Murdoch to Rogers (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Emigration Office
20 November 1860
I have to acknowledge your letter of 24th ultimo, enclosing two Despatches from Governor Douglas—the first containing his own comments on Capt Clarke's scheme for the disposal of Land in B. Columbia—the other transmitting a report from Mr Begbie, the Judge of British Columbia, on the same subject.
2. Governor Douglas states that the Land regulations of B. Columbia, including the preemption Act of Manuscript image 1860, contain substantially all the important suggestions in Captain Clarke's scheme. The only important differences between the two are the acceptance in B. Columbia of deferred payments for lands sold—and the reservation to the Crown of Gold and Silver on lands sold to individuals.
3. In respect to the first of these points Governor Douglas argues at considerable length that the peculiar description of the population of British Columbia, which consist almost exclusively of moneyless laborers without any mixture of Capitalists, would make Manuscript image it impossible to sell any land at all on condition of prompt payment of the price. He says, very truly, that the Land should not be regarded as a source of revenue, but as a means of aiding the progress and development of the Country & encouraging the resort of a resident population. He observes that such a population would be cheaply purchased by even a free gift of the Land if that were necessary, and he points to the liberality of the Land systems of the United States and the older British Provinces in support of this view. He expresses his belief that settlement in Manuscript image British Columbia must be encouraged by the same policy, and that otherwise the laboring class will be forced from it to the neighbouring States of the Union.
4. The objections to deferred payments have been so repeatedly stated that I do not reproduce them here. When Governor Douglas first sent home his land regulations those objections were, I believe, explained to him, and he was directed, whenever the Land regulations were revised, to introduce the system of prompt payment instead. A question, therefore, arises whether any Manuscript image modifications of that instruction should now be made.
5. Theoretically I believe the arguments in favor of prompt payment to be conclusive, but it is possible that they cannot be enforced practically in B. Columbia without creating more inconvenience than they prevent. The position of British Columbia would appear at present to be peculiar in this respect. There are few capitalists in it and those there are have gone thither to employ their capital, not on the Land, but in gold seeking. The attractions of the latter are so great that probably for some time to come no man Manuscript image who can afford to dig for gold will do anything else. In the course of time the profits to be derived from producing food for this gold seeking population will be so great as to induce men with capital to employ it in the cultivation of the soil. But that time has not yet come and the unsettled habits of the population, which ebbs and flows with the season for gold mining, will postpone it to a later periods in British Columbia than in other gold producing Countries. Meanwhile the cultivation of the Land has fallen, as Governor Douglas states, altogether into the hands Manuscript image of a very poor class for whom the payment by deferred instalments is a necessity. And it cannot be denied that any measure which should discourage the increase of this class, still more which should drive away those who have already settled, would be a great misfortune to the Colony. Upon the whole, looking moreover to the general prevalence of deferred payments in the American Continent, I would recommend that, for the present at least, Governor Douglas should be allowed to continue the system which he considered essential to the progress of the Colony.
6. In respect to the reservation Manuscript image of the Crowns right to the precious metals in Sales to private individuals, Governor Douglas thinks it desirable for public interests that it should be continued until the Country has been explored. He points out that the prosperity of the Colony and its revenue depend entirely on the labors of the Gold Mining population, and that it has been the constant aim & policy of his Government to protect & encourage that class. But if the Crown's reservation were given up Miners might be excluded from lands in the possession of private individuals, except on terms Manuscript image oppressive to industry. For these reasons the Law has reserved to them a right to enter upon & work Mines of the precious Metals on private Lands with which Governor Douglas would propose not to interfere. The Law referred to is the "preemption Act" of 1860, and it provides for compensation to the owner of the land for any waste or damage done by the goldseeker working upon it. As no complaint has been received from the Colony on this point it will not, I presume, be thought necessary to interfere with Governor Douglas' decision in the matter.
Manuscript image 7. In Governor Douglas's second despatch is enclosed, as I have stated, a report from Mr Begbie, the Judge of the Colony. Mr Begbie commences with a very interesting description of the Country and the people, and with a very satisfactory account of the character of the latter. He describes them as peaceable, orderly and well conducted, but shrewd independent & self reliant—strongly impregnated with American views and not to be governed on a system to which they are opposed—of wandering habits—encamped merely, not settled—and easily driven away, therefore, by bad Manuscript image management. Among such a people it is of paramount importance that the system on which the public lands are disposed of should be such as to commend itself to their good will and to be suited to their circumstances, and Mr Begbie deprecates, therefore, prospective legislation or any interference beyond what is unavoidable. He expresses his general approval of the existing system, but recommends an early classification of Town and Country Lands, the alienation of known auriferous lands in small lots at a price of £4 or £5 an acre, and the lowering of the price of Agricultural Manuscript image lands to 4s/- an Acre (it has been lowered to 4s/2d) observing that "cheapness and liberality of that sort on the part of the Government possess an attraction and popularity which I admit I am totally at a loss to Justify." The land costing perhaps £20 an Acre to bring it into cultivation. He considers that "preemption" is absolutely indispensable, observing that when he first arrived in the Colony he was strongly of opinion that no occupation should be allowed till after survey—but that no one could have gone round the Country even to the limited extent he has done Manuscript image done, without coming to the conclusion that such a prohibition is impossible, and, if possible, would be impolitic. He goes seriatim through the several heads of Captain Clarkes scheme, expressing his opinion, however, in such brief terms as to be sometimes obscure. The great bulk of Capt Clarkes suggestions are, as stated by Governor Douglas, substantially in practice in British Columbia, but I understand Mr Begbie to be opposed to Sale by Auction—and to approve prompt payment. His views, however, are not distinctly expressed on those points. I do not see, therefore, Manuscript image that there is anything in Mr Begbie's paper to overrule the recommendations of Governor Douglas.
8. From the Secretary of States Despatch of 16 July last enclosed in your letter it would appear, that his decision on the preemption Act of January last had been suspended until the receipt of Governor Douglas' report on Capt Clarkes suggestions. Looking to the clear and decided opinions on this point expressed by Governor Douglas & Mr Begbie, to the peculiarity of the circumstances of British Columbia, and to the sanction which has already been given to the Manuscript image principle of preemptive occupation before survey, I presume that the Duke of Newcastle will consider it right now to sanction the preemption Law. Whatever future inconvenience may arise from the occupation of unsurveyed Land with preemptive rights, it will apparently be less injurious than the risk of driving away from the Colony the only persons who are likely to bring any part of its soil into cultivation for perhaps several years.
I have etc.
T.W.C. Murdoch
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
VJ 21 Novr
I have read this report & I presume that the opinions which it contains will be adopted. If so write accordingly to the Governor? The despatch should, I apprehend, reiterate the chief practical suggestions which I have marked at pages 7, 9, 14 & 15.
TFE 27 Nov
These conclusions seem to me quite right.
CF 28
Judge Begbie should be thanked for his interesting Report in 9601.
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft reply, Newcastle to Douglas, No. 64, 6 December 1860.