The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 21

REPORT ON LABOUR COLONIES

Letter to Alfred Lyttelton — Interview with him — Opportunities of Conservative Government — How used — Nature of H. R. H.‘s scheme — Approved by Earl Grey, Governor–General of Canada — Cold reception by Government — Alfred Lyttelton a believer in it — Referred to a Departmental Committee — The bottom knocked out of it — Letters from Earl Grey — Letter from Bramwell Booth.

On my homeward way across the Atlantic I wrote the following private letter to Mr. Lyttelton:

R.M.S. Majestic: April 23, 1905.

Dear Mr. Lyttelton, — I hope within a few days to let you have my Report, or rather Reports — for I have written a general Report and separate Remarks upon each of the Salvation Army Colonies.

I am glad to be able to tell you that on the whole, although mistakes have been made, I formed a favourable opinion of these colonies.

I am also thankful to be able to add that the results of my negotiations with the Canadian Government are, in my opinion, very satisfactory. They have given me 240,000 acres of land outright (to be selected wherever one likes) and a promise of as much more as is wanted. This is really very handsome. Up to the present, however, I have not been able to get their promise that they would join in guaranteeing a loan for Emigration purposes. Still Mr. Fielding was very well disposed towards so doing and promised me that he would consult his colleagues and communicate with me further. I owe it to Lord Grey and Mr. Sifton that things went so smoothly in Canada. I cannot be grateful enough to them, as will be seen from my Report. I was fortunate enough to be able to convince everybody I met there, from Sir Wilfrid Laurier down, that the scheme I have evolved is sound and workable — to the benefit of Canada also, so they all set to and helped me after reading my reports on the Colonies. (I had roughly drafted these Reports during my train journeys. — H. R. H.) Also I think that Sir Wilfrid was approached in a fortunate hour — just when he wished to do something for the Protestants.

At any rate when I took some opportunity to point out to him that the Salvation Army put no religious pressure on its settlers and that there were Roman Catholic families at Fort Romie, after thinking a moment, he answered formally:

“I think that no Public Body could be better fitted to carry out Land Settlements in Canada than is the Salvation Army.”

It seemed to me that this was holding out the hand of welcome.

The Report covers many documents that have to be checked and prepared for press, but I am pushing on with them as fast as possible, and if I am wanted a wire to Ditchingham will always find me.

I had a most interesting interview with President Roosevelt, of which I will bring or send the private notes.

Our journey was very long and arduous, and towards the end of it my daughter developed influenza in the train which, as I did not know what it was, frightened me. Also we had a great escape of being drowned in the Colorado River. However, I am glad to say we got through safely. Hoping that my Report and scheme may be thought satisfactory.

Believe me,
Very truly yours,
H. Rider Haggard.

Some weeks after my return I had a brief interview with Mr. Lyttelton at the House of Commons — it may have extended to half an hour, though I think it was less. He expressed himself delighted with the Report, which was in his hand. When I asked him if he was satisfied with my work, he replied, “Satisfied? I think it splendid,” adding, “I wish the Prime Minister would take it up. But Arthur won’t read it — you know Arthur won’t read it!

I thought to myself then, and am still thinking, that this “Arthur won’t read it” was a summary of much of the action, or lack of action, of the Government of that day. Mr. Balfour, it has always seemed to me, during his ten years or so of unquestioned power, had the greatest opportunity which God has given to any Englishman of our generation. What exact use he made of it is not a matter upon which I am qualified to express a judgment. He and those who were in his counsel alone can answer that question. Yet, speaking as a mere member of the public, it does appear as though more might have been done. For instance, the House of Lords, which was, as it were, in his pocket, might have been reformed, thereby averting all the national dangers and terrible trouble which have ensued, and the final surrender to the threats of the Radical party, made more feeble, some may think, by the bold and whirling words with which it was preceded.

Again, a Redistribution of Seats Bill might have been passed — it was not impossible with such a majority — and thereby half the Irish difficulty obviated. Local taxation might have been equalised; something, as I for one urged continually, might have been done to better the conditions of the land and its inhabitants, and so forth. Even such a little matter as an urgently needed Copyright Bill was left for the Radicals to deal with as best they could in face of the opposition of the Labour party.

It does strike me that this Conservative Government never quite realised that the time had gone by when it was possible for a happy family party to philosophise at a round table, calling each other by their Christian names and sucking the sweets of office from year to year, quite satisfied to meet any emergencies that might arise in a happy-go-lucky, hand-to-mouth fashion, and to proclaim in well-educated voices that, while they ruled, all was well with the world; also that the questions which others thought urgent might be postponed — to a more convenient season. Session was added to session, and still they scoffed at the need of any constructive policy. Meanwhile the thunder-clouds banked up, and that strong and turbulent spirit, Mr. Chamberlain, growing impatient of this political lotus-eating, broke away and ran up a score off his own bat, which to this hour the Unionist party does not know whether to count in its total or to sponge from the board.

But, as was subsequently remarked about the very recent collapse of the resistance of the House of Lords before the threat of an influx of Radical peers (how long would they have remained Radical, one wonders?), all this is “ancient history,” and therefore scarce worthy of discussion. I think it was Mr. Balfour himself who made the remark, apparently with a view of stifling inquiry into what some people think an obscure and poor-spirited transaction. Surely it is better to die facing the foe and with one’s armour on than to pull it off and run away, only to be beaten to death with sticks afterwards by the enemy’s camp-followers, or taken prisoner, reclothed in your ermine and coronet, and mocked before the people. Lord Halsbury and his stalwarts for my money.

On the occasion of this small Imperial matter with which I was concerned I confess I did wish that Mr. Lyttelton could have spared me an hour or two in which to talk over its leading points with him, as, for instance, President Roosevelt found himself able to do in the midst of all the tumultuous ceremonies of his inauguration. But there, perhaps, came the difference. Roosevelt was being inaugurated: his time was before him. The Conservative party was already a mere corpse galvanised into a semblance of its lost life, and, standing on the edge of an open grave, it pretended not to see, its pale eyes fixed upon those thunder-clouds which, after ten happy years, had become so very large and definite. Little wonder that “Arthur wouldn’t read” reports on matters dealing with the transference of our superabundant city poor to colonial settlements. Matters at home, affecting him much more nearly, left no time for reading. The affair undertaken in a moment of pressure or enthusiasm was already forgotten; it became inconvenient to consider the arguments of individuals who suggested that something should be done which would involve the expenditure of thought, time, and money. Had I been told this at once a great deal of trouble might have been spared to everyone concerned. The Report might even have been suppressed altogether.

I am not for one moment arguing that the scheme I suggested was open to no objections. What was the problem? Briefly, in what way more or less broken-down persons and their families could be moved from our cities on to colonial land, to their own benefit and without the nation incurring loss. It is a problem that as yet no one has been able to solve. I did offer a scheme that had a fair prospect of success. The money advanced by the Government was to be secured upon the settlers’ lands, which lands have since that time doubled or trebled in value, as I foresaw that they would do. What I called the “Waste Forces of Benevolence” were to look after the said settlers for nothing, subject to proper control — a task which the Salvation Army was quite ready to undertake. Moreover, with all its enormous experiences of emigration, as the Canadian authorities recognised, it was absolutely competent so to do. Yet bitter prejudice against the Salvation Army, often enough fostered by persons in religion who should know better, was one of the causes that brought the business to the ground.

Without going further into its details I repeat that the Canadian Government and statesmen approved this scheme, as did the Governor–General, Lord Grey. Also when it was published it met with an enormous amount of support from the Press of this country, as may be seen by anyone who cares to glance through the extracts from Press opinions of my Report which are printed at the end of “The Poor and the Land,” wherein it is republished. Here, then, at any rate was a foundation upon which others might build.

At first the Government seemed to take this view, but then followed a pause indicative of the evaporation of enthusiasm. Questions were asked in the House as to whether the Government intended to do anything. The thing became a nuisance to them, and at length it was announced that the matter would be referred to a Departmental Committee. My first intimation of this was at a public dinner in London, when a gentleman much mixed up in politics as a Conservative agent informed me that he had just been speaking to a Minister, who had told him that my Report was to be sent to a Committee which would “knock the bottom out of it.” Then I knew that all was finished.

And yet, unless I most strangely misunderstood him, all the while Mr. Lyttelton was a believer in the plan. He was personally most kind to me, and I liked him very much. At that time also, as his private secretary informed me, he wished me to make another report upon the possibility of applying similar principles to a scheme of land settlement at home; indeed I was told that it was settled I should be asked to do so. I understand, however — though of course in this I may be mistaken — that the officials of the Board of Agriculture put a stop to this idea, as such an appointment would have interfered with the prerogative of their department. At any rate, opposition arose somewhere and it was dropped. The upshot was that the work was thrown away, if any good and earnest work ever really is thrown away.

The end of the matter may be briefly summarised. As was to be anticipated, “the bottom was knocked out” of my scheme in the most satisfactory official way.

The Report of the Committee stated that —

Though we fully recognise the zeal and ability Mr. Rider Haggard has shown in making his investigations and preparing his Report, and trust that much good may be done indirectly by the ventilation of the suggestions that he has made, we regret to be obliged to say that we consider his scheme to be open to so many objections that, even if we were prepared to advocate colonisation in principle, we could not recommend that this particular scheme should be adopted . . . .

Moreover, we feel that there are serious objections to placing any such body as the Salvation Army in the position of managers of a colony dependent on money advanced by the Imperial Government . . . .

Perhaps on the details the Committee was right. Who am I that I should question its collective wisdom — even if it had been “prepared to advocate colonisation in principle”? Yet I agree with Mr. Lyttelton in the remarks that he subsequently made to me, that the good that would have been done by the adoption of such a scheme would have infinitely outweighed its disadvantages and the possible, though improbable, monetary loss. However this may be, there the thing ended. The somewhat nebulous recommendations of the Committee included “a grant-inaid” to “be given by the Imperial Government to the Committee formed under the Unemployed Workmen Act, for the purpose of emigration.”

Or alternatively —

“That, in the event of that proposal being rejected, an annual grant-inaid for the term of five years should be made to the Emigrants’ Immigration Office, to be expended by them in the emigration of suitable persons to the British Colonies through such Emigration Societies as they may select . . . .”

These recommendations were dissented from by Mr. Herbert Samuel, the present Postmaster–General, and by Mr. H. Lambert, and qualified in a Note added to the Report by my late friend Mr. Wilson–Fox, whose premature death has been such a loss to the public service of this country.

It is needless to add that, so far, the Report of this Committee has proved perfectly abortive. A strong man, such as Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was in his prime, might have adopted the outline of my ideas and made something of them. But the strong man was lacking, and to send them to a hybrid Committee of mixed views was only to ensure their murder. It is always so easy to find fault and make objections.

For me personally this issue was painful. I had worked hard and in all honestness, and, like many better men, I had found myself thrown over. After all the Colonial Secretary’s declarations as to the value of my work, etc., I never even received a letter of thanks from the Government, or, for the matter of that, a copy of the Report and Evidence of the Committee, which I had to buy like any other member of the public. All that I got was the privilege of paying the bill, for of course the small sum allowed by the Rhodes Trustees did not suffice to meet the expenses of my tour in a high official position through that very expensive country, the United States.

Thus my mission ended.

In confirmation of what I have stated above I will now quote a few of the more important letters which I wrote or received as a Special Commissioner.

The first of these was addressed by me to Lord Rosebery as Chairman of the Rhodes Trust.

Confidential.

Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
May 20, 1905.

My Lord, — You may know that I am the person who was sent to investigate the Salvation Army Colonies in America. I write therefore thinking that perhaps you would wish to hear from me in the matter.

First, however, as one who has for years taken deep interest in the problem of the congested cities and the depopulated land, I desire most heartily to thank the Rhodes Trustees for their action in having set this investigation on foot.

Very briefly the results are as follows:

On the whole I was well satisfied with the Colonies, perceiving in them a great principle, easy of adaptation.

I proceeded to Canada and showed to various members of the Government there my draft reports. Also I explained to them my scheme.

I am glad to be able to say that I was successful in impressing upon them that this scheme is quite sound. Mr. Sifton (a great power there) even went further and stated that he considered it of more importance to the Dominion than any plan of preferential duties.

The issue is that I have brought home with me a despatch from Sir Wilfrid Laurier granting three hundred and sixty square miles of their best land for the purposes of the scheme, promising as much more as may be required, and stating his firm belief in the practical nature of my scheme . . . .

I speak with reference to Canada and other Colonies. On the home side of the question, where dear land and awful rates and District Councils have to be faced, I am not so sure. I have offered to go into and prepare a further report on this point if it is desired.

I have ventured to suggest that a Commissioner should be sent to South Africa and especially to Rhodesia, to examine those Colonies and see what they are prepared to do to help. I have great hope that the tobacco industry in Rhodesia gives an opening to the small holder. I think also that your Lordship will agree with me that a British population is desirable in that country.

Believe me,
Very truly yours,
H. Rider Haggard.

The Earl of Rosebery, K.G., etc. etc.

As a result of this letter I had a long interview with Lord Rosebery in the course of which we discussed the whole matter in detail. It was the only occasion upon which I have ever met this remarkable personage. As he wandered up and down his library and talked of this and that, he impressed me as a melancholy and disappointed man — one who, in a sense, felt that he had failed, notwithstanding his brilliant gifts and great opportunities. His fine nature peeped out in every sentence that he uttered; also his disillusionment. I suggested that he should move in this matter in the House of Lords; but he did not bring the matter up there, as a Departmental Committee was appointed.

Truly the appointment of that Committee was wise from the point of view of those who wished to put an end to further agitation on the subject.

I also received the following letters from Earl Grey:

Toronto: May 20, 1905.

My dear Rider Haggard, — I am delighted to get your letter which encourages me to hope that the Colonial Office is in earnest in this matter. As you know, I agree entirely with you that there is no time to lose — Roosevelt will be glad to blanket our sails if we give him an opportunity. My impression is that if the Home Government were to refer your Report to the Canadian Government with a request for an expression of their opinion as to the practicability of your recommendations que Canada and ask for a statement of what they will do in the matter, it would provide just the stimulus required to enable the Dominion Government to do something this Session.

The Department of the Interior, with whom the initiation of action rests, has been necessarily handicapped by a change of Minister and the election at Edmonton. The new Minister has hardly had time to get himself fairly into the saddle. My impression is that the Government here, if properly approached, will follow Fielding’s lead — this of course quite private to yourself.

Yours sincerely,
Grey.

So far as I am aware, the Home Government never “approached” that of Canada in the matter.

Cascapedia Club, Grand Cascapedia,
Quebec, Canada: July 4, 1905.

My dear Rider Haggard, — Your report has just reached me on the banks of the Cascapedia, and I hasten to acknowledge its receipt.

The life here is not conducive to writing, so I will not try to say much.

I fear the Canadian Par(t) which is now preparing itself for Prorogation, will not be able to consider the question seriously this Session — but I will write to Fielding on the subject.

I do not notice in the Blue Book Mark Hanna’s Bill, and I regret its absence, as it gives a lead and shows the way.

I hope the British Public will be able to seize the salient points. If they can by the aid of the Press be persuaded to assimilate them something ought to result from your visit to the States.

Forgive more at present.

Yours very truly,
Grey.

I received many letters from Mr. Bramwell Booth, the present General of the Salvation Army, of which I will quote one.

Tonbridge: August 3, 1906.

Dear Mr. Haggard, — The General desires me to thank you for your note and telegram, both sent on to him. We are travelling. He desires me to express to you at once in this informal way his high sense of the important service you have rendered to the community by your investigations in the U.S. and in Canada, and to say that he has read y(r) Report with the greatest interest. No doubt he will have the opportunity of saying all this and more to you before very long.

The General feels much disappointed by the inaction of the Government, and does not quite understand the line they take. If, as you suggest, they wish to dispense with the service of voluntary agencies it appears to him that they will be quite impotent in this matter. At the same time he sees great difficulty in arranging any combined action with other organisations such as you name, seeing that, so far as we know, there are no English Societies having any experience worth talking of, with whom we could combine. And as you know nothing is more futile, or more dangerous, than advising people to advance money on purely speculative proposals.

I have asked Booth–Tucker to send you a copy of the letter from Bernard Holland from which it appears that the Committee desire us to give evidence to prove that men taken from our cities will settle successfully in the prairie of Canada! Now we shall be very reluctant to attempt such proof, even if we may feel strongly that the work could be done. It seems to us scarcely reasonable. Moreover evidence w(d) have to be sought in Canada, and considerable expense w(d) be incurred. It w(d) appear that in some way there is a wish to set up y(r) Report in order to shoot at it! That is hardly what you, or we, were led to expect. However, I expect to be in Town on Friday and will consider what can be done. The matter is so important that we must not unduly hurry it.

My own feeling is that Gov(t) has already ceased any serious intention in this matter — they are practically in a state of suspended animation.

I must see you. The General does not expect to be in London until the end of this motor campaign — Sept. 9th.

Very f’fully,
W. Bramwell Booth.

H. Rider Haggard, Esq.

There is a mass of further documentary evidence on this question, but probably the above examples will suffice to explain everything with sufficient clearness. Such letters are valuable records which cannot alter or gloze the truth. I have only to add that old General Booth was personally very indignant about the treatment which my Report received — so indignant that he refused to appear to give evidence before the Committee. Indeed his people would not allow him to do so, because they said they were sure that he would lose his temper. More than once he declared to me in his fierce way that, from knowledge in his possession, he was well aware that the appointment of this Committee was “a put-up job.” He and the late Mr. Wilson–Fox used to travel up to town together in the mornings, and I imagine that from him he extracted a good deal of information. Also he had other means of getting at the truth, for the Salvation Army has many friends in high places and among the various parties.

That is all I have to say about this fiasco. My Report was destroyed; the divided recommendations of the Departmental Committee, such as they were, were never acted on: in short, all came to nothing. Meanwhile the problem remains as pressing as ever it was. Our cities are still crowded with hundreds of children utterly without prospects, except such as are afforded by the hospital, the poorhouse, and the gaol, some of whom, if a scheme analogous to mine had been adopted, might become healthy, happy and prosperous on the bountiful land of Canada, and this at little or no cost to the Mother Country and to the great gain of the Dominion. On the other hand, the emigration agencies are still busily employed in picking out the healthy young men and women reared and educated at our expense from the already depopulated country districts. By thousands these depart, to return no more, leaving the land of their birth the poorer for their loss. One night some years ago I addressed five or six hundred of them in the board room of Euston Station, while they were waiting for a special train to Liverpool, and thought the sight and the occasion extremely sad. But so it is, and so I suppose it will go on — the devouring cities growing more and more bloated, and the starved land becoming more and more empty.

Well, I tried my best to help in the matter and failed. Whether the fault was mine or that of others I must leave the reader to judge upon the evidence before him.

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