Daily Archives: October 4, 2010

Bringing ’em in

Pioneer homestead, Chatham Upper Canada 1828. P.J. Bainbrigge

Those of you following my academic progress (such as it is) will know that I’ve been turning my attention to Upper Canada, where Judge Willis presided on the Kings Bench in 1827-28.  It’s with an element of trepidation that I post anything about Upper Canada here at all on a blog ostensibly oriented towards Port Phillip in Australia, aware as I am of my lack of knowledge in the field.  Be that as it may, I find myself reading through bi-focal glasses now: alert to resonances in one colony that I’ve detected in the other, and conscious of parallel movements across the empire.

I’ve just finished reading an article by J.K. Johnson called ‘Land Policy and the Upper Canadian Elite Reconsidered: The Canadian Emigration Association, 1840-1841’ in an edited collection of essays in honour of the Canadian historian J. M.S. Careless. [Surely an unfortunate surname for any historian.  Careless himself reassured students in his survey of Canadian history course that they should not be concerned at having a lecturer called Careless, for a former head of the Department had been a Professor Wrong. (p. 21)]

Although this article falls beyond my 1827/8 pre-Rebellion interest in Upper Canada, I was drawn to read it because I was conscious of the emigration schemes operating within Port Phillip during the 1840s and was interested to compare them.  The ultimately-unsuccessful  Canadian Emigration Society was established in 1840 with a 2-pronged approach.  Prominent landowners in Britain (and particularly Scottish landlords)  would be encouraged to promote and support emigration to Upper Canada while, at the other end,  Upper Canadian landholders would offer free grants of 50 acres to incoming settlers.   There was a general feeling in Upper Canada that immigration per se was good for the colony, and the steep drop in incoming migrants after the 1837 Rebellion was viewed with alarm.  But, just as importantly, a number of well-connected Upper Canadians had amassed large landholdings as a speculative venture and their own land would increase in value if settlers could be attracted to the area.

There was a strong emphasis on land clearing.  I’m also reading Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush, and I’m very much aware of the presence of the forest- it seems almost disloyal as an Australian to refer to it as ‘bush’.  The imperative to clear land was built into the Canadian Emigration Association Scheme:

“To such emigrants with families as shall come out under the auspices or with the special recommendation of the societies at home, it is proposed to give fifty acres each, upon condition of actual settlement and clearing a space of ten acres of the front of their locations, erecting a dwelling house etc for themselves, and clearing one-half of that portion of road lying in front of the lot of which their grant forms a part.  The use and possession of this land will be secured to them immediately, and after three years’ actual residence, and the performance of the conditions above specified, a deed in fee simple, without charge, will be given to them”

In an article in Historical Essays on Upper Canada: New Perspectives called ‘Forest into Farmland: Upper Canadian Clearing Rates 1822-1839′ Peter A. Russell notes that the rate of clearing forest was seen as a crucial index of a man’s  economic success and social advancement.  He noted that at first settlers needed to clear to provide immediate shelter for themselves and their families, while often working for wages on a more advanced settler’s tract. After a couple of years, the land had to be cleared again because of secondary regrowth.   Darrell A. Norris’ chapter in the same volume ‘Migration, Pioneer Settlement and the Life Course: The First Families of an Ontario Township’ noted that often families lived temporarily in more settled towns before shifting to the bush once they had sufficient working-age children to make a go of it.

I find myself comparing this with Port Phillip emigration at much the same time. There were bounty migrant schemes, but the emphasis there was on attracting labourers, both agricultural and industrial, and domestic servants.  There was a general reluctance for newcomers to shift into the country where there was much more of an emphasis on pastoral activity than farming, and it was mainly ex-convicts and single men who took on the role of sheep-hand, for which labour was most scarce.

Postcard Family Hut Australia (1909)

Certainly ‘improvements’ were expected of selectors under the 1869 Selection Act- a house, boundary fences, clearing and cultivating at least 32 acres. (Some interesting, later images here)   Of course, the type of land dictated the emphasis given to clearing. Sparsely timbered plains posed no problem, but especially in Gippsland, the bush took on a daunting scale more similar to that in Canada.  But once it had been ring-barked and burnt,  the battle seemed won.  As one Gippsland selector W. M. Elliot, rejoiced at the end of his life

not a vestige remains of the vast forest that once so stubbornly resisted our labours.  Hill and vale covered in verdure as far as the eye can see! (cited in Dingle p. 67)

In the end, the Canadian Emigration Association was eclipsed by other developments.  The main proponent, Dr Thomas Rolph, became attracted by other (likewise unsuccessful) large-scale land development schemes whereby huge tracts of land would be purchased in England and sold to settlers, and by the early 1840s emigration had picked up of its own accord.  In Port Phillip, the bounty scheme almost bankrupted the government in a time of depression and by the early 1850s the gold rush made such schemes redundant.


J. K. Johnson ‘Land Policy and the Upper Canadian Elite Reconsidered: The Canadian Emigration Association, 1840-1841’ in David Keane & Colin Read (eds) Old Ontario: Essays in Honour of J. M. S. Careless, Toronto and Oxford, Dundurn Press, 1990.  pp. 217-233

Peter A. Russell ‘Forest into Farmland: Upper Canadian Clearing Rates 1822-1839’ in (Ed.) J. K. Johnson and Bruce G. Wilson Historical Essays on Upper Canada: New Perspectives I ,Ottawa Canada, Carleton University Press, 1989. pp.131-149

Darrell A. Norris ‘Migration, Pioneer Settlement and the Life Course: The First Families of an Ontario Township.’ (Ed.) J. K. Johnson and Bruce G. Wilson Historical Essays on Upper Canada: New Perspectives I ,Ottawa Canada, Carleton University Press, 1989. Pp. 175-201

Tony Dingle Settling, NSW Australia, Fairfax Syme and Weldon, 1984