Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: NEW HOMES. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter IV.: NEW HOMES. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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Ellen was the first of the family that arrived at Hobart Town in Van Diemen's Land. Next came the convict-ship, which was sent round to Launceston to disembark its passengers; that port being nearer the district where the convict labour was to be employed. When the batch of parish emigrants arrived, a fortnight afterwards, Frank found, on application to the proper government officer, that his sister had landed in good health, and had received a high character from the clergyman and his lady who had come over as superintendents of the expedition; that Ellen had been forwarded, with a few of her fellow-passengers, to the district where a service had been procured for her as dairy-maid on a settler's farm; and that care had been taken that her parents and brother should be indentured to farmers in the same neighbourhood. So far, all was well. Frank could learn nothing about his brothers, except that they were to be landed at Launceston, and that Launceston was within thirty miles of the spot where he was to be located. The officer he was speaking to had nothing to do with the arrangements respecting convicts: his business was to take care of emigrant labourers on their arrival.
Castle himself could not help being pleased at the appearance of things at Hobart Town, when he and Frank took a walk, the evening after their arrival. The only objections he could think of were, that there were few shops; that it was not at all likely that the country inland should be half so civilized as what he saw; and that it was a thing he had not been used to, to have Christmas fall at the hottest time of the year, and the trees green all the winter through. It was now May; and they told him that winter was coming on, and yet that the woods would look as green as now all the time; and that the snow, if there was any, would not lie more than a day on any ground but the mountain tops, and a bleak common here and there. They told him that for more than three hundred days in the year the sun would shine all day, and the air be dry and pure, and seldom too hot or too cold. All this was what he had not been used to, and did not know how to believe. His son supposed that if it came true, he would not object; as one of the consequences of such a climate is that English people have much better health, and live, on the average, a good deal longer at Van Diemen's Land than at home. Castle peevishly laughed at all talk about life and health, when it was, in his opinion, doubtful whether they might not be starved to death within three months. His son left this point to be demonstrated by time rather than by argument; and meanwhile observed that there were few signs of starvation about Hobart Town, in which, besides the government residence, there are nearly eight hundred houses, most of which are surrounded with gardens; the dwellings having been originally built on separate allotments of land, of a quarter of an acre each. The streets cross at rightangles, and command fine views of the neighbouring country, and afford cheering evidences of the success of the industry which has sought employment there. A dock-yard is seen on the river's brink; and corn-mills, tanneries, breweries, a hat-manufactory, &c., are conspicuous in the midst of the town. An amphitheatre of green hills rises to the westward, the crowning summit of which is 4000 feet high; and from these hills descends a fine stream of water, flowing through the town into the Derwent, which, with its varying expanse and beautifully wooded bays and sloping shores, forms the eastern boundary. This view was little enough like what Castle had fancied in opposition to all that he had been told. He was for ever picturing to himself a region of wild woods, or bleak plains covered with snow; and he was now as much surprised at the sight of meadows, hills, dales, and a thriving town, with a blue sky overhead, as if he might not have known as much before. He had complained of his hard lot in being indentured as a shepherd; and no wonder, while he thought his flocks were to inhabit a dreary wilderness; but now that he found he had nothing to fear from storms and snow-drifts, that the pastures were excellent, the springs plentiful, and the sheep as fine as the world can produce, he began to think he might be worse off in point of occupation; though he would give nobody the satisfaction of hearing him say so. His wife was to be a domestic servant in the same farm where he was shepherd; and even little Susan was carefully stipulated for; the labour of children being valuable at almost any age, in a place where much more assistance is wanted than can be had.
The first part of their journey to the Dairy Plains, (the district where they were to settle,) was through the very choicest portion of the island, both as to beauty and fertility, It is not surprising that those who first surveyed this tract, and took it as a fair sample of the island at large, should have represented Van Diemen's Land as a terrestrial paradise, and been suspected of exaggeration through the favourableness of their report. The fact is, the island is supposed to contain about 15,000,000 acres,—one-third of which is considered arable, another third fit for sheep-pasture, and the rest unprofitable at present. The country between Hobart Town and Launceston consists of green hills and fertile plains, among which towns and villages and solitary dwellings are interspersed. Rivers wind between their wooded banks, and streams flow down from the high grounds. Excellent macadamized roads run through the whole district, and branch off to the growing settlements on either hand of the main track. It was a great amusement to Frank to compare whatever he met with that partook of the civilization of his own country with whatever looked new and strange. Before leaving Hobart Town, he had been all the more struck with its printing establishments, its Mechanics Institute, its Book Society, and schools, from observing the strangeness of the natural productions that he met at every step. In the gardens he beheld tea trees where he had been accustomed to see lilacs and laburnums; and cotton plants, myrtles, and geraniums growing as tall as himself, and spreading out into bushes. The very grass grows differently;—not stringy in the roots and carpetlike in the surface, as in England; but in tufts. Parrots, instead of canaries, were the pets of young ladies; and the bandicoot was offered for sale instead of the rabbit. Cockatoos instead of crows were to be frightened away from the fields and gardens; and flocks of pigeons among the stubble looked as much like partridges as pigeons; only more beautiful,—with their gold-dropped wings,—than either species in England. On the road, in like manner, the freestone bridge over the Jordan, the postman on horseback, the tillage and inclosures, looked British; but the evergreen woods, in the midst of which arose the peppermint tree to a lofty height;—the herds of kangaroos coming out of their covert into the dewy plains at sunrise;—the spotted opossums climbing and descending the forest trees;—the black swans sailing on the lakes, and uttering cries like the creaking of an old sign-board;—all appeared foreign, and scarcely belonging to the people who had settled among them.
A sight of a yet different character met the eyes of the travellers near the close of the second day, when they were drawing near their future abode in the province called Norfolk Plains, in the centre of which lay the Dairy Plains, where Ellen was expecting them. They had for some time quitted the broad road, and were following a track along which their waggon proceeded with tolerable convenience. At last they came to a point beyond which it had not been carried, and where a gang of labourers was at work roadmaking;—not as in England, each man intent upon his own heap of stones, flee in limb and thoughtful in countenance;—not as in Ireland, where some are lounging and all are joking; — but charged with the fetters of felons, and superintended by an armed taskmaster. As Frank looked upon these wretches, with their hardened or woful countenances, he felt indeed that he was not in England, but in one of her penal settlements,— breathing the air of one of the places where her vice and misery are deposited. His very soul became sick when, as the labourers turned to stare at the somewhat uncommon sight of a waggon full of travellers, he met the eyes of his convict brothers. He hoped that his companions would not perceive them; but he soon found that his father did, by his testy complaints of the jolting of the cart, of cold and heat, and what not. The unhappy mother looked on her outcast children with as much curiosity as compassion. Bob turned away, and stooped to his work. never looking up till they were out of sight; but Jerry waved his cap and shouted, and dared Frank to a wager which of them would first be free to work for themselves: whether it would take longest to work out his sentence, or to pay for Frank's passage and settlement. This supplied a new theme of complaint to Castle, who wrought himself up into a passion about his being a slave, with all his family. Frank, who hated bondage as much as any man, thought it could hardly be called slavery to contract to work for one person for a certain time, in return for advantages which could not otherwise be obtained. If disappointed of these advantages,—of sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and money wages,—the contract was void, and no harm done; if not disappointed, the object was gained. The evil lay, not in their case as labourers; but as honest men. Felons ought not to be let off so easily, (because their labour happened to be more valuable than at home,) as to make disgrace, for which many of them did not care, their only punishment; their worldly circumstances being actually bettered by their removal to a new colony. It was not that labourers need be better off than their family would probably be, four or five years hence; but that felons ought not to be placed in as good circumstances as the honest emigrant at the end of the same period.
Frank was not yet aware (as he afterwards became) that, for want of knowing the rate of wages at the colonies, emigrants often bind themselves for a much lower rate than they might obtain if they went free, or if they were properly informed of the existing state of things; and thus think themselves deceived, and are tempted to break their contract when they find how matters stand. This evil is to be referred to the ignorance of emigrant labourers, quite as much as to the close economy of the settlers, and should induce all who have heard of it to obtain such information before concluding their bargain as will save them from repentance afterwards, and guard them against quarrels on this score with their new masters;—quarrels, which, always a great evil, are most so in newly settled countries, where all hands and hearts are wanted to work together for the common good. As it is, a British artisan jumps at the after of a plentiful subsistence and 2s. a-day besides for five years, out of which the expenses of his removal are to be paid; and for this rate he binds himself. When he gets to his destination, he finds that this plentiful subsistence, including meat, bread, beer or spirits, tea, sugar, comfortable clothing, and a convenient dwelling, costs no more than 2s. a-day, and that, if free, he might earn, being a good workman, from 7s. to 12s. a-day, or even 15s., if he be a superior mechanic of a scarce class. It is mortifying to find that he has sold himself, however much higher than formerly, for less than he is worth in his new position; and hence arise discontents which embitter the first years of his new life, if they do not occasion a breach of contract. The friends of a rational plan of emigration should do their utmost to make known to as many as it may concern, to what extent labour is wanted in the colonies,— what is the rate of money wages in each, and what those money wages will procure. The official information on these points transmitted from Van Diemen's Land in 1827, was, that common labourers earn 3s. per day; common mechanics 7s.; better mechanics, from 8s. to 12s.; best ditto, from 12s. to 15s.; and persons of peculiar qualifications, fitted to superintend farms or other undertakings, 1l. a-day. Since that time, wages are understood to have risen. The price of wheat is 7s. a bushel; meat, 2d. or 3d. per lb.; sugar, from 3d. to 6d.; and tea, from 1s. 6d. to 4s. per 1b.—No wonder that, amidst all their gratitude at being well provided for, many such workmen as Frank are vexed and mortified to find how much more they might have made of their labour.
Far other feelings, however, than those of discontent were awakened in Frank by the aspect of his new abode. It was almost in a state of nature, his employer, Mr. Stapleton, having preceded him to take possession only a few days before: but it was far from being a desolate spot in the midst of a waste, as settlers' farms are wont to be in colonies where the unwise object is to disperse the inhabitants, instead of bringing them near to enjoy the advantages of a division of labour and reciprocity of consumption. The Dutch government at the Cape of Good Hope formerly forbade settlers to approach within three miles of each other; and thus effectually prevented the full improvement of the land, the construction of roads, and the opening of a market for exchanges. Hence the Dutch settlers at the Cape are to this day deprived of many advantages of civilized life. They have too much of whatever they grow, and too little of what they would fain buy; and are debarred the comforts of society and mutual help. These evils are likely to be avoided by the method of disposing of land now adopted by our government in Australia; the land being sold on terms which make it the interest of the settler to improve his tract, and to take advantage of a neighbourhood which may relieve him of some of his produce. Mr. Stapleton, having been obliged to choose his land carefully, and to pay 9s. an acre for it, (instead of 6d., or nothing at all, like some of the earlier inhabitants,) was not tempted to wander away into the wilderness, and sit down where he might happen to like the prospect, or to be smitten with some new discovery of fish-ponds, woods, and meadows, He made his choice instead among the lands of a certain district; and selected such, as to extent and quality, as would on the whole best suit his purposes, in conjunction with the privileges of a neighbourhood. His land, though not of the very first quality, was good enough to have fetched 15s. per acre, if it had lain somewhat more to the north or east, where the country was rapidly becoming better peopled; but it stretched towards the unoccupied districts at the foot of the western mountains, and was less valuable than if it had been surrounded by civilization, instead of only bordering upon it.—It consisted,—not of jungle and forest ground, where room must be made by the axe before seed could be sown and sunshine visit it; but of a lightly timbered and undulating surface of grass land, wanting only a single burning to render it fit for the plough, or for a new growth of pasture. The trees were not of the nature of copse and thicket; but growing in clumps a hundred feet apart, and with clear stems, measuring ninety feet or more to the lowest branch; thus affording spots for shade and shelter without interfering with tillage. The boundaries, where not formed by natural streams, were fixed by marking the trees; and there was no immediate need of fences where neither man nor beast was likely to trespass, and where there was at present no live stock that could be in danger of straying. No one was near who could be tempted to steal; for none were poor. The wild cattle, which in former days did great mischief on the grounds of the settler, had long ago been driven among the mountains, where it was supposed the race had died out, as none now appeared. The few oxen and horses that Stapleton brought with him were kept near the dwelling; and the rest of the stock was not to follow till all was in readiness for its reception. A rude shed had been hastily constructed for shelter, under a clump of trees; and a few sawn planks were lying about: by which Frank saw that the materials of his business were ready for him to begin upon without delay. Tools and utensils were stowed away in corners, or heaped under the trees, till their proper places were provided for them; and a goodly row of casks and packages of provision stood in the background. Frank had believed that his spirit of enterprise had died within him under the hardships of his own country; but he now felt it revive in a moment; and was anything but dismayed at the prospect of what he had to do in his capacity of carpenter, before the scene before him could put on the appearance of a snug and well-managed farmstead. He saw in fancy the day when a little hamlet of weather-boarded cottages would be sending up their blue smoke among those trees; when cattle-sheds and sheep-pens would stretch out behind the dwellings, and the busy forge and creaking timber-wain would drown the cry of the quail, and scare away the kangaroos that were now leaping over the plains. He did not forget to add a very superior workshop and timber-yard to his picture of his own dwelling; or to imagine his father looking down from among his flock on the hills, or Ellen within sight, going forth in the bright early morning with her milk-pail.
As if to answer to his thought, Ellen now appeared. She had stolen half an hour to run in search of Mr. Stapleton, to ask once more how soon he thought Frank might possibly arrive. Mr. Stapleton was almost as eager for the event as herself; but he knew no more, and was just dismissing her, disappointed, when the waggon was heard approaching. While she waited a moment, straining her sight to make out whether it was the right party, before she ran to meet them, her brother jumped out, and even Castle started up with more alacrity than he had shown since they landed. Before they could well greet one another, Stapleton came up to ask where Frank's tools were, and to tell him that he was wanted very much indeed. He could not refuse him permission to go forward one mile, in order to deposit Castle and his wife at their new abode; but he lent a hand towards emptying the waggon of his workman's packages, and gave him notice that he should be glad to see him back the first possible moment.
“You will soon find what great people such as we are here,” said Ellen, laughing. “This is the place to grow proud in. No more lounging about the fields, Frank; no more leaning over gates chewing straws, while nobody inquires for one. You will never need to touch your hat and ask for work here; people will come begging you to be so very kind as to put up a door for any pay you please. This is the place to grow proud in.”
Frank observed, with a grave smile, that pride was dangerous to one in Ellen's place.
“Well, then, I will be proud of you, and you shall be proud of me; and no harm can come of that.”
The first time that the brother and sister could obtain few minutes, conversation without being overheard, Frank inquired,
“Now, Ellen, tell me straight forward. How do you like your change?”
“Why, I more than half like it; but there are some things I do not like.—It is a fine thing to be so well off, and to know that I shall be so: hard, do not mind the work, though it is rather and I to be sure; and my cows are nothing but a credit to me, and I have seen no animals to be afraid of when I go out milking, though some of them leap about very strangely indeed; and my mistress makes much of me, as I told you; and her little worries are not much to be wondered at when one thinks of the confusion we live in just now; and I dare say there will be an end of them when we get our soap and candles made out of the house, and another hand or two to help in the brewing and washing. And then to think that father and you are so well off——”
“But tell me what there is that you do not like.”
Ellen almost shuddered when she whispered that her servant, who ate at the same table, and slept in the same room, and was her companion almost all day, was a convict, and had been sent to this country for robbing an aged mistress who had confided in her, and deserved gratitude instead of treachery from her. To be compelled to hold daily and hourly intercourse with such a person was a very great evil, and one which doubled Frank's anxiety about his sister. He was bled to hear that there was a probability of the woman marrying as soon as she could, obtain a remission of her servitude by steady conduct.
A half smile which he perceived on Ellen's lips when this part of the story was being told, made him question her further respecting the evils of her situation, or the trials which she might not be disposed to consider exactly as evils. The idea in her mind was that which he suspected,— that she might quit her service before her convict companion. — Frank looked graver than ever. Who—what—where was he,—the person that seemed to have made advances in Ellen's good graces already? She was eager to explain that there was no one in particular yet. It was too early for her to have looked about and settled her mind yet;—but there was this one, and that one, and the other one, that carried her pail for her, morning and evening, however busy he might be: or was ready to teach her how to clean and card wool; or showed her what a pretty little homestead he was about to have in the neighbourhood, and intimated how happy she might be as the mistress of it.
“They hinder my work sadly, and their own too,” continued she, blushing, “for all I tell them that i have nothing to say to any body yet. I am so afraid any of them should have been convicts, (though I am sure Harry Moore never was;) and I dare not ask mistress any thing about them.”
“Ask her, by all means,” said Frank. “Or I will ask your master, if you wish it. They only can tell us, and it is a point we must find out. Meantime, keep to your business as quietly as you can. What makes you so sure that Moore (is not that his name?) was never a convict?”
Ellen could give no better reason than that she could wager her life upon it. She thought her brother grown very pertinacious on a sudden, because this was not perfectly satisfactory to him; but Frank was not pertinacious — only wary and affectionate.