THE FORMATION OF THE COMPANY
The Australian Agricultural Company arose to
meet different, but complementary, needs in Australia and Britain. The colony of New South Wales lacked the risk capital, management skills and breeding stock needed to form, develop and expand a fine wool industry. In the United Kingdom, economic and social
conditions after the Napoleonic Wars inclined British woollen manufacturers, to view their traditional suppliers in Spain, Saxony and Austria with unease. A few of these manufacturers, with their bankers and shipping agents, were susceptible to a novel suggestion
that a remote, convict colony enjoyed conditions of soil and climate favourable to producing a soft wool suitable for blending with home-grown coarse wools. An awareness of mutual advantage and need fostered the emergence in 1824 of Australia's first pastoral
corporation. It continues to the present day as one of Australia's largest cattle producers.
A. A. Company, as it became known, enjoyed favourable antecedents in its founding years and early operations. It was disliked by many colonists. Some merchants and farmers, and especially the
spokesmen for the emancipists, feared its scale of operation and saw it as an extension of privilege and detested established authority. Their feelings more matched in a parallel, but more guarded, way, by their opponents, the exclusives, the emerging elite.
These socially, eligible men, former military and naval officers and imperial service bureaucrats who had stayed on in the colony at the end of their tour of duty or migrated as free settlers, desired to see established around Parramatta, Bathurst, Goulburn
and Maitland a plantation type society of large estates studded with manorial homesteads and surrounded by thick, rich pastures cropped by large flocks and herds tended by convict servants and emancipist employees. A society not unlike the cotton states of
the United States south, rather than a Macquarie type colony of emancipists restored to full civic rights and aspiring to landed pretension, was favoured by the group emerging as a ruling class dominating the executive, judiciary and advisory legislative council
being established in the colony at the time the Australian Agricultural Company was being formed in London. A corporation on the scale envisaged by its founders, while it offered advantages to the exclusives, also threatened their hopes to monopolise wealth
and power as the colonies moved from being strict gaols to eventual free societies with representative and responsible governments.
The Company would face perilous beginnings as its officers and servants learned to deal with colonial society. After a troubled foundation period a
streamlined management structure, established by determined officers, would enable the A. A. Company to make its mark on Australia's economic story in a series of significant, and often understated, achievements. In the pre-gold-rush period the quality of
its stock established it as the leading wool producer and guaranteed, also, that its cattle and horses were eagerly sought. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century its monopoly rights to coal facilitated the emergence of a strong, extractive industry
in which, during the second half of the century, it was the leading competitor in domestic coal production against rival collieries. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries its extensive Warrah station on the Liverpool Plains was judged the finest
pastoral property in a land bejewelled with many large and highly capitalised runs. In the second half of the twentieth century it was for some years Australia's largest beef cattle producer and, even after losing that niche, remains third on the list. Concentration
on its pastoral achievements, and formerly its coal-mining operations, should not deflect notice away from its present activities in agriculture.
This listing of achievements indicates the eventual successes which made the Australian Agricultural Company a strong factor in pastoralism, agriculture and mining. Most of these accomplishments are little known. A long tradition of interest in the firm's
early years is partly responsible for neglect of its major performances. By returning to a review of the early decades of the A. A. Company - its formative and developmental phase - it will be possible not only to understand the major constraints and difficulties
associated with colonial growth but to provide historical perspective to an enduring Australian dilemma, the role of overseas capital and decision-making in the exploitation of local resources. Today, Australian Agricultural Company Limited is Australian owned
and controlled. This is a recent occurrence, an upshot of the last decades. The story of A. A. Company's foundation, and later growth, suggests strongly that it could not have been otherwise. Our story lies with the struggles and frustrations of these early
years. It shows how the fine wool and coal-mining industries could not have been established without the capital, skills and stock supplied by British entrepreneurship.
Given the nature of New South Wales and Van Diemens Land as penal colonies, it was inevitable that decision-making in London
shaped the structure and scope of the corporation. Government officials in Downing Street and Westminister with City of London businessmen combined to midwife the company once plans were made for its formation.
Substantial doubt prevails on the intermediate origins of the A. A. Company.
Australian tradition views the Company as a Macarthur foundation, a claim strongly rebutted by its early London office. This belief was founded on earlier lobbying by Captain Macarthur, and then Gregory Blaxland, to form corporations similar to that which
eventually emerged. The belief is also grounded in a confusion of the role of John Macarthur junior, the most intelligent son of John and Elizabeth Macarthur of Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta. John, who was reading law at Lincolns Inn Court was instrumental in
arousing enthusiasm for the firm's formation. He did this, however, only after a suggestiofi had been made to him by a merchant prominent in the British wool trade. This merchant was probably Thomas Ebsworth.
It is necessary to clarify the roles of the merchant and the budding lawyer
to appreciate in context the Australian Agricultural Company. John Ritchie has shown conclusively that between 1819 and 1822 neither the situation in the English woollen industry nor that of wool production in the colony was such as to ensure that fine wool
would become the staple export of New South Wales. His definitive study of Commissioner J. T. Bigge is crucial to proper understanding of the emergence of the A. A. Company. Ritchie stresses not only that Bigge, as a result of his enquiries in the colony between
1819 and 1821, saw fine wool as the only product with a possibility of becoming a staple export but, most importantly, that he arrived at his conclusions almost in spite of the situation of British manufacturers and colonial pastoralists. Bigge's recommendations
benefited manufacturer and pastoralist as an incidental result of his conclusions which derived logically and inevitably from his ideas on the convict transportation system.
There is strong doubt as to whether English merchants and manufacturers were concerned with the predominantly coarse wool imported
from New South Wales as late as 1828. In 1823 when Bigge's Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the State of Agriculture and Trade in the Colony of New South Wales, was tabled in the House of Commons, and then ordered to be published, it required a sense
of daring and long-term judgment to envisage New South Wales, let alone Van Diemens Land, as a major producer of fine wool. The entrepreneurial mix was injected by the merchant who read Bigge's third report, Agriculture and Trade, when it was published.
Thomas Ebsworth was with the London
firm of Marsh and Ebsworth and in a position to enjoy confidential contact with young John Macarthur. His firm handled the Macarthur family wool. He was the auctioneer in 1821 when a bale of Macarthur wool brought 124d. a pound. His sons, Frederick, Thomas
and James, migrated to Australia with the A. A. Company and enjoyed long and fruitful associations with it. These factors make it highly likely that Thomas Ebsworth would not only have had a strong interest in reading Bigge but that his suggestions would be
followed up by the energetic ambitious agent of Macarthur family interests in London. The speed with which the Company was formed and the time needed for mail to reach Australia by sailing ship ensured that news of the A. A. Company's formation came as a surprise
to the family in late October, 1824.19 Although Captain Macarthur played no role in the formation of the Australian Agricultural Company, the venture formed in 1824 is in direct, lineal descent from the plans suggested by him and others, two decades previously.
The young Macarthur, however,
played a prominent role. Even while Bigge was preparing his report for the Colonial Office, John fostered his close friendship with Robert Wilmot Horton, the Under-Secretary, and formed a valuable association with Edward Barnard, the New South Wales Agent
in London. Macarthur attempted, unsuccessfully, to anticipate Bigge's news. As soon as the Commissioner's report was published and Ebsworth made his pre-empting suggestion, Macarthur began to lobby various bankers and merchants to form a company.
During 1823 and 1824 seminal discussions
took place. By early 1824 plans had matured. On Saturday morning, 10 April, 1824, young Macarthur convened a meeting in his Lincoln Inn Chambers. Laid out on the table were extracts from Bigge's published reports, and heads of proposals for a joint-stock company.
The meeting was chaired by John Smith. Smith, of the banking house of Smith, Payne and Smith and M. P. for Midhurst, County Sussex, was a key person because of his extensive
banking, business and political interests.
the table were Baronet Sir Robert Farquhar, lately returned from Mauritius and James Brogden, M. P. for Launceston, County Cornwall and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Commons. Also present was Richard Mee Raikes, M. P. and a director of the
Bank of England. Stewart Marjoribanks, M. P. for Hythe, County Huntingdonshire and a brother of the deputy chairman of the East India Company, sat with G. G. de Hochepied Larpent of the firm Paxton, Cockerel! and Company, William Ward and J. H. Palmer. Thomas
Tooke, George Brown, a director of the West India Docks, Donald Maclean and John Macarthur made up the initial group. They represented a diverse cross-section of City of London finance and influence. The meeting focussed on the soil and climate of New South
Wales. The perceived potential of the colony for fine wool, especially Bigge's strong recommendations for promoting its growth, was regarded most favourably.
These men of capital contemplated many advantages from an incorporated company capitalised nominally to £1,000,000 sterling and granted 1,000,000 acres of land. The prime purpose would be the raising of
fine wool similar to that adopted on the estates of the Esterhazy and other great families of Germany and Spain. Subordinate to the growth of wool would be the cultivation of Mediterranean products such as grapes, olives and flax. To facilitate wool production
skilled families would be 'encouraged to migrate from Saxony and Southern France.
Hard headed assessment of long-term commercial prospects rather than popular speculative adventurism marked the discussions. Trading figures which showed a marked increase of exports to the colony from
£9,301.14.8 in 1819 to £137,908.6.10 in 1823 encouraged a belief that if colonial exports to Britain increased, colonists would demand considerably more manufactured imports from Britain. Although colonial exports traditionally included seal skin,
sperm and black oil, and wool, and more recent products included timber, tanning barks, hemp, flax, tobacco, wine and temperate climate fruits, there were particular advantages to be gained from the growth of fine wool.
British manufacturers consumed annually between 16 and 18 million
pounds weight of foreign wool and 144 million pounds of British wool. The most prominent manufacturers judged New South Wales wool to possess special qualities. As well as fineness of fibre, the wool was, like fur, uncommonly soft to touch. When mixed with
Spanish and German wool of equal fineness it could be usefully used to correct a certain harshness in the continental product. Even the highest quality European wool was apt to possess this harshness, a character which compared strikingly with the extreme
softness of colonial wool. The proposed company, by promoting the growth of fine and soft wool, would raise a valuable raw material in a British settlement and lessen dependence on supplies from Europe, especially from the German states whence wool imports
had arisen mainly within the previous twenty years. With the superior advantages of climate and soil, the protection of British institutions currently being established - and the inflow of London capital, it was reasonable to anticipate British woollen manufacturers
deriving their chief supplies from a British colony. New South Wales wool would be produced at a cheaper rate than imports from Spain, Saxony and Austria where severe winters added great expense through the need for artificial treatment. A mutual intercourse
beneficial to New South Wales grower and British ship owner and manufacturer would result.
This clear realisation of mutual advantage set the scene for a deputation meeting four days later with the capable, cautious minister charged with oversight of Britain's colonies, Earl Bathurst.
Bathurst, aware of Bigge's recommendations that no joint-stock company be formed unless it undertook the proper superintendence of convicts, was generally favourable to the proposals but shrewdly pared down some of them and guaranteed company shares not be
brought forward to increase the prevailing spirit of speculation and gambling. Bathurst was guided by Treasury concern, prevalent since the demobilisation after Waterloo, to ease the crisis in finance, agriculture, industry and social welfare administration.
Treasury anxiety to reduce unnecessary expenditure could be facilitated by encouraging Bigge's version of a rural export economy jn New South Wales combining the convict assignment system with the encouragement of free settlers as pastoralists. A company such
as that envisaged by Smith and his colleagues would accelerate the process if properly controlled. A week later Smith convened a further meeting at the London Tavern
in Bishopsgate. From this meeting of nominated directors came a General Committee of Management to pursue overall aims and a Select Committee of Management to carry on negotiations with Government.
On Saturday, 22 May, the proposals as amended by Bathurst were considered by a Directors'
meeting at the London Tavern. The company was quickly assuming shape around eighteen linked proposals relating to wool growing.
A bill modelled closely on 5 Geo III cap 163, an act of 1810 incorporating the Gas Light and Coke Company,40 passed through the Parliament on 21 June,
1824, and by 5 Geo IV Cap 86 enacted "The Australian Agricultural Company" for the Cultivation and Improvements of Waste Lands in the Colony of New South Wales, and for other Purposes relating there to.
On 1st November the Australian Agricultural Company was granted a Royal
Charter. This defined the limits and purpose'of its operation. The Charter safeguarded the public interest as well as that of the Company. It reinforced also the mutual advantage to both Britain and Australia of the corporation, and reflected the peculiar
nature of the penal colony. The Charter provided for the payment of quit-rents over a period of twenty years, or the redemption of the same by paying the capital sum of twenty times the amount of the rent so to be redeemed. The charter also stipulated that
no land should be sold for five years after the formal transfer of the grant, and that the land was absolutely inalienable until the sum of £10,000 had been laid out in the formation of roads, erection of buildings, cultivation, fencing, draining, and
other improvements. The land was valued at one shilling and sixpence per acre. The annual quit-rent amounted to 30/- for each parcel of land valued at £100 sterling.
The Act of Parliament and the Royal Charter specified the founding character of a corporation destined to play a long role in
Australian industries. Apart from the stipulation that no rival joint-stock company with similar aims be established in New South Wales for twenty years, no other exclusive privileges and no peculiar jurisdiction In the colony were desired.
The Australian Agricultural Company was thus founded
with the primary object of producing fine wool as an export commodity to Great Britain. To achieve this objective it would purchase in New South Wales such flocks of good quality sheep as were available - mainly crossbreeds from Cape and Bengal sheep - and
then increase and improve them by importations of the purest race from Spain and the Electoral Domains of the King of Saxony. To boost the level of skill in the emerging colonial enterprise, the A. A. Company would send out free, experienced agents and overseers
to employ and train convicts as labourers and shepherds. Eventually 1400 convicts would be employed, reducing government expenditure by £30,800 annually. To boost management expertise the Company would send out Europeans skilled in merino sheep operations,
as well as in the sorting and preparation of fleeces for the London market. It would provide facilities for diffusing this useful knowledge. In short, the Australian Agricultural Company was intended to promote the system of rural industry directed by the
Home Government on Commissioner Bigge's recommendations as being best adapted to colonial needs and conditions. The A. A. Company's educational function would diffuse through all classes of colonial society knowledge of wool growing and, then, various agricultural
coal-mining was added to these pursuits five months after the granting of the Charter. Again, substantial doubt persists on the precise origin of the suggestion for the A. A. Company to take over colonial mines on the Hunter River at Newcastle. It is likely
the Colonial Office, rather than the London Directors, took the initiative. There is no doubt, however, that the proposal met an immediate and keen response from directors of the A. A. Company who were either directors of the East India Company or had close
connections with it. Expansion of steam ship activity not only in Indian waters but also southwards to Batavia would be facilitated by access to colonial coal. There were no known coal deposits in India and coaling stations around the Indian coastline were
being supplied with coal shipped out from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Obviously, convict and trading vessels from England to Sydney could reload a useful cargo to Batavia, Calcutta and other ports on the Sydney - India leg of their return route to England.
The A. A. Company Court of Directors moved quickly on the suggestion
as, by March 1825, their first chartered ships were preparing to weigh anchor. Smith, again drawing on Bigge's Trade and Agriculture, submitted proposals for leasing mines at Newcastle, as well as an ambitious and far-reaching proposition for leasing any districts
endowed with minerals. Bathurst and Wilmot Horton shrewdly parried this latter proposal and referred jurisdictional problems on the basic option to the Treasury and the Duchy of Lancaster. After some delay, Wilmot Norton stated to a deputation the principles
upon which the mines would be leased. The Special Committee of Management submitted a second list of proposals to facilitate negotiations. Bathurst then gave a definite decision.
The Company was permitted to lease the Newcastle coal mines for 31 years, under various conditions governing payment of rent and determination of the price of coal.
The Australian Agricultural Company was essentially a British enterprise owing its inspiration and capital to English merchants and bankers.
The Company was first of all British
in its initiative. Without the initial suggestion of Thomas Ebsworth it is doubtful whether the Company would have been formed. The Company was, secondly, an enterprise almost completely British in its capital formation. As Australia lacked persons with sufficient
reserves of capital to form such a large venture, the company would be formed predominantly by British investors taking up shares and then paying further instalments as calls were made on them by the Directors. As successive calls were made the Company's base
would be increasingly capitalised. Eventually, as the Company's export trade in wool and coal accrued profits, dividends would be issued to the share- holders. A proportion of revenue earned would be reserved for future expansion.
As G. S. Le Couteur has recognised, such joint-stock
financing represented a radical change in traditional capitalism. Previously the sole owner or the parties who managed the venture provided the necessary capital and assumed the full risks without limitations of liability. Joint- stock finance made possible
a different form of economic world. It was built to a different scale and organised in a different way. Great concentrations of capital and labour now moved uneasily together to execute tasks .nominated by professional managers. The investors usually had no
knowledge of the industry to which their savings were being committed. The investment and management factors became divided. In the establishment stages of any new venture, especially in a new land, error and unprofitable operations were unavoidable. It was
important to maintain the confidence of subscribers. The Australian Agricultural Company, a paradigm example of such joint-stock company formation in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, would provide ample evidence of the truism of the latter judgment.
The A. A. Company's nominal capital
base of £1,000,000 was established by issuing to investors 10,000 shares of £100 each. Gradually, as the company moved from planning stage to profitable operation, investors would be called upon in instalment. By 31 December 1852, at the end of
the formative decades, calls on the shareholders to the sum of £30 per share would be made, making the total paid-up capital £300,000. In addition, £50,000 would have been transferred to the capital account. The, paid-up value of each share
would be thus £35. Each investor was still then liable for calls totalling £65 per share.
All but 580 shares, allotted to colonists, were retained by British investors. Such family groups as Brownrigg, Buckle, Compton, Curtis, Easton, Farquhar, Harrison, Larpent, Marjoribanks,
Norman, Raikes, Smith, Thompson, Thornton and Villiers stand out in the published list of proprietors. Other shareholders included such persons as John Thomas Bigge, Sir Charles Cockerell, Richard Hart Davis, Henry Porcher and William Wilberforce. Walter Stevenson
Davidson, a man with a lifelong association with colonial enterprise, emerged as its largest shareholder. From the 1820s until almost 1870 Davidson would be influential in reshaping the company's destiny.
Such control of shares entailed effective manipulation of voting patterns
at annual and special meetings of shareholders. Voting power was related directly to the number of shares held, as follows: for 10 shares and less than 30, one vote, for 30 shares and less than 60, two votes. for 60 and less than 90, three votes. for 90 and
upwards, four votes - and no more. No shareholder could exercise a vote in proceedings without a nominal stake of £1000 in the corporation.
The composition of the original Court of Directors epitomised the British character of the Australian Agricultural Company. The Directors,
responsible for long term planning and the organisation of finance, needed a close association with the sources of capital for the venture, especially with their shareholders. Major early progress would hinge on the ability of the Directors to persuade investors
to provide the substantial capital needed in the expensive and unprofitable establishment years. The original Court of Directors represented mainstream British enterprise.
John Smith was first Governor of the Court of Directors. William Manning, M.P. for Lymington, County Hants, was Deputy Governor.
Both men exercised four votes. They were both members of Parliament, as were another six of the original directors and two of the auditors. In all, 30 shareholders in the June 1826 List of Proprietors were M.P.'s. The Bank of England was strongly represented
on the Court through its Deputy Governor, John Baker Richards, and five of its directors: William Manning, David Barclay, Timothy Curtis, George Warde Norman and Henry Porcher. The East India Company was similarly placed with five representatives among directors.
Stewart Marjoribanks, brother of the East India Company's deputy chairman Thomas Tooke, of the firm Stephen Thornton and Co which boasted as a partner Mr Astill, Chairman of the Indian corporation; Robert Campbell, John Loch and John Ravenshaw were directors.
An impressive number of British banking and business firms in addition to the above were represented on the board. These were Bazett, Farquhar, Crawford and Company. Herries, Farquhar, Haliday and Company, Paxton, Cockerell and, Company Coutts and Company,
the West India Docks and the Board of Ship Owners.
This was, by any standards, an impressive array. It was the first use of the London capital market to finance pastoral and mining operations in Australia. The City of London was beginning its long tradition of investing capital to exploit Australian resources.
Through joint-stock venture the classical theory of land, labour and capital was being applied to a colony bereft of risk capital and skill but enjoying both conditions of climate and soil favourable to wool production and possessing coal deposits close to
an accessible harbour. Much of Australian history can be analysed and interpreted around the changing perception of the gains and losses contracted by this mutual relationship.
The A. A. Company was heavily British in its major aims. Its pastoral enterprise focussed on producing fine wool as a staple
export to British woollen mills. Its coal venture aimed primarily to export coal to the East India Company. An immediate response is to see the company as a British capital Investment corporation established to rape and irresponsibly exploit colonial resources.
This claim was made by colonists as soon as they received news of its formatlon. It has been repeated frequently.
Detailed description of the practical experience of the Company between 1824 and its restructuring in 1853 will provide one line of evidence against
which to test this claim. It is necessary, however, to examine the theoretical aims behind the Company's formation. The question is complex. One must keep in mind Commissioner Bigge's recommendations and the active role played in the powers granted to the
Company by the Colonial Office.
The reports of Bigge were the essential background to the Company's formation. A first principle behind the initial moves was that any pastoral company would be immediately committed to considerable expenditure in feeding, clothing and housing a large convict
labour force. This labour force was the linchpin of formation. Without the guarantee of this convict labour force Smith and his colleagues would not have committed their capital and interests to the Australian scene. In return, the Colonial Office guaranteed
the assignment of this labour force. It was this mutual contracting and undertaking of responsibilities which was the prime consideration.
The Company undertook to send out to New South Wales competent, free persons with experience gained in the British and Continental woollen industry.
These men would act as agents and overseers to employ and train convicts as skilled pastoral labourers and quality shepherds. In addition, through the establishment of schools and churches, it would undertake the educational and moral improvement of the convicts
assigned to its estate. Thus, in return for receiving the services of an undoubtedly large labour force, the Company undertook to make them useful citizens of the emerging colony.
The Company also committed itself to sending out from Europe people with skills in sheep management and experienced in classing
and preparing shorn wool for the London market. With a pastoral industry still basically geared to the growing of meat these were needed skills. The Company guaranteed to diffuse this useful knowledge throughout the colony. In brief, the Company's pastoral
operations were designed to promote Bigge's system of rural industry necessary to establish New South Wales as a free and economically viable society. The A. A. Company was designed to play a major role in fostering a wool growing and pastoral economy.
There can be no doubt that the Company was given exclusive
favours, particularly in its land grant. Set against the Australian mainland mass of 2,941,526 square miles it may not now seem a significant portion. By contemporary standards it was massive. Captain Macarthur, one of the largest landholders, was still in
process of acquiring his 60,000 acres in the Camden district. William Lawson, an equally important pastoralist, held some 200,000 acres in various districts. These men were the exception. Many of the free settlers who emigrated to New South Wales received
initial grants of 2,560 acres which could be enlarged by purchase after 1825 to a maximum of 9,000 acres. A free grant of 1,000,000 acres was far in excess of the accepted estates of the 1820s.
The figure of one million acres had a long history. In 1803 when Macarthur had put
forward his Statement of the Improvement and Progress of the Breed of Fine Woolled Sheep in New South Wales, Sir Joseph Banks had recommended that a million acres be conditionally granted to the proposed company. This figure was based on the calculation of
one sheep to one acre. It seems reasonable in view of the role played by John Macarthur junior, to suppose that the earlier submissions and comments were recovered from a dusty pigeonhole and used in preparing the later "Proposals to Government".
The grant was large. At the same
time, Bathurst guaranteed it would not be used as a speculation but developed for the dual purposes of helping both the Company and the colony. The Company was committed to the payment of quit rents on the land and was held to a specified period of non-alienation
as well as to carrying out major improvements. Given the colonial economy there were few options to government in guaranteeing responsible land use. Development by a corporation held to strict conditions was desirable.
Bathurst's concern for responsible and beneficial operation
was repeated in the agreements on the coal venture. It was recognised investment of capital and skills in the primitive coal industry would be an undoubted boon. First of all, the mines were only leased; the rent was fixed by the Colonial Office. The price
of coal was fixed by a mutual agreement between the Government and the Company and, if disagreement existed, was open to independent arbitration. Various escape clauses favourable to Government guaranteed the Company's responsible operation.
It would seem, then, that for the early decades, when
the terms of the Royal Charter and specific agreement spelt out varying contractual commitments, the Company was held, in theory, to a responsible and non-exploitative mode of operation. These commitments were assured by Bathurst and a Colonial Office charged
with guiding a prison society to a free enterprise economy. Even if it be admitted that Bathurst guaranteed that the colonial situation would not be exploited in an overt way, was this necessarily the original intention of the Court of Directors before the
submissions met the paring knife of the Colonial Office?
Bigge had warned that although persons who embarked on pastoral enterprises might reasonably hope to reap great benefit in time, he was cautious. He was convinced, they would, in the first instance, be accompanied by great personal sacrifices and the returns
of capital would be slow and distant. This was scarcely the type of bait to attract foolish speculators intent on making fast profits.
Does the same conclusion apply to the mining venture? Even if Smith and his colleagues committed capital to develop the colonial coal industry
with the full knowledge of concomitant responsibilities, how does one account for their desire to mine all other minerals and metals such as iron, lead, tin, copper, silver and gold? Its proposers must have known this had no chance of being seriously considered.
Either the Court of Directors was pushed by the East India Company representatives or the submission was used as a political ploy to obtain ready approval for the coal venture. As the point was not persisted with, the latter conclusion is more probable.
In sum, these respectable, conservative
City of London merchants and bankers viewed New South Wales as a promising field for investment. They took the long view, gambling that ultimately they would receive ample returns. They also understood that their investment would encourage growth in the infant
colony as a priority ahead of declared dividends. Colonial Office personnel held similar ideas. They designed the firm's charter to facilitate New South Wales economic growth.
As soon as formal approval was given for the wool operation the General Committee of Management began the logistical task of
equipping their first ships for New South Wales.
CHAPTER 2 SETTLEMENT AT PORT STEPHENS
Robert Dawson, Agent of the Australian Agricultural Company, stood on the deck of the York approaching Sydney Heads on 13 November 1825.1 As he scanned the harbour, Dawson thought back to the time over
a year previously when he had been approached to become Agent and ahead to the next few years when the emerging, raw colony of New South Wales would present challenges and experiences quite unlike those of past years in England.
Robert Dawson was 42 years old. He had been born at Great Bentley, Essex, the youngest
son of Joseph Dawson. He was educated at Lindsay's Grove Hall School near Bow, whence he returned to Essex to farm his family estate. Married to Anne Taylor, Dawson remained at Bentley Lodge until 1821 when an agricultural depression forced him to Berkshire
where he managed Becket, the estate of Viscount Barrington. He was working at Becket when young John Macarthur sought him out and asked him to become Agent. Dawson's testimonials were strong: he was known and respected as a man of integrity, prudence and sound
judgment. Years of practical farming had developed skills in agriculture and taught him the importance of proper business habits. Such qualities, Macarthur knew, would be essential in the man selected to shape the destiny of the Company. On the more personal
level Dawson was known and respected for his even temper and strict attention to his parental and domestic duties. He was closely attached to his wife Anne and daughter Ellen. As he approached Sydney Cove Dawson reflected on the factors of distance and time
separating him from his loved ones. He realised one of his first tasks would be to build a house in the Australian bush and prepare a domestic haven for Anne and their four' children. Once his family joined him he would be able to establish a cosy hearth as
a solace from onerous duties.
in agriculture had also given him some of the blunt-mannered qualities so beloved of satirists like Henry Fielding. Although his manner was somewhat abrupt he never intended to give offence. Indeed, the shrewd businessmen on the Company's General Committee
of Management had frequently been gratified by Dawson's frankness and his readiness to receive advice.
Dawson's arrival was followed two days later by the second chartered vessel the Brothers. After landing the stock and moving them to the Government Domain and the adjoining stables, Dawson familiarised himself
He entered a colony passing through
a period of transition. Since 1821 important changes had occurred. Sydney with a population of about 12,000 presented a confident face to the world. Parramatta, Liverpool and Bathurst were quickly becoming respectable towns. Port Macquarie had replaced Newcastle
as the secondary penal station and Newcastle, because of its geographical location and coal, seemed destined for greatness. In every direction from Sydney the country was being cleared and the roads, for some distance, were well made and well kept. Free settlers
had arrived in increasing numbers. Many, with capital resources, were taking up land grants in the Hunter Valley. A pattern of expansion north of Newcastle and Bathurst and south of Camden towards Goulbum and the Monaro had occurred over the past year.
Colonial society was stratified according to role, status and
background. The autocratic powers of the early governors were being reduced by a newly created Legislative Council and a soon to be inaugurated Executive Council. Governor Brisbane presided over the Legislative Council, initiated legislation and retained the
power to issue ordinances contrary to the majority will, provided one councillor supported him. The Charter of Justice, investing the Supreme Court of New South Wales with the same status and jurisdiction as the King's Bench, had been opened in 1824. It was
presided over by Sir Francis Forbes, Chief Justice, who was invested with check-rein legislative functions. He was assisted by government legal officers such as a Solicitor-General and an Attorney-General, as well as an elaborated system of lower courts including
Courts of Quarter Sessions. Transportation and the assignment system were accepted facts of life but socially, the clash between emancipists and "exclusives" was bitter and intense. This serious split between the Macarthur led exclusives, many of them shareholders
in the Australian Agricultural Company, and the emancipists whose cause was being articulated through The Australian newspaper of William Charles Wentworth and Robert Wardell, would have grave consequences for Robert Dawson.
Dawson's initial contact with Sydney brought recognition that his success would depend
upon relations with the Aborigines and on his ability to manage convicts assigned to the Company's labour force. These two groups, lowest in the strata of colonial society, would be in constant contact with Dawson and the recently arrived immigrant employees.
Robert Dawson's attitude to the Aborigines emerged quickly. It
was in marked contrast with the standards of the day. He had many chances to see the fatal impact being made on Aboriginal society by British settlers who were ruthlessly dispossessing them of their hunting grounds and destroying their sacred sites. Dawson
knew that the customs and culture of the Aborigines were so little known, even amongst officials in Sydney, that the most absurd stories were sometimes circulated and believed. This general attitude wrung from Dawson's heart the sad realisation that whenever
the colonisation of a country is commenced In the usual way, no means can be devised of preserving indigenous societies from final destruction. In spite of this grim assessment of the situation developing between British colonisers and Aboriginal cultures,
Dawson was determined to do the utmost to better relations between the two groups.
Robert Dawson's enlightened approach to the Aborigines alerted him, in turn, to that other, often despised, group of men: the emancipists and convicts. As New South Wales emerged from a strict gaol to an agricultural and pastoral society
founded on assigned labour, these men were being employed in the bush as shepherds, cedar cutters and mechanics. They came in frequent contact with the Aborigines as the frontiers of settlement pushed out from the Cumberland Plain. Dawson believed many of
these men had been brutalised by the harsh conditions of the convict system and would respond in time to humane, but firm, direction. He detected in many an obvious desire to reform and to carve out a new life.
Dawson was especially concerned about this group because of his official position. The Company's success
would depend on the working relationship established between management and convicts on its pastoral estate. Dawson knew that within a very short time he would have ultimate charge of 1400 convicts. His strong sense of humanity soon made him aware of difficulties
associated with the post-Bigge convict system.
From the moment of landfall in Sydney
Robert Dawson recognised the need to work closely with the local Colonial Committee appointed by the London Court of Directors. During planning discussions the Directors had foreseen the need for efficient management. They realised in particular, that the
Agent would need the constant advice and guidance of men experienced in colonial conditions. It would not be easy for a 42 year old man, long trained to English agricultural practices, to adapt to Australian conditions. They appointed a committee designed
expressly to aid Dawson in decision making and to control expenditure.
Pending Dawson's arrival, a Sydney headquarters had been established by leasing from the Bank of New
South Wales in Macquarie Place, the former Mary Reibey building. In February 1825 Thomas Cudbert Harington was hired as local secretary to maintain the office for the committee which had, by force of circumstances, been reduced to three men, James and Hannibal
Macarthur and James Bowman. It dominating influence of Captain John Macarthur.was as its critics alleged, a family,committee of young men under the Good relations between Dawson and this committee would be crucial during the foundation years. Although
Dawson became known as a fair and humane man by those who worked under him, his relations with men of power and position were to pose difficult problems. Notorious even among such company was John Macarthur. Macarthur had long since exemplified Governor Hunter's
early assessment of him as 'being of a restless, ambitious and litigious disposition'. Since his return to New South Wales in 1817 Macarthur had, perforce, confined his activities to pastoral and agricultural affairs.
The launching of the A. A. Company was interpreted as a naked contrivance to further Macarthur power. Some persons thought that such a large corporation would not only aid such established
pastoralists but would entail the inevitable destruction of the industry of the smaller pastoralist and farmer. It was in this context that Dawson was to meet problems which would severely test his powers. On the level of personal contact with his committee
of management Dawson would face many tangled administrative troubles. The passage of time would bring these factors to the surface. In the beginning, relations between the Agent and his committee were harmonious. All three members were interested in pastoralism
and possessed of some business acumen.
fourth child and fourth son of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, after education and travel abroad, had returned with his father in 1817 and devoted himself to administration of the family's expanding estates. As chairman of the Company's colonial committee he
could channel the fruits of the experience to Robert Dawson and advise him in building up the agricultural estate. Hannibal Macarthur, cousin to James, had accompanied his uncle, Captain Macarthur, on the tetter's return to New South Wales in June 1805. He
engaged in various trading and farming activities, helping Elizabeth in breeding-up Captain Macarthur's crossbred merinos during the tatter's long absence from the colony, 1809 to 1817. Hannibal's farming, pastoral and business successes were considerable.
James Bowman, third member of the committee, had succeeded D'Arcy Wentworth as principal surgeon, Sydney Hospital. His marriage dowry to Elizabeth, second daughter of the Macarthurs, included 2000 sheep and 200 head of cattle and facilitated acquisition of
his large estate Ravensworth in the Upper Hunter Valley. Aided by a committee with such experience, Robert Dawson was confident the Company would prosper.
Dawson's known qualities of fairness and humanity matched a determination to succeed. He faced tremendous tasks. With no experience of colonial conditions,
Dawson prepared to carve out of the bush a large agricultural estate geared to the production of fine wool. It would be his unenviable lot to find pastoral lands for large numbers of sheep, cattle and horses, to prepare land for the cultivation of maize, tobacco
and potatoes, and to erect dwellings and stores for numerous convicts. He would need to test the suitability of soils and pastures for the introduced stock. One of his most important tasks lay in the breeding tests between colonial stock, to be purchased in
the colony, and the stock arriving from England and Europe. It was a daunting challenge.
His confidence and determination were grounded in the provisions already made in the major areas of capital, livestock and workmen. The establishment of the Company represented the first significant inflow of British capital.
Capital was a factor needed to enable the colony to grow. The Company would advance plans to make the growth and export of merino wool so large and important as to attract public attention and be an object of the highest national consequence. With the advantages
of large capital and a grant of one million acres, wool exports to British manufacturers would increase materially.
A second reason for confidence lay in the quality of imported stock. On board the York were twelve Anglo merino ewes as well as fifteen rams, four lambs and 313 merino ewes from the south of France. The Brothers, contained a similar
cargo of 204 French merino ewes, 167 Anglo merino ewes and fifteen French rams. A loss of only eighteen sheep on the voyage was an achievement at a time when near total losses were still being experienced. Robert Oawson also brought new breeds of cattle and
horse. The York carried one Durham bull and cow, one Scotch Highland bull and five Scotch cows. These were the finest specimens introduced by 1825. They were valuable and very superior in quality. The Brothers also contained three Cleveland and four blood
horses. The introduction of the Cleveland horse met with decided approval. The great Durham cow and bull could not be matched in the colony. John Thomas Campbell, a gentleman of some consequence, said he would go on foot any day to see such a cow as the large
Durham. The quality of these animals contrasted more than favourably with colonial stock.
At a meeting of the Agricultural Society at
Parramatta the previous year the best of the colony's stock had been on display. Horses, cattle and pigs were equal to any seen at county fairs in England. Although a finer collection of stock might be exhibited at Holkham or Woburn, the beauty of form of
the Parramatta stock was striking. Yet the new breeds of Durham cattle and Cleveland horses introduced by the Company were judged superior to other breeds already being raised. The poor quality of Australian sheep was obvious at the Parramatta meeting. There
were no sheep of superior quality. For this reason the Company's determination to introduce quality sheep was welcome news. Colonists remarked most favourably on the French merinos landed.
Dawson's third reason for confidence lay in his assistants. On the York and Brothers was the nucleus staff of clerks, wool-sorter, labourers, shepherds and artisans
for the initial settlement. Two officers accompanied Robert Dawson: Henry Thomas Ebsworth, clerk, and Charles Hall, a wool-sorter from Halifax. Three shepherds with various labourers and artisans made up the contingent. On the Brothers John Dawson, nephew
of the Agent.was accompanied by a surveyor, John Armstrong; a Scottish shepherd, Andrew Telfer; and ten other indentured servants. Some of these men were accompanied by their wives and children. They were indentured for seven years. The bulk had been chosen
for their expertise and skills. These were the men who would train the assigned convicts in pastoral and agricultural skills so essential for the development of a large estate.
After disembarking, these servants travelled overland in carts and waggons to "Retreat Farm", a 600 acre property leased for temporary use at Bringelly between Liverpool and Macarthur's recently established estate in the
Cowpastures. The accompanying thunderstorm did little to relieve their pangs of homesickness but, on arrival they prepared for the transfer of stock from the Domain. After a short period the sheep were taken to Retreat Farm. The cattle and horses were transferred
to Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta where Macarthur and other colonists paid to have their cows and mares covered by the new stud stock. John Dawson took charge of Retreat Farm while his uncle tackled his first task: selecting land.
Robert Dawson consulted with the colonial committee. It should have been possible
to make a decision on the land by the time Dawson arrived in Sydney. The committee had done all in its power to achieve this decision. Immediately following their appointment they sought the advice of Allan Cunningham and John Oxley. Detailed knowledge of
the colony beyond the County of Cumberland was not yet extensive, but was sufficient for the Company's purposes.
After the crossing of the Blue Mountains various expeditions had extended into the interior. Evans penetrated beyond Bathurst and, later, to the Lachlan River. In 1817 Oxley pushed into the Lachlan swamps
and the following year followed the Macquarie River downstream until he turned east towards the coast at Port Macquarie. Between 1814 and 1824 men such as Hurne, Throsby, Meehan and Wild extended knowledge of the southern area towards Lake George. During 1823
Currie and Ovens penetrated to the Monaro. The following year Hume and Hovell pushed even further south to Corio Bay. At the same time Dangar was exploring the Upper Hunter eastward of the area penetrated from Bathurst by Blackman, Lawson and Cunningham. By
late 1824 knowledge was confined to an area bounded roughly by a line from Port Macquarie to the Liverpool Plains and the line from Wellington to Yass and thence to Moruya. Earlier coastal exploration had touched the entrances to the Macleay and Nambucca rivers.
The entrances to such important rivers as the Clarence, Richmond and Manning were largely unknown.
on the south coast was rejected because of inadequate harbours while land from Camden to the Limestone Plains was too broken, too varied in soil quality and too European in character. The southern tablelands and Monaro were regarded as ill-suited for sheep
and too cold for olives and grapes. Land west of the Blue Mountains was hindered by transport difficulties. Both Oxley and Cunningham favoured the northern area with the Surveyor General specifying land west of the Hastings River and above the Liverpool Ranges
at the head of the Upper Hunter. This was land around the present Walcha, Nowendoc, Gloucester region close to Oxleys route six years previously.