Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pensioners, benefits and morality

Iain Duncan Smith has today said in the Sunday Telegraph that wealthy elderly people who do not need benefits to help with fuel bills or free travel should be ‘encouraged’ voluntarily to hand the money back.  Many already do give their fuel allowance to charity or, in the case of free travel, never bother to apply for it.  The recent Fabian study on pensioners has also commented less than favourably on the position of pensioners.  These two contrasting statements suggest that after the next General Election pensioners, like everyone else, are going to be in the austerity firing line.  David Cameron has already said universal benefits for pensioners will be protected for almost a year after the 2015 general election but there is, as yet, no commitment beyond that date and it is certain that what pensioners should contribute to the national pot will figure in all parties’ manifestoes.  The problem for all the political parties is that the ‘grey vote’ is significant since people over 60 are more likely to vote than those below 40 and, if they worked together could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the 2015 elections. 
It is true that pensioners have, relative to other sections of society, done quite well in terms of annual pay increases and the move to a higher pension from 2016 for those not already of pensionable age will help to iron out some of the inequalities in the system.  However, pensioners with savings or annuities, in other words those who took the decision to save for their retirement, have seen low interest rates on those saving and a similar loss of value on annuities.  And, of course, many are sitting on housing assets on which they have made a substantial profit that they can use to fund of escalating cost of social care should they need it.  On the other hand, there are many pensioners who survive on very low incomes for whom additional benefits are essential so they can have a reasonable standard of life.  Thankfully there is now a political debate on how the elderly should be treated in a humane society though it has as yet failed to reach any firm and politically acceptable conclusions.  What is clear, however, is that the argument that ‘we paid our dues and should now get the benefits’ is increasingly threadbare as a coherent case for the future. But then neither is the moral argument that wealthier people should pay the money back: many probably won’t and it failed to address the issue of the fiscal contribution they should make to the state.
The problem for any government is balancing the needs of pensioners with the needs of society as a whole.  If rises in benefits for those below 60 are fixed at 1%, then why should this not apply to those of pensionable age?  This would be a perfectly acceptable proposition if the UK defined the ‘minimum wage’ as a ‘living wage’ but it doesn’t.  So, unless as a society we are prepared to accept more pensioners living in abject poverty, it’s a non-starter unless politicians are prepared to accept the political fall-out of doing it and most are not.  What about reintroducing national insurance contributions for pensioners to cover health costs, a more reasonable proposition as they are most likely to need medical services but again is it politically acceptable and anyway pensioners will continue to cover the costs of their social care needs, arguably a fiscal contribution to the state.  Which brings us to the other benefits pensioners get: free prescriptions over 60, free bus passes, free television licences to those over 75 and the winter fuel allowance.  Of these arguably the more important are free prescriptions and the winter fuel allowance.  So link free prescriptions to the common pensionable age, 65 not 60 and increasing in line with the increasing pension age…there is no longer any logic with leaving it at 60.  As far as winter fuel allowance is concerned, it should be taxed something that now has increased logic given the increase in personal allowances and limited to those whose joint or single incomes is below say £40,000 (though there may be a case for a figure as low as £30,000).  Those on the lowest income would receive the full amount with those above that level paying tax on it and those who clearly don’t need it would no longer be eligible.  In addition, when people receive the allowance should operate in the same way as free prescriptions.  The importance of free bus passes depends, to some extent, on where people live: there is greater logic in rural areas where facilities may be at some distance than urban areas where they are generally closer. So, again link the allowance to the common pensionable age and introduce a fee of say £50 for urban dwellers and £20 (or none at all) for rural dwellers or abolish it altogether and accept the political flak.    Finally, free television licences should be restricted to those over 80.  Implementing proposals such as these would help restore what the Fabian Society identified as inter-generational inequalities. 
The problem for government is that any action that penalises pensioners can be characterised as an expression of an uncaring and unfeeling society and there is no doubt that implementing proposals such as these would garner such criticisms.  But, whether we were in a period of austerity or not, these are issues that politicians and society as a whole can no longer duck. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Managing gold in New South Wales

Sir Charles Fitzroy and Deas Thomson were initially sceptical about Hargraves. In late May, Fitzroy wrote that he did not think it was: ‘advisable to increase the very great excitement which is engrossing and unhinging the minds of all classes of the community…without obtaining further confirmation of its extent and value,’ though he added, ‘a proclamation has been prepared…asserting those rights and making known the steps which the Government will be prepared to take with reference to the granting of licences’ for diggers’. [1] Gold licences enabled the government to assert the rights of the Crown (under law all minerals belonged to the Crown) to tax the miners and attempt to control the number of people flocking to the goldfields. The proclamation was issued on 22 May, and was followed by provisional regulations [2] under which licences could be obtained on 11 June. [3]

Lambing Flat miners' camp c.1860s SLNSW

Lambing Flat miners’ camp, c1859

Crown Land had been occupied under licence since the 1820s. An Office of Commissioner for Crown Land was set up in 1833 and Squatting Acts in 1836 and 1838 permitted Commissioners to licence occupiers of Crown Land. This legislation provided a sound framework to deal with gold discoveries and the issuing of gold licences legitimised the occupation of Crown Lands though unlike the squatting system no pre-emptive purchase rights were introduced. The licence system in NSW also built upon experience in California that Thomson understood to be working in practice.[4] Both Fitzroy and Thomson recognised that gold licences would not bring in large government revenue but believed that since the advantages of gold would be shared by all in the colony, this would stimulate economic growth. Their aim was to cover the expenses of the gold establishment and maintain law and order on the goldfields not to generate surplus revenue.

When the gold rushes began, restrictions on self-government in NSW [5] meant that the partly elected Legislative Council was not involved in making policy for the goldfields. [6] Land policy was part of the Crown’s responsibility and initially the Executive Council appointed new officials and issued gold regulations. Although this did not initially cause tensions between the two councils, the Legislative Council increasingly resented the increased Crown revenue and patronage, and in late 1851 it rejected the government’s financial estimates to meet the rising cost of policing from the colony’s general revenue. [7] In June 1852, the British Government surrendered control of gold revenue, and the right to administer the goldfields to the local legislature. This was translated into legislation as the Goldfields Act in December 1852 although opposition among the diggers led to the regulations being amended the following year.

From the outset, the government’s management of the fields was ‘orderly’. They were not placed under the control of the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands but a new Commissioner was appointed with specific responsibility for goldfields in the settled districts, but no separate administrative structure was provided. Thomson realised that the regulations would win acceptance if they were tactfully applied and his appointment of John Richard Hardy, police magistrate at Parramatta, as gold commissioner proved crucial. Hardy, who is said to have introduced round-arm bowling to NSW, carried out his duties efficiently and sympathetically quickly marking out claims, issuing licences to dig and settling disputes. For example, he allowed diggers to try their luck for a few days to earn their first licence fee something later disallowed. In addition, the Reverend William Clarke had already mapped possible gold-bearing areas publishing his Plain Statements and Practical Hints Respecting the Discovery and Working of Gold in Australia in 1851, and newly arrived miners could be directed to suitable unallocated claims. Unlike Victoria, most of the miners came from within NSW and many returned home to resume their ordinary occupations when rain flooded the valley. By the time news of gold had spread abroad, Victoria’s more profitable rushes had begun and became the focus for gold seekers. By November 1851, the Gold Commissioner had an office in Sydney and eight district commissioners in the field with their assistants and clerks. A year later, however, Deas Thomson agreed with the Legislative Council’s proposal to abolish the office and from then on the administration of the gold establishment was under the control of the Colonial Secretary.

A few weeks after the licensing system was introduced, several groups approached the government with proposals for larger-scale mining on a royalty basis, as was common practice in Britain. Fitzroy recognised that more complex regulations were needed if the fields were rich enough to support a permanent mining industry. The licensing scheme applied to alluvial mining (essentially panning for gold in rivers and streams) but detailed regulations for draining ponds and mining quartz (that was crushed to extract the gold) were worked out between July and September 1851 with waterholes worked on a licence basis and quartz mining based on royalties of 10%. In November 1851, revised regulations allowed companies to mine a quarter of a mile either side of the vein and this often took in alluvial areas where independent diggers worked. Discussions by the Executive Council and then the Legislative Council resulted in the Goldfields Act 1852 that permitted licences or royalty payments for large-scale alluvial mining if machinery was used. Licences and royalties were reduced the following year but by mid-1853 most of the larger mining companies had collapsed or abandoned their claims because of the high cost of working alluvial sites and the absence of promising quartz locations. The various government regulations to control companies between 1851 and 1853 do not appear to have stimulated significant growth in large-scale mining, and may have inhibited it.

Angus Flat Gold Mining Company, Forest Creek, Victoria

The approach that colonial government took to licensing, at least initially, was ambivalent and, perhaps as a result, there was less opposition than in Victoria. The first regulations made no mention of penalties and the more comprehensive regulations of 7 October 1851 established a double licence-fee for those caught evading the rules but did lay down procedures for enforcement. Despite widespread criticism from the Sydney Morning Herald and from members of the Legislative Council in 1851 and 1852, the government appeared willing to accept an element of licence evasion until the Goldfields Act of December 1852 clarified the situation by specifying fines and the destruction of mining equipment for those unlicensed diggers. The lack of clear guidance until late 1852 led to arbitrary conduct with commissioners destroying some diggers’ equipment and dragging unlicensed miners off to gaol resulting in unfavourable comments in both the Empire and the Bathurst Free Press. [8] The extent of this harassment is unclear and commissioners often ignored unsuccessful unlicensed diggers during the winter of 1852 that had been disastrous because a long wet season had frequently halted digging. Neither the Sofala protest meeting [9] on 17 November 1851 nor the petition of the Turon River miners of 8 February 1853, in the immediate aftermath of the new regulations mentioned the behaviour of the commissioners though they were critical of the system. [10] Enforcement of the new regulations was not heavy-handed and potentially difficult situations were defused by the tactful attitude of the gold commissioners.

The approach in NSW to both licensing and royalties did not represent a radical departure from existing practice. In fact, the government was slow to develop a systematic approach to enforcement of licences and generally the diggers did not believe they were victims of an oppressive and arbitrary system.[11] In February 1852, after major disturbances had taken place in Victoria, the Sydney Morning Herald, always eager to pour scorn on the sister colony, contrasted the sluggishness and indecision of the Melbourne authorities with ‘the successful example of our own government’. [12] By contrast, larger-scale mining was subject to more effectively enforced regulation though it took the colonial government over a year to recognise that there was a clash of economic interests on the fields especially over alluvial mining. [13]

The Colonial Secretary was responsible for all matters relating to mining before 1856. From 1856 until 1874, the administration of mining in NSW was carried out by the Under Secretary for Lands, with local management of the gold fields undertaken by Gold Commissioners assisted from 1866 by mining registrars. As a result of increased mining activity and general dissatisfaction with the administration of mining by the Department of Lands, the Mines Department was established on 1 May 1874 under the provisions of the Mining Act (37 Vic No13). The Act also created a new system of mining districts and authorised the appointment of mining wardens. The Prospecting Board was established on 12 July 1887. The Board was authorised to inspect sites proposed for prospecting by miners and estimate the cost of any work required, with the sum not exceeding 50% of the estimated costs to be provided.[14] It provided funds appropriated out of public revenue and referred to as the Prospecting Vote. The funds were used to promote prospecting for gold and other minerals, to encourage the opening of new fields and to test the mineral deposits in the State, with assistance allotted to prospectors for approved work on sites holding a mining title.[15]


[1] See, Fitzroy to Earl Grey, 22 May 1851, ‘Correspondence relative to the Recent Discovery of Gold in Australia’, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. xxxiv, 1852, 1425, p. 1. As late as 31 May, Fitzroy’s despatch included a saving clause that the discovery might yet prove to be an illusion.

[2] Fitzroy set a high licence-fee of 30 shillings per month for the right to mine a 12 foot square claim. The 1851 regulations are printed in Clark Select Documents 2, pp. 8-9.

[3] See, Fitzroy to Earl Grey, 11 June 1851, ‘Correspondence relative to the Recent Discovery of Gold in Australia’, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. xxxiv, 1852, 1430, p. 17.

[4] The idea of high fees to discourage miners originated in California where they were levied on foreign miners: Hittell, Theodore H., History of California, Vol. 3, (N. J. Stone), 1898, pp. 262-265 and Ellison, J., ‘Mineral Land Question in California 1848-1866’, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 30, (1), (1926), pp. 34-56. Franklin, William E., ‘Governors, Miners and Institutions: The Political Legacy of Mining Frontiers in California and Victoria, Australia’, California History, Vol. 65, (1), (1986), pp. 52-57.

[5] Kingston, Beverley, A History of New South Wales, (Cambridge University Press), 2006, pp. 51-55, provides a short overview of developments in the 1850s.

[6] For what follows see Irving, T. H., and Liston, Carol, ‘State intervention and equality in the New South Wales goldfields 1851-1853’, in Eddy, J. J., and. Nethercote, J. R., (eds.), From Colony to Coloniser: Studies in Australian Administrative History, (Hale & Iremonger), 1987, pp. 103-119.

[7] This was rejected by a substantial 25 to 11 on 29 October 1851.

[8] Empire, 16, 23 October, 7 November and 12 December 1851, Bathurst Free Press, 24 July 1852.

[9] The diggers petitioned the legislature complaining that the licence system was a tax on labour rather than produce and were therefore unjust in principle. Early in 1852, a group of 400 miners on the Turon organised armed resistance to the regulations but the government averted an uprising by sending half a company of soldiers to the disturbance.

[10] Higgins, M., Gold and water: A history of Sofala and the Turon goldfields, (Robstar), 1990, is the best study of this field but see also ibid, Irving, Terry, The Southern Tree of Liberty, pp. 228-233.

[11] Higgins, M., ‘Near-Rebellion on the Turon Goldfields in 1853’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 68, (1983), pp. 292-311 takes a contrary view.

[12] Sydney Herald, 25 February 1852.

[13] See, Birrell, Ralph, ‘Eureka and the redefinition of company mining in Australia’, in ibid, Mayne, Alan, (ed.), Eureka: Reappraising an Australian Legend, pp. 175-200.

[14] See, Votes and Proceedings 1887, Second Session, Vol. 4, Prospecting for Gold and Other Minerals (Regulations for Distribution of Vote For), printed 12 July 1887, p.509.

[15] Parliamentary Papers 1929-30, Vol. 3, Annual Report of the Department of Mines for the year 1929, p.207

Monday, 22 April 2013

Rebellion in Canada, 1837-1885

NOW AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE

‘…extremely impressed by the range of your scholarship and the depth of your research; you seem to have read just about all the secondary literature in a variety of different fields, and you present your material in a clear, engaging style that is refreshingly jargon-free.’

In less than fifty years Canada experienced six major rebellions: in Lower and Upper Canada in late 1837 and 1838, the Fenian rebellions of 1866 and 1870 and the Pembina affair in 1871 and Louis Riel’s resistance at Red River in 1869-1870 and his rebellion fifteen years later in Saskatchewan. Each failed to achieve its aims and, in one sense, this book is a study of political disappointment. The rebellions revealed the draconian ways in which the state responded to threats to public order and legitimate authority. Yet it is the losers in 1837-1838 and 1885, though this is less the case for those in 1866 and 1870 who are now better and more positively remembered than the victors.

Canadian rebellions 1

The two volumes in Canadian Rebellion 1837-1885 are published in two formats. There are two printed volumes that were published in the latter part of 2012 and this single Kindle volume that contains both printed volumes.  I have taken the opportunity of adding references to the most recent research and have added colour illustrations that were nor included in the original print version. 

The Prologue considers the natures of liberty in the emergence of Canada from a colonial to continental state.  Chapter 1 examines the development of the two Canadas between the end of French Canada in 1760 and the turn of the century. Chapter 2 looks at the economic, social, political, ideological and cultural tensions that evolved from the 1790s and the largely unsuccessful attempts by the colonial state and politicians in London to find acceptable and sustainable solutions to populist demands for greater autonomy. Chapter 3 looks in detail at the rebellions in 1837 and 1838 and at their immediate aftermath. Chapter 4 examines the ways in which Canadian politics developed in the newly united Province of Canada in the years between 1841 and the creation of Confederation in 1867. 

Chapter 5 examines the Irish diaspora to North America during the nineteenth century and focuses especially on the demographic and political impact of the Famine in the 1840s and 1850s. Chapter 6 considers at the ways in which Irish nationalism maintained a strong political presence in the United States and Canada from the beginning of the nineteenth century and the emergence of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York in 1858. The political impact of this movement was both enhanced and restricted by the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 yet the Fenians emerged in April 1865 as a powerful, if increasingly divided, force with concrete plans for the liberation of Ireland. Chapter 7 explores in detail at the three Irish-American Fenian incursions into Canada in 1866, 1870 and briefly and debatably in 1871, the impact that they had on Canadian and American politics and how this led to changes in Irish nationalism in the 1870s. Chapters 8 and 9 extend the story geographically beyond Quebec and Ontario across the continent to the unchartered and largely unsettled prairies of the North-West. They look at the impact of economic, social and political change on the Metis and the two rebellions of 1869-1870 and 1885 led by Louis Riel that sought, unsuccessfully, to protect the Metis from the impact of the incursion of largely Ontarian settlers and from the continentalist aspirations of the federal government. The importance of rebellion in state-building in Canada is considered in the final chapter.

There are a series of appendices and a bibliography.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Gold in Australia in 1851

Gold had been found in Australia in the Bathurst district in 1823[1], in the Victorian Alps in 1839 and by William Campbell on his sheep run in Strahlodden, Victoria, in 1840. The following year, the Reverend William Clarke found gold in the basin of the River Macquarie but this was suppressed by Governor Gipps, who worried about its potential effects on convict order. [2] Shepherds and farmers were known to appear in Sydney, disposing their finds with as little fuss as possible. Nevertheless, throughout the 1840s there were growing fears in colonial government that there were substantial gold deposits in Australia, a situation exacerbated by the discovery of gold in California in early 1848. [3]

On January 7 1851, Edward Hargraves and James Esmond disembarked the Emma in Sydney determined to find the gold that had eluded them in California. On 5 February 1851, Hargraves headed west for the Bathurst plains where he believed a gold field existed, while Esmond boarded a coastal steamer for Melbourne. Hargraves planned to find gold and claim the government reward for discovery of a payable goldfield.[4] Arriving in Guyong, Hargraves met John Lister following him to where he had already found gold. In his autobiography [5] Hargraves dramatised his account with suitable hyperbole:

My recollection of it had not deceived me. The resemblance of its formations to that of California could not be doubted or mistaken. I felt myself surrounded by gold…This is a memorable day in the history of New South Wales, I shall be a baronet, you will be knighted, and my old horse will be stuffed, put in a glass case, and sent to the British Museum![6]

In the next weeks, Hargraves explored the area with little success, so he enlisted Lister and William, James and Henry Tom to continue the search. At Summer Hill Creek, they quickly extracted £13 worth of gold. [7] Rushing to Sydney in March with the find, Hargraves went to Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary saying that he was willing to reveal the location of the field while cleverly ensuring he would be rewarded regardless. [8] After lengthy discussion, Thomson was persuaded to send Samuel Sutchbury, a British geologist to examine the field and subsequently paid Hargraves a £500 reward. [9] However, before the geologist made an official statement but encouraged by news from the Tom brothers, Hargraves wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald describing in general terms the rich fields. When sure of the government reward some weeks later, he identified the gold’s location and left for Bathurst early in May. He ignored pleas by the Toms and Lister for secrecy, named the area ‘Ophir’, the biblical city of gold and whipped up enthusiasm in the Bathurst district. By 15 May over 300 diggers [10] were at Ophir and the first gold rush had begun. [11]

Within a few days Sutchbury was confident about the size of the potential goldfield and the government declared a gold discovery on May 22 1851. The impact on Sydney was immediate: prospectors cancelled their trips to California and clerks, labourers and servants failed to appear for work as thousands rushed west to ‘Ophir’. The Bathurst Times stated that:

A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community, and as a natural consequence, there has been a universal rush to the diggings. [12]

Writing four years later, G. C. Mundy said that:

The masters and employers of labour, of all ranks, from the lordly squatter of the distant interior, with his battalions of dependents, to the small tradesmen in the townships, with his single assistant, trembled at the idea of their deserting for the diggings, and the consequent ruin of flocks and custom. [13]

In the days following Hargraves’ announcement the mood in Sydney was feverish. Some inhabitants looked to a glorious future while others recalled reports of Californian lawlessness and anarchy. The gold rush threatened the very existence of Victoria and the Melbourne Argus unrealistically preached restraint:

If we neglect our cornfields or our sheepwalks for a time, a short supply of food, and a falling off of exports will result. But gold can keep, it will neither deteriorate in quality nor diminish in quantity, by waiting our leisure. The work therefore should be set about in a calm, systematic, deliberate manner, nothing done in a hurry[14]

While La Trobe commented in October:

Within the last three weeks the towns of Melbourne and Geelong and their large suburbs have been in appearance almost emptied of many classes of their male inhabitants…leaving their employers and their wives and families to take care of themselves[15]

In desperation, he assembled a Gold Discovery Committee on June 9 1851 offering a £200 reward to anyone who found payable amounts of gold within two hundred miles of Melbourne. Gold had already been discovered by William Campbell on Donald Cameron’s station in Clunes in 1850. But Cameron feared his station would be overrun by ambitious diggers and opted to keep quiet like others before him. Meanwhile, word of Cameron’s story reached James Esmond and Dr George Bruhn, a German physician who travelled to Clunes and found £50 worth of gold around June 28 1851. [16] On 5 July 1851, Esmond went to Geelong and showed some of their gold to Alfred Clarke of the Geelong Advertiser. When he returned to Geelong on 15 July he told Clarke the locality of the find and this was published on 22 July. The first big gold rush at Ballarat was, in actual fact, a false start.[17] The first diggers exhausted a layer of gold-bearing gravel that lay only a few feet below the surface, then moved on to new strikes in search of greater success. The richest goldfields had yet to be discovered. In August 1851, Thomas Hiscock [18] found gold in Buninyong near Ballarat, [19] followed in December by Henry Frencham [20] in Bendigo. [21] Further finds were also made in Anderson’s Creek, Ararat, Mount Alexander, and McIvnor’s Creek. By Christmas, an estimated 250,000 ounces of gold had been taken from the central Victorian region. [22]

Both Hargraves’ and Esmond’s reputation as the discoverers of gold in NSW and Victoria are questionable. Lister and the Tom brothers realised too late that they had been used by Hargraves. In 1853, a Legislative Council select committee heard evidence on the events in 1851 and, while upholding Hargraves’ key role, recommended that £1000 be granted to the men taught by Hargraves and a similar amount to Rev. W. Clarke. Hargraves’ polemical autobiography did not silence the increasingly bitter Tom family or Lister and it was not until 1890 that the Legislative Assembly found that Hargraves may have taught them to pan for gold, but ‘Messrs Tom and Lister were...the first discoverers of gold obtained in Australia in payable quantity’. Nevertheless, the legend of Hargraves, ‘the discoverer of gold’ persists. As far as Esmond is concerned, in 1853-1854, Victoria’s Legislative Council accepted his evidence that he had found gold on 28 June 1851 and revealed his site on 22 July. Louis Michel however, had fond gold at Anderson’s Creek and given full particulars of the site on 5 July.[23] The Council recommended rewards of £1000 to Michel for discovering and publicising an available goldfield and to Esmond, ‘as the first actual producer of alluvial gold for the market’. Other rewards were recommended for Campbell, Hiscock and Bruhn but were not paid for ten years.


[1] The field book of Surveyor James McBrien mentions particles of gold on the Fish River near Bathurst in 1823. This was the first mention of the discovery of gold in the colony but went unreported to the public as the colonial government of the day wanted to avoid a gold rush.

[2] Mozley, Ann, ‘William Branwhite Clarke (1798-1878)’, ADB, Vol. 3, 1969, pp. 420-422, provides useful biographical material.

[3] Lancelott, Francis, Australia as it is: Its Settlements, Farms, and Gold Fields, (Colburn & Co.), 1852, pp. 274-279; Erskine, John Elphinstone, A Short Account of the late discoveries of Gold in Australia, London, 1851, edited by Mackaness, George, Sydney, 1957, pp. 6-8, an account of the NSW discoveries that ended in early August 1851.

[4] The government eventually gave him £10,000 and from 1877 an annual pension of £250. He was also showered with testimonials, valuable cups and other trophies. In 1851, he became a commissioner of crown lands for the gold districts and a justice of the peace.

[5] Hargraves, Edward, Australia and its goldfields, (H. Ingram), 1855, is a self-congratulatory, decidedly partial and probably ghost-written account. Mitchell, Bruce, ‘Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891)’, ADB, Vol. 4, 1972, pp. 346-347, is a useful, if short corrective.

[6] Ibid, Hargraves, Edward, Australia and its goldfields, pp. 114-116.

[7] The gold was located in Summerhill Creek near its junction with the Macquarie, about fifty miles from Bathurst and thirty from Guyong.

[8] Biographical material can be found in Osborne, M. E., ‘Sir Edward Deas Thomson (1800-1879)’, ADB, Vol. 2, 1967, pp. 523-527, while Foster, S. G., Colonial Improver: Edward Deas Thomson, 1800-1879, (Carlton), 1978, is more detailed.

[9] See, Hargraves to Deas Thomson, 3 April 1851, ‘Correspondence relative to the Recent Discovery of Gold in Australia’, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. xxxiv, 1852, 1427, pp. 10-11. Hargraves’ reward was his appointment as a Commissioner of Crown Lands at £2 10s per day. He was to travel extensively throughout the colony as a gold finding expert but there is no record of him ever finding any more gold.

[10] Butler, A. G., The Digger: A Study in Democracy, (Angus & Robertson), 1945, gives the implications and history of the term ‘Digger’.

[11] Ibid, Erskine, John Elphinstone, A Short Account of the late discoveries of Gold in Australia, p. 10.

[12] Bathurst Times, 14 July 1851.

[13] Mundy, G. C., Our Antipodes: or, Residence and Rambles in the Australasian Colonies with a Glimpse of the Gold Fields, (R Bentley), 1855, pp. 561-562.

[14] Argus, 28 July 1851.

[15] La Trobe to Earl Grey, 10 October 1851, ‘Further Papers relative to the Recent Discovery of Gold in Australia’, Parliamentary Papers, Vol. lxiv, 1852-3, pp. 45-47.

[16] Cranfield, Louis R., ‘James William Esmond (1822-1890)’, ADB, Vol. 4, 1972, p. 142, is a useful, if brief, biography.

[17] Late in 1852, however, alluvial mining at Ballarat entered a new phase. Some teams, convinced there might be a deeper gold-bearing layer, sank shafts beneath the shallow gravel layer. Others followed the shallow layer as it gradually became deeper. These enterprising diggers were soon to strike the amazing system of deep leads, buried rivers of gold.

[18] Sunter, Anne Beggs, ‘Thomas Hiscock, Discoverer of Gold at Buninyong’, Buninyong & District Historical Society newsletter, August 2001, is a brief study of an individual not included in the ADB. See also 150th Anniversary of Gold Discovery at Buninyong, (Buninyong & District Historical Society), 5 August 2001.

[19] This was publicised in the Geelong Advertiser on 12 August 1851.

[20] Garden, Donald S., ‘Henry Frencham (1816-1897)’, ADB, Vol. 4, 1972, p. 221.

[21] In 1890 a select committee was appointed to inquire into his claims. In the course of its proceedings the committee was presented with twelve other claims for the original discovery. The report found ‘that Henry Frencham’s claim to be the discoverer of gold at Bendigo has not been sustained, but that he was the first to report the discovery of payable gold at Bendigo to the Commissioner at Forest Creek’. No reward was forthcoming.

[22] Cranfield, Louis R., ‘The first discovery of gold in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Journal, Vol. 31, (1960), pp. 86-96, and Sutherland, Alexander, Victoria and its Metropolis: Past and Present, 2 Vols., (McCarron, Bird), 1888, Vol. 1, pp. 296-323, focus on the early discoveries. Flett, J., The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria, (Hawthorn Press), 1970, and Bate, Weston, Victorian gold rushes, (Macphee Gribble), 1988, are broader.

[23] Cranfield, Louis R., ‘Louis John Michel (1825-1904)’, ADB, Vol. 5, 1974, p. 246.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Mishandling a death

Whether Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure in life is a matter of judgement, but she certainly has become one in death.  This was demonstrated in the precipitous debate in Parliament on Wednesday when many Labour MPs stayed away and we were subjected to a six hour Tory festschrift of mind-numbing sycophancy as one MP after another stood to deliver their comments on how nice she was to them and how, in private, she bore little of her public persona interspersed with the occasional dissenting voice from the opposition benches.  Why this debate could not have waited until Monday when Parliament reassembled precluding the £2 reportedly spent as a consequence I do not know.  Why it lasted so long when the debate following Winston Churchill’s death lasted only 45 minutes I cannot understand.  Then he have the lamentable decision to cave in to political pressure not to play ‘The Witch is Dead’ in the BBC Chart Show.  But equally we have the distasteful ‘Thatcher’s Dead’ parties, the vitriol from the ‘Old Left’ about the splits she caused in the country and a blatant attempt by both sides to re-write History.   It is hardly surprising that critics of whatever political persuasion see all this as a naked exercise in political propaganda as they all seek to grasp their share of Thatcher’s legacy, for good or ill.  With the exception of the United States where the public seem bemused by responses to her death, the international press appears to have adopted the polarities evident in the United Kingdom.

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But then it was always going to be like this.  Margaret Thatcher was when she was Prime Minister and this has continued to be her enduring legacy an intensely divisive figure and people’s attitudes to her generally fall at one of the two poles: she was either a necessary, ideological figure who dragged Britain out of the ‘slough of despond’ that was the 1960s and 1970s or she was the destroyer of Britain as a manufacturing country.  The truth, as is always the case, lies somewhere in between.  Those of us who are old enough remember just how bad things had got by the late 1970s and that Britain was generally regarded as the ‘basket-case’ of Europe.  This was, in part, the result of the implosion of Britain’s colonial empire, its unwillingness to respond to the challenges of the post-war world and the over-mighty power of different interest groups inside and outside Parliament that has a vested interest in matters not changing and the inability of politicians between 1969 and 1979 to persuade them to do so.  Politicians of all parties were looking back to what was rather than forward to what might be a better ‘green and pleasant land’.  Although trade unions have been seen as the traditional cause of this situation, and their often intensely undemocratic leadership has a case to answer, they were not the only group in society that sought to keep power-relations as they were.  By 1979, for all the rhetoric, the post-war consensus politics was already a thing of the past, society was already divided and many of the changes that Thatcher introduced when she was Prime Minister had already begun to be implemented; for instance, Harold Wilson closed more coal mines than she did. 

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Historically, political leaders who want to change things tend to be vilified by their opponents and feted by their friends.  You only have to read the debates when Sir Robert Peel sought to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846 to recognise this; Benjamin Disraeli’s speeches ended Peel’s political reputation and he never held political office again though his early death in 1850 following a horse-riding accident also contributed to this.  The vitriol heaped on Margaret Thatcher is as nothing to the vicious, vindictive venom of Disraeli (albeit brilliant) speeches.  William Gladstone also had to face public and political outrage over his attempts to introduce Home Rule for Ireland in the 1880s and 1890s.  Political leaders with a ‘mission’ always have to cope with those who oppose root and branch the changes that are proposed.  Margaret Thatcher’s supporters, much as those of Peel and Gladstone did for their hero, laud her as the woman who saved her country, her critics damn her as the woman who destroyed it. Eventually there will be a more nuanced verdict.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

‘Peaceable Kingdom’: Essays on Nineteenth Century Canada

I’m not sure when this book will finally be published but I’m hoping to complete it by August or possibly September.  While researching the Rebellions Trilogy and the two volumes of Rebellion in Canada, 1837-1885 I drafted a series of papers on Canadian history that contributed to the published work. This was part of the process of honing drafts of the books into a form that combined a narrative of the key events, their causation and consequences with a critique of that narrative by examining linkage and remembrance. This collection of essays brings together some of those jottings and has given me the opportunity to rewrite them in the light of further research.

Peaceable Kingdom

‘Canada is an unmilitary community,’ wrote C. P. Stacey, Canada’s pre-eminent military historian. ‘Warlike her people have often been forced to be, military they have never been.’ [1] There is a view that, unlike almost every other democracy, Canadians have not had to fight for their freedom. The rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada in 1837 and 1838 and Louis Riel's Red River ‘Resistance’ of 1869-1870 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885 are portrayed as little more than military skirmishes while describing the four-day action at Batoche as a ‘battle’ is seen as a serious over-dramatisation.

I’ve just completed an essay that explores the question of Russia and rebellion in Canada considering this less from the point of view of ‘rumour’, as previous historians have done but placing the Patriotes and Fenians and their calls for Russian support in the context of Russian foreign and diplomatic policy between 1837 and 1885.  What is now evident is that, although efforts to obtain Russian support ultimately failed, those efforts appear far less eccentric than previously thought and that Russian support, in part to destabilise Britain’s empire, was not as ridiculous as it often appears.

Other essays will examine populism and protest in 1837 and the deaths of Lieutenant Weir and Armand Chartrand and ask whether Papineau was to blame for the failure of rebellion in Lower Canada and whether Canada experienced ‘wars of religion’ in the nineteenth century.


[1] Stacey, C. P., Six Years of War: The Army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific, (Queen’s Printer), 1953, p. 3. Several years before Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King had stated: ‘We are fighting to defend democratic and Christian ideals [and] we have transformed one of the least military people on earth into a nation organised for modern war’, Hutchinson’s Pictorial History of the War, no. 1, Series 13, July-December, 1941, p. 199.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

‘Unlocking the land’

Until 1851, squatters’ privileges were not a major concern since there was sufficient agricultural land available to meet demand. Between 1846 and 1851, more than 100,000 acres of land had been sold in the ‘settled’ districts near Melbourne, Geelong and the coastal towns. The Imperial Waste Lands Act 1846 and the Order-in-Council of March 1847 granted leases of up to fourteen years to squatters in the ‘unsettled’ districts covering the northern half of Victoria and for up to eight years in the ‘intermediate’ districts that included the Western District and Gippsland. In both areas, squatters had the sole or pre-emptive right to buy any part of the land during the period of their leases. However, a precise survey was necessary for this to have legal effect, and this had hardly begun by 1851. [1] Once the gold rushes began, growing demand for farming land put pressure on the government to open some of the squatting areas. [2]

This situation created major problems for La Trobe. First, should squatters be given pre-emptive rights if leases could not be issued? Squatters were buying and selling land on the assumption that pre-emptive rights applied. Secondly, and equally pressing was whether the Government could sell any public land outside the ‘settled’ districts where there was little unsold land left. La Trobe was not a defender of the squatters and argued for a liberal interpretation of the 1846 Act believing that it was the duty of government to sell land when and more importantly where it was needed. Consequently, he reserved 700,000 acres ‘for public purposes’ where pre-emptive rights did not apply.

Some members of the Legislative Council were highly critical of the squatters but in July 1852, they were defeated on a motion of extend the boundaries of the ‘settled’ districts and that leases be issued for the ‘intermediate’ districts so that the Government could bring forward land for sale without having to rely on its reserves. Squatters were unwilling to compromise and La Trobe’s executive voted with them to demand the immediate issue of leases for all pastoral land outside the ‘settled’ districts. This was a short-lived victory and radical members of the Council mounted a strident public campaign that led to a compromise of sorts. Protests against the squatters were bitter reflecting long established hostility and the need for outlets for capital than genuine land hunger. Growing demand for land came from successful diggers and urban speculators. For miners, land signified social status; for urban businessmen it was a way to break the economic and political dominance of the ‘squattocracy’.

On 18 August 1852, La Trobe informed the Council that he did not have the power to issue leases immediately and that he would refer the issue to the Colonial Office. In the interim, squatters would be allowed to buy their homestead blocks of up to 640 acres and the existing policy of reserving land for future sale would continue. While this may have satisfied many squatters, some extremists such as William Campbell reacted bitterly. In early September they restated their position and La Trobe forwarded their views to the Colonial Office along with a wordy dispatch on the issue. [3] La Trobe then gradually brought more land on to the market. With growing demands from diggers for land, in December 1852 a deputation from Castlemaine with a petition signed by thirteen hundred miners was promised that land near the diggings would be sold as soon as they were surveyed. In early 1853, the movement concentrated on the need for sales of 20, 40 and 80 acre lots near the fields. The Colonial Reform Association, formed in November 1852 on a broad radical platform increasingly concentrated on the land question and the Argus, with monotonous regularity called on the government to ‘Unlock the Lands’.

Despite criticism from the squatters, La Trobe went ahead with the sale of land and in the eighteen months from April 1853, half a million acres of land was sold. This policy, however, came too late to avert criticism caused by his indecision. Increasing land values was an inevitable result of growing demand for land: in 1851 land was about 25 shillings an acre but by 1853 this had risen to £4. The Colonial Office received La Trobe’s dispatch at the end of 1852 and its response, sent to La Trobe eleven months later, approved his actions and passed the power of decision to the Victorian Government. It could establish reserves and sell land under existing legislation, could vary the classification of the districts as it thought best, and could issue leases to squatters but should confine pre-emptive rights to the homestead block. The news arrived in the colony in March 1854. The Colonial Office had come down firmly against the squatters and the Argus celebrated that: ‘The lands are unlocked at last!’ This was over-optimistic. Many miners had simply given up or moved to the United States, South Australia or New Zealand where land was freely available. In reality, land remained firmly locked to the poorer farmers.

Politics in Victoria was deeply marked by Eureka. Ebbels argued that ‘the concessions to democratic government which followed the Stockade produced a political framework and an atmosphere which facilitated the development of Australian trade unionism’. [4] The Ballarat Reform League, with its main demands won in 1855, duly developed into a new organisation, the Victoria Land League, with its emblem the Southern Cross, and its motto ‘Advance Australia’. [5] With the influx of population in the gold rushes, the distribution of these sheep walks to agricultural settlers became a vital political issue. The diggers and other newcomers took up politics seriously in 1857, the first year of the new parliament. At public meetings throughout the colony, they elected delegates to go to Melbourne to convene something akin to a Chartist convention. The democratic members of the Victorian Assembly provided a great stimulus to the Land League and its People’s Parliament that met nightly at the Eastern Market in Melbourne for three weeks in July 1857, in close proximity to St. Patrick’s Hall where parliament was sitting. 89 delegates from 32 places throughout the colony met to formulate a people’s land policy and to fight for the People’s Charter, especially payment of members. The Convention organisers realised that parliament, especially the Legislative Council, would not readily yield to the popular cry to ‘unlock the lands’. One of the most articulate justifications of land rights was written by ‘Peter Papineau’, who published a pamphlet Homesteads for the People in Melbourne in 1855, a pamphlet has all the hallmarks of Henry Chapman’s writing. [6] Wilson Gray[7] declared that the convention would have to fight its own battle on the hustings and led a deputation to the government to warn of ‘national calamity’ if land reform were delayed. As David Goodman explains ‘democratic politics in the 1850s…placed the issue of right to the land at the very centre of public discussion’. [8]


[1] No leases were ever issued under this legislation and throughout the 1850s squatter occupancy of their runs continued with annual licences.

[2] Ibid, Roberts, Stephen H., The Squatting Age in Australia 1835-1847, pp. 350-358, is useful on the land question in the early 1850s; Clark; Selected Documents 2, pp. 179-180.

[3] William Campbell’s position can be found best in his The Crown Lands of Australia being an Exposition of the Land Regulations, and of the Claims and Grievances of Crown Tenants, (John Smith & Sons), 1855, pp. 31-54.

[4] Ebbles, R. N., The Australian Labor Movement 1850-1907, (Melbourne University Press), 1965, p. 4.

[5] Serle, p. 269; Argus, 29 December 1856, 20 January 1857; letter by Gray in Age, 5 May 1857.

[6] ‘Papineau, Peter’, Homesteads for the People and Manhood Suffrage, (S. Goode), 1855.

[7] Woods, Carole, ‘Moses Wilson Gray, (1813-1875)’, ADB, Vol. 4, 1972, pp. 287-288.

[8] Goodman, David, ‘Making an Edgier History of Gold’, ibid, McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold, p. 32.