CHAPTER XXIII. DEMOCRACY AT WORK
Free scope left to the colonies - The protection afforded them - Napoleon III and his supposed designs on Australia - The SHENANDOAH incident - The ballot - Constitutional reforms - Women enfranchised - Elective and nominee councils - Cowper's quarrel with the Council in New South Wales - McCulloch's protection policy in Victoria - David Syme - The Victorian constitutional struggle - The Darling grant - Payment of members - Black Wednesday - Reform of Victorian Council.
The Australian colonies, having been endowed with complete self-governing powers in the manner previously described, were free to work out their own political destinies under the protection of the British flag, but with a minimum of interference from the British Government. They were at liberty to dispose of their lands as they chose, to raise revenue as they chose - they could tax imports from each other and from the mother-country, since no restrictions were placed upon their fiscal freedom - to make whatever laws they chose relative to their own form of government, the franchise, the relations of capital and labour, and everything else within the domain of social and political organization. They were enfranchised democracies, with scope for exercising democratic government under such favourable conditions as had rarely occurred before in the history of the world. They were relieved from trouble concerning foreign aggression, because they were sheltered by the greatest naval power in the world. That security was the dominating fact in the history of Australia. Her people, while they were developing their resources and shaping their institutions, never had any serious anxiety about the safety of their country.
There were occasional 'scares,' when wars and rumours of wars occupied the public mind, but there never was any serious danger. During the Crimean War, in 1854, the people of both Sydney and Melbourne were alarmed lest Russian cruisers should raid their ports. Sir William Denison, who was Governor of New South Wales at the time, had been an officer of the Royal Engineers, and took a lively interest in the fortification of Port Jackson. Fort Denison, which in later years came to be variously regarded as a picturesque survival or as an impediment to navigation, according to the disposition of the beholder, was constructed. Guns were also placed so as to command the entrance to the port and its channels. But the excitement was soon allayed, and there was no real cause for it, though it can be understood in view of the paucity of information as to what was happening in Europe; for there was no submarine cable at that time.
A curious document exists which, if genuine, shows that the Emperor Napoleon III at one time gave thought to the possibility of making an attack on Australia. While Lord John Russell was Foreign Secretary in Great Britain this paper came into his possession. Having read it, he put it in an envelope, scaled it up, and endorsed it with the words: 'Private. Very important. Questions drawn up by Empr. Napoleon with view of seizing our Australian colonies and reviving privateering. 1853.' The paper itself purports to reveal a series of questions 'upon the English colonies in Australia.' The questions related to the distribution of the population, whether the rule of the mother-country was popular, how many soldiers were in the country, what places were fortified, what artillery there was, whether 10,000 men would suffice to hold Victoria against any force which the English might bring to retain the colony, which would be the best points for a landing, what would be the principal obstacles to the success of such an expedition, whether Algerian troops would be well adapted for such an enterprise, and whether 'Geelong, Melbourne and Mount Alexander could be well fortified in a short space of time.' The spelling of Port Phillip as 'Port Phillippe' suggests that the person who supplied Lord John Russell with the information was a Frenchman; but the document is not in French, though it professed to be copied from an original written by Napoleon III. The copyist said, 'want of time, or rather the danger of discovery, did not allow of a complete copy being taken.'
Russell's informant was therefore, clearly, a spy, and was probably paid for the information he supplied. Whether in this instance he was supplying correct information is doubtful. Two of the questions do not indicate an intelligent knowledge of Australian geography. (1) The sensational gold discoveries at Mount Alexander in 1851-2 gave prominence to that place in the newspapers, but it is not easy to believe that Napoleon III considered that inland hill, near Castlemaine, a suitable position for fortification. (2) Another question referred to 'the colonies of Victoria and Sydney.' Although Lord John Russell thought the document 'important' in 1853, we should not now consider it as more than interesting. There is certainly nothing to corroborate the assertion of the spy that Napoleon III thought of attacking Australia.