The halt, the maimed and the blind

Convict Ship Mount Stewart Elphinstone; Convict Ship Bangalore; Extract from Bangalore prisoner list; Two sketches of Glengallan in 1851 by Conrad Martens; Anatol Laporte’s entry in the prisoner list for Convict Ship Layton.

YOU ARE HERE: The Wrong Marshall ► 5. The halt, the maimed and the blind

4. The clerical connection◄ ● ► 6. Alfred’s Grandfather: William Marshall (1780-1828)

Coase devoted some eight pages to a discussion of Charles Henry Marshall and his business practices in his analysis of Keynes’s statement regarding the accumulation of Charles’s wealth, in which Keynes said:

The story of the sources of this uncle’s wealth, which Alfred often told, deserve a record here. Having sought his fortunes in Australia and being established there at the date of the gold discoveries, a little family eccentricity disposed him to seek his benefit indirectly. So he remained a pastoralist, but, to the mirth of his neighbours, refused to employ anyone about his place who did not suffer from some physical defect, staffing himself entirely with the halt, the blind, and the maimed. When the gold boom reached its height, his reward came. All the able-bodied labourers migrated to the gold-fields and Charles Marshall was the only man in the place able to carry on. (Keynes 1924, 314; Coase 1994, 136)

Coase challenged the veracity of this account by analysing Charles’s character and practices as displayed in letters which Charles wrote to his partner William Ball Slade. Coase presented a picture of an astute businessman concerned with every aspect of his business and keenly focused on the financial outcomes of his decisions. He commented that Charles was a “no-nonsense employer” who “In dealing with individuals was sympathetic but businesslike.” (Coase 1994, 140). Having read those letters, I agree with Coase’s assessment. The letters reveal an empathetic employer concerned with the treatment of his employees, while steadfastly pursuing his own financial interest.

Coase concluded that Alfred Marshall’s story, as reported by Keynes, was not true, because it was at variance with Charles’s approach to his business, because Charles was already a man of financial standing prior to the discovery of gold, and because of the physical demands of farm work. I agree with these assessments. Coase’s comment about “a blind man riding his seeing-eye horse” (Coase 1994, 139) was, however, unfortunate, but this was probably an after-dinner joke.

Coase then sought to explain what he believed really happened on Glengallan and how Alfred came to recount a story that was not true. Coase wrote:

So in the years immediately following the gold discovery in 1851, when the drain on local labour would have been most intense, a substantial portion of the labour force employed by Uncle Charles at Glengallan consisted of convict labour. This, I believe, is what the tale of “the halt, the blind, and the maimed” was intended to conceal. In reality, Uncle Charles did not employ the halt but the haltered. It becomes easy to understand why Uncle Charles’s workers did not go to the goldfields. Did Alfred Marshall know that what he was saying was a falsification? It is not possible to be certain but I would regard it as very likely. The family would not wish it to be known that Uncle Charles made the fortune from which Alfred (and other family members) benefited in part through the employment of convict labour. (Coase 1994, 144)

I do not believe that this is a credible explanation. The numbers were not substantial and the men were not assigned convict prisoners. The numbers were small and the men were what are today called parolees. On arrival, Exiles received a conditional pardon for the balance of their sentences. The condition was that they remain in the colony – hence the term. Although they needed permission to move between police districts, many did so. Otherwise they lived as free settlers and earned similar incomes. Ticket-of-leave men lived under similar conditions.

The penal settlement at Moreton Bay was closed in 1839 and the prisoners removed, allowing the opening up of what is now Queensland for free settlement in 1840. Also, in 1840, New South Wales stopped receiving convicts (Museum of Australian Democracy). In the years following, the transportation of Exiles to New South Wales did take place to the Port Phillip district (Melbourne, Victoria). In 1849, public opinion caused even the transportation of Exiles to be stopped. The result was that two ships, the Mount Stuart (Stewart) Elphinstone and the Bangalore, were diverted to Moreton Bay in 1849 and 1850, but after that even the transportation of Exiles to New South Wales stopped. (Shaw 1978, especially chapter 14). These two ships were the primary source of the Exiles who were employed by Charles Marshall and others on the Darling Downs.

Coase provided the references, but his analysis is incorrect (Coase 1994, 143). Charles employed seven Exiles in 1850, one in 1851 and two (not three) in 1852. He also employed four ticket-of-leave men in 1851 and one (not two) more in 1852. The four employed in 1851 included the two who had earlier been employed by Robert Campbell tertius, co-owner of Glengallan, so there were no extras as implied by Coase. 4  (Extract of Records)

There was a high turnover amongst the Exiles as they were employed on twelve-month contracts and the majority had very short outstanding sentences. Many, in fact, went to the goldfields. Muster records show that there were 267 Exiles in employment on the Darling Downs in 1850; 49 in 1851; and only 19 in 1852 (French 1990, 45). Of the four ticket-of-leave men who Charles employed in 1851 only one remained in 1852. One moved on and two had their tickets-of-leave cancelled due to being absent from the district without permission. This was clearly not regarded as a serious offence because both had their tickets re-instated and were employed on other stations the following year.

The_Ship_Isabella_at_Sea Robert Riley 1851 41727_329509-00405
Convict Ship Isabella
Robert Reilley Ticket-of-Leave
State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12204

The ticket-of-leave man who Charles employed in 1852 was Anatol Laporte, a West Indian who had served in Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. He remained on Glengallan until his retirement and was a trusted employee and local identity. On 22 April 1853, Rev. Benjamin Glennie recorded in his diary, “Glengallan, Leport in charge” (Glennie 1860).

Charles employed seven men in 1850, five in 1851, and a further three in 1852. The annual recruitment would have been as replacements and not cumulative. So, he would not have had the services of more than a handful at any one time. These men would have been of small assistance to someone trying to operate a 60,000 acre property like Glengallan, capable of supporting 18,000 sheep and 1,800 cattle. 5  Charles made this clear in the letter he wrote to his aunt, Mary Ann Benthall, on 4 May 1852, that he had lost workers to the goldfields and that the arrangements he had made in no way resolved his need for labour. He stated that his demand for labour was “not at all perceptibly … relieved” (C. H. Marshall 1852). These men did not represent “a substantial portion of the labour force employed by Uncle Charles at Glengallan”.

I do not believe that Coase’s view that Charles and the family would have wanted to conceal his employment of “convict labour” is credible either. Charles was a well-known public advocate for the employment of transported labour. He did not hide this support. His public endorsement extended to backing the separation of Queensland from New South Wales, in large part over the issue of the employment of convicts. He joined with others in petitioning Queen Victoria on the subject and was directly involved in the Association formed to work for separation.

CHM Advert

Moreton Bay & Northern Districts Separation Association
20 January 1851
(Sydney Morning Herald 1851b)

The Sydney Morning Herald published a long article on 20 January 1851, detailing the proceedings at a public meeting to discuss the question of separation and the introduction of prisoners (Sydney Morning Herald 1851a). Charles was not only present, he put a motion relating to the formation of a Committee to work for the separation and was elected to that committee. While not directly reported as having done so, Charles would also have joined with the others in petitioning Queen Victoria on the matter.

He was an active member of the Moreton Bay and Northern Districts Separation Association, as can be seen from the advertisement which clearly identified him and the fact that he was campaigning for the introduction of Exiles.

Charles’s endorsement of this issue and his consequent public profile extended over some years. On 22 December 1856, the Sydney Empire printed a letter, datelined Brisbane, 17 December 1856, and headed “CONVICTS” (Empire 1856). In this letter the author pointed out that another petition was being circulated on the Darling Downs, calling for the reintroduction of convict labour. The author wrote:

… but the miserable continuations of the slimy reptile [the movement to reintroduce convict labour] bears the brands of Douglass of Talgai — Marshall of Glengallan — Davidson of Canning Downs — Gore, of Yandilli [sic] 6  — King, of the beautiful Dawson — with other signatures equally significant …

Those who knew him, including his family, would also have been aware of his service with the Van Diemen’s Land Company at Circular Head and Woolnorth between 1843 and 1849 where he had overseen the employment of a large number of convict labourers. 7

Essentially, Charles was a profit focused, but honourable employer. He employed some Exiles, but they did not make his fortune. He had little, if anything, to hide in this regard, but his very public support for transported labour clearly shows that he did not try to hide anything and his position was widely known. There was no concealment.

The question, then, is why Alfred would choose to repeat this elaborate and improbable story? Why would he tell one improbable story to cover up the even more improbable story that Uncle Charles had built his fortune by employing a small number of Exiles for a few years? A simple statement that Charles was a hard-working and successful squatter on the Darling Downs would have been a more than adequate, and unchallengeable, explanation of his wealth.

It is impossible to know why, but the reference to “the halt, the blind and the maimed” might offer a clue. The reference is clearly to the Biblical Parable of the Great Banquet at Luke 14:21:

So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

It seems quite possible that Charles, when discussing his challenges at Glengallan, indicated metaphorically that he had had to employ “the maimed, the halt and the blind” because of the shortage of able bodied workers due to the gold rush. He probably did have to employ less able workers than he would have preferred. The processes of family oral history and the development of “family stories” could have easily then led to the story told by Alfred. Maybe Alfred too was using “the maimed, the halt, and the blind” as a parable, in this case, to present an economics lesson rather than a moral one.

Whatever the truth may be, Coase’s explanation is not credible. As he himself said, “… the truth is not discreditable” (Coase 1994, 144)

Groenewegen argued in a similar vein to Coase in respect of the convict labour, including the family’s supposed desire to conceal and deceive. He went further, and discussed Charles’s employment of South Sea Islanders (Kanakas) in the early 1870’s. He felt that Charles had benefited substantially from exploitation of these workers, and that this would have been a source of shame for the Marshalls and another cause for “the colourful story.” His assessment was based on the same letters that Coase analysed, but he reached a different view. (Groenewegen 1995, 30-31).

The background to this issue is a sordid chapter in Australian history involving the employment of Pacific Islanders, mainly on sugar cane and cotton farms, but also in other areas. There is no doubt that Islanders were kidnapped, murdered and coerced in various ways to work in Queensland between the early 1860s and 1904, when the practice was discontinued because of the White Australia Policy. The later periods were better regulated. The Australian Human Rights Commission estimates that some five percent were abducted and another twenty to twenty-five percent obtained by other illegal means. 8

The Glengallan letters show that Charles employed two groups of four men on three-year contracts. Their terms of employment were undoubtedly attractive to him as he worked to resurrect Glengallan from bankruptcy, but the contribution to business outcomes of only eight men over three years was not substantial.

Charles’s comments to William Ball Slade show that he valued their contribution and was concerned for their wellbeing. He asks after them, asks Slade to pass on his best wishes, expresses his satisfaction in their contribution, indicates that he is sorry to see them leave, and repeatedly asks Slade to ensure that they are properly treated and not robbed of their hard earned wages: 3

17 April 1873 While in Brisbane I saw the Emigration [sp?] Agent Mr. Gray, & it was arranged that on you sending news [sp?] the South Sea Islanders on expiration of their respective terms, you should remit their 3 years wages to him, and he would see that they were properly cared for and not cheated by Shopkeepers.
11 July 1873 I hope that the South Sea Islanders continue to do well.
28 August 1873 Melif & Scrip, together with the other four are I think well worth re engaging. I hope that you will take care to see the poor fellows safely handed over to Mr. Gray, the Emigration Agent at once on reaching Brisbane, so that they may not be robbed of their well earned wages.
29 October 1873 With our united my [sp?] kind regards to Mrs. Slade & yourself, and also to Veitch, & a kind word to Pugh, Sherwood & all the S. Sea Islanders.
29 December 1873 I am sorry to think that this is the last year you will have our South Sea Islanders, for they are a very good lot of men altogether. …

Please to take care to commence the boys to the care of Mr. Gray when they go down, so that they may not be robbed.

28 January 1874 Do you intend to get any more South Sea Islanders? I shall be glad if Joe & Sell [sp?] remain with you.
15 April 1874 I hope that some of the boys will come back to you especially the last lot.

Quaintly, Charles undertook to provide medals to the men on completion of their contracts, and there was a lot of discussion between him and Slade on the matter. Groenewegen commented that this correspondence:

Shows how conscious he was of the dubious morality in hiring indentured Kanaka labour by trying to disguise the fact with some ingenuity. In one of the letters, he suggested supplying them with individual good behaviour medals as apparently pledged when they first entered his employ. In making the suggestion, he particularly stressed the favourable newspaper publicity to be extracted from such a humane gesture. In addition he advised his partner that such a token of esteem … would demonstrate to the world that ‘the boys are not treated quite as slaves’.

The correspondence does not support this interpretation as the following further extracts demonstrate:

28 August 1873 I am very glad that you & Veitch found these boys so useful in drafting, and you will now soon be finding them equally useful at the Washpool & Shed. Before leaving, I promised the boys that if they behaved well I would send them each a Medal.
24 September 1873 These have all been struck from a very pretty die & the different names engraved on them, and I have ordered electric plated … [illegible] chains to suspend them round the neck. They shall be forwarded to you by an early opportunity so that the first lot of them S. Sea Islanders will have them before they go. … I am very glad to show my sense [sp?] of their good conduct.
3 October 1873 I have got the medals & chains for the Islanders They are very nice indeed. I have half a mind to show them to the Editor of the Graphic – & get him to engrave them in his paper, to show that the boys are not treated quite like slaves. They will be proud when they get them.
27 October 1873 The medals have been seen by a large number of my friends & much admired, & I was advised to have them engraved in the “Graphic” which would have been done without cost to me, but I thought it would look like ostentation. The medals though engraved as being from our Firm, are paid for by me alone, but this need not be mentioned.

Charles’s statement about possibly having engravings of the medals printed in the Graphic, “to show that the boys are not treated quite like slaves” was not one of embarrassment, as suggested by Groenewegen. It was a statement of frustration, in the face of the widespread press coverage in England at the time of the mistreatment of Islanders. He wanted to emphasise to the editor of the Graphic that the men on Glengallan were treated well.

Groenewegen’s position regarding the Exiles lacks credibility for the reasons already explained. His position regarding the Islanders also lacks credibility because the numbers were not substantial, and Charles valued the Islanders’ contribution and was focused on their welfare. As a result, he would not have been embarrassed. These events were also not capable of being concealed by a story about the gold rush which had occurred twenty years earlier.

4. The clerical connection◄ ● ► 6. Alfred’s Grandfather: William Marshall (1780-1828)

Megan Stevens

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