Gentlemen—I find by the press that the people of Kooringa have summoned a meeting at their end of the world to take steps to shield the press from the attempted ‘coup de etat’ of the Burra Directors. I say—Well done, men of earth! Emerge from your subterranean labyrinths, and let the world know, that the electric light of liberty pierces the deepest recesses of the darkest mine, and illumines her worshippers with celestial ray, though embowelled and dwelling in the womb of earth! Come forth, and from your rocks and your caverns —
‘Drink the spirit of the golden day, And triumph in existence.’
And shall the men of Adelaide be idle? Will they stand by with vacant stare and folded arms while the freedom of the press is endangered by a conspiracy of nine or ten rich fools, against one man of moderate means—who dares to ‘speak the truth and lie not?’ Will they see the pack hound their prey with the remorselessness and severity of bloodhounds? No. Up and be doing, then. Let every man, from Dan to Beersheba, come to the gathering; and let the clearest-headed, strongest-minded man of the men (of the working men) hold the reins and guide the discussion. Let the questions be mooted —
1st. Is the conduct of the Burra Directors to the ‘Register’ and the ‘Observer’ papers—is it an attempt to gag—to burke the press?
2nd. If so, will the people of South Australia consent to the death?
3rd. If not, what will they do to parry the blow?
Let the men of South Australia remember, that our Governor is not responsible to us, that our Council is not responsible to us, our Judge is not responsible to us, that we are governed from afar; and that the only thing that really represents our wants, our wishes, our feelings, our interests, is an independent press. It is the only and the sacred palladium of our liberties, and if we allow that to be stricken down by the hand of avarice and wealth, we are, and deserve to be bondsmen indeed.
The press—a free press is the Alpha and Omega of our liberties; without it, we shall return to the dags of the burning share, and coarsened morsel—with it our ‘progress if not infinite, is at least indefinite.’ Is it to be thought that because we emigrate we retrogade, and that in a land of plenty we shall sell our birthright, the liberty for which a
‘Sydney bled, a Russell died?’
The ‘Mining Journal’ (par excellence), of Saturday last, in an elaborate article, notices the miners, the teamsters, the ‘Register,’ and the strike. The article is better cooked than the usual ‘ordinary;’ indeed it is so well roasted that we think it done ‘Brown’. The patriarch of our colonial press condescends to notice the poor ‘Teamster,’ and he as has the Teamster will measure strokes with him, and ‘break a lance in courtesy.’ Humble as may be the position and the employment of the ‘Teamster,’ he is not afraid of this colossus however brilliant his genius, however subtle his craft.
Now, then, ‘Honest George’—Your honesty is not of necessity equal to your sagacity. We admire the tact with which you can and do seize on the portion of an argument that makes for your case. We equally admire the tact while we abhor the disengenuousness (sic) that evades the portion of a fact that makes against you. Of such is your denial that ‘there are not any vessels in the harbour on demurrage.’ At the hour at which you wrote you might possibly deny it. But you well knew that at the next hour, or a few hours after, at most, if not at the moment, that the ship ‘Harpley’ would be on demurrage, and that the ‘Emperor of China’s’ demurrage would shortly begin. Your denial, Sir, was not a literal falsehood, but is it not the spirit of a lie—the subtilty (sic) that—
‘Speaks the word of promise to the ear And breaks it to the hope.’
Again. You say ‘that the charge of oppression against the directors is one that should never have been made, and is the last that could be substantiated.’ The ‘Teamster’ begs to maintain that there is oppression in the fact of the Directors compelling us to take twenty-one hundred weights, and in paying only for twenty hundred weights; there is oppression in having an incorrect weighbridge—for whether the incorrectness is by accident or design—the result to us is equally oppressive; it is an oppression, and no part of our bargain to make us stack the ore at the Port in the Company’s sheds; it is an oppression to compel us to take their back loading at a fixed price of 25s per ton (when we can get more from others) under pain of no loading at the Mine.
You say that ‘the course we (the Teamsters) are at present pursuing must be fatal to ourselves.’ True—tho’ not in the sense in which you assert it. The continuing to drive at a loss—at the present prices must prove fatal. To prevent that result—the Teamsters have stopped—and you can neither frighten nor flog us on again.
You tell us that the ‘system of hired carriage will be abandoned;’ in other words that the Directors will team themselves. That which you intended should alarm, delights us, we shall find purchasers for our drays and cattle—(mine, Sir, are for sale). Gratify us, Sir, still further by telling us when the Directors are to be in the market. You choose, Sir, to sneer at us as mere bullock drivers. There are men among us handling the whip, who are of sophister standing. Do you think that your sneers will derange their digestion or disturb their repose?
You talk of us and our strike, in the language used by newspapers when speaking of and lecturng Manchester operatives, in illegal combination. Poor devils; they strike for another slice of bread and another ounce of tea. We understand the inuendo. We are not of the same status as the mere labourers. Every team costs us from £80 to £110 each, and some of us have six or seven teams; we are therefore capitalists to the extent of the value of our teams; and we have a right to insist on such a rate of cartage as shall give us something more than labourers’ wages for ourselves and men—with 40 per cent, for the capital invested on the cattle, &c., 20 per cent. or nett interest, 20 per cent. to replace. The Burra’s, at present price, yield 30 per cent. Why should our capital yield less?
You speak of the Teamers’ trade in a most patronising way. You say that ‘it has raised us from poverty to wealth and abundance.’ Dear me! Your capital, your mine, has raised us poor outcasts from poverty, &c. You insinuate that we are the obliged parties. Your humanity, your charity, your capital has given us employment. We will put the boot on the other leg, if you please, Sir. We have raised ourselves, and lifted you to your present position. In sober truth, what could you do without the capital (as well as the men) invested in teams? There are more than one thousand teams, costing £10,000, on the road. You talk of doing without us. Can you create, or can you break in 8000 steers by magic? There is enough for you, ‘Honest George.’ The next time you drive against us for bread, we will give you a ‘Stone.’ We will talk to you of the ‘Buffalo’ and ‘ Rio.’
Messieurs Editors, once more let us repeat our argument and have done with it. We say that the labour of the teamster is the most exhausting, life wasting employment in this country; and that it is not adequately paid. We will prove this by reference to two well-known attempts at the road. The Messrs Fishers, the well-known stock managers, placed six teams on the road, and after giving it a fair trial, gave it up, because it did not pay. The Hon. Jacob Hagen (it is understood), under the management of one of our oldest and best teamsters (Mr Stewart), spent £900 in drays for the road—tried it to the Burra—and did not get interest for his money, and gave up the Burra road; but finds that it does pay in going to other mines and to the ‘Tiers.’
If any man should be paid extra for, his labour, it should be the bullock drivers on the Burra road ; for he, to use the earnest and dignified language of Scripture, does indeed ‘eat the bread of care.’ When he begins his journey, can he calculate its termination? One night he looses all his bullocks; the next a pair; now his near-side leader is gone; then his off-side poler is away. One time he strains his axle, another breaks his pole, and perhaps, just as he finishes his journey, a hot wind sets in, and then one or both his tires comes off. Are not these the common facts, the daily experience of the trade? Does not the driver ‘eat the bread of care?’
There is close by me while I write, a farmer teamster with two empty drays and six bullocks, having lost other six, and been five weeks on the trip, is returning home with empty drays, leaving his load on the way-side. If it were any use, I could multiply facts of this kind without end.
Messieurs. Editors—Let us touch up the directors and we have done for the present. They have had the luck of it. It is said to hs the property of luck to exalt the low and amplify the little; are they determined to burst with their own importance ?
What have you been Messrs Directors? Journeymen, carpenters, hucksters, pawnbrokers, picture-frame makers, &c., &c. You are now rich, very rich. Bear your blushing honours with a modest grace; do not longer make yourselves contemptible, a Guy Fawkes for school boys. Look at yourselves—you are rich—yes—are you great or good? See—a couple of you Brummagem men arrived here some ten years ago, opened a shop, sold bacon and treacle, saved money, got into the Burra and built a palace in which to sell sugar and matches. Would the wealth of a Rothchild make you gentlemen? You still live cheap—dine off a red herring and a radish. May be you abstain from the common consolations of our nature for the same reason, a wife is expensive. What society owns you for its patron? What church calls you its pillar?
Shall I go on with the sketch ? Take care that Lancashire does not imitate in you what Gloucestershire has already done in John Wood, who spent a long life in amassing 1½ million of money. A few years previous to his death he permitted himself to spend £1000 a-year, principally on his garden for himself; the fruits he could not eat he wasted, because his garden was for himself alone. So that the health of 80 years, and the energies of an indomitable will were applied to, or rather ended in supplying a few grapes for his mouth! He has gone to his account, and if I read his fate aright his thirst will be assuaged only by being compelled to quaff draughts of molton gold—
The wretch concentered all in self,
Living shall forfeit fair renown;
And doubly dying shall go down
To the vile earth, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung!
The Teamster has drawn a faint outline of some two or three of you, in sober tints and enveloped in appropria[t]e drapery. If need be he will shew (sic) you naked to the world. The next time he exhibits he will throw out in bold relief a profound shade—the gentlemen whom the ripe scholar Marcus Collinson baptized with the unenviable sobriquet of the ‘Tipperary ruffian.’ We will introduce him on the stage with the sardonic grin, and the brigand scowl. We will shew him from the elf lock to the cloven hoof. Need the Teamsters dare for such men as these? The common question on the road is, ‘Is there one gentleman among them?’ Yes, there is one. Captain Allen was and is a gentleman, a just payer, and a liberal employer of labour; whose hand is open as the day to melting charity—’but has the little leaven leavened the whole lump?’
We have ‘seasoned our admiration’ with a little ‘Attic salt,’ just to give a relish and piquancy to our fare. It depends upon your future conduct whether we give you any more sauce. You, the Directors of the Burra, have got the best horse, the Highflyer of the colony—you have been taught only to jump the counter and so the steed has bolted with you. Shall I take you in training for a while and teach you how to curb, and then apply the ‘scourge and steel?’ If not, you like ‘beggars on horseback, will ride to the devil.’
You have the Golden Fleece—do you want any more Burrs to stick in it?
This shall be the last time of asking—and I ask you again for the honest day’s pay for the honest day’s work. I ask for self and mates for £3 10s the summer, and £4 the winter, with £3 per ton back carriage. You call yourselves men of business. Look at the thing as a question of business. Calculate the loss, the wear and tear, the deaths and expences (sic), the interest of money, the value, the common value of labour, and see if the prices proposed are not the right thing; and if so, do what is right; remember that exact justice, a justice that does right simply and purely because it is right, and irrespective of all consequences, is the highest policy of man. Do justice, I say, and achieve to yourselves a true glory, a glory ‘beyond all Greek, beyond all Roman fame.’
In Camp, at the Para, November 8, 1848.