HC Deb 29 July 1834 vol 25 cc700-11

Mr. W. Whitmore moved the Order of the Day, that the House resolve itself into Committee on the South Australian Colonization Bill.

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. Baring

said, that this was the most extraordinary Bill that had ever been introduced into that House, and as an opportunity had not yet been afforded of discussing the principle of the Bill, he did not think it could be otherwise done than on that occasion. He would, therefore, take the opportunity to make a few remarks on what he considered the object and scope of the measure. He would first call the attention of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies to the subject, because, though the Bill professed to be brought in by the hon. member for Wolverhampton, and to be supported by the hon. and gallant Member behind him, yet when the House considered the immense extent of the scheme, and how far the Crown lands were involved in it, it became very difficult to know how it could be considered otherwise than a Government measure. His first objection was to the period at which the Bill was brought forward. The Bill was only printed on the 17th of July, and when hon. Members reflected on the difficulty of getting a House together at this advanced period of the Session, for the despatch of the ordinary business of the country, he thought it was too much to call on Parliament at such a moment to deliberate on so grave and comprehensive a subject as that of colonizing Southern Australia. On this ground alone, without entering into the important questions the measure involved, he would seriously recommend the postponement of the Bill till the next Session. He had said, it was a most extraordinary Bill, for it proposed to establish a new colony in Australia. If that were the real object, why should the Crown depute it to private individuals, and why should so important a measure be put off until a joint-stock company, that was to be raised for the purpose, should take the matter up? But the real object of the colony was, to realize the views of a set of gentlemen, whom he hoped he should not offend by calling experimental philosophers, and with whom this was a favourite and long-cherished theory. These philosophers were about to form a colony upon a principle which would throw all others in the shade. They were persons possessing great and varied powers of mind, and most enlarged understandings, but, as it too frequently happened, the schemes of these theoretical individuals were seldom so contrived as to meet the ordinary purposes of life. He had always been of opinion, that plain practical men were much better able to conduct the affairs of mankind than persons who advocated particular theories. Two of the greatest generals who ever lived, Frederick of Prussia and Napoleon Buonaparte, used to say, if they wished to select a person unfit for government, they would seek for him among the theorists of the colleges. He was of the same opinion. But what was this project? One would have thought there was full scope for the talents of these experimentalists in the wastes of Pennsylvania, where there was nothing to obstruct the enlarged views they entertained. Or if they wished to make the experiment merely, why had they not selected some moderate-sized cabbage-garden, without going to a country nobody knew where, and grasping a tract of territory embracing several degrees of latitude and longitude and bounded only by the great geographical line of the tropic of Capricorn? The Bill he viewed as a speculation, and he objected to it because it raised a large sum of money on the land by way of mortgage, while the future government of the country was taken out of the hands of the Crown. He would therefore say, limit the attempt, or the colony would be so tied up by mortgages that it could not revert to the country again. If the Crown made the experiment, it possessed the power to retrace its steps; but the result of this Bill would be, that if these gentlemen made a mistake, as he knew they would, after their blundering was at an end, the land would be so locked up that it would be unavailable, and this country would have to redeem the mortgage. He was himself a friend to emigration; he liked to see new colonies established, because he considered them a benefit to the poorer classes of the country; but he did not think this measure in any way connected, as had been stated, with the Poor-law Amendment Bill, which they had passed. He did not therefore oppose this Bill on the ground of hostility to the principle of emigration, but because it was founded on interested motives, without any view to benefit the parties who might be induced to emigrate, and because it would tend ultimately to throw discredit on emigration itself. For his own part, he should like to see the same system prevail in our colonization that existed in the United States, by which a most beneficial and convenient intercourse was kept up. He was not disposed to make objections of a party nature, or he might point to that part of the Bill which increased the patronage of the Government, by giving them the nomination of three more Commissioners; but he would confine himself to objecting to the scheme itself. He would say, take sixty or 100 miles square; and he asked, if that was not enough for these gentlemen to play their pranks in? If the experiment succeeded, or if the quantity of land was insufficient for the experiment, let them add another 100 square miles, and another 100 after that; but why block up half a great Continent, by seizing on such an immense tract of land? Why, the very distance would make it impossible to form a settlement to any considerable extent. It was well known, that emigrants might get to America from Ireland in thirty days, and for 3l., and 50,000 had accordingly emigrated there in the course of one year. The money to be borrowed by this Bill was 200,000l. in the first instance: the whole amount, however, was unlimited, and was declared to be raised for the purpose of sending emigrants out to Australia. The scheme on which the whole plan rested was, that no land was to be sold under 12s. an acre, and so positive were the philosophers in this theory, that they would not leave it to the Government to interfere in any respect; they said the colony might have what form of government it pleased, but 12s. an acre at the least, must be paid for the land without any discrimination, whether it were sheep-walk or the richest arable land, but that no credit could be given. He spoke from experience in matters of this sort, having in the early part of his life spent many thousands in plans of this description, and he would pledge his existence on the fact, that the principle of paying 12s. an acre and not allowing any credit could not be practically acted upon, and yet it was on this principle the whole plan mainly rested. He had several thousand acres of land in the best parts of Pennsylvania, and he would be glad to sell it for half the money, and give very good credit into the bargain. The very smallest quantity of land an emigrant could take was 200 acres, which would cost him 120l. in ready money; it would cost him 120l. more to remove his family there, and he must spend at least 500l. or 600l. to stock the land. Now, he would put it to any man acquainted with the condition of the people to say, whether there was any individual to be found so great a fool as to lay out these sums of money, to set himself down upon 200 acres of land in a community of kangaroos? He admitted, that he never knew an instance of a sober and temperate working man going out without acquiring independence and comfort, but he must also observe, that if a small English farmer were to make the experiment with his few hundred pounds, he would heartily repent it. Then, what was the way the land was to be worked? Why, they expected the English labourer would go over there to work for them, as convict labour would not be permitted; but they would be disappointed; the labourer would not go over to Australia to seek labour only to promote the experiments or make the fortunes of others. He considered the details of the Bill quite impracticable. 200,000l. was to be borrowed to send emigrants over to people the colony; he did not say this would involve the responsibility of the public, but the loans must be contracted, and the land shut up until the Government paid off the debt. He next objected to bonds being circulated through the country apparently on the faith of an Act of Parliament, as they would tend very much to delude the public, who might advance the money, and would have the effect of lowering the credit of the country. There was another absurdity in the Bill. It was provided, that those who lent the money should have it back upon three months' notice; but how were they to get back their money from the tropic of Capricorn? It was not from any hostility to emigration itself, for if he was sure it would be of benefit to the poor, he should look at the dreams of success with pleasure and delight, but it was because he believed the scheme would prove abortive, and turn the whole plan of colonization into ridicule, that he gave it his most decided opposition. He would only ask the right hon. Secretary whether it was just or politic to introduce so important a Bill at this period of the session, and whether so extensive a subject ought not first to have been considered by a Committee up stairs? He was so convinced that this ought to have been the case that he would conclude by moving that the Bill be commited that day six months.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

returned his thanks to the hon. Member for the very fair and candid tone in which he had addressed the House, being convinced that no Member of that House was better acquainted with the subject, or possessed a clearer understanding of its general bearings. The first objection of the hon. Member was, that the promoters of the measure were endeavouring to establish by Act of Parliament what it was in the power of the executive to perform without it. He admitted that it was so, but if the hon. Member would look to what had taken place on the occasion of establishing other colonies, he would find they had frequently been established by Act of Parliament without the intervention of the Crown, therefore they could not be said to be deviating from the constitutional practice on similar occasions. The hon. Member had called the supporters of the measure philosophers, experimentalists, theorists, and a variety of other names, and had also said it was the project of a joint-stock company. He would not say their theory was right—it was yet untried, and might prove erroneous—but he would say there was no class of philosophers, or theorists, or whatever the hon. Member pleased to term them, that ever undertook a plan of any kind with less prospect of any personal advantage to themselves. The appointing of three Commissioners would not add to the patronage of the Government, and all objections to the Bill on that account were without foundation. He next contended, that it was absolutely necessary that a very considerable extent of territory should be employed for the purpose as an inducement for emigrants to settle there, it being intended that no convict should be suffered to set a foot in the colony. Convict labour would not be allowed in the colony, and every encouragement would be given to free labour. The principle of the Bill was, that all the proceeds arising from the land should be employed in sending out adult labourers, by which means the surplus population of, as well as the uninvested capital of this country, would find the means of employment. The hon. Member had also objected to the measure on the ground that labour would not be cheap in the colony. He trusted, that labour there would not become cheap, which was a circumstance greatly in favour of the Bill. The object, however, was not so much to regulate the wages of labour as to supply the colony with labourers. The hon. Member also complained that all the land was estimated at the same value. It was true that the price of the whole was fixed at 12s. an acre, and it was natural to suppose that all the good land would be first bought up, but in proportion to the progress of cultivation, when roads had been constructed and the lands enclosed, the whole would be rendered valuable. The hon. Member would find, upon inquiry, that the land at present sold by the Canada Company, was at a considerably higher rate than 12s. an acre. The hon. Member objected to the distance of the colony; but that objection was obviated by paying for the passage of labourers. It was true, that the Bill gave the Company the power of borrowing 200,000l. for carrying on the government of the colony; but it would borrow a small portion only of this sum at first, and increase the debt as the extension of the population of the colony might render it necessary. It was said, that the Company was to have power to borrow money to an unlimited extent for the purpose of sending out labourers, but it would submit to some limitation on that point. As the Bill now stood, however, it could not borrow money for that purpose, until after it had raised a sum of money to secure the Government of this country against all charges on account of the expenditure of the colony, and until after there should have been deposited 35,000l. for the purchase of land. It was true, that this 35,000l. would remain a debt upon the land, but it was not of such large amount as to excite any apprehension; it would be liquidated as fast as possible, and during the time that it lasted, a constant stream of labour would be poured into the colony. He was inclined to think that it was the policy of this country to encourage emigration to Australia rather than to our American colonies. If the principle, then, upon which the Bill proceeded were correct, and it should succeed in introducing civilization into Australia—a point which was of the utmost importance—the nation would derive greater advantage from peopling Australia, than from colonizing our American possessions. But whether the measure should prove successful or not, that which the House and the country were most desirous to see would be promoted by it, inasmuch as a full scope would be given to the energies of the country. It would afford the means of transmitting to a foreign country the advantages resulting from the excellent institutions of Great Britain; it would afford the means of employment to all industrious subjects, to the rich as well as the poor; and the Bar, the Church, and the medical profession, which were inundated with superfluous talent, would be afforded the means of a free exercise of their extensive and varied energies. But one of the most salutary effects of the measure to which he looked forward, was the improvement of Ireland, which he thought was more likely to be effectually promoted by measures of this description than of any other.

Mr. O'Dwyer

did not rise to oppose the although he should say, that he could not give the principle of it his support. If the Bill, however, went to a Committee, he should assist in amending such of its provisions as appeared to him of an objectionable nature. He rose principally to express his strong dissent from the opinion that the creation of colonies, and the transportation thither of that which could not be supplied—"the bold peasantry" of the land—was not in itself a calamity much to be deplored, even if its necessity were proved to exist. He would add, that no necessity could be proved to exist unless it were demonstrated that nature had been so improvident as to multiply human beings in a degree exceeding the means of a country for their support. This consideration would, in itself, have induced him to direct the attention of the House to the unexplored advantages which the empire contained within itself, even if the hon. Member had not made a particular reference to the country to which he belonged. He paused to express his surprise that the projectors of this scheme had sent their philanthropy on a voyage of discovery to the tropic of Capricorn, and that it never occurred to those who were so desirous to encourage colonization, that Ireland, their own country—filled with subjects of the same Government—similar in language, habits, tastes, and connected by all the intersocial relations which existed—should not claim their earliest attention. Was it not strange that at this time and when emigration to distant lands was so bountifully encouraged, one-fourth of the soil of Ireland, although chiefly reclaimable, was in a state of nature, and English enterprise had not yet reached it. What did this proceed from? Was it from insecurity for property? Who spoke of the insecurity of investments in Ireland? Did Englishmen, who were ever ready to scatter their capital in the most perilous experiments? Loans were levied with facility for every foreign government that had a show of authority, as well as for governments not yet established, and it mattered not whether the negotiator was the cacique of Poyais or the latest adventurer, the pretender to the Spanish crown, the capital of Englishmen was freely embarked in desperate speculation. Was it, then, the much exaggerated insecurity of life that deterred Englishmen from exploring the unworked mines of Irish industry? He understood the House to affirm his inquiry; but, without dwelling on the exaggerations which abounded on this subject, he would ask, did not every one agree that the distractions of Ireland flowed from her misery, and that wherever employment travelled, industry, peace, contentment, and all the blessings of obedience to the laws, and tranquillity, followed in its train? He was sorry to say, that there existed in the House a singular ignorance of the condition of Ireland, and that most of the hon. Members who heard him knew less of that country than of the most remote of their dependencies. Probably most hon. Members, even those who knew everything concerning the intended settlement at Australia, were ignorant that there were in the library volumes of Parliamentary Reports on the subject of reclaiming the waste lands of Ireland, and that they all concurred in the wisdom, the humanity, and the practicability of that measure. Report succeeded Report, full of the evidence of the most experienced agriculturists—the most distinguished men in science—the most learned in the statistics of the empire—all presenting an irresistible mass of proof on this subject, and illustrating their opinions by the results of successful experiments, and that their Reports were as a dead letter to this very moment. Previously to 1819, four Reports had been made, and the statements in them were enforced with strenuous recommendations in the Report of the Committee of 1819, which then sat to inquire into the causes of the hunger and disease which prevailed in Ireland the previous year, That Report stated, amongst other facts. that there were 2,000,000 acres of reclaimable bog in Ireland, of a soil suited to the production of grain, and that they presented a great source of employment for the population, which would, in addition, ensure to England supplies of grain at moderate prices, and which would render that country independent of foreign nations for the food of its manufacturing population. He should add, that Mr. Nimmo had stated, that there were nearly 4,000,000 of acres which were reclaimable. Had anything been done to effect these desirable results? He answered, nothing. The same Report recommended the enactment of a law to assist private speculation in this matter. This suggestion, too, was unheeded, and in 1824 a Bill with this object was introduced. At that time Ireland suffered under the misfortune of having as Chief Secretary the right hon. Gentleman who represents the University of Cambridge, and he resisted the Bill with a promise of introducing a measure still more beneficial, of which the country had since heard nothing. He should not delay the House with much further obser- vation, but he could not avoid adducing one statement from hundreds equally strong. The Report of 1819 stated, that there was an immense amount of land in Ireland convertible to the production of grain—that all the scientific men consulted by Government, including Griffith, Nimmo, Sir Humphrey Davy, and a host of other eminent men, had given their testimony as to the cheapness with which an experiment might be made of its likely good results, and of the important advantages to the wealth and strength of the empire which this experiment would bring. He now asked the House to reflect upon the observations which he had felt it his duty to make, he hoped not unreasonably. Would it not be better policy to cultivate the natural resources of their own empire, and raise up, as it were, from new creations of their own land an attached body of fellow-subjects, who, in future ages, as in the present, would be affected by no interests antagonist to the empire at large. Humanity as well as policy recommended this course. The system of emigration contained in it most distressing incidents. Every man, no matter how humble, loved his country, and in severing himself from the land of his fathers he made a sacrifice most frequently of his own happiness for the prospective benefit of those who were dear to him. Emigration, too, generally drew from the country the best and least indigent of the humbler classes, and left a residuum of the idle and the profligate. It was then better to apply themselves to a serious investigation of the subject on which he had occupied the attention of the House; and when their own natural means of providing for a superabundant population was proved to be inefficient, let them engage in those remote speculations which he now thought were at least premature. Whilst he said this, he did not deny, that in most cases those persons who emigrated from this country greatly improved their condition. He merely contended, that the empire did not benefit by the process.

Mr. Secretary Rice

said, the hon. Member who spoke last seemed to have forgotten, that the waste lands he had alluded to belonged principally to private individuals. He could, however, inform him, that the Government had not been inattentive to the subject, but that in several parts of Ireland the Government had become proprietors, and had made great efforts at a practical improvement of the land, which he was of opinion would be of more general utility than any legislative measures of improvement. He thanked the hon. member for Essex for the useful and practical light in which he had approached the consideration of this question; and thought, if there was one consideration more than another that ought to weigh with the House and the people on the subject, it was this,—that it was distinctly ascertained that a primâ facie case was made out of the probability of the scheme being successful, in order that the public might not be able to turn round on Parliament or the Government, in case of its failure, and say that, having brought them into the difficulty by sanctioning the speculation, they were bound to lend protection to them. The Government was fully aware of the difficulties that surrounded the question, but they were overbalanced by the great advantages, and the great probability of success held out by the proposition contained in the Bill; they had, therefore, determined to countenance it, considering it one of its duties to do every thing in its power to extend the advantages of British institutions to every part of the globe. He was surprised to see the hon. member for Essex oppose the Motion for going into Committee, that an opportunity might be afforded of seeing whether the details to which he objected could or could not be amended. The hon. Member had much overstated the extent of the territory that would be employed in colonization; but it was of the greatest importance that it should not be too limited, inasmuch as no convicts would be permitted to enter the colony, and, therefore, it became necessary that ample space should be afforded to induce labourers to seek employment there. The question of extent was, however, quite an open one. The measure had been called a Government measure; so it was, to a certain extent, the Government having consented to the introduction of the measure into Parliament for the purpose of discussion; and if it should meet the approbation of the Legislature, and appear to be a fit subject for experiment, the Government would be willing to lend their aid to it, not certainly as a joint-stock company, but to carry into effect the recommendation of the promoters of the Bill whether they were philosophers or not. He was of opinion the very circum- stance of such despots as Napoleon and Frederick being opposed to the principle of theoretical men, was a great argument in their favour. He should certainly desire to see a practical man at the helm; but he thought it would be of advantage to the ship if the exertions of scientific men could be brought into operation, subject to such direction. He differed with the hon. Member in supposing, that any of the prerogatives of the Crown were compromised by this application to Parliament: on the contrary, he thought such a proceeding the most constitutional course. He did not think the colonization of the Swan River and other countries would have been worse, if they had been passed through that House. He concurred with the hon. Member in regretting, that the measure had not been introduced at an earlier part of the Session, and also, that such an unlimited power was given in issuing bonds. He would observe, in conclusion, that the principle of the Bill had been assented to by his right hon. friend who preceded him in the office he now held. As the objection was confined to the details of the Bill, he hoped the House would suffer it to go into Committee.

The House divided on the Motion:—Ayes 72; Noes 7: Majority 65.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Gaskell, D.
Attwood, T. Grote, G.
Attwood, M. Hay, Colonel
Bannerman, A. Hawkins, J. B.
Barnard, G. Hawes, B.
Barnes, Sir E. Hoskins, C.
Beauclerk, Major Humphrey, J.
Blamire, W. Hutt, W.
Bowes, J. Langdale, C.
Briggs, M. Lemon, Sir C.
Buckingham, J. S. Maxwell, J.
Bulwer, H. L. Morpeth, Lord
Burrell, Sir C. Mullins, F. W.
Calvert, N. Oliphant, L.
Chapman, M. A. Oswald, J.
Chapman, A. Pelham, C. A.
Chichester, J. P. B. Peter, W.
Clay, W. Philips, M.
Collier, J. Porter, R.
Crawford, W. Pryme, G.
Dalmeny, Lord Rice, Rt. Hon. T. S.
Divett, E. Ruthven, E. S.
Duncombe, T. Scholefield, J.
Evans, G. Scrope, P.
Evans, Colonel Shawe, N.
Ewart, W. Sinclair, G.
Ferguson, Sir R. Skipwith, Sir G.
Ferguson, R. Stewart, P.
Fleming, Admiral Talbot, J.
Fryer, R. Thicknesse, R.
Thompson, B. Warburton, H.
Tooke, W. Williams, W. A.
Torrens, Colonel Wilks, J.
Troubridge, Sir T. Wood, G. W.
Turner, W. TELLERS.
Verney, Sir H. Childers, J. W.
Wallace, M. Whitmore, W.
List of the NOES.
Hughes, H. Wall, B.
Sandon, Lord Walter, J.
Somerset, Lord G. TELLERS.
Tancred, H. W. Baring, A.
Tower, C. T. Handley, Major

The House went into Committee: the Amendments were passed, in order that the Bill might be printed in its amended form.

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