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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Then and Now

page 37

Then and Now.

Among all the colonists of New Zealand few probably could say with the late Mr. Swain-son, that they came out in the year One of the colony; still fewer would be able to narrate the events of that year as matters of personal recollection. Half a century ago such adventurous emigrants left their homes in Great Britain, and after long, wearisome, and often painful voyaging, arrived in, what to them must have seemed like a new world. Since that date a marvellous transformation has been effected, not only here, at the ends of the earth, but in every country under heaven; a transformation so thorough, that, to realise the conditions of life in the year 1840 requires an effort of imagination which may safely be said to be beyond the reach of the young, and to present considerable difficulty even to the old.

Fifty years ago the railway engine had already shown that the Quarterly Review had been mistaken in declaring that the idea that a train might be drawn at the rate of fifteen, or even twenty miles an hour, was "a gross exaggeration of the powers of the locomotive steam-engine." Already, also, it was evident that the same writer had been without the spirit of prophecy when he thus summarily disposed of the question:—"As to those persons who speculate on making railways general throughout the Kingdom we deem them and their visionary schemes unworthy of notice." Still, at the period referred to, railway travelling was only in its infancy with regard both to comfort and to speed. Third-class carriages were hardly better than New Zealand cattle trucks of the present day, being not only seatless, but roofless. The second-class were mere wooden boxes, with seats indeed, but without cushions, blinds, or the least attempt to make traveling anything but a painful penance. The first-class were slightly enlarged copies of the stage coach, cramped, close, and stuffy. The mail train, as English people know it now, with its stately sweep into the stopping stations, its almost fearful flight through the country, doing for instance the 400 miles between London and Edinburgh, in something less than nine hours, all this was yet in the future, while the electric telegraph was regarded by the few who had heard of it beyond its promoters, as merely a scientific curiosity, not in the least likely to have any appreciable effect upon the world. Wires had been laid between the Euston Square and Camden Town stations, a distance of a mile and a-quarter, but their removal had been ordered. In 1839 the patentees received permission to establish their discovery on the Great Western Railway, and thirteen miles were laid down, but the proposal to extend the lines to Bristol met with much opposition from the directors, and again the telegraph had notice to quit. Mr. Cooke, one of the patentees, was, however, allowed to retain the line of wires at his own expense, on condition of adding another five miles, and of sending railway signals free, for public messages he might make a charge of 1s. But the public looked with indifference on such a means of communication, and the shillings were few. In 1845, however, a murder was committed at Slough. There was no doubt that the guilty person was a Quaker named Tawell, who, it was found, had caught the express train for London, and knowing that this could not be overtaken, probably considered that he had made his escape, and would be able to lose himself in the great city. Some one suggested a trial of the telegraph. There was on symbol for Qu, but this difficulty was overcome, and the clerk in London was puzzled by a message desiring him to "Stop the Kwa!" At this point he stopped the message, and gave the signal for repetition, reasoning with himself that no word in the English language began with those letters. Again came the peremptory order "Stop the Kwa," which again was promptly stopped. This went onuntil the sender suggested that he should be allowed to finish, when the receiver took means to "Stop the Kwaker," who afterwards suffered for his crime. The utility of the electric telegraph was proved, and by the end of the year 500 miles of wires had been laid, and were in operation. For many years past, wherever civilisation has gone, the telegraph has been its companion or its forerunner; the last mail from England brought news of the establishment of perhaps the youngest and evidently one of the shortest of lines, on mission premises on the Congo River in Africa, a little difficulty at starting having been overcome, in a manner with which colonists can sympathise. The insulators were found not strong enough to act as terminals for the wire, so a couple of old filters were fastened to the posts, and the wires terminated on them, and the arrangement answered very well. Fifty years ago Africa was almost a blank on the map. Now, natives of that country, whose horizon a short time since was bounded by their immediate surroundings, are beginning to find that a very wide world is opening before them, and lads to whom the art of reading was a mystery are taking lessons in the use of the telegraph, while one of their number can already read the Morse code fairly well.

Half a century ago the British nation, by the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies, in 1838, had at last purged itself from the crime of slavery, some incidents of which were described as follows before a London audience by an eye-witness of its horrors—William Knibb, a Baptist missionary:—"I call upon children by the cries of the infant slave whom I saw flogged. . . . I call upon parents by the blood-streaming back of Catherine Williams, who, with a heroism England has seldom known, preferred a dungeon to the surrender of her honour. I call upon Christians by the lacerated back of William Black, of King's Valley, whose back, a month after a flogging, was not healed." Driven from a tew islands of the Atlantic, slavery was still supreme page 38 in America among a people of British race and tongue. Yet even then, hopeless as seemed the prospect, not from the slaves only, but from many a noble soul chafing against the intolerable evil, agonised at the thought of the national guilt, there went up the cry, "How long, O Lord, how long!" And the Lord hearkened and heard. A few years earlier the New England Anti-slavery Society had been formed at a meeting of fifteen persons. An adjourned meeting, held in the schoolroom of a Baptist Church, took place during a fierce storm of snow, rain, and hail, in the midst of which, as the small company stepped out into the dark, Mr. Garrison impressively remarked:—"We have met to-night in this obscure school-house, our numbers are few and our influence limited; but, mark my prediction, Faneuil Hall shall ere long echo with the principles we have set forth; we shall shake the nation by their mighty power!" How this prediction was more than fulfilled when the great nation bore the punishment of its iniquity, the reward of its own hands being given it, until the evil thing was cast out, nearly rending the nation us it passed away, is matter of history full of instruction for those who have eyes to see.

Americans, when reproached with their "peculiar institution," would sometimes retaliate by pointing to the glaring injustice of many social conditions in England, and their statement was unanswerable, though it could hardly avail as an excuse for another wrong. The land was at that time mostly let out in farms by the great owners, who considered the tenant's vote as much the landlord's right as was the rent; and the vote, of course, was to be given in support of the "landed interest." The farmers generally acquiesced, either through indifference, or fearing to lose the farms already held under various vexatious and hurtful restrictions. As for the labourers, their part was to till the ground and mind the Hocks; they did not therefore need much "book learning," and it was doubtful whether it would really be a good thing for them or their children to learn to read and write. But the privileged class, whose mountain seemed to stand so strong, have had, like the American slaveholders, to eat the fruit of their own doings; great changes have been brought about by the rising tide of righteousness, and the end is not yet.

In England, in the year 1840, and during the succeeding quarter of a century and more, church rates were levied upon members of all denominations and of none, for the support of a sect otherwise richly endowed by the State, and those who refused payment were deprived of their goods and sometimes of their liberty. The same sect had seized the national universities and shut and closely barred the gates of every one of their colleges against those who could not pronounce the sectarian shibboleth. Until 1854 no one not a member of the established denomination could so much as take a degree at either Oxford or Cambridge, and when the degree was reluctantly granted, all offices of honour and emolument, all share of the government of the Universities, were still retained and guarded with desperate determination. It was not until the abolition of University Tests in 1871 that the doors so long closed were at last flung open, and even then there remained the abomination by which men were often tempted to declare that they trusted that they were "inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost," when they knew, and in many cases it was well known that they only "took orders "in order to obtain or to retain the comfortable income of a clerical fellowship. Now that this also has been done away, and that with the exception of one or two offices whose income depends on ecclesiastical preferment, all sect distinctions have been swept from the Universities, it is hard to realise that such exclusiveness can have existed at so recent a period. There still remains, however, the question of the admission of one-half of the nation—that is to say of women, to the rights and privileges of the two great national Universities, and it is interesting to remember that a stage has already been reached which, much less than half a century ago, would have been regarded as the mere dream of a lunatic, or at best, as an amusing romance. If, at that time, it sometimes occurred to a woman that medical attendance from one of her own sex would be a natural and modest arrangement, it was but as a hopeless longing for the unattainable. Not only were there no qualified medical women, but there was no possibility of any such being trained, and when at length an attempt was made in that direction medical students, doctors, professors, examining and licensing boards, all joined in placing every imaginable obstacle in the way of the enterprise. Now there are seventy-three registered lady doctors in Great Britain, though the lady students are still obliged to seek the completion of their course in foreign countries.

In his impassioned protest against slavery William Knibb dwelt on its especially cruel effect upon women. "Must I then," he asked, "plead for woman? If anyone refuse to advocate her cause—if he decline to lift his voice in her favour, . . I say he is less than man." When the British nation acknowledged the justice of this plea and decreed liberty to the slaves, it was a step upward for the whole human race, for—

"When a deed is done for freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast,

Runs a thrill of joy prophetic trembling on from east to west—

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,

Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right and wrong."

The enfranchisement of the poor black women was a happy omen for women every, where, and if for women then for men, since the degradation of one sex keeps back both alike from the fuller, freer life awaiting them in the future, and towards which, however, much remains undone, great strides have been made in the past half century.

In or about the year 1848. by order of an Austrian general, Haynau by name, Hungarian ladies of noble birth were publicly Hogged for the crime of helping in the struggle for the liberty of their country. In 1850, General Haynau visited England. Among the sights of London he went to the great brewery of Barclay and Perkins and as was usual, entered his name in the page 39 visitors' book. He had a letter of introduction from one of the Rothschilds, and was apparently serenely unconscious of having done anything unworthy of a man. One or two clerks were observed to slip from the room, and in a few minutes it was known all over the place that the woman-flogger was in the building, and somehow or other a hint got about that the big whips of the draymen might serve to do to him in a measure as he had had done to the ladies, and with wonderful speed a crowd gathered to give effect to this hint, those who had no whips being furnished with brooms. Particulars of the fright and the flight of the coward, of how he was at last rescued by the police in a boat on the river, into which he nearly tumbled in his scared haste, may be found in the Free Library, in the Illustrated London News of September 7, 1850. It was reported that Messrs. Barclay and Perkins had dismissed the ringleaders, but the firm declared it to be impossible to fix the responsibility of the affair, and that such a thing not being likely to occur again, they had not thought in necessary to take any action. Many thought and said with pride that a lesson had been given to the foreigner; and yet Britons hardly proved themselves to have a right to hold up their heads in that way. Fifteen years later, one of those scares which are apt to arise where righteousness is not the rule of the governing class, broke out in Jamaica, a martial law was proclaimed by Governor Eyre. The proceedings of the military courts were described among others, by a young officer of Her Majesty's Navy, who sat as one of the judges, and wrote home an account of his experiences. "We are flogging," he said, "and hanging like fun." In the number of the flogged were both men and women, and lest the punishment should not be sufficiently painful, piano wire was twined into the whip lashes by order of English officers and gentlemen, who thus outdid the despised Austrian. The friends of the young officer apparently thought his letters so admirable that they sent them for publication to one of the daily papers; other witnesses confirmed his statements, and a storm of indignation was aroused which resulted in Governor Eyre's being brought to trial. But the dead could not be restored to life, and no compensation was granted to the living.

Could such things be done now, in this year 1890? We may confidently answer, No. There is evidence certainly that there are still men of our nation who think it needless to regard justice in their dealings with what they are pleased to term an inferior race, but in these last days when the prophecy of Daniel is fulfilled that many should run to and fro and knowledge be increased in the earth, deeds of cruelty can no longer be done openly, and hardly privately without bringing upon their perpetrators the swift and sure vengeance of public opinion. The telegraph, the printing press, and the locomotive make concealment impossible, that which was done in secret is now told upon the housetops, and the light is slaying the darkness, and will continue to do so

"Till morning tread the darkness down

And night be swept away."

Half a century ago, to return to the year one of our colony, our countrymen came hither with a blank sheet on which to write, if they would, the history of such a nation as the world has never yet seen. Physical difficulties there were no doubt in plenty, but the far more serious moral and social difficulties only existed by the will, or by the carelessness of the colonists themselves. All old nations were, and are, weighed down by the accumulated burdens of many generations by privileged classes, and by established customs, which have pushed aside the great principles of truth and justice, the only sure foundation for any community. Here, on the contrary, untrammelled by the baleful legacy of the past, protected from unfriendly, and also from friendly interference by the vast expanse of ocean, with a favourable climate, with a native race capable of appreciating honourable treatment—here was an opportunity for building up a State by righteousness; a free country, where every one would have had liberty to make the best he could of his own life, to earn, and to spend his earnings, and where the functions of Government being small, taxation also would have been of the smallest. Such a country would have attracted the best from every nation, because the fame of its happiness would have gone everywhere, while the baser sort would have been kept away by the dread of an enlightened public opinion, which would have made all attempts at unjust privilege at unrighteous gain practically hopeless' Bishop Butler, in his famous Analogy,' describes the possibilities of a nation founded on righteousness:—"In such a State there would be no such thing as faction, but men of the greatest capacity would of course all along have the direction of affairs willingly yielded to them; and they would share it among themselves without envy. Each of these would have the part assigned him to which his genius was peculiarly adapted; and others, who had not any distinguished genius, would be safe, and think themselves very happy by being under the protection and guidance of those who had. Public determinations would really be the result of the united wisdom of the community, and they would faithfully be executed by the united strength of it. Some would in a higher way contribute, but all would in some way contribute to the public prosperity; and in it each would enjoy the fruit of his own virtue. And as injustice, whether by fraud or force, would be unknown among themselves, so they would be sufficiently secured from it in their neighbours. For cunning and false self-interest, confederacies in injustice, ever slight, and accompanied with faction and intestine treachery; those on one hand would be found mere childish folly and weakness, when set in opposition against wisdom, public spirit, union inviolable, and fidelity on the other. Add the general influence which such a kingdom would have over the face of the earth, by way of example particularly, and the reverence which would be paid it."

All this and more was open to New Zealand. Why is the reality so different? Those who came hither brought with them a chart by which they might have been safely guided, but they said, "Nay, but we will page 40 take a shorter road: make us a debt to rule over us like all other nations." And now, ruled by that debt, smothered with laws, hampered by what is facetiously called protection, presenting few attractions to those whom we should be clad to attract, we are far enough from realising the grand ideal which we have despised. The Bible gives us the history of another highly-favoured people, to whom was offered a glorious future on one condition—that they served the God of Righteousness. They refused, and worshipped instead the gods of the nations, the Baalim and the Asherah—force, money, lust, and amusement—for which reason they never once touched the perfect prosperity set before them, but, turning the back upon it, sank lower and lower, and at last were cast out from their laud, a warning for all time, to all nations, and especially to the more highly favoured.

The devotion of several days to mere amusement, and the consequent upsetting of business and of public traffic, may be a suitable way of celebrating the birthday of this State, but it will hardly satisfy those who, having at heart the true welfare of the country, realise in some measure the noble possibilities of the future, possibilities which can only be grasped by a noble people of high aims and principle. As long as there are among us "the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, the scant measure that is abominable, the wicked balances, and the bag of deceitful weights," or any other devices for robbery more or less disguised, the land cannot know true prosperity. It follows that the cheat, little or big, is the enemy, not only of himself, but of his country. To search and try ourselves, and if there be in our hands the gain of oppression, to give back such unjust gain to the person wronged, would make of this somewhat unsatisfactory Jubilee a starting point towards better things, a period to be looked back upon with thankfulness forever. The debtor who, though shielded by bank ruptcy, lately sought out and paid his creditors in full, this honest gentleman has get an example of how to keep the Jubilee, for the promise of Him who cannot lie is perfectly definite—"Seek good and not evil, that ye may live, and see now if I will not pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to hold it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live"