Deputy Surveyor-General Responds
The Sydney Morning Herald
15 February 1845
Saturday, February 15, 1845. The Gundagai Case.
With reference to the strictures which have appeared in our columns on the Governor's decision in this case, Captain Perry, the Deputy Surveyor-General, has addressed to us the following observations - and it is only fair to add, he has addressed them spontaneously, without communication with His Excellency.
As considerable importance seems to be attached to an expression of the Governor's, relative to an unlucky selection of allotments in the town of Gundagai, I deem it but a matter of justice to his Excellency to state that Sir George Gipps had nothing whatever to do with the laying out of that town, the whole arrangements connected with it having been made by me prior to Sir George's arrival in this colony, as will appear by the following extracts from my instructions to the surveyors who had been ordered to proceed to Port Phillip:- (Extract)
"Surveyor-General's Office, "22nd January, 1838. "You will then proceed by the Post-office route, with the whole of your party and equipment, to a station on the Murrumbidgee, where Mr. Broderipp has established a punt, and near to which Mr. Hutchinson has an establishment. At this station you will halt and encamp your party, while you are completing the arrangements for the rest of your journey." "During this halt, you will employ yourself in making a detached survey of the features of the ground on both sides of the river, to the distance of two or three miles above and below the present crossing place."
"You will transmit to this office, by the first opportunity, and before leaving the ground, a plan of your work, accompanied by a descriptive memoir, representing what parts of the country in that neighbourhood are mountainous or hilly, and what are level; whether the hills are steep and broken by rocks, or if they rise by gradual and easy slopes; or if the ground is undulated only in gentle swells; whether the connexion of the high grounds is obvious and continued, or if the heights appear detached from each other; in what direction the ridges run, and which is their steepest side."
"What is the nature and extent of the valleys, where they originate, and in what direction they run." "What is the nature of the soil." "2nd. The direction of the course of the river at the crossing place, above alluded to; whether it is rapid or otherwise; its breadth and depth, and what variations it appears to be subject to at different seasons of the year; the nature of its channel and of its banks, whether rocky, gravelly, sandy, or muddy; of easy or of difficult access; whether fordable at any point within the range of your survey, and if so the nature of the fords - whether always passable or at certain times and seasons only. You will report particularly upon the ferry at present established by Mr. Broderipp, its breadth, and the nature of the landing place on each side, how many men, horses, or carriages the punt is capable of conveying; how much time the passage requires, and in what manner it is performed, whether by hawser, by oars, or by pole. If there be marshes in the neighbourhood you will report their situation and extent, and whether they continue throughout the year or exist only during the wet season. 3rd. As it appears that some improvements have been effected on the ground near the punt, it is desirable to have a description of the improvements- if by buildings, the number of them, and of their inhabitants- as well as a description of the enclosures, whether small or extensive; whether any part of the ground has been cultivated, and what is the cultivation, whether wheat, maize, barley, or potatoes. If there are any standing crops, what is their appearance, with reference to the quality of the soil."
(Signed) "S. A. Perry, "Deputy Surveyor-General."
Now it is very clear from the above ex tracts, that Sir George Gipps, who arrived here in February, 1838, could have nothing to do with arrangements that were made in January, and the fact is, that he merely marked the plan as approved- after it had been laid before the Council, and without considering whether Gundagai was in New South Wales or in the moon; but the purchasers of allotments selected for themselves and upon their own knowledge of the country.
We have inserted at full length the foregoing extract from the letter of instructions, merely from a willingness to publish every word which Captain Perry deems necessary to the elucidation of truth; for had we followed our own judgment as to its relevancy to the main point, we should have dispensed with a considerable portion of it as superflous.
In the remarks that accompany the extract, there are two statements upon which we think it proper to comment. The first is, "that Sir George Gipps had nothing whatever to do with the laying out of that town (Gundagai), the whole arrangement connected with it having been made by Captain Perry prior to Sir George's arrival in this colony." Nothing to the contrary of this having been asserted either by our correspondents or by ourselves, the statement is of no force except as to the inference it is intended to suggest - namely, that the township having been laid out before Sir George's arrival, the sufferers can have no claim for compensation upon His Excellency's Government. We deny the inference.
The act of Captain Perry was the official act of an officer of the Crown; performed in virtue of powers delegated by the Crown; consequently, binding on the faith of the Crown, and on that of the local representative of the Crown for the time-being, without respect to the individual, or to the time of his arrival in the colony. Sir George Gipps came out not only "to protect the interests of the Crown," but to fulfil its engagements. The official engagements of the Acting Surveyor-General were, in effect, the engagements of the Sovereign; and as such, became binding on Sir George from the moment of his inauguration.
But Captain Perry tells us, that His Excellency became bound not only in this inferential sense, but by his own deliberate ratification of the Acting Surveyor-Generals procedure. His Excellency is said to have "marked the plan (of the Gundagai township) as approved, after it had been laid before the Council."
This fact settles the question at once. The plan became not only an act of Government; but an act of Sir George Gipps's own individual Government, recognised and adopted by himself in Council.
The other statement requiring notice, is the one put forth in the concluding paragraph:- "The purchasers of allot- ments selected for themselves, and upon their own knowledge of the country." This certainly is a new fact- at least, a fact unknown to us when we wrote the article of Wednesday.
How far it is applicable to the whole body of purchasers from the Crown, or whether it applies only to Mr. Broderipp's "punt" and to Mr. Hutchinson's "establishment," we are at present not informed. The probability is, that it applies to no more than some two or three of the original "pioneers of the wilderness," the other occupants having purchased after the township had become officially recognised. But the point is not material.
It is evident from the above letter of instructions, that the selection of private individuals, "upon their own knowledge of the country," was not considered by the Government to be sufficient evidence of the fitness of the place for the site of a township. The district Surveyor is particularly instructed to 'employ himself in making a detached survey of the features of the ground on both sides of the river, to the distance of two or three miles above and below the crossing place;' and to transmit to the Survey Office at head quarters 'a plan of his work, accompanied by a descriptive memoir, representing what parts of the country in that neighbourhood are mountainous or hilly, and what are level - whether the hills are steep and broken by rocks, or if they rise by gradual and easy slopes - or if the ground is undulated only by gentle swells,' &c., &c.; 'the direction of the course of the river at the crossing place - whether it is rapid or otherwise - its breadth and depth - and what variations it appears to be subject to at different seasons of the year,' &c.
The report of the official survey made under these elaborately minute instructions, and not the selection of individuals "upon their own knowledge of the country," was the ground-work upon which the Government, first by the recommendation of the acting head of the Survey Department, and finally by the "approval" of the Governor in Council, adopted Gundagai as the site of a township, and sold its allotments in that character.
Aware that private adventurers have little leisure and less qualification for the task of surveying scientifically the country in which they are toiling for bread, the Government, very properly, declined to act upon the selection of such persons. The official selection was therefore made from official data, and from those alone.
The Government thus became responsible for the eligibility of the selection. And after having at the outset repudiated the private selection, and refused to sell allotments until a selection should have been made on its own authority and after its own fashion, it is rather too bad to come forward now, when the selection is proved to have been a calamitous blunder, with an attempt to absolve the official survey from all responsibility, and to cast the whole burthen upon the private selection!
With all deference to Captain Perry, who certainly shines much better as an officer than as a logician, we must say that we think he has made the Government side of the case no better than it was. His effort at a justification of the Governor's decision is about as unlucky as the selection of Gundagai.
Since we wrote the above, we have received the following supplementary communication from Captain Perry:- Sydney, 14th February, 1845.
“Gentlemen,- There are one or two circumstances connected with the long-protracted discussions on the subject of Gundagai which I omitted to mention in my very hasty note of yesterday. The first is, the distance of the place beyond the limits of the proclaimed counties (about sixty miles), and that the exceptions to the existing regulations for the sale of land were made in favour of those persons who had previously established themselves upon the land, and had erected buildings and enclosures for the accommodation of travellers and their cattle, and not with any supposed advantage to the Government as regarded the revenue to be derived from the sale of a few building allotments Another circumstance, and which bears upon and confirms the above, is that upon the public plan of the town, in the Surveyor-General's office, there is a memorandum in pencil, to the following effect:- "The sections coloured are those proposed to be put up for sale immediately; those on the road to the ford will probably be all taken up. The detached sections are to afford Mr. Broderipp an opportunity of purchasing the ground on which he has already established himself."
The selection of the ground was therefore indicated by the occupancy above referred to, and I have always understood that where a great road crosses a river, whether by bridge, ferry, or ford, is a situation that is generally regarded as convenient for a town, provided there be nothing in the nature of the banks to render such situation objectionable.
Without considering me in the light of a champion of Sir George Gipps, with respect to an expression which appears to have given general umbrage, but as only defending my own conduct during the time the Surveyor-General's department was under my direction, you are authorised to exercise your own discretion as to the use you may make of this communication.
S. A. Perry. Messrs. Kemp and Fairfax.”
We do not see how this second letter can be said to mend the matter anymore than the first. We are glad, however, to find that even the Deputy Surveyor General declines the honour of being considered "the champion of Sir George Gipps with respect to an expression which appears to have given general umbrage."
His Excellency's decision does not profess to have been dictated by any consideration of those special circumstances said to have been connected with the selection of Gundagai.
On the contrary, it assigns no ground but that one sweeping indiscriminate doctrine, "that what a man buys, he buys for better or worse;" a doctrine which we have shown to be contrary to the transactions of everyday life, and monstrously untenable in its application to the present case.