Murdoch to Rogers (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Emigration Office
9 June 1860
I have to acknowledge your Letter of the 28th ultimo, enclosing a Despatch from the Governor of Vancouver's Island, with an Address to Her Majesty from the House of Assembly, and a Report from the Legislative Council on the price of Crown Land in that Colony.
2. The House of Assembly represent that the high price of Land in Vancouver's Island, has driven Settlers to the neighbouring territory of the United States; and they therefore pray that the price mayManuscript imagemay be reduced from one pound (£1) an acre to Four shillings and two pence (4s/2d). The Legislative Council recommend that the price should be reduced as suggested; but that to prevent Land jobbing, conditions of occupation and improvement should be imposed. They also express their approval of the pre-emptive system, provided the Land be so selected as not to leave out rocks, swamps &c, and that the quantity pre-empted do[es] not exceed 160 acres. They add, however, that they are averse to tying up all the Crown Lands on the pre-emptive system; but that Capitalists should be enabled to procure extensive quantities of Land "whenManuscript image"when required for a laudable purpose". The Governor recommends the petition of the Assembly to favorable consideration—as necessary to put the Colony on something like an equal footing with the neighbouring territory—and proposes to guard against Land speculation, the probability of which he foresees, by imposing settlement duties. He states that under the similar system in force in Canada, speculation is said to be unknown and impossible.
3. In respect to the price of Land there can be little doubt that while in the adjoining territory of the Union, land may be purchased at $1 1/4, there is no chance of being able to sell it in Vancouver's Island atManuscript imageat 20s/- an acre. It was intended, I understood, as soon as the negociations with the Hudson's Bay Company were sufficiently matured, to authorize the Governor to sell Land at 10s/- an acre, that being the price established in British Columbia. But we have always felt much doubt at this Board, whether 10s/- an acre, though originally suggested by Governor Douglas, was not too high with reference to the price in the adjoining territory. I am not, therefore, prepared to dissuade a compliance with the prayer of the Assembly, and the recommendation of the Governor and Legislative Council that the price should beManuscript imagebe reduced to 4s/2d an acre.
4. But then arises the serious question to which Governor Douglas and the Legislative Council have adverted, how to prevent land jobbing by persons who purchase without the intention of occupying or improving. Governor Douglas proposes settlement duties, and appeals to Canada as proving the efficacy of that condition. I have no information as to the present working of the Land Regulations in Canada; but there is no Country in which it is notorious that the system of settlement duties more utterly failed in former years than in Canada. In the years immediately after the conquest, and still more after the peace of 1783, itManuscript imageit was the practice to make Grants of Land in that Country to persons possessed of Capital, on condition of the performance of settlement duties, and to ensure the fulfilment of the condition, the deed of grant was with-held till a Certificate had been produced of the execution of the stipulated work. Under this system immense tracts gradually came into the hands of individuals who had neither the intention nor the means of improving them—but who bought them solely with a view to resale at a future time. The existence of these unimproved but appropriated tracts of Land, was a serious obstruction to the progress of the Country, and an intolerable 1783, nuisanceManuscript imagenuisance to the neighbouring Settlers.
5. It may, however, be said that this arose from an imperfect working of the system—not from inherent defect in the system itself. I do not, however, believe that any precautions which the Government could take, would in the case of an extensive Colony, ensure an efficient working of the system. In Canada, it was notorious that the Certificates necessary to obtain a Grant of Land were obtained on the loosest evidence—and often on no evidence at all—and that they were even to be procured in Montreal or Quebec from persons who had never seen the Land about which they certified. Nothing like this would probably occur 1783, inManuscript imagein the first instance on Vancouver's Island—but it is the tendency of all such Regulations to grow gradually laxer in their application, till at last they become a mere delusion. If with a view to ensure greater strictness, it were made the duty of the Crown Land Office to ascertain by actual inspection the performance of the settlement duties, the expense of the necessary Establishment would in the course of a few years become intolerable.
6. But even if fraud or neglect could be guarded against settlement duties would in practice be of little use. From the nature of the case they must be of a description to be executed within a 1783, shortManuscript imageshort period, and at no great expense—otherwise they would discourage purchasers more than a high price. But if so they would not deter a Captialist who was willing to lock up a sum of money in Land on the chances of reselling the Land at a future day at three or four times its first cost—while they would in reality be of no practical value to the Colony. In a new Country, the clearance or breaking up of Land, or the opening of a Road, or the building of a Hut, which are the readiest description of settlement duties, make but a momentary impression, and if not subsequently attended to, are obliterated by the vegetation of a year or two. But when once these or any other prescribed SettlementManuscript imageSettlement duties, had been performed, the purchaser would be entitled to claim a Grant of the Land—and to leave it untouched for any length of time. Nor must it be forgotten that the rapidity with which the tracks of cultivation are obliterated in new Countries, adds incalculably to the difficulty of ascertaining whether settlement duties have been properly performed or not.
7. The only real protection against excessive acquisitons of Land for speculative purposes, is, I believe, to be found either in a high price or in an Annual Tax. The latter is the best, because acting continuously, it provides an ever constant motive against allowing the Land to lie idle whichManuscript imagewhich a price paid once for all, however high, will not do to the same extent. And in this probably is to be found an explanation of the alleged absence of speculative purchases in Canada. I believe that in that Colony the Municipal Councils have the power of taxing the Land within their respective Districts for local purposes, and that this power has been generally exercised by them. It would clearly not be the interest of a speculator to buy land thus situated upon the chance of reselling it at some future period at an enhanced price, but with the certainty in the meantime of having to pay an annual Tax in proportion to its extent.
But Manuscript image
8. But the circumstances of Vancouver's Island and Canada, are so different, that a system which is found to work easily and efficiently in the one may be quite impracticable in the other. And this I fear would be the case with regard to a Land Tax. In Canada where the population is thick, the interest which the Taxpayers have in the application of the Tax, ensures its imposition and collection. But in Vancouver's Island, where the population is too sparse for Municipalities, the Tax could only be imposed and collected by the government, which would have only a remote interest in the matter, and is always less able to enforce anManuscript imagean obnoxious payment than a Municipal Body. It will be for Governor Douglas to consider whether this difficulty can be overcome—and if so whether his Legislature would pass an Act imposing such a Tax as the condition of a reduction in the price of Land. The Tax, if imposed should be the same on all Country Lands whether cultivated or wild, and of such amount as to be inappreciable on cultivated Land, although a burthen on wild Land. Probably -/1d or -/2d an acre would be sufficient. It would be desirable also that the proceeds of any such Tax should be expended in Public Works of immediate benefit to those who pay it—such as opening Roads, buildingManuscript imagebuilding bridges, improving navigable Rivers &c. The individual settlers would in this way receive more than the worth of their respective Contributions to the Tax and might possibly become reconciled to payments which, against their resistance, the Government would have great difficulty in enforcing.
9. In regard to pre-emptive rights, the Duke of Newcastle, in the case of British Columbia, has sanctioned provisionally the occupation of Land before survey,
Only provisionally.
to avoid the discouragement which delay might cause to intending Settlers. The same reason would justify the introduction of the same system in Vancouver's Island. But Governor DouglasManuscript imageDouglas should observe in the latter all the Regulations which have been established in British Columbia to facilitate the future adjustment of pre-emptive lots into the general survey, and to reduce as much as possible the risk of future conflicting claims to the same Land, which is the great danger of the system of pre-emption. The regulations for British Columbia are contained in a Proclamation of 4th January last, forwarded in Governor Douglas' Despatch of 12th January to which we suggested some additions in a Report dated 31st March last.
10. In conclusion I may remark, with reference to the suggestion of the Legislative Council that Capitalists shouldManuscript imageshould be enabled to procure extensive tracts of Land when required for a laudable purpose, that it would be extremely inconvenient to lay down any principle of this description. If the Governor were invested with a discretion to relax the ordinary Land Regulations in what should appear to him exceptional cases, he would be continually exposed to applications to do so. Those who failed in their applications would denounce all the successful cases as jobs—and impugn the impartiality, perhaps the good faith of the Governor. It seems to me indispensable that whatever Land Regulations may beManuscript imagebe established should be of uniform operation—or, if exceptions are inevitable that they should be strictly defined, and placed, if possible, beyond the discretion of the Local Authorities.
I have etc.
T.W.C. Murdoch
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Elliot
If the Duke of Newcastle concurs in the views expressed in this report the Governor should be instructed to signify to the Ho: of Assy that the Queen has been pleased to assent to their request for a reduction in the price of Crown Land to 4/2 per acre. And I think it would be serviceable to send the Governor, for his own information, a copy of this report.
ABd 14/6
I agree in the substance of the proposed answer—in point of form I believe that we must say to him that he is authorized to name this reduced price for lands as soon as he shall be duly invested with the power of sale by the completion of the measures for transferring that right from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Government.
TFE 18 June
A very good report. Will it not be necessary to reduce the price of land in B. Columbia pari passu?
CF 19
I do not think the price of Land can be reduced in one of these two Colonies without a Manuscript imagesimultaneous reduction in the other, but the sooner the U.S. price is adopted the better. I suppose however it cannot be before the rights of the H.B.C. are surrendered to the Govt.
This letter should be sent either entire or in substance to Govr D.
N 25
Murdoch, Thomas William Clinton to Rogers, Frederic 9 June 1860, CO 305:15, no. 5785, 323. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. James Hendrickson and the Colonial Despatches project. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/V605LN07.html.

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