Cannot Sanction Exchange
The Sydney Morning Herald
13 February 1845
To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald,
His Excellency directs me to inform you, that he cannot sanction the proposed exchange of the flooded allotments, as he considers that what a man buys, he buys for better or worse.
Such, according to your paper of the 29th ultimo, is the conclusion of a letter addressed by the Colonial Secretary to Mr. Commissioner Bingham, with reference to some proposed alterations in the town of Gundagai, and the substitution of allotments in the new site, in lieu of those which were flooded in the old.
That township was laid out during one of those periods of comparative drought to which this colony is liable, when the rains were light and great floods were unknown.
An alluvial flat on the banks of the Murrumbidgee was chosen as the site, and although it bore the appearance of having been under water in former years, no apprehensions were entertained of a similar visitation in future.
It was then high and dry, and was considered to be quite out of the reach of danger.
The Government, therefore, sold allotments, and the people settled and built.
The great flood of last year, however, shows that it is unsafe; and it appears the town is to be removed to a more eligible situation.
Under these circumstances, those who purchased allotments have requested permission to exchange them for others.
They can no longer improve, or even occupy those which they possess, with prudence or safety; and they seem to be content to suffer the loss and inconvenience of removal if they be allowed others in their place.
They, in fact, simply ask the Government to give what the Government undertook to sell them - that is, allotments in the town which was to be established in that quarter, and, under the circumstances, there can scarcely be a doubt that the Government is morally bound, and that it would be but politic, to make the exchange which is solicited.
The welfare of the community at large can be advanced only by promoting the interests of those who compose it, and the refusal in this case affords but a poor specimen of that paternal consideration for the people, which should characterise every Government, and certainly it is but a bad example for the improvement of our morals, to allege as the sole reason for it, that "what a man buys he buys for better or worse."
This may be a suitable maxim for a huckstering dealer, but it is unbecoming and far below the dignity of the Government of a British community.
The case appears to me to be this: the inhabitants of Gundagai have sustained loss and are exposed to serious danger, through an occurrence which happens in the ordinary course of nature, and they ask the Government, that is, the public, to come to their relief, by contributing so much to their assistance as is involved in the difference of value between allotments in the one place and the other.
They, in fact, merely request that a principle which is acted on throughout the empire shall be extended to their case.
In 1843, the House of Commons voted a large sum for the relief of several persons in the West Indies, whose property had been destroyed by earthquakes, resolving that the sum was to be ultimately repaid by a general tax upon those islands.
St. Kit's, Antigua, and some others, petitioned against the taxation of the whole for the relief of a part of the inhabitants.
Mr. McAuley presented their petition, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared that he could see no hardship in taxing an entire community to provide for losses sustained by a part; that the same principle was applied in England in similar cases; and that it was "one of the benefits of living in a civilised society, that when an injury was sustained by a portion of the community the whole were made to contribute to it."
This appears to me to be clearly a case in point; the loss in both instances, though differing widely in degree, was occasioned by natural causes, which could neither be guarded against nor controlled.
Relief in the one required taxation, in the other it can be afforded simply by exchanging the allotments; and there can be no doubt that the refusal is not only not very gracious in manner, but unsound in principle.
I have no interest in that locality beyond that which every colonist must be supposed to have in the welfare of every part of the colony; and I offer these remarks simply because I believe the claim of the inhabitants to be sound and good.
If it be a matter of real importance to them, I would recommend them to persevere, prepare a petition, and bring it more formally under the consideration of the Government.
I am, gentlemen, Your obedient servant,
M. G. Queanbeyan, February 3