CHAPTER III. The Convict Class...
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The Convict Class--My Father as a Master--Ambition of the Class to have their Children Well Educated--My Father's First Family--Mrs. Chisholm in Australia--Free Grants of Land--Anecdote of Early Governor and his Aide-de-Camp.
My father had, amongst his servants, the reputation of being a good master. I have often heard his old servants, mostly of the convict class, best specimens of which I always took a strong personal interest in, say of him, that there had never been a better master in the colony. I remember enough of him to know that he was very strict in his requirements as to work, ever hating a lazy man, but ready, at all times, and in every way, to encourage and help along the road of life a man who, turning his back upon his miserable past, showed a strong determination to turn over a new leaf, and to lead a new and a better life. By many such men, he had the good fortune to be well and faithfully served. In my early days, having had pointed out to me a good few of old men formerly his assigned servants (convicts) who had been singularly successful in business, having grown rich indeed; I can well believe that he at once recognised a strong and likely man. In those days, it cost him but little to serve such men--it was but to put them into the way of doing something for themselves, to ensure their future prosperity. In the position that he occupied, at that time, endless opportunities of serving his old and faithful servants presented themselves; and it is highly satisfactory to know, having been told as much by those who, in many ways, had substantially benefitted by his kind consideration, that he seldom lost time in giving effect to his good intentions.
I have before me, at this moment, a newspaper extract, from a work on the colony of New South Wales, written by one who had been transported to the colony, but for a purely political offence. Shortly after his landing in Australia, he would appear to have been assigned to my father, who, quickly discovering his superiority to the average convict, employed him as an overseer. He thus writes of his old master:--"He, Mr. Cox, was truly a good man; and a
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good friend to every honest man he met with." Of this man it may be fairly said that he was unfortunate, having, in a moment of political excitement, committed himself to an extent that those charged with the maintenance of peace and order in Ireland, could not overlook.
Of course, it need not be mentioned, that the majority of those who were sent out to the colony at their country's expense were not political offenders, but criminals convicted of all sorts of offences; and many of these had to be treated with a firmness bordering on severity. But it is surely something worth recording, that so large a number of the very worst class of convicts that were sent across the sea, were capable of being reformed into useful and enterprising settlers. I remember hearing it said of such men, that, "first, they get on; then, they get onner (honour); and at last, they get onnest (honest). "It was with my father, as I suppose it may be said of many another good man, that when he trusted a man at all, he trusted him outright.
The generation to which those old and faithful servants belonged, is passed away. Their successors, their sons, men of education and wealth, are now filling some of the highest offices of State, proving to the world that they understand and appreciate the blessings of free institutions.
In the case of New South Wales, the time has long since arrived when, in an election to the House of Representatives, a man born in the old country is very severely handicapped entering into competition with one born in the colony. The short period, in the history of the colony, that it has taken to bring about these results is very remarkable, and the aptitude displayed by the present generation for political and parliamentary life, ought to give solid satisfaction to those who had a hand in framing colonial constitutions. The ambition of the class to which I refer, has always been to make sacrifices, to give to their children the very best education that the colony afforded, and, in most cases, their sons and daughters have shown themselves eager to make the most of their opportunities and advantages.
In the year 1844, or thereabouts, Australia was visited by a Mrs. Chisholm, who, while in England, lectured and wrote much, and enthusiastically, upon the advantages of immigration to the colony of New South Wales. She had made several trips to the colony, and
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was properly regarded as somewhat of an authority in connection with such matters. She gave evidence before a committee of the House of Lords, imparting much valuable information to those desiring it, upon the social condition of the colony, speaking in high terms of many of its sons and daughters. Instancing one, in particular, who was better qualified, she said, than anyone she knew of, to enlighten the committee upon such subjects, recommending that he should be invited to attend their next meeting. He came, and soon satisfied the committee that he well knew what he was talking about. This man, who was the son of a convict, had received a first-class education, and, unquestionably had the manners of a gentleman. The noble chairman was so pleased with the general intelligence and manners of the colonial, that he invited him to his house, to meet the members of the committee. All but one accepted the invitation; he declined, "not caring," he said, "to sit down at the same table with the son of a convict." "He was a gentleman," he said, " and had no fancy for the society of those who were not born of gentlemen." "Then," said the peer, who had invited him, "hand back your invitation, and let me assure you, that the person referred to is, by intellect, education, and manners, more deserving of the title than the man who has refused to meet him." If the fathers, when banished from their country, realised "Paradise Lost" the sons may be said to have inherited "Paradise Regained."
Of my father, and the life that he led in the colony, I have not much more to write. It will happen that I shall further, incidentally, refer to him in the course of these " recollections." It is a matter of regret to me, and somewhat against the completeness of the work that I have undertaken, that I am not writing in Australia, where I might have had valuable assistance from members of the family.
Of my father's first family, none are living, the last of them having died, quite ten years ago. Many years before his death, which happened in 1837, all his sons of that family were settled in the colonies, and, with no exception, were doing well. One settled in Tasmania, the rest in New South Wales. They all entered heartily into country pursuits, selecting a homestead in the county of Cumberland, where they lived out their lives, surrounded by their families. They entered largely into squatting, upon the discovery and opening up of the interior of the colony.
I refrain from dwelling, at length, upon their lives and doings,
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only intending to refer further to them where they seem to be connected with the rise and progress of Australia, or form a part of the story of my own life.
But of that first family there was one who gave such abundant proof that his inner life was pure and peaceful, that I cannot refrain from lingering in recollection over him. I allude to George, my father's third son. He always seemed to me to be the least selfish of men. As children, we were quite as much at home in his house and amongst his family, as in our own home; and when he died, I was conscious of a loss that the passing of many years has failed to efface the recollection of. He lived a long and busy life. Seasoned to out-of-door occupations by early training and habit, he seemed to take the greatest possible pleasure in such work. He was not a bad judge of a horse; but he was always regarded as an authority in all questions touching the breeding and management of sheep and cattle, and one of the few, in those early days, who spared no expense in forming flocks of the former, and herds of the latter. To this day, his sons, and others of the name, are well-known all over the colonies as successful breeders of merino sheep and Hereford cattle. Devoting a great deal of time and attention to these pursuits, he still found time and means to surround himself with orchards, vineyards, shrubberies, and gardens. It might be said of him, with truth, that if the raising of stock was the business of his life, the laying out of ornamental grounds, the planting of trees, shrubs, and flowers, was his recreation. I should not have greatly erred had I spoken of it as his passion. Visitors were often heard to ask when, at what period of his life, and where, he had learnt it all, knowing that he had left England as a boy, before his eyes could have been trained to take in the beauties of landscape gardening. The right answer to this would have been that it had not been taught to him, but that it was simply a natural taste born in him, and matured under favourable conditions.
At a time when Church people were not much given to decorating their churches, he was often to be seen approaching his parish church laden with flowers and evergreens, arranging them with a taste that could hardly be improved upon, even in these days, when such matters have well-nigh reached their utmost development. And in doing all this, his single and simple idea was to make God's house look beautiful.
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His home establishment was on a large scale, in-doors, as well as out-of-doors. He was hospitable to an extent that I have never known to be surpassed, and the head and centre of as happy a family party as it has ever been my good fortune to be brought into contact with. He was what could be consistently called a religiously-minded man, worshipping God and loving his fellow men with a devotion and thoroughness not often seen in these days, when the thing men seem most afraid of is the being suspected of being very much in earnest about anything or anybody. He had his reward even in this world, as all such men have, for he had friends amongst every class or section of society. All through his life he was to me as a father, a brother and a friend.
Like many another good man, he had his prejudices, and the one I have often heard him openly acknowledge was a prejudice against the study and profession of law. Law he abominated and ever kept clear of; and it must have cost him an effort to love men engaged in the practice of it. I well remember that on my leaving school it became a question with my guardians, he being one of them, what was best to be done with me. Some thought that it would be well to put me into a lawyer's office for a term; but this law-abominating, simple-minded old brother thought differently, saying that it seemed to him a strange thing indeed to put me where I was bound to learn mischief, and all by the way of keeping me out of mischief. He, however, in this important matter, to me, was overruled, but he besought me, with tears in his eyes, not to take it up as a profession when I became a man. Let me add here that my stay in a lawyer's office was very short--long enough to ruin my hand-writing, but not long enough to enable me to acquire a knowledge of law, its principles and practice. The legal knowledge that I carried away with me was never a burden to me.
There was about the house and home of this old brother an air of abundance and solid comfort, backed up as it always was by a warm welcome towards all who partook of its hospitalities, that made visitors feel very much at home in the house and in the midst of the family at Winbourne, Mulgoa, where this energetic, hospitable, and home-loving man spent a long, a useful, and a happy life. He has gone the road that we must all travel in our turn, but he has left behind him in the hearts and minds of his family and friends very tender memories--impressions never to be wholly obliterated.
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That those who are destined to read these pages may see that I have not said over much in speaking enthusiastically of the estimation in which this good soul was held by a large number of people, I insert here a short extract from an obituary notice that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. They write thus of him:--"As a landlord, a master, a friend, as well as a liberal and warm-hearted Christian, and one of the best and most single-hearted of men, he attracted to himself a love and respect (and this from all classes) which it is the lot of few men to win in so large a measure. One of the most noticeable features in his character was his considerateness both for the wants and infirmities of others, especially of his dependants, and thus it was, doubtles, that his servants remained with him so unusually long, some even for forty years. His death was such as became a Christian. His body was borne to the grave by eight of his old servants, and was followed by a large number of relatives and friends."
The Australian Churchman, after writing at somewhat greater length in reference to him, winds up thus:--"Little children had always been his delight. Their innocence ever found an echo in his child-like mind; so strong was this affinity that they seemed to be irresistibly drawn towards him." My readers will forgive me for culling these flowers of friendship, these expressions of tender memories of one who to all the world seemed so attractive, and so full of the "charity that never faileth."
I visited Tasmania twice--first in 1847, and again in 1862. It seemed at that time a dull place to live in, although blessed with a climate not to be surpassed. The dulness was attributable to the fact of many of the old settlers, with their families, having left it to reside in the Old Country. That day seems sooner or later to come in all colonies. Already in New Zealand to some extent we are beginning to fall into this fashion set by the other colonies. Doubtless an old country affords greater attractions than a colony to rich people, the business of whose life is recreation. A colony is admittedly a suitable place as a residence for people who have work to do all the year round, and find little time for recreation. But for one not engaged in politics, not working in a profession, or not personally superintending his speculations, it affords but few attractions. But it cannot yet be said that a large number of successful colonists in New Zealand have turned away from the scene of their labours and
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the source of their wealth. I think it may be said rather that the majority are in a mood to make New Zealand their home, quite content with their surroundings. That is well, for the sake of their families, their sons and daughters, who are thoroughly English in their feelings, habits, pastimes and prejudices, and, I am bold enough to say, equal--physically, intellectually, and morally--to those from whom they are sprung. They are blessed with a climate favourable to the growth and development of athletes, and in season and out of season I stoutly maintain that out of England there is no place to be compared to New Zealand--a prejudice probably, but, one based upon pretty solid ground. The only climate that I know of to be preferred to it is that of Tasmania, which, in a few words, is New Zealand without the winds.
In the early days of the colony of New South Wales, the system of free grants of land was adopted. For many years, during the days when the colony was thinly populated, such were freely bestowed upon all who had enterprise enough to saddle themselves with the burden of possession. But not all men in those days cared to become landowners. And I have a little story to tell, illustrative of this, by which it will be seen that an old soldier who, during the first few years of his military career in Australia, whilst acting as aide-de-camp to one of the early Governors, could hardly have been regarded as enterprising.
The Governor, on the eve of his departure from the Colony, said to this young soldier, then in the prime of bachelorhood: "Now, my young friend, I am off to-morrow for the Old Country, and there is not the remotest chance of my ever again breathing an Australian atmosphere; but as I am leaving you behind, and the probability is that, like many another of His Majesty's servants, you will remain in the colony and become a settler, I should like, while power is still vested in me, to do you a good turn. What say you to a free grant of land? All that you see around these beautiful bays, forming the finest harbour in the world, and all in the direction of Wooloomooloo, is open for selection--bound, long before you have done with the world, to become a suburb to a large city, and to grow into great value. Say the word, and I will issue instructions to have a Crown grant prepared." The young soldier's reply was: "Thank you very much, sir, for your good intentions, but as there is not the slightest prospect of my leaving the service, or of returning to the Colony
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when I once get away from it, and as it would be a little inconvenient to me at the present moment to pay the first demand on the issue of a Crown grant, you will forgive me for declining to be transferred into a land-owner."
The man to whom this offer was made, and who could not see his way to pay down £5, or less even, to cover the fees chargeable upon the issue of a Crown grant, lived to become a settler (having left the service), was blessed with the biggest of blessings--viz., a wife and twelve babies--but was not blessed with abundant means. He himself, when an old man, told me the story, and in telling it, expressed his wonder that he ever could have been such an idiot as to turn his back on such an offer.
Free grants of land to those who were ready to take them, were at that time freely bestowed. I think all settlers in the days of which I am now writing expected a grant of land on the occasion of the birth of a child. I know that many brides were thus dowered by a paternal Government.