The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 3 (June 1, 1935)
The Birth of Our Railways — The Great Public Works Policy of 1870.–-Part III
The Public Works Scheme as finally adopted by the New Zealand Parliament was put into operation with remarkable energy. It must be remembered that the population of New Zealand was only some 250,000 at this time. The immediate object was to build roads and railways, but the real aim at the back of Vogel's mind was to unite nine isolated settlements into one nation and to fill the waste lands with a prosperous people. By working in a vast cycle the railways development was to achieve both results. Immigrants were to be introduced to provide the labour required by the Public Works. These works were to open up the unoccupied lands, and these lands were then to absorb the immigrants. Successful immigration was thus the first essential to the completion of the scheme and this was carried out on a bold scale.
The first appropriation which Vogel asked for in 1870 was £1,500,000 for immigration. He met with opposition, but retorted that had he asked for an appropriation to stock the land with cattle and horses it would have been considered as a business proposition, and that men were infinitely more productive than cattle and horses. He warned intending immigrants that they must be willing to endure hardship and to start, if need be, at the very bottom. He warned them to save and invest. He warned those controlling immigration that they should base their computations on the basis that so many immigrants would be successful, while so many would be the reverse, and he warned the agents at Home of the need for care in selection.
In October, 1873, Vogel sent to the Agent-General in London instructions to send out 20,000 immigrants before the close of the year, and recommended that two first class steamships should be chartered to convey agricultural labourers to Otago and Canterbury in time for the harvest season. The Agent-General was given authority to defray the travelling expenses of suitable immigrants from their homes to the port of emigration, as well as from England to New Zealand. These immigrants were to be absorbed by the Public Works. But Vogel had no desire to swamp the country with only one class of immigrant. Speaking on the Immigrants Land Bill in September, 1873, he advocated a more balanced influx of population, especially of people with independent means. He advocated that fewer total strangers should be brought out, but rather people already connected with families in New Zealand.
From 1873 to 1883, labour was introduced for the Public Works and Land Settlement Scheme at a remarkable rate. From 30th June, 1873, to 30th June, 1874, Vogel introduced 17,573 immigrants, while on the latter date a further 14,530 were still on the water. He had provision in mind for them all, and despite the magnitude of the undertaking, unemployment was an issue which Vogel had not seriously to contend with. The different Ministries which succeeded to power from 1870 to 1890, all remained more or less faithful to Vogel's programme, and by 1883 over 100,000 immigrants had been introduced at a cost of only £2,000,000.
Over 78,000 of these immigrants were brought out during Vogel's short period of office from 1870 to 1876, and these were all absorbed successfully. Meanwhile the building of the Railways and other Public Works went ahead swiftly. In 1870 the country had 46 miles of railroads. In 1873 there were 145 miles open, with a further 434 under construction. In 1877 there were 1052 miles open, with a further 251 under construction. The total expenditure from 1870 to 1878, under the Public Works Policy, was:
|Roads and Bridges
The scheme brought about a large increase in population and achieved the building of a net-work of arteries (railways, roads, telegraphs) which made national life a possibility. Shipping kept pace with internal development and the country's isolation was lessened. Yet the Public Works Policy had also given rise to a scramble for borrowed capital. Vogelism produced the greatest land-boom the colony had experienced. Land revenues at first went to the provincial exchequers which thus rivalled each other in selling as much as possible. Land became locked up in unduly large holdings.page 42 page 43
Prices were inflated owing to the false prosperity arising from the ease of obtaining borrowed money.
Much of the loan, it has been seen, was extravagantly wasted. The Ministry was compelled to build miles of useless or premature roads and railways to retain power, while main trunk lines were left uncompleted. Vogel's weak acceptance of amendments in 1870 and his haste were largely to blame.
Yet despite all its shortcomings, the scheme conferred untold good. Vogel, writing in England, in 1878, said: “No doubt it was a bold policy: it was a policy virtually forced on the Colony by the abandonment of the Mother-Country of the duties it had contracted by the Treaty of Waitangi. That the remedy of the colonists was in opening up the land and increasing the population, was recognised by the Government of this country (England), for after great reluctance they passed through Parliament a Bill authorising an Imperial guarantee to be given to a million sterling of Colonial debentures. All doubts as to the soundness of the policy are at rest. Already it has been found necessary to make the railways fifty per cent, more substantial than was at first contemplated. The value of private property in the country has much more than doubled. The value of the public estate has equally advanced. Till lately land was to be bought from five shillings an acre to £2. At the session of Parliament just concluded, an Act was passed by which henceforth, wherever land is open to selection, the price shall not be less than £2, nor where it is put up to auction shall the upset price be less than £1. Excepting Canterbury, where the price has always been £2 per acre, this means a very large increase, in my opinion an increase more than equal to the whole cost of the railways, roads, and immigration.”
The great fault in the whole scheme was the lack of the land reservations proposed by Vogel in the original scheme. H. J. Sealy, writing in 1881, said:— “To render a large scheme of Immigration and Public Works really successful, every acre fit for cultivation ought to have been reserved by the Government from the very first promulgation of the policy, for actual settlement in moderate-sized farms with numerous village centres… . I maintain that one half the present rates, both for passengers and goods, would have been amply sufficient to pay interest on the cost of construction of the railways, if the country through which the lines pass had been occupied under a proper system of small farm settlement—which, I have shown, was an integral part of the original Public Works Scheme… . I can only express a hope that we may all live to see the whole of the good land of the Colony thickly settled upon by an industrious and contented population, and then, and not till then, shall we be able to acknowledge the benefit derivable from our railways, roads, bridges and other monuments of Sir Julius Vogel's Public Works Policy of 1870.”
The dominant factor in the whole policy was the building of the railways. The most fascinating aspect of the story of these railways is the figure of this man looking so far and so unerringly into the future; juggling successfully with finances of a bewildering magnitude; scheming not for the love of personal power, but for that of setting giant forces into action in the moulding of a nation. His nationalism was a nationalism in terms of railways—in terms of the civilization which the Iron Horse inevitably draws after itself into the wildernesses. Sir Julius Vogel—for he was knighted in 1875—stands out in history as the founder of the New Zealand Railways and of New Zealand as a nation. He had created from the isolated provinces of New Zealand a unified country on the highway to full nationality. He had established a centralised government and through it had embarked upon the building of good communications. New Zealand owes its nationhood primarily to its railways and the man whose genius conceived them—Sir Julius Vogel.