The South Country
The Sydney Herald
10 February 1842
To the Editors of the Sydney Herald. Gentlemen,-
Having heard the people in this neighbourhood say, that you are great friends to squatters, I have taken the liberty of making known to you some of our grievances in this district, in hopes that you will be able to suggest some means for their removal.
You are doubtless aware that according to the present law on the subject our Commissioner has no power to adjudicate in any case between a master and a free servant. If, therefore, any of my free servants choose to break his engagement, and leave my employment or commit any other offence, I must cither quietly submit to the loss and inconvenience, or put myself to the trouble and expense of bringing him to Yass, a distance of two hundred miles; for our District Commissioner, Mr. Bingham, though he should happen to be in my immediate neighbourhood at the time has no authority to interfere. To us employers this is a grievous source of inconvenience, for our free servants, knowing the dilemma in which we are thus placed, take advantage of it in several ways. I may here state as an instance of it, that very lately one of my own shepherds, having first lost a number of sheep in the bush, and then contrived to procure from the stores goods to a larger value than the amount of wages due him, bolted from my service and engaged with a Mr. F. on the Ovens, just in my neighbourhood. This fellow knew well that I could not spare the time to bring him all the way to Yass Bench. All this evil might be remedied by conferring on Commissioner Bingham, the requisite power to try cases affecting free as well as bond servants in his district.
There is another important point to which I wish to call your attention. By the Squatting Act, the district Commissioners are empowered to impound all 'unbranded' stray cattle; but have no power to impound 'branded' stray cattle. And what, think you, is the consequence of this oversight in our Colonial Legislation? There is neither a Commissioner nor a stock proprietor of any practical experience in the Colony but can tell you that this very omission has been and still continues to be the occasion of the most extensive system of cattle stealing. The trade is conducted as follows:-
Some of your cows or heifers heavy in calf have strayed to a neighbouring run, the stockman on which, instead of driving them back, plants them, (to use an elegant Botany Bay term) that is, drives them away into a distant gulley or scrub until they calve, when he brands for himself all the calves, still keeping the mothers on the run in hopes of obtaining one or two more crops of calves from them before they are discovered and removed. These cattle are often mixed and mustered with those belonging to the proprietor of the run. They are often seen by every person, the Commissioner not excepted, who may have occasion to visit the run, but, of course, it is not the interest of the stockman to tell to whom they belong; and the law gives no authority to the Com- missioner to impound branded stray cattle. While at the same time the stockman detains and conceals them as long as he can from the real proprietor. If, however, after the lapse of years they are found out by him, he never receives any of their increase; for the calves which he sees with them and which he is morally certain are the produce of his cows, are all branded in another name. It is in this manner that so many stockmen have within the short space of two or three years accumulated large herds of cattle of their own. Most probably you are not aware of the extent to which this trade is carried on beyond the limits of location. A few weeks ago, Commissioner Bingham told me, that Mr. H., a squatter on the Murrumbidgee, offered to drive into the pound at the Tumut, no fewer than one hundred and twenty head of branded stray cattle, which were then and for a long time previously on his run! But as they happened to be branded, the Commissioner could not impound them, and thus afford the proprietor the only chance of getting his own for perhaps many years to come. The District Commissioner can appoint a pound and a poundkeeper anywhere within his district, but he cannot impound strayed cattle if they are branded. Now I think you will agree with me that in order to check the wholesale traffic in cattle-stealing, which I have here exposed, it would he expedient to vest in each district commissioner a power not only to impound all stray cattle whether branded or unbranded, but to compel stockmen and others employed in the management of cattle beyond the limits, to allow no stray cattle to remain for any length of time on their runs, but to send them to the nearest pound in case the owner is not known.
I am happy to inform you that, notwithstanding the long-continued drought we have had here, our cattle and sheep still look uncommonly well, - the former, in particular, are in high condition. Within the last fortnight we have had some heavy showers, which have greatly refreshed our parched ground. The wheat crops, which are very heavy, are all secured in this neighbourhood. You will no doubt be happy to hear that several of our sheep proprietors are this season sending their wool to Sydney, instead of sending it, as they did last year, to Melbourne. Some of them are forwarding it over-land, while others are sending it round by water, arranging at the same time for getting their yearly supplies up by the Seahorse to Melbourne. Albury, the Government township at the crossing place of the Hume River, is steadily advancing. Mr. Robert Brown, the innkeeper, has nearly finished a splendid house here, at a cost of two thousand pounds, and we expect Commissioner Bingham, with his family, will soon take up his residence among us. Several respectable families are now residing in the neighbourhood, and recently, a medical gentleman, a Dr. Crighton, has settled here, with the intention of practising his profession. You are aware that the mails from Sydney and Melbourne meet here every Saturday morning. You would oblige us in this quarter by suggesting to the Bishop of Australia the propriety of arranging with the government for some small allotment of ground at Albury, or some other convenient place, near this river, for a burying ground. It is really unseemly - it is even revolting to the feelings of a Christian to witness the remains of the dead thrown into any hole in the open field, where they may be dug up by native dogs. Common decency re- quires that the mortal remains of our fellow creatures should be deposited in some secure enclosure held sacred for such purpose. Surely the Colonial Government would not grudge giving a couple of acres at Albury, or some other equally eligible locality, for the purpose which I have now named. I am also convinced that if there was a place set apart for such an object, no person dying within fifty miles of it would be interred anywhere else. A few weeks ago, one of Mr. B.'s assigned servants (on the Ovens) having been treated, or fancied he had been treated, tyrannically by his master, shot himself dead. Another of the same gentleman's servants was killed last year here by the bite of a snake. The bodies of these two men have been merely placed in holes, lined with sheets of bark, and then covered over with earth, at some distance from Mr. B.'s hut, where, most probably, the native dogs or some other wild animals have since feasted on human flesh.
Before I close this letter, there is one question to which I will thank you to give me an answer, if you can. How comes it that our Commissioner, Mr. Bingham, receives only £450 a year, while other Commissioners, such as Mr. Mayne, of Liverpool Plains, and Mr. Macdonald, of New England, receive each of them £500?
It cannot be said that this difference in the pay is in consequence of Mr. Bingham's district being less extensive than that of either of the two gentlemen above named. Mr. B.'s district is at least as extensive as any in the Colony; and most assuredly it cannot be said that he is either less active or less efficient than other Commissioners. I feel confident that I am expressing the sentiments of a large majority of the stock proprietors within Mr. B.'s district, when I say that there is not a more efficient or pains-taking officer in Government employment than Commissioner Bingham. We, therefore, among whom his official duties are performed, and who largely contribute to that general fund out of which the expense of the border police, &c, is defrayed, claim a right to ask why our Commissioner is not adequately paid. It may not perhaps be known to you that not only has he to pay out of his £450 of salary, all his travelling expenses, but has also to furnish all the horses used by him in the public service. He has even to pay for the very paper used by him in con- ducting his official correspondence. The great distance of his head quarters, nearly 300 miles, from the nearest sea port town, renders the carriage of all his supplies very expensive, and he has nothing to depend upon but his bare salary.
You shall soon hear again from your old friend, Timothy Bushman. Hume River, January 29.