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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

The Land for the People

The Land for the People.

Now I should like for a few moments to direct your attention to the land question. (Hear, hear.) You well know that the most fertile lands of the colony have all passed out of the hands of the Crown, and are held in great areas by a few individuals and companies. The system of great estates must come to an end here if we do not wish the country to be depopulated, and to become merely the home of great sheep flocks. The land tax which the present ministry has imposed will operate slowly to discourage the accumulation of landed possessions by individuals, but the wants of the country are pressing and urgent, and land must be obtained for the people. Therefore the large estates of fertile land must be settled with a good class of yeoman farmers, who will increase without measure the productive power of the country. In order to do this great estates of fertile land must be resumed by the Crown, fair compensation being paid to the present holders. The land tax should be judiciously increased, so as to ul- page 9 timately make the large estates which have benefitted so immensely by the railways to bear the greater portion of the interest on the money borrowed to construct the railways. (Applause.)

Had the people of New Zealand continued to support the party of the land monopolists the evils which would ere long have afflicted New Zealand would have degraded our people and crushed out their manhood, their independence of character, and their spirit of self reliance. Every country in which great estates prevailed was ultimately brought to ruin and disaster. Ancient Rome perished because of the great landed possessions of individual citizens. France was deluged in blood in 1793 because of the misery which the system of great estates brought upon its people. And in our own day the position of the working agricultural population of England is positively appalling. This book which I hold in my hand is a series of letters written for the London "Daily News" last year by its special correspondent who was sent to investigate the condition of the agricultural population of England. And it is sad reading. I will, with your indulgence, read one or two passages from some of these letters, by which you will see the very striking evils of a system of great estates such as that prevailing in Great Britain, and which the National Tory Associations throughout this Colony would like and are firmly endeavouring to perpetuate among you. In speaking of the cottages in one village—Ixworth—he says: "Numbers of houses have not so much as a back door, to say nothing of garden plots. Numbers of them are reported 'not wind and water tight.' There is a row of houses in one lane, the total number of inhabitants is forty four, and there are three closets for their use. In other houses water comes into the bedrooms and rats eat the bedclothes. In another house the walls were tumbling down. The tenants generally, however, are afraid to give evidence. They have told me they feared being turned out. Dr. Thresh, the medical officer of Chelmsford and Maldon, reported "These wretchedly small overcrowded houses not only affect the morals but the health of the inhabitants. Rheumatism and chest affections are caused by sleeping and living in such damp, draughty dwellings. Infectious disease cannot be isolated, nor can any case of illness be properly treated in them," Speaking of the people generally, the writer says: "Existence with them is a dull, dead-alive, hopeless sort of drudgery, without interest, without enjoyment, without any practical result except the mere keeping of body and soul together, and the end of it all is the workhouse, while the community at large is of course the loser of all the added wealth the land might have been made to yield." Speaking of the slavery of the people he says: "I am assured that it is literally true that if in one of those places a young man wants to get married and settle down it is of no use merely to woo and to win the young page 10 woman. He must induce the squire to consent also. A Liberal politician told me that in an election recently there were eighty voters in one such proprietary village and he could only get one solitary individual so much as to speak to him. "No, sir," they said, "excuse me, I really can't. I don't want to lose my coals at Christmas." You have no idea what a condition of serfdom the people are reduced to on some of these big estates," said a resident to me today.". Again: "I went last evening into a certain little village I strolled about among the cottagers and talked with them at their doors. How did they live on nine shillings a week? They didn't live. It was a lingering death, the people said. Bread and potatoes had been their food all through the winter, and they hadn't had enough of that. As to the cottages I was assured there were not three good ones in the place, and I heard of the utmost wretchedness last winter. The wind had blown them pretty nearly out of their beds and the snow had come in upon them." Just listen to this little side light on the life of the English rustic. "In one place a woman incidentally alluded to the blankets that were lent to the people. It appeared that everybody in the village had the loan of a blanket. 'But,' I said, 'are there no people in the place who are unwilling to borrow bed-clothing?' 'No, sir; everybody has 'em—unless it is the estate bricklayer. I dunno whether he has one. They seal 'em up in the spring and they unseal 'em in the autumn.' 'Seal them up,?' I said in perplexity. 'Yes, sir; I'll show you mine;' and the vivacious litte woman whisked upstairs and brought down a calico bag the mouth of which was sewn up with string, the ends being sealed with black wax." Gentlemen, are those things not enough to make our ears tingle with shame and indignation that our English fellow countrymen are subjected toso cruel a yoke, and ought we not to determine that no amount of gilding of the pill will ever permit us to tolerate in New Zealand the existence of great landed estates which can so blight a sturdy and vigorous race? (Cheers.)