Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

 

CHAPTER VIII. OUR COLONIES

If now we turn our eyes a while from the foreign and domestic concerns of Great Britain proper, and look
to the Greater Britain beyond the seas, we shall find that its progress has nowise lagged behind that of the

mother Isle. To Lord Durham, the remarkable man sent out in 1838 to deal with the rebellion in Lower

Canada, we owe the inauguration of a totally new scheme of colonial policy, which has been crowned

with success wherever it has been introduced. It has succeeded in the vast Canadian Dominion, now

stretching from ocean to ocean, and embracing all British North America, with the single exception of

the Isle of Newfoundland. In 1867 this Federation was first formed, uniting then only the two Canadas

with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, under a constitution framed on Lord Durham's plan, and

providing for the management of common affairs by a central Parliament, while each province should

have its own local legislature, and the executive be vested in the Crown, ruling through its Governor

General. It had been made competent for the other provinces of British North America to join this

Federation, if they should so will; and one after another has joined it, with the one exception mentioned

above, which may or may not be permanent. The population of the Dominion has trebled, and its

revenues have increased twenty-fold, since its constitution was thus settled.

The same system, it may be hoped, will equally succeed in that wonderful Australasia where our
colonists now have the shaping of their destinies in their own hands, amid the yet unexplored amplitude

of a land where "in the softest and sweetest air, and in an unexhausted soil, the fable of Midas is

reversed; food does not turn to gold, but the gold with which the land is teeming converts itself into

farms and vineyards, into flocks and herds, into crops of wild luxuriance, into cities whose recent origin

is concealed and compensated by trees and flowers."

In such terms does a recent eye-witness describe the splendid prosperity attained within the last two or
three decades by that Australia which our fathers thought of chiefly as a kind of far-off rubbish-heap

where they could fling out the human garbage of England, to rot or redeem itself as it might, well out of

the way of society's fastidious nostril, and which to our childhood was chiefly associated with the wild

gold-fever and the wreck and ruin which that fever too often wrought. The transportation system, so far

as Australia was concerned, came virtually to an end with the discovery of gold in the region to which we

had been shipping off our criminals. The colonists had long been complaining of this system, which at

first sight had much to recommend it, as offering a fair chance of reformation to the convict, and

providing cheap labour for the land that received him. But it was found, as a high official said, that

convict labour was far less valuable than the uncompelled work of honest freemen; and the contagious

vices which the criminal classes brought with them made them little welcome. When to these drawbacks

were added the difficulties and dangers with which the presence of the convict element in the population

encumbered the new gold-mining industry, the question reached the burning stage. The system was

modified in 1853, and totally abolished in 1857. Transports whose sentence were unexpired lingered out

their time in Tasmania, whence the aborigines have vanished under circumstances of cruelty assuredly

not mitigated by the presence of convicts in the island; but Australia was henceforth free from the blight.

The political life of these colonies may be said to have begun in the same year - 1853 - when the
importation of criminals received its first check. New South Wales, the eldest of the Australian

provinces, received a genuine constitution of its own; Victoria followed in 1856 - Victoria, which is not

without its dreams of being one day "the chief State in a federated Australia," an Australia that may then

rank as "a second United States of the Southern Hemisphere." Western Australia, South Australia,

Queensland, Tasmania, and New Zealand, one after another, attained the same liberties; all have now

 

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