Colonial Thought Lines #3: High wages


High wages

In the minds of the 'hard men'of Clyde Co., labour was a cost. Looking through the lens of annual company accounts and returns on investment, labour was a cost to be carefully contained at all times and, wherever possible, to be actively reduced. For managers like George Russell of Golf Hill (also senior manager of all Clyde Co. stations), A.C. Cameron at Terinallum, Alexander Russell at Hopkins Hill, and William Lewis ( under manager at Golf Hill), the wages paid to their workers were a primary obsession.

For example, Alexander Russell assumed management of Hopkins Hill for the company in 1844. In 1843 the previous manager Captain Gibbs had estimated a forward labour cost of 28 men averaging 31 pounds per annum plus rations. This was thought far too high. The new manager's Return for Men and Wages at September 1844 showed a radical restructure of employment for Hopkins Hill was already under way. It reported 17 employees now on the station with an average annual wage of 22 pounds. The difference is further illustrated by comparison of those shepherds and hut keepers engaged by Captain Gibbs (and whose yearly contracts had not yet expired at the time of Russell's Return), with those arranged by the Clyde Co. manager. Under Gibbs' regime, 6 men averaged 24 pounds per annum. Under Russell's regimen, 8 men averaged $18 pounds per annum.
[Alexander Russell, 12 letters to George Russell, from 1844 to 1849.
P.L. Brown (ed.), 1958, Clyde Company Papers, Vol. III, 1841-45, OUP, London.
P.L. Brown (ed.), 1959, Clyde Company Papers, Vol. IV, 1846-50, OUP, London.
Pastoral: Hopkins Hill, PB No. 91, 98,640 acres, 30,000 sheep.]

The following post takes the form of a specific case study, documenting A.C. Cameron's management of labour relations on the Clyde Company sheep station of Terinallum. It contains extracts from a series of 87 letters that Cameron wrote to his senior manager George Russell of Golf Hill over the period 1846 to 1850. Beginning with the impressively upward progress of his own salary, and the inherent bias of the prevailing Masters and Servants Act, it references rates of pay and associated managerial decisions affecting three classes of station employees: Shepherds and Hut keepers; Bullock Drivers; and Shearers and Sheep washers.

1. Manager's Salary

[Editor's Note: 'Cameron's account in the Terinallum ledger opens "1846, Sept. 18, Engagement commenced at 70 pounds pr. an. salary".'] 
26 August 1848 "As to my remaining again, I have no objections whatever: it always will be, as it has been, my earnest endeavour to give you satisfaction in my management, and I trust that if I succeed in doing so for the next two years you will allow me an increase of salary; as you have kindly allowed me the 20 pounds of reference in the present engagement, I will refer the amount of Salary for the next Two years to be fixed by yourself."
17 September 1849 "I am perfectly satisfied with the arrangements you propose as to my remaining here. I am happy to see (by the handsome addition you have made to my salary) that I have given you satisfaction in my management, and sincerely trust I will ever be able to do so."
[Editor's Note: 'The ledgers, in Cameron's hand, show his credit for salary thus: 18 Sept. 1848, 2 years out 80 pounds; 18 September 1849 and 18 Sept. 1850, 1 year each at 100 pounds.']
3 August 1850 "Agreement between George Russell on behalf of Clyde Co., and Alexander C. Cameron...George Russell agrees to engage the said A.C. Cameron, to manage the station called Tirenallum...to commence on the 18th day of September 1850 and to continue for two years...George Russell agrees to pay at the rate of One Hundred and Twenty pounds sterling per annum."

2.1 Masters and Servants Acts

The British Masters and Servants Act of 1823 (4 Geo. IV c. 34) codified the use of penal sanctions against employees for breach of their contracts of service. Under the powers granted to them under The New South Wales Act of the same year (4 Geo. IV c. 96), the Governor and Legislative Council of the colony re-enacted the central tenet of the British law on three separate occasions. The Masters and Servants Act of 1828 (9 Geo. IV No.9), 1840 (4 Vict. No. 23), and 1845 (9 Vic. No. 27), specified sentences of up to three months of imprisonment for employees who (1) did not begin work on the agreed start date or (2) left work before the agreed end date or (3) disobeyed the orders of their employers at any time between those contracted dates. In other words, this legislation effectively criminalised employees. As the Title implied, and the Preamble expressly stated, these were Acts "to ensure the fulfillment of Engagements". And if rural workers were under any illusions about the intent of the subsequent amendments, perhaps believing  that their own rights were also protected by the revised Acts, they were soon disabused of these notions when they confronted the local "Bench". For the presiding Justices of the Peace who decided these matters were also their employer's neighbours, and fellow squatters.

Masters and Servants Act 1845, Clause 2; still read "...if any servant...shall not enter into or commence his service according to his contract or...shall absent himself from his service before the term of his contract...or be guilty of disobedience or of any other misconduct or misdemeanor in the execution thereof...it shall and may be lawful for any Justice of the Peace upon complaint thereof made upon oath to him...to issue his warrant for the apprehending every such servant...and if it shall appear to [twosuch Justices that any such servant shall not have fulfilled such contract...it shall and may be lawful for such Justices to commit every such person to the house of correction there to remain for a reasonable time not exceeding three months or...to punish the offender by abating the whole or any part of his wages and to discharge such servant from his contract service or employment..."

Cameron starts hesitantly in 1846, but by 1848 he is confident the law is on his side. 29 October 1846 "The Shepherd O'Brien at the Upper Station had his sheep in the fold at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Tuesday last, for which misconduct I would have immediately dismissed him without his wages, But Mr. Caverhill [the overseer] told me I was not justified in doing so. Please let me know the Law on that or any Similar Case."
10 November 1847 "I do not know of a married couple that will suit about here: if you should Hire one the Woman's work will be to wash for two & Cook for Four if required, and attend the house; the man to be generally useful. I mention this owing to the trouble I had with the last - they dared me that I had no authority over them, and their agreement was quite on their side."
13 May 1848 "My Bullock Driver [Chapman] got home at last, and when I spoke to him about his conduct he gave me a great deal of insolence, and wanted to get away. I gave him his choice either to take his chance before the Bench and forfeit 3 pounds 15 shillings, the balance of wages coming to him: he chose the latter and went away."
29 July 1848 "I also wish you could get me a shepherd as soon as possible, as I had to discharge one this week for losing his Flock in the plains. I gave him his choice either to forfeit Two pounds and take his discharge, or take his chance before the Bench - he took his discharge: the Flock was found all right about three hours after it was lost, but I wished to make an example of him, as nothing but gross carelessness will lose a flock in the plains."

2.2 Absconders, or 'bolters'

19 October 1846 "I am [not] doubtful I will have to dismiss Marsleim, who is at Little Spring with the Lambs: he is a careless, lazy old rogue."
24 October 1846 "...the old rascal Marsleim, or Masslan as he calls himself, bolted on Thursday morning and left his flock in the Fold: he came in on Wednesday evening and asked me if I would let him have a Pair of Boots, as he could not follow his sheep. Thinking that he might do better I let him have a Pair, with which he decamped next morning; he was 14 days here, during which time he had the weaners, so I think he has not got the Better of me much. I should like he be made an example of; But on the other hand he is a good riddance."
[Editor's Note: 'The ledger shows (in Cameron's hand) William Masslan as hired on 10 Oct. at 26 pounds a year, credited with 18 shillings and 7 pence for thirteen days wages, and debited with 16 shillings for the boots.']
10 April 1847 "Sunday morning. I am just now informed that James O'Neil, one of the men who came the other Day, has bolted, and left his Flock on the run Last night...in haste, AC Cameron."
22 April 1847 "The man James O'Neil did not leave his Flock on the run, but put them in the Fold right enough, got his supper, and pretended to go to the Box to sleep; but the sheep got out through the night, and when the hutkeeper went to the Box there was no one there: he had no bedding when he came up, and - having to sleep in the Box - I trusted him with a Pair of Blankets and an old woolpack, both of which he took with him. Mr Christison can describe his appearance. I never got the agreement of the other man that Bolted. I suspect he had it with him."
23 September 1847 "I doubt [not] John Jones has bolted; if you should not hear of him I will require another Hutkeeper..."
14 October 1847 "I was told last night that John Calvert had bolted and left his Flock in the Hurdles...I engaged a man last night as a Hutkeeper, or to Shepherd for a few weeks, at the rate of 28 pounds pr. an., for 3 months; but had to send him out this morning to take Calvert's Flock."

3.1 Shepherds and Hutkeepers

The following average pay rates are calculations based on only those contracts recorded in Cameron's letters to George Russell. Cameron mentions 6 Agreements with shepherds and hutkeepers in 1846, 13 in 1847, 7 in 1848, and none in 1849 and 1850. My averages for each year should therefore be considered within the context of the manager's list of people on Terinallum for 16 Feb. 1847, which suggests a normal complement of 22 male and 2 female employees on annual contracts. Nevertheless, from those wage rates that are disclosed, the average wage in 1846 was 23 pounds per annum, rising to 26 pounds 12 shillings and 3 pence in 1847, before Cameron succeeded in pushing it back to 22 pounds 2 shillings and 9 pence in 1848. It is clear that the 1847 figures were considered too high when compared to the previous year. Consequently 1848 was a tense year in labour relations on the station as the Clyde Co. manager directed his effort to reducing wages. He began his campaign in late 1847 and, with some missteps, continued it until the end of 1848. By that time he was once again firmly in control of labour costs.

4 November 1847 "...Have discharged the married man; he is the most useless, lazy, insolent fellow I have ever had anything to do with. Old Quilam is cooking again..."
6 January 1848 "I will start the Wethers on Monday. Quilam wants to leave and go to Town; I will make him assist to drive them down...I do not require any men at present, but will require on as Shepherd or Hutkeeper about the 20th current. I would like the wages not to be above 26 pounds if possible, as the others would get dissatisfied."
10 January 1848 "I started the Wethers early this morning ['1,775 Wethers...about 500 prime fat']...Quiliam is assisting Clarke to take them down. Please pay him on his safe arrival with the sheep 17 pounds 4 shillings and 1 penny. I would not pay him here, as I thought he might not take the right road..."
11 February 1848 "...if you should see Old Quilam, try and frighten him out of Town, as I am anxious to get the sheepwash put to rights."
25 March 1848 "Cook's time has expired , and he has left. I engaged a Shepherd in his place yesterday, at 26 pounds pr. annum for 12 months. I will require another shepherd by the 8th of April. I may be able to get one here, but if you could get a good shepherd that could take care of a Flock during lambing it would be well to send him up; if you should engage anyone, let it be for 12 months, as there are some of the men's time up just before Shearing."
15 April 1848 Ï have one Flock lambing, but fortunately very slowly as yet; the next Flock commences on the 25th - I have men enough for it: a good many men have called wanting employment lately, but still there is a very great cry out for men in this neighbourhood."
6 May 1848 "Men have been more plentiful about here lately than ever I have seen them."
3 June 1848 "I am at present in want of a Shepherd - there are no men about here at the present. If you could engage one for me in town, and send him up, I will endeavour to manage till then; any Shepherds that are to be got around here at any time are of a very bad class."
15 July 1848 "Thomas Archer reached here several days later than he ought to have done - although a feeble old man, he seems to be a good shepherd; not so the other one. I went this morning to count a flock for him, when he objected to take charge of the Sheep without a dog, and said that you had mentioned in your letter to me that I was to give him money to buy a dog, I told him that you had done no such thing, and that I never gave money to men before they earned it: he refused to take the Sheep unless I found him a dog, or money to buy one. I soon saw that he was a lazy, insolent fellow, and turned him about his business. As Kinshott is likely to recover soon I will do without any more of Combe's men for a few weeks. Men are to be had in this neighbourhood at 24 pounds pr. ann. now. I have made a great reduction in the number of men, but still have men enough.
[Editor's Note: '"Geelong, July 20th/ Mr G. Russell/ To T. Comb/ June 24 Fee for Thos. Archer 2 shillings/ Do. to be charged wages 2 shillings/.." The account, for 1 pound 10 shillings, shows four men engaged on 24 June, and five (including Thomas Dowling and Patrick McGrath) on 19 July.']
29 July 1848 Old Catesby is also leaving next week, but I have a man to take his place. I will require two or three more men about the end of August, but I will let you know sometime before I require them. Men are plentiful in this neighbourhood, but they still stick out for high wages; so I would like to get men from town, to shew the men on the station what wages they will have to take if they are turned off for any fault."
26 August 1848 "I am in receipt of your letter of the 9th Instant mentioning the rate of wages you were giving, but I have engaged three of my Hutkeepers at 11 pounds pr. six months. Men have been very plentiful here lately, but they are cheifly shearers, and hangers on till Shearing time. I want a Shepherd next week, if you should see one, but would not like him to get more than eleven pounds, as the others engaged might get dissatisfied."
18 November 1848 "Old Archer will not I think be able to shepherd any more, and I have two or three more that want replacing as soon as better can be got..."
12 December 1848 "I am anxious to get two more Shepherds, as I am short of one, and have another that is too stupid to send to an out Station."
18 December 1848 "I finished Shearing on Thursday last, and will have all the wool pressed by tomorrow night. John Bird's time is nearly out; he is willing to stop again, but wants the same wages (30 pounds). I told him I would not give above 26 pounds, so I do not know whether he will stop or not; he has not been so active for some months back. I will discharge three or four more of the men this week; one of the shepherd's time was out last night, but he managed to mix his flock yesterday, so I will not let him go untill I get them drafted. I am very short of Shepherds and a Hutkeeper. Men are very scarce about here, unless at High wages."
22 December 1848 "John Bird is to leave today. I offered him Twenty-six pounds pr. annum, and his wages made equal to washers'wages during shearing, but he would not take less than Twenty-eight pounds."

John Bird was always regarded as a good worker by Cameron (7 December 1846 "I should like to keep John Bird as the spare man, as he is worth 2 of some men."), and always received a premium over the other men's wages in recognition of this (27 pounds in December 1846 and 30 pounds in December 1847). But this time the manager says no.  In December 1848 the principle of cost containment is worth more than rewarding hard work.

3.2 Illness and Inconvenience

6 August 1848 "John Kinshot has again knocked up. I hired a very decent like man in his place until washing commence, at the rate of 23 pounds pr. an. I will send Kinshot to town the first opportunity; the men are raising money amongst them to enable him to get into the Hospital...I also wish you to advise me whether I am justified in stoping men's wages in cases of Sickness, when they are not willing to make up the lost time."
14 November 1848 "One of my shepherds (the old man Archer) is unable to go out with his Flock today, which is very unfortunate in the present scarcity."
18 November 1848 "PS. I have just settled with Archer, as he is unable to do anything & wishes to go down with the Drays, and have given him an order for 5 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence."
13 December 1848 "I have sent the Horse cart with [1500 fat] sheep; the man Stiff and his wife have gone with it. I don't think the woman will live to go to Town. I have not promised them the use of the cart further than the Leigh [i.e. Golf Hill], as you might consider it unnecessary all the way: the cart has a broken shaft which I would like replaced at the Leigh. Should the cart be required to go on, if you could spare your cart to go the new shaft could be put in in the meantime..."

4. Bullock Drivers

Bullockies were a different class of men to shepherds and hutkeepers. Cameron did not so much manage his bullock drivers as worry about them. Terrinallum had the use of two Drays. One was owned by Moore, a contractor, who pastured his 16 bullocks on the station in exchange for being available for Clyde Co. cartage. The other dray and 16 bullocks were owned by the company, and various bullock drivers were hired, and fired over the four to five year period covered by Cameron's letters to George Russell (including McLean, Bennett, Chapman, and Kelly).

28 October 1847 "The Drays arrived on Monday afternoon, and I start them again this Morning with 24 bales. I have discharged McLean, and sent Wm. Bennet in his place; they have got Hobles and coupleing ropes with them so they ought to be able to keep other bullocks...I think Bennet will require a little looking after about Town, as I understand his Friends are thereabout...I received a note from Thos. Brown Jnr desireing me not to allow the Bullock Drivers to stop at his station, but to tell them to go some other road to the Public House. I heard of one of the Bullocks having been seen at Brown's, but have not had an opportunity of sending to see if the others are about t[here] also."
24 November 1847 "The Drays arrived on Monday Evening all right, and start again tomorrow Morning with 24 bales. McCulloch got the Two bullocks belonging to this Station, and the White Bullock belonging Golf Hill, at Montgomerie's; also the Red Steer at Mr. Alexr Anderson's. I sent them down this Trip in place of four of the others that have got sore necks: the two belonging to this Station would be better left a Golf Hill, in place of Daby & Captain that were left to rest; in that case I will be able to return the other four next Trip, as I have heard of the one that is yet away being at John Brown's. I am [not] doubtfull the the Bullock Drivers will get on well this time, as there are some men with them that will be giveing them drink; two other Drays will be able to take the Wool down next Trip."
6 May 1848 "I have been a good deal put out lately for the want of My Drays to remove some of the Flocks. I sent the Bullock Driver and another man to the forest about a fortnight ago, to bring Home the stuff for the Moveable Huts; they managed not only to lose the bullocks, but to lose them two and two at every stage, until they both came home without any. Bird is at present looking for them. My Bullock Driver, Chapman, is a useless creature."
13 May 1848 "...I had engaged another that morning; he offers to be a much more serviceable man than Chapman."
3 June 1848 "...I have got a bullock driver on by the week, a much better man than I have had lately; if you have not engaged one, I might get him to engage."
24 June 1848 "Moore also brought the saddle; he seemed in bad humour with himself for his conduct in Town. I owe him for bringing a load of Hurdles from the forest, but will not pay him untill I hear from you; considering the one pound ten shillings order that he got before, I owe him little or nothing. I told him before he went down that I would not pay him for bringing the Hurdles, on that account. Should the articles you ordered not be found to be correct I will make Moore shift his Quarters"
15 July 1848 "Kelly is not likely to be here any any longer than I can help; he is a much worse man than old Chapman ever was, much fonder of exercising his whip than his axe."
29 July 1848 "W. Kelly has been doing much better lately, but he is to leave on Tuesday next."
3 December 1849 "I am rather afraid the Drays will make a bad trip this time, as I heard of the men that went away having a great flare up at Tapp's. I cautioned them well against drinking before leaving, and hope the Bullock Drivers have kept sober: it is a very bad plan to allow any person to travell with the Drays, but this time I could not help it."

5. Shearers and Sheep-washers

After shearing in 1849, Cameron discharged 22 men within 10 days (3rd Dec. 1849). This suggests that during the all-important annual wool harvest months of September to November, the working population on Terinallum doubled from the normal year-round complement of 23 (16th Feb. 1847). That is, an additional 22 men, shearers and sheep washers, were added to the station payroll. 

Shearers were skilled itinerant workers and were no doubt aware they were employed at a critical time in the squatters' economic calendar. Cameron's letters to George Russell only mention the the shearers' contract rates for one season. In 1846 they were paid 14 shillings per one hundred sheep shorn on Terinallum.. By comparison, in 1844 Philip Russell paid 12 shillings per one hundred sheep on Hopkins Hill (shearers to fund their own rations purchased through the company store, although Clyde Co. would provide them with a cook if necessary). And in 1849 and 1850 George Russell paid 13 shillings per hundred on Golf Hill (under similar terms regarding the purchase of provisions at set rates through the station store). It is reasonable to assume that A.C Cameron adjusted his shearing rates in subsequent years so that they were aligned with what the other company stations were paying.

His wages for sheep washers, or "weekly men", certainly followed a downward trajectory over this period. In 1846 they were paid 13 shillings per week, reducing to 12 shillings per week in 1847, and 10 shillings per week in 1848 (the year of his radical re-adjustments to the wages paid to his permanent station hands, the shepherds and hutkeepers). One inadvertently comical note struck by Cameron in his negotiations with the sheep washers for 1848 was the withdrawal of the "grog ration". This was ruefully reinstated in 1849. The experiment of replacing rum with increased allowances of tea and sugar was not a success.

8 October 1846 "I have engaged three men on Monday last at 13 shillings per week until shearing commence, when they are to Shear at the same rate as you are giving to other."
[Editor's Note: 'Duncan Brown...Shearing 14 shillings per 100...']
18 November 1846 "I have 3 loads of wool ready. I would like to get one or two [more] shearers, but they cannot be found here at present. McNab is giving weekly servants 16 shillings and others in the neighbourhood would give anything to get men."
7 October 1847 "Lindsa, y is doing well enough at the wash. I send McCulloch down frequently to see how they are getting on: all the weekly men do well enough, but I have turned off one crawler (Francis Dowling)..."
28 October 1847 "Am washing with one spout now, which will let the Shearing forward again. I discharged Leary, and am getting the sheep much better shorn since: two of the washers are unwell, and desire to be discharged. As I could do without them, I let them go."
22 September 1848 "Sheep washers are very scarce here also, but shearers are plentiful. I have now got seven, so I will not require any from town, as eight fair shearers will be as many as the wash will keep going...I have not fixed any price with my Shearers, but am allowing them at the rate of 10 shillings p. week for jobing untill shearing commence...I think it would be better not to allow the washers grog this year, but give them more Tea and Sugar...PS. I should like the Tobacco to be very good, as some that I have is quite unsaleable, and the good would help to get away the bad."
11 November 1848 "I had to discharge one of my shearers yesterday for bad shearing."
9 December 1848 "...I did not require to take the shearers to the wash, myself and two blacks making up the deficiency..."
12 December 1848 "I have now got three men at the wool press, so that I will be prepared to load any extra drays if you should send any up."
17 September 1849 "I said in my last letter that I would likely not send the dray down before shearing, but I find I will require to do so as the flour and Tea will not hold out till then and my Tobacco is entirely done. I also think of giving the washers some grog this season, as they would not be satisfied without it, and would give more annoyance than all the expense. I think I will get all the men here that I require."
19 September 1849 "I had almost forgot to mention the Grog. I do not know how much will be necessary, but I suppose 6 or 8 gallons will be ample."
[A.C Cameron, 87 Letters to George Russell, October 1846 to January 1850
P.L. Brown (ed.), 1959, Clyde Company Papers, Volume IV, 1846-50, OUP, London
Pastoral: Terinallum, P.B. 51, 57,600 acres, 22,000 sheep].




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