The Settlement Scheme
Bishop Sweeny knew that poor urban-dwellers did not take advantage of colonial laws designed to encourage settlement on crown lands. He urged them to do so, stressing that they could become owners of agricultural land by their own labour. In 1849 the New Brunswick House of Assembly had passed what became know as the Labour Act, which provided that true or bona fide settlers, aged 18 years and older, could obtain 100 acres of crown land by agreeing to purchase the land for not less than 60 cents or three shillings per acre or by working on the roads near their land. As well, before a grant was issued settlers had to fulfill a residency requirement, to clear and cultivate not less than five acres within five years of their land application being approved, and to build a house at least 16 feet square.
Accompanying the Labour Act was another piece of legislation commonly known as the Commutation Act. Enacted the same year, this act provided that those who had bought crown land, improved it, and resided on it, but had not yet paid the full purchase price, could pay off their debt by working on the public roads near their lots. Such generous terms made it possible for small income earners to become landowners. Bishop Sweeny maintained that for poor, industrious city folk, the Labour Act and Commutation Act were remedies for poverty and hopelessness.