By Elizabeth Rogers Kotlowski
It is understandable that, until recent years, Australians have tried to bury their convict past in the light of the documentary evidence we have of the degradation, inhumanity and exploitation that characterised the penal colony. It was just that--a penal colony where flogging and the death sentence were daily occurrences. Before the reader passes judgement, he should bear in mind the harshness of the times, the great economic changes taking place in Great Britain as thousands were swept into the new mills, the inadequacy of the poor laws, and the severity of the criminal code.
For many of the convicts who survived the journey, their natural aversion to work was counterproductive in an economy where survival depended on it. For five years, they lived on the brink of starvation. Sentences to the treadmill, flogging, or transportation to another penal colony tended to deprave and degrade the convicts. They were entirely at the whim and mercy of the governor and military officers. The governor, as the Crown's representative, was not permitted to pass legislation without the consent of Parliament, but to maintain control he passed Governor's Ordinances, which were actually illegal. Jeremy Bentham drew attention to the outrages of this violation of constitutional law in a pamphlet, entitled: A Plea for the Constitution: showing the enormities committed, to the oppression of British subjects, innocent as well as guilty; in breach of Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act, and the Bill of Rights ... including an inquiry into the right of the Crown to legislate without Parliament ... in the foundation and management of the penal colony of New South Wales. This type of military rule extended from 1788 to 1822--a period which started with the governorship of Arthur Phillip and ended with that of Lachlan Macquarie.
Arthur Phillip, admiral and governor, was born in London, of Jacob Phillip, a language teacher and Elizabeth nee Breach, the former wife of Captain Herbert, a relative of Lord Pembroke. His mother was instrumental in Phillip's choosing a seafaring career. From 1751-55 he was apprenticed in the mercantile service, which included two years at sea. He joined the navy and served in the Seven Years' War. In 1763 he retired on half-pay, and for the next fifteen years Phillip spent much of his time on his two farms in Hampshire. In 1763 he married Margaret Denison, the widow of a prosperous London merchant, but six years later they were separated. In 1774-78 Phillip served with distinction in South American waters with the Portuguese fleet. In 1778 he was made a post captain with the British navy and had command of two ships, which included service in India. He was engaged in survey work for the navy when he was appointed first Governor of New South Wales.
Phillip's navy background and his farming experience had prepared him for the task ahead. The Portuguese described him as "brave, honest, obedient and self-sacrificing". He demonstrated maturity and ability in commanding men, and as yet, had not become hardened. The Southland had always held a fascination for the adventurer and Phillip was inspired by the vision of a new Empire growing up in the southern seas. He planned to encourage the emigration of free settlers. He had a better grasp than his supervisors of the degree of planning and administrative detail required in transplanting a civilisation to the other side of the world. Thus he took an active part in the planning, and in drawing up rules of conduct and discipline and job descriptions for all. He was also anxious to preserve harmonious relationships with the Aborigines, and used the wide governmental powers that he was granted to accomplish this end.
The distance from Britain and indifference of Parliament gave Phillip a free hand to paint his dream in the colony of New South Wales. Indeed, Phillip had absolute power over almost every area of the lives of the inhabitants. He had both legislative and executive functions, and could remit sentences. Only treason and murder were exempt.
When viewed within the context of his times, Phillip was a moderate and able governor. His administrative skills found expression in an organised and practical prison system. His discipline was firm; yet he refused to tolerate any ill-treatment of the Aborigines. He was quick to punish evil with the lash (a standard punishment in the army and navy), and to reward industry and good conduct of the convicts by shortening their prison sentences or by giving them grants of land. Some were selected for positions of authority such as supervisors and policemen, while others were assigned to posts which carried certain privileges. Phillip used great care in distributing the food rations, insisting on complete equality for all, regardless of their position. In face of an atmosphere of defeatism (and opposition at times), he always maintained an optimistic attitude which was reflected in the regular reports that were dispatched to Britain. Phillip's positive style of leadership was largely responsible for sustaining the morale of the colony.
Governor Phillip based his policies, not on any particular religious creed, though he was a nominal member of the Church of England, but rather on a broad humanitarianism. Nevertheless, he believed that Christianity was good for the rehabilitation of the convicts, which included a large percentage of professional criminals. Thus he was untiring in his efforts to attract emigrants, though this was sometimes difficult because of the stigma of convictism.
The settlement was at first confined to a restricted area around Sydney. Phillip encouraged exploration and took some trips himself, but opposed the settlement of the outlying Hawkesbury area because of the lack of "proper people to conduct it". He favoured Parramatta because of its good soil and water supply, and its accessibility to Sydney. A small town developed and it quickly became the centre of the colony's economy. Convict labour was used for the construction of buildings and public farming. The growth of private farming was slow due to a lack of resources, tools and experience. The governor was under much pressure from the military, who wanted grants of land. But Phillip had refused them because he felt farming could interfere with their duties. However, in Phillip's second Commission, dated April 1787, he was instructed to give grants of land to approved persons, including the military and ex-convicts (emancipists) to encourage the growth of the settlement.
In December 1792, Phillip returned to England because of some health problems. His work in New South Wales had been highly commended. By 1796, Phillip had sufficiently recovered his health to resume his naval duties. He successfully commanded several ships, and continued to receive promotions until his death in 1814, shortly after receiving his last promotion to Admiral of the Blue.
There were several practices that started about this time that helped cast the structure of colonial society for years to come. After Governor Phillip returned to England, Major Francis Grose of the New South Wales Corps replaced him. He made grants of land to officers and encouraged them to work their land with the help of convict labour. They sold their surplus goods to the government stores with the result that the quantity of goods in the colony increased dramatically. However, power became concentrated in the hands of a group of wealthy free settlers, mainly officers, known as the "exclusives".
It was from this class that John Macarthur, an officer in the New South Wales Corps, emerged. His wife, Elizabeth, was a devout Christian. Their family farm in Parramatta became a model for the colony. Macarthur was one of the early pioneers of the wool industry in Australia. Although he quarrelled with every governor, it was Macarthur's ability to convince the British government that Australian wool would be saleable to English mills that put Australia on the road to economic independence. The "exclusives" tried to take over control of the colony, but the power of the officers was so entrenched that none of the next three governors--Hunter, King, Bligh--was able to break it.
John Hunter was the second Governor of New South Wales. The son of William Hunter, a captain in the merchant service, John was born in Leith, Scotland on 29 August 1737. He was educated at Edinburgh and was to enter Aberdeen University to study for the Presbyterian ministry, but in 1754 he decided to enter the navy instead. He had considerable experience on North Atlantic and West Indies Stations as a ship's master. Then, in 1786, he was appointed Second Captain to Phillip on the Sirius, and received a dormant commission to govern the colony in the event of Phillip's absence or death. An able navigator, Hunter was one of the first men to circumnavigate the world from east to west. In 1788-89, he sailed the Sirius east in Antarctic waters to the Cape, via New Zealand and Cape Horn, to pick up much needed stores. A year later his ship, the Sirius, was wrecked on Norfolk Island, where he and his men were marooned for 11 months. (This was the third shipwreck Hunter had survived. In the two instances in which he was captain, he was acquitted.) Hunter's other duties during Phillip's administration included that of magistrate, and of surveyor of the rivers and harbours around Port Jackson and the Hawkesbury River area.
Hunter's difficulties as governor commenced immediately after Phillip's departure, when the military had taken complete control, and during the lieutenant-governorship of Francis Grose. Governor Hunter tried to restore civil administration and justice, but found himself practically helpless in the face of the monopoly established by Grose and Macarthur. In order to get rid of Hunter, Macarthur wrote a letter to the Duke of Portland in London, charging the governor with mismanagement of colonial administration and agriculture. Hunter's eyes were later opened to "the horrid depravity and wickedness of Macarthur's heart". His opinion of Macarthur as a "busybody" motivated by self-interest was expressed in a letter to Under Secretary King on 1 June 1797. On the same date the governor wrote to the Duke of Portland, giving his side of the story, but it did no good. Hunter lost the power struggle against the military officers and the battle against the rum trade. He was recalled in 1799. In spite of the abuses he suffered, he looked to God for his support; he talked and wrote of Christ as his Saviour and Protector against the injustices and cruelties of men.
He was also known for his unimpeachable morals, though he never married. His successor, Philip Gidley King, said his conduct was "guided by the most upright intentions". Hunter has been criticised for his lack of administrative foresight in a time when the colony was struggling for survival. He seemed unable to grasp the importance for the economy of promoting trade. He also did not understand that the real problem of the small land-holders, who were forced off their farms, was not rum but high prices. His main contribution as governor was possibly to bring to the attention of the English government that there was an administrative problem. At first, the authorities would not listen, so Hunter decided to state his case in print. In 1802, he published a 72-page booklet, Remarks on the Causes of Colonial Expense of the Establishment of New South Wales. The evidence was convincing; therefore, Hunter was exonerated and became recognised as an authority on New South Wales affairs. Several of his suggested reforms, including revision of the criminal code, improved law courts, the establishment of an advisory council to the governor, the introduction of trial by jury, and the development of a reliable police force were gradually introduced. Hunter made other valuable contributions to the colony. He supported the explorations of Flinders and Bass, and explored and opened up much of the land near Sydney. He had a great interest in natural science and promoted expeditions that resulted in the discovery of the koala, wombat, platypus and lyrebird. Hunter's accounts and drawings of these strange creatures appeared in Collin's Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, dated November 1797.
While Hunter had not been able to break the control of the "exclusives" over the colony, the next two governors, King and William Bligh, did not fare any better. This situation led to the Rum Rebellion, when the officers finally succeeded in taking over control of the colony from Governor Bligh. To regain control of the colony, the British Government chose Lachlan Macquarie, a military man.
Like his predecessors, Governor Lachlan Macquarie was an officer, but the first appointed from the army. Born in 1761, on the island of Ulva near Mull in the Scottish Hebrides, he came from a poor family. After completing his education at the Royal Edinburgh High School, he served in America briefly, and then in India and Egypt with the British Army before coming to Australia. Macquarie has been called the "Father of Australia". His twelve-year term (from 1810 to 1822) "transformed a struggling penal colony into a stable, prosperous community". Upon his arrival, the colony was under threat of famine, and the towns were disorderly and run down. By the time he left, the population had grown from 11,000 to 40,000 people, and agriculture and commerce were thriving.
As the last governor who was able to rule with absolute authority, Macquarie had opportunity to mould society in New South Wales as he wished. A man of vision, he was concerned with all aspects of the colonists' lives. One of his first goals was to bring stability to family life. This he encouraged by passing a regulation that in order for farmers to get seed or supplies from government stores, they had to show a marriage certificate. To further improve the morals of the people, he appointed clergy even to the most outlying areas and required all convicts to attend church on Sundays. He discouraged excessive drinking by reducing the number of licensed taverns from 75 to 20 and by clamping down on illegal stills. Rum continued to be used as a popular form of currency, but the government regained control of the trade. 
Macquarie established charity schools for the numerous illegitimate children. He was one of the first to realise the importance of the education of the colony's youth in biblical principles which "could alone render them dutiful and obedient to their parents and superiors; honest, faithful, and useful members of society; and good Christians".
With the same high moral purpose, Macquarie launched a vigorous program of public works: the building of roads, bridges, churches, schools, court houses and a new hospital. He planned and established new towns, encouraging the building of quality brick or wood-frame housing. Between 1816 and 1820, Macquarie engaged the services of emancipist (ex-convict) architect Francis Greenway. His surviving buildings include St James' Church at Sydney, the Convict Barrack (now used as a court house), the Government House stable walls (which enclose the main modern building of the Sydney Conservatory of Music), and several churches. Before he left the colony, Macquarie had initiated the construction of 200 public buildings and 480 kilometres of turnpike--a remarkable achievement for the governor of a small and remote colony.
In spite of discouragement from the British Government, Macquarie also established the Bank of New South Wales, and silver sterling as the currency of the colony. However, Macquarie's projects were not limited to the towns. He sponsored exploration: Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth, Lieutenant William Lawson and George William Evans crossed the Blue Mountains, opening up the fertile western plains.
Macquarie's efforts to raise the colony from barbarism to civilisation were also extended to the Aborigines. He built a school to teach the natives of both sexes "habits of industry and decency". However, the project was a failure as the parents enticed the children away because they could not trust the Europeans. Macquarie also set aside a farm where natives could settle and cultivate the land in the hope they would discover the benefits of civilised life. Sixteen natives entered the farm.
Along with all the physical improvements, Macquarie continued with tireless zeal to promote the moral welfare of the colonists. He made the building of school houses a priority and, to assure persons of high integrity, he often appointed "respectable" clergymen as teachers. In 1815, to reinforce moral education, Macquarie launched two British-based organisations: the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Sunday School movement . Both organisations believed that the only guarantee of a moral society was a biblically literate people. Therefore, Christian education was necessary in order to teach people to read the Bible.
At the inaugural meeting of the Auxiliary Bible Society on 7 March 1817, after speeches by Governor Macquarie, Rev. Marsden and Judge Advocate Wylde on the value of Bible reading to society, two resolutions were passed. The first was that the education of the young was a priority for the colony and that public schools should be built for those who could not afford to send their children to the private church schools. Macquarie believed the whole purpose of education was "to educate the young in these principles" of the Bible, both for their personal welfare and the best interests of the colony. He recognised the contribution of Bible reading to the stability of the family as did also a contemporary writer to the Sydney Gazette, who wrote:
As the Bible urged natural affection, so all Bible readers had strong family feelings, in contrast with the non-Bible readers, who were the deepest sunk into sensuality and vice and furthest removed from family affection.
The second resolution passed by the Auxiliary Bible Society was that Christians had a duty "to attend to the relief of the poor and other benevolent purposes, as religion was the source and origin of their benevolence". So at the next meeting of the Bible Society on 6 May 1818, the Benevolent Society of New South Wales was founded as a duty of Christian charity.
Macquarie's "charity" extended to emancipists (ex-convicts). To promote their reformation, he rewarded them for good conduct with land grants and encouraged their appointment to positions of responsibility in the colony. His attitude to emancipists caused much criticism from the free settlers (especially the wealthy landowners), who didn't want to "mix" with the ex-convicts. By refusing to tolerate criticism, Macquarie made matters worse until things became so bad the Colonial Office sent out Commissioner John Thomas Bigge to make an official inquiry into colonial affairs.
The Bigge Report , presented to the British Parliament in 1822-23, questioned the autocratic style of government that had existed since Governor Phillip's administration. Two significant things had changed since those days. The population of the colony had grown enormously and now included many free settlers. Bigge recommended that a legislative council be appointed to assist the governor in law-making and raising revenue. It was inconceivable that Englishmen, raised in the common law tradition, would tolerate any longer an autocratic form of government that denied their rights, as Englishmen, to participate in government.
Unfortunately, Macquarie was unable to see this; he took almost everything the Report said as a personal criticism of his competence as governor. In 1822, he returned to England, a broken-hearted man, and died after two wearisome years of vainly trying to win the approval of the Colonial Office. He never did receive the usual recognitions though he had done more for the colony than any previous governor. No monument was ever built to remember him, but his name lives on in the countless streets and buildings that have been named after him. Percival Serle wrote: "Even John Macarthur [a prominent landowner] said of Macquarie: 'He was a man of unblemished honour and character.' When Macquarie arrived in N. S. W., the place was little better than a prison camp. When he left, it was an industrious colony with every sign of rapid growth before it".
Macquarie gave a full account of his administration in a report given in his own defence. But Macquarie will probably best be remembered for his outstanding role in helping to establish the Protestant religion in the new colony. Manning Clark eloquently describes Macquarie's contribution, thus:
When Macquarie died it seemed that chance and circumstance had colluded to award the palm of success amongst all the peoples who had dreamed of planting their civilization in the south seas to those who believed in the Protestant religion and British institutions. The Hindus had dreamed of the islands of gold....The Chinese had searched for spices, for gold, and for precious woods....The Muslims [succumbed] to another conqueror. The Roman Catholics had dreamed of a day when the people walking in darkness would see a pure light....The Protestants, too, had dreamed that a 'wealth of terrestrial laurel and a crown of celestial glory' would be their reward for following the 'lovely paths of virtue'. By the time Macquarie died it seemed that at least some of this dream had come true.
It is obvious then, that God had been busy working His purposes out through Macquarie to build a new nation, in spite of his faults, and in spite of an imperfect form of government. Macquarie was succeeded by Thomas Brisbane.
Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane was born on 23 July 1773 near Largs in Ayreshire in the lowlands of Scotland. His father, a veteran soldier, had an ancestor who had been Chancellor of the Kingdom of Scotland, while his mother was a descendant of King Robert the Bruce. Brisbane was educated at home by his God-fearing mother and several Presbyterian ministers or tutors, and at the University of Edinburgh, where he developed a love for astronomy and mathematics. In 1789, Brisbane joined the army, and the following year, while an ensign in the 38th Regiment, he met and formed a lasting friendship with Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. In 1795 Brisbane learned the practical uses of astronomy after he escaped from a shipwreck in a voyage to the West Indies. He served in the West Indies, Spain, France and Canada. He was knighted in 1837, receiving the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath for his part in the Peninsular War, and rose to the rank of General in 1841. In 1818 Brisbane returned to Scotland to resume his studies in astronomy, and the following year he married Anna Maria Makdougall of Makerstoun, Scotland. In 1820, Wellington (and Sir Joseph Banks) recommended to Lord Bathurst that Brisbane succeed Governor Macquarie. The story goes that Bathurst, remembering Brisbane's love of astronomy, said he wanted "one that will govern not the heavens, but the earth in New South Wales". Brisbane asked Wellington if his scientific studies had ever interfered with his military duties. "Certainly not", replied Wellington, "I shall write to his Lordship that, on the contrary, you were never in one instance absent or late, morning, noon, or night, and that in addition you kept the time of the army".
So in 1821, Brisbane accepted the appointment. One of Brisbane's greatest successes was to cut down on government expenditure. As a result of the Bigge Report, Brisbane introduced several reforms. He limited the size of land grants and specified that landowners must employ and maintain one convict for every 100 acres. This policy helped to curb land hunger. "Not a cow calves in the colony but her owner applies for an additional grant in consequence of the increase in his stock", he wrote. He organised convict administration, making it pay for itself by hiring out gangs of convicts to settlers for clearing land, and made the government farms self-sufficient. He abolished censorship of the press in 1824, introduced trial by jury, and reformed the currency.
Another of Bigge's recommendations that Brisbane put into effect was the segregation of convicts of different classes. The more educated convicts of good behaviour were sent to Bathurst or Wellington, while convicts twice convicted were sent to special penal stations. As a consequence of these changes, coastal exploration was encouraged. This resulted in the discovery of the Brisbane River. Brisbane also sponsored the journeys of Hume and Hovell to Port Phillip, and of Allan Cunningham to Pandora's Pass, and encouraged the emigration of young settlers by giving them money. These pioneered the areas around Bathurst, Maitland, Goulburn and Campbelltown, and "squatters" settled the country further west. As a result, the population of the colony increased from 33,500 to 52,500 during Brisbane's administration.
Brisbane, in taking up his post as governor, inherited all the sectarian squabbles, political intrigues, and land wars between the "exclusives" and emancipists. A devoutly religious and a peace-loving man, Brisbane was reluctant to enter into the disputes between the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics or between the "exclusives" and the emancipists. However, Brisbane was not afraid to take a stand on moral issues. In a private letter, dated June 1824, he wrote: "There is no object I have more sincerely at heart, than the advancement of morality in these colonies". He supported Bible and tract societies. He respected "the hallowed rights of conscience", despite the disapproval of certain Church of England clergymen, who had no sympathy for "heretics". Brisbane was motivated by the memory of a kindly paternal Methodist aunt and he believed the Methodists were "a highly valuable and respectable body, who [did] much good". He helped them to establish an Aboriginal mission, granted the Church Missionary Society (CMS) 10,000 acres as an Aboriginal reserve, and arranged for aid for the Roman Catholics to build St Mary's Church. Brisbane would not tolerate a party or a greedy spirit. He refused aid to the Presbyterians when their minister, Rev. John Dunmore Lang, declined to hold a service under the same roof as the Roman Catholics. He angered the Anglicans when he refused their bid to take over the government lands at Grose Farm (later the site of Sydney University), as well as the Domain, and the prison farm at Emu Plains. He told Archdeacon Thomas Scott that the church had "amply sufficient" land.
Brisbane opposed excessive corporal punishment, gave reprieves to many prisoners sentenced to death, and helped the emancipists get land grants--a policy which angered the senior chaplain, Samuel Marsden, who favoured the righteous law-abiding "exclusives" . Marsden, smarting from the Douglas judicial inquiry, trumped up charges against Brisbane and Frederick Goulburn, the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, who was already at odds with Brisbane due to the governor's generous attempts to repair the breach with the Presbyterians. Because of Brisbane's weakness as an administrator, his subordinates often sabotaged his orders. The main offender, Goulburn, used to alter the Governor's orders, or issue his own without Brisbane's consent. As a result of the controversy, fuelled by Marsden's malicious letters to Lord Bathurst, the Colonial Office recalled both Goulburn and Brisbane. However, Brisbane's conscience was clear. He wrote:
I can exultantly state, in the face of the Colony and the world at large, that no human being can accuse me of an unjust, illegal, cruel, or even an improper act, as of all these my internal monitor fully acquits me.
On his return to England, Brisbane devoted the rest of his life to science, philosophy and agriculture. Brisbane's achievements in astronomy brought him more fame than his military career or his accomplishments as Governor of New South Wales. He established two observatories in Scotland and built another at Parramatta. In 1827, he became Vice-President of the Astronomical Society. When Sir William Herchel presented Brisbane with the gold medal of the Astronomical Society in 1828, he called him the "founder" of Australian science. Brisbane was also the first President of the Philosophical Society of Australia. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Edinburgh (1824), Oxford (1832) and Cambridge (1833), and became President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1833, serving in that capacity until his death.
Brisbane died in 1860 in the same room in which he was born. He was survived by his wife. Their four children had died earlier. Manning Clark, in his appraisal of Brisbane, wrote:
From the earliest days, Brisbane had lifted up his eyes away from the world towards the heavens in more senses than one. Those who judged by appearances, and what a man gave out about himself, took him as a Christian, a scholar, and a gentleman.
Richard Bourke was the eighth Governor of New South Wales. He was born in Dublin on 4 May 1777. His family was related to the great orator and statesman Edmund Burke. He graduated from Oxford and later became a barrister, but instead of practising law, he joined the army in 1798. He served in Holland, South America and Spain, and reached the rank of Major-General in 1821. In 1825 he was appointed Governor of the eastern district of the Cape Colony. He proved an able and successful administrator, and in 1831 was appointed Governor of New South Wales.
"Bourke was no ordinary man", according to Manning Clark. Talking about his preparation in Ireland for his assignment as Governor of New South Wales, Clark continued:
There his natural gentleness, his charity and reverence for all men were put to the test and not found wanting. All around him the sectarian battle raged....Yet Bourke remained untouched by either fear or hatred. He imbibed the simple faith of the people....In the Protestant Cathedral Church of St Mary's in Limerick he read on the tablets in the church those sentiments which so simply expressed the principles by which he guided his life. He read of that Christian holiness of life, of the law of kindness on the lips, and the love of God and man in the heart of man, of patient continuation in well-doing until that day when he fell asleep in full assurance of a blessed and glorious resurrection to eternal life.
Bourke was opposed to any form of religious discrimination. He introduced state aid to all church denominations by the passing of the Church Act 1836. Equal matching funds enabled churches to construct buildings, and salaries of the clergy were subsidised. In 1836, in an attempt to address the inequalities in education, he introduced a system of national schools, similar to those in Ireland, but this proposal caused such strong opposition from the Anglicans and Presbyterians that the plan was abandoned.
Another cause of much ill feeling--the monopoly enjoyed by the Sydney Gazette in government advertising--was destroyed when Bourke established a Government Gazette. He also dealt with other grievances. He standardised regulations concerning the assignment of convicts, reduced the power of the magistrates to inflict punishments on convicts, and restored full civil rights to emancipists. In the face of strong opposition from the "exclusives" (who objected to emancipists serving as jurors), Bourke replaced military juries, in the trial of criminal cases, by the British system of trial by jury. "Exclusive" resistance continued to hamper many of Bourke's plans throughout his administration. Bourke supported the demands for Christian self-government by putting forward a proposal establishing a legislative assembly consisting of 36 members, 12 to be nominated by the King and 24 to be elected by the people. Despite overwhelming popular liberal support, the "exclusives" were successful in postponing constitutional changes until 1842.
Bourke's administration marked a period of rapid economic growth. Much of this was due to his wise administration of land. The practice of land grants by previous governors was abolished and replaced by the sale of Crown lands, which helped to raise revenue. He resolved a problem of illegal squatting to claim outlying grasslands by issuing licences that offered greater security for those who paid the small fee. Much new country was opened up by the squatters, as well as through the construction of roads, and by T. L. Mitchell's explorations. Contrary to the practice of his predecessors, Bourke encouraged the settlement of the country south of the Murray, and directed that a town to be called Melbourne be established on the banks of the Yarra. Not only was new land opened up, but thousands of new settlers, both convicts and free, arrived yearly, so that the population rose from 51,000 in 1831 to 97,000 in 1838.
In 1835, C. D. Riddell, Colonial Treasurer and member of the Executive Council, was elected Chairman of the quarter sessions. Bourke did not feel Riddell could fairly hold the two offices, so he suspended him from the Executive Council. However, Lord Glenelg in the Home Office did not support Bourke's action so Bourke resigned. Bourke, though a controversial figure, was held in high esteem. His rule had been humane and just. He was a man of strong Christian convictions--moderate and tolerant in his policies. In his liberalising administrative decisions, he had ever looked forward to the day when the people of New South Wales would be ready to accept full responsibility for Christian self-government.
George Gipps, the son of Rev. George Gipps, was born at Ringwold, Kent, and was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He joined the Royal Engineers in 1809, and served in the Peninsular War, France, and the West Indies. He became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1834. In 1838 he succeeded Sir Richard Bourke as Governor of New South Wales.
Gipps, though an able administrator, was unpopular because he represented the Colonial Office at a time when the demands for fully responsible Christian self-government were strong. So he found himself in conflict with the Legislative Council (whose chief spokesman was the influential land-owner Wentworth, who from the time Gipps refused to sell him the southern island of New Zealand, had targeted Gipps as "enemy number one"). Gipps' conflict with the Legislative Council increased after representative government was introduced by the Imperial Act 1842, which required that two-thirds of the members of the Legislative Council be elected. Most of the twenty-four elected seats had been won by the graziers and their friends, who often joined with the twelve wealthy nominated members (the Devil's Dozen) to oppose further reforms.
The Council opposed the Governor's control of the land fund, which had been approved by the Colonial Office to pay for roads, bridges, police maintenance, assistance to immigrants, and the care of Aborigines. The New South Wales Act 1842 provided for the establishment of local government, which was to take over the administration of local roads, bridges and police maintenance. They were to be paid for by local taxes, but this proposal met with much opposition from the squatters and pastoralists, who were also unhappy about losing convict labour when transportation was discontinued in 1841. New immigrants tended to congregate in the cities and were not as willing to go inland and work for the low wages offered by squatters. The new immigrants were upset with Gipps because of the high price of land; they wanted to return to a system of free land grants. The settlers in the Port Phillip area demanded a separate government because of their distance from Sydney. The Anglicans (the largest religious group and led by Bishop Broughton) and the Roman Catholics violently opposed the Irish National School System, while the dissenting clergy, headed by Dr Lang, supported it.
Gipps' passion was to extend equality to all men: Protestant and Roman Catholic, emancipist and squatter, immigrant and Aborigine. The governor urged the colonists to treat the Aborigines humanely as they were human beings with the same Creator as themselves. Gipps also believed the Aborigines deserved special respect and protection as they were the original settlers. However, his policy towards the Aborigines was no more successful than his educational policy. Gipps had great difficulty with coming up with any solution that would make all parties happy. Killings and abuse of the Aborigines were common. Many argued that the blacks were subhuman beings--mere monkeys. Thus, colonial practice differed from official colonial policy that considered the Aborigines to be British subjects, protected by the same British law and justice system as the colonists. The governmental policy was best expressed in a report of the Aboriginal committee to the House of Commons in 1837. The committee recommended "the reservation of lands so that the Aborigines could continue [their lives] as huntsmen" and encouraged "the education of their children, increased expenditure for missionaries and protectors, and, if necessary, the prosecution of whites". Gipps' attempts to create a "Protectorate" were completely thwarted because of inadequate finances and the general philosophy held by the settlers that "the only good Aborigine was a dead one". Outrages culminated in the murder of 28 friendly Aborigines. This became known as the Myall Creek Massacre--"one of the blackest stains that ever disgraced the pages of British history". When Chief Justice Dowling acquitted the seven white men involved, Governor Gipps demanded a retrial before Sir William Burton and all were found guilty of capital murder and condemned to be hanged. Judge Burton, in sentencing the men, reminded them that:
You have been found guilty of the murder of men, women and children, and the law of the land says, whoever is guilty of murder shall suffer death....This is not a law of mere human convenience which may be adopted or rejected at pleasure according to the conventional usages of society, but it is founded on the law of God, given at the earliest period of Scripture history when there were only a few people on the face of the earth....I cannot expect that any words of mine can reach those hardened hearts, but I hope that the love of God may reach them.
Despite many public protests, all seven were hanged. However, atrocities continued; and the press were relentless in their savage criticism of Gipps. The heart of the matter, according to James Stephen of the Colonial Office, was "the hatred with which the white man regards the black".
Gipps was not a popular governor, but he was an able administrator. Though lacking in the political skills that would have assisted him in building popular support to counteract the vested interests of the squatters and pastoralists, he built around him a group of loyal subordinates. He was a man of "high principles, a strong sense of justice, unostentatious generosity ... and unimpeachable moral character". He was known as a Christian and a man of prayer. In 1838, when a severe drought threatened the livestock of the colony, Gipps declared Sunday 2 November 1838 to be a national day of fasting and prayer. On November 4, the drought broke and it rained so much that people came down with the flu. Gipps will be remembered for his stand in the Myall Creek Massacre case and for his Aboriginal protectorate policy--"the most comprehensive effort ever made in eastern Australia to civilize, Christianize, and protect the Aborigines". It lasted from 1838 to 1849 and was supported by La Trobe, who later became the first Governor of Victoria. Though Gipps' protectorate failed as did his schemes for local government, the structure of municipal government which he designed was later adopted. Gipps has been called the "architect" of municipal self-government. As an engineer, he had a sound understanding of the fundamentals of town planning; as an Englishman, he knew the principles of local self-government. In a communication to the legislature in 1839, Gipps wrote:
The representative form of government ... is essentially adapted to people, who through their representatives, exercise control over the general government. In the management of their local establishments, they acquired a knowledge of local business, and a knowledge too of the difficulties of it, which they are otherwise apt to underrate. In the township, or the parish, at county meetings, or in the halls of corporate bodies, the rudiments are acquired of that knowledge which shines forth afterwards in Parliament or in the Senate--of that knowledge which enables them to exercise, with wisdom and moderation, a constitutional control over government.
Gipps also realised that local control was preferable to central control.
Let people of each county, parish, or township spend their own money, and they will spend no more of it than is necessary, and they will spend it much more satisfactorily than it is possible for the government to spend it for them.
Gipps was an able governor in a difficult time of transition. The beautiful district of Gippsland in Victoria was named after him.
Charles Augustus FitzRoy succeeded Gipps as Governor of New South Wales. He was born on 10 May 1796, the eldest son of General Lord Charles FitzRoy. After serving in the army from 1812 to 1833, he was appointed Governor of Prince Edward Island and Leeward Islands, before he was commissioned to New South Wales.
"Whereas Sir George had ruled from his 'closet' and those communions with his Maker in the bedchamber", FitzRoy was out and about impressing all with his charm and congeniality. He believed his first responsibility was to restore harmonious relationships between governor and legislature. He wanted peace at any reasonable price. The most important developments of his term of office were the constitutional Acts of 1850 and 1855. He was the first to advocate federal unity on matters affecting the common welfare of the colonies, such as intercolonial trade. The 1850 Act provided for the establishment of Port Phillip as a separate colony, and for the creation of legislative councils in the states of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. The legislative councils were given power to amend their constitutions. This made possible the 1855 Act, which conferred a Constitution on New South Wales, establishing fully responsible government in Australia.
Other developments during FitzRoy's administration included the cessation of transportation, the introduction of the railways, and the discovery of gold. When FitzRoy retired in 1855, unlike his predecessors, he left no lasting enemies. He had always had a tendency to avoid trouble by procrastination. This practice did not serve to promote the welfare of the Aborigines, but his willingness to please and his love of peace made him popular with the colonists. FitzRoy was a tough and shrewd man of the world, preferring convenience to principles. Though his moral life was not considered exemplary (particularly after his first wife's death), as an administrator FitzRoy was conciliatory, affable and flexible. He did not resist the prevailing opinion that the black man could not be integrated into the white man's society, nor did he try to stop the move towards Christian self-government.
There were many other governors that could have been considered in this account--governors such as Charles La Trobe of Victoria, Sir John Franklin of Tasmania, and Sir George Grey of South Australia. But because New South Wales was the first state to be settled, it was the most populous and its governors set the tone for the rest of the country. The story of the foundation of Australia may read like a power struggle between the governors and the military settlers. Australian historian Eris O'Brien, whose book The Foundation of Australia remains a standard reference on the early years of the colony, comments:
The true strength of British imperialism, which is the disinterested efforts of private patriots, was strongly exemplified in the works of Banks, Phillip, Hunter, King and others, who strove for the welfare of the colony, while the military settlers, pursuing their own private gain, were at the same time laying the foundation of a new economic empire of the south. Without the co-operation of both, the settlement might have been purely penal, but trade followed the flag and the flag in return fostered trade, to the ultimate prosperity of the Australian peoples.
The move towards Christian self-government was hastened by the opening up of new lands beyond the confines of the penal colony.
The Israelites were slaves in the land of Egypt before God brought them out of slavery through the leadership of Moses by many miracles. It took many instances of God's intervention and sustaining grace working through the lives of Johnson, Marsden, Governor Lachlan Macquarie and others to transform Australia from a penal colony to a self-governing nation.
It is not the purpose of this book to go into the gruesome details of convict life. Robert Hughes' recent book, The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), gives a well-documented vivid account of early life in New South Wales, while Peter Miller Cunningham's letters, Two Years in New South Wales: A Series of Letters, comprising sketches of the actual state of society in the colony, of its peculiar advantages to emigrants, of its topography, natural history, etc. (Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1966), describe the state of society as well as the habitat.
Eris O'Brien, The Foundation of Australia (1786-1800): A Study in English Criminal Practice and Penal Colonization in the Eighteenth Century (London: Angus and Robertson, 1937), p. 266. These practices were in violation of the Principle of Property and the Principle of Self-government.
John Macarthur's initiative, thrift, industry and self-reliance characterised the early pioneers who were willing to suffer hardships and deprivation to be examples of self-government in the market place (the Principle of Self-government).
It is significant that all of the early governors were servicemen, so it is not surprising that the colony was run like a navy ship or a prison camp. This tyrannical, top-down type of rule characterised the first 50 years. Times were tough with constant power struggles and it needed a strong man to keep control, because of the lack of self-governed individuals in the colony.
The Principle of Christian Character and the Principle of Self-government: Macquarie demonstrated character qualities of faith, steadfastness, Christian care, diligence and industry--qualities which are the basis of self-government.
Clark, A History of Australia, 1: p. 380. For further study, see M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Penrith: The Discovery Press, 1947); Lachlan Macquarie, Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales: Journals of His Tours in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1810-1822 (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1979).
Although Bourke was not an evangelical, he was pious and was regarded as a "fellow traveller" by the "Saints"--the Wilberforces, the Macaulays and the Stephens, who lived around Clapham Common, so were also known as the "Clapham Sect". See Hazel King, Richard Bourke (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 56.
Quoted in the Australian, 26 March 1839, cited in Clark, A History of Australia, 3: p. 148. See also pp. 143-50 for the details of the Myall Creek Massacre and its repercussions. The Myall Creek Massacre is a good illustration of the gap between official policy that "all men are equal" (the Christian idea of man), and the popular idea that "the only good Aborigine was a dead one" (the pagan idea of man--that some men are better than others). The Principle of Individuality--that every individual is of equal value in the sight of God--requires the Principle of Christian Character with its qualities of brotherly love and Christian care. These qualities must be taught in the home, school and church. These two principles are the foundation of the Principle of Self-government and the Principle of Property. For if a man loves his brother (Matt. 22:37-39), he will not harm him or try to take away his right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness--rights that have been given to him by God who made man in His own image--the Principle of Individuality. These rights are inseparable from a man's person because they are God-given not man-made. For an in-depth discussion of these inalienable rights, see Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Amos, Defending the Declaration; Christians for Justice International, eds., A Declaration of Universal Rights (Pompano Beach: Christians for Justice International, 1988); and the works of John Locke.
Quoted in the Sydney Herald, 24 July 1839, cited in H. E. Maiden, The History of Local Government in New South Wales (Melbourne: Angus and Robertson, 1966), p. 43. For a full discussion of Gipps' proposals, see pp. 40-65. The Principle of the Christian Form of Government, with elected representatives and local control.