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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 24

Sir G. Grey in South Australia

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Sir G. Grey in South Australia.

Mr Mossman in his work on the Australian Colonies, published in London some years ago, gives an account of Sir George Grey's administration of the Government of South Australia, from which we learn that in 1839 Adelaide, owing to the lavish expenditure of paper money on non-productive public works, was apparently the most prosperous city in Australia. But as in the following year only over 2,500 acres of land were under cultivation, the inhabitants had to send to Launceston and elsewhere for supplies. The amount expended that year was £277,000, and the large sum of £100 was paid for a ton of flour, being the surplus stores of an emigrant ship. Our author observes:—

It was impossible that this unnatural state of affairs could last long. The bubbly burst by the British Government repudiating the drafts of the. Governor, who was recalled from his post in May, 1841, and superseded by Captain Grey, of the 83rd Regiment This officer had acquired colonial experience in West Australia, and had published an account of his expeditions in that colony, which had brought him under favorable notice of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, The subsequent career of this able Governor places him in the highest rank of administrative capacity for ruling a colony. In illustration of this, an extract from one of his despatches upon the erroneous views of his predecessors may be quoted. He whites:—"In the early stage of a colony (as has been the case here up to a very recent date) there are no producers either of the necessaries of life, or of articles of export. Under such circumstances, a large outlay upon extensive public buildings and town improvements is no further benefit to the colony than that these improvements are obtained. The whole of the sum expended in labor is carried out of the colony to purchase every article of consumption and clothing. The colony thus depending altogether upon imports, and the demand being uncertain, the necessaries of life fluctuate extraordinarily in value, and are generally extremely high. This circumstance, combined with the great employment of labor by the government, raises inordinately the price of labor. The country settler cannot thus become a producer of food or articled of export. His agricultural operations are limited, his capital eaten up by the high rate of wages, and unless the necessaries of life retain an exorbitant value he is soon ruined. It is impossible under such circumstances for the settler to compete with other colonies where the price of labor and provisions is only half what it is in the colony where he resides. He could not do this if his farm was actually broken up and enclosed, so that in this respect he stood, on an equality with agriculturists in other colonies, much less then can he do it, when he has a farm to create from an untrodden wilderness."

Governor. Grey not only perceived the financial errors committed by Governor Gawler, but he was prepared to carry a rigid system of retrenchment into effect, in the face of undeserved obloquy, which at one time bordered. on. open rebellion among the laborer immigrants. His first step was to reduce the estimates from £94,000, as the actual expenditure of 1841, to £31,000 in 1842; the principal reduction being in. the storekeeper's department, which was lowered from £23,748 to £340. The effects of this excision of the unhealthy excrescences on the body politic, was an immediate callapse of all the inflated and fictitious prosperity of the land speculators. Then followed bankruptcy among employers and difficulty of obtaining employment among the laboring classes, so that in the latter part of 1841; nearly two thousand men. and women, and children, were thrown upon the Government for support, as absolute paupers, numbering about one-fourth the in habitants of Adelaide.

Affairs now began to assume a threatening aspect. The unemployed people used violent j language, threatening that unless they were relieved, or obtained wages sufficient for their subsistence at government work, they would support themselves by rapine and pillage. "That which had at first been concerded to them as an indulgence they now demanded as a right," according to a despatch of Governor, Grey. He was urged, by petitions from the contractors and others, to finish the buildings commenced in Adelaide, on which he calculated that £150,000 had been expended in twelve months before his arrival, equivalent to £10 per head for every man, woman and child, in the colony, or an average of £32 per adult male, paid out of the British Exchequer. These petitions he would not entertain, but he met the case by employing the people on constructing roads and bridges, to open up the country and wean them from the town. This bad the desired effect, and he drew upon home for funds to meet the expenditure, not witstanding the contrary tenor of his instructions.

Tumultuous meetings were held and the Governor was threatened with personal violence. While this was the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the town, those who had settled in the country were prosperous be yond their highest expectations, especially those who had cultivated wheat, and obtained the enormous prices for flour. They found the land of the richest description, yielding, without manure, the greatest average per acre, and producing wheat of the finest quality in Australia. This being ascertained by many of the townspeople who had land or money left cut of the wreck of their fortunes, they abandoned their homes in Adelaide, went into the country, and commenced agricultural pursuits. These settlers found occupation for such of the immigrants as preferred being farm servants to working on the roads; the road makers only continued at the low rate of wages until they could get better from private employers. In this manner the exodus from town to country progressed so rapidly, that in December, 1841 the immigration barracks were empty, and one-third, or 642, houses out of 1915 then in Adelaide, were totally deserted, while rents had fallen from exorbitant to moderate rates. Out of sixty-seven public houses twenty-three were shut up, while the others were not paying expenses for lack of customers, Ships with grain and flour were no longer seen in port. Provisions of all kinds continued low in price, and general merchandise was at a discount, excepting ploughs, harrows, and other implements of husbandry, which were in great demand. Then commenced the true success of the colony, proving the soundness of Governor Grey's policy, and the fact that dispersion and not centralization is the first element of civilization.

In the language of a successful colonist, when commenting upon the measures which led to this desertion and apparent ruin of Adelaide:—"To the colony, however, this reduction in the expenditure was for a time necessarily full of trial. It may well be likened to a young fruit tree, which had been allowed to shoot up with straggling branches of luxuriant growth, but barren of fruit. The careful gardener saw that to make it produce fruit, it was absolutely necessary to apply the pruning knife with an unsparing though kindly hand. Stripped of its gaudy and j unprofitable branches, the spectator looked with pity and contempt upon the bare stump that was left; he, not knowing the power left in the roots, thought the poor tree ruined by such treatment, and was inclined to think ill of the gardener for his reckless destruction of the leafy branches. But behold that self same tree once more, the resources concentrated in its healthy roots, in time throw forth branches as luxuriant as ever, covered with smiling blossoms and golden fruit, whilst the gardener, to whom this result i appeared as a matter of course, now received praise for his foresight from him who at first felt inclined to censure him." Eyen [unclear: so it] was when Governor Grey was leaving South Australia to conduct the still more difficult administration of New Zealand, which was also a system based on the Wakefield system, and the history of whose settlement had been no less disastrous. On the occasion of his departure, a deputation of the colonists waited upon him and gratefully thanked him for inaugurating a new system and prosperous era. by his able, zealous and diligent administration, not forgetting the cares, anxieties, and responsibilities, in his [unclear: con-]scientists discharge of the functions of a governor and worthy delegate of sovereign power.