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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

The Colony's Progress During the Recent Depression

The Colony's Progress During the Recent Depression.

No thoughtful observer of the state of commerce throughout the world during the years 1885-6 can regard it with anything but profound dissatisfaction, but in New Zealand we have been cheered lately by a welcome improvement in the price of our chief staple—wool, both in London and Antwerp. This improvement has been both substantial and progressive, and it leads to the hope that it may be the harbinger of a general trade revival in Europe, and consequently of the advent of brighter times in New Zealand. To those who look forward thus hopefully it will be interesting to - so to speak—take stock and consider to what extent, if any, the colony has progressed in spite of the past four or five years of depression. This may also be considered a specially opportune time for an audit, as an eminent English author in a recent work asserts that we are retrograding so rapidly, and our financial position is so strained, that repudiation is a common topic amongst leading colonists. Another writer, in a London newspaper, goes rather farther, as after criticising most adversely the financial position of the colonies in general, he concludes by asserting that New Zealand has mortgaged everything she possesses but her climate, and warns the British public against lending us any more British savings. It is incomprehensible how writers of repute can become so imbued with prejudice that they unhesitatingly make assertions which must tend to tarnish the commercial honour of the colonies from whom Great Britain has gained so much. Surely England's interests lie as much in the future welfare of her colonial possessions as those of the colonists themselves. Where indeed would Great Britain's boasted commercial supremacy have been to-day were it not for the markets she has found for her manufactures in her colonial and other possessions? Who but the British trader has reaped the benefit of the 1,700,000,000l. worth of British manufactures and products that have been exported from the United Kingdom to British possessions during the past thirty years? Who but the British trader has received the 290,000,000l. worth of Australian and New Zealand gold that has been laboriously dug out of the bowels of the earth during the same thirty years and sent to England to pay for British manufactures? Only a few years ago, namely in the quinquennial period ending 1874, the United Kingdom's annual average of exports of home products and manufactures to all countries was 235,000,000l., out of which 60,000,000l. worth, representing 25.5 per cent, of the whole, went to her colonial and other possessions. But, while the annual average exports to all countries for the quinquennial period ending 1884, had fallen to 234,000,000l., the annual average exports to her colonies and other possessions had risen to 81,000,000l., or 34.6 per cent, of the whole. The colonies and other British possessions have supplied, and are still supplying, the masses in the United Kingdom with cheap meat, bread, sugar, coffee, and other articles of food, as well as with cheap wool for clothing; and, had it not been for the enterprise mainly of colonists in raising these articles of necessity in such profusion as to bring them within the reach of all, the life of the working classes in Great Britain would ere now have become all but unbearable, are not these facts sufficient to show that the colonies have been a mine of wealth to the British public? And yet large-hearted public writers appear to think that they are doing good work in warning the said British public to beware of us. Isolated as we lie from the great centres of thought and action, we are no doubt prone to shut ourselves up in our own insular ideas and to ignore the necessity for getting outside of them, and reaching a standout from which "to see ourselves as others see us." Bearing this in mind, though foreign criticism may seem to us sometimes to present distorted views of our condition and surroundings, we ought not to shrink from the duty of ascertaining whether it has not in reality thrown a new and clearer light on existing facts. But what are the facts, more especially with regard to the position of our own colony? It is true that we have not advanced "by leaps and bounds" during the past five years; yet it has been a period of comparative unprogression rather than of actual retrogression, as will be manifest from certain figures which I shall adduce, and which page 2 go to prove that we have not only made some progress, but that we have positively increased our national wealth.

In following up the contention that we have not actually gone backwards, I purpose comparing our positions with that of some other countries, for, so long as our material and social well-being is intimately bound up with the progress and position of other nations upon whom, directly or indirectly, we have to rely as customers for our goods, so long will their prosperity or adversity be of vital importance to us.

Commencing with population, we obtain the following figures from the census returns of New Zealand:—
total Population other than Maoris.
1st April, 1881 482,019
1st April, 1886 578,283

We here have an increase of 96,264 persons, or within a fraction of 20 per cent., in the five years, and when it is remembered that the times have not been such as to attract immigrants, the increase may be considered fairly encouraging. In Australia and Tasmania the population increased from 2,252,490 in 1879 to 2,668,737 in 1884, or about 18½ per cent, for a similar term of five years, but this period included the prosperous times of 1880-81. Perhaps the most satisfactory feature in these figures is that it is mainly owing to our healthy climate that we have been able to obtain this ratio of increase. On comparing the annual death-rate per 1000 of mean population in the Australian colonies and Great Britain, we find the following results:—New Zealand, 10.39; Victoria, 14.18; New South Wales, 14.52; South Australia, 14.83; Tasmania, 17.06; Western Australia, 17.93; Queensland, 18.82; Great Britain, 21.3. Now, as the death-rate in Great Britain is almost the lowest in Europe, we may conclude, even after making due allowance for the character and average age of our population, that we in New Zealand are blessed with the healthiest climate in the world—an important consideration, which is perhaps not sufficiently known or appreciated by the well-to-do classes that leave England to settle in the colonies. A climate such as ours has the additional merit that the better health enjoyed by our people enables them to work to greater advantage than other nations.

Referring to the sheep returns, we find that a considerable increase is taking place in our flocks, as shown by these figures:—
Sheep Returns.
The Colony. Percentage of increase. Canterbury. Percentage of increase.
31st May, 1880 11.530,623 3,289,463
31st May, 1885 14,546,$01 26.16 4,410,238 34.07
Increase 3,016,178 1,120,775

This increase in our flocks is eminently satisfactory, and it bears a most favourable comparison with the progress made by our neighbours, as well as with that of every other country. In 1880 the sheep in Australia and Tasmania numbered 59,175,024, and in 1884 they had only increased to 60,289,688, or by barely 2 per cent. In the United States, as shown by official returns, there were 50,360,244 sheep in 1881 and only 48,322,331 on 31st December, 1885, or a decrease in the twelve months of 2,037,913. The total number of sheep in Europe in 1884 was returned at 191,000,000, which shows a slight falling off as compared with ten years ago. The other countries of importance are the Argentine and Uruguay Republics. In the Argentine Con. federation there were 61,000,000 sheep in 1880, 69,000,000 in 1883, and they are supposed to have increased to 73,000,000 in 1885, but there are no official returns to that date. This increase, however, vast as it appears, is only some 19.67 per cent, for the five years, as compared with 26.11 in New Zealand. In Uruguay there were 18,000,000 sheep in 1874, and the number had fallen to 14,536,000 in 1884, or a decrease of about 3½ millions in the ten years. It is thus seen that, with the exception of the Argentine Republic, New Zealand is the only country in the world that is increasing its flocks in any marked degree.

Whilst on this subject, some reference to the production of wool may be permissible, and an examination of the figures giving the respective shipments of wool from Australia, the Argentine Republic, and New Zealand, and the comparative values of wool per sheep from the Argentine Republic and New Zealand, is still further reassuring, as showing the rapid increase in our production and the advantages we possess over our South American competitors. The following figures give the exports of wool from the countries named for the years specified, ending 31st December:—
1880. 1883. 1885.
lbs. lbs. lbs.
Argentine Republic 213,500,000 261,000,000 277,500,000
Australia and Tasmania 340,155,000 346,409,000 352,660,000
The official figures of the number of sheep in New Zealand in 1880 and 1885, and the corresponding shipments of wool, are as follows:—
Number of sheep, 31st may, 1880. Exports of wool for year ending 30th June, 1881. Ratio of wool per sheep. Number of sheep, 31st May, 1885. Exports of wool; for year ending 30th June, 1886. Ratio of wool per sheep.
11,530,623 61,494,771 lbs. 5.33 lbs. 14,546,801 88,265,339 lbs. 6.07 lbs.

These figures show that there has been the marvellous increase in our production of wool of 26,770,568 lbs., or over 43 per cent, within the five years, and this increase is the more encouraging in that it is partly owing to the average dip having improved from 5.33 lbs. per sheep in 1880 to 6.07 lbs. per sheep in 1885. Now, when it is noted that the River Plate sheep averages only 3.8 lbs. of wool against 6 07 from the New Zealand sheep, and furthermore, when we find that the average price realised in Europe during 1885 is estimated at 5½d per lb. for La Plata wool against 9d. for New Zealand, we may reasonably infer that our farmers must enjoy far greater natural advantages than their conveners in South America. If also we estimate the expenses of selling New Zealand wool in London at the extreme rate of 1½d per lb., and the clip at 6 lb, page 3 we have a net return to the farmer on these figures of 3s. 9d. per sheep, whereas, deducting only 1d. per 1b. for expenses on the River Plate wool, there is left 4½d per lb. for 3.8 lbs., or only a fraction over 1s. 5d. per sheep.

In further considering the colony's progress, we cannot do better than examine the agricultural statistics, showing the land in cultivation and gown with grasses in March 1881, and March 1886, respectively. From these I have collated the following figures:—
Holdings and Acreage under Cultivation, and Artificially Sown Grasses.
Total number of holdings. Total acreage in grain. Total acreage in root crops. Total acreage in artificially sown grasses. Land broken up but not yet 1 under crop. Total acreage under cultivation.
1881 24,079 638,021 279 701 3,608,473 293,444 4.843.718
1886 31,763 621,503 362,990 5,505,461 219,276 6,740,993

Thus, while the total extent of land under cultivation and broken up for crop in 1881 was 4,843,718 acres, it had increased in 1886 to 6,740,993 acres, or by nearly 40 per cent. These figures are most striking when compared with the returns of 1885 for England, which show a total area under cultivation of every description, including permanent pasture, of only 24,880,307 acres. The comparative magnitude of operations in this country becomes manifest when it is noted that the ratio of cultivation in New Zealand is 11.65 acres per head of population, against barely one acre per head in England.

A reference to the returns from our coal-mines also reveals a rapid and sure progress, year by year, in this important industry. Here are a few figures extracted from various official sources, which may prove interesting:—
Number of Mines. Tons of Coal raised in 1880. Number of Mines Tons of Coal raised in 1885. Ratia increase
New Zealand 51 277,918 96 511,063 83.8
U. Kingdom 147,000,000 159,350,000 8.4
Hands employed in Collieries in the United Kingdom, 1881. Tons produced per Collier. Hands employed in Collieries in New Zealand, 1885. Tons produced per Collier.
520,632 306 1481 345

This important industry is evidently expanding so rapidly that the day cannot be far distant when the West Coast coal will rank as one of our most valuable exports. The bituminous coal of Greymouth is now fully recognised as one of the finest in the world for gas-making, and that from her twin sister Westport is equally sought after for steam purposes. Perhaps it is not commonly known that one ton of Greymouth coal can be depended upon to yield 12,000 ft. of 16½ candle-power gas, while the very best Newcastle coal will only yield 9,000 ft. to 9,500 ft. per ton, and the residuals from the Greymouth are the more valuable. These facts are gradually being recognised in Australia, and it is gratifying to know that the Ballarat Gas Company has contracted with the Brunner mine for all its present requirements, and that Hong Kong has recently ordered 8,000 tons of West Coast coal. Any one giving a little consideration to the study of mineralogy must come to the conclusion that New Zealand possesses an important and valuable asset in her coal-mines, and when the harbour works on the West Coast are sufficiently advanced to give security to ocean-going ships, we shall doubtless see a gigantic coal trade established to Australia and the East.

Another cheering feature in our statistical position is the rapid development in the exports of manufactures and minor products, as shown in the following table compiled from the official Gazette:—
Statement showing the comparative value of the exports to various countries, of the principal manufactures and a few of Uie minor products of New Zealand, for years 1880 and 1885.
1880. 1885. Increase.
£ £ £
Animals—Live stock, horses, sheep, and cattle 2,352 89,290 86,938
Bacon and hams 312 19,761 19,449
Biscuits 4,454 5,414 960
Bran and sharps 15,596 34,581 18,985
Butter 8,350 102,387 94,037
Cheese 1,983 35,742 33,759
Coal 5,977 51,257 45,280
Flour 6,008 41,379 35,371
Grass seeds 6,698 32,516 25,818
Hides 17,653 39,290 21,637
Hops 546 8,346 7,800
Leather 26,097 47,054 20,857
Meats—Potted and preserved 2,802 81,401 78,599
Meats—F rozen 373,857 373,857
Oatmeal 13,455 16,909 3,454
Phormium 15,617 16,316 699
Potatoes 23,194 38,625 15,431
Provisions—Salt beef and pork 2,802 26,610 23,808
Timber 51,225 157,357 106,132
Sun tries—Consisting of woollen manufactures, and other miscellan ous goods 50,071 141,965 91,894
255,192 1,360,057 1,104,865

An increase of over 400 per cent, within five years in twenty articles of comparatively minor importance, though dealing with such proportionately large figures, is hard to parallel in the history of commerce.

Whilst on the subject of manufactures, I cannot refrain from enlarging to some extent upon the importance of our woollen industry. It may safely be predicted that the country which has the most varied industries is likely, all other things being equal, to be the most prosperous. It is, therefore, pleasing to observe the strides this country is making in manufacturing pursuits. No doubt there is a great deal to be done in this direction before we can aspire to be classed as a manufacturing country, but the progress that has recently been made in woollen and other industries is most cheering. When a page 4 purely agricultural country is compared with one that is half agricultural and half manufacturing, the latter has the best of the comparison. Agriculture scarcely calls for the exercise of the highest faculties to the extent that manufactures do. To attain success in the latter, a lengthened education of the hand, of the ear, of the eye, and of the brain must be gone through. I do not for a moment mean to disparage the intelligence that is needed to be a successful agriculturist, as a scientific farmer has ample scope to exercise the highest faculties, besides needing indomitable perseverance and ceaseless activity, but in a general way agriculture scarcely calls for the same amount of brain power from the farm labourer as is expected from the ordinary artisan. The higher qualities thus required in industrial occupations meet as a rule with better remuneration than that paid to the ordinary field labourer. Hence it is found that the artisan feels himself of greater importance as a factor in the commonwealth than the mere farm servant, and, consequently takes a greater interest in the political fortunes of his country. For this reason, it is often urged that a country should endeavour to increase its number of artisans in proportion to its farm labourers, as the better the class of electors the better it may be expected to be governed. Coming back to our own industries, it appears that in 1880 there were four woollen mills in this colony, employing 390 hands, and putting through some 670,000 lbs. weight of wool, the manufactured value of which was some £170,000 sterling. In 1885 the number of mills had increased to seven, employing 790 hands, and using 2,100,000 lbs. of wool in the year, the manufactured value of which has been estimated at over 450,000l. Five of these mills use colonial coal, rope, twine, and belting, and all of them use home-made soap, thus finding employment indirectly for a further number of hands. Some of them are now turning out splendid fabrics, and the estimate in which these are held in countries beyond our own waters is shown by the steady growth of the exports of New Zealand tweeds, blankets, and other woollens. It is perhaps not too much to say that it was in making woollen goods England started upon her long career of manufacturing supremacy, and the following statistics give some idea of the strides she has made in this pursuit:—
Imports, less Re-exports, together with estimated domestic clip of wool used In the United Kingdom.
Estimated quantity of wool used by woollen mills in the U. Kingdom. Number of hands employed. Pounds of wool per employé
1864 272,000,000 238,814 1139
1871 342,000,000 253,490 1349
1884 399,000,000 277,540 1437

These figures establish the great economy of labour effected by improved machinery, and the consequent reduction in the cost of the manufactured article to the consumer, even after allowing for increased remuneration to the factory hands. It is said that the climate of New Zealand is more suitable for dyeing wools than that of any other country in the world, and consequently a better colour can be given to the highest qualities of tweeds and fancy coatings. If this is correct, it opens up a vista of prosperity for our woollen mills, the magnitude of which we cannot at present pretend to estimate.

The progress of the merchant shipping of a country is often accepted as a test and measure of its commercial importance and development, as, ceteris paribus that country is usually most prosperous and progressive which has the largest dealings with the rest of the world. It must be evident that a command of the means of economical transportation of commodities from its own to other ports, will, other things being equal, give the country possessing such means a decided advantage in the race for wealth. The following summary, collated from Mr. Giffen's and Sir T. Farrer's reports, as well as from the trade and Customs returns of the shipping in New Zealand and other countries, is, therefore, of interest, as it shows that, with the solitary exception of Great Britain, New Zealand owns the largest steam fleet per capita of any country in the world.

Sailing Vessels. Steamers. Total.
Number. Tonnage. Number. Tonnage. Number. Tonnage.
United Kingdom 14,939 4,714,746 4852 4,159,003 19.791 8,873,749
United States (over sea tonnage) 1,130,000 172,000 1,302,000
France 2,171 3 8,561 505 498,646 2,678 897,207
Germany 2,424 863,611 509 110,064 2,933 973,675
Australia 1,465 169,609 706 91,135 2,171 260,744
New Zealand 429 60,156 163 35,545 592 95,701

The rapid increase of the merchant shipping of New Zealand, in both steam and sailing vessels, is mainly due to the enterprise of the New Zealand Shipping and Union Steamship Companies, and they can fairly boast that, both in point of equipment and speed, their favourite passenger steamers will compare with those of the most celebrated lines. We are, however, in need of a cargo-carrying service that can be worked at a minimum of cost, to convey our bulky products, such as wheat and frozen meat, to the markets of the world. As giving some idea of the economy of the present time, it may be mentioned that towards the latter part of 1885 shipbuilders on the Clyde were willing to contract for steel vessels at 9l. 10s. per ton. They were also offering at a relatively low cost a class of steel steamers fitted with triple expansion page 5 engines, which, steaming at a moderate speed, can accomplish a long voyage with an average consumption of half an ounce of coal per ton per mile. At this rate, assuming paper to he as efficient a fuel as coal, the burning of a half ounce letter on board such a steamer would generate sufficient steam to transport one ton of freight one mile. A line of steamers of this description would carry our frozen mutton, wool, tallow, wheat, &c., to England at a much less cost than is possible by magnificently fitted-up passenger and mail steamers worked at the great cost which a high rate of speed involves.

As the volume of a country's correspondence may also be considered as a measure to some extent of its commercial activity, the following figures will serve further to illustrate the expansion of our commerce:—
Letters depatched, 1880. letters despatched, 1885. Tele-grams, 1880. Tele-grams, 1880.
N.Z. 22,824,468 35,829,855 1,058,342 1,774,273
U.K. 1,128,000,000 1,360,000,000 27,000,000 33, 00,000