MR. DIXON ' S STATE AND PROSPECTS OF VAN DIEMEN ' S LAND.
MR. DIXON resided in Van Diemen's Land for nearly ten years, and only left the colony because " prosperity " was leaving it. During his sojourn, he was "engaged for a time in agriculture, and for a much longer period in trade ;" and as his "business led him among every order of society, and into every department of their affairs," Mr. DIXON concludes himself "tolerably competent to perform the task he has undertaken ;" which is, to describe the natural, social, and political condition of the island, to investigate the causes of its decay, and to suggest remedies for the revival of its prosperity. The body of the little book scarcely answers to this proem ; but it has its points. Mr. Dixon describes the physical appearance of Van Diemen's Land with more graphic picturesqueness than any writer we have met ; he briefly but clearly presents to the mind the working of the White slave-trade ; his account of the mode of government and police is intelligible ; and his picture of society, though exaggerated, has a rough vigour, and is probably based on truth. His diagnosis of the disease of Van Diemen's Land is but so-so, as well as his remedy; but of these anon. The matter of some of his disquisitions is twaddle, set off by forcible diction ; and some of his conclusions are absurd. But one rare quality should not pass without mention, and that is his brevity. Mr. Dixon only presents his ideas of the salient points of a subject, and never obscures or wearies by over-detailing. The soil and climate of Van Diemen's Land, though better than those of New Holland, as being less sterile, and little, if at all, obnoxious to drought, display some of the peculiarities which distinguish the natural features of Australasia from those of the other continents of the globe. This is part of Mr. DIXON'S sketch of the
APPEARANCE OF VAN DIEMEN'S LAND.
The Western side of the island, which presents itself to us as we approach from England, is wild, barren, and appalling; so that all the unfavourable ideas which the uncouth name of the island may have raised in the mind, are confirmed by the dreary and broken prospect stretching before us. The Eastern aspect, however, is of an opposite character, stretching along in romantic and diversified liveliness.
The known ports or harbours in and about the coast are few ; but, as a correct marine survey of the island has not yet been performed, the unknown may be many. The interior is characterized by its uncommon features ; being in many respects unlike any other part of the world. The surface heaves up into irregular ranges of mountain scenery, crowded over and intersected in all fashions and directions. We never see one mountain alone ; but where one is, there are chains of others running up, round, and about, in open wildness and disorder; towering here and sinking there, in bewildering yet striking confusion. From April to October, the highest are capped with snow. The whole face of the country is covered thickly with trees of immense height and circumference, growing close together, and reaching to a great loftiness before they shoot out their branches. Their leaves are unfailing, but dusky and mournful, and seem in the distance nearly black, throwing; an air of heavy gloom over the face of nature. The vallies are circumscribed within narrow limits, and, like the mountains, spread over with high sturdy forests. * *
Those tracts which have never been disturbed in their primitive wildness, are called, not the forest, but" the Bush." The native tree and shrub are not subject to the annual decay and fall of leaf which are common in other regions; but here the leaf is as lasting as the stem, and both live and die together. Nature, too, clothes herself with a constant verdure ; and even in the midst of winter retains her greenness. While the earth is covered often ankle-deep in snow, the grass, the flowers, the shrubs, and the trees remain unchanged, and are as green and as healthy as in the middle of summer. But notwithstanding its exterior garment, HO country can be imagined snore dreary than the Bush of Van Diemen's Land. Travel through it hundreds of miles, and your prospect is the same. Tiers of mountains still environ you, and you see nothing but a wearisome uniformity. Nothing in the shape of diversity presents itself either to attract the eye or captivate the imagination. The stately gum-tree, with its dark and heavy foliage, shoots up before you wherever you turn your head ; birds flutter in the branches, and at intervals emit a wild chirp, a dolorous scream, or a dull caw ; but the note is without melody—harsh and displeasing to the ear. The plumage of many of the species, however, is pretty, and that of the cockatoo very handsome. Tracts of land are at times seen, bursting with fertility, and many more rocky, sandy, and sterile. Some have a park-like appearance, free from underwood and obstruction, and others are so overgrown with these as to be almost impervious. A few of the native shrubs are pretty, but so sparingly scattered that they have to be sought out. The wild flowers are in small variety ; but some of those that exist are very handsome when closely examined, although, being all diminutive, they are often trampled over. The indigenous trees grow up to enormous height. The gum is the highest and greatest, and in height and circumference is reckoned to be the biggest in the world. It grows straight upward, and shoots out its branches above. The root works deep in the earth, and spreads itself about in all ways and to some distance. the variety of trees is not great ; but the gum is that which predominates. The foliage of all is scanty, the leaves small and fur apart, and such as to afford no shade in hot weather.
Though the system of Penal Transportation has been pretty well exposed, and directions for a sort ofreform, or rather an alteration, have been sent out from the Colonial Office, yet the system he'sstill vitality enough to render an account of its workings of some interest ; especially as Mr. DIxon conceives that every opposition will be offered to the change by the Colonists and Colonial Govern. ment. These are the rules and regulations under which the semi are now assigned, and the mode of procuring them. " All convicts upon their arrival are made servants of, either to Government or to private persons. When in the service of a private person, they are saki to be assigned to him. In order to procure a convict servant, the person ap. Plies to a .Board, called the Assignment Board, and states the sort of servant which he wants ; and if such a one be upon the list for assignment, the appli. cant gets him. The man is provided with a gray jacket, a pair of gray trot. sers, a shirt, and. is pair of boots; for all which the master pays the Govern. merit one guinea. No information is given as to the crime of the convict, and the master is never solicitous to hear of it. The latter receives Isis man with the same feeling with which he would a horse or an ox. He views him as a piece of locomotive machinery, that he is to set in motion and to draw a profit from. The master's control over the convict is absolute. Ile must not strike him; but for the least neglect, the slightest show of insolence, a surly look, hasty expression, or for any behaviour which betokens disrespect, or that is repugnant to the most slavish submission, he is expected to have him punished. He takes him before a Magistrate, to whom Ile complains, and the convict is chastised. The rigour of the chastisement is sharpened at every repetition of offence; and. flogging is the punishment which is commonly inflicted. Unless the master were invested with such peremptory authority, he could never enforce his commands ; nor would the condition of the convict be different from that of a free person. But while the law thus protects the master, it neglects not to protect the convict likewise. The master is not only forbidden to strike his servants, but also to have any unless he provide them with a proper maintenance. Regulations are therefore enacted, fixing a scale of rations and clothing. If the master iufract any of those regulations, the convict must complain to the Government of such infraction ; and if such be proved to be true, the master forfeits all his servants. Convicts, ever discontented with their situations, never relax their vigilance over these rights; and if they fancy they have caught their master in curtailing them, they instantly fly before a Magistrate amid complain. But Magistrates listen to such complaints always with suspicion, and unless they be verified by collateral evidence, dismiss them instantly, and punish the complainant." The reward for good conduct, assumed in the absence of complaints, is an abridgment of servitude ; the first stage of which is a ticket of leave, that allows a man to work for wages, and choose his own master. A very rigid surveillance, however, is still kept over him; and his ticket of leave seems ever liable to forfeiture if he has a spiteful enemy.
" For it can be taken away for the slightest fault. Being seen intoxicate, or in the streets after eight o'clock at night ; neglecting to attend a place of
worship; insolence to five people (the " respectable White man" of America); extortion, or the doing of any thing which is injurious to society, brings down upon the possessor the Immediate forfeiture of his ticket of leave." According to Mr. DIXON'S account, the emigration of wealthy and respectable persons to the island had ceased; "its pros
perity has decayed e' and nearly every resident must either be insolvent or far on the road to insolvency. The apparent causes for this alleged state of things are various—ostentation, extrava gant habits, and over-trading ; but the root of the evil is attributed by our author to the Howrox mode of selling land instead of giving it away. Mr. Dixon's objection, however, it turns out, is not so much to the sale, as to the mode of selling; for he eventually ad
vocates the WAKEFIELD principle, [regular surveys, and one snifi. dent price for all ungranted land,] when he bethinks himself of the
mode in which Governors used to make grants in the olden time, and "their will was the measure of every emigrant's fortune." But even against Lord Howices plan his arguments are none of the most convincing. Under the old system, he says, the flocks
and herds of the farmer roamed at will over the ungranted land. At present this is forbidden, and large tracts have been bought, not for cultivation, but pasture ; an evil to some of the individuals who lost the privilege of free grazing, but how it should militate against the prosperity of the colony, is not so clear, as it is evident that flocks are still fed, or land would not be bought ; and so far from having a tendency to scare away wealth, the principle seems rather likely to attract it, since the man of pros perty has now an advantage he did not possess before. To the influx of labourers procured by the purchase-money, Mr. Dixon is adverse, because, says lie, "they who wanted assistants from the Mother-country would soon find a means to obtain them ;" a bold statement, made in the very teeth of all experience from the first colonization of America downwards. One of his assertions is not only absurd, but so reckless a fillsehood that it is astonishing how he could ever have penned it. He says, (page 66,) that under the sale system the emigrant has to purchase a "wilderness, for that for which he could have had a cultivated estate in his native country!" We should very much like to purchase "cultivated estates" in England for less than a pound an acre. But absurdity is not all; Mr. DIXON contradicts himself. Be states, (page 64,) amongst other glowing accounts, that formerly "every vessel brought numerous wealthy passengers," to whom land was granted freely ; and that, under the "auspices of such a protective and methodical adjustment, the woods of the island soon came to be corn-fields ; a wilderness was subdued by husbandry; farm-houses sprung up in numbers; and the true parent of pros! perity, productive labour, flung wide his blessing over the colony." From a previous account of the agriculture and agriculturists of Van Diemen's Land, it would appear, however, that the " nume. rous wealthy passengers" did not take to farming, and that the "husbandry" and the "corn-fields" are indebted for their splendour to Mr. DIXON'S fancy. The picture he draws, when copying what he sees before him, is to the life that of a squatter. "Little, however, can be said as to the progress of cultivation in the island. Husbandmen seem to be pursuing a profession of which they have no knowledge, to be guided by no maxims, and following no settled system of agrulfltare, to be ignorant of the nature of the soil and the means of improving ; and at the same time not less destitute of spirit than of capacity. a Fewpractical farmers have ever emigrated to the colony. The earlier settlers were chiefly artisans of intemperate habits, unacquainted with husbandry, and disinclined to attain a knowledge of it. Still they obtained and located themselves on grants of land ; turned up the soil and threw grain into it ; and it being grateful, repaid their rude essays with bountiful harvests. This was sufficient. When one piece of land was exhausted, another was broken up, and so on in constant succession. Fresh settlers continued to arrive and obtain land too; and as these were not agriculturists either, they had to copy their predecessors. Such was the progress of agriculture in Van Diemen's Land; and such is its condition at the present period. The diversity of the climate in the different districts is still overlooked, the seasons are scarcely ascertained, and the proper times for sowing remain doubtful, and are adopted irregularly.
"Oxen are employed in the plough almost upon every farm. The ox is said to be a safer beast than the horse upon such ground as Van Diemen's Land, where the roots of the trees descend so deep into the earth, and branch about so extensively. The ox, however, is more expensive than the horse ; for the loughman can manage the latter alone, but must have a driver with the former. The ox, too, is a tardy animal; and even on the score of the time which he loses, must be doubly expensive to his employer. The agriculturists of Van Diemen's Land are a needy, struggling, and with respect to the other orders of the inhabitants, despised class of people."
That emigration has nearly or altogether ceased to Van Diemen's Land, and that the advancement of the colony is stopped, we can believe. There is a general impression, whether true or false, that
lI the best land is appropriated ; which is sufficient of itself to cheek emigrants. About the time, too, that the lIowteic system of selling lands came into operation, public attention had been strongly directed to colonization : the errors of the old system were pointed out ; South Australia was planned; an extensive emigration
to Canada was going on ; and more than all, people were beginning to scan the social condition of the diffuent colonies, and to perceive the moral pestilence which infected Van Diemen's Land perhaps even more than New South Wales. Mr. DIXON himself states that two or three convicts are not more than equal to one labourer in England; he allows the gross profligacy and vice of the greater part of them ; and he admits that children are not safe from moral eontamination,—all matters enough to deter " wealthy settlers ;" whilst the peculiar police force, which is necessary in such a state of society, is not very attractive to any class. Were I to search for a fact to astonish my reader, I could not, I am sure, fina one better calculated to do so than this= that the constabulary of Van Diemen's Land is chiefly composed of transported felons from England ; and those too of the most abandoned characters! ' About three hundred of such fellows are scattered over the colony armed as peace-officers, and invested with power both positive and discretionary, superior to that of the constabulary of the Mother-country. The former can enter a private house, or apprehend free persons, upon his suspicion of their being convicts, without a warrant from a Magistrate. Many are chosen for constables out of the prison-ship immediately on its arrival ; aud few of them are holding any indulgence for former good conduct. i
"It s unnecessary for me to observe, that these convict constables are very obnoxious to the free inhabitants. The idea that a transported felon has jurisdiction over free British emigrants, is not only repugnant, but revolting, to the pride of an Englishman. It is looked upon as an insult, gross and ignominious ; and the free inhabitants are unceasing in their clamours for its removal. But their voices are not listened to. They have no influence upon the wise policy of the local government ; and as long as convicts are allotted as servants to the free inhabitants, they must not repine at having to endure the sight of these convict constables. The proverb, 'Set a thief to catch a thief,' is here prac tically acted upon, and also found to work well ; for before the making of constables of the convicts was adopted, plunder, violence, and crime, prevailed in every corner of the island. But since this force has been organized, the state of things in these respects has changed ; plunder is rare, violence is almost unknown, and every life is protected."