A Perfect Mania #3: The 'Real' Price Motivator - Land


The 'Real' Price Motivator - Land


The first post in this series noted the presence of an 'air' of urgency, a boom psychology, as a key driver of the 1837 spike in sheep prices. The second post argued that negative price signals from the London and Liverpool wool sales were largely ignored by the squatters in their rush to buy sheep for Port Phillip. This third post in the series investigates the primacy of land as an objective for investor-capitalists in the early settlement period. The squatters' 'hunger' for real estate, even if only possessed under government licence in the early years, had its roots in the disappointed expectations of the more recently arrived 'free' settlers in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. They were familiar with the former regime of free land grants that had operated in the Australian colonies until its abolition in 1831. Among colonists who had emigrated, with money,  but after that date, there was an attitude of resentment, an almost petulant sense of having 'missed out'. This prompted a determination to take advantage of the next opportunity for enrichment as soon as it became available. By 1835 and 1836, when talk began of the verdant pastures in Australia Felix, there was already considerable pent-up demand for grazing land. This was particularly the case in Van Diemen's Land, which was just over the waters of Bass Strait from the basalt plains of the Western District.


2.1 A Tradition of Entitlement - Governor Phillip's Instructions
Historical Records of Australia, series i, volume I, 1788-1796, pp. 2-8 (25 April 1787)

  And whereas many of our subjects employed upon military service at the said settlement, and others who may resort thither upon their private occupations, may hereafter be desirous of proceeding to the cultivation and improvement of the land, and as we are disposed to afford them every reasonable encouragement in such an undertaking: it is our will and pleasure that you do with all convenient speed, transmit a report of the actual state and quality of the soil at or near the intended settlement, the probable and most effectual means of improving and cultivating the same, and of the mode, and upon what terms and conditions, according to the best of your judgment, the said lands should be granted, that proper instructions and authorities may be given to you for that purpose.
[Governor Phillip was empowered to grant land to emancipated convicts after satisfactorily serving the term of their sentence (usually 7 or 14 years), to serving military and civilian personnel on completion of their colonial duties, and free settlers. His Instructions from the Crown for emancipists: each male was entitled to 30 acres, an additional 20 acres if married, and an additional 10 acres for each child (HRA, i, I, 14); and for the military, non-commissioned officers were entitled to 100 acres, and privates to 50 acres, over and above the amount allowed for convicts (HRA, i, I, 124-8).]

2.2 A Principle of Rewarding Civic Merit - Governor Macquarie's Letters
Gregory Blaxland, 2004, A Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across Across the Blue Mountains, New South Wales in the Year 1813, Sydney University Press, pp. 12-13 (12 February 1814)

  The Governor is happy to embrace this opportunity of conveying his acknowledgments to Gregory Blaxland and William Charles Wentworth, Esqs., and Lieutenant  William Lawson of the Royal Veteran Company, for their enterprising and arduous exertions on the tour of discovery which they voluntarily performed in the month of May last, where they effected a passage over the Blue Mountains...and being the first Europeans who had accomplished the passage over the Blue Mountains. The Governor, desirous to confer on these gentlemen substantial marks of his sense of their meritorious exertions on this occasion, means to present each of them with a grant of one thousand acres of land in this newly discovered country.
[Land grants issued during the Rum Rebellion of 1808-1809 were cancelled by Governor Macquarie, but those which had been granted to "very deserving and Meritorious Persons" he later renewed (HRA, i, VII, 268).]


3.1 A Policy of Economic Inducement
CA Liston, 1980, New South Wales Under Governor Brisbane, 1821-1825, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sydney, pp. 190-191, 275
Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 9 August 1822
HRA i, XI, 50, 439, 484 (1 March 1823, 1 January 1825, 1 February 1825)

"Intending [free] settlers were informed by the Colonial Office from 1813 that they must have at least 500 Pounds...Advertisements in 1819 and 1820 invited men with property, integrity and energy to consider emigration to New South Wales, where they could increase the respectability of colonial society without becoming a burden for the government."
  Persons desiring of settling in New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land must be provided with the sanction of H.M. Secretary of State; and this can only be obtained upon written application, accompanied by reference to two or more respectable persons, as to the extent of his capital investment which must amount to five hundred pounds at the least. 
"A letter of introduction would then be provided, recommending the settler for a grant of land in proportion to his capital."
[In 1821 the Surveyor-General defined the relationship between a settler's capital and the extent of his grant: 100 acres for 100 Pounds, 1,000 acres for 1,500 Pounds, 2,000 acres for 3,000 Pounds. In practice there was a minimum of 500 acres for 500 Pounds as per the Colonial Secretary's directive above. The settler was then entitled to six months rations for his family and convict servants. His capital was then completely available for investment in stock and plant.]
Correspondence from Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst to Governor Brisbane:
  [It is] of the first importance to afford every countenance and support to settlers of Capital and respectability
  The command of Capital [is the] essential qualification of every Agricultural Settler in New South Wales
  [Capitalists are critical to] present Revenue as well as to the future prosperity of the Colony

3.2 Governor Brisbane's Generosity (NSW 1821-1825)
CA Liston 1980, pp. 258, 266, 268, 281

  The total land area granted by Brisbane during his five years in office as Governor of the Colony of New South Wales was 1,252,224 acres. Some 613 registered grants accounted for 175,119 acres; 935 unregistered grants (ordered by Brisbane but not yet surveyed and gazetted), accounted for 565,853 acres (of which 281,043 acres were given to just 128 applicants); another 160,845 acres were "reserved" by Brisbane for serving public officers and others who had to return to Britain to settle their financial affairs to raise the requisite capital; and 335,650 acres were sold by private tender to 153 purchasers (including 263,860 acres purchased at the minimum reserve price of 5 shillings per acre). It is apparent that "respectable settlers with capital" did very well out of this process. In 1825 free settlers were only 9% of the colonial population, yet they comprised 50% of those who received grants, and they received some 80% of the allocated land. The land sales similarly saw this group acquire 80% of the land. The low upset price of 5/- per acre was confirmed in 1831, but rose to twelve shillings in 1839 and twenty shillings in 1842. It is worth noting that there were ample opportunities for 'double-dipping' under Brisbane. It was no secret that many of those who received land grants were also buying land by tender, or that many beneficiaries of initial grants returned to claim additional or 'extension' grants as soon as they could argue that increased stock numbers demanded more acres next to their existing holdings.

3.3 Lieutenant-Governor Sorell's Largesse (VDL 1817-1824)
LC Mickleborough, 2002, Colonel William Sorell, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land, 1817-1824, Unpublished MA thesis, University of Tasmania

A few small grants were made by Sorell in his first three years of office, but from 1820 he really got down to business. There were a total of 1,903 grants of free land issued between 1817 and 1827, with an area of 825,081 acres alienated from the Crown in Van Diemen's Land during this decade (averaging 434 acres per grant). This included the very busy period between 1821 and 1825, when 649,945 acres were distributed in 1,494 grants (averaging 435 acres per grant). Mickleborough observes that Sorell was a very popular official among the free emigrant class, and on learning of the notification of his recall to London, they had a quick whip-around so they could present him with 500 Pounds worth of silver plate.

3.4 The End of the Age of Entitlement - 1831
<www.records.nsw.gov.au/state archives> 'Short Guide 8 - Land Grants 1788-1856'

"In a despatch dated 9 January 1831, Viscount Goderich instructed that no more free grants (except those already promised) be given. All land was thenceforth to be sold at public auction (HRA, i, XVI, 22). The new regulations were notified in a Government Notice of 1 July 1831 and published in a Government Order dated 1 August 1831."


4.1  'Sufficient' sheep numbers to establish 'possession'
The 'perfect mania' of sheep buying in the late 1830s was certainly a case of pent-up demand after London put the cork back in the bottle of land grants at the beginning of the decade. But this situation was aggravated by the peculiar circumstances surrounding the rush for land in the 'Waste Lands' of the new Port Phillip District. The area of land that could be claimed under Governor Bourke's Squatting Act of 1836 was directly associated with the claimant's capacity to stock it. Sheep numbers not only had to be adequate to satisfy the newly established Commissioners for Crown Lands in each district. Squatters also had to be able to demonstrate to their fellow squatters that they had sufficient numbers to justify their claim, or risk losing part of their run to them.

4.2 The conventions of occupation

Generally accepted conventions for establishing 'sufficient' livestock in the Western District had their origins in the regulatory guidelines developed under Governor Brisbane's 'golden age' of land grants. Brisbane issued "tickets of occupation or location" for grazing land next to grants and beyond the limits of survey. Liston notes "The area was calculated on 10 acres per animal [sic.] and was described as a radius of a number of miles from a central point such as stockyards". Additional grants, or grant extensions, were made where stock numbers had increased and the existing area was fully stocked. Liston observes "The grazing occupancy on unimproved land was calculated at 300 sheep to 1,000 acres and [it was assumed] the number of stock doubled every three years". The 'rule of thumb' that was adopted in the Western District from these 'precedents' was to favour the 'first arrival', and then apply a distance, or zone, of approximately three miles between each mob of sheep / shepherd's hut / set of hurdle rails, for 'later arrivals'. That is, if land was not occupied by a mob of sheep at a distance of three miles from the last mob, it could be treated as available and therefore 'legitimately' claimed by the next 'migrating' squatter heading up country.

4.3 Russell versus Learmonth
PL Brown (ed.), 1935, The Narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, OUP, London, pp. 154, 161

"On returning homewards in the evening [in 1837] we were surprised to come upon a flock of sheep, dray, and two or three men...they belonged to the Messrs Learmonth...Mr Yuille and I were convinced that the place they were going to take the sheep was the same piece of ground that we had decided on as a cattle-run...We got Mr Anderson to allow us to take a few hundreds of his sheep out of the fold for the purpose of occupying the ground before Mr Learmonth's party reached it...When Mr Learmonth and his party arrived on the ground next morning they were much surprised to find a small tarpaulin tent pitched, and a small flock of sheep grazing over the ground. Mr Learmonth was much disappointed at being forestalled in this matter, and disputed my right to the ground. However, we agreed to submit the matter to two arbitrators, Mr Learmonth choosing Mr Fisher, and I appointed Mr Yuille to act for me. Their decision was in my favour, on the ground that I was the first occupant."
[The Clyde Company shipped over six loads of sheep totalling 4,212 between December 1836 and March 1837. In November and December, George Russell and his men shore 5-6,000 ewes and lambs for 60 bales of wool. With the judicious movement of stock, he also managed to claim and retain occupation of Golf Hill (estimated in December 1847 to be 72,700 acres and running 31,990 sheep and 299 cattle).]

4.4 Black versus Craig and Ewen
Neil Black, Journal 1839-40, State Library of Victoria, MS 8996, MSB 99/1

"March 28th [1840, at Glenormiston], Rode out on the lake to sheep washing. The natives paid them a visit this morning and made signs they wished to come to the hut, but the men showed them guns and they made off. Anderson and rode around the lake as they are afraid of horses. We saw none of them and think they have left it. On my return home late in the evening heard that a flock of sheep was on the other side of the creek, opposite Macarthur & Cole. I have scarcely enough time to eat my food, but flying from one part to another to keep off the enemy - civilised man. He is much more troublesome to me than the savage. I am very anxious to get down the country to buy cattle, but cannot get away as no other can fight my battles here as well as myself. Yesterday and today I was round all the stations to sweeten the men before leaving them to the charge of an overseer."
"May 5th [1840, in Melbourne], Land is falling here fast at present; sheep are also rather down; cattle is by much the favourite speculation and very high in price...Captain Fyans has been appointed Commissioner of Crown Land in my part of the district. He is to go up to my place in a few days to decide between me and Messrs Craig & Ewen [see above]. I may say all my days and nights have been spent under deep anxiety of mind striving to make the best of it, and in whatever light my stewardship may be regarded by other parties, God knows it has cost me more anxiety than my own interest 10 times over. The expenses of keeping the country are what wounds me above all, and unless it is judged by the Commissioner that I have enough stock for it, I may be deprived of it all."
[The partnership of Niel Black & Co was able to retain 43,520 acres of the original 60,000 acres Strathdownie/Glenormiston run, but Fyans ruled in favour of Craig & Ewen ("a flock of sheep...on the other side of the creek") and Marida Yallock became a separately licensed run.]


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