CHAPTER XI. THE PROBLEM OF THE RIVERS
The discovery of these rich, well-watered plains beyond the mountains opened a new realm. It was now certain that for 500 miles west of Sydney there was land where great flocks and herds could pasture and large communities of people could thrive. From this time the attitude of the British Government towards free settlement in Australia changed. Before the journeys of Evans and Oxley the official disposition had not been encouraging. New South Wales was a penal colony first and foremost, and, as we have seen, Macquarie during his long governorship cared far more about the welfare of the convicts and emancipists than about free colonists. He frankly disliked what he called 'gentlemen settlers,' who wanted concessions and were often vexatiously critical. He grumbled that it had become a constant practice 'for persons who wish to get rid of some troublesome connections to obtain permission from the Secretary of State's office for their being allowed to come out here.' Let them stay in England; he did not want them. The Government in England, too, required 'satisfactory testimonials and recommendations from persons of known respectability' before granting permission to persons to emigrate to New South Wales.
But the discoveries on the far side of the mountains changed the point of view entirely. As soon as the news reached England a fresh policy was inaugurated. The Government not only threw down the barriers but began to advertise the attractions of New South Wales as a field for immigration. Newspaper and magazine articles frequently appeared which enlarged upon the opportunities presented by this wonderful, new, unoccupied dominion, where land grants could be obtained so easily and where a small capital would secure for a man a greater stretch of broad acres than were owned by many a prosperous English squire. A new era had dawned. In 1818 Lord Sidmouth said in the House of Commons, 'the dread of transportation had almost entirely subsided, and had been succeeded by a desire to emigrate to New South Wales.' Proofs of the change were of frequent occurrence. The emigrant ship as well as the convict transport became familiar in Port Jackson. Australia came to be looked upon as a land of hope and promise instead of as an abode of despair. This great and striking difference was made by the discovery of the plains across the Blue Mountains.
The inflow of immigrants necessitated a change of policy in the classification of convicts. It was evidently desirable to keep Sydney as free as possible from characters who would be likely to give trouble. Consequently it was desirable to find a place along the coast where an establishment might be formed for the handling of bad cases.
In search of such a place, John Oxley in 1823 went north in the MERMAID. He examined Port Curtis, but did not think it suitable. On his return he anchored at Moreton Bay, and there, to his great surprise, met a white man named Pamphlet, who for several weeks had been living with a tribe of aboriginals. Pamphlet had been one of a boat's crew who had been blown out to sea and wrecked on Moreton Island. One of his four companions had died of thirst, a second had started to tramp to Sydney, whilst the third, Finnegan, was at the time when Oxley met Pamphlet out hunting with the chief of the aboriginal tribe, who had treated the white men with great kindness. On the following day Oxley met Finnegan. From these two men he learned of the existence of a large river falling into Moreton Bay. They had crossed it, and were the discoverers of it. Oxley, guided by Finnegan, examined it for some miles from the mouth, and, congratulating himself on the finding of the largest fresh-water river on the east coast of New South Wales, named it the Brisbane after the Governor.
In the following year, 1824, was founded upon the banks of the Brisbane a new colony expressly for the punishment of convicts who, since they had been in New South Wales, had been convicted of further crimes and sentenced to transportation for them. In 1825 the river was explored for 150 miles by Major Lockyer, who showed how fertile was the soil in the interior. 'Nothing,' he wrote in his journal, 'can possibly excel the fine rich country we are now in.' A touch of humanity in Major Lockyer's journal deserves remembrance. He had maintained friendly relations with aboriginals whom he met, and, on taking his departure, desired to purchase a handsome puppy which one of them had in his arms. 'I offered a small axe for it. His companion urged him to take it, and he was about to do so when he looked at his dog, and the animal licked his face, which settled the business. He shook his head, determined to keep it. I tried him afterwards with handkerchiefs of glaring colours and other things, but it would not do - he would not part with his dog. I gave him, however, the axe and the handkerchief.'
Early in 1824, Governor Brisbane, desiring to obtain information about the country to the south of Sydney - that is, the part now known as Victoria - conceived the strange idea of landing a party of convicts near Wilson's Promontory or Cape Howe, providing them with equipment for a long journey, and directing them to make, the best of their way to the shores of Port Jackson. If they arrived safely they were to receive 'suitable rewards and indulgences.' If they died on the way that would be their misfortune. But he was dissuaded from this plan, and instead of it he gave some assistance to an expedition led by Messrs. Hume and Hovell.