No. 16
Downing Street
7 February 1859
I have had under my consideration your Despatch No 7 of the 27th of October, on the disposal of public land in VanCouver's Island and in British Columbia.
The lowest price of Country lands in VanCouver's Island would appear to have been £1 per acre, and I think that the same may with propriety be adoptedinManuscript image in Frasers River and the other Mining Districts for which you have suggested the adoption of this price. I shall not object to your naming, if you see good practical reasons for that course either in order to increase the attractions to new Settlers or on account of the rates charged for Land in the adjacent territory of the United States, a lower upset price than £1 for ordinary Country lands in other Districts, but I think that any such price should be general so as not to have a great variety of rates, and I would also point out to you that greatcautionManuscript image caution should be exercised in introducing such distinctions, lest by creating artificial inducements, they should interfere with the course of settlement which would be dictated by the natural advantages of the Country.
One principal question raised in the Report which you have furnished is whether to adopt the plan of Sale by auction or that of sale at a fixed price. The advantages of Sale by Auction is that it forms the best available precaution against parting with the land at an inadequate price, and that it conclusivelypreventsManuscript image prevents both the occurrence and even the suspicion or imputation of any favoritism or irregularity in the disposal of the public property. The objections to auction are that it may discourage enterprize by exposing the discoverer of eligible lands to be outbid at their Sale, and that unless well regulated it may involve a delay in affording purchasers an opportunity to obtain the lots they desire. Looking however to the inestimable advantage of perfect confidence in the purity of the land administration, MyownManuscript image own opinion is that Sale by Auction is the best system, and that most of the objections to it might be obviated by the adoption of a rule which is very common in other Colonies, namely, that ordinary Country lots, after once they have been exposed to Sale and not purchased, may be bought by a fresh applicant at the upset price as a fixed price. This you will observe will always afford a large quantity of Common land ready for appropriation by any Settler who is unwilling to wait for a periodical auction.
The reasons for submitting lots tocompetitionManuscript image competition are, I need scarcely observe, doubly strong in the case of town or suburban lots.
Another question of importance, and one on which a flood of light has been thrown by experience in other Colonies, is whether payment for the land should be prompt or on the contrary allowed to be made in instalments. I have not a doubt myself, from the wide experience which has been acquired on this subject, that prompt payment is the proper rule. It is the best indication of a purchaser's being really possessed of means to cultivatehisManuscript image his lot, it avoids harrassing the Government with the existence of a whole population of small debtors from whom it is next to impossible to collect their dues, and above all it maintains a sounder state of Society by not encouraging the premature conversion into petty and impoverished land owners of those who ought to be Laborers.
The size of lots is a matter which I must leave you to determine with the advice of Coll Moody, merely stating that I do not myself see any objection to adopting for Country lots one sixth oroneManuscript image one eighth of a square mile, that is to say 70 or 80 acres. The last mentioned size was adopted with much convenience in creating the flourishing settlement of South Australia. Town lots should of course be much smaller so as to suit the convenience of Purchasers. In most new Colonies formed within the last 20 years, such lots have produced very high prices, seldom falling below a rate which would amount to £100, and often reaching that of £1000 per acre.
The reservation of Mineral lands, and the disposal of them on differenttermsManuscript image terms from Agricultural lands are proper. In respect to Coal and the baser metals the best arrangement would probably be to established liberal regulations for encouraging explorations and for leasing to the discoverer lands under which Minerals may be discovered for a certain period and at a certain small royalty. In several Colonies the terms for Mineral lands are, a Lease of 21 years at a Royalty of 1/15th Whether those terms would be sufficiently favorable in British Columbia, or whether it would be desirabletoManuscript image to make them easier by postponing the payment or reducing the amount of the Royalty, I leave it to you to decide. I mention them only as shewing what has been considered fair to all parties in other of the British Colonies. But it is obvious that the Revenue to be derived from such lands is not the most important element of the question, and that it should not be allowed to interfere with whatever may be necessary to stimulate the development of the natural resources of the Colony. In case of more than one applicationforManuscript image for the same Mineral land the lease should be put up to auction, the biddings being, not on the amount of rent or royalty, but on a premium to be paid down for the lease.
Auriferous lands are distinct from what are usually termed Mineral lands, and must be dealt with on different principles. In the case of Coal and the baser Metals the possession passes to the Owner of the surface soil unless a special reservation is inserted in the Crown Grant. In the case of Gold and silver the right remains in the Crown whetherthereManuscript image there is any reservation in the grant or not. I do not feel that much assistance can be afforded to you in this matter by any suggestions from home. The question to be decided is not so much what is the best mode of dealing with auriferous lands and securing a revenue from Gold digging, as what is the most practicable and satisfactory plan having regard to the means at the Governors disposal. Upon this point resident authorities alone can form a competent opinion.
I refer you to my former DespatchManuscript image of the 14th October as to my own anticipations of the difficulties to which sooner or later the system of licences for digging is exposed, but unquestionably so long as these difficulties do not occur, the system has the advantage of promptitude in the collection of a Revenue. I have been glad to observe in your Despatch of 14th December that your experience already bears out the opinion I before conveyed to you, as to the great fiscal resource to be found in a duty on Gold exports.
The time at which a trigonometrical survey may be commenced consistentlywithManuscript image with any more urgent demands on the Surveyors for the practical wants of Settlers, is a question which will best be determined by you on the advice of Colonel Moody.
The publication of Maps and of other information concerning the lands open for settlement will be very useful, and you will no doubt furnish the Home Government with Copies of all such documents.
The establishment of a series of meteorological observations will be muchfacilitatedManuscript image facilitated by the presence in the Colony of a body of educated Officers and Men, to many of whom, probably such observations are familiar.
I have the honor to be
Your most obedient
humble Servant
E B Lytton