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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64

Imported Labour

Imported Labour.

I have before stated that the true wealth of the Pacific, and indeed of all tropical countries, does not rest in the soil nor in its productions, but in the amount of resident voluntary labour obtainable to cultivate the soil. To prove this statement it is only necessary to refer to the West Indies. Immediately after the emancipation of the slaves, estates which were worth £50,000 would hardly realise £5,000; the liberated negroes refused to work, and the planters were ruined. It is therefore the primary task of any Government to superintend and supply the demand for labour if it desires to advance the prosperity of tropical lands.

Hitherto the labour supply has been conducted by private individuals, and the evils which have arisen to both labourers and employers prove the necessity of Government interference. In Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti the greater portion of the labour used has been imported from the neighbouring islands, hut the supply is uncertain and very small. It may almost be said that there is no labour to be obtained in the Pacific. The removal of a few natives from one group of islands to another, whereby the first group becomes depopulated for a time, is not a supply—it is doubtful whether such a transfer is advisable either for the sake of economy or for health neither is any certain supply to be found in the resident population.

The existence of 140,000 men, women, and children upon 7,400 square miles of tropical land, as is the case in Fiji, affords no supply hardly twenty to the square mile. Java contains a population of 337 to the square mile, and Ceylon 87. My general estimate of the population of the Pacific (ride chart) is 1,200,000 upon a superficial area of 98,000 square miles, giving about twelve to the square mile. Tropical lands admit a far denser population, and the Pacific must look either to the natural increase of the population, or to foreign countries, in order to obtain a fair supply of labour. The natural increase will be found much too slow a process, and the only remaining alternative will be to import labour from abroad under Government superintendence. In South-eastern Asia there exists a labour market able to supply the world. China and India contain a population which is commencing to burst the bounds that have so long restrained them within certain limits. That population is beginning to emigrate, and soon a flood of Asiatics will pour through the long-closed gate of South-eastern Asia, and scatter themselves over the eastern and western tropical and temperate zones.

Now, the Pacific Islands lie close at hand, and a little regulation will direct a stream of labour which will amply supply any demand. This page 82 simple fact, this proximity to India and China, renders the Pacific Islands the most valuable within the tropical belt. The cost of passage (a very great consideration) will be small compared with that to the West Indies. A two or three years' contract with the Asiatic labourer will pay in the Pacific, whereas a five or six years' contract will hardly pay in the West Indies. Employers of tropical labour will soon perceive this important fact, and a great number will flock to the islands of the Pacific as soon as they are assured of sufficient Government protection.

In Fiji, Sir Arthur Gordon will doubtless look after these matters; but ought not the Imperial Government to take up the subject? If the statement is correct that the true wealth of tropical countries rests in the labour, should not the Imperial Government look after the interests of all its tropical possessions by superintending and regulating the supply of foreign labour. The West Indies, the Mauritius, Natal, Ceylon, Northern Australia, Queensland, Fiji, etc., all demand tropical labourers, which India and China can easily supply. The Registrar-General of Bombay informs as that the population of India is increasing by 2,000,000 annually. It is quite impossible for India to support its present population, together with such a yearly increase; should not, therefore, a proper system of emigration be determined upon? Our tropical possessions in the Pacific can easily absorb a vast number of labourers, and India would be greatly relieved. If, however, caste, prejudice, or custom cannot be overcome, there is a plentiful supply of labour to be obtained from China. Many Chinese are already in the islands, but many more are required. The Chinese make good settlers,! and infuse some of their own untiring energy into the people around them. It is to be hoped that the Imperial Government will remove the restrictions which were lately imposed upon Chinese emigrants from Hong Kong.

There is very little doubt but that the Imperial Government can easily arrange a liberal labour supply from Asia if it favourably considers the proposal; but we have something else to consider besides the mere importation of labourers—we must endeavour to retain them after their term of service has expired. Increase of population in Polynesia implies increase of wealth. Fiji can well support a million inhabitants, and when the little colony contains that population, it will also possess a very fair supply of voluntary labour. Necessity will then compel the natives to work more strenuously than they do at present; the struggle for existence will be greater, and a greater amount of labour must result. It will therefore be seen that the present inhabitants of Fiji are not alone to be considered; a large increase! must be provided for, and it is consequently necessary for the Government to gravely consider the land question. As much land as possible should be retained in order to provide for future increase, and foster future settlement. page 83 Sir Hercules Robinson might not have fully considered this subject when be proposed that tribal lands should vest in the chiefs.

An unavoidable mistake has been made in the West Indies, which should, if possible, be avoided in Polynesia. The supply of female coolies, in anything like proportionate numbers, has been much too small, and the result has been found to be thoroughly demoralizing; marriage laws have been completely thrown aside. Too many male labourers ought not to be introduced without a proportionate number of females.