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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

From the Daily News of June 3rd

page 36

From the Daily News of June 3rd.

A Correspondent writes from Richmond, New Zealand :—

"In my last letter I gave an account of a visit to a new settler in the 'bush,' and how the labourer fared in such a district. I propose now giving a sketch of an old settler's surroundings and of the 'labourer' in such a sphere. A ten miles' drive from Nelson City brought me to what I was assured was one of the best-managed farms in the whole neighbourhood. The proprietor, a Somersetshire man, met us at the gate, and his thoroughly John Bull appearance and hearty welcome at once made us feel free of his domain. After refreshing myself with a glass of home-brewed ale I proceeded to take stock of the homestead. Nothing could look more like solid success. Immediately in front of the roomy and comfortable house was a well-stocked garden, the trees well-laden. One of them was an apricot, and the delicious fruit was fortunately waiting to be gathered. The tree was as large as an average-sized English apple-tree. Peach-trees of similar bulk abounded, covered with ripening fruit, and of course there were any number of apple and pear trees. Beyond this garden was a large paddock newly mown, in which several sleek horses were luxuriating. At the back of the house, stretching away for some hundreds of acres, were the paddocks and fields which constituted the richest portion of an estate which in its entirety comprised some twelve hundred acres. With a pardonable pride the fine old yeoman took me over his fields, now 'standing ready for the reaper's gathering hand.' 'What d'ye think of that for barley?' he asked, as he gathered a few stalks, and rubbing them out in his hands showed a sample of bright grain which Mr. Bass would have been glad to buy twenty thousand quarters of at almost any price the farmer chose to name. It was a splendid crop, and as the delicious sunlight poured down upon it one felt no surprise at its matchless colour. I hinted to him how glad I fancied our Burton brewers would be to get hold of such barley, and he smilingly remarked, 'There's no need to go so far for a market; all this is bespoke long ago.' I was next shown the wheat, which seemed equally fine, though not so heavy a crop as an average English one. One of the latest inventions in the shape of a reaping machine was at work, and it was with evident satisfaction that the farmer saw in the marvellous product of that machine a solution of the labour difficulty. There was the wheat standing up in front of the magic performer, and behind it, untouched by human hands, it lay in neatly tied-up bundles, ready to be carted off the ground. Two horses and two men would tints soon lay low a tolerable sized field, and instead of the excessive toilsomeness of the old-fashioned harvest-field no one seemed the least strained by the proceedings.

After thus doing the fields dinner was announced, and I was destined for the first time to witness that much-vaunted triumph of democracy—the sitting down of master and men at the same table. Seated at the head of a long plain deal table was the owner of what page break


page 37 in England would be considered a fine estate. On his right hand was his wife, a comely dame, somewhat overweighted with domestic cares, as all New Zealand wives appear to be. On his left were his guests, and filling the remainder of the space were five labourers and a servant-girl. I had often heard Mr. Arch and others grow eloquent over this feature of colonial life, and wondered how it would work. Well, here it was then. Jack was as good as his master for the nonce; and the terrible scourge of English society—social distinction, laid on one side. Like a good many other attractive baits of the stump orator: 'A stake in the soil,' 'being your own master,' &c., I regret to have to record that it had all the appearance of being a huge blunder. The men looked as awkward and uncomfortable as possible, and the rest of us seemed at our wits' ends to know how to prevent one another from being utterly wretched. I tried hard to engage the men in a little cheerful talk, but this was evidently what they were not used to, and the experiment proved a sad failure. Scarcely more successful was an effort to draw the farmer out. A chill was upon the whole party, and it was not till the men had filed out, and the servant was gone into her own quarter, that the chip was out of the porridge, and things wore their becoming hue. As regards the pay of the labourers, however, as I have already shown, no modification of the statements made at home is necessary. In a paper of yesterday's date I find the following announcement:—'An Ashburton telegram says that farm labourers during the harvest are demanding and receiving per week and found. What will they say in England?' By the 'found' here, of course, is meant board and lodging. If we put this at 10s., we have the startling fact of the 'English Agricultural Labourer in New Zealand actually receiving £4. 10s. a week for about half the real toil of an English harvest-field ! I need scarcely say the living is far superior to that of the home toiler—three good meals per day, such as are found in an ordinary well-to-do English middle-class home. Well may the New Zealand editor ask, 'What will they say in England?' As I read the ominous telegrams 'Strike of the Kent Agricultural Labourers,' 'Reduction of Wages,' &c., I am equally astounded at the stupidity of the labourers in not at once steering for this goodly land, and at the employers for risking the irreparable loss.

As I have written so much that is favourable as to the working-man's chances here, I will in this, my closing letter, give all that I can on the other side. And the 'all' is very little. I have already referred to the high price of house rents. There are no snug cottages with gardens for 1s. 6d. per week. The comfortable English practice of building cottages for the labourers appears to be unknown among the landowners, and hence a vast deal of overcrowding and discomfort among workmen generally. More money passes through their hands, but I doubt if the thrifty, well-disposed, English labourers do not get more real comfort and enjoyment out of their lives than do multitudes that I meet with here. I do not like the hard-bargaining spirit generated by circumstances amongst these page 38 colonists. The high wages they have to pay are the reverse of what is said about mercy. There is certainly no blessing for the giver, and it is a very dubious one for the receiver. There is no kindly feeling between master and man. Of course, no labourer must expect work a moment longer than his master absolutely needs his services. A luxury so expensive must be indulged in as little as possible. Where an English farmer employs a dozen hands all the year through, a New Zealand farmer would not employ more than two. Hence an absence of the finish of an average English farm. I should think an English labourer who really took a pride in his work would be broken-hearted almost at the state of the farm on which he would find himself here. It is simply disgusting, the slovenliness observable all around. I saw yesterday field after field with the corn literally choked by weeds, and one large field of wheat was so bad that the farmer would have burnt it off instead of reaping it if the authorities would have permitted it. The universal reply to one's remonstrance is, 'It won't pay to farm better. The produce wont recoup the large expenditure consequent on the high wages.' Never was greater fallacy if it were the true cause, but it is not. The real secret is the poverty of the landowners. Men have rushed into proprietorship without at all realising what it involved, and hence instead of the compact and well-cultured holdings of rural England, you see boundless acres of half-tilled land, divided by miles of fence, either of tumble-down woodwork or overgrown gorse or quick. The rich men of New Zealand are the squatters—owner's of innumerable sheep and miles of sheep runs, like Mr. Robert Campbell, who owns about half a million of sheep and land enough to make a thousand good farms, and the merchants who take the farm products at a ridiculously low price in exchange for goods at a fabulously high price. I am afraid another cause of the farmers' poverty is more potent still—a love of strong drink. Their exhausting toil leads the way to the whisky bottle, and in this southern hemisphere the man who drinks is doomed. It is lamentable to see how this Old World curse is repeated in the New. I have referred to the educational advantages of New Zealand. They are of an exceptionally high order. It would seem as if the original settlers—for the most part illiterate working men—had been ail roused up to an unwonted earnestness in the matter of their children's education. Among various other illustrations of this laudable parental anxiety I notice a provision on the Government railway whereby children are brought at a nominal charge to the town school. Of course each village has its parish school, as we should call it in England, but at the leading cities there are 'high' schools or colleges, and to enable parents to avail themselves of them, quarterly tickets are granted, whereby for, I think it is 10s., a boy or girl can have a daily ride to and from school. At the Nelson Station, for instance, you will see a whole troop of lads rush out of the morning train, many of whom live twenty miles off in some bush farm. This educational furore is fraught with important bearings on the future of the colony, and already farmers are page 39 groaning over the results. To keep their lads to the plough they have to give them an interest in the concern, as the well-to-do farmer to whom I have referred has done. He has three sons, to whom he has virtually given a farm apiece. There they are with their young wives and families all settled around the old home, mutually helpful but individually independent, apparently realising as perfect a state of social happiness as any Utopia could possibly depict. Machinery will have to do the rough work, and the present domestic infelicities to which I have alluded will disappear. The higher mental culture will have expression in a higher social tone. Books will multiply. The voice of music will be heard. Intellectual conversation will be possible, until it shall be no longer necessary for the successful colonist to return to England to save himself and family from a relapse into barbarism. As regards the 'English Agricultural Labourer in New Zealand,' his future is tolerably clear. His children will be the future yeomanry of the country. Nothing can keep him from this destiny if he remains only true to himself. His large earnings will supply him with the means of either purchasing or hiring the land, and the disinclination of the children of old settlers to continue on their father's homesteads will supply him with the opportunity. Nor need England repine at this eventuality, for each successful New Zealand farmer speedily becomes a valuable customer of the English merchant and manufacturer. On board the steamer which brought me out there were several prosperous colonists who had laid out thousands of pounds in British manufactures. Several of those men were labourers or village mechanics twenty years ago. One such, who had been a wheelwright in Northamptonshire, and now owned a fine farm in the Canterbury Province, informed me that, in addition to machinery of Messrs. Hornsby, he had purchased a marble monument for his deceased son's grave in New Zealand. Nothing but the best would do for such a sacred purpose, and of course the best must come from 'home.' The extent to which this sort of thing is done may be inferred from the import statistics. In 1877 the total value of New Zealand imports was £6,973,418, including £20,G26 for agricultural implements; £176,705 for apparel; £240,638 for coals; £858,345 for drapery; £142,000 for machinery; £46,000 for printing papers; and, most significant of all, £118,707 for books.

I conclude with an illustration as to what the right sort of man may do here. Fourteen months ago an English agricultural labourer arrived in New Zealand with scarcely a shilling in his pocket. He was a handy sort of fellow, and took the first work that came to hand—some fencing. Since then he has done all kinds of farm work, principally by contract, and to-day he has over one hundred pounds in the bank. If the hard-pressed home-toilers hear not what such a fact as this proclaims there is nothing for them but to take whatever their employers see fit to give. No one can blame an employer, be the farmer or manufacturer, for not giving more for his labour than he can help, and instead of useless kickings against the pricks, let page 40 all who think they are worth more than they are getting for their services, place themselves at once in communication with Sir Julius Vogel, and bring their wares to his market. And as regards the employers, I should advise them, instead of battling with their work-men for a margin of profit on their high-rented farms, to bring their capital to New Zealand, and on their own freeholds taste the sweets of independence, and reveal to the New Zealanders the wealth which now lies buried for want of adequate culture. With English 'capital and labour' I see no limits to the prosperity of this really splendid colony, and in the prosperity of her offspring the mother country would find her surest guarantee as to her own."

The following Letter to the Editor of the Birmingham Daily Post is added as containing a few hints suggestive of the national bearing of the question of Emigration:—