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1-211 (Original)

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author,male,Forbes, C. J.,un addressee
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Government English
Petitions & Proclamations
Bennett, 1979
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1-211.txt — 6 KB

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A great deal of the present anomalous system of government in New South Wales, may be placed to the account of the manner in which the colony was at first peopled - the first emigrants from England were a body of convicts, with as many marines as were necessary to guard them - the first government of the colony was that of a gaol, and the first law little more than prison discipline. In a new country such as this was, at the landing of the expedition under Governor Phillip, the second object, after providing for the care and correction of the prisoners, was that of procuring sustenance every thing necessarily centered in the Governor as the primum mobile of the machine - the police, the roads, the market, the importation of supplies, the cultivation of provisions, and even the prices of every article of daily consumption, were regulated by the orders of the Governor - these Jirmans entered into some of the minutest matters of domestic life, and gradually became so familiar to the inhabitants, that instances are to be found of domestic quarrels being referred to the fountain head of authority, and there settled with all the form and sanction of legal supremacy.
This was a very natural order of things a government, situated like that of New South Wales, necessarily became patriarchal; and had the colony continued for centuries in the same state, I should have listened with reluctance to any innovation, how beautiful soever in theory. I have lived under various forms of government, I have been a close observer of the memorable changes which have taken place throughout the world in my own life, I have read a great deal upon the subject, and reflected a great deal more; and the sum of my deductions is, that governments are founded in opinion, and formed by events - that all changes except such as are wrought by time, are revolutionary and mischievous, and that whoever abruptly attempts to make violent alterations, merely because they are better in the abstract, is a traitor or a maniac. Were any exception to be made to this rule, of following events in the formation of governments, it would seem to be in case of the colonies, and especially in such as this, where the people are not of the production of the place, but for the most part emigrants from England and Ireland, and annually bring with them the opinions and habits of the countries from which they came.
It was the misfortune of General Macquarie, that he did not perceive the effect of this principle upon the colony - he found it a gaol upon a large area - he governed it like a good governor of a gaol, and he resisted as an innovation upon his authority, every attempt to change the early policy of the colony, and to render penal labor subsidiary to the purposes of a free settlement. There had been a time when wiser heads had questioned the expediency of the change - but that time had gone by; and whatever degree of confidence he might have felt in the soundness of his own views, he was bound to defer to the instructions of his superiors. [71] To this reluctance of Governor Macquarie to surrender his authority, I attribute the utter neglect of every civil institution during his protracted administration - he was certainly a very industrious person, and descended to the lowest details of the public service - the plump folio which you caused to be sent to me, at Portsmouth, to amuse my leisure hours during the passage to Botany Bay, is a tolerable record of his assiduity in legislation - and every useful or ornamental public work in the colony, was created or commenced during his administration - yet he did absolutely nothing for the civil government of the colony - his laws were framed without authority; he never attempted to introduce the parish and county usages and customs of the parent country; he quarrelled with every judge; and never, amidst all his splendid edifices, appears to have discovered that a court-house was at all necessary to the state. Yet, year after year, his government was increasing with emigrants from England, India, and other parts of the world; who brought with them the light of latter times; and whom it was impossible to persuade, that because their servants were prisoners, they likewise were liable to prison-discipline. They naturally complained - their complaints produced inquiry - and the inquiry that was instituted under our friend Bigge, led to events in which I had the honor to become associated with you, and which are too familiar to your recollection, to require more than adverting to - the result was a change only, not a revolution, in this colony - the abrupt transition from the despotic authority exercised by the Governor; the creation of a superior power in the legislative body; the erection of a judicatory upon the basis, and with the united powers of the English courts at Westminster; the broad recognition of English law as the only rule of subjection, were so many decisive innovations upon the old system of gaol government, that I only marvel at the moderation of the people in witnessing these changes, and not running into greater excesses.
That these innovations were necessary and indeed unavoidable, I readily admit - but I think that it forms a very grave charge against the government of the colony, that for the vulgar fame of being first in all things, and the poor incense of an ignorant multitude, it should suffer this promising young colony to grow up like a neglected stripling, ignorant of the first elements of education, and attain an age when much must be unlearned, and many propensities subdued, before any good or permanent instruction can be conveyed. We have now been in the colony three years, and certainly a great deal has been effected - but we are only at the threshold of our work yet, and I fear there is much to be done in clearing the "Stables of Macquarie", before our labors can be availably directed to any other task.
I consider it as a given point that, since the passing of the New South Wales Act, the policy of Great Britain towards this settlement, is upon the broad basis of her colonial policy - that the laws of England are essentially the laws of New South Wales, that the government is essentially an English government, and that the courts are essentially the Courts at Westminster. These data are plain - but in giving effect to the principles they involve, a whole volume of detail lies before us.