The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
Chapter II. The Haines Laud Bill
Chapter II. The Haines Laud Bill.
At the time of the introduction of Parliamentary Government into Victoria, Mr. Wm. Charles Haines was the Premier and Chief Secretary. His colleagues in the Ministry were:—Mr. (now Sir Wm.) Foster Stawell, Attorney-General; Mr. (afterwards Mr. Justice) Fellows, Solicitor-General; Captain (afterwards Sir And-drew) Clarke, Surveyor-General; Mr. (now Sir Charles) Sladen, Treasurer; Mr. Childers, Commissioner of Customs (now a member of the Gladstone Government); Captain Pasley, Commissioner of Works. A few particulars of the antecedents of the father of the first Victorian Land Bill may be of some interest:—Wm. Clarke Haines' father was a general practitioner in Hampstead, and he himself was a duly qualified London surgeon. Arriving in the colony at an early period of its history, he started an agricultural farm at the Barrabool Hills, in partnership with Mr. John Highett. In 1851 he was appointed by Mr. Latrobe, a nominee member of the Legislative Council, and he occupied that seat until. October, 1852, when he resigned, in order to seek a seat as representative member. Shortly after his resignation he was elected by the farmers of South Grant, and was returned to the Council with increased influence. He never displayed any brilliant qualities entitling him to distinction as a statesman—he was merely a quiet plodding member. When Mr. Foster was driven from office, on account of his alleged responsibility for the Ballarat riots in December, 1854, Mr. Wm. Clarke Haines was, much to the surprise of the House and the country, appointed Colonial Secretary by Sir Charles Hotham; thereupon the hon. gentleman abandoned the plough and the Barrabool Hills, and adopted that occupation so much despised in these degenerate days—a professional politician. Such, briefly told, was the career of the gentleman who, in November, 1856, occupied the important position of Chief Secretary, and inaugurated the new Constitution, and won the title of the "father of the first Land Bill and of democracy in Victoria." From the record of his subsequent career, it turns page 17 out that he was not entitled to the proud designation of the "father of democracy," though he was responsible for an abortive Land Bill, which met with the universal execration of the country. Those who well knew his private sympathies and antipathies, as well as those who have narrowly scanned the acts of his public life, assert that he had an invincible aversion to democratic liberty, and yielded unwillingly to the adoption of proper checks on the expenditure of public money. "Mr. Haines," wrote an able critical observer of the time, "is a sunshine politician—an exotic which will die out. He wants intellectual force. He looked upon ruling as a business, not a duty. He did not comprehend the spirit and tendency of the age "a.
The new Parliament was opened by General Mac Arthur on 21st November, 1856. In the course of his opening speech, the Acting-Governor alluded to the necessity of early attention to the subject of land legislation. "Bills," he said, "will be laid before you, the main feature of which will be the continuance of sales by auction, and of the present upset price; provision for the more speedy issue of deeds of grant by dispensing with double registration; the concession of facilities to owners of land for contracting with persons desirous to mine for gold, saving inviolate the right of the freeholder to the undisturbed possession of the land; the rescinding of the existing Orders in Council regulating occupation for pastoral and other purposes; the power of granting an interest to the present occupant, renewable until the land is required for sale, or any public purpose, but subject to an acreable rent, to be periodically determined by an independent tribunal, according to the grazing capabilities of the land, and the advantages of its situation, and the adjustment of claims on account of actual loss sustained by occupants."
a Parliamentary Portraits, Melbourne Leader.
It will be observed that the resolution providing for the alienation of town, suburban, and country land in fee, contained no feature which could distinguish the proposed bill from the old system, which had been in operation in the province from 1842 up to that time. The system proposed to be perpetuated was sale by auction at a fixed upset price, although there was a strong party in the country already beginning to clamor loudly for free selection before survey and deferred payment. Captain Clarke, in moving the resolution, felt some difficulty in reconciling the stand which he took on that occasion with his advocacy of deferred payment and free selection three years and a half previously, when he took charge of the department. His explanation of this remarkable discrepancy between his principles and his practice was that "although it might have facilitated the occupation of the lands, he did not believe it would work well in the end." No doubt the system of sale by auction had its disadvantages. He was aware that under the speculation which had gone on in the country the value of land had gone up to a large price at auction. That might affect individuals but it would not affect the interests of the community. Referring to the necessity and scope for settlement, Captain Clarke pointed out that at that very moment there were 55,000,000 acres of public land unsold, which represented at least £100,000,000 of public money computed at the upset price proposed. They would have to consider the wants of the colony in regard to public works, and he asserted that they had to look to the sale of waste lands as the means of carrying out those works, without which the country could never become great. Captain Clarke next explained the proposed pro- page 19 vision relative to the squatting tenure. "Although," said ho, "I have been considered by many as thoroughly opposed to the interests of the class referred to, yet I feel it necessary, for the sake of the colony—indeed, more—I feel it my duty to propose what shall meet the exigencies of the country. I shall not in any shape or way attempt to ignore the rights of that class." The proposal of the Government was that the squatters in occupation of crown lands under the Orders in Council should receive a lease of their lands for a term of seven years, with a right to a renewal of that term, or a re-adjustment of their rent in accordance with the progress of values. In the case of sales of such leases it was intended to secure for the outgoing pastoral tenant the value of his improvements. In case of disputes between the crown and tenants arrangements were to be made for their settlement by arbitration.
At this time the squatters held licenses for the occupation of 42,000,000 acres, yet the returns sent in by the squatters themselves gave only 29,195,276 acres as the total extent of country occupied by them, leaving 14.000,000 acres of available land from which the State received no revenue. It was, for this reason, proposed by the Government, that the taxation or rent of runs should in future be based upon the land actually occupied, and not to the stock upon it, 2d: per acre being the average price fixed. It was expected by the Government that the Act would give £350,000 per annum for the occupation of crown lands and £537,000 from the sale of land.
"My object," said the Surveyor-General, in conclusion, "is to do away with the term squatter at once and for ever. My anxiety is that there should be no storm, but that by a careful consideration of the question the House may arrive at such resolutions as will enable the squatters to know upon what terms they hold these public lands—that the lands held by them must be profitably occupied, and to assure them of permanency of occupation."
The key-note of one form of opposition to this land bill was struck on the morning of the debate in a manifesto issued and published by a distinguished member of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. It was there pointed out with force and ability, that the proposals of the Government did not come up to the real importance and emergency of the situation. The great object of the sharp contest respecting the land question, which began in the old Legislative Council in 1852, was to get the use of the public lands for the use and occupation of the incessant stream of human beings that was then pouring into the colony, and not to impose additional taxation on the squatters. The long and acrimonious arguments on the rights of the squatters under the Orders page 20 in Council, injurious or imaginary as they alternately appeared to the rival parties, had been fought out and fairly won by the advocates of the popular cause. And yet in spite of the intensity of public opinion—in the face of the requirements of the population, it was proposed to still further crystallize the old system by giving the pastoral tenant seven years' leases, with the right of renewal and compensation, the only consideration reserved for the public being a slightly increased rent for the 42,000,000 acres of the people's inheritence occupied by that favored class.
The arguments against the bill were, however, carried much further than this in the Assembly by Mr. (now Sir Archibald) Michie and Mr (now Sir John) O'Shanassy. The stereotyped contention that the Orders in Council of 1847 gave the existing incumbents of squattages possession of the land for 14 years absolutely, with the right of pre-emption, was grappled by Mr. Michie, and the whole question dealt with in a manner that singularly contrasted with his subsequent views on the land problem. The squatters, he said, had not the rights now claimed; all that could be said in their favor was that the Orders in Council gave the Governor power to grant leases for any term not exceeding 14 years. Earl Grey, he reminded the House, had said that leases could be granted for one year if the Governor liked. The Governor had no other authority and never had any other than to grant leases for any term not exceeding 14 years. The hon. gentlemen advocating the squatters' interest had interpreted the Orders in their own favor, and had uniformly represented to the people out of doors that the leases were granted for 14 years absolutely. This was what was called the squatters' "rights." Then the hon. and learned member quoted the clear and unmistakable words of sections 1 and 9 of chapter 2 of the Orders in Council of 9th March, 1847. He regretted to have lived to see the day on which a minister of state had said it was expedient to resort to a kind of spoliation in order to give certain people their rights. That was what the case amounted to. If the squatters took their leases under the Orders in Council they would have to comply with the conditions of the Orders in Council. But they wanted to get leases under the Constitution Act, without compliance with the conditions imposed by the Orders in Council. It was not so much a question of law as policy. If they granted these leases for 14 years, nothing in coming time could stave off anarchy and confusion, for the public would never submit to such an aggrandisement of a few. He therefore asked members to pause, before they committed themselves to what would prove the most lamentable error which had ever taken place on this side of the globe. He proposed that the question page 21 be referred to a select committee.
Mr. O'Shanassy complained that before the speech of the Surveyor-General not a word was said about the intention of the Government to propose to grant eight years' leases, nor was a word said about the sale of auriferous land. There was nothing in the ministerial proposals not contained in the Land Sale Act of 1842.
The debate was adjourned, and then resumed on 22nd January, 1857, when the Attorney-General (Mr. Stawell) and Solicitor-General (Mr. Fellows) intimated that the Government did not intend to grant leases for seven years, but to lease from year to year, the rent of runs to be adjusted every year. The Ministry was then charged with a change of front. Dr. Greeves objected to any form of leasing, as well as to the principle of deferred payment. His proposal was that persons then in occupation of crown land for pastoral purposes should be permitted to continue their occupation, subject to a twelve months notice to quit. Mr. J. M. Grant advocated a system of free selection, and the extinction of prior claims by equitable settlement. Eventually the resolutions were adopted, with minor amendments. One important amendment was that the committee considered it inexpedient to authorise the issue of leases for crown lands for pastoral purposes, but that it should be lawful to demise crown lands to existing authorised occupants for pastoral purposes, at an acreable rent of 2d. per acre. Another amendment suggested by Mr. J. M. Grant was that pastoral lands should be reserved as a commonage in the neighborhood of the sites of all the settled population of the country.
Captain Clarke did not remain in office long enough to bring in a bill founded on the lines of these resolutions. On 4th March the Ministry was defeated on an adverse vote proposed by Mr. O'Shanassy, censuring them for mis-application of the vote for immigration. Mr. O'Shanassy then formed an administration, including himself, Chief Secretary, Mr. H. S. Chapman, Attorney-General, Mr. J. V. F. Foster, Treasurer, Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Gavan Duffy, Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. Greeves, Commissioner of Trade and Customs. Mr Home, Commissioner of Land and Survey, and Mr J. Denistoun Wood, Solicitor-General.
The new Ministry, which was destined to be one of short duration, assumed office on 11th March, 1857, and the House then adjourned till 15th April, when Mr. O'Shanassy returned to the House with Messrs. Wood, Home, Foster and Duffy. On the same occasion the following newly-elected members took their seats, viz: Messrs. Fellows, Goodman, Ebden, Sitwell, Service and Heales, Mr. O'Shanassy and his colleagues had hardly taken page 22 their seats 011 the Treasury benches when Mr. Fellows gave notice of his intention to move a vote of want of confidence against them. One of the grounds of attack was, that ministers had been making undue promises of money grants to their constituents during the elections; but the principal cause of complaint was that Mr. O'Shanassy had selected Mr. Foster as Treasurer. Mr. Foster was at that time extremely unpopular, on account of his conduct when Colonial Secretary, with reference to the alleged misappropriation of £865,000 voted for immigration purposes, and also 011 account of his alleged responsibility for the Ballarat riots. The result was that a strong combination of parties took place to oust Mr. O'Shanassy, and 011 22nd April his Government was defeated by 34 to 19. Mr. (afterwards Sir James) M'Culloch was entrusted with the formation of a new Ministry, and having failed to prevail upon Mr. O'Shanassy to join him, he formed a Government, with Mr. Haines as Chief Secretary, Mr. Michie, Attorney-General, Mr Fellows, Solicitor-General, Mr. Ebden, Treasurer, Mr. David Moore, Land and Works, Mr. W. H. F. Mitchell (Upper House), Postmaster-General, and himself, Air. M'Culloch, Commissioner of Trade and Customs.
The Government lost no time in bringing in a land bill, which they had previously undertaken, should be based on the principles affirmed by Captain Clarke's resolutions already adopted. On 10th June, Mr. David Moore moved the second reading of the bill. The main outlines of the bill were:—1. That town and suburban lands should' only be sold, as heretofore, by public auction. 2. That country lands, after being once submitted to public auction and withdrawn, the upset price being ascertained, should be sold by private contract. 3. That the Orders in Council should be repealed. 4. That squatters in licensed occupation of waste lands should receive occupation certificates, giving them a kind of yearly possessory title at a yearly rent, subject to adjustment every five years. 5. That the Government should have the power to enter upon and survey, sell, or reduce the measurement of a run; but until required for sale or occupation for agricultural or other purposes, the lands comprised in a run were to be occupied by the licensees. 6. That forfeited runs, or runs for which higher rent was offered by outsiders at the end of the term, were to be submitted to public auction, provision being made for compensation for improvements, 7. Penalties were provided for trespassing on runs.
The bill encountered strenuous opposition in the country. The Land League, with Mr. Wilson Gray, one of the foremost champions of the people at that time, at its head, commenced a determined and furious crusade against the measure. Demonstrations were held in various centres of population, at which the page 23 measure was denounced in unqualified terms. So great was its unpopularity that petitions from all parts of the colony, signed by about 70,000 persons, were presented to Parliament, protesting against it. It was contended that its provisions virtually gave the squatters a perpetuity of tenure, and did not promote settlement of the people on the soil. The system of sale by auction was objected to, on the ground that it was impossible for working agricultural settlers to purchase at first hand from the State the land they required, but it placed them at the mercy of those who purchased on speculation. What was demanded was the right of selecting lands, from any part of the unalienated public domain, without reference to Government officers, untrammelled by the necessity of survey before selection, and with the system of deferred payments. It was complained that it was proposed to give to a few gentlemen who had already made enormous fortunes out of the comparatively free use of 42,000,000 acres a legal claim to compensation. Mr. Fellows, the late counsel of the Pastoral Association, it was said, had drawn the bill in their favor. Mr. Michie was charged with deserting his colours.
a Hansard, vol. 1, p. 777.
a Hansard, vol. 1, p. 790.
Although the ministry had a majority of the House determined to support the bill, the speaking in its support was very moderate, when compared with some of the brilliant speeches made against it. The Solicitor-General denied that the bill gave the squatters a title in perpetuity, and cited section 20, which he contended, provided that the land comprised within a run could be put up for sale immediately on its being required by the people for occupation. The Chief Secretary asserted that purchasers desiring to get small allotments had an opportunity of doing so under the existing law. The average extent of country allotments purchased in 1853 was 196 acres, and in the first half of 1855, the average was reduced to 90 acres. The squatters had certain rights which must be respected. Mr. Goodman considered that the proposal to submit runs to public auction at the end of every five years would only induce holders to over-stock, use, and exhaust the land. This would ruin stock, and raise the price of meat. Mr. (now Sir Charles) Sladen, contended that it would be ungenerous to deny that the squatters had acquired certain undefined rights, and the basis of the bill was an equitable arrangement with the then occupants. Mr. Colin Campbell thought the settlement of the country would not be prevented by a system of leasing, or by deferred payments, as it would tend to throw the lands into the hands of speculators, and would give the Government an undue power. The land might, perhaps, be sold at a fixed price, leaving it to the option of the purchaser to pay one half of the purchase money, and leaving the other to be paid as ground rent, equivalent to the interest on the sum due. This would ensure them a continually increasing revenue, and would leave the lands in the possession of those who settled on it. The Commissioner of Customs pointed out, that the bill provided that page 26 the land should be settled to the fullest possible extent, and that no leases were to be granted to the squatters—only licensed occupation. He denied that clause 9 gave the squatters any fixity of tenure, as the Government had power to go upon a run and sell it to the last acre.
On the 19th June, the second reading of the bill was carried by 33 votes to 22. The division list was as follows:—
Ayes, 32.—Messrs. Moore, Ebden, Haines, Fellows, Michie, M'Culloch, Goodman, Pasley, Anderson, Sladen, Service, Smith, Embling, Heales, King, D. S. Campbell, C. Campbell, Sargood, Sitwell, Palmer, Lalor, Adamson, Beaver, Clarke, Griffith, Lang-lands, Henty, Wills, Johnson, Ware, Quarterman and Davis.
Noes, 22.—Messrs. Humffray, Wood, Snodgrass, Blair, Brooke, O'Shanassy, Home, Syme, O'Brien, Duffy, Phelan, Myles, Read, Owens, Rutherford, Aspinall, Harker, Grant, Fyfe, Evans, Hughes and Foster.
The night of the division was one memorable in the history of the Victorian Assembly. The vicinity of Parliament Houses was thronged with excited persons, and inflammatory placards were posted and circulated, warning the House not to pass the bill. The opponents of the bill did their utmost to prevent its further progress, and frequent motions for adjournment were proposed, and negatived by the Ministerial majority. The sitting commenced 011 Friday, 19th, at half-past four, and the House did not rise till a quarter to twelve in the forenoon on Saturday, the 20th, having sat for a period of 20 hours, short of a few minutes a.
The bill was committed pro forma on 23rd June. Meanwhile public indignation was aroused to an intense pitch of excitement. Petitions began to pour into the House from Richmond, Maryborough, Dunolly, Yackandandah, Kyneton, Prahran, Heathcote, Buninyong, Sandhurst, Belfast, Sebastopol, Tarrengower, Wangaratta, Ovens, Mount Blackwood, Emerald Hill, Geelong, Wombat, Gipps Land and Warnambool.
a Hansard vol. 1, p. 863.
|1.||Free selection for the actual settler, at one uniform price without auction.|
|2.||All unsold crown lands to form one open pasturage free to the people.|
|3.||No new pastoral tenancies to be created when land occupied under license was resumed by the crown.|
The principles embodied in these resolutions formed the alpha and the omega of Liberal Land Reform Associations in Victoria for many years, and Wilson Gray lived to see the majority of those principles recognized in the statute book. Nor, were the labors of the Convention without immediately good results.
a Hansard, Vol. 1, p. 159.
The third reading was carried by a majority of 30 to 23, the division list being as follows:—
Ayes.—Messrs. Moore, Clarke, Ebden, Haines, Michie, Adamson, Goodman, Sitwell, Anderson, Heales, Sladen, M'Culloch, Service, Smith Rutledge, Sargood, D. S. Campbell, Findlay, Beaver, Embling, Henty, Langlands, Griffith, Wills, Johnson, C. Campbell, Ware, Davis, Quarterman, Lalor.
Noes.—Messrs. Wood, Blair, Ireland, Syme, Fife, Owens, Evans, Wilkie, Brooke, Greeves, Hughes, Grant, Hancock, Harker, Phelan, Duffy, Aspinall, Myles, O'Brien, Foster, O'Shannassy, Snodgrass, and Humffray. a
a vol. 1. p. 1213.
Mr. Henry Miller declared that the bill would neither suit the miner, the agriculturalist, nor the squatter. He objected to conferring rights on the squatters which they were not entitled to, and which would involve great loss and expense to the country. In support of his contention he quoted the Duke of Newcastle's despatch. Their licenses were not intended to facilitate their indulging in land speculation; least of all was it intended that their temporary occupation should be allowed to impede the progress of the country. A good argument against the valuation proposals was supplied by Mr. Miller. He pointed out that the whole of the leased runs would be put up for sale at the end of two years and a-half and five years. To purchase the stock and improvements of these vast properties would take millions of money, and the money must be paid down at once. Who could pay such enormous valuations as £77,000, to which men like Mr. Edward Henty would be entitled? The bill in fact would hand the land over to the squatters. On this ground alone the bill should be thrown out. This was a very high stand to take, and it was all the more forcible coming from Mr. Miller, who, when in the old Council, voted for the abolition of the assessment on stock.
Mr. Hood considered that the bill would not produce the revenue expected, and its details were defective. He knew one person who would pay Is. per acre per year in advance for all the unsold land in his district, and no doubt others would be equally ready. Mr. Hodgson thought it was a matter of perfect indifference to the squatters whether the bill passed or not, and as it was opposed by the people he would vote for the amendment. Dr. Tierney supported the amendment, as the bill virtually gave the squatters a tenure of 10 years, and the mode of arbitration was worthless, leaving room for the squatters to bribe the arbitrators. Mr. Urquhart said the squatters had been unjustly charged with being parties to a compromise, and he would vote against the bill. Mr. Guthridge pointed out that, judging from the number of petitions pre- page 30 sented to Parliament against the bill, nine-tenths of the whole population had protested. It would be monstrous to pass a bill in the face of such a fact. Mr. McCombie in a long and able speech condemned the bill as containing every bad feature in the old squatting system, with no redeeming clause interposed to render it practicable and likely to promote public interest. Messrs. Strachan and Power were the only private members who spoke in favor of the bill. The result of the division was that the amendment was carried by 21 to 6 votes. The bill was therefore lost. The Convention was triumphant. The country rejoiced at having escaped the calamity of a bill which was even denounced in the Council by friends and foes of the squatting party.
The session terminated on 24th November, but Parliament was again opened on 3rd December for the purpose of passing the estimates, and several measures for the reform of the constitution of the Assembly prior to a general election, it being generally conceded that the House should be reformed, and an appeal made to the constituencies before the land question was again tackled. This led to a postponement of the settlement of the matter for three years. In view of this a bill was passed for the purpose of increasing the assessment on stock depastured on crown lands in licensed occupation. The assessment was fixed at 9d. per head on sheep, 3s. per head on cattle, and 6s. per head on horses, making a total estimated revenue of £260,000 per annum.
The Government introduced three measures of constitutional reform this session. The first was the duration of Assembly Bill, reducing the term of existence of the Assembly from five to three years. This was passed by both Houses but not by absolute majorities and could not be reserved for the Queen's Assent. The second bill was the Increase of Members Bill. The third bill was the Election Regulation Bill. This measure was framed on the principle of there presentation of minorities. The Assembly Members' Increase Bill provided the mode in which the district should be divided and represented. It proposed that the division should be based mainly on population. The colony was divided into 22 districts set forth in the schedule, each to return a certain number of members according to the population of the district. The clauses of the bill having been passed, Mr. Haines moved that the schedule be adopted, offering to consent to its amendment in any way hon. members wished. Captain Clarke opposed the schedule, as tending to centralize the electoral power in Melbourne and disfranchise distant constituencies, and he proposed a new distribution, giving either 2, 3, or 5 members to each district, allowing the principle of cumulative votes in order to secure the representation of minorities, preserving existing districts and creating new districts. The amendment was on a division carried by 26 to 17, Messrs. O'Shanassy page 31 and Duffy voting with the Government, and Mr. Chapman not taking part in the division. Great surprise was expressed at the result of the division by Mr. Haines and Mr. O'Shanassy; and several hon. members were charged with having violated the principles they professed to hold. Mr. Haines moved that progress be reported, and next clay, 24th February, the government resigned.
Mr. Chapman, who had opposed the representation of minorities, was called upon by Sir Henry Barkley to form an administration, and he performed the task. He appointed his old chief, Mr. O'Shanassy, to the post of Chief Secretary, himself taking the Attorney-Generalship, the other offices being allotted as follows;—Mr. Ireland, Solicitor-General; Mr. Harker, Treasurer; Mr. Duffy, Land and Works; Mr. Miller, Trade and Customs; Dr. Evans, Postmaster General. Thus came into existence the second O'Shanassy ministry.
A new bill was brought in to alter the electoral districts, increasing them to 38, and to increase the number of members of the Assembly to 88, eliminating the principle of representation of minorities. The bill was passed through the Assembly, but rejected by the Council. In order that the Electoral Bill and the Duration of Assembly Bill might become law before an appeal to the country on the Land Bill, a third session of parliament was inaugurated, and these two measures were re-introduced, and passed through the Assembly, and were again sent to the Council. The Assembly Duration Bill was passed (without amendment) by absolute majorities, and became law. The Electoral Bill was amended and passed. The session was prolonged till the 24th February, 1859, owing to other important measures having in the meantime engaged the attention of Parliament.
Prior to the prorogation, with a view to dissolution, Mr .O'Shanassy, in compliance with a promise, explained to the House that the Ministry had agreed to a general plan of the land system, which they intended to submit to the next Parliament. It was intended that the measure should embrace the following provisions:—1. That large areas of agricultural land shall be pro claimed near the chief centres of population, within which areas ordinary farm lots, in no case exceeding 320 acres, will be open to selection by bonâ fide settlers, without auction, at a fixed price of £1 per acre. 2. That within these areas the unsold land shall constitute a free commonage for the settlers, subject to regulations to be made in an agricultural municipality. 3. That an enlarged municipal system be constructed, embracing agricultural districts as well as towns, under which system the inhabitants will possess a direct control over the local expenditure for public purposes, at present defrayed out of the general revenue, such municipalities to obtain a certain proportion of en- page 32 dowment cut of the public estate, and the power of levying an equitable taxation on fixed property, in lieu of the grants in aid now provided for out of the Estimates. 4, That common pasturage be secured by law to the inhabitants of all towns and gold-fields where Crown lands exist. 5. That water frontages throughout the interior be reserved in perpetuity for public use. 6. That all auriferous land be reserved from sale. 7. That all town and suburban lands, and such other lands as may be rendered peculiarly valuable by their position shall continue to be sold at public auction; and that provision be made for bonâ fide settlers who may require larger allotments than are provided for in the agricultural areas. 8. That at a period to be fixed by law all preferable occupancy of the public domain by the pastoral tenants now in possession shall absolutely cease and determine. 9. That in the meantime the pastoral tenants shall continue to receive an annual licence, revocable on such notice, and held at such rent, as the Legislature may determine." "I also, Sir, deem it my duty "(said Mr. O'Shanassy) "to state that there are one or two special points on which two members of the Government desire me to express their opinions. I do so, because it would be unfair to them if these opinions were not stated to the public. One member of the Cabinet would wish to make the experiment of deferred payments in one area; and in reference to the principle of selection within specified areas, another member of the Cabinet would prefer the application of the principle to the whole country. But both, rather than risk the success of a Bill based on the principles already stated, would support the proposed measure."
So closed the first Parliament of Victoria under the new constitution. Three Ministries had been in office, and neither of them had succeeded in solving the vital question of land reform. The people must be now appealed to. In this momentous crisis the people looked for leaders both in Parliament and in the country. Mr. Gray and his friends in the Convention had done their work well and nobly, but Mr. Gray did not want to enter Parliament; he considered that his work lay in organising and educating the party out of Parliament, and in vigilantly watching the proceedings of Parliament. At this juncture all eyes were directed to Mr. William Nicholson as a possible future leader. Who was Mr. Nicholson? He was the son of a small Cumberland farmer, and was according to the early chronicles * a self-made man. He arrived in the colony in the year 1842, and for a considerable time he kept a grocer's shop in Little Collins-street, at the rear of the Congregational Church. Afterwards he opened a more pretentious establishment in Big Collins-street. When the page 33 gold discoveries broke out the small trader developed into a great merchant. He became a squatter's agent, and a hank director.. In 1850 he was City Councillor, and became the Mayor of Melbourne. About the same period he was returned to the old Legislative Council as member for North Bourke. The subject in which he interested himself, which laid the foundation of his Parliamentary fortunes, was the ballot—that delicate and important piece of political machinery so neatly described by Cicero as the silent asserter of liberty, tabella vindex tacita libertatis. In committee on the Electoral Bill, 18th December, 1855, he carried his ballot clause by 33 to 25 votes. The administration of Mr. W. Clark Haines having opposed it, tendered their resignation, and Mr. Nicholson was suddenly astonished to find himself called upon to carry on the Queen's Government. He failed to form a ministry, and ignominiously surrendered the task, not from the want of material or opportunity, but from sheer want of moral courage. Mr. Haines and his colleagues returned to office. Shortly after this Mr. Nicholson visited England, where he was entertained at a brilliant soiree held at the Freemasons' Hotel. Mr. John Bright and Mr. Richard Cobden were present. Mr. Nicholson was hailed as the founder of "vote by ballot." In July, 1858, the hon. gentleman returned to the colony. His return was looked upon with interest by all parties. The convention men welcomed him, and Mr. O'Shanassy, whose Ministry was at that time very shaky, held out overtures to him, but Mr. Nicholson refused to serve under the Kilmore banner. His principles and popularity were soon put to the test. An election, caused by the resignation of Captain Clarke, took place at North Melbourne shortly after his arrival. Mr. Nicholson contested the seat against Mr. Robert Sterling Anderson. Mr. Nicholson's professions of liberalism, however, were not trusted, and Mr. Anderson was returned as a supporter of the O'Shanassy Ministry. Mr. Nicholson then took a leading part in forming the Constitutional Association, of which he became chairman. The principal object of that organisation was to destroy the O'Shanassy Government at the forthcoming election. That Administration had already outlived its popularity and usefulness. The gross act of political immorality witnessed by the country in Mr. O'Shanassy voting with Mr. Haines in the division which caused that gentleman's defeat, and then becoming the head of a new administration even at the sacrifice of his hobby—the representation of minorities—was never forgotten, and could never be forgiven. Consequently towards the close of the session the Ministry was tottering almost to destruction. Nevertheless, they were allowed to go to the country.
The general election took place in batches. The result was that the Government sustained a most crushing defeat. Four Ministers page 34 were rejected by their old constituents. All of them, however, except the Attorney-General, managed to secure other seats. The House was opened on 18th October, 1859. There were only 22 members on the Ministerial side, whilst 44 were arrayed on the Opposition benches. The Convention party was well represented. The extermination of the O'Shanassy Ministry was the first performance of the session resolved upon. Mr. Nicholson was selcted to lead the onslaught. Accordingly, he moved an amendment to the address in reply. The charges levelled against the Ministry were—That they had wilfully and needlessly delayed the meeting of Parliament; that they had disgracefully exercised the patronage of the country, and packed the service with their friends and supporters; that several members of the Government occupied improper financial relations with Mr. Bruce, the railway contractor; that they had disproportionately divided the money voted for education; that they had unconstitutionally spent public money on unauthorised works; that they had improperly reprieved a murderer named Began because he was a Catholic, and that their conduct generally had been an insult and a disgrace to the country. Mr. O'Shanassy replied in a speech of masterly ability and impassioned eloquence, but without avail. Matters were very much complicated by the resignation of Mr. Duffy during the recess, he having had a mis-understanding with the premier, Mr. Duffy alleging that he had to retire because he failed to comply with the request of his chief to throw more land into the market. The result of the division was an overwhelming majority against the Kilmore ministry. For them, 17; against them, 56—majority, 39.
Mr. Nicholson now came to the front. He formed an Administration as follows:—Mr. Nicholson, Chief Secretary; Mr. M'Culloch, Treasurer; Attorney-General, Mr. J. Denistoun Wood; Minister of Lands, Mr. Service; Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. J. C. King; Solicitor-General, Mr. Adamson (without a seat in the House); Commissioner of Trade and Customs, Mr. Pyke; Postmaster-General, Mr. Bailey. Mr. Duffy was asked to join as Minister of Lands. He drew up a memorandum setting forth his land policy, which he submitted to Mr. Nicholson:—"1. That the first measure of the new Government shall be a Land Bill including the provisions of the bill promulgated by the late Government with the addition of an adequate arrangement for the gold-fields and agricultural districts, with free commonage. 2. That the squatting tenure should terminate in 1861. The use of the public grass to be provided for in a separate bill, the opinion of the members of the Liberal party joining the Government being that all exclusive right of occupation should then terminate, but that the use of the grass may be subject to assessment." Mr. Nicholson assented to this. Mr. Duffy next wished to stipulate that Mr. Brook, Mr. Anderson, page 35 and Mr. Hood, as representatives of the popular party, should have office with him. Mr. Nicholson offered to take in Mr. Brook, and at that point negotiations were broken off, and Mr. Nicholson secured Mr. Service as his Minister of Lands.
* Parliamentary Portraits Melbourne Leader.