The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44
The Remedy for English Distress
The Remedy for English Distress.
Sir,—Allow me to emphasize an expression of Lord Derby's which I find in the last budget of English news. Referring to the wide-spread distress, his Lordship is reported as urging wholesale emigration as the only efficient remedy. A visit which I am page 42 paying this fine colony has convinced me that no better advice could be given. It is difficult to convey any adequate sense of the astonishment which is felt here at the apparent unwillingness of Englishmen to come and gather up the wasting wealth of this fertile island. In all directions there is every element of wealth. The half has not been told of the hidden riches which await the magic touch of toil and enterprise. With a climate infinitely superior to that of England, and soil at least fully equal, it is marvellous that so few comparatively should be found willing to participate in its advantages. So far as my investigations have gone, distress is unknown here. When unskilled labourers are in anxious demand at nine shillings per day and beef and mutton only fourpence per pound, it is superfluous to speak of the prevailing comfort. All are well fed, and no one knows anything of want or insufficiency save in his remembrances of the past or by what he reads of the experiences of those at home.
And a remarkable feature of the case is that the demand for labourers seems only to increase with the increased supply. In truth it is tolerably clear that the population-bearing capacity of New Zealand increases with the increased emigration, thus fully bearing out some of Mr. Arch's supposed crudities as to the real value of labour. How the thing comes about is easily seen. For instance, all around this beautiful city of Nelson from whence I write, there are huge hills which have been generally supposed to be almost worthless for agricultural purposes. Only as sheep-runs have they been utilised. Now, however, as labour becomes accessible culture is beginning to appear on the sunny slopes. Orchards are springing up all over the hills, and no one can doubt that almost every inch of the gigantic mountain ranges is capable of culture, and will repay the cultivator a hundred-fold. Then again, many of these hills are composed of valuable minerals needing only the application of skill and enterprise to make them sources of great wealth. Within sound of where I write there is a paint manufactory. The leading ingredient is a stone found in one of the mountain ranges. All that is needed to develope the manufacture is some of the superfluous capital and labour of the mother country. On one of the sea-coasts there is an illimitable quantity of iron-sand capable of being converted into the finest steel. Here again all that is needed is that of which England suffers from repletion. And so of a hundred other sources of undeveloped wealth. It is not too much to affirm that there is not a thing which is grown in England which might not be grown much better here; there is not a manufacture in England which might not be carried on far better here; and there is not an element of social happiness in England which might not be either found or developed here. What is needed is a more distinct realisation of the exceeding practicality of the remedy which her colonies offer to the social ills of the mother country.
Too much is made of the distance and of the dangers of the voyage. As a matter of fact steam has well-nigh annihilated the page 43 former, and the latter are unworthy of a moment's thought. I came here in less than two months, and the whole voyage was little more than a protracted sea picnic. As for the danger I never for a moment doubted that I was far more secure than while riding down Fleet Street or travelling on the Great Western Railway. The consideration is unworthy of a moment's anxious thought.
Another thing in connection with emigration which should help to give a favourable reception to Lord Derby's advice is the inevitable re-action on British trade and commerce. Every prosperous English colonist becomes a customer of English manufacturers. The figures as to New Zealand imports, startling as they are, give but a poor idea of her worth as a British customer. To realize this you must stand on a New Zealand wharf and see one of the huge trading vessels disgorge her freight. Machinery, pianos, carriages, books, and all kinds of London, Manchester, and Birmingham manufactures strew the spacious wharves for weeks in countless packages. One of the wholesale merchants here received over four thousand packages by a recent vessel from England, and a column of the local journal was taken up by a detailed description of them. In this list you find large quantities of all those tempting luxuries which are found in a London Italian warehouse or a Civil Service co-operative store.
As I looked upon the extraordinary wealth of wild fruit in some of the New Zealand country districts a month ago, I felt that it only needed British capital and enterprise to place large quantities of the same before the English market. Millions of pounds of really delicious cherries are wasted for want of a market. I have known formers' daughters who have sawn off the laden branches through sheer despair of the requisite ability to gather the fruit, and the aid of pigs is often evoked to clear off the overwhelming crop of peaches. And all this with comparatively little or no culture! What this province of Nelson might be made to yield of all kinds of fruit if subjected to the judicious culture of English market-gardeners, imagination fails to grasp. I saw an apricot-tree the other day in a friend's garden from which eighteen cases of fruit, each containing twenty pounds weight, had been gathered.
The explanation of this rare fruitfulness is found in the exquisite climate. I had heard much of the New Zealand climate and feared disappointment. I might have spared my fears. No language can exaggerate the well-nigh invariable loveliness of the atmosphere of, at any rate, this part of the colony. The rasping bitterness of the English climate is wholly unknown, hence the perfect immunity of the fruit blossoms from the scourge of the home grower. And not the fruit only reaps the benefit of such delicious climate. The wheat and barley of New Zealand are certainly second to none grown elsewhere.
Surely then, Sir, it should be the duty of every English philanthropist to do all within his power to bring within reach of this wealth of nature, the thousands of pinched and poverty-struck page 44 inhabitants of the English counties. A few thousands spared from the millions lavished on supposed Imperial interests, would be well spent by the English Government in facilitating the removal of subjects from one part of the realm where there are more mouths than food to another where there is more food than mouths. I would suggest that Lord Derby place himself at the head of a National Emigration Society, and that the first thing done by such society be the purchase at a fair price of the liquidators of the Glasgow Bank the land held by them in New Zealand. Then I would have them send out and settle upon it such of the deserving English poor as gave promise of ability to turn the boon to good account. In my judgment this would be as wise and patriotic a course as even so wise and patriotic a man as Lord Derby could possibly devise.—I remain, &c.,
A. C.Nelson, N.Z.,
20th Feb., 1879.