Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
10 August 1839
THE GOVERNMENT AND SIR MAURICE O’CONNELL
To the Editor of The Australian.
SIR — It appears from LORD DURHAM’s report on Canada, that one of the most serious grievances of the colonists arose from the neglect of government to furnish proper titles to land. The proprietors were, consequently, embroiled in endless litigation—ejecting today, ejected to-morrow—until property became so insecure that a stop was made to all improvements, and every man feared to expend capital and labour upon that which experience had taught might, from the laches of government, be forcibly wrested from him.
But, however just may be the causes of complaint which the Canadians may have against their government in this respect, there is, I believe, no instance on record, in any country, of so iniquitous a measure as rumour states to be in contemplation by our local government, and which if carried into effect will cast upon it a stigma never to be effaced.
“Punic faith” has long been a byword for political treachery; but the wily and faithless Carthaginians never devised a more atrocious scheme of deliberate plunder than the one now under advertence [sic].
It is well known that the family of the late GOVERNOR BLIGH has recently established a claim to 105 acres of land in the town of Parramatta. This claim, being well founded, they are perfectly justified to maintain, and no one can gainsay the right or propriety of enforcing it.
Owing however to the most culpable neglect (or to that generosity, common to most governments, of bestowing the property of others), various portions of the land in question have subsequently been given to different individuals, who for the most part hold them under what are called “letters of possession.” These letters of possession have always hitherto been considered equivalent to grants—and the tenor of them proves that they have even been viewed in this light by the government. The conditions inserted in these instruments fully establish this fact; or, if they be not considered bona fide grants, they exhibit a scheme of bona fide robbery and plunder.
In these instruments government says—”We give you such an allotment of land, conditionally that you make it valuable by expending capital upon it, in erecting buildings within three years, (condition 3)—then—as by possibility, it may at some future time, be wanted for public purposes; we retain in that case the power of resuming it on giving you twelve months notice, and on paying you the value of the land and of all buildings and improvements erected and made upon it, (condition 6), lastly you shall take out a regular deed of grant, so soon as it shall be convenient for us to prepare it.
The government here gives a bona fide title to the land, by acknowledging that it be resumed, only if required for public purposes; I then only beg giving twelve months notices and adequate compensation. The letter of possessions is thus explicitly confessed to be of equal validity with a grant under seal, and to be given as a title until the proper officers can find time to make out the formal deed, to which every person holding a letter is entitled.
It is then under this tenure that a principal part of the land, claimed by GOVERNOR BLIGH’s family is held by those who are, now under process of ejectment. The stipulations contained in the letters of possession, have been fulfilled by the erection of Buildings in some instances to the amount of several thousands of pounds. Some few persons have obtained the regular deeds of grants, but the majority of the sufferers, owing to the disgraceful dilatoriness which characterises many of our public offices have been unable to do so, although they have frequently applied for them, and their right is indisputed [sic]. It is undeniable however, that a grant and a letter of possession, are equally building upon the government.
But now we come to the wholesale system of plunder, which is carefully reported to be assigned.
Government with characteristic stullicity [sic] has erected the Female Factory, and other public buildings, upon this grant of 105 acres. These are now justly claimed by Admiral BLIGH’s family, as part of his estate: but they are too valuable to be readily relinquished by government. Government, however, have their price as well as individuals; and a proposition has been made (whence originating I know not) for a compromise between government and the claimants.
The notable expedient said to be hit upon, is that the claimants shall not disturb government in its present possessions, but give a title to the lands on which the public buildings stand. For this princely donation of property to the value (on an under compensation) of £10,000, government is to have peaceable possession of the rest of the property, worth at least £15,000 more to the claimants—so far the arrangement might be well: but who is to indemnify those who now hold the property from government, and who, by their improvements in buildings and otherwise, have given the land its present high value?
Every man possessed of the least sense of justice, or of the slightest spark of feeling or humanity, must burn with indignation to hear that the infurious scheme is contemplated, to declare letters of possession not finding on government—that the present occupiers and possessors of the land, after giving valuable considerations, and some of them expending their all in improvements, are to be driven off without the slightest compensation—that government, callous to the wail of the widow and the moan of the orphan, regardless of the cries of hunger and the shrieks of despair, but studious only of an economy at once impolitic and fradulent [sic], shall, to avoid giving compensation to those who are entitled to it, ruthlessly trample on the rights, and (banditti-like) seize with iron hand upon the properties of the spoliation. As a gtoss [sic] to this shameless people, it is proposed that leases for twenty-one years shall be offered to those who shall be thus violently expelled from their own freeholds. Fit illustration of colonial policy and justice!
Should this design be carried into execution, an indelible stigma will be cast upon national faith—confidence in our rulers will be changed into mistrust and indignation—and a withering paralysis will cripple the energies of the people.
No blame can attach to the family of ADMIRAL BLIGH. Their property has been unjustly appropriated by government—and what has been wrongfully taken from them, it is their duty, if possible, to regain. Government has perpetrated the wrong—it is for government to remedy it; but not by inflicting still more grievous wrong upon others. Let adequate compensation be given to those equitably entitled; and let not government think that any temporary advantages can compensate the irremediable evils produced by authorised fraud and injustice.
If government be actuated by any but the most sordid views, why not at once step forward to avert that extensive distress and ruin about to ensure from its own errors?
After the trial which established the claimant’s right, the crown law officers did indeed pretend that if they had had notice of the proceedings, they would probably have interfered. But what notice, in the name of common sense, did they require? The claimant’s solicitor have them repeated notice; but the plea of want of notice cannot be admitted now. They are aware that proceedings are going on against all the occupiers of the land, and that in a few weeks a general ejectment must take place. Yet they allow all these persons to be put to the ruinous expence [sic] of defending hopeless actions, arising from the folly, or ignorance, or something worse, of the government. If, indeed, the compromise before mentioned is really intended, the matter is at once explained.
So infamous an arrangement can scarcely however be seriously contemplated. At all events, it is to be hoped that the parties immediately and so deeply interested, will not allow themselves unresistingly to be defrauded. Let them at once memorialise the Governor—and, if ineffectual, the home government; should that also be ineffectual, let them bring the matter before Parliament, where it will no doubt furnish a fitting sequel to the exposures made by LORD DURHAM of Canadian abuses and colonial misrule.
See Original: “CORRESPONDENCE. THE GOVERNMENT AND SIR MAURICE O’CONNELL. To the Editor of The Australian,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Saturday 10 August 1839, pp.2-3