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Historical Records of New Zealand

Some Remarks on the Present State of the Colony of Sidney, in New South Wales, and on the means most likely to render it a productive, instead of an expensive, settlement.†

Some Remarks on the Present State of the Colony of Sidney, in New South Wales, and on the means most likely to render it a productive, instead of an expensive, settlement.

4th June, 1806.

The colony of Sidney at its first establishment may not inaptly be compared to a new-born infant hanging at its mother’s breast. It deriv’d its whole nourishment from the vitals of its parent, and the exhaustion it occasioned was not unfelt. In this state it was tolerated only because no other expedient could be devis’d for dsposing of those malefactors whom the policy of this country found it necessary to expel from society, and whom the American States, from an ill-consider’d pevishness of disposition, refus’d at that time to receive, as they formerly had done.

Its present state may be compar’d to that of a young lad beginning to attain some learning, but, between the intervals of his schooling, gaining by his industry part of his necessary maintenance, and certain of soon becoming a blessing, instead of a burthen, to his family, if a little attention only is given to the direction of his talents and the advancement of his worldly interest.

In this stage he submits without a symptom of dissatisfaction to the will of his parents. The laws by which he is govern’d are ordinances either emanating from the will of his great father, the King, in the form of instructions to the Governor, or in proclamations issuing from the Governor himself, as the King’s

The manuscript from which this statement is printed is in the handwriting of the clerk or private secretary of Sir Joseph Banks. It contains, however, numerous interlinear and marginal corrections in Sir Joseph Banks’s own handwriting and is initialled by him. At the time when it was written, much dissatisfaction was expressed by, and on behalf of, wealthy merchants and shippers at the restraints placed upon traders to Australia by the East India Company’s charter. See Banks’s remarks, post, p. 270.

page 272 representative. These he obeys cheerfully, from a sense of the great benefits he yet continues to receive in supplies of provisions, clothes, &c., sent to him from Home at no small expence. He will, however, soon be in a situation to provide for himself; and when that time comes he will listen with avidity to the first person who reads to him that chapter in Blackstone which declares that a Briton inherits as his birthright the constitution of England, and carries this inheritance with him to every new country he may think fit to settle in.

As soon as this notion enters into his mind, he will call out loudly for the enjoyment of municipal rights. He will soon obtain the privilege of a representative assembly, and with it the right of legislation. From that moment he will demand what he has now a right to claim—the benefit of the Act of Navigation—and can for the future be restrained in the article of shipbuilding, and in the enjoyment of that proportion of commerce which our colonies possess, by no other means than by the operation of the East India Company’s charter, which, if enforc’d upon him, will either drive him into piratical enterprise or induce him to hazard a trade with other nations in preference to his mother country.

In this situation it is surely necessary to treat him with no small degree of kindness and attention. He is certainly non sine diis animosus infans.* The moment the seal fishery open’d itself to view after the discovery of Basses Straits, a large number of persons enter’d into it with spirit and activity; the representation of Mr. McArthur respecting fine wool proves that speculation upon future advantages are carried much further at Sydney than sober European judgment will justify; and the article of trepang had not been many weeks discover’d on the southern reef, in consequence of the wreck of the Porpoise, when suggestions were made of the propriety of opening an intercourse with China for the supply of the colony with Chinese manufacturies by the sale of that article at Canton.

This project certainly ought not to be encourag’d. The whole benefit of the colony, either in consumption or in produce, should be secur’d, as far as possible, to the mother country; and this may with certainty be done if proper indulgences are granted to induce the colonists who grow rich there to remit their gains to England, which they most certainly will prefer above all other countries if they are well treated in their attempts to acquire property.

The adventures that open themselves at present and offer a fair prospect of advantage to the colonists are the seal fishery,

* Horace, Ode iv, Book 3.

page 273 the coal trade, the production of fine wool, the collection of sandal-wood from the Feegee Islands, the fishery of trepang on the reef near New Caledonia, and, in a much more distant view, the south whale fishery.

The importance of the seal fishery is yet little understood. All seals produce oil and skins of some value. A certain portion of the seals of the southern hemisphere, called fur seals, have under the shaggy hair with which they are cover’d a coat of wool almost as fine as that of the beaver, and much more valuable than that of the rabbit. This, by the invention of a Mr. Chapman, can be separated from the hair that covers it and converted into a most valuable raw material for the hat manufactory, and possibly a more advantageous article to the revenue when employ’d in that trade than any other of equal value.

The fur of this seal will, by coating over the sheep’s wool bodies of which hats are made, convert them into what the hatters call fine plates, each of which pays a duty of two shillings or three shillings to Government. A seal, when worth ten shillings, will cover three or four of these bodies, and they clearly will produce to the revenue as much as its sale price to the fishermen, which it is presumed no other article will do.

More of this kind of wool would be us’d in the manufacture of hats if a greater supply of it could be obtain’d. At present the makers of shawls and other fancy draperies purchase a part of the stock at a high rate and convert it into various elegant and expensive articles—one of which is a cloth, not a little resembling the drap de vigogne,* and sold almost as dear. But the fur is not the only valuable produce of the seal fishery; it is from one species only that fur can be obtained, but every species, and the sea-elephant in particular, produce oil in abundance, and skins fit for the tanner.

The island of Van Dieman, the south-west coast of New Holland, and the southern parts of New Zealand, produce seals of all kinds in quantities at present almost innumerable. Their stations on rocks or in bays have remain’d unmolested since the Creation. The beach is incumber’d with their quantities, and those who visit their haunts have less trouble in killing them than the servants of the victualling office have who kill hogs in a pen with mallets.

While this is the case the utmost encouragement should be given to those colonists who will embark in search of the seals. They are at present, from their accumulated number, an object of speculation to every nation that has ships. The Americans have lately visited Van Dieman’s Land and kill’d. great numbers

* Swans’-down.

page 274 of them. During the short interval of peace a sealing vessel was fitted out from the Isle of France for the same purpose to Basses Straits.

These distant speculations, however, cannot be advantageous to foreigners. After the seals have been once effectually disturb’d their diminished quantities will not then afford sufficient encouragement to induce Americans or Frenchmen to interfere with our colonists; but there can be no doubt that at all times hereafter seals will be attainable in great quantities—as is now the case in Newfoundland—by stationary fishers, who know the courses they take in their migrations, and can intercept them in their progress by nets and other contrivances. Thus, if we encourage our new settlers to disturb as speedily as possible every seal station they can discover, we shall receive from them an immense supply of skins and oil, in the first instance; shall prevent the interference of foreign nations in future in the sealing fishery; and secure to ourselves a permanent fishery hereafter, because it will be carried out by means which none but stationary fishermen can provide.

On the subject of fine wool little need be said. Government here seem inclin’d to believe that a very few years will produce a very large increase of the small number of merino sheep which Capt. Waterhouse purchas’d of Mrs. Gordon, at the Cape, and carried to Port Jackson; in fact the herbage of the colony is by no means so well adapted to the sheep farming as that of Europe. The progress of the flock will, therefore, be slow; but as the true merino breed will certainly retain the superiority of their fleeces, and produce wool worth six shillings a pound at the least when wash’d and scour’d, or six hundred and seventy-two pounds sterling a ton, there can be no doubt that it will bear the necessary charges of freight, insurance, &c., and become in due time a profitable article of investment for a cargo from Port Jackson to London.

During the time while the seal fishery continues to give great profit, as must be the case till the rocks of Van Dieman’s Land and New Zealand have yielded their maiden harvest, it does not seem necessary to encourage materialy any other kind of adventure. The fishing for trepang, which cannot be sold but in China, may safely be discourag’d at present, and consider’d as a reserve for an increas’d population and diminish’d resources. Whenever the colony may hereafter resort to it, the East India Company will, no doubt, send an annual ship to take of the quantity procur’d, as it will by so doing supply themselves with an investment for China of as certain a sale as silver, and at the same time preclude all pretence of the colonists to carry it to Canton in their own vessels.

page 275

The collectors of sandal-wood should be encourag’d, as the Americans will certainly obtain every pound of that valuable article which our colonists neglect to procure. Its high price, however, will amply provide for the cost of sending it to England, where the East India Company will find it in their interest to purchase it at rates very advantageous to the original shippers.

It will clearly be expedient to promote a trade in coals between the colony and our new acquisition at the Cape. At present coals may be brought to the Cape by ships sent to New South Wales for that purpose, which will be found a much more economical mode of supply than sending coals from England, as was done when the Cape was last in our hands. Thus, if a proper trade is set on foot, and encouragement is given to the colonists by allowing the entry of new articles from thence into the United Kingdom without charging upon them the exorbitant and impolitic duty now levied on all unrated goods, a supply of cabinet woods for veneers, dying stuff, gums, and many other useful raw materials will, by degrees, find its way to the mother country, while the collecting of them will give ample encouragement to the industry of the stationary inhabitants, their children and servants.

At present the colonists have very little craft of any kind, nor ought they to be allowed any increase till regulations respecting the size of their vessels and the limits within which they may be allow’d to navigate have been sanction’d by His Majesty’s Ministers, and agreed to by the directors of the East India Company. This cannot be a difficult task, as the colonists have no possible claim to visit lands within the limits of the Company’s charter north of ten degrees south latitude, nor the Company a just reason for withholding from them the privilege of going thus far. They will by this arrangement be effectually restrain’d from all intercourse with the colonies of Europeans in the East Indies, tho’ permitted to visit every part of the immense continent to which they are destin’d in due time to give a British population.

This indulgence will at once put the colony on a most respectable footing in point of navigation, enable the colonists to be usefull to themselves, and in time advantageous to their mother country; and it will, by enabling them to be honest traders, remove all hazard of their becoming pyrates, the fear of which seems to haunt the Court of Directors so continualy.

A concession on the part of the East India Company, so honorable and so liberal in the first instance, will destroy at once all the obliquy arising from the unreasonableness of a monopoly excluding any of their fellow subjects from seas in which themselves have no reason to navigate, and a continent they have page 276 no wish to explore—a conduct for which they are now daily and hourly reproach’d; while it will justify in the eyes of all mankind the most rigorous exercise of their right to confiscate ship and cargo, in case any colonist should hereafter be so imprudent as to pass the limit of the vast area given up to him for the exercise of his talents and the employment of his commercial capital. It will give an opportunity to our countrymen to occupy in succession every desirable situation which might tempt other nations to colonise and lay the foundation of a claim which the lapse of time may hereafter mature of resisting the attempt of other countries to participate in the sovereignty of mass of land great enough in point of extent to satisfy the ambition even of a French Emperor; and it must be remember’d that the district now propos’d to be open’d to the investigation of British adventure is about as unknown to civilis’d nations as an equal portion of the moon, and probably hides within its broad bosom objects of commerce, materials for manufacture, and sources of wealth of the utmost importance to the future welfare and prosperity of the United Kingdom.