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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

The Probable Future

The Probable Future.

In considering our future prospects, we should not lose sight of the opinion of eminent economists that the price of meat and dairy products has risen nearly 50 per cent, within the past thirty-five years, and that as the supply is not keeping pace with the general increase of population and wealth, prices of these products, in comparison with those of most other commodities, must continue to rise. Now, as the meat and dairy products of New Zealand are far greater than she can consume, any such rise in price must be to her advantage, especially as prices of nearly all the articles she imports in exchange have a falling tendency. Again, our great staple—wool—after falling to a point lower than has been known in the present generation, has revived considerably, and, although it may not regain its old level, unless indeed there be a general "boom" in trade throughout the world, yet the latest advices all indicate that prices are at least approaching a rate that will leave our producers a profit.

Our coalfields, as may be gathered from my previous remarks, are on the eve of being developed in a manner that very few are aware of. There is reason to believe that the coal resources of New Zealand, as compared with its area, are infinitely superior to those of most other countries, except possibly England, and consequently we may take it for granted that in this respect we are at least as well equipped for the industrial contest as other countries, and as likely to be able to take a good place therein.

With the introduction of the most recent scientific appliances for crushing and smelting gold, there is every possibility of our increasing its present rate of production to a very considerable extent. With crude and faulty appliances our goldfields have already yielded some 42,327,907l. sterling up to 1885, but this is nothing to what might be done if we keep pace with the times and introduce the most recent inventions. The old methods of smelting gold are now being abandoned in Australia in favour of American processes, as for instance the "Provost" furnace process, which is now generally used in the United States, and is said to have proved a great success. It consists in fusing the ore by means of a suitable flux, and with the addition of lead when that metal is not found in sufficient quantities in the ore. No doubt modern science and modern appliances will be introduced here with marked benefit to this industry; and it might be well worth the expense if our Government would adopt the suggestion thrown out by a gentleman in Auckland, and send an expert to America to study the most recent inventions. It is, however, pleasing to learn from the Minister of Mines that our quartz mines yielded 111,432 ozs. of gold in 1885 against 88,299 ozs. in the previous year, or an increase of rather over 25 per cent.

As an agricultural country we stand alone amongst the Australian colonies in the productiveness of our soil, as the following figures demonstrate:—
Average Produce per Acre of
Wheat. Oats. Barley. Potatoes. Hay.
bushels bushels bushels tons tons
Victoria 9.52 23.40 17.38 4.16 1.09
N. S. Wales 15.27 21.87 21.16 2.52 1.24
Queensland 16.17 15.17 24.73 2.92 1.40
S. Australia 7.53 12.20 13.48 4.10 .93
W. Australia 13.00 18.00 16.50 3.00 1.00
Tasmania 19.20 28.65 29.58 4.37 1.24
New Zealand 25.43 34.84 30.37 5.78 1.41

Consequently, with natural resources which, taken as a whole, are unequalled by those of any other country, it will indeed be our own fault if we do not succeed.

In looking to the future, however, it will be well for us to bear in mind that the want of scientific knowledge is one of our weakest points, as there can be no doubt that we are scarcely abreast of the times in this respect. It is scarcely necessary to point out how advisable it is for every one in this age of progress to acquire scientific knowledge, for on what nowadays does efficiency in the production, preparation, and distribution of commodities depend but on the best use of methods fitted to their respective characters, and an adequate acquaintance with their physical, chemical, or vital properties, as the case may be—that is, it depends on science. In this country, where minerals are so plentiful, a knowledge of mineralogy, for example, is of great advantage. And a large amount of capital has undoubtedly been sunk in hopelessly unprofitable gold and coal mining ventures through want of this knowledge, which, with it, might have been most profitably employed in these very pursuits. Even the farmer, in draining his land, manuring his crops, or feeding his stock to advantage, owes a debt to science. In short, just as fast as productive processes become more scientific, which competition inevitably tends to make them, so fast must scientific knowledge grow necessary to every one. The advantages of production on a large scale, as distinguished from a small one, are generally admitted. Mill shows that, "as a general rule, page 8 the expenses of a business do not increase by any means proportionally to the quantity of business," and he has pointed out some of the more important items of economy attributable to manufacturing on a large scale, such as the advantage of having the largest number of machines that can be attended to by a single worker at one time, the economy of engine power, &c., &c.

The general principles that apply to manufacturing operations on a large scale apply also, though perhaps in a modified degree, to agricultural and pastoral pursuits. An illustration of the advantages of turning out farm products on a large scale is supplied by some of the cheese factories in England. One of these, for instance, in Cheshire, converts into cheese the milk from 500 cows, and the dairy is worked by only two men and two women, with an extra man to look after about 150 pigs, which are kept to consume the whey. Thus not only is labour saved, but a more uniform quality of cheese is secured. At present in New Zealand we lie under the disadvantage of having too limited a population to produce many articles that can be profitably manufactured only on a large scale. Hence we are compelled to confine our industrial undertakings mainly to such as can be successfully carried on with small establishments. As it is generally admitted that countries which have acquired any great degree of pre-eminence in the economy of manufactures have invariably substituted large for small factories, to enable them to reduce cost of production to a minimum, we must materially increase our population if we are ever to become a great manufacturing country. The difference between a great and a small production of any commodity, whether raw or manufactured, often represents the difference between profit and loss.

The undeniable relative depression of trade that is still unfortunately more or less experienced, makes us too apt to forget the lessons of the past, and, while exaggerating present evils, refuse to recognise that they are simply counterparts of what have happened before, and have ultimately proved self-corrective. When we see nothing but improvement behind us, why should we expect nothing but deterioration before us? Within the past thirty-five years the colony has made remarkable and continuous progress in all the essential elements of prosperity. The earnings of labour have increased absolutely and relatively, the cost of living has been generally reduced; education has been provided for the poorest; the incidence of taxation has been adjusted so as to press least heavily on the lowest incomes, and comforts and conveniences that were unknown in Europe only a century ago, except to the wealthiest, have now been brought within the reach of all. It is true that the struggle for success becomes keener and more severe, and in order to secure a fair share of the benefits which are to be obtained in the present age, men are required to be more competent, better skilled, and more alert than formerly. But notwithstanding this increasing difficulty in maintaining a good place in the contest, there is certainly far less absolute destitution in the world now than in former days, and we may rest assured that, in spite of temporary deflections from the onward march of improvement, there is a steady and congruous increase in wealth and prosperity in which we must fully participate. If, basing our anticipations upon the past thirty-five years' experience, we were—paraphrasing what Macaulay wrote half a century ago—to prophesy that in another thirty-five years New Zealand will hare a population of five millions better fed, clad, lodged, and educated than the average well-to-do classes of to-day, that scientific cultivation, rich as a flower garden, will cover a great portion of these inlands; that our debt, vast as it seems to us now, will appear to our children a trifling encumbrance; we might be deemed visionary, But when we consider what this young colony has already achieved, and bear in mind that it is inhabited by a tirelessly progressive people, who have the courage and endurance, the ambition and the determination, to succeed—for these are the qualities characteristic of emigrants—why should we not anticipate that progress at least equal to that of the past is destined to continue in the future?

Gentlemen,—My term of office now ends, and, although many of you, wearied with the length of my recent addresses, will doubtless give a sigh of relief, yet I would fain hope that our discussions, however incomplete they may have been, have not been quite without profit or entirely devoid of interest. I beg to move the adoption of the report and balance sheet.