New South Wales 1838-1850

Gipps. In 1838, when Governor Bourke left Australia to spend the

remainder of his life in the retirement of his native county in Ireland,

he was succeeded in the government of New South Wales by Sir George

Gipps, an officer who had recently gained distinction by his services in

settling the affairs of Canada. The new Governor was a man of great

ability, generous and well meaning, but of a somewhat arbitrary nature.

Governor has ever laboured more assiduously for the welfare of his

people, and yet none has ever been more unpopular than Gipps. During his

term of office the colonists were constantly suffering from troubles,

due, in most instances, to themselves, but always attributed to others,

and, as a rule, to the Governor. It is true that the English Government,

though actuated by a sincere desire to benefit and assist the rising

community, often aggravated these troubles by its crude and ill-informed

efforts to alleviate them. And as Sir George Gipps considered it his

chief duty to obey literally and exactly all the orders sent out by his

superiors in England, however much he privately disapproved of them, it

was natural that he should receive much of the odium and derision

attendant on these injudicious attempts; but, on the whole, the troubles

of the colony were due, not so much to any fault of the Governor or to

any error of the English Government, as to the imprudence of the

colonists themselves.

Monetary Crisis. During twelve years of unalloyed prosperity, so

many fortunes had been made that the road to wealth seemed securely

opened to all who landed in the colony. Thus it became common for new

arrivals to regard themselves, on their first landing, as already men of

fortune, and, presuming on their anticipated wealth, they often lived in

an expensive and extravagant style, very different from the prudent and

abstemious life which can alone secure to the young colonist the success

he hopes for. In Sydney the most profuse habits prevailed, and in

Melbourne it seemed as if prosperity had turned the heads of the

inhabitants. The most expensive liquors were the ordinary beverages of

waggoners and shepherds; and, on his visit to Port Phillip in 1843,

Governor Gipps found the suburbs of Melbourne thickly strewed with

champagne bottles, which seemed to him to tell a tale of extravagance

and dissipation.

Land Laws. Whilst many of the younger merchants were thus on their

way to ruin, and the great bulk of the community were kept impoverished

by their habits, the English Government brought matters to a crisis by

its injudicious interference with the land laws. The early years of

South Australia, and its period of trouble, have been already described.

In 1840 South Australia was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the

Wakefield policy of maintaining the land at a high price had not

produced the results anticipated. Now, many of the greatest men in

England were in favour of the Wakefield theory; and, in particular, the

Secretary of State for the Colonies--that is, the member of the British

Government whose duty it is to attend to colonial affairs was a warm

supporter of the views of Wakefield; so that when the people of South

Australia complained that their scheme could not be successful so

long as the other colonies charged so low a price for their land, he

sympathised with them in their trouble. "Who," they asked, "will pay one

pound an acre for land in South Australia, when, by crossing to Port

Phillip, he can obtain land equally good at five shillings an acre?" To

prevent the total destruction of South Australia, the Secretary of State

ordered the other colonies to charge a higher price for land. New South

Wales was to be divided into three districts. (1) The Middle District,

round Port Jackson, where land was never to be sold for less than twelve

shillings an acre. (2) The Northern District, round Moreton Bay, where

the same price was to be charged. (3) The Southern District, round Port

Phillip, where the land was of superior quality, and was never to be

sold for less than one pound an acre.

A great amount of discontent was caused throughout New South Wales by

this order; but South Australia was saved from absolute ruin, and the

Secretary of State declined to recall the edict. In vain it was urged

that a great part of the land was not worth more than two or three

shillings an acre; the answer was that land was worth whatever people

were willing to pay for it. For a time it seemed as if this view had

been sound, and land was eagerly purchased, even at the advanced prices;

in 1840 the amounts received from land sales were three times as great

as those received in 1838. But this was mostly the result of

speculation, and disastrous effects soon followed; for the prices paid

by the purchasers were far above the real value of the land. If a man

brought a thousand pounds into the colony and paid it to the Government

for a thousand acres of land, he reckoned himself to be still worth a

thousand pounds, and the banks would be willing to lend him nearly a

thousand pounds on the security of his purchase. But if he endeavoured,

after a year or two, to resell it, he would then discover its true

value, and find he was in reality possessed of only two or three hundred

pounds: every purchaser had found the land to be of less value than he

had expected; every one was anxious to sell; and, there being few

buyers, most of it was sold at a ruinous price. Men who had borrowed

money were unable to pay their debts, and became insolvent. The banks,

who had lent them money, were brought to the verge of ruin; and one of

the oldest--the Bank of Australia--became bankrupt in 1843, and

increased the confusion in monetary affairs. In order to pay their

debts, the squatters were now forced to sell their sheep and cattle; but

there was scarcely any one willing to buy, and the market being glutted,

the prices went down to such an extent that sheep, which two years

before had been bought for thirty shillings, were gladly sold for

eighteenpence. Indeed, a large flock was sold in Sydney at sixpence per

head. Fortunately, it was discovered by Mr. O'Brien, a squatter living

at Yass, that about six shillings worth of tallow could be obtained from

each sheep by boiling it down; and, if this operation had not been

extensively begun by many of the sheep-owners, they would, without

doubt, have been completely ruined. So great was the distress that, in

1843, the Governor issued provisions at less than cost price, in order

to prevent the starvation of large numbers of the people.

Yet, the Secretary of State in England knew nothing of all this, and in

1843 he raised the price of land still higher, ordering that, throughout

all Australia, no land should be sold for less than one pound an acre.

Immigration. It is not to be imagined, however, that the English

Government ever took to itself any of this land revenue. Every penny was

used for the purpose of bringing immigrants into the colony. Agents in

Europe were appointed to select suitable persons, who received what were

called bounty orders. Any one who possessed an order of this kind

received a free passage to Sydney, all expenses being paid by the

Colonial Government with the money received from the sale of land. The

Governor had the power of giving these orders to persons in New South

Wales, who sent them home to their friends or relatives, or to servants

and labourers, whom they wished to bring to the colonies. Now, Governor

Gipps imagined that the land would continue to bring in as much revenue

every year as it did in 1840, and, in the course of that year and the

next, gave bounty orders to the extent of nearly one million pounds.

But in 1841 the land revenue fell to about one-twentieth of what it had

been in 1840; so that the colony must have become bankrupt had it not

been that more than half of those who received bounty orders, hearing of

the unsettled state of the colony, never made use of the permission

granted. Governor Gipps was blamed by the colonists, and received from

the Secretary of State a letter of sharp rebuke.

As for the immigrants who did arrive in New South Wales, their prospects

were not bright. For a long time many of them found it impossible to

obtain employment. Great numbers landed friendless and penniless in

Sydney, and in a few weeks found themselves obliged to sleep in the

parks, or in the streets, and, but for the friendly exertions of a

benevolent lady, Mrs. Chisholm, who obtained employment at different

times for about two thousand of them, their position would, indeed, have

been wretched.

Mrs. Chisholm founded a home for defenceless and friendless girls,

of whom nearly six hundred were at one time living in Sydney in

destitution, having been sent out from home with bounty orders, under

the impression that employment was certain whenever they might land at

Port Jackson.

Gradually the return of the colonists to habits of prudence and thrift

removed the financial distress which had been the primary cause of all

these troubles. Land ceased to be bought at the ruinously high rates,

and goods returned to their former prices.

Separation. But these were not the only cares which pressed upon the

mind of Sir George Gipps. He was entrusted with the management of the

eastern half of Australia, a region stretching from Cape York to

Wilson's Promontory. There were, it is true, but 150,000 inhabitants in

the whole territory. But the people were widely scattered, and there

were in reality two distinct settlements--one consisting of 120,000

people round Sydney, the other of 30,000 round Port Phillip. The latter,

though small, was vigorous, and inclined to be discontented; it was six

hundred miles distant from the capital, and the delays and

inconveniences due to this fact caused it no little annoyance.

There was, indeed, a Superintendent in Melbourne, and to him the control

of the southern district was chiefly entrusted. But Mr. Latrobe was

undecided and feeble. Though personally a most worthy man, yet, as a

ruler, he was much too timid and irresolute. He seldom ventured to take

any step on his own responsibility; no matter how urgent the matter was,

he always waited for instructions from his superior, the Governor.

Under these circumstances, it was natural that the people of Melbourne

should wish for an independent Governor, who would have full power to

settle promptly all local affairs. In 1840 they held a meeting in a room

at the top of the hill in Bourke Street, to petition for separation from

New South Wales. But, next year, the Sydney people held a meeting in the

theatre to protest against it. Here, then, was another source of trouble

to Gipps; for, from this time, the colony was divided into two parties,

eagerly and bitterly disputing on the separation question. Governor

Gipps and Mr. Latrobe were not in favour of separation, and, by their

opposition, they incurred the deep dislike of the people of Port

Phillip. The authorities at home, however, were somewhat inclined to

favour the idea, and as Gipps was necessarily the medium of announcing

their views to the colonists, and carrying them into force, he became

unpopular with the Sydney colonists also. No man has ever occupied a

more trying position; and a somewhat overbearing temperament was not at

all suited for smoothing away its difficulties.

Representative Government. In 1842 a meeting was held in Sydney to

petition for representative government. The British Parliament saw its

way clear to concede this privilege; and in July, 1843, the first

representatives elected by the people assembled in Sydney. The new

Council consisted of thirty-six members, of whom twelve were either

officials or persons nominated by the Governor, and the other

twenty-four were elective. It was the duty of this body to consult with

the Governor, and to see that the legitimate wishes of the people were

attended to. Six gentlemen were elected for Port Phillip; but residents

of Melbourne found it impossible to leave their business and go to live

in Sydney. The people of Port Phillip were therefore forced to elect

Sydney gentlemen to take charge of their interests. However, these did

their duty excellently. Dr. Lang was especially active in the interests

of his constituents, and in the second session of the Council, during

the year 1844, he moved that a petition should be presented to the

Queen, praying that the Port Phillip district should be separated from

New South Wales, and formed into an independent colony. The Port Phillip

representatives, together with the now famous Robert Lowe, gave their

support to the motion; but there were nineteen votes against it, and

this effort was supposed to have been completely baffled. But Dr. Lang

drew up a petition of his own, which was signed by all the Port Phillip

members and sent to England. Nothing further was heard on the subject

for some time, until Sir George Gipps received a letter from Lord

Stanley, the Secretary of State, directing him to lay the matter before

the Executive Council in Sydney; and stating that, in the opinion of the

English Government, the request of Port Phillip was very fair and

reasonable. An inquiry was held, the Sydney Council sent to England a

report on the subject, and received a reply to the effect that steps

would at once be taken to obtain from the Imperial Parliament the

required Act.

The people of Port Phillip were overjoyed, and in 1846 gave a grand

banquet to Dr. Lang to celebrate the occasion. But they were not

destined to quite so speedy a consummation of their desires. The English

Government which had given so favourable an ear to their petition was

defeated and succeeded by another Government, to whom the whole question

was new. Year after year passed away, and the people of Port Phillip

began to grow impatient, and to complain loudly of their grievances.

First of all, they complained that, although it was a well-recognised

principle that the money received by Government for the waste lands of

any district should be employed in bringing out emigrants to that

district, yet the Sydney Government used much of the money obtained

from the sale of land in Port Phillip for the purpose of bringing out

new colonists--not to Melbourne or Geelong, but to Sydney itself. And

thus, it was said, the people of Sydney were using the money of the Port

Phillip district for their own advantage. And, again, the people of

Melbourne complained that, although they were allowed to elect six

members of the Legislative Council, yet this was merely a mockery,

because none of the Port Phillip residents could afford to live in

Sydney for five months every year and to neglect their own private

business. The former of these accusations seems, so far as we can now

determine, to have been unfounded; the latter was undoubtedly a

practical grievance, though more or less unavoidable in every system of


Earl Grey. For a year or two the English Government forgot all about

the separation question; and, in 1848, the wearied colonists at Port

Phillip determined to call attention to their discontent. Accordingly,

when the elections for that year approached, they determined not to

elect any member, so that the English Government might see of how little

use to them their supposed privilege really was. It was agreed that no

one should come forward for election, and it seemed likely that there

would be no election whatever, when a gentleman named Foster offered

himself as a candidate. This placed the non-election party in a dilemma;

for if they declined to vote at all, and if Mr. Foster could persuade

only two or three of his friends to vote for him, then, since there was

no other candidate, he would be legally elected.

Now, at this time, Earl Grey was Secretary of State for the Colonies;

and when some one proposed to nominate him for election, in opposition

to Mr. Foster, the idea was hailed as a happy one. The non-election

party could then vote for Earl Grey, and he would be returned by a large

majority. But Earl Grey, being an English nobleman and a member of the

British Government, would certainly never go to Sydney to attend a small

Colonial Council; so that there would be, in reality, no member elected.

But the attention of the Secretary of State would be drawn to the

desires of the district. Earl Grey was triumphantly elected, and when

the news went home it caused some merriment. He was jokingly asked in

the House of Lords when he would sail for Sydney. And for several weeks

he underwent so much banter on the subject that his attention was fully

aroused to the long-neglected question. He weighed the matter carefully,

and, resolving to do the people of Port Phillip full justice, sent out

word that he would at once prepare a Bill for the Imperial Parliament,

in order to obtain the necessary powers. At the same time he intimated

that Queen Victoria would be pleased if the new colony should adopt her

name. Nothing could give the colonists more satisfaction, and they

waited with patience until affairs should be properly arranged in


Sir Charles Fitzroy. All this agitation, however, had not taken

place without much irritation and contention between the people at Port

Phillip and their Governor at Sydney, from whose authority they wished

to free themselves. Sir George Gipps had much to harass him, and in 1846

he was glad to retire from his troublesome position. He was succeeded by

Sir Charles Fitzroy, a gentleman in every respect his opposite. By no

means clever, yet good-tempered and amiable, he troubled himself very

little with the affairs of the colony. The Sydney Council managed

everything just as it pleased; Sir Charles was glad to be rid of the

trouble, and the colonists were delighted to have their own way. As for

the separation question, he cared very little whether Port Phillip was

erected into a colony or not.

In 1850 the news arrived that Port Phillip was to be separated from New

South Wales, and in the middle of the next year its independence was

declared. Its Superintendent, Latrobe, was raised to the dignity of

Governor, and the new colony received its Constitution, conferring on it

all the legislative and other powers which had previously been possessed

only by New South Wales.

Abolition of Transportation. It was during this period that the

English Government resolved on sending no more convicts to Australia. A

committee of the Imperial Parliament held an inquiry into the effects of

transportation, and reported that it would be unwise to continue the

system. From 1842, therefore, there was practically a cessation of

transportation, although the majority of the squatters were averse to

the change. They found that the convicts, when assigned to them, made

good shepherds and stockmen, and that at cheap rates. They subsequently

petitioned for a revival of transportation; but, after some hesitation,

the British Government resolved to adhere to their resolution to send no

more convicts to Sydney. Van Diemen's Land was still unfortunate; it was

to receive, indeed, the full stream of convicts, but from 1842 Australia

itself ceased to be the receptacle for the criminals of Great Britain.