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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXXIII. — Greater Britains

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Chapter XXXIII.
Greater Britains.

As others see us: —Early reputation.—Something worth Having.—Damaged articles.—The Manchester School.—Loom Logic.—Let the Colonies go.—Two Million square miles to a handful of Colonists.—Gold.—Wars.—The Beat of the English drum heard no more.—Anti-Colonial Spirit.—Blowing in Two directions.—The Eight Hours System.—The Spirit of the Age.—Work and Live, or Work and Die.—Alfred the Great an Eight Hours Man.—Experiments.—Watching Results.—Obstinate Problems.—Our Critics.—A Caudle Lecture.—Borrowing:—Hard Hitting.—If not well meant, well taken.—Flies in the Ointment.—Fad-Mongers.—A New Law, a New Loan, a New Tax.—New Zealand Enterprise and Volcanic Energy.—More Bold than Wise.—The Shocking Example.—Following Suit.—One hundred and seventy Millions.—Colonial advantages.—G. A. Sala.—J. A. Froude.—Wise Advice.—Angry Politicians.—Suffering a Recovery.—The First Century of Nation Making.—Enigmas of the Age.—Beginning the New Century with Hope and Courage.

The early and evil reputation of Australasia lingered long and died hard. We were long regarded as mere adventurers, as men who had nothing to lose and everything to gain. (That, by the way, being one of the elements—the old Viking element—of courage, and of the success which courage sometimes page 298wins.) At length our merino wools, unsurpassed for fineness, strength, and beauty, and our Kauri timber and gum, unequalled in any other country, began to show that there was something worth having in this ultima Thule of the Empire, and our reputation rose accordingly. For, though it be a cynical thing to say, in this mercenary world it is too often the truth, that a man is valued, not so much for what he is, as for what he has. And so, up to 1850, we were considered worthy to receive shipments of 'ne'er-do-weels,' and other out-of-date or damaged merchandise or manufactures, on the avowed principle, that anything was good enough for the Colonies.

By this time, however, the 'Manchester school,' to which the adoption of Freetrade had practically given the control of Imperial interests, had begun to bring every national question to the test of what I may term 'loom logic' We were then so few, that our consumption of calico was so trifling as hardly to be worth consideration. Emigration to the Colonies was discountenanced, if not discouraged, by the employers of labour at home, possibly because it might cause wages to advance.

Under the influence of this paltry spirit, even the very possession of Colonies was regarded by the 'new men'—the ruling middle classes—as of little or no advantage, and it was seriously considered whether it would not be better to dispense with them, to 'cut the painter,' as the phrase was, and let the Colonies go.

As if to emphasise this idea—with a generosity more reckless than wise—what may well be termed a page 299farcical Responsible Government was granted, and more than two million square miles of territory was contemptuously handed over to the absolute control of a handful of colonists; so inflicting what might have been a grievous wrong upon the Empire at large.

Whilst the Manchester policy was in danger of becoming the policy of the nation, the discovery of gold in Australia burst upon the English world, opening wide the flood-gates of immigration, and greatly increasing the volume of trade with the Colonies. This, for a time checked the progress of the parochial anti-Colonial spirit.

But only for a time. For, when the momentum of the gold fever, with its attendant wild speculation, had in a measure ceased, the wars at the Cape and New Zealand again caused the question of the cost and value of the Colonies to be discussed on the old lines, with the result of the withdrawal of the small garrisons of British soldiers from every Australasian Colony, thus silencing 'the beat of the English drum,' which, an eloquent American statesman said, 'followed the sun in his daily march around the world.'

In the meantime, we were left to do the best we could with our 'golden' continent and our warlike islanders, our home critics giving us little more than criticism. Of that they were liberal enough. We were told that we were a burden upon the Mother Country, that we were too fond of 'blowing,' that our workmen were too well paid, and worked too few hours per day. The 'eight hours' movement, beginning to take root amongst us, was declared to be a page 300monstrous innovation, entirely out of accord with what our critics facetiously called 'the Spirit of the Age,' which they appeared to think, required a man to work ten hours a day—involving often an absence from his home of thirteen or fourteen hours per day—and then to bed, to be ready for the next day's toil. This, in the opinion of our critics, would appear to be the 'whole duty of man.'

Our critics forgot, however, that we live in democratic countries where there is plenty of sunshine, and where 'the people' rule. Now, democracy in these Colonies has done, and is doing, many foolish things, of which our critics will justly remind us further on; but it has resolved—and it has the power to carry out its resolutions—that in these new 'lands of sunshine' a man shall 'live' as well as 'work;' and that, in order to live, he must not have all the sunshine banished from his daily life. In this resolve our colonial workman has but followed the example of the greatest and the best of our English kings—Alfred the Great—who gave eight hours to work, eight hours to recreation, and eight hours to sleep. Our workman has blazoned on his banner this ancient division of the day, with one addition, which he puts in this way:

Eight hours' work, eight hours' play:
Eight hours' sleep, and eight 'bob' a-day.

Our critics sneer at all this. They seem to think the right rule of life to be 'to get the greatest amount of work out of the greatest number, and let the fittest survive.' They ask us how we can expect to make page 301iron, or cloth, or anything else, and compete with the white slaves at home, who work half as long again for less than half the pay? Well, I admit we are very small people, and that as yet in these Colonies we are but few, though we are grappling as best we may with various great social and industrial problems.

One of these problems,'the Revolt of Labour'—in the recent strike of the London Dock Labourers, has cast its shadow across the industrial world. These poor fellows have had the strong sympathy of Australasians, and their monetary help—notably, of Victoria—in fighting their battle, and we rejoice at the victory they have won.

I readily admit that we want more light, but it is evident that we have, in a measure, the courage of our opinions.

But our critics do not appear to recognize that these are amongst the very conditions under which great problems are not infrequently most advantageously solved, under which Nations, worth loving, or living in have been, or must be Made. For instance when a miner meets with masses of golden but refractory ore, from which, in his ignorance, he can extract but little of its real value, do we not know that he calls to his aid the skilful assayer, who takes—not tons—but 'grains' of ore, which he treats in his small crucibles and furnaces with tiny proportions of various fluxes until—after many failures it may be—he discovers the easiest mode of separating the little button of gold from the worthless slag. Then the miner applies the knowledge so minutely gained to extract, it may be, a million of gold from a mountain of ore.

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In some such way, many obstinate problems may be most advantageously solved. And in the small experiments we Australasians are making in our small way to solve sundry refractory problems, social, industrial, Imperial or otherwise, our home critics have opportunities of being guided by our successes or warned by our failures, when the rising power of the English Democracy demands their solution. The Spartans made their slaves drunk that their children might know how to be sober.

In like manner England having given her Colonial children opportunities to make fools of themselves, or to work out their own salvation, she may by such experience teach her sons at home how they may learn to be wise.

Our critics see in us a great absence of reverence for things old, and a too ready adoption of new ideas. They see in many of us, a neglect of the virtue of obedience—filial and otherwise. And in this they are right.

They are alarmed at our rude independence, and at our ill-regulated enterprise. They do not understand our disregard for mere rank, when unattended by conspicuous public virtue, ability, or valour. They say we are altogether too democratic, and that we are far too ready to admit that 'Jack is as good as his master,' if not better. That we too readily believe that in 'universal suffrage' we have a panacea to cure all the ills of life.

To illustrate this latter idea of ours, one of them tells an old-world story of a certain poor curate who married a fine, but portionless lady. In a Caudle page 303lecture the lady was heard to give vent to her disappointment, by saying to her husband: 'George, I thought when I married a man, that I should have everything. Now, I find when I have got you, that I have got a master, and nothing else,' The moral our critic drew from this story was, that in 'universal suffrage' we have got 'a master,' if nothing else. He is possibly not far wrong. At any rate, like the disappointed lady, we have our master 'for better, for worse.'

What our critics see, is that our 'borrowing policy' is strongly developing amongst portions of our working classes dangerous socialistic ideas. They say that we are rapidly losing our independence, and far too readily expect 'the State' to come, like a second Jupiter, to our help on all occasions. Some of our candid friends say that our New Zealand legislators have not only raised loans to pay for Maori wars, build roads, railways, telegraphs, harbours—the latter in all sorts of out-of-the-way and impossible and unnecessary places—but that we also pay for our boasted education largely out of loans; and they further say, if we do not take care, that we shall be raising loans from which to pay a portion of the interest due to English money-lenders.

This is rather hard hitting, and we feel hurt naturally; but there is a good deal of truth in it.

Amongst other things, our critics say that some of our legislators are not gentlemen—that their language in the Legislative halls is sometimes coarse to the last degree, and that occasionally a committee room page 304serves as the arena for a battle without gloves, some of the M.P.'s forming the ring usual in pugilistic encounters. All this, of course, deserves to be denounced in strong terms; but it ought to be remembered, that one or two despicable insects will taint a whole pot of ointment.

Again, we are told that some of our statesmen—so-called—are little better than 'fad-mongers,' who waste the time of the country in useless talk, in making unworkable laws, and in attempts to solve every difficulty by a new law, a new loan, or a new tax. Amongst these 'fads' one of the most Quixotic, our critics say, is that of 'land nationalisation,' which means the practical abolition of freeholds. It is only fair to the rest of the Australasian Colonies to say that this chimerical proposal, as yet, has only been made in New Zealand, and even there, only by a few dreaming theorists.

Our critics hazard the opinion that New Zealand, being perhaps more accustomed to grapple with difficulties under new conditions than the Continental Australasian Colonies, or, being an island colony, possibly developed at an earlier period more of the enterprise characteristic of the island home of the race. One (who must be a believer in the theory that man is largely moulded by his antecedent or surrounding circumstances) suggests that, as New Zealand is the result of intense volcanic energy, and that, as even now, there are abundance of steam-jets, blow-holes, and geysers at various points, he thinks that possibly some of this energy may have been absorbed by the page 305inhabitants. Another fancies the grand inspiriting climate may be responsible for some of the enterprise for which the Colony is remarkable. However that may be, it is certain that at the instigation of a financier more bold than wise, New Zealand instituted in 1870, the now famous 'borrowing policy,' which has since become too much the fashion throughout Australasia.

When this policy was first discussed, a few members of the New Zealand Parliament, and a few public writers, strongly warned the Colonists of the dangers and the demoralizing influences almost certain to result from the adoption of the 'borrowing policy,' but in vain, for the great majority of the people, encouraged by nearly all the newspapers, yielded at once to the glamour of the magician. Almost every one of the predictions of the earliest opponents of the policy have been realized, and New Zealand, having made as many railways as would serve a population five times her present number, is duly regarded by her critics as 'a shocking example' of extravagance and folly. She is now perforce recovering her senses, and, in sackcloth and ashes, declares that the bold financier's policy is vanity and vexation of spirit, and that 'borrowing' must cease.

The rest of the Australasian Colonies were not long in following the example set by New Zealand, until rather less than four millions of people have succeeded in borrowing and spending rather more than one hundred and seventy millions sterling.

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If the Continental Colonies will only benefit by the bitter experience of New Zealand, instead of waiting to be made wise by their own, our critics may declare them to show more common sense than their island kinsmen.

Meanwhile, the immigration which had been checked as the yield of gold from the mines diminished, received a new impetus, under the influence of the showers of English coined gold which the 'borrowing policy' scattered broadcast over the Colonies. Our English critics came over in shoals. Our progress astonished them. They saw our vast areas, our great works, our greater luxury—not so much in our wealthier, as in our working-classes. The talk about the Desert Continent and the despised colonists ceased, and both Colonies and Colonists assumed an importance proportionate to the big figures which the Board of Trade returns disclosed.

Our visitors were loud in their praise of our continental areas, of our fine climates, our great works, of our rich gold mines, of our varied productions and resources, and of our enterprising selves. New Zealand, with its lofty mountains, its fertile plains, its gold mines (having produced over forty millions sterling), its natural wonders, its grand scenery, its primeval forests, its splendid climate, and what not, received its share of these encomiums.

Amongst the crowd of visitors there came, recently, two distinguished men, G. A. Sala and J. A. Froude.

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Mr. Sala charmed us by his sparkling pictures and genial spirit. Our climate, our wines, our cities, our achievements, our success, and our mode of living—the latter he thought not so luxurious as it might have been—delighted him as much as he pleased us. A journalist of rank, a keen observer, a man of the world, and a newspaper correspondent of the first water, amidst his merry laughter at our 'blow,' and his jolly good fellowship at our tables, we welcomed his honest appreciation, mingled though it was with a good deal of good-natured 'chaff.'

The other—and the greater man—James Anthony Froude, looked at our country, ourselves, and our doings, with an appreciation which gratified us, but, with his clear historic intellect, he looked below the surface also. He saw that we were going too fast, and he honestly said so. His common-sense observations, and his wise statesman-like deductions were like the doses of wholesome medicine which—whether agreeable or not—a wise doctor prescribes for a feverish patient, and many of us, in New Zealand at least, made wry faces accordingly. He told us we were living too fast, and he strongly denounced our 'borrowing policy.' He did not like our disproportionately great cities, and other old-world evils, which he told us we were creating in these fair, young lands. Like other patients, we did not altogether like his treatment of our malady.

Some of our politicians in New Zealand, who were partly responsible for a good deal of our madborrow-page 308ing and spending, were quite angry, and denounced Mr. Froude in Review articles, and on public platforms in unmeasured terms. Though, on the principle of following a leader—even if he adopt the course sometimes followed by a second-rate barrister with a bad case, of abusing the plaintiff's attorney—some angry colonists, who at first supported our angry politicians, are beginning to see that the clear-headed historian was not far wrong.

One result is, that we are suffering a recovery, and steadily regaining our senses.

As our recovery progresses, and as we approach a right mind, there can be little doubt that we shall recognize those as amongst our best friends, who told us of our faults and taught us how to mend them. Notwithstanding our treatment of these two distinguished visitors, more especially of Mr. Froude, it may with truth be said, that they have described the Australasian Colonies better, have told us more wholesome and necessary truths, and have brought us, our country, and our deeds under the notice of 'Our Kin Across the Sea' more effectually than all preceding visitors: in a word, they have taught us 'to see ourselves as others see us.' Mr. Froude especially has rendered us most true and faithful service, which each succeeding year will make more and more apparent.

The first century of the Nation Making of Australasia has ended. What the record of its second century will be, must be told by those who come after page 309us. With them, and the English-speaking race of the coming century, will largely rest the solution of some of the 'Enigmas of the Age.'

Meanwhile, we Australasians—conscious of our errors, yet modestly proud of our successes in Nation Making—begin our New Century with hope and courage.