Petition of the unemployed [18 August 1855]

[Editor: A report on the campaign by unemployed workers for jobs. Published in The Argus, 18 August 1855.]

Petition of the unemployed.

The following is the petition or memorial addressed by the unemployed to the Governor.

To his Excellency Sir Charles Hotham, Captain-General of the colony of Victoria, &c., &c.,

The petition of the unemployed, resident in Melbourne and its suburbs, that are at present in a state of semi-starvation,

Humbly showeth —

That your memorialists, seeing that some urgent measures are necessary to meet the present stagnation in the various occupations of your memorialists, and to prevent the impending distress of hundreds of the human family, — men women, and helpless children,

Most earnestly beseech your Excellency to order immediately such public works, useful and necessary for the welfare of the colony, to be commenced, as may be found necessary to give employment to as many of those men who, with their wives and families, are now in a state of semi-starvation ;— the expense of the said works to be defrayed out of the Emigration Fund, or territorial revenue, or revenues of the colony :

And we consider that the Emigration Fund could not be put to any better purpose than to relieve the present temporary distress.

And your memorialists confidently appeal to your Excellency, as the representative of her Majesty for the colony of Victoria, thus to provide employment for such of its population as may now require it most imperatively.

Your memorialists believing it is the paramount duty of every government of every country, more particularly the Government of Victoria, early and effectively to succor and relieve that section of the people who are in want of work, and are willing to be employed at reasonable rates ; and that your Excellency, as the head of this Government, has power sufficient to call your Executive Council together, and devise some remedy for this crying evil, wherever urgent cases of necessity may arise, or have arisen ; and to order such and so many public works as may be deemed necessary to meet the present distressed state of the well-affected laboring population, and at such a modified rate of wages as will enable the greatest amount of good to be effected, both for the colony at large and the laborers at present out of employ.

It is with feelings of profound respect that your memorialists present this petition, believing that your Excellency has been misled on this subject, and that the true state of the laboring classes of this beautiful and highly productive colony has only to be made known to your Excellency, for you to take such steps as may most immediately and effectually suggest themselves to your Excellency to alleviate the present amount of suffering, and to place your memorialists in such a position as will give them the first and great primary right of all others, — the right to live by their labor, and support their wives and families in moderate comfort and decent respectability.

And your memorialists, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.

The number of signatures appended to the memorial was 1996, being those of 884 single men and of 1112 married men, with 2255 women and children depending on them for support. This gives a total of 4251.

The following was the Governor’s reply :—

14th August, 1855.

Sir, — I am instructed by the Governor to acknowledge a memorial signed by you, as secretary to the committee of the unemployed, and bearing date the 13th instant, and to inform you in reply that a Government committee of which Dr. M’Crea, the Chief Medical Officer, will act as chairman, has been appointed to inquire into the subject at Collingwood.

I am further to request that you will at once put yourself in communication with the committee, who will be prepared to receive and give attention to any suggestion you may offer.

I have, &c.,

J. Moore, A.C.S.

To Mr. James Winter.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday 18 August 1855, page 5

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