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The New Zealand Evangelist

Local Religious Intelligence — Public Opinion. The Exiles.—A Magistrate's Letter.

Local Religious Intelligence.

Public Opinion. The Exiles.—A Magistrate's Letter.

The seemingly kind offer of convict labour to this colony has been viewed by almost every one as a page 68 threat, and has generally excited no small stir and excitement in this settlement. In every possible way, except in the way in which it would certainly have been most effectual, has public opinion been expressed on the proposed measure. The press and the platform; political and ecclesiastical bodies of every kind; the Magistrates, the Grand Jury, the Legislative Council, the Settler's Association, the Church of England, and the Evangelical Alliance, have all expressed themselves distinctly and decidedly; the natives here and along the coast, both Church of England and Wesleyan, have also memorialized the Government on the subject. Our sole regret is, that,—on a question confessedly so unconnected with party interests of every kind,—as there is but one feeling on the subject, there had been but one voice. —that instead of public opinion running in so many tiny rills, it had rolled along in one impetuous, irresistible stream,—that instead of the voice of the community reaching the Colonial Office, in so many distinct whispers, it had fallen on the official ears like a clap of thunder, so loud and clear as to leave an impression not likely to be forgotten. By the course that has been taken, however, no fact could have been more fully established, than the deep sensation the proposal has produced, and the perfect unanimity that exists in rejecting, respectfully but decidedly, the proposed boon.

The public have already heard or seen the sentiments and arguments of almost every class, with the exception of the Magistrates. We are happy to present our readers with the following official letter, a copy of which has been kindly forwarded to us by the writer, containing the deliberate opinion of the Father of the Bench. He rests his objections as will be seen on the inutility and inexpediency of the measure. As teachers and guardians of religion and morality, it is on the dangers to these that we principally rest our opposition. But as the Apostle Paul, to secure his personal safety and the free coarse of the Gospal, claimed his privileges as a Roman citizen page 69 and appealed to the tribunal of Cæsar, when the law of God and appeals to heaven were disregarded, so, to secure the same objects,—where secular considerations prevail more than spiritual,—where the purse is more loud than the conscience,—we think it right to act like the apostle, to rest the lever on the strongest fulcrum, to apply the argumentum ad hominem, and employ that mode of reasoning by which they are most easily moved: and having two strings to our bow, draw the one that carries the arrow of conviction farthest in that direction.

But while we memorialize the Colonial Office, let us not forget to send petitions, earnest, frequent, and full of faith to Him who holds the hearts of princes in his hand, and turns them like the rivulets of water whithersoever he pleaseth, that he may avert this dreaded evil:—



It was only upon my return from a prolonged tour on the coast, that I received your circular letter, dated 10th April last, upon the subject of introducing “Exiles” into this colony, and upon which you request my sentiments.

Considering that the moral evils which have resulted from the transportation system in the neighbouring colonies, are well known to Earl Grey, I need not, in this place, consider the question under that light. The suggestion of the noble lord has no doubt originated in an impression that to attain a competency of labourers, the settlers would be disposed to overlook the degradation of their adopted country, which would inevitably result were it made a receptacle for “Exiles,” and, in effect, a Penal Settlement.

Living in the midst of the chief, and nearly the only agricultural district of the Principal Settlement, or Port Nicholson, I have been at some pains to learn the unbiassed sentiments of those around me upon this subject. Had I found any diversity of opinion thereon, I should have at once called a public meeting page 70 of the Hutt settlers. As yet, however, I have not met with a single individual whose opinions were not decidedly hostile to the project. Their sentiments, in short, are quite in unison with those expressed at a late public meeting of the inhabitants of Wellington; where, as I am informed, not a single voice was raised in approval.

In regard to my own opinions on the subject which you request I will express, I shall now briefly state them under two heads. Istly. The general inexpediency of the measure in regard to New Zealand. and, 2ndly. Its inutility under the present circumstances of the colony.

Firstly, Never having had a personal opportunity of seeing the working of the transportation system in Penal Settlements, I can only form my judgment thereon from other sources of information. But when I read that its effects have driven hundreds of respectable families from Tasmania to Port Phillip and South Australia, and that even in New South Wales, where this system had so long existed,—and where its advantages and disadvantages must be so well known—the colonists are holding public meetings in all the chief towns, deprecating its renewal,—I can come to no other conclusion than this, that the introduction of the Convict System into these Islands, would produce the same consequences, as it has in all other places. Our population, at present, is perhaps more free from crime and immorality than any other equivalent portion in her Majesty's dominions. There are now, very nearly, one thousand souls living in the Hutt district, and yet, although the Magistrates sit but once a fortnight, it rarely happens there are more than three cases brought before them,— sometimes there is but one, and frequently none. This remarkable paucity of crime mainly results from the absence of poverty and want, and from the general knowledge which the settlers possess of each other. They all feel the value of character, and all are doing well, who are industrious. The chief incentatives to crime do not therefore exist. But if page 71 convicted felons, (for all who are not political exiles must come under this title,) are once introduced into such a community, the social state, in all its ramifications, must of necessity be altered. Like a deleterious drug infused into a wholesome beverage, the whole becomes adulterated,—if not poisoned. Our police establishment must be enormously augmented, and our dwellings, now generally left all night without bolt, bar, or shutter, must be secured with all that care so necessary to be observed in England.

2. It appears to me, also, that the introduction of these “Exiles” would be most unjust, and would certainly be most injurious to the natives. We are bound, I conceive, to watch over and improve their moral condition, even still more than over that of our own people, inasmuch as they are, in many things, but children. Honesty is one of their national characteristics; and having taken from them so much, we should at least foster and encourage in them this virtue. But as evil example is always more followed than good, the sudden influx of felons would be the most effectual means that could be employed for counteracting all that the Ministers of the Gospel have laboured to teach.

3. The introduction of “Exiles” as an addition to our labouring population, appears to me not only pernicious but needless; and this for the following reasons—

1st. Because the profits on agriculture, unlike the results in neighbouring colonies, are so low that they will only remunerate the manual labourer. Hence, as large farms no longer exist, hired labourers are in little demand. The natives now compete with us in rearing grain; and can sell it at a price, which to us would bring a heavy loss. Who then are to employ these exiles; Certainly not the small farmers, having but 10 or 15 acres; and as for the flock-masters, their runs are so limited, and their operations so crippled (in comparison to what exists in Australia,) that not more that a dozen, perhaps, could find employment in this line.

page 72

Still, it must be confessed, that the want of good labourers is felt. But to supply the limited addition which we require, under the existing circumstances of the colony, two unexpected sources of relief have arisen on the spot, which, as they could not be known to Earl Grey, I shall here beg to explain. One of these arises from the great number of soldiers who have, and who are now purchasing, their discharge, for the sole object of settling among us. And so prevalent is this feeling, that it is thought one-fourth of the military now stationed here, will avail themselves of this power in the next three years. A more valuable class of settlers than these cannot be named.

Secondly, The construction of the public roads, which has now been suspended, and upon which hundreds of natives have been employed, has been a most beneficial school to them for European labour. It has turned them into such habits of order, regularity, and perseverance, in their daily work, as to render them perfectly qualified to assist us in nearly all our agricultural operations. The beneficial effects of all this discipline need not here be enlarged upon, they are so great, both to the natives themselves, and to the colony at large, that I feel perfectly convinced it will be the soundest policy, not only to foster these habits, but to avoid any measures, such as that contemplated, which would so obviously and so fatally counteract them.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c., &.,

William Swainson, F. R. S.

To the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Wellington.
Printed at the Office of the "Wellington Independent," Corner of Willis-street and Lambmon Quay.