South Australian Register, Friday 8 June 1866
THE HON. MR VERDON’S MISSION TO ENGLAND.
Mr. Verdon, the Treasurer of Victoria started by last mail for England on a somewhat mysterious mission. His ostensible object was to open negotiations with the
Home Government on the subject of colonial defences; but there are rumours of much more serious business lying in the background. The Imperial Parliament was to be appealed to against the severe sentence of Mr. Cardwell. A Select Committee was to be asked for to enquire into the conduct of the Colonial Government during the crisis; and as for the Ex-Governor, he was to make a Warren Hastings case out of his recall. Legislation during the dog-days is not the most pleasant of operations; but this year, on the joint arrival of Sir Charles Darling and Mr. Verdon, the Commons will be quite driven to distraction. The ever-welcome 13th of August commencement of the shooting season — will be sure to receive a treble welcome when it brings relief from what nine-tenths of honourable members will consider a mere colonial squabble. Melbourne will have no chance against the moors, especially if the sporting senators take their geographical opinions of it from that famous new gazetteer, Mr, Brooke’s, where it is described as ‘a city of South Australia, the capital of the district of Victoria in New South Wales.’ Before Mr. Verdon set out on this mysterious mission, his friends and Ministerial colleagues gave him dejeuner at Menzies Hotel, which was so far for the public advantage at it elicited a speech from the Ambassador Extraordinary. In such circumstances speeches are expected to be a little confidential. The heavy veil of mystery which has up to that moment been hanging over the speaker is raised an inch or two, and a few oracular hints dropped, of which we are allowed to make the most we can. We have carefully perused this valedictory statement of Mr. Verdon’s, and are fain to confess that it sounds to us very much like Mr. Case’s explanation of the working of the Protean Cabinet The only unmistakable point in it is that Mr. Verdon does not expect a very cordial reception at home, and is no means sanguine as to his mysterious mission doing much good. The public opinion of England, he thinks, has been very much influenced by the views of Mr. Goldwin Smith. Since Lord Palmerston’s death too much attention is being paid to the utilitarian view of things— ergo, the colonists must become utilitarian too, or, to give Mr. Verdon’s own words relative to the question of defences. They may, therefore, be compelled to put this matter before the British Government strictly on business grounds. Within a less distance than 15,000 miles from London, it would sound absurd to charge the Russell-Gladstone Ministry with utilitarianism as compared with the Palmerston Ministry. If ever there was a Premier who took common place practical views of things, it was he whose death Mr. Verdon regrets as a special loss to ‘that portion of the empire’ in which he was speaking. And if ever there was one fit to act magnanimously in the smallest matters, it is the present leader of the House of Commoms whom Mr. Verdon thus parades his intention of meeting on a very important matter in the narrowest huckstering spirit he can assume for the occasion. Mr. Verdon is to do that , not in his own name merely, nor in the name of his Government merely, but in the name of the whole colony of Victoria. He is to have a roving commission as ‘our representative,’ and is to consider himself ‘at perfect liberty to correct errors of fact on every public opportunity.’ Surely there has not been such a Minister Plenipotienary since Lord John Russell went to Vienna and came back with, ‘Please Ma’am, there’s no message, Ma’am.’ If we may be allowed to speculate on the real meaning of this ‘utilitarian’ theory, we consider it a blind for a premeditated pettish insult to the Home Government and the British people. The McCulloch Ministry deeply resent the humiliation they have received at the hands of Mr. Cardwell. They are too bumptious and thin-skinned to take it quietly, and learn a lesson from it for their future guidance. Like an Irishman at Donnybrook, they vow that nobody shall tread on their coat tails with impunity. If ‘cutting the painter’ were within a thousand or even a million degrees of this limit of possibility, they have assurance enough to attempt it; but that being, even in their sanguine minds, quite out of the question, they must take lower ground to gain their objects. Mr. HIGINBOTHAM reasons that, if he cannot safely defy the Home Government unless in words, he may badger and perplex it by railing questions which may lead to misunderstandings between the colony and the mother-country. The colonial defences came most conveniently to hand ; so a case has been made out on them, and Mr. Verdon sent home with it under instructions to add to his programme whatever other knotty point may turn up. The mission in itself would be unobjectionable if carried out at the right time and in the right spirit. We cordially agree with what Mr. Verdon said in another part of his speech to its being ‘desirable that our public men should visit England oftener in order to benefit by the experience they would derive from what they saw and learnt abroad, and bring their extended views to bear on the progress of the colony.’ But the way in which this mission has been got up proves that it has no such salutary object as to confer extended views ‘either on Mr. Verdon-or any other member of the McCulloch Ministry. When men who are much more a professed statesman, are in search of ‘extended views,’ should not begin by showing that his mind is chock
full of prejudices. When he wishes to correct other people’s mistakes — those of the Imperial Government, and the British public, to wit— is it wise to make such a display of the beam in his own eye? Under the pretence of setting themselves and the colony right with the mother-country the Victorian Government are initiating a course which will almost certainly end in the aggravation of existing difficulties. They deliberately intend to provoke a controversy on certain delicate points, not only at the wrong time and in a wrong spirit, but on false ground. It is simply untrue that a utilitarian feeling towards the colonies prevails at home either in the Government or among the public. As for Goldwin Smith’s views, it is only in a very limited sense true that they have influenced public opinion. Ninety-nine Englishmen out of every hundred will continue to believe in the value of the colonial connection, though it were proved never so clearly to be a money loss. Of course, there is a desire to reduce as far as possible the cost of it, and if something is being done every year to increase our independence, it is reasonable that some quid pro quo in the shape of saving should be expected. But the Home Government has not insisted on this in any niggardly— or, as Mr. Verdon prefers calling it, ‘utilitarian’— spirit. Mr.
Gladstone has, it is true, expressed an opinion that no nation can fully realize its freedom until it is independent as regards all its ordinary expenses of government; but that is no proof of his disinclination to entertain any such proposal as Mr. Verdon is going home to make to him. Instead of drawing hasty conclusions from the utterances of the squire party is the House of Commons, the Home Government should be judged by tho practical answers it has given to suoh proposals before. Was that of Canada received in a utilitarian spirit? Was New Zaaland not liberally supplied with military assistance in her hour of need? It ought to be some consolation to the constitutional party in Victoria that Mr. Verdon will not be the only ‘representative’ of the colony at home during these ominous dog days Mr. O’Shanassy will be there, not only in much better humour, but with a much higher appreciation of the relations which should subsist between the two countries than the Minister Plenipotentiary. He has no humiliation to avenge, no desire to raise difficulties for the gratification of friends at the Eastern Market, and the consolation of wounded vanity; no occasion, in short, to judge meanly of the mother-country, and to deal with her accordingly. At some of his ‘public opportunities’ Mr. Verdon may be confronted by other and better reflectors of colonial opinion than himself.