The immigration report [18 September 1847]

[Editor: Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September 1847.]

The immigration report.

This important document, which we yesterday placed before our readers, is inferior to none of its predecessors for the clearness of its views, the perspicuity of its statements, the practical value of its recommendations, or the truthful eloquence of its appeal to the British Government.

The first Immigration Report produced by the present Council was in its maiden session, in the year 1843; the second in the year 1845; each bearing the signature of Dr. Nicholson as Chairman of the Committee. The election of that honorable member to the office of Speaker precluded, of course, the continuance of his services in this important department — services which had entitled him to the lasting gratitude of the colony. Happily, he has been succeeded by one of whom it is no exaggeration to say, that he has proved himself well qualified to grapple with some of the most difficult questions with which the Council has had to deal; and that in conducting the enquiry of which the Report now before us is the fruit, he has exemplified the shrewdness, the energy, and the tact of a thorough man of business.

As it is our intention to analyze, hereafter, the voluminous Minutes of Evidence, we shall on the present occasion content ourselves with a cursory glance at some of the more prominent features of the report.

The Committee acknowledge, at the outset, that “they enter upon the consideration of the subject referred to them, with feelings allied to despair.” These feelings are caused by the recollection of the uselessness, in so far as practical results are concerned, of former Immigration Reports; and especially by the unqualified refusal of Earl Gray to sanction the chief measure proposed in the Report of 1845. In matters of public duty, the word “despair,” and even anything “allied” to it, ought to be avoided. In a just cause, past defeat should but stimulate to redoubled exertions for the future. The failure of our former efforts in the immigration cause was doubtless owing, in a considerable measure, to the changes of Ministries. No sooner was Lord Stanley in a fair way of being made to understand and appreciate the circumstances of the colony, in regard to labour, than he was removed from office. No sooner had Mr. Gladstone, with an intuitive insight into the subject which only true genius could command, signified his willingness to remove every obstacle in the way of Australian colonization, than he too was obliged to lay down the seals. Whether the tenure of Earl Gray’s official existence will prove equally brittle, remains to be seen; but we entertain a sanguine belief, that neither that noble lord nor his successor will long hold out against the reiteration of such appeals as those embodied in the Report before us. At all events, let the colony manfully persevere in the career of duty, disdaining to yield for one moment to “despair,” and daring to hope, even though it be “against hope,” that success will eventually reward their courage.

Referring to the obnoxious schemes for importing barbarian labourers, to which some of our employers have been forced by sheer extremity, and to which there may hereafter be a more systematic recourse should that extremity not be mitigated by British immigration, the report speaks out fearlessly. “However undesirable it may be, even as affecting the colonists themselves, to engraft upon the population of the colony an alien and barbarous race, their exigencies are such that, with ruin on the one hand, from the deficiency of labour, and all the evils arising from the importation of Polynesian barbarism on the other, the latter alternative will be nevertheless partially at least resorted to. The real blame that must arise from such a condition of things as that here adverted to, and the accomplishment of which may be regarded as probably of no very remote occurrence, MUST REST WITH THE HOME GOVERNMENT.” This is strong language — a bold assertion — a serious charge. But is it not true? What with their obstinate predilection in favour of the Wakefield chimera, and their shameful partiality towards colonies having less claims upon the empire by far than New South Wales, Ministers are going the direct way not only to alienate the affections of the colonists from the parent country, but to swamp them with pagans and cannibals. And the Committee have done well to sound a faithful warning to Right Honorable ears.

The subject of the Report is considered under three heads:—

“1st. The capabilities of the colony, and its general fitness as a field for the reception of European emigrants.

“2nd. The immediate demand and means of employment for labour, at remunerating rates of wages.

“3rd. The sources from whence the cost of immigration from Europe to this colony may be defrayed.”

Under the first of these divisions, the capabilities of the colony are described in few but striking terms — the varieties and unequalled salubrity of its climate its affluence in live stock, the number of its sheep being equal to one-fourth, and of its cattle to one-seventh, of the whole number contained in France — the breadth and fertilility of its soil, capable of yielding sustenance to millions of human beings — the superiority of its open and undulating plains, capable of at once receiving the plough, to the dense and impervious forests of Canada and the western settlements of the United States — and, though last not least, its recently discovered treasures of mineral wealth.

Under the second head are grouped some of the principal facts elicited in the evidence, illustrative of the rapid advance of wages, and the alarming consequences already springing up.

Under the third, the Committee point out the disastrous effects of the raising of the minimum price of land to £1 an acre,— first, in deterring the emigration of capitalists, and next in annihilating the land fund; thus cutting off at a stroke both capital and labour.

As to the means of renewing immigration, the Report strongly recommends the debenture expedient, but is not favourable to what it calls “a capitation tax,” or a rate upon the employers of labour. The grounds of objection to this latter project are, that it is unnecessary, that it would be partial and burdensome, and that it would moreover be inadequate. If the assumption may be relied upon, that under the new squatting regulations the land fund will form a sufficient basis for adequate debenture operations, no species of labour tax need of course to be resorted to. Mr. Mort’s plan, however, exactly meets this view, since he proposes that a legislative enactment should authorise such a rate only in the event of the land fund proving insufficient. In what proper sense of the words the rate could be found partial and burdensome, we are at a loss to conceive. It would not be partial, for it would extend alike to all; nor burdensome, for it need not be enforced until the immigrants had arrived, and the ratepayer had thereby, through the fall of wages, been more than supplied with the requisite funds. To the third objection we certainly do attach some weight, but not quite so much as the Committee. The annual amount which they calculate would result from a rate of £1 per head of employers, £30,000, is only about £3,000 below the sum to which our own computation had arrived. But even this would be an effective aid towards paying the interest of the debentures, and providing for their gradual redemption.

Reserving further observations until we come to examine the evidence, we have now only to express our thanks to the honorable member for Cumberland for this able and laborious Report.

The Sydney Morning Herald, (Sydney, NSW), 18 September 1847, p. 2

[Editor: Corrected “existtence” to “existence”; added a full stop after “European emigrants”.]

Speak Your Mind