Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
19 June 1838
THE IGNORANCE OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC AS RESPECTS THE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES
The British Government and people, instead of becoming more intimately acquainted with this Colony as its resources become developed, and its importance becomes more manifest, are…evincing greater ignorance of its condition that when it was infantile and insignificant.
The London and Westminster Review says—
In a former article we gave a brief description of the happy abode provided by our legislature for those who had attempted to vindicate their natural rights against the ordinances of society; we drew a hasty picture of that Elysium which our benevolent statesmen had framed on the shores of Australia for the thieves, burglars, felons, and prostitutes, of the United Kingdom. More accurate information enables us now to lay before our readers a sketch of a state of society and manners, which has arrived at the highest degree of its peculiar civilization, and which will not much longer exist. A small minority, with inclinations and interests hostile to those of the majority, are scheming to destroy this paradise; are endeavouring to render it a dwelling less suitable to the tastes of the exiles; and there is but little doubt that they will persuade the legislators of this country to aid them in the enterprize.
Was there ever so much absurdity and falsehood embodied in so small a piece as this? It seems to be almost an universal opinion in Great Britain, that the Colony, instead of being a place of punishment to the convict, is a place of pleasure and enjoyment—where, instead of being degraded, the violator of his country’s laws is elevated to an exalted position among his fellow creatures. Is it possible, let us ask, for any sensible individual to look at our road-parties, or our iron-gangs, and behold the miserable condition of the felon population, and still have the temerity, the stupidity, to assert that Australia is a paradise for crime?
“The anxious and eager search after wealth” (continues this paragon of reviewers), “has, at times, menaced the destruction of all that is great and surpassing in this world. The pecuniary interest of a few intruders, for whom the colony was not established, threatens to change the aspect of this community, great in crime, and surpassing all others in iniquity. The few to whom we refer are a portion of the free emigrants and their descendants, who style themselves the respectable class; in every respect they are an exclusive body; many of them possess considerable wealth, obtained, not by the usual means of accumulating fortunes in New South Wales, but by the rearing of flocks and the culture of their fields; opposed to free institutions, detesting the present jury law!”
This is a gross misrepresentation. The free emigrants and their descendants by no means consider themselves an exclusive body, nor are they at all inimical to the emancipists as this worthy would represent. That there are two bodies of individuals in this community, there is no one will deny; that those two bodies are composed, one of the emancipists the other of migrants, we feel ourselves fully justified in most explicitly contradicting.
The ignorance of the British public, with regard to our affairs, is in no instance more apparent than in the manner in which they represent the amazing wealth of the late MR TERRY as a criterion by which an idea of the opulence of other emancipists may be formed. Nothing can be more absurd than this. There are not in the whole extent of New South Wales, five individuals of the convict class, who are in possession of one-tenth of the income or property of this person, whose history has been so often and so inaptly related. His was an extraordinary career, and is by no means one on which it would be just or reasonable to found an opinion so injurious to the reputation of this Colony, as a fit and proper place for the efficient punishment of crime.
In speaking of the female factory, the reviewer says, that—”well dressed, well fed, and with little to do, the female convicts consume their time in that empty and listless gossip, which is too often the only occupation of women, as society has denied them the right of taking an active part in the concerns of the world.”
Well dressed! well fed!! and little to do!!! who ever heard of such monstrous falsehood and absurdity! If the asserter of this were to behold the droves of miserable wretches that we have frequently seen, covered with apparel of the most wretched description, living on food the most coarse, and sitting for hours together breaking stones and wheeling them in different directions, how would he blush for the inaccuracy of his statement, and the willing credence he has given to the misrepresentations of men who are themselves either ignorant of, or interested in preventing the British public from becoming thoroughly acquainted with, the true state of our affairs. We could, if our space permitted us, adduce many instances in support of our conviction that the British Parliament, in legislating for us, form resolutions, of the applicability of which to our condition they are totally unable to form even the most indefinite idea. If they do not take proper means to ascertain the precise nature of our wants, and evince a disposition to treat us with justice and liberality, as men equally sensible and desirous of enjoying as much civil and religious freedom as themselves, they will shortly have cause to repent their obstinacy and their folly. If they suffer themselves to be long misguided by designing individuals, and disregard the petitions and remonstrances of an oppressed and injured people, the time (they may rest assured) will arrive when concession will be useless and power will be unavailing.
See Original: “THE IGNORANCE OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC AS RESPECTS THE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Tuesday 19 June 1838, p.1