Friday, 22 March 2019

Royal Commission into Overseas Settlers from Britain (Migrant Land Settlement) 1931

The Age, of January 24, 1931 reported on the Royal Commission on Migrant Land Settlement (read full article, here)

To Commence on 4th February.
More Than 300 Complaints Listed.
The royal commission appointed some time, ago by the Federal and State Governments to inquire into certain allegations affecting the settlement on the land in Victoria of migrants from Great Britain will open the inquiry at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 4th February, at the Arbitration Court, Melbourne. The members of the commission are Chief Judge [George James] Dethridge, of the Arbitration Court (chairman), Mr. C. McPherson, and Mr. W.E. B. Macleod. The secretary of the commission is Mr. C. Nance, an officer of the Prime Minister's department.

The State Government will be represented by Mr. C. F. Knight, assistant Crown Solicitor for Victoria, and a large percentage of the settlers will be represented by Mr. G.U. Nathan, of John W. McComas and Co.

The terms of reference to the commission briefly are as follow:—
1. Whether the complaints, or any of them, are justified, having regard to the facts of each particular case and to the provisions of certain agreements between the Commonwealth, Victorian and British
2. Whether the Victorian Government has failed to fulfil any, and if, so what, obligations arising out of or under the agreements, and by it agreed to be performed.
3. In what respects, if at all, has the Victorian Government failed to fulfil the said obligations.
4. Are there any, and if so what, circumstances directly or indirectly comtributing to the subject matter of the complaints, or any of them, over which the Victorian Government has no control.

As a matter of interest and quite unrelated to this story, apart from a rural connection, Chief Judge George James Dethridge was the younger brother of  John Stewart Dethridge who worked for the Public Works Department and later the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and the inventor of the Dethridge Water-meter, used in flood irrigation.

The three Royal Commissioners - Chief Judge George James Dethridge, of the Arbitration Court (chairman), Mr. C. McPherson, and Mr. W.E. B. Macleod. 
The Herald December 9, 1930

The Royal Commission took evidence from some local farmers and some of this was reported in the papers. The settlers' evidence is typical of  all the evidence presented - the land was too dear, unsuitable for the purpose, there was inadequate training and supervision etc. Some reports mention Elcho, which was the Government training farm for migrants near Geelong.

Evidence from Cr Donald Macgregor
Councillor Donald M. Macgregor, farmer of Dalmore, and a member of the Berwick Shire Council. He said:- About the year 1924 and 1925 a good deal of this land was acquired for the State Government by a sole agent (Mr Rowan) without any knowledge on the part of the local authorities. When we discovered that the Hallam Valley Estate had been acquired for closer settlement purposes my colleagues in the council and myself protested to various members of Parliament because we knew that the Hallam Valley was not suited for closer settlement. The land on the flats was unsuitable. The cost of drainage was excessive Protests against the purchase were made in the Legislative Council. I saw the method used in clearing the land. We worked out the cost, and we estimated that it was costing from £24 to £26 an acre to break down the scrub on the ground.
The scrub was burnt and men were then put on the land with mattocks to grub out the stumps before the ploughs could be put into the ground. The timber on the higher ground was burnt, and firewood has to be purchased to-day at a high price.
The council has refused to accept responsibility for the roads in the settlement. There are 10¾ miles of roads in the Hallam Valley settlement, and a number of bridges and culverts. We could not see our way to commit the ratepayers to the expense of maintaining these roads when we could not see any prospect of deriving revenue from the settlement. The land has been over-capitalised. There is, moreover, over-production of this class of market garden produce. (The Argus, May 7 1931)

Evidence from William Herbert Jarvis, market gardener, Narre Warren North.
Before I left England for Australia I was engaged as a market gardener and fruitgrower. I was receiving £3 a week and had free rent. I was attracted to Australia, thinking that it would offer a good future for myself, wife and family. I was assured that I would be able to earn a good living in Australia. The area of my block at Narre Warren is 14 acres and the price of the land was about £45 an acre. At the time I took possession there was a partly constructed house on the land. The land was fenced. I do not know how we have managed to carry on. My total private debts are now about £80. I do not think that I have paid any rent. The most that I have received in one year was £300 and I suppose that I spent £150 for labour out of that amount. I have very rarely received profitable prices at the Queen Victoria market for the class of produce that I can grow at Narre Warren. We formed an association and one of the questions which we took up with the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission was the drainage of the land. (The Argus, May 7 1931)

Evidence from George Owen, Yannathan.
The Argus reported on May 8, 1931 on the evidence that George Owen of Yannathan gave. George's evidence is included in a blog post I have written on the Owen Family, here.

Evidence from Charles James Dixon, Caldermeade.
Before coming to Australia I was employed in a steelworks, receiving £3/ 10/ a week. I saw various posters and advertisments, advertising Australia and I went to Australia House. I had a pension as an Imperial Soldier. At Wembley I heard a lecturer dealing with land settlement in Victoria. He touched on the patriotic side. He said - We helped you during the war. "Now you come and fill our empty spaces" (laughter) The second picture that was shown was of the glorious Sydney Harbour (laughter) I learned to milk at Elcho. My block has an area of 68 acres and the price was £42 an acre. I took possession on December 9 1925. I had never touched a plough before I went on to the block. I have lost crops through bad drainage. My arrears to the board are about £2,000. I suggest that I should have more land and more stock and that the price of the land should be reduced. My father visited me in 1928. He intended going into partnership with me but when he saw the land he booked his passage back to England. (The Argus, May 8 1931)

Evidence from George Arthur Green, Caldermeade.
Before I came to Australia I was engaged in farming operations. I was earnnig £ 2/10/ a week had house rent free and commission on buying and selling cattle I questioned Mr Wyatt, who was migration officer at Australia House, and decided to come to Australia. My block is 40 acres in area and the price was £50 an acre. After I got on to the block I discovered that it had been abandoned by the previous occupier. I could see that the land had been ploughed and then left. My block has not been revalued. (The Argus,  May 8 1931)

Evidence from A.G Ludlow, Narre Warren North
Mr A.G Ludlow, of Narre Warren North, continued the evidence which he began on Friday. The area of his block is 22½ acres. He said that he did not think that, under existing conditions, his successful settlement could be accomplished.
Chief Judge Dethridge (chairman)  - Anywhere?
Mr Ludlow:- I have no faith or confidence in the country. I have had a pretty bad spin. I have lost £1400.
Chief Judge Dethridge - You will not take Victoria as a gift? (Laughter)
Mr G.U. Nathan (who is appearing for the settlers) - Is it your desire to stay on the land if you can be satisfactorily settled?
Mr. Ludlow. - Yes, but I want to see that it is absolutely certain that I can be satisfactorily settled. It was stated on the prospectus that the land is suitable for intense culture. The former owner of the
land had grown oats on the land until it would not grow oats any more, and then sold it to the Water Commission (Laughter)
Replying to Mr C.F. Knight, assistant Crown solicitor who is appearing for the Government of Victoria, Mr Ludlow said that the reason he had not carried on with poultry farming was that it was unprofitable. There was no export trade at that time, and there were gluts in the market. The land was over-capitalised. (The Argus, May 12 1931)

Evidence from  Clifford Smith De Grey, Narre Warren
Clifford Smith De Grey, baker, said that before leaving England he was engaged in the bakery trade and that he was attracted to Australia for health reasons. He wanted to lead an outdoor life. He came to Australia to take up dairying. He had had no previous experience of that kind. He had raised £1,000 from the sale of his business in England, and he brought £815 with him to Australia. he was married and had two children. He arrived in Australia in 1925, and took up a block at Narre Warren.
The area of the block was between 13 and 16 acres and the price was £40 an acre. He left the block in June 1928. He was advised to give up the block when he was offered employment in the district. His motor-lorry was sold for £40. He desired to be satisfactorily settled on the land if it could be assured there was a living in it. His block was productive in certain seasons of the year. the land, however, would not grow cauliflowers.
Mr. Knight. - was as not the reason that you gave up the land that you became despondent with marketing and could not get the prices you wanted?
Mr . De Grey. - No. I was advised to leave the block. (The Argus, May 12 1931)

Evidence from Henry Stephen Bywater, Hallam Valley Estate
Henry Stephen Bywater produced photographs of the Hallam Valley settlement after the heavy rains in March last. He said the he was employed in England by Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son, tourist agents. He saw all the booklets issued in England about land settlement in Australia. He saw Mr Wyatt (who was migration officer at Australia House) in Manchester. Mr Wyatt, in his lecture pointed out the seaside resorts where farmers from the north spent the summer (Laughter). Witness and his brother arrived in Melbourne in December, 1926. He did not go to the Elcho training farm, which he understood was not for single men. He began to look for land in 1927, and was advised to take up market gardening in the Hallam Valley. He decided to apply for block nine, and was the only applicant before the land board. He did not get block nine. The father of the man who got that block was appointed a supervisor shortly afterwards. Witness was given block two, consisting of 13 acres at £49 an acre, unimproved. His brother went on to the block with him. Witness's receipts up to the end of 1928 were £27/2/11. In 1929 his receipts were £84/19/ for the first half of the year and £42/7/ for second half. In 1930 his receipts were £13/3/9 for the first half of the year and £121/11/9 for the second half. He and his brother had spent their money on the block. At least £700 had been expended. During the heavy rain in March last 9½ acres out of the 13 of his block were under water The effect of the mole drainage of his land was perfect for the time being but the ground had cracked, and the subsoil had fallen into the chains. (The Argus, May 12 1931)

Evidence from J.G. Viccars, Hallam Valley Estate
Before coming to Australia Mr J.G Viccars, of Hallam Valley, was employed in an engineering works. Giving evidence yesterday he said that he was at present engaged in dairying and market gardening. From his conversations with Mr Wyatt he came to Australia with the impression that at the end of five years he would be a farmer and have a farm of his own. He brought £230 to £240 to Australia with him. He arrived here in January, 1926. He spent 12 weeks at Elcho, and then he and his wife took a married couple's job for four months. He had a fortnight at the farmers' classes at Dookie. As land was not available he took up another position for 12 months He selected a block of 20 acres in the Hallam Valley, the price of which was £36 an acre. He went into occupation in October, 1927. No supervisor visited him during the first few months, and he made a good many mistakes during that time. He was making about 30/ a week from his block at the present time from dairying to market gardening. He was now just paying his way, but not his commitments to the Water Commission. When he went to the block he was told that the land was too valuable for keeping cows. (The Argus, May 12 1931)

Evidence from William Samuel Farman, Hallam Valley Estate
Before coming to Victoria in January, 1928. William Samuel Farman was a soldier in the Imperial army for 26 years. He said that because of the promises and bright future predicted for him by migration officals in England he came to Victoria and selected a block of 22 acres at £38 an acre in the Hallam Valley Estate. He had £450 in capital and a pension of £63 a year He intended to use the block for market gardening, and tried this for l8 months. The returns in the first year were £57/10/, and practically nothing thereafter. The soil was defective. The farm was merely a wornout cultivation plot. He had spent all his capital and annual pension. He then changed to dairying, and was now making 30/- a week. Land that cost £38 an acre was too expensive for dairying, but that was all the block was good for. (The Argus, May 13, 1931)

Evidence from Albert Thomas Groves, Hallam Valley Estate.
Albert Thomas Groves said that when he came to Victoria in 1925 he was not given adequate training as had been promised. He had £670 in capital. He took up a block in the Hallam Valley Estate to engage in market gardening and poultry farming. The land cost £38 an acre. He thought he was buying 19 acres, but later found that it actually was a block of 24 acres. The land was defective, and generally the block was a hopeless proposition. He lost all his capital in 12 months. It had cost him £75 to lay pipes to bring water to the house. (The Argus, May 13, 1931)

Evidence from Frederick George Triggs, Narre Warren
Frederick George Triggs , Lower Hall, Hammersmith England was put in by Mr. Nathan. In his affidavit Triggs said that he was accepted as an approved settler in 1928. When he arrived in Victoria in March 1928, his selection of land was limited to blocks at Narre Warren. He took one over, and within a month it was waterlogged. Eventually he brought the whole of it under cultivation, but then found the promises regarding marketing were not fulfilled, and much of his produce was wasted. After 18 months his capital of £623 was exhausted and his accumulated debt to the Water Commission was £800. With his wife and two children he worked from 4 o'clock in the morning until night . A number of experts pronounced the block a hopeless proposition, and the commission , realising that his complaints were fully justified, offered him a transfer to another block, but that block was disposed off before he replied. The price of the land, £61 an acre, was out of all proportion to its economic value There was no depth of soil; the top soil of 3 in. had a layer of stiff blue clay beneath it. After an inspection of the Water Commission, officials realised that it was impossible to cultivate the block, and allowed him £3 a week for four months before he abandoned the land. He later returned to England. He claimed that there had been grave misrepresentation by the Lands department, that the price of the land was excessive, and that he had not received promised training and supervision. He asked that he should be resettled on another suitable block or be granted compensation by the return of the capital he had lost amounting to £650.  (The Argus,  May 13, 1931)

Evidence from Henry James F. Jones, Koo Wee Rup (later at Fish Creek)
Henry James F. Jones, farmer, of Fish Creek, stated in 19136 he left England, where he was earning £5 12/6 as a painter. Mr Wyatt told him land suitable for dairying could be obtained at from £5 to £10 an acre. He and his wife had £850 between them upon landing in Australia. After being at Elcho farm he was shown land at Kooweerup valued at £1966, portion of which was swamp abandoned by a former settler. The board's solicitor stated the board admitted the land was unsuitable for settlement, and the whole question was a matter of compensation. Witness, continuing, said the block was completely saturated with water at one time. Officials of the board said improvements were futile on such land. Draining cost him £90. In 1927 his receipts from potatoes and dairying were £566. In 1928 and 1929 he received £929, and his expenses were £692. Owing to flooding of the land he gave up and went to Fish Creek. On 100 acres at £23 an acre he had 12 cows, from which he received £120 for the year. He grew potatoes and the highest price he received was £3 a ton. He had only £50, four cows, three horses and farm implements when he left Kooweerup. His interest and principal to the board was accumulating, as the area was not large enough to make a living. (The Age, May 20, 1931)

Evidence from George Lewis Williams, district officer for the Water Commission of the Mornington peninsula area.
As might be expected some of the officials who gave evidence had a different viewpoint. Mr Williams was quite blunt in his evidence.

"From time to time", continued Williams, "I engaged gardening experts to supervise and instruct the settlers, but these man gave up in disgust because they could not get the men on the blocks to take their advice. Many of them tried to cultivate an area that was too large. They were advised to concentrate on small areas, but would not follow that advice. They held Bolshevik meetings to ventilate their grievances. The Water Commission has supplied a motor-truck, and employs two men to transport vegetables. The settlers even refused to cart the produce from their blocks to the packing shed for sale. There are too many misfits among the overseas settlers. They have been offered the use of scoops and other implements to do work on their blocks, but would not take advantage of the offer. They were too lazy. They also would not take advice on methods of cultivation and growing vegetables. They are the most contrary men I have ever met"

Findings of the Royal Commission
The findings of the Royal Commission can be accessed on the Victorian Parliament website, here. However, the Weekly Times had a comprehensive report of the findings of the Royal Commission on April 8, 1933
The Royal Commission in Migrant Land Settlement has found in its report to the Lieutenant-Governor (Sir William Irvine) that the settlers were justified in their complaints of misrepresentation by Commonwealth and State representatives in London........
The Commission examined 504 witnesses at 146 public sittings. The inspection of holdings and the examination of witnesses in country centres necessitated the travelling of 10,000 miles.....
In a summary of the conditions of 318 individual settlers, the commission finds that in practically every instance conditions were not such as to provide "a living and all commitments" and that in such cases the opportunity given to the settler of earning a living and ultimately acquiring his farm more or less fall short of the State's obligations to him. The Commissioners, however contended that they had no right to make any recommendation concerning the remedy or redress of any of the complaints.

The findings of the Royal Commission also has a  summary of the evidence of  318 individuals - which gives a good indication of the areas covered by the Commission which include The Mallee, Murrabit, Maffra, Katandra, Stanhope, Alberton West, Shepparton, Leongatha, Tongala, Coleraine, Red Cliffs and this region. It is no wonder they travelled over 10,000 miles to inspect the properties. The evidence summary includes notes on training, block condition and whether  it could provide the farmer with  a living and the ability to fulfill commitments. The local farmers who are listed in the findings (that we haven't already referred to) are - G.T. Bedford, Pakenham; R.V. Ford, Dandenong; A.Long, Pakenham East; J.M. Mason, Narre Warren; J.A. Millar, Koo Wee Rup and E. Moralee, Narre Warren.

The farms were clearly thought to be small family farms. John Roy, farm supervisor, Water Commission, gave this evidence -  Dairying was not necessary if a man was making a success of market gardening, but if a man had a growing family it was a good thing to have cows, pigs and poultry, and keep family occupied on the farm. (The Age, May 15 1931) If a farmer did not have  a wife, he was advised to get one - Charles Rowatt McTaggett, dairy farmer, Alberton West. He came to Victoria with £300 capital but was given no training. His present block which he took over from the board was of 48 acres and cost £2,253 with £600 for improvements, making the price £61 an acre. It would carry only 18 cows, and was far too small to return a living. When he complained, Mr. Weir, who was in charge of the Closer Settlement scheme, advised him to get married, because he would then be able to milk 12 more cows. He did not follow that advice.

I have created  a list of newspapers articles on Trove relating to this Royal Commission, you can access the list here. All the papers referenced in this post are on the list.

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