Governor Richard Bourke

(4 May 1777 – 13 August 1855)

(previous … The Newspaper Wars)

Governor Richard Burke, Sydney, AustraliaSir Richard Bourke, who succeeded Governor Ralph Darling, was the most able and the most popular of all the Sydney Governors. He had the talent and energy of Lachlan Macquarie, but he had in addition, a frank and hearty manner, which inevitably won the hearts of the colonists. The colonists for their part, for years after his departure, used to talk affectionately of him as the “good old Governor Bourke”. During his term of office, the colony continued in a sober way to make steady progress. In 1833, its population numbered 60,000, of whom 36,000 were free people. Every year there arrived 3,000 fresh convicts, but as an equal number of free immigrants also arrived, the colony benefited by its annual increase of population.

The Land Question

Governor Richard Burke on his landing found that much discontentment existed with reference to what was called the Land Question. It was understood that anyone who showed that he could make good use of land, they would receive a suitable area as a free grant. But unfortunately, many abuses crept in under the system. In theory, all men had an equal right to obtain the land they required but in practice it was seldom possible for one who had no friends among the officials at Sydney to obtain a grant. An immigrant often had to wait for months and see his application ignored, while in the meantime, a few favoured individuals were calling day by day at the Land Office and receiving grant after grant of the best land of the colony. Governor Burke made a new arrangement. There would be no more free grants. In the settled districts all land was put up for auction and if less than five shillings was offered, it was not sold or if the offers rose above that price it was given to the highest bidder. This was regarded as a very fair arrangement, and as a large amount of money was annually received from the sale of the land, the Government was able to resume the practice, discontinued in 1818, of assisting poor people in Europe to emigrate to the colony.

The Squatters

Beyond the surveyed districts the land was occupied by squatters, who settled down where ever they pleased, but had no legal rights to their “runs”, as they were called. With regards to these lands, new regulations were urgently required, for the squatters, who were liable to be turned off at a moment’s notice, felt themselves in a very precarious position. Besides, as their sheep increased rapidly and the flocks of neighbouring squatters interfered with one another, violent feuds sprang up and were carried on with a great deal of bitterness. To put an end to the evil going on Governor Bourke ordered the squatters to apply for the land they required. Bourke promised to have boundaries marked out, but gave no notice that he would, in the future, charge a small rent, proportional to the number of sheep the land could support. In return, he would secure to each squatter the peaceful occupation of his run, until the time came when it would be required for sale. This regulation did much to secure the stability of squatting interests in New South Wales.

After ruling well and wisely for six years, Governor Richard Bourke retired in 1837, amid the sincere regrets of the whole colony.

(continues … Australian Discoveries 1817 to 1836)