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Fifty Years Under the Lash


(By Charles White.)

Author of “Australian Bashranging,” “The Story of the Blacks,” etc (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)


Those convicts who obtained absolute or unconditional pardons were termed ‘‘emancipists,” while those .who had become free by the expiration of their sentences were termed ‘‘‘expirees,” but for all social and political purposes they formed one class, as opposed to the class- called “exclusivis-ts,” or ‘‘pure merinos” — the wealthy free colonists and their military friends. During Governor Macquarie’s time there was a prolonged and bitter struggle between the opposing factions, the ‘‘pure merinos” seeking to prevent the emancipists from social or political rehabilitation, and the latter being determined to estalish their legal rights and civil status, claiming the full privileges of free citizenship. The story of that struggle is too long to be told here ; but the result .was a victory all along the lines for the emancipists, who had in Governor Macquarie a most powerful ally fighting for them and showing them how to fight—on the land, in the market, in the courts, and even at the seat of Government across the sea.

Mention has already been maide of the inducements which the betterdisposed of the Governors held out so the emancipists and expirees to settle in the country, small grants of land being given to them and the means of making the same profitable being placed within their x-each. Very many of them—especially those fwho had been transported for trifling offences —set about the work of

building up good reputations, a task which they accomplished so fully that in after years they were found the honoured heads of families, living lives of uprightness, honesty, and purity, patterns of goodness- to many of their fellows who made loud boast of their virtues, and of their having come to the colony at their own free will. Australia owes a great deal to the thrift and industry and the perseverance, unselfishness, and public spirit of these men and their desceudents, who, spite of sneers and insults and injury from the ‘‘pure merinos,” steadily worked their way upwards until they -bad redeemed the past and won for themselves places of honour which many of their fellows more favourably circumstanced, had failed to reach. But large -numbers of them simply made use of their liberty to more freely follow' vicious courses, becoming even more dissipated and lawless than they were as “Government men” or ■as assigned servants. These became the cattle-stealers in the country districts, the shop-lifters, drunken profligates, and receivers* of stolen goods in the towns, and the footpads and bushrangers infesting tlie roads when the goldfields broke out. That the emancipists as a class had become a power in the land at the time Governor Macquarie took up the cudgels and fought on their behalf could not be disputed. Their number was returned as between 15,000 and 16,000, and as early as 1820 they were shown to have had 92,618 acres of land under cultivation, and were the owners of 40,643 head of horned cattle and 221,079 sheep.

'After a long and bitter struggle they succeeded in breaking down the legal barriers, which the military and their wealthy friends determinedly sought to uphold, and seats on the bench as magistrates and in the higher courts as advocates were opened to them. But the removal of the social barrier which separated the two classes was not effected till later. However frequently they might be compelled to come together in public and commercial life, the wealthy free settlers and the military officers and ex-officers were determined that the emancipists should not come within the circle of their private domain, and they maintained that position for a long time. Every day, however, added to the number, wealth, and strength of the emancipists, and when, a few years later, with the assistance of the free immigrants and settlers who were coining to the colony in a steady stream, and who soon became as sick of officialdom and a brummagem aristocracy as were the convicts who had suffered 1 so much under them, they moved together in one solid phalanx to break down oppressive rule and bring in full freedom, they exceeded beyond their expectations. In coarse of time the old lines which existed were swept away, and the decendants of the exclusivists vied with the descendants of the emancipists and expirees for places of honour in every department of public life, and whether success or failure attended the efforts of the latter, no man dare taunt them with having sprung from those patriots, who were said to have “left their country for their country’s good.” They have occupied seats on the judicial bench ; at the bar and in the Legisture their voices have been heard ; they have done good service in the pulpit, on the press, and in tiw exsensive field of commerce. Every door was open to them if they had the desire to enter and provided they possessed the qualifications of personal merit and ability for the work to be done, the public 'did not care to ask whether they sprang from men who came out free or from men who had been transported, and to whom, in the words of Governor

Macquarie, '‘‘New South \yales owed its existence as a colony.”' . And to-day these .questions are not asked. The worth of every man is measured hy what he is himself, and not what his father or grandfather was "before him. The fathei’s were emancipated from the enforced service to which they had been aondemned, and the children have 'been emancipated from the reproach of the stain of convictism —except perhaps in a few cases where the taint breaks out again in viciousness inherited ; and the people of Australia are today as intelligent, as industrious, as honest, and as morally pure as any community under the sun. It is not often that things evil die eai'ly, and it is one of the marvels of the age that, from a bui'then of shame so deep, suffering so intense, and crime so black, Australia should, in a space of time so short have struggled into a nation so thoroughly healthy, energetic, and sound-hearted.' (To be continued").

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Bibliographic details

Fifty Years Under the Lash, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 8, 25 May 1907

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Fifty Years Under the Lash Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 8, 25 May 1907

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