New South Wales 1808-1837

Governor Macquarie. In 1808 the English Government held an inquiry

as to the circumstances which had caused the expulsion of Governor

Bligh; and though they cashiered Major Johnstone, and indeed ordered the

whole of the New South Wales Corps to be disbanded, yet, as it was clear

that Bligh had been himself very much to blame, they yielded to the

wishes of the settlers in so far as to appoint a new Governor in his

, and therefore despatched Major-General Macquarie to take the

position. He was directed to reinstate Bligh for a period of twenty-four

hours, in order to indicate that the authorities in England would not

suffer the colonists to dictate to them in these matters; but that they

reserved completely to themselves the right to appoint and dismiss the

Governors. However, as Bligh had by this time gone to Tasmania,

Macquarie was forced to content himself, on his arrival, with merely

proclaiming what had been his instructions.

In the early days of the colonies their destinies were, to a great

extent, moulded by the Governors who had charge of them. Whether for

good or for evil, the influence of the Governor was decisive; and it

was, therefore, a matter of great good fortune to Sydney that, during

the long administration of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, this influence

was almost wholly on the side of good. Not that Macquarie had no faults.

He was a man full of vanity and self-conceit; a man who, instead of

sober despatches to his superiors in England, wrote flowery accounts of

himself and his wonderful doings; a man who, in his egoism, affixed the

names of himself and of his family to nearly every place discovered in

the colony during his term of office. Yet, apart from this weakness,

Macquarie may be characterised as an exemplary man and an admirable

Governor. He devoted himself heartily to his work; his chief thought for

twelve years was how to improve the state of the little colony, and how

to raise the degraded men who had been sent thither. An ardent feeling

of philanthropy gave a kindly tone to his restless activity. Once every

year he made a complete tour of the settled portions of the colony, to

observe their condition and discover what improvements were needed. He

taught the farmers to build for themselves neat houses, in place of the

rude huts they had previously been content with; he encouraged them to

improve their system of farming, sometimes with advice, sometimes with

money, but more often with loans from the Government stores. He built

churches and schools; he took the warmest interest in the progress of

religion and of education; and neglected nothing that could serve to

elevate the moral tone of the little community. Certainly, no community

has ever been in greater need of elevation. The fact that the British

Government thought it necessary to send out 1,100 soldiers to keep order

among a population of only 10,000 indicates very plainly what was the

character of these people, and almost justifies the sweeping assertion

of Macquarie, that the colony consisted of those "who had been

transported, and those who ought to have been". Yet Macquarie uniformly

showed a kindly disposition towards the convicts; he settled great

numbers of them as free men on little farms of their own; and if they

did not succeed as well as they might have done, it was not for want of

advice and assistance from the Governor.

Road over the Blue Mountains.# The most important result of

Macquarie's activity was the opening up of new country. He had quite a

passion for road-making; and though, on his arrival in the colony, he

found only forty-five miles of what were little better than bush tracks,

yet, when he left, there were over three hundred miles of excellent and

substantial roads spreading in all directions from Sydney. He marked out

towns--such as Windsor, Richmond, and Castlereagh--in suitable places;

then, by making roads to them, he encouraged the freed convicts to leave

Sydney and form little communities inland. But his greatest achievement

in the way of road-making was the highway across the Blue Mountains.

This range had for years presented an insurmountable barrier. Many

persons--including the intrepid Bass--had attempted to cross it, but in

vain; the only one who succeeded even in penetrating far into that wild

and rugged country was a gentleman called Caley, who stopped at the

edge of an enormous precipice, where he could see no way of descending.

But in 1813 three gentlemen--named Wentworth, Lawson, and

Blaxland--succeeded in crossing. After laboriously piercing through the

dense timber which covers some of the ranges, they traversed a wild and

desolate country, sometimes crawling along naked precipices, sometimes

fighting their way through wild ravines, but at length emerging on the

beautiful plains to the west. On their return they found that by keeping

constantly on the crest of a long spur, the road could be made much

easier, and Governor Macquarie, stimulated by their report, sent

Surveyor Evans to examine the pass. His opinion was favourable, and

Macquarie lost no time in commencing to construct a road over the

mountains. The difficulties in his way were immense; for fifty miles the

course lay through the most rugged country, where yawning chasms had to

be bridged, and oftentimes the solid rock had to be cut away. Yet, in

less than fifteen months, a good carriage highway stretched from Sydney

across the mountains; and the Governor was able to take Mrs. Macquarie

on a trip to the fine pasture lands beyond, where he founded a town and

named it Bathurst, after Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State. This was

a measure of great importance to the colony, for the country between the

mountains and the sea was too limited and too much subject to droughts

to maintain the two hundred and fifty thousand sheep which the

prosperous colony now possessed. Many squatters took their flocks along

the road to Bathurst, and settled down in the spacious pasture lands of

the Macquarie and Lachlan Rivers.

Governor Brisbane. In 1821 Governor Macquarie left for England, much

regretted by the colonists. The only serious mistake of his policy had

been that he had quietly discouraged the introduction of free settlers,

"because," as he said, "the colony is intended for convicts, and

free settlers have no business here". His successor--Sir Thomas

Brisbane--and, afterwards, Sir Ralph Darling--adopted a more liberal

policy, and offered every inducement to free immigrants to make their

homes in the colony. It was never found possible, however, to obtain

many of that class which has been so successful in America, consisting

of men who, having with difficulty gathered sufficient money for their

passages, landed in their adopted country without means and with no

resources beyond the cheerful labour of themselves and of their

families, yet settled down in the deep, untrodden forests, and there

made for themselves happy and prosperous homes. This was not the class

of immigrants who arrived in New South Wales during the times of

Brisbane and Darling. For in 1818 free passages to Australia had been

abolished, and the voyage was so long and so expensive that a poor man

could scarcely hope to accomplish it. Hence, those who arrived in

Sydney were generally young men of good education, who brought with them

a few hundred pounds, and not only were willing to labour themselves,

but were able to employ the labour of others. In America, the "squatter"

was a man who farmed a small piece of land. In Australia, he was one who

bought a flock of sheep and carried them out to the pasture lands,

where, as they increased from year to year, he grew rich with the annual

produce of their wool. Sir Thomas Brisbane was pleased with the advent

of men of this class: he gave them grants of land and assigned to them

as many convicts as they were able to employ. Very speedily the fine

lands of the colony were covered with flocks and herds; and the

applications for convicts became so numerous that, at one time, two

thousand more were demanded than could be supplied. Hence began an

important change in the colony. The costly Government farms were, one

after another, broken up, and the convicts assigned to the squatters.

Then the unremunerative public works were abandoned; for many of these

had been begun only for the purpose of occupying the prisoners. All this

tended for good; as the convicts, when thus scattered, were much more

manageable, and much more likely to reform, than when gathered in large

and corrupting crowds. In Macquarie's time, not one convict in ten could

be usefully employed; seven or eight years after, there was not a

convict in the colony whose services would not be eagerly sought for at

a good price by the squatters.

This important change took place under Governors Brisbane and Darling,

and was in a great measure due to those Governors; yet, strange to say,

neither of them was ever popular. Brisbane, who entered upon office in

1821, was a fine old soldier, a thorough gentleman, honourable and

upright in all his ways. Yet it could not be doubted that he was out of

his proper sphere when conducting the affairs of a young colony, and in

1825 the British Government found it necessary to recall him.

Governor Darling. He was succeeded by Sir Ralph Darling, who was

also a soldier, but was, at the same time, a man well adapted for

business. Yet he, too, failed to give satisfaction. He was precise and

methodical, and his habits were painfully careful, exhibiting that sort

of diligence which takes infinite trouble and anxiety over details, to

the neglect of larger and more important matters. His administration

lasted six years, from 1825 to 1831. During this period an association

was formed in England, consisting of merchants and members of

Parliament, who subscribed a capital of one million pounds, and received

from Government a grant of one million acres in New South Wales. They

called themselves the Australian Agricultural Company, and proposed to

improve and cultivate the waste lands of Australia, to import sheep and

cattle for squatting purposes, to open up mines for coal and metals,

and, in general, to avail themselves of the vast resources of the

colony. Sir Edward Parry, the famous Polar navigator, was sent out as

manager. The servants and employes of the association formed quite a

flourishing colony on the Liverpool Plains, at the head of the Darling

River; and though, at first, it caused some confusion in the financial

state of New South Wales, yet, in the end, it proved of great benefit to

the whole colony.

The Legislative Council. In 1824 a small Executive Council had been

formed to consult with Governor Brisbane on colonial matters. In 1829

this was enlarged and became the Legislative Council, consisting of

fifteen members, who had power to make laws for the colony. But as their

proceedings were strictly secret, and could be completely reversed by

the Governor whenever he chose, they formed but a very imperfect

substitute for a truly legislative body. Yet this Council was of some

service to the colony: one of its first acts was to introduce the

English jury system, in place of arbitrary trials by Government


The Newspaper War. Governor Darling was never popular. During the

greater part of his period of office intrigues were continually on foot

to obtain his recall; and from this state of feeling there arose what

has been called the newspaper war, which lasted for four years with

great violence. The first Australian newspaper had been established in

1803 by a convict named Howe. It was in a great measure supported by the

patronage of the Government, and the Governors always exercised the

right of forbidding the insertion of what they disliked. Hence this

paper, the Sydney Gazette, was considered to be the Government organ,

and, accordingly, its opinions of the Governors and their acts were

greatly distrusted. But, during the time of Brisbane, an independent

newspaper, the Australian, was established by Mr. Wentworth and Dr.

Wardell. A second of the same kind soon followed, and was called the

Monitor. These papers found it to their advantage, during the

unpopularity of Darling, to criticise severely the acts of that

Governor, who was defended by the Gazette with intemperate zeal. This

altercation had lasted for some time, when, in the third year of

Darling's administration, a very small event was sufficient to set the

whole colony in an uproar.

A dissipated soldier named Sudds persuaded his companion, Thompson, that

their prospects were not hopeful so long as they remained soldiers; but

that, if they became convicts, they had a fair chance of growing rich

and prosperous. Accordingly, they entered a shop and stole a piece of

cloth. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to be transported to

Tasmania for seven years. This was what they wished; but Governor

Darling, having heard of the scheme they were so successfully carrying

out, took it upon himself to alter the course of the law, and directed

them to be chained together with heavy spiked collars of iron about

their necks, and to be set to labour on the roads. Sudds was suffering

from liver disease; he sank beneath the severity of his punishment, and

in a few days he died--while Thompson, about the same time, became

insane. This was an excellent opportunity for the opposition papers,

which immediately attacked the Governor for what they called his illegal

interference and his brutality. The Gazette filled its columns with

the most fulsome flattery in his defence, and Darling himself was so

imprudent as to mingle in the dispute, and to do what he could to annoy

the editors of the two hostile papers. Very soon the whole colony was

divided into two great classes--the one needlessly extolling the

Governor, the other denouncing him as the most cowardly and brutal of

men. For four years this abusive warfare lasted, till at length the

opponents of Darling won the day; and in 1831 he was recalled by the

English Government.

Governor Bourke. Sir Richard Bourke, who succeeded him, was the most

able and the most popular of all the Sydney Governors. He had the talent

and energy of Macquarie; but he had, in addition, a frank and hearty

manner, which insensibly won the hearts of the colonists, who, for years

after his departure, used to talk affectionately of him as the "good old

Governor Bourke". During his term of office the colony continued in a

sober way to make steady progress. In 1833 its population numbered

60,000, of whom 36,000 were free persons. Every year there arrived three

thousand fresh convicts; but as an equal number of free immigrants also

arrived, the colony was benefited by its annual increase of population.

The Land Question. Governor Bourke, on his landing, found that much

discontent existed with reference to what was called the Land Question.

It was understood that any one who applied for land to the Government,

and showed that he would make a good use of it, would receive a suitable

area as a free grant. But many abuses crept in under this system. In

theory, all men had an equal right to obtain the land they required;

but, in practice, it was seldom possible for one who had no friends

among the officials at Sydney to obtain a grant. An immigrant had often

to wait for months, and see his application unheeded; while, meantime, a

few favoured individuals were calling day by day at the Land Office, and

receiving grant after grant of the choicest parts of the colony.

Governor Bourke, under instructions from the English Parliament, made a

new arrangement. There were to be no more free grants. In the settled

districts all land was to be put up for auction; if less than five

shillings an acre was offered, it was not to be sold; when the offers

rose above that price, it was to be given to the highest bidder. This

was regarded as a very fair arrangement; and, as a large sum of money

was annually received from the sale of land, the Government was able to

resume the practice, discontinued in 1818, of assisting poor people to

emigrate from Europe to the colony.

The Squatters. Beyond the surveyed districts the land was occupied

by squatters, who settled down where they pleased, but had no legal

right to their "runs," as they were called. With regard to these lands

new regulations were urgently required; for the squatters, who were

liable to be turned off at a moment's notice, felt themselves in a very

precarious position. Besides, as their sheep increased rapidly, and the

flocks of neighbouring squatters interfered with one another, violent

feuds sprang up, and were carried on with much bitterness. To put an end

to these evils Governor Bourke ordered the squatters to apply for the

land they required. He promised to have boundaries marked out; but gave

notice that he would, in future, charge a rent in proportion to the

number of sheep the land could support. In return, he would secure to

each squatter the peaceable occupation of his run until the time came

when it should be required for sale. This regulation did much to secure

the stability of squatting interests in New South Wales.

After ruling well and wisely for six years, Governor Bourke retired in

the year 1837, amid the sincere regrets of the whole colony.