the discouraging accounts reach this country from Sydney and Hobart Town. A gentleman at the latter place, in a letter to a friend in England (received a short time ago), gives a most flattering description of the Hobart Town Colony, and says, "the land is of the richest quality, producing every thing in profusion, and that they have every facility for conveying produce, goods, &c. both by water and land; that they have all the comforts and luxuries of life in abundance, and that any person going with capital, sufficient to take with him some good mechanics and labourers (of which they are much in want) would be secure of making an ample fortune in a very short time, for raw materials they have in abundance, and at very low prices, but when manufactured excessively dear." After very fully enumerating all the advantages an emigrant would derive from settling at Hobart Town, he just as it were recollects, that intelligence had lately been received from the Swan River of the most disastrous nature, and from a person who had been there on a trading voyage: then follows the old story of the barrenness of the soil, badness of the water, dissatisfaction of the people at Free>mantle, whose report is taken as that of the whole Colony.

The same intention to disparage the Swan River Settlement may be discovered in almost every communication that has been received either from Sydney or Hobart Town, from whence the greater portion of intelligence has been received; but surprise will not be excited when the situation of the three Colonies is taken into consideration.

In the first place the Swan is situated 2,000 miles nearer to England, I may say to the greater portion of the commercial world, than Hobart Town and 3,000 miles nearer than Sydney. Should the new Colony succeed, the good folks of Eastern Australia and Van Dieman's Land, are well aware that the balance of the trade now carried on with those places, will be in favour of the Swan River Settlement. Another good and sufficient reason for the jealousy of these people is, that the same things that are most essentially necessary at this time at the Swan, viz. capital, and good mechanics and labourers of every description, are also considered the sole requisites to raise Van Dieman's Land to the summit of prosperity; and most probably would not be rejected in Eastern Australia.

There is still another cause operating sorely on some adventurers at Sydney and Hobart Town. Soon after Captain Stirling's arrival at the Swan, a swarm of them appeared there, with the intention to secure the first choice of allotments, and to select the best and most advantageously situated, under the impression of being allowed to become land-jobbers and retailers at an enormous profit to those who might afterwards arrive from this country. This speculation was defeated by the regulations Captain Stirling took out with him, and his determination that nothing but fair play should be allowed; and sent away the speculators in high dudgeon, but not until his Excellency had been severely reprehended by them, for .not having had the whole of the intended Settlement very correctly surveyed, planned off, and submitted to their inspection. These persons, in consequence of the disappointment of their expectations at the Swan River, have not been sparing of bad reports, which have seemingly dropt into the mouths of all the idle and knavish at the Colony, and who are principally stationed on the coast; where, like sharks, they watch the arrival of new emigrants, of whose inexperience they will take advantage by every artifice in their power. How strange it is, that from all those who have arrived at the Colony, as men ought to do; that is, after making every inquiry at home of the probable nature of the soil, climate, and production of the country, and rather under than over rating their good qualities—having property, and knowledge of the cultivation of the soil—resolution and industry to bring both into operation, no complaint has been received. These persons, although their expectations of the Settlement were somewhat disappointed, have, almost to a man, in their communications to their friends, expressed a conviction of succeeding, in spite of the malevolent reports of those who, from not having the necessary resources in themselves, are so woefully disappointed, and who so bitterly express it.

"Tis strange, passing strange!" that the accounts we hear for the most part of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land should be, that the soil is so productive, the water good, the climate beautiful, and every thing else so very favourable, save the convicts and natives being now and then a little troublesome; and yet, on the other side of the island, almost in the same latitude, and where the natural productions are the same, the soil is represented as merely a barren sand, the water deleterious, and the place itself wholly incapable of supporting other than human nature in its wild state. Prejudice, envy, and selfishness must be deeply concerned in this. There may be, and is, considerable difference in temperature under the same latitude; for instance, Newfoundland, almost the whole of which is situated nearer the Equator than the most Southern part of England, is yet in a colder climate than England; but this is very satisfactorily accounted for by naturalists, who give as one reason for the greater degree of cold at Newfoundland, the immense tract of country to the W. and N. W. of the former island being covered with woods, through which the rays of the sun rarely reach the earth, and from this obstruction, the atmosphere not being warmed by their reflection, and the winds for the most part coming through these woods, produces the intense cold experienced in Newfoundland; but no such difference from situation exists in Australia; in fact, it may be presumed that no more difference exists there than between the Eastern and Western parts of England, between Lincolnshire and Cheshire; nor can it yet be said whether the Eastern or Western parts of Australia most abound with those natural qualities, from which are derived the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of life. This has to be proved, and when it is considered that there are at this time more settlers and more stock and goods at the Swan River than there were at Sydney four years after its settlement, no doubt can be entertained, but a short time will determine, whether there are the necessary capabilities at the Swan River, or not.

A most desirable piece of information, to those who feel any interest in the well doing of the emigrants at the Swan River, would be, the number of really competent persons, out of from 1400 to 1800, now at the Settlement. The persons most competent to benefit the Colony must be those possessed of the information of most vital importance, i.e. a knowledge of the capabilities of land, and how to bring them into action ; next to these are the constructors of these implements requisite to effect this purpose, and some few conversant with trade; but a very few of this class will for some time be necessary, for it will be impossible that the man, whose whole capital and time must be occupied in raising the absolute necessaries of life, can be a customer to the silversmith or the watchmaker. The watch he has taken with him from England, though ever so plain, will be sufficient for his purpose, whose occupation will require his rising with the sun, and whose labour will cease with its setting. Neither will the dealer in superfine broad-cloths, kid gloves, silk stockings, china or cut-glass, or any other than the seller of the most plain and serviceable articles be any other than a logger to the infant Colony. But I fear the odds are enormous on the useless to the useful, and have good reason to believe that on board vessels sailing from this country to the Swan River with 300 or 400 passengers, out of that number not more than ten or a dozen have known much about the cultivation of land. I of course do not allude to the vessels that conveyed Mr. T. Peel or Col. Latour's settlers; but I fear many of the others would be found as I have stated.

The information received from those who have gone out as cultivators of the soil, and have taken up their grants, is, that although the capabilities of the country have been overrated, yet they have no doubt of there being, for those properly qualified, and who have nerve and industry enough to meet those difficulties which must always be expected in an undertaking like the one they are embarked in, a good prospect of success. It is not from this most useful class that the murmurs of discontent reach us; and as they are possessed undoubtedly of the most accurate information of the interior of the Colony, so far as it is at present known, the reports of those who have only "touched" at the mouth of the River on a speculation, and have received accounts from those, of whom there are considerable numbers, who have likewise been disappointed in their chimerical expectations, and who have not been more than a very short distance from thence; the reports of these people are not, and cannot be, entitled to credit.

If credit may be given to the captain of a vessel who returned to this country a short time since, from taking emigrant passengers to the Swan River, and who has no interest in the Colony whatever, and may therefore be supposed to speak of the place as he found it, we may infer that there is not the disparity in the soil at the Swan River and Sydney, as the interested have represented. In a trip up the Swan River to Perth, he saw some land superior in quality to any he saw in passing eighteen miles up the river at Sydney, and the water which is represented to be so bad, is obtained by merely digging a hole in the sand, a very short distance from the banks of the river, out of which they lade it with a bowl. Water in the vicinity of the Swan River, or any other river as far as affected by the tide and obtained in this manner, if it were good, would certainly excite very great surprise ; and as much surprise might reasonably be expected, if wells were sunk at a distance from the river so as to avoid the possibility of any communication of its water with them,—it would be very singular indeed if water should not be found fit to drink, at all events it is so found at Sydney, where every unfavourable appearance now seen at the Swan River, met the view of the first settlers at Port Jackson. In short his description of the appearances of the country at the Swan River, corresponds so closely with what the appearances at Sydney were to the first settlers there, that no doubt can remain on the mind of a dispassionate reasoner, that the settlers at Western Australia will, by a proper application of capital and industry, soon be in a situation to vie with their neighbours on the other side the island in producing and enjoying all the necessaries, comforts, and some of the luxuries of life.

The cultivation of hemp (and flax) might probably be introduced into the Colony to the greatest advantage, as the duty of 4l. 15s. per cwt. upon dressed hemp brought into England, would of course not be laid upon any imported from Western Australia, as the hemp grown in New South Wales is admitted duty free.

The farming settler ought to turn his attention particularly to the cultivation of those crops which are most suitable both to the soil and climate, and it is very likely that one reason why those who are gone to the Swan River were disappointed at the non-success of their labours in the first instance, was because they adopted the English mode of husbandry, and were more anxious to raise European than Australian crops: because they expected that land which had been in an uncultivated state from the creation of the world, would from one digging, be made fit for the reception of grain, which in their own country is sown as much as possible in a pulverized soil, free from sticks, roots, and masses of coarse grass. When they found that the first crop did not come to maturity, they abandoned the ground where it was planted in despair: but experience, it is to be hoped, in time will teach them better, and urge them to patience and renewed culture of that ground which can scarcely be expected to be rendered productive at once. Much of the most useful land in England was once a barren sand or burning gravel. Yet patience and industry have produced fertility and added to its value ten fold.

When the Colony increases in capital and labouring hands, may we not believe that the land between Preemantle and Perth, now described as a barren sand, will be enriched by manure, and improved by cultivation? The sand which is so much complained of, is probably the accumulation of ages from the strong coast winds, and underneath it may be found a soil which will correct its sterility. With the sea on its edge, and the Swan running through it, with lime rocks in the vicinity, above all with the animal and vegetable matter which the sea and its beach affords, this plain, once the source of disappointment, will doubtless be made to repay the labours of the spirited farmer, and, from its situation, become more valuable than some of the land now so greatly prized.

There is a general report that the harbours both of Gage's Road and Cockburn Sound are particularly unsafe, but they are so only during five months of the year, at other times vessels may ride in them with perfect safety. Cockburn Sound is stated to be a better harbour than Gage's Roads, and Government have done much to lessen the dangers of navigation upon a coast as yet imperfectly known, by placing buoys and beacons where necessary.

Port Leschenault is said to be superior to Cockburn Sound for anchorage and safety, and that even in the Winter months there would be much less danger, but experience must prove this.

Persons who are unacquainted with navigation and commerce, know very little of the comparative safety and excellence of the harbours, even of their own country, and some of my readers may be surprized to learn that many of the harbours of England are unsafe even now, notwithstanding the immense sums which have from time to time been expended upon their improvement. The entrance to the port of London is so much obstructed by shoals, that it is necessary to have a pilot to conduct every vessel through them—nay a ship does not pass through the Straits of Dover without a pilot.

It has been repeatedly stated in the public prints, that the harbours in Western Australia are obstructed by bars, and of such shallow anchorage, as to be almost useless for the purposes of navigation. Admitting that these statements are not exaggerated, do they think that "bar harbours, with only a few feet of water at low tide, are unimportant: but if their attention were drawn to the numerous towns on our own and the French coast, to the miserable streams upon which Calais, Boulogne, Dieppe, Rye, Dover, New Haven, Shoreham, Chichester, Little Hampton, &c. are built, they would feel their conclusions were erroneous, from the sensible importance of such trivial inland communications. Let them, however, go a little wider in their range of enquiry, and ask what is the formation of the rivers of the Baltic, upon which the great trading towns of Stettin, Rostock, Wiemer, Dantzic, Elving, Konigsburgh, Liebau, Der Windaw, Stockholm, &c. &c. are situated? These are all bar-harbours, with shoal-water entrances from seven to fourteen feet, having, however, generally tolerably safe roadsteads: their convenience for traffic need not be noticed—the wealth and population of these parts speak sufficiently clear."

  1. In a short letter from our adventurer, written six months after his arrival in the Colony, in which he still expresses his Sanguine expectations of success, he says, "A great many of the emigrants, after settling here, have reshipped in disgust of the place (Freemantle) for Sydney, Hobart Town, and the Cape of Good Hope. No doubt their reports will be very unfavourable, and before this reaches you I am afraid you will be grieved by them. I will soon send you fuller particulars respectirig the state of the Colony. I am confident we that stay shall have some 'roughing' yet, but of that we care not a groat, as I fully anticipate those that persevere in support of the Colony, will find it to answer their purpose in a few years. Stock is very numerous of all kinds already, and good bargains may be made from those who are leaving the settlement. If Government will step forward, and assist us in some shape or other, as they have done to other Colonies, I do not hesitate in saying that in a very short time those that have left will be induced to return, and likewise many will emigrate from England."