CHAPTER XVI. THE LAND AND THE SQUATTERS
Land grants - Who the squatters were - Pastoral districts and licences - Bourke's policy - Special surveys - The pound per acre system - Gipps's policy - Conquest of Australia by the colonist - Ridley's stripper - Farrer's Federation wheat - John Macarthur and the wool trade - The aboriginals.
Great Britain, by becoming possessed of Australia, assumed the task of disposing of an area as large as three fourths of Europe including Russia. Very much of this country was equal in fertility to the richest soil in the world, and it was capable, given favourable economic conditions, of growing every product that can minister to the necessities or the luxury of mankind. All grades of climate, from tropical to temperate, were to be found within this capacious dominion. All kinds of domestic animals would thrive in it. Many nutritious grasses unknown elsewhere covered its great plains. Immense forests of valuable timber flourished on its hillsides. Its rocks were veined with minerals. A wonderful treasury of precious metals was revealed within a little over half a century.
No one consistent line of policy could have been pursued in making this country available to those who would use it, first because the conditions changed, and secondly because it was only gradually that the possibilities were realized. In the beginning the idea of controlling the whole continent was not in the minds of British statesmen; indeed, they did not know that it was a single continent. Even if they had known, they had no idea of its value. They merely wanted a remote piece of territory for the purposes of a convict colony. If, for instance Napoleon had said that he desired to have a piece of Australia for France when negotiating the Treaty of Amiens in 1800, there is no reason to believe that Great Britain would have objected. The area defined by the Commission of the Governor of New South Wales was quite sufficient for her purpose; and she gave up possessions which seemed to her, then, to be more valuable than this country was.
It would be absurd to blame British statesmen for not pursuing a definite land policy from the commencement, because there was no need for one. There was plenty of room for convicts and settlers, and it seemed no great thing to give a wide expanse to a person to whom the Government wished to be indulgent. Governor Hunter offered 100 acres and a staff of convict servants to every officer who would cultivate. During the administration of Grose and Paterson convicts who had not served their sentences were given slips of paper upon which was written, 'A. B. has my permission to settle,' and 'this slip of paper served them as a sufficient authority to fix wherever they pleased.' There is record of Governors granting as much as 1,280 acres to the daughters of persons of good standing as a marriage portion. Free grants were made down to the year 1831, when the Colonial Office ordered the substitution of the method of sale by auction. By this time 3,963,705 acres had been granted either freely or at a trifling quit-rent.
When the Blue Mountains were crossed, and the value of the lands beyond was appreciated, capital as well as immigration was attracted. The Australian Agricultural Company, incorporated by Royal Charter under a special Act of Parliament, in 1824, 'for the cultivation and improvement of waste lands in the colony of New South Wales,' obtained 500,000 acres for nothing. It was even given coal-mines at Newcastle. Part of the company's estate was selected after 1831, when Governor Bourke energetically protested against the alienation of so huge an area, but was overruled by his official superiors. The company thus richly endowed still carries on its profitable operations. The Van Diemen's Land Company, which also worked under a Royal Charter (1825), secured over 400,000 acres for a trifling quit-rent of 468 pounds.
The legitimate allocation of land, whether by grant or sale, in large or moderate areas, was disturbed by the unauthorised proceedings of the squatters. The word 'squatter' is of American origin, and was used in that country in the latter half or the eighteenth century in very much the same sense as that in which it was at first applied in Australia. A squatter was a person who entered into occupation of land to which he had no title. Later use in Australia has given to it quite a different meaning. A squatter is now conceived as a man who owns or leases a large quantity of land upon which he grows wool or breeds cattle or horses. But in the second decade of the nineteenth century, when the word came into general employment, it signified one who had gone out to the unoccupied territories and had there, without official sanction, built a hut and depastured sheep or cattle, which he had perhaps obtained dishonestly. 'These persons,' said a witness before the House of Commons Committee of 1815, 'are almost invariably the instigators and promoters of crime, receivers of stolen property, illegal vendors of spirits, and harbourers of runaways, bushrangers, and vagrants.' James Macarthur (the son of John) writing in a similar strain in his book on New South Wales (1837), spoke of 'persons denominated squatters,' as 'mostly convicts holding tickets of leave or having become free by servitude'; they carried on 'an extensive system of depredation upon the flocks and herds and the property of the established settlers.'