Letting Lands Within and Without the Limits of The Colony
The Sydney Morning Herald
13 September 1844
In the Supplement to the Herald of Saturday, 24th August, you give your readers the Report of the Select Committee on Crown Land Grievances. Will you permit me to make a few observations, suggested from reading that Report, confining myself more particularly to my experience of the Government mode of letting lands within and without the limits of the colony.
The Report I deem but the opinions of a section - I will grant, the wealthy section of the colonists. My endeavour will be to show, from my own experience, the impolicy of the course recommended by that Report, as far as the limits of a letter will allow.
Should the opinions of that Report be adopted, the colony must retrograde, and remain a wilderness. One would suppose the large land-owners would be pleased and delighted to see persons occupying the unoccupied lands around them, and hail with satisfaction new customers for their surplus stock, instead of which they wish to remain in solitude, and have a wilderness around them.
They cry to the small capitalists and farmers of England," come out to this colony to improve your condition," and how, let me ask, do they receive them when they come. Let any new-comer put up a section of land to rent: the neighbouring proprietor will run him up, and prevent him from occupying: although he does not require the land.
I have known above £20 a section given for land, to prevent another, a new-comer, having it. The Report says, £5 a section is too high, and recommends 15s. I contend, £5 is not more than its value, and much question if a figure above would not facilitate the possession of the land to the small capitalists within the limits. It would readily let within the limits for a higher sum, if the Commissioners could grant the occupation like those without the limits of the colony.
In America, every county town has its land office, a stranger may call, look at the map, see what is sold, purchase a map, then go and inspect that which is not. If he wishes to become a purchaser, he returns to the office, states what he requires, pays a deposit, and that day month the residue must be paid, when you get your deeds. If he wishes to become a squatter, he selects a place, commences work, and should any one buy his place, they must pay him for improvements.
I contend for the American plan and towns like Bathurst, Goulburn, Yass, &c., should have their government land offices, where a new arrival could buy or rent land of the Government, without any further expense or trouble, then hundreds of persons of small capital would prefer this fine climate to that of America, but the sections should not exceed £8 per section to rent, nor the land 5s per acre if purchased.
No honest man that has had the experience of settling, could advise anyone to come out as things are, for a small farmer would be ruined with expenses before he could commence operations.
If the law will not allow this with regard to selling land, there could be no objection to this mode of letting the Crown Lands within the limits, through the Commissioners already appointed. To me it appears quite absurd that 150,000 persons should occupy as much space, or as much land, as in Europe supports almost as many millions. I have no doubt the county of Argyle alone, if properly cultivated, would produce grain sufficient to maintain the whole of the inhabitants of the colony.
When I arrived in this colony, in 1840, full of the fallacy about increase of stock, &c., I went into the country, and found a place I thought would suit me.
I returned to Sydney, and was foolish enough to buy mares at £60, and cows at £6 each, and drove them to my intended station, but I soon found out that my station was what is called a back run, belonging to a person some miles off, on which he had no stock of any kind.
At first I was permitted to remain undisturbed, but having fourteen miles of a creek below me I determined on investing the remainder of my capital in a flock of ewes; when this became known, my neighbour intimated he disliked sheep, and he should oppose me in renting the sections, and if I did have them, I should pay at least £30 each for them. I was not disposed to throw away my money in that way;
I abandoned the place, and many of my cattle, and turned my attention to trade; and I can truly say, my few horses and cattle have been a source of great annoyance to me ever since; for, though grass has always been superabundant, my neighbours could never tolerate them.
And I would observe, in contradiction to that Report, that I was not a "desperate character, and a nuisance to the neighbourhood, but a son of a captain in the royal navy, and at the time in practice as a surgeon; but, as the Colonial Secretary observes, in his letter to the Surveyor-General, dated January 25th, alluded to in the Report, I interfered (or he thought I should interfere) in the "interests of the neighbouring proprietor, while that very proprietor occupied free of rent a large tract of Crown lands. "It is true I brought but a limited capitol to this country, but I have no doubt equal in amount to that imported by two-thirds of those who claim their hundreds of acres of land now; at any rate quite sufficient in England to have kept me in comfort and respectability, and here likewise, had there been greater facility of acquiring land.
The conduct of large stockholders in this matter in my opinion is suicidal, for the difficulties thrown in the way of a new settler is duly reported in England, and deters hundreds from migrating. I was requested by a circle of friends on leaving England, who knew I would give them the truth, to give them on account of my first efforts as a settler; that description prevented many families, and from £16,000 to £17,000, their united capital, coming out.
I grant, at this moment young men with a £1000 or families with £2000, could settle comfortably, as they could buy for that amount stock, with station, &c., all complete. But what is required is, to give facilities to persons and families possessed of smaller capital, to settle without delay, as in America.
Every week we see advertisements for cattle, sheep, &c. , on terms, the advertiser stating he has a much larger run than he requires, every week stock with station is advertised to be sold, and we are told the station is capable of maintaining twice the number running on it. This should not be; this monopoly of the land is one of the main causes to keep down the price of stock.
A neighbour of mine observed to a stockholder who was soliciting him to sign the petition against the new depasturing regulation; he said, "Certainly not, as I think it will have the effect of throwing open lands for others, and you, as a stockholder, should hail them coming into operation with pleasure, as it would increase the value of stock: for could I have had a run, do you think I would have allowed the flock of ewes to have been sold the other day for 1s. each?" - alluding to a sheep sale some month before; he added -"I know of fifty runs, but had I bought the sheep and placed them at either place, some Mr. - would say it was his run; and although he had no sheep at present, he had had them there, or a couple of stockmen would be brought to swear that the cattle of Mr. - always drank at those holes, and it would be decided it was his run; although he might have a river frontage of from ten to thirty miles! and the water holes supposed fifteen miles from his hut."
At this moment I know of three persons occupying one station! they have about 2000 head of cattle and about 4000 sheep; the latter may be compared to the knights on a chess board, now here now there; in fact they are continually being placed round the run, two or three corners of which would keep 1000 head of cattle; but should any one go there, sixteen miles from their hut, it would be their sheep station!
The Report says, "by the ancient law, every owner of land was allowed to feed his cattle on the lord's waste; and the analogy of law would seem to imply that these waste lands stand to the settled parts of the colony in the relation of a vast common, to which, until it be appropriated, all her Majesty's subjects have of common right free access, subject to such regulations as are necessary to preserve peace and order."
To this I most cordially agree; it is the great desiderata; and to obtain so desirable an end, it should be rented from the Government at the lowest point; but sufficiently high to deter persons from having more than they can profitably occupy. But this vast common is already taken up by the few, some claiming as much as a couple of English counties, and their rights are so respected that one is not allowed to run a few horses or cattle on the runs. In fact, the runs outside the limits are more strictly preserved for their nominal possessors than purchased land within the limits.
By way of example, I must again refer to myself, as one fact is worth a thousand assertions. At present I am in business; my place is built on the run of a person outside the limits of location; the run consists of about eighty square miles, to feed about 6000 sheep and some cattle; some of his men he allows to run from forty to a hundred head of cattle in lieu of wages; he is about to bring four hundred head of cattle more on the run, having sold some cattle and another run.
He disliked my being on his run, but it was deemed the wants of society required the accommodation; the owner of the station said I should not keep a head of stock; last week the thing was determined, when the Commissioner determined I might keep a dozen of cows, a team of bullocks, and three horses!
So I must form a station three hundred miles down the river for the remainder, not above twenty head of cattle and sixteen horses, and grass in abundance round my own door; for any good a station would be to me at that distance I might as well have one in the moon. I can place them out to keep, and shall have to pay as much for their keep as my neighbour pays for his run of eighty miles, and be subject to have them stolen : for it is well known no one will do as well for you as you can do for yourself. So much for the common right all Her Majesty's subjects have to the waste lands of the colony. I suppose my neighbour will shortly get the Commissioner to limit the number of turkeys I am to keep!
For four square miles of this run I would gladly give £10 per year, and that amount of land would have kept my stock and their increase for ten years hence. The grass is so abundant that thousands of acres is burnt every year. So, the son of a British officer, who participated in many of those ever memorable engagements during the last war, who came to the colony with a respectable capital, is not to be allowed to run forty head of stock on the run of a person who allows a shepherd to run a hundred head, and move three or four hundred off and on at pleasure.
Now, to prevent and to destroy the monopoly in land, I would beg leave to suggest the propriety of persons renting outside the limits as they do in, by the section; let every squatter be charged £2 per section for as much land as he chooses to call his station; and allow any honest man to take out a license for any land not actually rented at that rate.
Every Commissioner could be easily instructed to measure a section of land, when they could give persons as large or small a run as they required - the price per section to be sufficiently high to prevent persons having more land than they require; I much question if £2 is sufficiently high a figure The assessment on stock I would give up, and pay only for the quantity of land required.
I reside three hundred miles from Sydney, and the River Murrumbidgee is taken up three hundred miles below me; and the whole of that distance, including each bank of the River, is parcelled out among about fifty persons, twenty-five a side, occupying three hundred miles of a splendid river. The Report says that many stockholders take out from two to nine licenses; all that I can say is, in our district a man can hold ten stations if he pays one license.
I have allowed this letter to exceed its limits, or I would say more; trusting it will not take up too much of your valuable space, I beg to remain, Gentlemen,
Your most obedient servant, Yorick. Gundagai, September 2.