Monday, 30 July 2012

Military and civil tensions under Hunter

The population of NSW in 1795 was 3,211 of whom 1,908 or 59 per cent were convicts. The remainder were largely military and administrative personnel and prisoners whose terms of servitude had ended. These expirees posed a problem for Hunter [1] and in June 1797 there were about 700 men supporting themselves, generally through casual labour, without government aid.[2] There were only a dozen or so free settlers and the settlement was confined to a small region close to the coast, with its economic centre at Parramatta and much of the economic advances in the 1790s came from those expirees who successfully turned to agriculture. Although the colony was almost self-sufficient in grain if the harvest was good, it was dependent on overseas supplies for nearly all other essentials and the need to import cattle and sheep was stressed more strongly in Hunter’s instructions than in Phillip’s. Between the departure of Phillip and the arrival of Hunter, private enterprise had supplanted that by government as the main form of economic activity. In December 1792, the government cultivated by far the larger proportion of land and most people spent their days working under its direction either on the public farm or on the construction of roads and buildings. By late 1795, however, officers and small farmers combined cropped an acreage far exceeding that belonging to the government, produced the greater part of the grain supply and owned most of the livestock in the settlement. Many convicts were privately employed and insufficient were left for limited public works.[3] Hunter claimed that the labour shortage was so acute that at least another thousand workers could be absorbed.[4] NSW was becoming increasingly colonial in character with its penal role one of several often conflicting dimensions.

The problem facing smallholders was that if the government produced on its own lands sufficient food for that section of the population fed from government stores, then the farmers would have no market for their produce and it would be impossible to develop a self-reliant colony.

...if it is the wish or intention of Government to have this colony increase to a state of respectability, some encouragement must be held out to respectable settlers and industrious people of all descriptions. This can never be the case if it be the intention of Government to cultivate land enough for the maintenance of all the convicts sent here. The farmer will be labouring for a mere subsistence; he can never cloath himself and family if he has no market for his surplus corn, and if Government does not become his purchaser he can have no market. What then, my Lord, must be the consequence? A general indolence, a total inattention to farming, dissatisfaction with their situation, and a desire to quit the country by every opportunity which offers...[5]

However, the British government, though anxious to encourage private farming, was firmly determined that the financial burden of the settlement on the Treasury should be limited. Portland insisted that Hunter should pursue a policy that in the long run could only harm local farmers. Hunter’s first action as governor was to disobey his instructions and to continue the practice established by Grose of allowing ten convict servants for agricultural and three for domestic purposes to each officer occupying ground. Other farmers were provided with from one to five assigned convicts. Hunter started from the position that government farming was wasteful and inefficient and was also initially impressed with the success achieved by some of the officers whose efforts he thought might prove the basis for future prosperity. It is easy to blame the governor for disobeying his instructions, and Portland had no difficulty in doing so, but Hunter recognised that the changes envisaged in London could only be effected at the expense of those who potentially were his principal supporters.[6]

The actions of the NSW Corps were not without parallel in other parts of Britain’s colonies. Macarthur’s profits as regimental paymaster were far less than those often accumulated by similar officers in India. The difference between the commercial activities of Macarthur and his fellow officers in NSW and equivalent operations elsewhere was that in NSW they almost achieved a monopoly, whereas in other colonies this was rarely possible. The result was growing tensions between Hunter and the military. Hunter soon ended his association with Macarthur telling Portland that ‘scarcely nothing short of the full power of the Governor’ would satisfy him.[7] It also became obvious that the soldiers of the NSW Corps resented the authority of the civil power.

Continually thwarted and worthless characters encourag’d almost into a state of resistance by those whose schemes might have been in some degree effected by the changes I was about to make, and which in few words may be said to be order and regularity for confusion and licentiousness.[8]

Yet if Hunter failed as a governor, and Portland judged him a failure, the secretary of state was equally culpable. He was slow to answer dispatches and failed to understand Hunter’s position as an increasingly isolated individual with little physical or moral support thousands of miles from his home. Portland severely criticised Hunter for allowing more than two assigned servants to any military officer.[9] He directed that these servants should be fed and clothed by their masters and not from the government store, and particularly required that the officers should cease to trade in spirits. Yet Portland also paid attention to correspondence from Macarthur, a known dealer in spirits, vehemently attacking the governor for refusing him 100 labourers instead of the two allowed by law.

By 1798, Hunter was clearly aware that trading by the officers had to be controlled if the settlers and in March sent a detailed account of the settlers’ grievances about inflated prices.[10] This showed differences of as much as 700 per cent between the landing costs and the price of sale to the public. The problem was that his solutions, though satisfactory in a convict prison, were impractical in a developing free community. As government control of wages, prices and hours of work proved increasingly ineffective, Hunter called on a small group of supporters, Dr Thomas Arndell and the clergymen, Richard Johnson[11] and Samuel Marsden[12], to prove to the British government that the deterioration in the public morals and economic progress of the colony was entirely due to the nature of the military government between 1792 and 1795. Although Hunter’s analysis was correct that a definite change of economic momentum and of political development had taken place in that period, neither the convict records nor the surviving letters from residents in 1793-1795 supported charges of increased crime, especially theft and excessive drunkenness, at that time.[13]

Extensive cultivation and good crops, speaking generally, but not a barn, granary, or storehouse, wherein to preserve those crops even thought of yet. No mechanics in the colony to erect them; most of the convicts out of their time, and discontented at being hinder'd a single day from providing for themselves; in short, I am apprehensive that great part of our bountiful harvest may be lost. Our boats gone to ruin and decay; butts or houses, formerly the property of Government, leas’d away, and continual applications making to me to furnish others for those who are intitled to them. But I will not fatigue you. I only hint those few circumstances to satisfy you that there does exist great ground and cause for vexation.[14]

The era of military rule seemed very profitable for the agricultural community and the majority of contemporaries commented positively on the material progress, something mirrored in Hunter’s early dispatches. Hunter’s first attempt to reduce the military power saw a return to a civil regime. Hunter’s return of the chaplains and the medical men to the bench of magistrates[15], even though they were in a minority, was regarded as a limitation on the military power and, in Hunter’s words led to

...frequent indirect and some direst attempts have been made to annoy the civil officers officiating as magistrates, with a view to the lessening that respect and influence over the minds of the lower orders of the people so highly necessary in our situation.[16]

In the military-civil struggle for power Portland reserved his strongest criticism of Hunter for his behaviour in the case between John Baughan and the NSW Corps. [17] Portland ‘could not well imagine anything like a justifiable excuse for not bringing the four soldiers who were deposed against to a court-martial and punishing them with the utmost severity’.[18] Baughan had been transported in 1787 on the First Fleet and by the early 1790s had established himself as a master carpenter and builder especially of mills. [19] On 4 February 1796, overhearing himself being abused by a sentinel who apparently bore him a grudge, Baughan slipped out of his workshop, collected the soldier’s arms from his deserted post and handed them to the guard. The sentinel was immediately arrested. Next morning, as an act of reprisal, Baughan’s cottage was stormed and extensively damaged by a military rabble. He and his wife ‘suffered much personal outrage’. Hunter expressed himself forcibly about this ‘daring violation of the public peace’. [20] The offenders, through Captain John Macarthur, expressed ‘their sincere concern for what had happened’ and agreed to indemnify the sufferer.[21] That Hunter accepted this showed that he grasped the realities of the situation, whilst his Government and General Order together with his dispatches clearly revealed a full appreciation of the problems created by a disorderly soldiery though he did not include the officers in his sweeping denunciations.[22]

Although Hunter was concerned by the troublesome nature of the Irish[23] sent out as a result of the United Irishmen’s conspiracy and rebellion he showed much sympathy and humanity, by the standards of the day, towards the convicts in general, and especially towards their wives and children. Much of his strong feelings against the rum trade and the prevalence of private stills were based on these humane sentiments. The severe criticism of his failure to control the rum trade, to keep down prices, to lower government expenditure and to control the trading of the military officers was grossly unfair, especially since with the dismissal of Richard Dore[24] in January 1799, Hunter had to act as his own private secretary.[25] In addition, his aide-de-camp, Captain George Johnston, although at one time in temporary command of the NSW Corps, was arrested in 1800 for refusing a general court martial in the colony on a charge of forcing spirits on a sergeant as part of his pay at an improper price. Whilst he was probably no more censurable than any other officer of the corps save Paterson, nevertheless the charge implied habits at Government House similar to those elsewhere in the colony. When Paterson returned from overseas leave in November 1799 he arrived with strict instructions to prevent further trading by the corps, especially in spirits, and he assured the governor that he was being obeyed. It was odd that the opportunity to make an example of one of the officers should be seized at the expense of the governor’s aide-de-camp.

There had been a persistent, often anonymous campaign against Hunter almost from the start of his period as governor. This was evident in Portland’s letter to Hunter in early 1799 stating that certain charges had been made anonymously against Hunter and that he needed to satisfy the government that these were false.[26] The letter reached Hunter in November 1799 and he replied immediately not knowing that the decision had already been made to replace him. His recall was in a stern dispatch from Portland dated 5 November 1799 that he did not receive until 16 April 1800.[27] It was acknowledged by Hunter on 20 April 1800 and he handed over the government to the Lieutenant-Governor Philip Gidley King on 28 September. His final months in the colony were poisoned not only by his feelings of failure and undeserved blame, but also by the obvious eagerness of his successor to assume office. Portland’s actions can hardly be called just in that Hunter was condemned unheard having been given no opportunity to answer the criticisms that had been made of him.

Why Hunter was recalled is not difficult to explain, though whether the reasons were justifiable remains a matter of debate. First, Hunter was regarded as an honest individual, but he was seen, especially by King as lacking in firmness and was too willing to accept the advice of individuals who used their influence for their own advantage. King believed he was ‘sadly duped and deceived’ by his friends.[28] Secondly, and perhaps more damaging, was his unwillingness to implement his Instructions from London where they clashed with the interests of the major colonists, especially the officers of the NSW Corps. While Hunter rightly argued that his decision reflected the particular circumstances in NSW, it led to tensions with Portland that Hunter’s opponents in the colony were able to exploit. It is hardly surprising that Hunter sought to restore his reputation after 1800 and that, to some extent, he was successful. [29]


[1] This is evident in Hunter’s general orders concerning robberies; see, the order for 26 September 1796, for example, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 139 and Portland to Hunter, 2 March 1797, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 195-196 where Portland asks Hunter to take immediate action against bush-rangers.

[2] Hunter to Portland, 20 June 1797, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 226.

[3] The problem of labour shortages is evident in setting rates of pay for free labourers in general order 14 January 1797, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 189-190. That this proved difficult to enforce is clear from subsequent general orders.

[4] Hunter to Portland, 25 October 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 328.

[5] Hunter to Portland, 28 April 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 559.

[6] Portland was especially critical in a despatch to Hunter, 31 August 1797, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, pp. 108-109.

[7] Hunter to Portland, 14 September 1795, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, pp. 661-663.

[8] Hunter to Portland, 12 November 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 670. See also Hunter to Portland, 25 July 1798, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 160-171 for further criticism of Macarthur.

[9] Government and General Order, 29 June 1796 reduced the number of assigned convicts to two: HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 57.

[10] Settlers’ petition to Hunter, 18 February 1798, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 367-370.

[11] HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 178-183.

[12] HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 185-188.

[13] It was one of Macarthur’s criticisms of Hunter that ‘...the interest of Government is utterly disregarded, its money idly and wantonly squandered, whilst vice and profligacy are openly countenanced.’ Macarthur to Portland, 14 September 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 133.

[14] Hunter to Portland, 20 August 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 589.

[15] Hunter to Portland, 12 November 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 171-172 explains Hunter’s change from a military to civil regime.

[16] Hunter to Portland, 12 November 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 171.

[17] Hunter to Portland 26 August 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 87: ‘...I strongly suspect there are some person or persons in this colony (whose situations are probably respectable) extremely inimical to the necessary influence and authority of the civil power, and to that respect which is due from the public to the civil magistrates.’

[18] Portland to Hunter 31 August 1797, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 294.

[19] Gray, A.J., ‘Baughan, John (1754? -1797)’, ADB, Vol. 1, p. 74.

[20] The attack on Baughan led to an immediate response in a general order issued on 5 February 1796 and Hunter’s immediate response: HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 15-16. Hunter’s letter to Captain Paterson on 7 February 1796 and his general order a week later illustrated his clear anger at the situation: HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 17, 18-19. Hunter to Portland, 10 April 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, pp. 573-577 includes two enclosures on the Baughan affair.

[21] See undated memorandum written by Hunter, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 19-22. It was written after 7 March 1796.

[22] See Hunter to Portland 28 April 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 41-42 but especially Hunter to Portland, 10 August 1796, pp. 64-67.

[23] See Hunter to Portland, 15 February 1798, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 359-361.

[24] Allars, K.G., ‘Dore, Richard (1749-1800)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 313-314.

[25] On Dore’s dismissal, see Hunter to Portland 21 February 1799, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 547-575, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 244-278.

[26] Portland to Hunter, 26 February 1799, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 636, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 338-340.

[27] Portland to Hunter, 5 November 1799, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 733-738, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 387-392.

[28] King to Under Secretary King, 8 November 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, p. 613.

[29] Hunter, John, Governor Hunter’s Remarks on the Causes of the Colonial Expense of the Establishment of New South Wales. Hints for the Reduction of Such Expense and for Reforming the Prevailing Abuses, London, 1802 represented a vindication of his conduct, associated with his consistently useful advice on all that concerned NSW, the realisation that his successors faced equal or greater difficulties and that the government was regularly misinformed of conditions in the colony, led to a reappraisal of his position.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Avoiding tax and morality

Would you like to pay less tax?  Of course, you would.  You can, for instance, avoid paying tax on your savings by investing in tax-free ISAs, a government sponsored form of tax avoidance and there are other perfectly legal ways of paying less tax.  You can employ an accountant, move your money (if you have that much) to an off-shore account or give money to charity.  But at what point does this become morally wrong?  According to Treasury Minister David Gauke offering to pay tradesmen in cash is the wrong side of the moral line.  He, moral paragon that he is, has never, he said on Newsnight, asked whether he could pay for something cash in hand for a discount adding that ‘if people do that they have to do so with the recognition that means taxes will be higher for the rest.’  So if I pay cash in hand it increases the taxes for everybody else…sound logic but he provided no evidence to support the rhetoric. 

The assault on tax avoidance began last month when David Cameron condemned the use in the past by comedian Jimmy Carr of a Jersey-based scheme as ‘morally wrong’ and in his Budget speech Chancellor George Osborne described tax avoidance as ‘morally repugnant’.  Jimmy Carr, well-known for his acerbic attacks on others now found himself the butt of public anger and quickly did the ‘right’ thing accompanied by public mea culpa.  The problem, however, is that tax avoidance is perfectly legal even if some of its more ‘aggressive’ schemes may not be (though most have not been tested by tax tribunals).  Feigning moral outrage has long been a strategy used by government in the hope that ‘shaming’ individuals will make them act morally often when politicians cannot or will not introduce changes to the rules to ensure moral behaviour will occur.  It’s also a convenient smoke-screen to divert attention away from more difficult issues.  We all know someone who has paid cash in hand or have done it ourselves, so it personalises the issue of tax avoidance while few of us have direct contact with bank bosses or the filthy rich.

The difficulty in the past few months is that the government, by evoking morality as a criteria for paying taxes, have not only moved the taxation goalposts but has also confused further what was already a confused situation.  When is avoiding tax morally right or morally wrong?  Tightening the tax avoidance rules might define things more clearly, though I doubt it.  The government’s scatter-gun approach has still failed to address what for many in the public is the crucial issue, the tax avoidance or evasion of big business and the extremely wealthy.  It is clear that, despite the much lauded Tory belief that ‘we’re all in this together’, in terms of taxation this is far from being the case and that making taxation a moral question is unlikely to have any real impact on business or individuals who still use the rules, quite lawfully, to avoid paying taxes.  As Margaret Thatcher found with the community charge, taxation and trying to moralise political issues can be politically toxic.  Political expediency and morality do not make good bed-fellows.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Restoring autocratic rule: Hunter faces new problems

John Hunter faced three major problems in running the colony. [1] First, there was a division of responsibility between different institutions in London. As governor, Hunter was responsible to the King through the Duke of Portland, Secretary of State for the Home Office.[2] Since NSW had no means to express public opinion, Portland was influenced by private correspondence from discontented residents such as Macarthur and the governor was rarely aware of the entire information at the disposal of the government when it made its decisions.[3] Although the Home Office was responsible for the convicts and the colony, it had to rely on the Admiralty for transport to convey prisoners to Sydney Cove. The military were the responsibility of the Secretary at War and the commissariat and the Ordnance Department was responsible for military buildings. The Treasury, the Mint and two audit officers were concerned with the financial interests of the colony and the Post Office had the relatively easy task of dispatching mail whenever opportunity arose. Secondly, within NSW itself, the relationship between the civil and military establishments had been problematic since 1788 and the establishment of the New South Wales Corps and the decision by Grose to grant them land and their monopolistic attitude to the spirit trade made existing tensions even more difficult.[4]

Every day convinces me more and more that many of those people, if they cannot be prevail’d on to make their public office their first consideration, shou’d be remov’d. Their private concerns occupy all their time, and £50 per annum seems to be no object when £300, £400, or £500 is to be gained by trade.[5]

There were also the beginnings of the division between convicts, emancipists (convicts freed on a variety of conditions) and free settlers and between public and private sectors. Finally, the outbreak of war with France in 1793 had exacerbated this situation calling into question excessive government spending in NSW and, although the colony was not forgotten, it inevitably was not viewed as important a priority as had been the case before 1793. The potential for tensions between these different elements had existed from the founding of the colony but grew in significance from the mid-1790s when the survival of the colony was assured and food shortages became less common. Even so, Hunter complained in his first letter of Portland of the scarcity of salt and that the colony was ‘destitute of every kind of tool used in agriculture’.[6] As late as September 1798, Hunter was concerned that the people were ‘literally speaking, nearly naked and a great number without a bed or blanket to lie upon’.[7]

Hunter’s first impressions on his return to NSW, as recorded in his official dispatches[8], were favourable, but as he privately confessed later in a letter to Sir Samuel Bentham that he had little understanding of the nature of his ‘irksome command’ when he solicited the appointment.[9] By October 1795, he had become aware of the enormity of his task commenting to Portland on the extent to which the settlement had expanded and the problems this had created for effectively maintaining its security and administration.[10] This is reflected in the flurry of government and general orders he issued in the remainder of 1795 including one preventing the indiscriminate felling of timber on the Hawkesbury.[11] Hunter had a resident civil establishment of thirty-one including medical staff and superintendents of convicts, master carpenters and the like, but less than a third could be considered serious official advisers.[12] The number of officers on duty with the NSW Corps was seventeen.[13] There was considerable difference in age between the newly arrived governor, approaching 60 and those who might be called on to act as his advisers. Macarthur, as inspector of public works on whom Hunter relied in the early months of his governorship until the Baughan affair, was 28.[14] Captain Paterson, the Corps commandant was 40; Captain Joseph Foveaux was 30[15]; almost everyone else was younger than Paterson. Hunter as an experienced officer was accustomed to naval discipline and expected to see it reflected in NSW. Instead, he faced an entrenched military force and an increasingly dispersed body of settlers largely dependent at the mercy of the monopolistic trading practices of the military hierarchy and other officials. His instructions would have been difficult to implement even if he had a loyal and competent public service with reliable military support.[16]


[1] Hoyle, Arthur, The Life of John Hunter, Navigator, Governor, Admiral, (Mulini Press), 2001, Auchmuty, J.J., ‘Hunter, John (1737-1821)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 566-572. See also, Wood, G.A., ‘Governor Hunter’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), Vol. 14, (6), (1928), pp. 344-362. For Hunter’s commission and instructions, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 110-117, 227-234 and HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, pp. 513-527.

[2] William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809) was a Whig politician for the first thirty years of his political career but as a conservative Whig, Portland was deeply uncomfortable with the French Revolution, and ultimately broke with Fox over this issue, joining Pitt’s government as Home Secretary in 1794, a position he held until 1801. Briefly an MP, Portland succeeded to the title in 1762 but did not make his maiden speech in the House of Lords until 1783; one of his claims to fame is that he rarely spoke in parliament. See, Wilkinson, David, The Duke of Portland: politics and party in the age of George III, (Palgrave), 2003, pp. 108-136 for his period at the Home Office.

[3] Hunter expressed his concern about Macarthur in a letter to Portland on 14 September 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 129-131 in which he made clear that ‘...this officer’s conduct...[was] impertinent, indirect and highly censurable interference in the dutys and department of the Governor of this colony...’

[4] The problem of spirits concerned Hunter from the outset. His general order of 23 January 1796 prohibited the making of spirits in the colony: HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 10; general order 11 July 1796 took action over the unlimited sale of spirits, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 58-59; general order 12 December 1796, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 185-186 on the link between crime and spirits;

[5] Hunter to Portland, 20 June 1797, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, p. 22.

[6] Hunter to Portland, 11 September 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 318.

[7] Hunter to Portland, 25 September 1798, HRNSW, Vol. 3, p. 493.

[8] Hunter to Portland, 11 September 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 318-319 stated that ‘agriculture...far exceeds any expectation...and does great credit to the arrangements made by...Grose and...Paterson’.

[9] Hunter to Bentham, 20 May 1799, HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 673-675.

[10] Hunter to Portland 25 October 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 328-329.

[11] Hunter to King, 5 December 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 341.

[12] The civil establishment is listed in HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 331-332.

[13] They are listed in HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 330.

[14] Initially Hunter retained the services of Macarthur see, Hunter to Portland, 25 October 1795, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 327 but their relationship quickly deteriorated into acrimony, see correspondence between Macarthur and Hunter between 24 and 29 February 1796 printed in HRNSW, Vol. 3, pp. 26-29 that resulted in Macarthur’s resignation as inspector of public works. Macarthur became increasingly critical of Hunter’s administration, see, Macarthur to Portland, 15 September 1796, HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 89-93.

[15] Fletcher, B.H., ‘Foveaux, Joseph (1767-1846)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 407-409. Promoted to major in 1796, as senior officer in the absence of Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson between August 1796 and November 1799 he controlled the NSW Corps during a period when some of its officers were making their fortunes from trading and extending their landed properties. Whether Foveaux was a trader is unknown but he certainly turned his hand to stock-raising. By 1800, he had 1,027 sheep on the 2,020 acres of land he had been granted, making him the largest landholder and stock-owner in the colony. See also, Whitaker, Ann-Maree, Joseph Foveaux: power and patronage in early New South Wales, (University of New South Wales Press), 2000.

[16] For Hunter’s instructions, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 227-234.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Military interlude: Grose and Paterson

Until Captain John Hunter, Phillip’s replacement arrived in NSW in September 1795, the colony was administered first by Major Francis Grose[1] (11 December 1792 to 12 December 1794) and then by Captain William Paterson[2] (12 December 1794 to 11 September 1795). The inhabitants were quick to take advantage of Grose’s unassertive, affable and indolent nature.[3] On assuming command he replaced civil magistrates with military officers, gave the senior officer at Parramatta control over the convicts there when he was not present, and appointed Lieutenant John Macarthur inspector of public works.[4] Some historians argue that the military officers deeply influenced his moves and one has asserted that Macarthur became the real ruler of NSW. Grose showed a greater concern for the welfare of his troops than Phillip had displayed. He increased the weekly ration to give them more food than the convicts and he improved their housing conditions. Without specific instructions and initially without authorisation, he issued land grants of about 100 acres to serving members of the corps who requested them.[5] In accordance with Home Office instructions he provided the officers with farms and, despite orders to the contrary, allowed each the use of ten convicts provisioned at government expense.[6] The civil staff was treated in the same ways as the military hierarchy. Emancipists and the handful of migrants who arrived were encouraged to take up small holdings on less favourable terms than previously laid down by the British government. The opening of the rich Hawkesbury River region, for which Grose must take some of the credit, induced large numbers to settle there.[7]

Sydney Cove, 1845

Behind these moves lay the conviction that the community stood to benefit far more from the exertions of private individuals than from government enterprise. Public farming had failed to produce sufficient for the settlement’s needs and although it was not abandoned, it was reduced. Although unimpressed with the quality of smallholders, Grose placed great trust in the officer farmers whose exertions, he felt, promised quickly to make NSW self-sufficient in foodstuff. This belief, as well as the desire to promote their well-being, disposed him to facilitate their pursuits. Partly through their efforts, partly through a rapid expansion in the number of small settlers, the number of acres farmed and livestock grazed increased during his regime.[8] By December 1794, NSW was still importing essential supplies and the threat of famine still hung over the settlement. The British government disliked the means by which Grose had helped the settlement’s progress. The reduction of public farming forced him to draw on the Treasury to buy food which the convicts might have raised for nothing; his practice of providing maintenance for the officers’ convict servants increased the burden on the stores and perturbed the Home Office who thought that such people should be supported by their employers.

Some of the civil and military staff began to engage in trade, especially in spirits at substantial profit to themselves. Although Grose derived no personal benefit from these practices, he was responsible for failing to curb them. Perhaps his advisers persuaded him to turn a blind eye to abuses that were to their advantage; but, since spirits proved an excellent incentive payment for convict labourers, it was probably for this reason that he allowed the officers to acquire it. Assessments of the other aspects of his rule have been strongly coloured by the writings of contemporaries such as Richard Johnson[9], Samuel Marsden[10] and Thomas Arndell but it is unlikely that New South Wales in this period experienced murder, drunkenness and rapine on the scale they indicated. The charges against Grose of making indiscriminate grants of land to his friends and fellow officers appear without foundation, as the grants made were in accordance with his instructions and to those officers who requested them. Smallholders were not exploited by the officers to the extent often suggested though Grose downsized the size of their land grants and some were better placed in 1794 than is generally realised, but the picture drawn by contemporaries was not entirely untrue.[11] By encouraging the officers’ farming pursuits and allowing them to engage in trade, Grose enabled them to secure a hold over the colony that they were soon to exploit in their own interests. This situation continued under William Paterson who granted 4,965 acres of land and made no attempt, either then or after Hunter assumed office, to check or to control the trading and farming activities of his officers. Unwittingly Grose and Paterson had helped to create problems that their immediate successors were unable to resolve.[12]


[1] Fletcher, B.H., ‘Grose, Francis (1758?-1814)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 488-489.

[2] Macmillan, David S., ‘Paterson, William (1755-1810)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 317-319.

[3] Dundas to Grose, 30 June 1793, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 51 expressed concern about the secret sale of spirits.

[4] On Macarthur’s appointment, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 14, 226. See also, Grose to Dundas, 16 February 1793, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 416.

[5] HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 438 lists the grants made by 31 May 1793 including four of 100 acres to serving officers.

[6] See, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 209, 302-303, 324, 328.

[7] On developments in the Hawkesbury region, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 210, 238, 254, 307, 346. See also, Barkley-Jack, Jan, Hawkesbury Settlement Revealed: A new look at Australia’s third mainland settlement 1793-1802, (Rosenberg), 2009.

[8] On the land under cultivation, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 209, 302, 311, 482.

[9] Grose to Dundas, 4 September 1793, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 64-65 described Johnson as ‘a very troublesome, discontented character’. Johnson’s response to Grose’s comments are contained in a letter to Dundas, 8 April 1794, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 201-204 in which he explains the origins of his dispute with Grose.

[10] HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 209 Grose expressed some concerns over Marsden.

[11] Grose to Dundas, 30 April 1794, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 474 stated that of the 59 grants made 1793-1794 seven were 25 acres and two 20 acres but the overwheming majority, thirty four, were for 30 acres.

[12] Grose to Dundas, 8 December 1794, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 274-276 indicated his resignation and his decision to appoint Paterson as his replacement until Hunter arrived.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Hubris loses

Whether you agreed with the proposed House of Lords reform or not, one thing that has been outstanding in the past two days of debate has been the standard of the contribution by MPs.  Speeches have been lucid, considered and well-argued received with courtesy by those listening whether supporters or opponents.  In the absence of most of the front-bench ‘big guns’ and more accurately because of their absence, we have had two days of debate in the House of Commons rather than the normal Rottweilers howling at each other across the despatch box.  The result was a climb-down on the programme motion to limit debate to 10 days in the face of a massive Conservative revolt pushing the substantive bill into the autumn….essentially not a crisis averted but a crisis delayed.  The government may have won the second reading but it no longer has control of the timetable and there are obvious parallels with the Lords reform proposed by Harold Wilson in the 1960s that failed as the result of widespread filibustering.

Now the party blame game has begun.  The Labour Party has been ‘ostrich-like’, for instance.  Michael Gove’s defence of the Prime Minister’s authority  on Newsnight was combative but unconvincing.  It was clear that scores of Conservative (and one should add Labour) MPs were prepared to defy the party whip to vote against a measure they view as fundamentally flawed.  This cannot be seen as a victory for the executive however one construes it.  It was a victory for backbench opinion, a triumph of reasoned debate over executive hubris.  So there now are calls for consensus on reform but David Lawes, patronising in his tone, appears unwilling to accept the argument of the need for a referendum (it was included in all three party’s manifestos in 2010 so there’s no need).  This shows contempt for the people, perhaps of reflection of the loss of AV, and is eminently anti-democratic.  Yet again we appear to be in the grip of a political elite that knows what’s right for the people and that’s that. 

Without consensus, there is little chance of the bill passing the Commons without substantial time being expended and then the prospect of having to use of Parliament Act to force it through the Lords.  Now you may argue that there are other priorities than constitutional reform and waiting a few more years is a drop in the ocean given that the process of reform is already over a century old.  It is difficult to know how the issue will progress.  The current bill will encounter widespread opposition and is unlikely to pass the Commons, however long it is debated, in its current form and however poor the bill is now a mangled act will be even worse.  The only way forward is through consensus.  Many of those who opposed the programme motion and the bill did so because of the nature of the bill, the refusal to allow a referendum and the bill’s lamentable lack of clarity not because they opposed House of Lords reform per se.  Unless the government and opposition can agree on a bill including a referendum, then the saga of House of Lords reform could be with us for several more decades.

If Columbus had been a Liberal Democrat, he’d have discovered the mid-Atlantic!

One of the unenviable features of Liberalism has always been its sense of moral righteousness.  It’s the view that we’re right and, even if you don’t realise it, what we’re doing is for your benefit and if that means acting anti-democratically that’s fine…a modern version of Rousseau’s ‘being forced to be free’.  This has been evident in the proposed bill on House of Lords reform and in the lamentably weak speech Nick Clegg, an increasingly bankrupt political leader if ever there was one, yesterday proposing the legislation.  For a committed democrat to turn round and argue that, because all the parties agree about the need for reform, there’s no need for a referendum on a major issue of constitutional reform, is evidence of just how bankrupt he is.  Yes the parties do agree about the need for reform but they don’t agree about what that reform should be. His defence of no-referendum was so weak as to be laughable but then he’s already lost the AV referendum and would probably lose one on the House of Lords so why bother!!!  Well, precisely because he did lose.  The people may not always be right when it comes to referendums but that does not mean they shouldn’t be asked.

This matters because the proposed bill is a bad piece of legislation and should be opposed.  It is poorly drafted, imprecise, ambiguous and creates more problems than it resolves.  It replaces the patronage of the Prime Minister with the patronage of party, fails to define the relationship between Commons and Lords, seeks to introduce a system of PR based on the list system (one of the least democratic versions of PR: you vote for the party and we choose who sits) and is a recipe for constitutional conflict.  It also could well be a very expensive reform, something unwelcome in a period of austerity and for that reason alone logic should have dictated a delay until the economic crisis is resolved.  Constitutional reform, whatever its justification, is a luxury when there are more pressing issues.

 

The parliamentary supremacy of the House of Commons has, since the Parliament Act of 1911, been based on the fact that the Commons is democratically elected while the Lords consisted of hereditaries and latterly appointees who have no democratic mandate.  The proposed reform will establish elected members in both houses with equally democratic mandates.  In fact, you could argue that the Lords elected under a proportional system have a greater claim to represent the people than the Commons only elected under first-past-the-post.  So why should an elected Lords accept the supremacy of an elected Commons?  In additional, though elected through party patronage, because they cannot be re-elected after their 15 year terms, why should the Lords subject themselves to party discipline?  In fact, they could well be even more independent than the existing members (a good thing) but this would undoubtedly create constitutional conflict between the two houses both of which could claim a democratic mandate for their actions.  Prime ministerial patronage will still exist as PMs can appoint ministers to the Lords who would then remain for 15 years even after they lost their ministerial portfolios.  So a bloated Lords with its increasing membership of party hacks! 

The problem with the proposed reform is that it fails to reform the relationship between the two houses.  The Commons can no longer use the democratic mandate argument to justify forcing legislation through the Lords but this appears not to have figured in the thinking behind the legislation.  Yes constitutional crisis may well result on the development of constitutional conventions governing the relationship between the two houses as in the past, but the function of previous constitutional reform has been to enable either the government to act or the people to be represented.  This bill does neither and consequently fails what should always be the basis of constitutional change….clarity.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Sleepwalking to disaster

In the blurb for Christopher Clark’s forthcoming book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914, (Allen Lane), he suggests

‘Europe was racked by chronic problems: a multipolar, fractured, multicultural world of clashing ideals, terrorism, militancy and instability, which was, fatefully, saddled with a conspicuously ineffectual set of political leaders. He shows how the rulers of Europe, who prided themselves on their modernity and rationalism, behaved like sleepwalkers, stumbling through crisis after crisis…’

Now doesn’t that sound familiar!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Too much communication?

Two dicta of modern politics that have always struck me as pertinent are: ‘the art of the possible’ and ‘ a week is a long time in politics’, ascribed respectively to R. A. B. Butler and Harold Wilson.  If a week was a long time in politics in the 1960s, today in the age of 24/7 media and social networking it is an eternity with the consequence that politics has become increasingly reactive in character.  This means that communication and spin  and the need to always respond has circumvented the development and implementation of considered political judgements.  We all know the dictum ‘decide in haste, repent at leisure’ and this has increasingly become the unintended mantra of many politicians.  The wrong word, the bad interview like Chloe Smith’s with a remarkable sarcastic and arrogant Paxman (even by his often lamentable standards) last week , the unintended, unscripted and unconsidered tantrum (yes I thought the microphone was off!) will all return to bite politicians in their collective backsides.  But the result of all this media attention, especially the reactions of the ‘Westminster village’, is that increasing politics is not the art of the possible but simply the art of getting through the day without media disasters.  Politicians end up speaking to other politicians and to the media forgetting that the public beyond the hallowed halls actually want them to take a lead and make decisions that will benefit society at large.  This navel-gazing, introverted approach within a framework that is ostensibly extrovert is very damaging to people’s perceptions of politics and politicians.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Who knows best in a democracy?

Today, David Cameron said he would consider a referendum on the UK’s EU relationship, when the time was right.  But who decides ‘when the time is right’?  This question has bedevilled the debate (if that is what you can call it) in Britain since the 1980s over the EU.  Party leaders from Blair to Cameron have all, at one point or another and for different reasons, said that they thought a referendum would/might be necessary at some point over relationships with the EU and then have wedeled their ways out of it.  The Lisbon Treaty was not about fundamental constitutional change, so no referendum is necessary, for instance.  Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves refused to rule out ‘the possibility’ of her party holding a referendum once the future shape of Europe became clearer, but she said Mr Cameron's position on Europe was ‘a shambles’.  She may be right but then the position of party leaders on Europe has for several decades been a shambles; Cameron is simply one of several leaders who have held out the possibility of a referendum when the time was right.  It is not just cynics like me who suggest that ‘when the time is right’ really means ‘when I can win’. 

As politics appears, in the wake of successive banking and tax avoidance scandals and the bankruptcy of the notion that ‘we’re all in this together’, to be lurching towards a moral imperative, it is important to ask whether this is simply a political ploy to assuage public anger or whether there are moral standards that should be expected even in the essentially amoral world of politics.  There has been a seismic shift in away from a deferential acceptance of the merits of representative democracy towards one in which democracy is increasingly seen as something in which people should actively participate.  This poses a real dilemma for political elites in Britain and the EU.  Should they not act on the admitted short-termism of public opinion and plough on with their elitist pretensions of knowing ‘when the time is right’ or should they embrace it and revitalise what increasingly looks like a tired democracy and give it a fresh legitimacy in which political decisions are not simply what is possible politically but what is morally right?   It is true I think that the moral purpose of democracy has been ignored or mislaid in recent decades by the enormities that governments face and where elitist decision-making has downgraded the institutional basis of democracy.  It is easier for political elites to make decisions (and it is sometimes necessary that they should do this) not taking publically-expressed opinion into account and justifying this by saying that this is what they were elected to do.  But this is increasing regarded as a thread-bare explanation for political decision-making and one that the public recognise as such.  One reason for falling participation in elections, at whatever level, is the view that it doesn’t matter which politicians you elect, you get the same old thing.  Politics has become a process for doing things political elites decide are necessary rather than the expression of deeply held beliefs and moral standards.  It has been ‘de-ideologised’. 

The British political system has been grounded in representative principles for centuries: we elect people to represent us but they are not our delegates mandated to do as we wish but to represent our views and then make decisions based on their own consciences or party dictats.  When there were fundamental ideological differences between political parties, this proved a vibrant democratic structure but those fundamental ideological differences are today less clear as all political parties have moved to the middle ground.  Ideological differences and the political policies that stem from these differences are increasingly a matter of degree, subtle rather than stark, a case of angels on a pin-head.  We have a democracy in which politicians shade into each other, frequently agree that something needs to be done but only disagree about the details not the principles: for instance, austerity or slower austerity.  It is the vision that is lacking, the overarching belief that politics is about producing a better world rather than just tinkering about at the edges.  In that respect, the political elites are no longer in touch with the aspirations of their peoples and in that respect, ‘possibility’ and ‘when the time is right’ represent a bankrupt mantra of an increasingly bankrupt democracy.  Whether you agreed with them or not, politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Michael Foot, Nye Bevan, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill took a principled moral as well as political stand on issues in which they believed, something that is sadly lacking in many politicians today for whom self-aggrandisement seems to be their sole motivation.  If representative democracy is to survive in Britain, it needs political leaders with principles that people will follow, not out of deference, but out of conviction.