Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Voices from Auckland, New Zealand.

A Query. — "Will the Forty-acre Men ruin the Country?

page 68

A Query.
"Will the Forty-acre Men ruin the Country?

To the Editor of the New Zealander.

Sir,—An attack upon one of the wisest measures of the Provincial Government has been made by an organ of the Auckland Press, whose uniform condemnation of the policy of our Superintendent so clearly emanates from a spirit of opposition, if not animosity, as to cause those who have been long acquainted with its tactics to give a wary and cautious ear to its animadversions.

Anxious to induce the very calamities it pretends to deplore; in contravention of all experience in colonization—in direct opposition to the true facts of the case; a theory, based upon hearsay and misinformation, has been raised—too flimsy, it is true, to pass current with any one at all acquainted with the practical formation of a new colony—but calculated to mislead the more unwary and unsuspicious of the friends of New Zealand at home and abroad.

Whence comes this sudden and uncalled-for burst of amiable philanthropy—this touching sympathy for "men of a coarser mould"—these patriotic fears and lamentations! Truly, the wind has shifted since the never-to-be-forgotten Editorial of this same journal announced to the world that "grass was growing in our streets." "'Tis an ill bird that fouls its own nest;" nor need we envy the feelings of a man, or of a party, who would precipitate a panic on their country for the purpose of hampering the opposite party when in power.

The baying of the bull-dog of the 19th has been followed by the howls and yelps of all the smaller curs who take their key-note from its own. "The forty-acre men will ruin the country!" Doubtless — much in the same way that Free Trade ruined England some few years back—or that Victoria sank into insignificance on the discovery of her gold fields !

Why has New Zealand—with her copper mines, her forests of magnificent timbers, her untried fisheries, her thousands upon thousands of untilled acres ready for the plough—comparitively languished, unless bolstered up by foreign loans or the accidental high prices of 1854 and 1855? Wealth was, and is there; but like the gold in the Robbers' Cave, we wait for that mighty Genii, the surplus labour of England, to give us the "Open Sesame," without which it will lie as hidden and as useless as it has heretofore done.

To believe such notions, we might suppose the "forty-acre man" to be an animal altogether sui generis—useless to himself and to the state—one who can exist without increasing the reve-page 69nue of the colony. Naturally of an idle and vagabond disposition, he will prefer destitution and poverty to the alternative of hard work and independence! Numbers join in this foolish cry, forgetful that they themselves, though now in far different circumstances, began life in the colony literally without a pound.

Then, again, they put the converse of the proposition, and the "new arrival" is told to his discouragement, that he has no chance of success; that the market is over-stocked; and a volley of abuse is fired off at that great kidnapper, the Superintendent, that political Blunderbore—who has "inveigled" so many "poor new chums" into his enchanted castle! "Min Allah! they laugh at our beards!" Let us take the case and examine it for ourselves.

Immigrants we may divide into four classes:—1st. The man with a capital of £150 and upwards. 2nd. Gentlemen, clerks, &c., with smaller means, all unused to menial labour. 3rd. Mechanics. 4th. Unskilled labourers or agricultural servants.

For the first of these four classes we need have no apprehensions. With prudence and economy, and a not too precipitate investment of their capital, they may look for an adequate—nay a liberal return. Their own good sense will tell them that they need not look for fortunes;—ex nihilo, nihil fit.—The man who commences business with only a thousand pounds, may be well satisfied if the interest of his money afford him a comfortable living while his capital is yearly increasing in value, as the district in which his farm is situated is improving. The second of these classes are undoubtedly in the worst position of all. Yet they can blame no one but themselves. Capable of reasoning on the subject, with all means and appliances for gaining correct information, how could any reasonable man come to the conclusion that the services of persons of their description would be at a premium in a comparitively new and as yet thinly populated country! The best advice for such among them as possess some little means, though less than the sum stated above, viz., £150, is for three or more to club together (if they intend farming, and can obtain their 40 acres adjacent to one another)—throw all into the common lot—and, if at last the exchequer run low, one or more by working away from home, could keep "the firm" going. This has been done—and might be done again. Otherwise, if unable to obtain situations as clerks, &c. they must be content to sink to the level of the last two classes, and trust to sobriety and economy to advance their position—a hard, though not necessarily a vain endeavour in a country where working men can obtain 10, 12, and 15 shillings per week besides board and lodging.

page 70

And why does the mechanic emigrate? Partly to increase his daily rate of wages, but mainly because, at home, the increasing numbers of his craft preclude the possibility of anything like a steady and regular employment. Take 5s. as the average daily wages of a mechanic at home (putting war-times out of the question), and I maintain that—let matters come to what the "Progress" (?) party pretend to dread, but secretly wish for—I maintain that he would be better off here with regular employment, and 7 or 8 shillings a day, which, as things now are, is only a little more, and in some trades less than half the present rate of wages. At home, too, the mechanic out of work may pass the time with his hands in his pockets, unable to keep the wolf from the door. How different here!—the unskilled labour market is open to him and (should wages throughout the country drop to 3s. 6d. or 4s. per day), as his worst alternative, as a common labourer, he can earn nearly the same rate as his trade provided for him in England.

These calculations are based upon the supposition of a fall in the rate of wages in consequence of increased immigration—such a fall, as I shall endeavour to show, is necessary for the advancement of the Province, and fair upon the labourer himself. The present high-pressure system must end in stagnation and atrophy. Who can afford to give twenty shillings for labour that reproduces but the same amount or less? Now, under the present system of a mixed-class in emigration, need we fear that these changes will be effected in a too rapid or too startling a manner. A large, a very large proportion of our new arrivals are employers, rather than competitors for employment.

But the unskilled labourer;—this is the man who gains more perhaps than any by the change, The Pariah of civilised England—living in many cases less comfortably than the cattle he tends—worked hard from daylight until dark—badly fed, without the smallest hope of bettering his condition—his only refuge in sickness or old age, the workhouse,—is this the man to be ruined by the free-grant of 40 acres of land, and the advance of his wages from £8 a year to £30, or from 10s. a week to 20s. O, fortunati Agricoli, si sua bona norint!

Away with such cant—such sickly sentimentality. Once let the tide of immigration reduce wages to this point, and where one man is now, there would be ten then employed. Why do we hear the too common exclamation, "Oh, cultivation won't pay—grass is the only thing?" The high price, the uncertain supply, and the inferior quality of the labour cause all this. With wheat and potatoes at the same price—with oats at nearly double the price as at home—without rent page 71and without taxes—we cannot do what the English farmer can—cultivate our land; and why? Because the exorbitant price of labour more than counterbalances these otherwise advantages. "Eh, mon! but he couldna live on twenty shillings a week!" No?—does he not live on ten—aye, and on less than ten, at home? Meat, tea, sugar, and potatoes, I find, by reference to London and Auckland prices, vary but little either way: wheat has not, except till lately, averaged dearer than at home; house-rent, if engaged on a farm, would cost him nothing here; clothes, I own, are somewhat dearer, and boots too; but the balance would be far, very far on the side of the labourer, to say nothing of the physical and moral improvement of himself and family. Ask any servant if he appreciates the difference between working for a master here and at home—between the feeling of manly independence on the one hand, and the cringing servility on the other; between the toil exacted to the utmost tension of his physical power of endurance, and the fairer amount claimed here by the master, more fitted for the labour of a human being.

No, sir, it is no sincere apprehension of evil results to the country at large which has raised this outcry against the present system of immigration. The cloven foot peeps out. The "forty acres" given away, is the whole gist of the matter. "What! make 'Hodge' a landed proprietor! put him on the same footing as the man whose 'ancestors came in with the Conqueror!'" Oh fie! this is too bad! never mind, though the weekly revenue be nearly doubled, our exports increased, the colony opened up, such a "moving of landmarks" and "opening of flood-gates" must end, as the whole race of Dedlocks declare, in our utter ruin! How much nicer it would have been to have introduced "direct purchase," to have allowed the sale of land only in sections of not less than a square mile—to have kept capital "capital," and labour "labour,"—and gradually to have grafted the effête and worn-out institutions of European countries upon this.

I am, Sir, &c.,

A Cockatoo Settler.

The Wade, Sept. 25, 1859.