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sure, were entirely independent of the representative
bodies, and might, and frequently did, set them at
defiance, and govern in direct opposition to their
views. This was the state of things which prevailed
in the so-called " representative colonies " of England
down to 1846. But in that year a change took place :
the reformers were strong enough to carry a measure,
by which representative government in Canada was
converted from a sham into a reality. The principle,
once made good, was rapidly extended ; and I believe,
at the present time, the Cape of Good Hope is the
only considerable English colony in which respon-
sible government, in the fullest sense of the word,
does not prevail.*

The mode in which this pregnant change was
effected is deserving of attention, as illustrating the
vast consequences which, in political affairs, some-
times depend upon apparently trivial circumstances.
Formerly, on the nomination of members to the
Executive Council, the appointment was made "during
pleasure " the pleasure, that is to say, of the Colonial

* " Colonization and the Colonies." Appendix to Lecture xxii. [Re-
sponsible government has since been conceded to the Cape.]


Office ; the practical effect being that the members
held office during life. But from the time that the
new measure came into force, the words " during
pleasure " were omitted ; and instead, the members
were appointed on the understanding that they should
hold their posts only so long as they retained the
confidence of the colonial assemblies. The change,
almost infinitesimal in appearance, amounted in its
consequences to a revolution ; for it at once brought
the executive into subordination to the legislature.
Power and patronage passed in a moment from the
Colonial Office to the colonial assemblies. The
Council might still be appointed by the Home Govern-
ment ; but it could only exercise its powers in con-
formity with the views of the local body. In this way,
after the lapse of a century, has Great Britain come
round in her colonial policy to the point from which
she started. In early times self-government used, as
we saw, to "break out" in the English colonies the
natural outcome where two or three Englishmen met
together to build up society in a new land ; and now,
after much groping amongst other systems, the
country has returned to its primitive faith. Reason
and experience have set their seal on what was at
first prompted by the instincts of free men.

And now, availing ourselves of the light which
we derive from this rapid survey of the past, let us
endeavour to appreciate the character of the crisis
in our colonial history in the midst of which at the
present moment we find ourselves. One inference
forces itself upon us at the outset. Of the reasons
which have in former times prevailed for holding


colonies in subjection, not one can now be considered
tenable. One after another, the objects for the sake
of which our colonial empire was created have, with
the progress of economic and political knowledge,
been given up. Let us glance at these objects in
succession ; and first, tribute may receive a passing
mention. Tribute for which, with ancient states-
men, dependencies of all kinds were chiefly valued,
and which has been enforced in modern times by
some European nations never filled a large place
in the colonial programme of England. Once indeed
she made the attempt to tax her colonies for her
own benefit ; but the result of that experiment has
not tempted her to repeat it. At present it is scarcely
necessary to say, that the idea of obtaining revenue
from a British colony is one which has no place in the
thoughts of any British statesman. So far from this,
the tables have been turned ; it is we who are assessed
to the colonies ; our annual payments amounting, in
average years, to some ^4,421,000 annually:* what

* " Having reference to the expenditure of 1857, which is the latest
account, in a complete form we have in our possession, we find the
imperial cost to have been ,4,115,757, and the average of five years
previously ,4,421,577 ; but we should not forget that this amount, large
as it may appear, is only some important portion of the whole sum. The
colonies have shared, in no inconsiderable measure, in the .12,608,000
we have expended on the navy, and ; 1,000,000 on the packet
service." Our Colonies, their Commerce and their Cost, by HENRY

[The cost has since been considerably reduced. " From a report pre-
sented to the House of Commons in 1870 it appeared that the cost of the
general colonies to the British Exchequer in 1868 and 1869 was ,3,620,093,
but of that sum very nearly ,3,000,000 was charged under the head of
' cost of regular troops,' which, by the way, had been since reduced by
.1,200,000, owing to the withdrawal of troops from various colonies."
Lecture by Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen, M.P., Under- Secretary for the
Colonies, published in the Times, October 24, 1872.]


they will reach this year, when the New Zealand war
bill is paid, is what I will not venture to conjecture.

On the other hand, commercial monopoly was long,
as we have seen, a leading object with those who
built up and maintained our colonial empire. " The
only use," said Lord Sheffield, in a debate during
the American War of Independence, "the only use
of the American colonies is the market of their com-
modities and the carriage of their produce ; " and
on this basis was erected that complicated system
of prohibitions, bounties, and differential duties, of
which, in a former part of this address, I attempted to
sketch the outline. But free trade has wholly and for
ever removed the ground from this elaborate and time-
honoured structure. We do not any longer ask
we certainly do not receive from our colonies any
commercial advantages which are not equally open
to the whole world, which we should not equally
command though the political connection were severed
to-morrow.* The commercial reason for holding
colonies in subjection, therefore, like the financial
one, has passed away.

But another use for colonies was in progress of
time discovered : they might be turned to account
as receptacles for the criminals of the mother country
convenient sewers for her moral and social off-
scourings. I have shown you what was the result
of this elevated and hopeful view of the colonizing
art. I will only now add, that penal colonization,

* "No one now really doubts," says Mr. Merivale, "notwithstanding
the hostile tariff of the States, that the separation of our North American
colonies has been, in an economical sense, advantageous to us."


long condemned by the best minds of the nation,
as well as by a disastrous experience, has of late
years less, it is mortifying to think, from an en-
lightened policy than under stress of necessity been
in practice abandoned. One example, indeed, of a
penal colony under British dominion still exists
Western Australia ; but this remaining blot, thanks
to the rough lesson we have just received from a
precocious pupil in the art politic,* it seems probable
will soon be removed.

Well, the object Q{ finance, the object of commercial
monopoly, the object of gaol convenience all those
objects, in short, which had served in former times
as reasons for our colonial empire, had one after
another been given up ; yet the structure remained
remained, not only without support from any
grounds of solid reason, but charged with an extra-
neous burthen of ,4,500,000 sterling, spent annually
in keeping it in repair. People began to ask cut
bono ? Various answers were returned. One writer
said we took out the value in prestige.f According
to another, the colonial empire was to be regarded
as a great political gymnasium, in which the people

* "A sinister system of education, under which the tutor tries to force
upon the pupil moral and social poison, which the pupil struggles to
reject." Professor GOLDWIN SMITH in Daily News.

t " The ablest of my critics tells me in good plain English that what
he thinks so valuable and wishes so much to preserve is ' apparent
power.' .... When we see through the appearance of power, and coolly
own to ourselves that we do see through it, will not our enemies have the
sense to do the same ? Wooden artillery has been useful as a stratagem
in war ; but I never heard that it was useful, or that anything was risked
by a wise commander to preserve it, after the enemy had found out that
it was wooden." 7*he Empire, p. 32.


of this country might practise the art of governing
nations, and cultivate the "imperial sense"- an
endowment which, it was alleged, was worth the
money. Or, again, the Imperial Government was a
kind of incurious Providence, ordering things aright by
a masterly inaction a power, " whose purely nominal
but beneficent suzerainty keeps the political ma-
chinery of the colonies in working order." So much
virtue, it seems, there is in a name. Just two years
ago, a high authority propounded a more tangible doc-
trine. The political connection was justified by Mr.
Merivale on the ground that colonies are valuable as a
field for emigration ; * the implication, of course, being
that the condition of dependency constitutes an attrac-
tion for emigrants. In the keenly felt need of a
working theory of empire the idea was eagerly taken
up. The Times, of course, welcomed the opportune
discovery. Even the cautious Economist became en-
thusiastic in contemplating " the amount of vivifying
hope inspired in our working classes here by the
knowledge that they can at any moment take refuge
in a world of comparative plenty within the limits
of the British Empire." The theory wanted nothing
but a basis in fact : in this, however, it was deficient.

The emigration returns give no evidence of the
alleged preference of our emigrating classes for coun-
tries which are still under British rule : on the con-
trary, the immense majority of those who emigrate
from the British Isles pass, by choice, outside the
limits of the British empire. Even of those who

* Paper on "The Utility of Colonization," read before the British
Association, 1862.


emigrate, in the first instance, to British dependencies,
a large proportion subsequently leave them, and pass
into independent countries. The stream of emigra-
tion from Canada to the United States has lately
become so large that the Canadian people, like our-
selves, have become apprehensive of depopulation,
and only the other day * a select committee was
appointed by the Canadian Legislative Council to
report on the best means of at once attracting emigra-
tion and stopping this drain. Now we may explain
these facts as we please ; but facts they are ; and in
the presence of such facts, it does seem somewhat
preposterous to put forward the preference of our
emigrating classes for British rule as a reason for
maintaining our colonial empire. Would there not,
in truth, be more colour of reason in the converse
of the argument ?

We have not yet exhausted the motives to imperial
rule. The change in our commercial policy has, as we
have seen, disposed of one the principal ground on
which, in modern times, the theory of colonial empire
has been sustained the supposed advantages of com-
mercial monopoly. But is it certain that this change,
while removing one, has not furnished us with another
and a more valid reason for maintaining our supre-
macy ? If empire was justifiable on the principles of
commercial monopoly, is it not, now that those prin-
ciples are exploded, justifiable for the enforcement of
free trade ? Having adopted free trade for ourselves,
have we not a right is it not our duty as an imperial
nation to see to it that the same beneficent principle

* 1 6th May, 1864.


which we have established at home, shall also be the
law throughout the widely scattered regions over
which we have planted our race ? There is no doubt
that, some twenty years ago, as the approaching
triumph of free trade menaced the foundations of the
received colonial doctrines, this view presented itself
to the minds of some of our most enlightened states-
men ; * and eminently just and reasonable as the end
aimed at is, and holding out, as it does, the prospect
of large blessings to the community of nations, such
an object might seem not altogether unworthy of
being made the logical basis of imperial rule. But
here we are met by another principle equally reason-
able, equally just, and far more imperative a prin-
ciple which also, after full consideration, we have
deliberately adopted the principle of colonial self-
government. Are we prepared, frankly and in good
faith, to give effect to this principle ? If so, the ques-
tion seems to be resolved. Self-government means
government in accordance with the views of the
persons governed. If the colonists, therefore, desire
a free-trade policy, under a regime of self-government,

* "This advantage," says Sir C. Lewis, writing in 1841, "is at present
a substantial one ; but it is an advantage which is founded exclusively on
the perverse folly of independent states in imposing prohibitory and pro-
tective duties on one another's productions. . . . When civilization shall
have made sufficient progress to diffuse generally a knowledge of the few
and simple considerations which prove the expediency of the freedom of
trade, and when consequently independent states shall have abandoned
their present anti-comsnercial policy, the possession of dependencies will
no longer produce the advantage in question. The advantage consists in
possession of a specific against the evils arising from an erroneous system
of policy. Whenever the errors of the policy shall be generally perceived,
and the system shall be exploded, the specific against its evil effects will
be valueless." Government of Dependencies, pp. 229, 230.


free trade will be adopted, whether they are nominally
our subjects or not. If not, then, our imperial pre-
tensions notwithstanding, free trade will be set at
nought, and protection will be established. This is,
in fact, what in some instances has happened. Canada
has employed the legislative powers which she
received from Great Britain to lay protective duties
on British manufactures. Canada has led the way,
and Australia bids fair to follow in her steps.

And now I think we may see where it is that the
course of our colonial history has at length landed us.
People are asking whether we are to retain or part
with our colonies. It appears to me that to discuss
this question now is much like discussing the pro-
priety of locking the stable door after the steed has
gone forth. No doubt, the British colonies still, in
strict constitutional doctrine, owe allegiance to the
British crown : to withhold this allegiance would be
rebellion. But bring the question to any practical
test, and let us see what the value of this much-
prized supremacy amounts to in what tangible cir-
cumstances Great Britain impresses her will upon her
colonies ; and, on the other hand, what the attributes
of sovereignty are which these communities do not
possess which they do not at this moment actually

I have just adverted to our failure to maintain in
them the principle of free trade so just and reason-
able a claim. Again : in conceding to them self-
government, it was hoped that the mother country
might yet reserve to herself the control of the colonial
waste lands " territories," said Mr. Wakefield, " which


the nation had acquired by costly efforts, as a valuable
national property, which we have every right injustice,
and are bound by every consideration of prudence, to
use for the greatest benefit of the people of this
country." But one of the first uses which the emanci-
pated legislatures made of their newly acquired power
was to possess themselves of this national property
a possession in which they have not been since dis-
turbed. Once more, it was thought not unreasonable
that, having undertaken their defence, we should have
a voice in determining the amount of military force
they should maintain. But here too our expectations
have been falsified. For the last two years the
Home Government, backed by the Times, has in vain
employed alternate entreaties and threats to induce
the Canadians to augment their military force. Thus
in their commercial policy, in their territorial policy,
in what we may call their foreign policy (since the
view taken of their military requirements would
depend upon their opinion of external dangers), the
colonists, in the teeth of example, advice, and remon-
strance remonstrance rising sometimes almost to
menace have deliberately pursued their own way.

And now look at what is going forward in British
North America. Some half-dozen colonies have ap-
pointed deputies to meet and decide upon a consti-
tution under which they propose to coalesce into a
nation. That, in a word, is the scope of this move-
ment ; and if that be not an act of the highest
sovereignty, then it is difficult to imagine what
sovereignty means. The Canadian leaders indeed
assure us, as I observe from intelligence quite recently

P. K. E


received, of their firm purpose that the North American
colonies shall remain integral portions of the British
Empire ; but they do not tell us in what particulars
they are prepared to defer to imperial authority. They
will probably be content, as hitherto, to receive our
advice, on the condition of being permitted to decline
it when it happens not to coincide with their own
views, and they will doubtless have no objection to
receive our assistance in fighting their battles. On
these or some tantamount terms, they are content to
remain for ever loyal subjects of the British Crown.
But what does a good cause gain by professions of
"ironical allegiance?"* Disguise it as they will,
under whatever constitutional figments and sounding
phrases, the work on which they are engaged is the
same work which some eighty years ago was con-
summated on no remote scene when the thirteen
united colonies, having achieved their independence,
met together to do that which is now the busi-
ness of Canadian statesmen to make themselves
a nation.

My case might seem here complete ; but within the
last week intelligence has reached this country which
furnishes a fresh illustration of the nature of our
imperial rule so apposite to my present theme, that,

* How much more really dignified is language" like the following :
" We have come to feel that we can no longer call upon the people of
England to tax themselves for our benefit ; we have arrived at that time
of life when it is humiliating to have everything done for us, and when
we ought to assume burdens and not shrink from responsibilities of a
national- character. Out of this Union a colossal power will arise on the
American continent, with one foot on the Pacific, another on the
Atlantic." (The Hon. Mr. Archibald, leader of the Opposition in Nova
Scotia, at the Montreal dinner.)


though at the risk of prolonging unduly this address,
I am unable to resist the temptation of bringing it
before you.

I just now stated, as you will remember, that
Western Australia formed at present the single
instance among all our colonies of a convict settle-
ment. For some years this circumstance has been a
source of constant discussion between the Home
Government and the other that is to say the Eastern
Australian colonies. As I have already remarked,
transportation from a certain point of view has un-
doubtedly something to recommend it. The mother
country by its means certainly gets rid of a very un-
desirable portion of her population ; while for the
emigrant, if his object be simply to make a fortune
with all convenient speed, and return to his native
country, or migrate elsewhere, it is beyond doubt
an advantage more especially in a very sparsely
peopled country to be assured of a constant supply
of able-bodied labour. On the other hand, if the
colonist intends to make the colony his country
and home, it seems equally natural that he should
object to the practice of letting loose periodically
upon the infant community gangs of the picked
ruffians of the parent state. Whether the former con-
siderations have influenced the Western Australians
I do not undertake to say ; but it is certain that a
large number amongst them have welcomed this
species of immigration. On the other hand, the
Eastern colonies have long vehemently protested
against transportation in every form. Now, here
perhaps it will occur to you that, the case being so,

E 2


there is no reason that both parties should not be
satisfied : but at this point a hitch occurs. The
Eastern colonies, two of which are the gold-producing
districts of New South Wales and Victoria, offer far
greater attractions to the convict class as to other
classes than the bare and unpromising desert to
which the convicts are sent ; and, accordingly, so soon
as the term of their sentence is expired, large numbers
migrate to the Eastern colonies. The colony which
profits by their services is thus, so soon as those
services cease to be profitable, relieved of their
presence a circumstance which we may well believe
does not detract from the popularity of the system in
this colony. It seems that, according to the evidence
of Mr. Newlands and Mr. Torrens, both for a long
time magistrates of Southern Australia, and the latter
a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils,
" within three years after the resumption of transporta-
tion to Western Australia, over one thousand con-
ditionally pardoned and ticket-of- leave men found
their way from that colony to Adelaide, and the result
was a . rapid increase of violent assaults, robberies,
and burglarious crimes." Now I think it must be
confessed that such a state of things constitutes a
very substantial grievance. But sentiment is also
mixed up with the opposition of the Eastern Austra-
lians to the continuance of this system. " Genera-
tions," they say, "are springing up which will call
Australia their birthplace, and will make it their home.
To them it is fatherland, and they see clearly enough
that a great career lies before it." "For this reason,"

* Letter of Mr. M'Arthur in the Daily News.



adds an eloquent colonial writer, " we are jealous of
the fair fame of the land ; and we are unwilling that
colonies which contain within themselves the seeds of
great nations, should have their name and history
associated with convictism in any form. We ask, and
we have a right to ask, why should we in this colony,
who from the first have strenuously resolved that the
convict element should have no place here, have the
scum of England's moral impurity thrown down at
our next door ? " The outside world will make no
nice distinctions between Eastern and Western, free
and penal, Australia. They will only know that con-
victs are deported to Australia, and the word for
them will cover all the colonies. " Therefore," say
the colonists, " we suffer in reputation by even the
remotest contact with the evil thing."*

I confess it seems to me that language such as this
does honour to the people from whom it proceeds,
and expressing, as it does, the unanimous feeling of
communities which do not number less than a million
and a half of people, ought to have weighed for some-
thing against the eager demand for convict labour of
a few thousand Western Australians f hastening to
be rich. But it seemed otherwise to the British
Government. Last summer the determination was
taken to continue transportation to Western Australia
on the same scale as formerly. The Home Govern-
ment and the people of the Eastern colonies have thus
been brought into distinct collision ; and now I beg

* The South Australian Register, 26th March, 1864.
t The number of inhabitants in Western Australia, excluding convicts
and their families, is, according to Mr. Torrens' computation, 6,000.


you to observe the illustration this has furnished of
the value of our imperial rule.

By the last Australian mail a minute has arrived
from the Victorian Government, in which its Chief
Secretary, after premising that it has been forced upon

Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 4 of 27)