New South Wales 1860-1890

The Land Act. Sir John Young became Governor of New South Wales in

1861. He was a man of great talent; but, at this stage of the colony's

history, the ability of the Governor made very little difference in the

general progress of affairs. The political power was now chiefly in the

hands of responsible Ministers, and without their advice the Governor

could do nothing. The Ministry of the period--headed by Charles Cowper

and John Robertson--prepared a bill to alter the regulations for the

sale of land, and to give to the poor man an opportunity of obtaining a

small farm on easy terms. Any person who declared his readiness to live

on his land, and to cultivate it, was to be allowed to select a portion,

not exceeding a certain size, in any part of the colony which he thought

most convenient. The land was not to be given gratuitously; but,

although the selector was to pay for it at the rate of one pound per

acre, yet he was not expected to give more than a quarter of the price

on taking possession. Three years afterwards he had the option of either

paying at once for the remaining three-quarters, or, if this were beyond

his means, of continuing to hold the land at a yearly rental of one

shilling an acre. This was an excellent scheme for the poorer class of

farmers; but it was not looked upon with favour by the squatters, whose

runs were only rented from the State, and were, therefore, liable, under

this new Act, to be invaded by selectors, who would pick out all the

more fertile portions, break up the runs in an awkward manner, and cause

many annoyances.

Hence, though the Legislative Assembly passed the bill, the Upper House,

whose members were mostly squatters, very promptly rejected it; and upon

this there arose a struggle, the Ministry being determined to carry the

bill, and the Council quite as resolute never to pass it. Acting on the

advice of his Ministers, Sir John Young entreated the Upper House to

give way; but it was deaf to all persuasions, and the Ministers

determined to coerce it by adopting extreme measures. Its members had

been nominated by a previous Governor for a period of five years, as a

preliminary trial before the nominations for life; the term of their

appointment was now drawing to a close, and Sir John Young, by waiting

some little time, might easily have appointed a new Council of his own

way of thinking. But the Ministers were impatient to have their measure

passed, and, instead of waiting, they advised the Governor to nominate

twenty-one new members of Council, who, being all supporters of the

bill, would give them a majority in the Upper House; so that, on the

very last night of its existence, it would be obliged to pass the

measure and make it law. But when the opponents of the bill saw the

trick which was being played upon them, they rose from their seats and

resigned in a body. The President himself vacated his chair; and as no

business could then be carried on, the Land Bill was delayed until the

Council came to an end, and the Ministers thus found themselves

outwitted. They were able, somewhat later, to effect their purpose; but

this little episode in responsible government caused considerable stir

at the time, and Sir John subsequently received a rebuke from the

Colonial Secretary for his share in it.

Prince Alfred. In 1868 Lord Belmore became Governor of New South

Wales, and during his term of office all the colonies passed through a

period of excitement on the occasion of a visit from the Queen's second

son, Prince Alfred. He was the first of the Royal Family who had ever

visited Australia, and the people gave to him a hearty and enthusiastic

reception. As he entered the cities flower-decked arches spanned the

streets; crowds of people gathered by day to welcome him, and at night

the houses and public buildings were brilliantly illuminated in his

honour. But during the height of the festivities at Sydney a

circumstance occurred which cast a gloom over the whole of Australia.

The Prince had accepted an invitation to a picnic at Clontarf, and was

walking quietly on the sands to view the various sports of the

holiday-makers, when a young man named O'Farrell rushed forward and

discharged a pistol at him. The ball entered his back, and he fell

dangerously wounded. For a day or two his life trembled in the balance,

and the colonists awaited the result with the greatest excitement, until

it was made known that the crisis was past. No reason was alleged for

the crime except a blind dislike to the Royal Family; and O'Farrell was

subsequently tried and executed.

Railway Construction. New South Wales has three main lines of

railway with many branches. One starts from Sydney, and passes through

Goulburn to Albury on its way to Melbourne; one goes north to Newcastle,

then through the New England district, and so to Brisbane; and the third

runs from Sydney over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst, and away to

Bourke, on the Darling River. Those rugged heights, which so long

opposed the westward progress of the early colonists, have proved no

insuperable barrier to the engineer; and the locomotive now slowly

puffs up the steep inclines and drags its long line of heavily-laden

trucks where Macquarie's road, with so much trouble, was carried in

1815. The first difficulty which had to be encountered was at a long

valley named Knapsack Gully. Here the rails had to be laid on a great

viaduct, where the trains run above the tops of the tallest trees. The

engineers had next to undertake the formidable task of conducting the

line up a steep and rocky incline, seven hundred feet in height. This

was effected by cutting a "zigzag" in the rock; the trains run first to

the left, rising upon a slight incline; then, reversing, they go to the

right, still mounting slightly upwards; then, again, to the left; and so

on till the summit is reached. By these means the short distance is

rendered long, but the abrupt steepness of the hill is reduced to a

gentle inclination. The trains afterwards run along the top of the

ridge, gradually rising, till, at the highest point, they are three

thousand five hundred feet above the level of the Sydney station. The

passengers look down from the mountain tops on the forest-clad valleys

far below; they speed along vast embankments or dash through passages

cut in the solid rock, whose sides tower above them to the height of an

ordinary steeple. In some places long tunnels were bored, so that the

trains now enter a hill at one side and emerge from the other.

One of these tunnels was thought to be unsafe; the immense mass of rock

above it seemed likely to crush downwards upon the passage, and the

engineers thought that their best course would be to remove the hill

from above it. Three and a half tons of gunpowder were placed at

intervals in the tunnel, and connected by wires with a galvanic battery

placed a long distance off. The operation of firing the mine was made a

public occasion, and Lady Belmore agreed to go up to the mountains and

perform the ceremony of removing the hill. When all was ready, she

touched the knob which brought the two ends of the wire together. A dull

and rumbling sound was heard, the solid rock heaved slowly upward, and

then settled back to its place, broken in a thousand pieces, and covered

with rolling clouds of dust and smoke. All that the workmen had then to

do was to carry away the immense pile of stone, and the course was clear

for laying the rails.

When the line reached the other side of the Blue Mountains there were

great difficulties in the descent, and here the engineers had to lay out

zigzags of greater extent than the former. By these the trains now

descend easily and safely from the tops of the mountains down into the

Lithgow Valley far below.

By the southern railway to Albury, crowds of people are daily whirled in

a few hours to places which, forty years ago, were reached by Sturt, and

Hume, and Mitchell, only after weeks of patient toil, through unknown

lands that were far removed from civilisation.

Sydney Exhibition. So on every hand the colony made progress. Her

railways expanded in scores of branches; her telegraph lines stretched

out their arms in every direction; her sheep increased so that now there

are nearly sixty millions of them; her wheat and maize extended to more

than half a million of acres; her orangeries and vineyards and orchards,

her mines of coal and tin, and her varied and extensive manufactures,

make her people, now numbering a million, one of the most prosperous on

the face of the earth. Her pride was pardonable when, in 1879, she held

an international exhibition to compare her industries side by side with

those of other lands, so as to show how much she had done and to

discover how much she had yet to learn. A frail, but wonderfully pretty

building rapidly arose on the brow of the hill between Sydney Cove and

Farm Cove; and that place, the scene of so much squalor and misery a

hundred years before, became gay with all that decorative art could do,

and busy with daily throngs of gratified visitors. The place had a most

distinguished appearance; seen from the harbour, its dome and fluttering

flags rose up from among the luxuriant foliage of the Botanic Gardens,

as if boldly to proclaim that New South Wales had completed the period

of her infancy and was prepared to take her place among the nations as

one grown to full and comely proportions. When the building had served

its purpose, the people were too fond and too proud of it to dismantle

and destroy it, but unfortunately it was not long after swept away by an

accidental fire.

In 1885, the colony was stirred by a great wave of enthusiasm when it

was known that its Government had sent to England the offer of a

regiment of soldiers to fight in the Soudan side by side with British

troops. The offer was accepted, and some seven or eight hundred

soldiers, well equipped and full of high hopes, sailed for Africa. The

war was too soon over for them to have any chance of displaying what

an Australian force may be like upon a battle-field. There were many

persons who held that the whole expedition was a mistake. But it had

one good effect; for it showed that, for the present at least, the

Australian colonies are proud of their mother-country; that their eyes

are fondly turned to her, to follow all her destinies in that great

career which she has to accomplish as the leading nation of the earth;

and that if ever she needed their help, assistance would flow

spontaneously from the fulness of loving hearts. The idea of this

expedition and its execution belonged principally to C. B. Dalley. But

the great leader of New South Wales during the last quarter of a

century, and the most zealous worker for its welfare and prosperity,

has been the veteran statesman Sir Henry Parkes.