This paper addresses the variants that came into play regarding the issue of migration during the appointment of Count Birger Morner as the first Swedish Consul General to Australia from 1906-1910. An analysis will be presented regarding the circumstances surrounding the momentum behind the drive for migrants on the part of Australia in the first decade of this century the hitherto underestimated and neglected aspects of Count Morner's involvement; the reactive element within both the Australian government and press; and subsequent consequences.
The appointment of Morner coincided with a concerted effort by both Federal and State governments to induce Scandinavian migrants to Australia. It was not long after his arrival in Sydney in September 1906, that Count Morner, on familiarising himself with the political and legislative structures in Australia as he saw them, was horrified at the prospect of his fellow Swedes being lured to a country whose policies and outlook were not just foreign, but dangerously so. Morner became involved in a war of words with the Federal Minister for Customs, Alfred Deakin, and more specifically, the New South Wales Premier of the time, Charles Wade. What began as a foray into unchartered waters, both physically and figuratively for Morner, ended with a victory of sorts for the New South Wales Premier and the Count himself recalled to Stockholm, his career in the consular service at an end.
Prior to a discussion of the events surrounding Morner and the debate itself. it would be in order to briefly put the issue of migration into some historical context. Throughout the nineteenth century Australia continually vied with the United States for migrants. Australia faced something of an uphill battle in this regard, due to the fact that the journey to the United States was less time consuming and less expensive; the Homestead Acts of the 1860s and the growth of railways opened up new US territory in the mid-west and western areas; and for Australia, fewer migrants meant a relative lack of knowledge and thus influence as conveyed through correspondence about the new country to relatives and friends back home. The colonial government made a number of attempts to redress this imbalance through a variety of land acquisition schemes including charging much higher prices for Crown Land than either the United States or Canada and using the revenue to subsidise migration and, towards the late nineteenth century, the land order system, which ensured migrants who received no actual financial assistance from the government were entitled upon arrival to select free grants of Crown Lands; the land made available often of good quality, but located in very underpopulated areas. It was Queensland which made the earliest concerted effort to obtain Swedish migrants. When it separated from New South Wales in 1859, it had a white population of 23 000 (indigenous population not recorded) and a territory of one million, two hundred and seventy two thousand, two hundred square kilometres. Closer settlement was obviously required and advertisements of assistance to farm labourers, artisans and domestic servants may be found in the Swedish press of the 1860s and 1870s, offering fully assisted migrants land from between 40-160 acres, depending on the location. Agents acting for the colonial government itself were alto utilised in publicising the possibilities of a new life in Australia, with the practice of circulating letters of encouragement from successful migrants via public meetings and within Scandinavian journals and newspapers. The influx however, was always limited. It was not until after Federation in 1901 that the newly created States all began a concerted effort to rekindle Scandinavian interest in Australia through the utilisation of assisted passage, to increase their respective populations. Issues such as the mortality of migrants who had arrived during the Gold Rush period of 1850s and 1860s, the populate or perish ethos and the increased concern with the employment of coloured races at the expense of white, all contributed to a new drive to recruit Europeans, including Swedes who were deemed especially appropriate due to their reputation for hard work, tolerance and inventive adaptability. By the time Count Morner arrived in Sydney, in late 1906, the drive for Scandinavian migrants was in full swing.
Prior to his post in Australia, Morner had consular appointments in Genoa, Barcelona, Constantinople, South Shields, England and Copenhagen. He had hoped his next appointment would be St Petersburg, but received Sydney instead. This was the first such Swedish appointment to Australia, as prior to the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, a consul had represented both nations. Morner was not particularly looking forward to travelling so far from Europe, saying himself; 'I had never dreamed to be under the Southern Cross and would probably never have chosen it had I been given the opportunity to choose.' I think it's fair to say that he accepted the appointment with the hope that with it he would have 'served his time' and ultimately be rewarded with a post more suitable to his taste.
Morner was an urbane and sophisticated individual, close to the Swedish Royal House. He was an amateur anthropologist and ethnologist; a novelist and poet; a man who mixed easily and readily with the artists and literati of his time (counting Strindberg amongst his closest associates), and possessed of expensive tastes. He was admired by both men and women, the former due to his adventurous spirit, the latter due to his immense charm. Something of a Swedish Errol Flynn perhaps. Morner was also noted for his idiosyncratic behaviour, including the shipping of live lizards from New Zealand and platypus from Australia to the Stockholm Zoo, (all of which arrived safely and in good health, which is somewhat surprising when the lengthy ocean voyage is taken into account); and almost one thousand artefacts from New Guinea to the Swedish National Museum, ranging from enormous canoes to shrunken heads. The arrival of Morner in Australia was excitedly greeted by the Swedish communities in both Sydney and Melbourne (he would travel frequently between the two cities), jubilant as they were in having such an august individual as their representative.
It is important to bear in mind that Morner was a consul general, not a diplomat; there are considerable differences between the two. Basically a diplomat (or ambassador as we now refer to them), represents the sending state in matters of commerce, finance, economics, labour, scientific research and defence. While diplomats conduct business with or through the central government of the receiving state, the consul conducts official business only with local or municipal authorities. At the time of Morner's appointment, the promotion of trade and commerce were consular activities, along with assisting foreign nationals find employment, endeavouring to trace individuals whose family was searching for them and informing next of kin of the death of a foreign national. It is therefore apparent that consular activities were generally less exciting and less rewarding, in both status and job satisfaction, than a diplomatic post.
Nonetheless, for all his misgivings regarding his new appointment, Morner began well enough. Eager to see trade increase between Sweden and Australia, he initiated the Swedish Commercial Council (now the Swedish Chamber of Commerce). Keen also to learn more about Australian flora and fauna, he assisted in the formation of the Wildlife Preservation Society of New South Wales, also becoming a council director of the Royal Zoological Society of that state, and was instrumental in selecting the site of the Taronga Park Zoo.
It was not long however before Morner in his first report to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1907, communicated his concerns regarding Australian work practices. The dangerously proletarian attitude of workers in the cities, the ineffectual support schemes in place to assist newly arrived migrants and the inevitable calamities which would befall any Swede tempted to leave their homeland and migrate to this remote corner of the world. Morner was shocked to discover 'the worker is the master of the land' with all employed counted on a 'union list', no country was so heavily regulated by laws regarding individual activity, employment and the open markets, and furthermore, any dealings within the work place were dictated by a myriad of 'socialist regulations' which continually increased. In his report, Morner stated that although work was plentiful, it was lowly: that of domestic servants or seasonal, and that which Australians did not want to do themselves. He continued that the land offered by respective state governments was not as 'good or cheap' as promoted and, in any case, the isolation of such land increased transportation costs regarding improvements, the provision of stock and so forth. In noting the hardships prospective migrants faced on the land, Morner also delivered a broadside regarding the hypocrisy attached to the Australian concept of a 'fair go' for all, in stating, 'Here in the promised land of democracy and socialism, larger lots of land are owned by one person rather than by the Swedish aristocracy as during Sweden's days of glory.'
Morner became increasingly disturbed by what he viewed as an almost dysfunctional society, where social structures were imposed from above by an elite with its own selfish agenda; and where a socialist utopia was promoted to, and accepted by, a gullible workforce restrained from developing its true potential by indoctrination. At this point in time, 1907, the consul's misgivings were confined to his reports, and the Australian government had no awareness of Morner's negativity. To all intents and purposes, the consul was simply going about his duties in a conscientious fashion.
However in late 1907 an event occurred which encouraged in Morner an intensified dislike of his Australian appointment. He holidayed for four months throughout the South Pacific, including Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. Whilst sailing from island to island, he found himself completely entranced by their beauty and that of their exotic inhabitants. He commented bitterly, 'The Ceylon hibiscus shines ruby red from the island of rubies, while the eucalypt in the worker's tyranny, Australia, is the workman's melancholy grey.' The aesthete in him now also began to rebel. Morner was a man of passionate and romantic temperament, who began to find Australia increasingly restrictive as a parochial outpost, its inhabitants naively preoccupied with ideological inconsistencies, its society largely denuded of cultural sophistication. His disillusionment with his post was increasingly manifest.
Throughout 1908 to mid 1909, Morner continued to send reports to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the negative prospects of Swedish migration to Australia. He expressed growing concern regarding an economic downturn which could be gauged from late 1907, the partial ramifications of which affected the value of commodities such as wheat and wool and the selling price of livestock itself. In August 1908 he was granted four months leave to visit Europe, but requested and received an extra month. Records indicate that during this period he attempted to alter his posting. He had great hopes for Paris, but was disappointed in this regard, returning once again to Australia in January 1909.
It was during that year that Morner composed several articles for Swedish Export, the journal for Sweden's Common Export Association, relating to the migration issue. In these articles he related the numerous difficulties Swedes experienced upon arrival in Australia; such examples included an electrician employed as a bottlewasher in a hotel, another being an ex-salesman with excellent recommendations and good language skills employed on the railways in north Queensland and a third, a former sea captain, who had obtained casual employment loading and unloading at the docks of Sydney. Morner stated in his articles that Australians felt their country was exclusively for white Australians and not 'foreigners' (which is interesting considering government policy was very pro-northern European - I suspect the language barrier for most Swedes may have contributed to the 'foreigner' label Morner refers to), significantly, he also lamented the fact that it was 'sometimes considered appropriate' in his home country to 'export ... such relatives who have failed at home or somehow made their own position impossible' to countries on the other side of the world, which unhappily only served to contribute to increase the proletariat of the darker Sydney alleys or paupers of the Parramatta Labour Farm'. This latter quote is pertinent, as it is the sole observation made by Morner that I have discovered in my research thus far which attempts to address the migration issue in something of a bipartisan perspective. This may have sprung from his own experiences whilst in Australia. As a consul, Morner had been called upon for assistance by those Swedes who had arrived in Australia under their own auspices, without the assistance of any government or independent migration association. Quite frequently these individuals included sailors who had jumped ship, those who were unskilled in any trade and hopeful of commencing one in a new land of opportunity or those for whom the United States had already proven unsuccessful. Amongst these groups there must have been those who, in discussing their plight with the Consul made it apparent they had left their country of origin under some duress, rather than simply a high spirited thirst for adventure and reward. Morner obviously felt some compassion for these individuals and would undoubtedly have empathised with their plight in being pressured to abandon their home country for an inhospitable location such as Australia. Such occurrences may also have motivated the consul to increase his attempts at thwarting further migration. Morner knew he had found an audience to promote his cause via his journal articles, which was outside that of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he also knew it was a small one. Fortuitously, an incident within the political realm of Australia provided him with the opportunity to reach his target group.
Shortly before he left to take up his European leave in August 1909, Morner sent a press clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a covering letter, requesting the article be directed to the Swedish National Association Against Migration. The clipping summarised a speech made by a Member of the Labor Party Opposition, W.A. Holman, at a protest meeting of coal miners in Newcastle, at which Holman stated the government was tempting migrants to Australia with obviously incorrect information. No sooner had they arrived than they discovered that they had ended up in a 'fool's paradise' he said. This was just the sort of ammunition the National Association Against Migration could use with great effect, and Morner would undoubtedly have known this. The association itself had sprung up in 1905, in direct response to the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden. Norway had originally been the junior partner, but had gradually eroded Swedish authority through rising nationalism and a successful economy, especially with its shipping fleet. It demanded, and finally received, autonomy as a sovereign state. The loss of Norway greatly affected Swedish prestige, both nationally and abroad and left the country suffering a severe crisis of confidence in regard to its own future. This sense of loss presented a perfect environment in which a nationalistic organisation could develop, promoting a program of Sweden for Swedes, and an obligation on the part of all patriots to stay in their country and put their energies into regenerating this once very powerful kingdom. For Morner too, the dissolution of the union would have had a powerful effect. His familial connections with the royal house served to reinforce his intense nationalism and, to him, no greater calling existed than to be a patriot. It is safe to assume that the consul would have left Australia for Europe well satisfied that the National Association Against Migration would ensure Holman's remarks were widely publicised. It is also safe to say that Morner was somewhat disingenuous in his actions but by this point may have felt he had little alternative. As fate would have it, the press clipping proved not to be the bombshell Morner envisaged, but rather the articles he had written earlier for his small audience in the Common Export Association; and the casualty proved not to be the Australian government, but Morner himself.
In what proved to be his final report to the Ministry, the Consul had now become extremely strident in his opinions regarding the migration issue. He stated; 'I will do everything in my power to prevent any further Swedish migration to a country which is far too socialistic for my fellow countrymen to adapt to.' It is possible that by this time, the consul felt the Ministry was not addressing the issue to his satisfaction. Morner had become something of a zealot regarding Swedish migration, as his outspoken and emotive language indicates. But more significantly, Morner was losing perspective regarding the parameters of his role as a consul. Although he was perfectly entitled to his own opinion, and to promote his views within the Ministry, he had begun to take matters into his own hands, which was certainly not within his brief. He was in effect laying the seeds for his own downfall.
Whilst the consul was on leave, events in Australia began to take on a momentum of their own. Morner's articles were commented upon in the mainstream Swedish press and eventually sparked interest in London. In February 1910, a telegram arrived in Sydney from the English correspondent to the Daily Telegraph. Its contents stated that the Swedish consul to Australia had warned his countrymen against migrating to either Australia or New Zealand. The newspaper ran an editorial the same day questioning why Morner would take this stance, in light of the fact that the unemployment situation was improving, the wool clip and wheat harvest had both received good prices, the result of which being that rural workers were needed more than ever before. The editor obviously unaware that rural areas were anathema to the consul. The following day the same newspaper printed details of further Scandinavian negativity towards Australia, this time emanating from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also warning against migration to Australia. Both the Danish consul in Australia and Morner agreed to interviews, the former consul stating it was nothing personal, simply that Denmark could not spare any workers in its own rural sector at the present time. Morner chose to elaborate, basing his reasons an the comments made earlier by Holman, explaining the untenable position a number of Swedes had found themselves in and his own difficulties in finding some form of employment for them. The Minister for External Affairs, Deakin, also made comment that day, stating that there was no substance whatsoever in the warnings from either consul and in fact Australia was a land of great prosperity. To reinforce his claim, the Minister compared recent production figures for both Australia and Sweden, with the former having a value of just under four billion when converted to Swedish kroner, compared with that of the latter being two thousand, seven hundred and seventy eight million kroner. I'd suggest with the display of these figures, Morner would have been even more convinced that his country needed every man, woman and child. But in any case it should be borne in mind that Deakin's remarks were primarily aimed at an Australian audience.
Morner then decided to take up some of the points contained within the editorial of the Daily Telegraph which had used the banner 'discouraging Swedish immigrants'. In his correspondence he queried whether the accusation of incorrect information related to himself or towards the Swedish government, as the question could concern his honour. He also asked the editor to point out what exactly was incorrect, and was there a suggestion of a distortion of the facts. The newspaper backpeddled quickly, assuring Morner it had no intention of casting aspersions upon his honour, that the consul had acted to the best of his knowledge, but his warnings in Sweden must have sprung from some misunderstanding. This is where the issue may have subsided if the New South Wales Premier, Charles Wade, had not chosen this moment to enter the debate. He too had read the missive from London, and the Swedish Consul's reply and stated that he was much surprised that any migrant should find such difficulty in gaining employment. Wade pointed out that his state's immigration office had found a position for every migrant who had arrived under the assistance of the government, and in many cases, the demand far exceeded supply. He then stated that those responsible for any difficulties or mistakes in this regard were the private migration agencies, who lacked the required organisation to deal effectively with the issue and now Wade's government was being blamed for their errors. The Premier then invited Morner to inspect the files of the official employment agency and discuss its activities. Before Morner could reply, the Australian Workers Union came to the consul's defence. Indeed a resolution had been passed at the latest meeting, expressing approval of Morner's actions in warning Swedish migrants against coming to Australia and forcing down wages. The union objected to Deakin's assertion that the country was prosperous, stating this was untrue, thousands of citizens were still unemployed and legislation should be enacted providing the country's own people with the opportunity to become farmers, rather than allowing many already on the land to exploit cheap labour. While Morner may have been pleased with the unions resolution, he now had his sights firmly set on Wade. In another letter to the press, on this occasion to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Count stated he could not possibly visit the Premier as he was far too busy endeavouring to find employment for all the hapless Swedish migrants, and in any case he wondered, what would be the point, as he had yet to meet a Swede who had received any assistance whatsoever from the Government of New South Wales. He continued that the government agency only arranged work for those trained within the rural sector, domestic servants and farm workers, and therefore it was, by its own admission, incapable of assisting any other workers.
By March 1910, the subject of migration had become a heated one within Norden, a fortnightly publication from Melbourne, for expatriate Scandinavians. Letters to the editor poured in from those in complete agreement with the consul and those who argued the Count was far too narrow minded in his opinions and should recognise that for many Swedes leaving their homeland was the best decision they d ever made. This debate, and various editorials and articles continued until August that year.
In March, Morner inflamed the debate once again, using a speech to the Swedish Club in Melbourne to question not only the capabilities of the governmental migration agencies, but various other philanthropic organisations, such as the Immigration League of Australasia. Morner also went on to take a controversial remark, stating that the Premier of New South Wales, rather than promoting Australia as a land of opportunity only wanted servants to wait upon Australians. 'They should therefore say, Scandinavians, come here and serve us.' Naturally enough, Morner's views were quoted in both Norden and the wider press, with an indignant Wade suggesting that 'People of the right sort ... who do not expect to lie on a feather pillow (such as Morner?) ... can succeed in Australia in a way that a farmer in his home country could never have dreamed of...' Richard Arthur, President of the Immigration League, was not as temperate with his language, fiercely objecting to the Count's assertion that his organisation was ineffectual, stating that the Count obviously did not recognise a free and democratic nation when he saw it and, happily for Swedes, a Scandinavian exodus to the land of opportunity had commenced and Morner was simply wasting his time and everyone else's in trying to prevent it.
Wade continued to bombard the press with facts and figures regarding the success of his agency and the wisdom of his government in setting a very specific criteria for the migrants they would assist. On no occasion during this lengthy debate with Morner did Wade ever comment specifically on the consul's primary concern. That of what to do with migrants outside the criteria. It is clear that they were left to the auspices of Richard Arthur and the like and those who slipped through the net simply had to fend for themselves. Indeed in a number of cases, Morner suggested to newly arrived Swedes, that they disregard Australia and set sail for the United States forthwith.
By the middle of 1910, the topic of Swedish migration Mad become exceedingly emotive, with no-one prepared to give an inch. Articles in the press continued to appear on a regular basis, with the banner and tone of the articles themselves now very anti-Morner. Upon the occasion of Wade demanding an apology from the consul for his ignorant remarks, Morner replied that it was he who deserved an apology and that he found it unparalleled in the history of diplomacy that a 'head of state, had entered into a controversy in the media with a representative of a foreign country. Two things stand out here; Morner did not fully appreciate the type of adversary he was dealing with and, secondly, he was venturing into the realm of diplomacy; an area quite outside his brief and dangerous territory for a consul. Morner failed to recognise that the New South Wales Premier had much at stake with his government's migration agency. The first decade of this century saw the States still frequently encumbered with the colonial mentality of competition on an individual basis. Wade did not differ from other Australian Premiers, he sought as many 'appropriate' migrants as he could get for his State. At this time, migration was not the common national goal we are familiar with today. The States still retained an overwhelming sense of their own autonomy and a migration policy was just as much a State as a national issue. It is therefore understandable that Wade would do all he could to thwart Morner in his anti-Swedish migration stance. Morner's opinions were viewed as narrow, jeopardising a broad program which would continue long after Morner was transferred elsewhere. Wade also saw the consul as out of his depth in regard to this complex political issue, with a relatively limited knowledge of Australia and its requirements. Clearly, Morner was a patriot, Wade acknowledged this, but the Premier viewed the consul as meddling in affairs of state, outside his jurisdiction, leaving in his wake. unnecessary discord.
On the part of Morner, he now appeared incapable of stemming the flow of antagonism towards him (perhaps by admitting he had overstated his concerns; thus not denying them, but providing him with a semblance of honourable withdrawal from the debate). Instead, he continued to reinforce his point of view, by stating the small size but overpopulation of Australian cities meant no room existed for Swedish migrants; work was below the expectations of the new migrants; and although Swedes were invited, no organisation was willing to care for them upon arrival. All of Morner's concerns were accurate, but by July 1910, the Australian press had lost interest in the pros and cons of the issue and occupied itself with parodying the Count, with such captions as 'Count demands apology with rapier in hand', Morner was now portrayed as an old fashioned buffoon; a far cry from the prestige he had garnered four years earlier. The Government and press assault had undoubtedly eroded, to some extent, Morner's confidence, and left him relying on the status of his title as a means of reinforcing his authority on the subject. Whilst his place within the Swedish nobility fared him well when he was something of a celebrity it proved a liability when he embroiled himself in what was deemed purely an Australian affair.
The parting shot belonged to Wade. The consul in his frequent open letters had queried rhetorically, 'Why would a Swede leave his own country unless his wages... were not higher than in Sweden?' Wade replied that he did not agree with either the Count's facts or the conclusions he drew from them and saw no point in furthering one discussion. Although this severed communication between the two individuals, the issue itself and Morner's handling of it, ultimately led to the end of his consular career. Nonetheless, Morner left Australia for Sweden in August 1910, aware that at least in his home country he was, and would continue to be, feted as a hero and patriot