Social Commentator


Queensland annexes New Guinea

This is another fascinating book by Paul Dillon about a little-known area of Queensland’s colonial history. New Guinea is an exotic place. Although Australia released it from its colonial bondage, it will forever remain an integral part of the strategic future of Australia.

Much has been written about far north Queensland and Cape York and their Aboriginal nemesis, but little has been written of the early exploits of colonial Queenslanders in and around the south-east coastal waters of New Guinea and its adjacent islands. This book addresses what academic literature there is on the colonial history of British New Guinea, which is scant indeed.

This book is the only scholarly work written about colonial contact with British New Guinea and the part Queensland played in the development of the country. The book not only contains a historical narrative and analysis of the contact and its impact but also includes a full description of the many marine incidents which occurred between Europeans and Papuans on the coast of New Guinea and adjacent islands.

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Social Commentator



This book is about marine incidents that occurred on or near Queensland waters and seaways from 1859 to Federation, regarding Queensland’s participation in the exploration, conversion, exploitation, possession, and governance of a group of people described as Papuan within the territory formerly known as British New Guinea.

Therefore, I will not be covering all the marine incidents that have occurred during the colonial period of contact with the colony of British New Guinea. The marine incidents portrayed in this narrative have an element of indigenous participation. The indigenous element is the native-born Melanesian peoples of Papua, New Guinea.

The question is how and in what way did indigenous elements cross or intersect the maritime jurisdiction and who were these indigenous elements and what was the manner and method (form) of this interaction as to time, place, or other circumstances attending the incident; what was the manner and evidence of the indigenous contact?

I now come to the most challenging and complex part of the project, and that is to offer an assessment of the contact between outsiders and the indigenous inhabitants of New Guinea. I suppose the simplest approach is to tell it how it was. The problem then is, by which yardstick do we tell the tale?

Here is a good example of the many challenging aspects associated with telling the tale. The Brisbane Courier of 10 December 1878 made the following comments about New Guinea:

A country with boundless capabilities of soil and climate for tropical products, peopled by a kindly, industrious, and most interesting race-not the ruthless savages pictured by fancy, but living in villages, engaging in rude arts and manufactures, observing good faith, and acknowledging the obligations of hospitality towards their white visitors.[1]

A group of white people who were living and working in New Guinea in 1878 disputed this benign portrayal of the natives with their own version of events:

On Tuesday last, November 5, two aged and helpless women belonging to a bush tribe in the vicinity of Kerepunu entered the village adjoining our bêche-de-mer stations for the purpose of trading. For some reason they were seized and brutally murdered, and their bodies thrown into the water. This, as an instance of their savage spirit is nothing compared with the horrible act that took place some few days before. The Kara natives in battle with a bush tribe made four prisoners, whom they bound hand and foot and carried to their village. Here the prisoners were thrown, bound like sheep, on the ground, while their captors built a large fire. They then proceeded to cut them up alive, inch by inch, commencing at the joints of their fingers, then their toes, until nothing was left of the unfortunate creatures but their still living trunks; their heads were then cut off, and the skulls boiled. These are by no means rare instances, as Captain Webb, of the Pride of the Logan, was often obliged, during his stay on this part of the coast, to be a witness to similar scenes. They are also the most inveterate thieves, as Mr. Ingham can testify, and of very treacherous disposition, as they have several times attacked us without provocation while pretending to be friendly. This may open the eyes of many admirers of the New Guinea natives to their real merits and virtues. The tale we have quoted sufficiently establishes the hideous nature of the cannibal savage.[2]

Mr. Musgrave, an Assistant Deputy Commissioner, after compiling a list of attacks, massacres, and outrages on foreigners by British New Guinea natives formed the view that the Papuan native was inclined to be treacherous, bloodthirsty, and greedy for plunder. He was, however, wonderfully cunning in disguising these feelings, and even amongst the most experienced white men succeeded in inspiring dangerously unguarded confidence.[3]

The Hon. Dr. Macgregor, who represented the Crown colony of Fiji at the time, made a speech at the Federal Council, at Hobart in February 1886, which might be helpful in endeavouring to view and analyse first contact incidents with indigenous elements:

I can only express the strongest disapprobation of expeditions of that kind being sent to New Guinea. We are all very anxious and curious to know what is: the source of the rivers, the height of the mountains, and the natural products of New Guinea. But, in my opinion, such expeditions are liable to do a great deal more harm than all the good they can accomplish. Those engaged in them proceed to New Guinea without knowing where they are going or what they are going for. They go for anything and everything they can lay their hands on. They have no idea in whose country they are or on whose land they are going, and I know very well from experience that white men going to the country of black men are very apt to be impressed with the idea that anything they come across is everybody’s property. I also know very well, from experience, that in most islands in the Pacific it will be somewhat difficult to find a piece of land that has not got an owner. In many islands I doubt whether it was possible to find a fruit tree that has not got its owner. These private expeditions proceed into the country unannounced. The natives do not know where they come from and do not know by what authority they are there. They do not know what the strangers want, and it is only natural that under such circumstances conflict should ensue. Now, I maintain that all the good that can be done by such expeditions is not worth the risk connected with them and would be dearly purchased by the death of the meanest native of New Guinea. It is not of sufficient value to make it worthwhile creating hostility in the mind of a single tribe.[4]

Now, of course, the above statement highlights the dichotomy between knowledge and ignorance created by Europeans, with their superior technology, in roaming the oceans and seas of the world looking for information, land, trade goods, and trade itself. Europeans called this activity exploration and discovery. However, contact between unknown parties often led to conflict. Mercantile Europeans argued that the International Law of the Doctrine of Discovery gave them the right to occupy, settle, and erect colonies on any newfound land. Whereas, Exeter Hall follower frowned on these activities and sought to discourage interference with indigenous people. Modern schools of thought have arisen within colonised, metis communities that argue the violent actions of their indigenous ancestors were not that of savages or barbarians against civilisation and advancement, but the exercise of lawful acts of military resistance to invasion.[5]

Table 1 below provides a list of marine incidents suffered by Europeans during the period of contact from 1859 up to the end of 1887 involving indigenous elements.[6] There were 48 incidents, 5 attacks on the Royal Navy, 8 attacks on missionaries, 22 attacks on fisheries, 7 attacks on traders and 6 attacks on explorers. Chart 1 represents the frequency of marine incidents for each group of foreigners as a percentage of the total number of marine incidents.

Chart 1

Arising out of the forty-eight marine incidents, one hundred and twenty-four deaths of non-Papuans occurred from physical violence by indigenous natives (Papuans), see Chart 2. These non-Papuan deaths are identified as follows:

Deaths per each European Group[7]

Royal NavyMissionaryFisheryTraderExplorer

Chart 2

Chart 3

The data in Table 1 might be better understood, if the history of British New Guinea was viewed in the following manner:

1859 to 1877, terra incognito;

1878 to 1883, British supervision;

1884 to 1888, British protectorate;

1888 to Federation, British colony.

1859 to 1877 Terra Incognito.

In the southern coastal waters of New Guinea and adjacent islands, there was no recognised political system in control of the area. Therefore, the conduct of foreigners and or indigenous natives of whatever description was under no jurisdiction or control, and thus enjoyed immunity from the consequences of all outrages and offences they may have committed.

The data in Table 1 below indicate that in the decade commencing 1870 there were 10 incidents, 6 involved the LMS, 2-the Royal Navy, and 2-explorers. The data reflected the situation then existing on the ground. The LMS were the only people who were actively operating and establishing bases in New Guinea. They owned and operated the vessel Ellengowan, which made frequent trips along the south coast of New Guinea, servicing and supplying existing mission stations as well looking for future mission sites. This level of exposure to indigenous elements would increase the risk of attack from locals.

Captain J. Moresby after his cruise in Basilisk criticised the LMS. Moresby addressed a report to Mr. Murray, who was in charge of the LMS in New Guinea, on the state in which he had found the mission stations visited by Basilisk. He found that the Polynesian teachers placed on the Torres Strait Islands and New Guinea by the London Missionary Society, were left alone to fight a losing battle against famine, sickness, want of knowledge of the languages required, and the contempt and hostility of fierce Papuan heathens. Moresby added that he had been glad to make himself useful in taking such supplies to them as Mr. Murray could provide. The circumstances of the teachers at Redscar but for his visit, and the abundant supplies he gave them, seemed most probable that all would have perished. At Bampton Island the two native teachers and their wives, who had been posted there some months previously, and had not since been visited nor supplied, were murdered by the natives.[8] 

Naturally, the LMS did not accept Moresby’s criticism, and lengthy correspondence was conducted on the matter between Moresby and the LMS:

With reference to Captain Moresby’s reiterated charges, and strong statements relative to the teachers not being supplied, as he thinks they ought to be, with foreign food, perhaps it is hardly necessary that I should say more than I have said in my replies to his letters. He speaks from a very imperfect acquaintance with the circumstances. His opportunities for making personal observation were of course very limited, and some at least of the sources from which he sought information were of the most unsatisfactory character. In the course of the visitation which I have just completed I have found nothing to bear out his strong statements, and from the teachers I have had no complaints.[9]

The final incident involving the LMS was the attack on Captain Dudfield at South Cape on 28 December 1877. Mr. Goldie who came to the assistance of the gravely injured Dudfield, was greatly disturbed by the incident and in particular, Rev. J. Chalmers apparent reckless disregard for his own safety.[10] Goldie wrote:

When I think on all the circumstances in connection with past and present arrangements of mission work down here, I feel indignant that a fraud of playing at mission work here should longer exist. I know for a fact that previous arrangements such as this had been made with the worthy missionary, the Rev. Mr. Lawes, and he can testify how little they have been attended to, I feel that I have a right to write on this matter, for I may be blamed for turning and leaving Mr. Chalmers to his fate when I would not have done so, even at the urgent entreaties of Captain Dudfield, though the explorer was certainly going to a deadly conflict, if I had not thought that the mission-steamer, which was at the time of our turning due at Port Moresby, would have been there. The Mayri was attacked on Saturday, 24 February 1877, we met her off Cape Rodney, on Tuesday, January 1, 1878. Andrew Goldie.[11]

J. P. Sunderland, Agent of London Missionary Society, Sydney responded to Mr. Goldie’s letter with a letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald as follows:

He says, “When I think on all circumstances in connection with past and present arrangements of mission work done here, I feel indignant that a fraud of playing at mission work here should longer exist.” This charge of fraud comes with ill-grace from one who has been kindly treated by the missionaries and native teachers belonging to the Missionary Society. Mr. Goldie knows that had it not been for the determination of Captain Turpie to remove Mr. Goldie from Port Moresby when he was very ill with fever, he would have died there. Is it a fraud that the London Missionary Society have established several stations in Torres Strait that the Rev. W. G. Lawes laboured at Port Moresby for upwards of two years, and, even according to Mr. Goldie, established a reputation far and wide as a good man? Is it a fraud that the Rev. J. Chalmers, an experienced missionary, has left his comfortable station in Rarotonga, and gone up to New Guinea to do what he can for the people of that great land? Is it a fraud that Mr Chalmers and his noble wife faced the excited tribes at South Cape, soothing their anger and removing their callousness, that they may ultimately make them understand their benevolent designs? Is it a fraud that men in obedience to what they consider to be the command of Christ, go to these places, face danger, endure hardships that they may be the means of elevating men in the scale of being? No, it is no fraud.[12]

 For the sake of clarity in this study, I reiterate that this study relates to marine incidents. It may be of interest to the reader that Mr. A. Musgrave made a study of the mortality of Polynesian teachers employed by the LMS in New Guinea. Musgrave found that out of a total number of 187 Polynesians of both sexes, introduced from the Savage Islands, Loyalty Islands, &c., ninety succumbed to disease or the hostility of the natives. Of the latter, twelve were massacred.[13]

The next important group were the explorers and specimen collectors. By definition, these people are risk takers, and it would be difficult to make judgments about collisions with indigenous elements because of the presumption of trespass on the part of the explorer. However, indigenous or foreign elements are assumed to forego violence toward bona fide travellers and explorers. This brings me to the Royal Navy, where navigation, surveying and cartography were seen as part of the freedom of passage that all vessels have over the seas.  

1878 to 1883 British Supervision.

This apparent random selection of 1878 as a start date for the next group of marine incidents was dictated by the commencement of the Western Pacific Orders in Council of 1877. The Western Pacific Orders in Council were of limited power, only giving the High Commissioner jurisdiction over British subjects. The Royal Navy was used as a de facto police force to keep the peace and good order generally. In practical terms of law enforced, he had limited manpower and assets. From 1878 to 1883, there were 18 marine incidents. In 1878, 6 marine incidents resulted in 27 deaths, in 1879, 5 marine incidents with 8 deaths, and in 1880, 5 marine incidents with 37 deaths.

On 3 June 1878, J. Mullens, Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society, London, wrote to the Colonial Office as follows: 

l. On various occasions the London Missionary Society have represented to Lord Carnarvon the perils to which the natives of New Guinea have recently been exposed by the schemes of adventurers; and they had the satisfaction of being assured by Lord Carnarvon that the Pacific Islanders Protection Act was for the protection of the natives from wrong.

3. The Directors, therefore, invite your kindest attention to the danger which has arisen; and they request that everything may be done both to secure protection to native rights and native life, and help to our people in the sickness and privation to which they are exposing themselves.[14]

On 28 June 1878, the Colonial Office wrote to the Admiralty requesting the stationing of a man-of-war at Port Moresby to keep the peace of the gold rush and to determine whether the rush was sustainable.[15] The Admiralty replied on 5 July 1878 that HMS Sappho had been sent to New Guinea as requested, and Commander Digby had been furnished with the necessary authority from Sir Arthur Gordon to act as a deputy commissioner at Port Moresby.[16]

HMS Sappho during her patrol of the southern coastal waters of New Guinea during June to August 1878 investigated 3 marine incidents of 1878 and 1 marine incident from 1877. The 1877 incident involved the attack and serve wounding of Captain Dudfield of the Mayri at South Cape. Commander Digby visited the South Cape natives and found that peace had been restored and took no action against the natives other than to warn them of the consequences of killing white men.

HMS Sappho visited Brooker Island, the scene of the Redlich/McCort massacre, but did not land any officers or crew; nor take any steps to recover the property left there, believing that Captain Redlich’s partner, McCort and his party, were the aggressors and that the natives had the best claim upon the plunder. The particulars of the visit of the Sappho were not made public, but great annoyance was felt by Captain Redlich’s friends that no effort was made to save the valuable lot of fish (bêche-de-mer) still on the island. Captain Redlich was at Port Moresby and did not see the Captain of the Sappho, but at Thursday Island, Mr. Goldie interviewed him on Captain Redlich’s behalf; he declined, however, to take any further action.[17] Commander Digby of the Sappho drew the ire of the Australian Town and Country Journal of 25 January 1879:

There ought to be no hesitation on the part of the naval authorities in promptly punishing these miserable wretches. Whatever may have been the first cause of their hostility to the whites, the subjects of Her Majesty must be protected; and if repeated massacres are allowed to remain unpunished, even for a few months, no trader will be safe from the treachery of the more debased tribes. The whole of this melancholy story illustrates very strikingly the necessity, which we have often urged, of more effective representation of the Imperial Government among these islanders. The people of Northern Queensland, who admired Mr. Ingham for his courage and many good qualities, are now crying out for the Spitfire, an old pilot boat at Cooktown, to be equipped, and despatched to execute justice.[18]

The next incident that brought the presence of the Royal Navy was the massacre of the Voura’s captain, W.B. Ingham and crew at Brooker Island. The visit of HMS Cormorant to Brooker Island was said to have been quite useless. The natives sent an insulting message to the captain by the interpreter threatening that they would kill every European who landed on the island. A few shells and rockets were fired, but no effort was made to land or to punish Mr. Ingham’s murderers.[19]

The Brisbane Courier made the following comments in its editorial of 7 June 1879:

The position and responsibilities of the commanders of H.M.’s cruisers, commissioned to suppress irregularities or inflict punishment among the natives of these islands, has consequently been invested with peculiar difficulty. Urged on the one hand by excited cries for vengeance from relatives or survivors of Europeans massacred by treachery, yet on the other hand restrained by the knowledge that every instance of retributive justice will raise the shrieking exaggerations of Exeter Hall.[20] If Captain Blakesley’s statement published by us yesterday, respecting the visit of HMS Cormorant to Brooker Island, is in accordance with facts, it is to be feared that Captain Bruce has very much erred on the side of leniency and has secured the contempt of the natives for our power to chastise their misdeeds. The representative of her Majesty’s navy warned off the shore by four determined savages, armed with the rifles they had stolen, is a humiliating one, and the shelling of a few grass huts, called a village, by way of punishing a most treacherous massacre and asserting the might of Great Britain in these waters, from a safe distance, seems a pitiful exhibition of impotent anger well calculated to produce in the native mind precisely the results described by Captain Blakesley.[21]

The Chief Judicial Commissioner to the Western Pacific High Commission wrote as follows:

In 1879, your Excellency may remember, we resolved to give these islanders a ″severe lesson.” They had killed Mr. Ingham and the crew of his small steamer; and, when the Commodore arrived here in your absence to consult upon Western Pacific matters, I cordially agreed with him that they should be punished. He went up in the Wolverine, surrounded the island by night with his boats in very rough weather, and did all that possibly could be done to ensure success. But one canoe only was taken, and two of the natives shot; the bulk of them escaped; and the houses and many cocoanut trees burned.[22]

The next outrage of significance was the murder of Irons and Willis, two white men who had ventured to New Guinea as cedar getters. These men were killed in circumstances of coldblooded brutality. It was argued that they had ignored sound advice about the dangers of their enterprise, but had, nevertheless, gone ahead with the foolhardy expedition. HMS Beagle was tasked with investigating the interference by natives with the LMS vessel Ellengowan at South Cape before proceeding to Cloudy Bay to investigate the murder of Irons and Willis. After that incident, the Beagle returned to Cloudy Bay in November 1879 to investigate the attack on the schooner Pride of the Logan when 7 persons were killed.

In July 1880, seven Chinese crew of the junk Sin O Ney were murdered at Paramana Point. On 2 October, HMS Conflict made a visit to New Guinea to investigate the capture of the Chinese junk and the murder of seven of the crew. It was reported that Conflict was forbidden to use force on the New Guinea natives who killed the crew of the Chinese junk; it being considered that they had provoked their fate by their conduct to the natives.[23]

Following on from this incident, was the Annie Brooks which was attacked at Mewstone Island and her crew of seven Europeans and seven Chinese murdered. It was further learned that a group of French naturalists collecting in the vicinity of Moresby Island had been massacred.

On 25 November 1880, at Cooktown a public meeting was held to consider the news lately received from New Guinea in regard to the murders perpetrated by the natives. The hall was draped in black, and there was a very large attendance, the mayor presiding. Resolutions were passed expressing indignation and horror at the recent atrocities in New Guinea, and urging the Government to take immediate steps to punish the murderers, and thus prevent future outrages; that it was necessary for the protection of life and property that a permanent naval force should be stationed on the coast of New Guinea with more discretionary power vested in naval commanders. It was emphasised that thirty Europeans, besides a number of Chinese and Kanakas, had been murdered during the last three years from Cooktown alone, and that property to the value of about£12,000 had been destroyed by the Papuans during the same period. A resolution was also passed to the effect that the French Consul at Sydney be informed of the murder of M. Naudan and his party, all of whom were residents of Cooktown. The inaction of the British war schooner was strongly condemned, though this was attributed to outside influences.[24]

The French in response to the murder of Naudan and his colleagues sent the Croiseur d’Estree to New Guinea, which landed an armed contingent, and destroyed 118 houses and all the plantations they could find, as well as shooting a number of natives.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in October 1880, when the schooner Prosperity returning from five months fishing, with a large cargo of bêche-de-mer, was plundered and afterwards burnt. Sir Arthur Kennedy, Governor of Queensland, wrote to the Commodore of the Australian station, respecting the reported massacres at New Guinea, only to receive from Commodore J. C. Wilson in late January 1881, the following:

I have to inform your Excellency that it is impossible to detail a ship at this time specially for this case. The Emerald, however, which is at present engaged in the islands, is under orders to inquire into, and deal with, any cases that may come under her notice.[25]

In fact, in December 1880, Commodore J. C. Wilson had already issued sailing orders to Captain W. H. Maxwell of the Emerald to proceed to the scene of the murder of Lt. Bower and five crew of Sandfly and inflict serve punishment on the murderers and then to inquire into the Ripple, Esperanza and Borealis and severely punish the offenders. Maxwell was also directed to investigate the Annie Brooks matter and any cases he should hear of and deal with them as “you think fit and just.”[26]

On 31 January 1881, Captain Maxwell of HMS Emerald at Sydney reported to Commodore Wilson regarding his cruise to investigate and punish the various outrages he had been tasked to take action against. Maxwell followed up on the Annie Brooks incident by speaking with relevant witnesses to the incident. He visited Brooker Island and Mewstone Island and the surrounding area and carried out a systematic scorched earth policy of burning villages, destroying canoes and cutting downs fruit trees. However, he was unable to catch and punish any natives. Maxwell appeared to have received news of the Prosperity incident but did not act on it.

The Brisbane Courier published a lengthy report on the cruise of HMS Emerald to the Solomon Islands to investigate the attacks on HMS Sandfly, Ripple, Esperanza and Borealis. In the same edition of the paper, a rather scathing editorial was also published denouncing the lack of action by the Australian station in suppressing massacres in the South Seas:

In reply to a letter from his Excellency Sir Arthur Kennedy, calling attention to the massacre of the crew of the schooner Prosperity, Commodore Wilson regrets that he cannot detail a ship specially for this case, but anticipates that the Emerald will do all that is necessary. It looks as though the Commodore thought that the cruise of one of Her Majesty’s ships among the islands would entirely satisfy everybody.

The proceedings of HMS Emerald read almost like a clever satire on the method of inflicting official vengeance. If the author of Pinafore could only get hold of the details of this cruise, he might, by putting Sir Joseph Porter in command of the Emerald, make another hit as happy as his former naval romance. The Emerald appears to have passed from group to group impotently demonstrating, doing a little shell practice occasionally at distant villages, sometimes, as is proudly chronicled in the log, making an excellent shot, the shell bursting in an empty village. The bluejackets constantly land, and when they can get anyone to show them through the bush, make their way to some inland village and burn the grass gunyahs. When they are unable to get a pathfinder, they cut down a few cocoanut trees and burn any canoes that may be lying about and pass on to the scene of some other bygone massacre to repeat these tactics. The natives, who have been watching the whole thing securely from their scrub refuge, then probably emerge from their hiding places and celebrate the termination of the excitement with a war dance, and the next day’s labour suffices to repair the damage done by the terrible visitor.

The proceedings of the Emerald have been published opportunely, inasmuch as they strongly confirm what has been stated by the inter-colonial delegates in their memorial. Perhaps, therefore, although barren of present tangible results, the cruise will lead to reforms in Pacific administration which will render the property and lives of British subjects in the South Seas more secure.[27]

The Inter-colonial Conference of 1881 commenced on 13 January. On 19 January, Mr. A. Palmer, of Queensland, moved, “That in the opinion of this Conference it is desirable that a representation be made to Her Majesty the Queen, calling her attention to the lamentable state of affairs existing between the natives of many of the islands in the Pacific and the subjects of Her Majesty trading in those seas, more particularly since the appointment of a High Commissioner for the Pacific, and praying that Her Majesty will cause such action to be taken as will prevent the recurrence of such outrages against life and property as have lately prevailed.”[28]

The Inter-colonial Conference agreed to the following resolutions among others:

2. That more effectual means should be devised for the punishment of natives of the said islands for any crimes or offences committed by them against British subjects.

4. That the more frequent visits of her Majesty’s ships among the islands should tend to lessen in a great degree the crimes now so prevalent.

It is worth noting that the Hon. A. Palmer, Premier of Queensland, received the following telegram while attending the Inter-colonial Conference in Sydney.

Crew of schooner Prosperity, owned by myself, murdered and vessel and cargo burnt at Leocadie Island near South Cape, New Guinea, October or November last; Captain alone supposed has escaped; value property destroyed, thirteen hundred; eight men murdered, making during last six months thirty-one men murdered from Cooktown alone, and five thousand property destroyed; no action appears contemplated by Imperial Government, protect the trade; our men dare not effect reprisals or attack beforehand which is often the only way of preventing massacres. What can be done? As Mr. Palmer is in Sydney, please get him use influence to have murderers of Annie Brooks and Prosperity’s crew properly punished; no provocation this time alleged for either massacre. William J. Hartley.[29]

Sir A. Gordon, High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, rejected these aspersions against the Western Pacific administration and launched into a lengthy defence of his administration as follows:

The charge preferred against the High Commissioner is twofold. It is alleged that he has, on the one hand, shown undue leniency towards the misdeeds of natives, and, on the other, has shown equally undue harshness in the punishment of British subjects when charged before him with offences against natives. The jurisdiction of the High Commissioner extends over all British subjects in the Western Pacific, but over British subjects exclusively. He has no authority whatever to deal, whether judicially or in his executive capacity, with the offences of natives of islands not under the dominion of the Crown. The High Commissioner has on more than one occasion pointed out to the Imperial Government that, unless a jurisdiction were created competent to take cognisance of offences committed against British subjects in the Pacific beyond Her Majesty’s possessions, the infliction of punishment on British subjects for outrages against natives was sure to excite on their part a sense of being treated with injustice. The reply returned to such representations has invariably been that in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown insuperable obstacles exist to any assumption of jurisdiction by Her Majesty, over others than British subjects, beyond the limits of Her Majesty’s dominions. Therefore, the High Commissioner is absolutely powerless to take judicial cognisance of any offence committed by a Polynesian native not also a subject of Her Majesty.

I cannot conclude this memorandum without expressing my regret that the Conference did not avail itself of my offer. Conference should not have allowed itself to be made a medium for the dissemination of slanders on men holding high and responsible situations, who had received no intimation of the intentions of the Conference to investigate the nature of the functions committed to them by the Crown.[30]

In 1882, a wreck, possibly the Savioni, was found at the mouth of the Fly. There were no survivors and inquiries with the local natives revealed that the crew had been killed and their heads taken.

1884 to 1888 ― British Protectorate.

 The next event of significance in the advancement of New Guinea was the establishment of the British Protectorate. The advent of the Protectorate merely defined the jurisdiction of British influence, provided for the establishment of an administration consisting of a commissioner and staff and complete control and regulation of British subjects within the jurisdiction. Foreign nationals and indigenous natives were outside the jurisdiction. However, the Royal Navy continued to be employed as a de facto law enforcement agency. This occurred on 6 November 1884 together with the appointment of a special commissioner for the Protectorate, Major General Scratchley, who served from 22 November 1884 to 2 December 1885, dying in office.

During Scratchley’s tenure, the following cases were investigated:

The charge of robbery with violence upon Dan Rowan, committed by the natives at Aroma. The killing of Captain Miller, at Normanby Island; the killing of Reid, at Slade Island; the killing of Captain Frier, at Moresby Island; the killing of Bob Lumse at Hayter Island; the killing of Captain Webb at Millport Bay in 1884; the attack on the schooner Wild Duck, in Cloudy Bay, in June, 1884.[31]

On 2 October 1885, P. H. Scratchley, Special Commissioner for the protected territory of New Guinea published the following notice in the Queensland government gazette:

Portions of coast unsafe to Traders and others.

Traders and others are cautioned against visiting the following portions of the coast and islands in the Protectorate: From Kerepunu to South Cape (including Moresby Island), D’Entrecasteaux Group, Engineer Group, Woodlark Group, Jurien and Jouvency islands; also, from East Cape to the German boundary on the northeast coast.[32]

In the period 1886 to 1887, during the tenure of John Douglas, special commissioner for the Protectorate, 8 marine incidents occurred with 14 deaths as follows. In 1886, 3 whites and 5 Malays were killed at Joannet Island by local natives. In 1886, 6 Chinese crew were killed at Moresby Island, and 2 whites were killed at Orangerie Bay.

During the period of British Protectorate, the Royal Navy continued became very active in reinforcing Pax Britannica. On 2 April 1886, Rear Admiral Tryon wrote to the Admiralty, regarding cases in the islands of Western Pacific, dealt with by Her Majesty’s Ships in 1885. He said Sir Peter Scratchley wrote to him to say how indebted he felt for the assistance rendered him by Captain Clayton, (HMS Diamond) and expressed his high opinion of Clayton’s judgment. Scratchley also wrote, under date 13 November 1885, on the subject of those who were sent “to collect bêche-de-mer, &c., in vessel unsuitable for the work, insufficiently manned, and worked in a manner that could end only one way, i.e., the killing, sooner or later, of the wretched masters and crews.” He considered that “licenses for such trade should only be given to properly manned and found vessels.” Tryon went to say, the difficulty in dealing with outrage cases was not a little increased by the fact that tribes were very numerous in the islands, and by the absence of recognised chiefs. It was in the tribal or family capacity that action was taken by them, and it was this that made it most difficult to apply a system which was in accord with modern civilisation and law, so as to have the same deterrent effect on Papuan races as it had on those who belong to civilised nations, and for whose benefit those laws, the outcome of centuries, exist; but a few years of patience and firmness, with moderation, will doubtless do much, and will soon stop the action of these savage races whose customs and traditions embrace the killing of a man for the sake of his head, or for other wanton reasons. Set out below are the cases dealt with by the Royal Navy:

Murder of Captain Webb, his Wife, one Malay, and two Australians (Natives), and destruction of Cutter Marion,” by Natives, at Millport Harbour, New Guinea, in January 1885. HMS Diamond, at Port Moresby, 1 November 1885. In continuation of my report of 25 October, I beg to inform you that every effort was made to communicate with the natives, but without effect; I therefore threw a few shells into the villages on the hill and destroyed five canoes and some nets.

Death at the hands of Natives of William Reed, at Tupi Tupi or Slade Island, one of the Engineer Group, in January 1885. It would seem that the unfortunate man was very much to blame. I propose, if possible, visiting the island again, when I may be able to see the chief, also Alloopatoo and Makisoka; but it does not appear to me to be a case for severe punishment.

Death, at the hands of Natives, of Frank Gerret, a Trader, and Master of the ketch P.T.M. at Deboyne Island, Louisiade Archipelago, New Guinea, on 31 January 1885. I therefore did not punish any one, and beg to refer the case for your consideration. I recovered the skull of the deceased man, which will be buried at sea.

Death at the hand of Natives of Bob Lumse, a Malay, a Trader at Magaikarona, Hayter Island, China Straits, New Guinea, in February 1885. On his return his Excellency (Scratchley) informed me that the murder has doubtless been committed, and that trade disputes had caused it; but he did not see how any further steps could be taken, the murderers being absent, and the chief and other villagers having had nothing to do with the matter.

Murder of Captain Fryer, Master and Owner, John Watkins, Carpenter, and two Natives (one South Sea Islander, and one Queensland Boy), belonging to the schooner Lalla Rookh, by Natives at Hoop-Iron Bay, Moresby Island, New Guinea, about 25-29 July 1885. Diamond, at Sea, 16 December 1885. I destroyed the village, which contained some of the best houses I have seen in New Guinea. Doubtless this destruction will be a severe punishment, but not too severe for the treacherous and unprovoked murder of the master and carpenter of the Lalla Rookh.

Murder of Captain Miller, a Trader, of the cutter Daisy on 3 October 1885, on Ventenat Island, off S.E. Point of Normanby Island, D’Entrecasteaux Group, New Guinea. After firing three shells to clear the bush, I landed four boats’ crews from Diamond, two from Raven, and destroyed three villages, bringing off three canoes and a number of fishing nets which were too wet to burn. No trees or growing crops were injured.[33]

As to the Craig case, Joannet Island, John Douglas reported the matter to Admiral Tryon. Mr. Forbes, the Resident Officer, Samarai, reported to Captain Clayton, of HMS Diamond. On 20 November, Captain Clayton, in the Diamond, visited the scene of the massacre, but could do nothing, for the offending natives had taken to the impenetrable bush.

After consultation by John Douglas with Captain Clayton, and with his approval, Douglas arranged for Forbes to re-visit Jonnnet to recover the arms and ammunition taken from the Emily. Forbes was, on the whole, successful in recovering some of the firearms and ammunition. However, press reports suggested that Nicholas Minister employed by Douglas to assist Forbes in his return visit had shot a number of natives and cut off their heads, which were displayed as trophies. The matter became the subject of a question in the Victorian Legislative Assembly of 20 July 1887.[34]

In the case of the Chinese crew at Moresby Island, John Douglas reported on 31 December 1887as follows:

Early in the year the Pride of the Logan schooner, from Cooktown, got on shore in Mudge Bay on Moresby Island, not far from Samarai. Her crew, consisting of six Chinamen, were killed by the natives, and the vessel was cut to pieces. This caused very strained relations with the inhabitants of Moresby Island and led to some reprisals being made by Captain Musgrave in HMS Rapid. He visited them more than once. They admitted their fault, sued for peace, and they have lately been on friendly terms with us, occasionally visiting Samarai.[35]

1888 to Federation, British Colony.

The final period in the study is from 4 September 1888 to Federation, when the Crown colony of British New Guinea was erected. The colony and everything in it, including the indigenous population, became a subject of the Queen. The Queen, in turn appointed an Administrator to govern the colony with full executive and legislative powers, subject to Her disallowance. The natives became British subjects and were therefore subject to the control and regulation of the Administrator.

Turning now to marine incidents occurring within the jurisdiction of the colony of British New Guinea, the first relevant marine incident occurred in October 1888 when the Star of Peace was attacked by native at Chads Bay. Captain Edward Ansell of the Star of Peace was killed by the natives and his vessel ransacked of its goods and trade and then burnt.

Pursuant to the laws of British New Guinea, on 18 January 1889, eleven persons were put on trial at the Central Court sittings at Samarai, for the murder of Ansell and stealing in a ship. Of these, four were convicted of the murder of Ansell and sentenced to capital punishment, five were convicted of stealing and sentenced to imprisonment for twelve months, likewise, one to imprisonment for eighteen months, and one was acquitted. The four natives sentenced to death were executed by hanging. One prisoner (Wobba-wobbina) was executed at Samurai, 28 January 1889; one (Hannu-wannu) at Abioma, in Milne Bay, on 29 January 1889; and two (Igwarri-gohoi, Tutina-wai) at Chads Bay on 30 January 1889.

In 1898, the chief judicial officer of British New Guinea published a report showing for the last ten years, that 128 natives had been convicted of murder by the Central Court, but only eleven had been executed. Of these, nine were convicted of murdering Europeans, one of murdering a Chinese and one of murdering a native constable.[36]

The sentence imposed on the native convict at Dobu, 23 December 1891, was for the murder of an honest, industrious, inoffensive Chinese settler, who had been resident in the country for many years. He lived like a European, and was regarded by the natives as being a white man. As nothing could be found to mitigate the gravity of the offence, the sentence was carried into effect in the district of the prisoner, where the murder was committed.[37]

The reason why so few natives were executed was that the motive for the killing justified the murder from a native point of view. The Administration acknowledged this dimension of the crime and, therefore, considered it perfectly equitable to regard it as a sufficient palliation to warrant a commutation of the sentence.

The following conclusions might be drawn from the above policy. In cases of black-on-black violence, where the black offender was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to penal servitude. Where the black offender was convicted of murder of a European and sentenced to death, he was executed as a deterrent to killing white men.[38]

Chart 4[39]

Table 1 reveals that the group with the highest number of marine incidents, as well as the highest fatalities while operating in and around New Guinea coastal waters and adjacent islands, was the Fishery group or bêche-de-mer fishers.

Chart 5

Of course, the substantive task is to determine whether any qualitative conclusions can be drawn from the data. Turning now to the narrative of each marine incident, one has only the white man’s side of the story, and when the circumstances of each case are inquired into it appears that on occasion the natives were provoked, and that sometimes life was taken to pay for the life of a native who had died on the Queensland plantations or elsewhere; but at other times no reason can be discovered, beyond a bloodlust or a desire for plunder. There is of course, the study made by the Hon. A. Musgrave, then Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Return of Outrages and Massacres and published in the Annual Report of 1886.[40] I quote Musgrave as follows:

Our aborigines are savages in the first stages of barbarism, swayed by intense and degrading superstitions which involve them in ceaseless inter-tribal feuds and bloodshed, and the first protection that the natives require in British New Guinea is from each other. From one end of our territory to the other a chronic state of inter-tribal hostility prevails, and I much doubt if a day passes in the year without a murder or massacre (often of women and children) taking place in some district. No real tribal discipline or organisation exists, and to ″govern by the natives″ is a sheer impossibility.[41]

The following is taken from a report by the Rev. W. Lawes to Special Commissioner Scratchley on the natives of New Guinea:

and as ready to resent interference with their women as civilised men. Remembering all this, I know of no case in which it can be said with certainty that the natives were the first aggressors. Instead of being described ″savage,” ″hostile,” and ″treacherous,” they should, in justice, be spoken of as kindly disposed and friendly on their first intercourse with white men, but generally suspicious and watchful. If we are to believe the boasts of men from New Guinea over their cups in Cooktown and Thursday Island, then there was nothing exceptional in the voyage of the Hopeful and its atrocities. The cupidity of the people has sometimes been excited by the quantity of goods possessed by the white man; but here their own customs must be remembered. No man can accumulate much more than his fellows, and they must give when asked.[42]

In Musgrave’s Return of Outrages and Massacres, he lists out eighty incidents or collisions by British New Guinea indigenous natives on European vessels and onshore assets, commencing 11 May 1845 to 30 June 1886. For the period of this study 1859 to 1887, he identified 67 incidents or collisions. Of those incidents Musgrave considered 6 to have been provoked by non-Papuans. All the remaining incidents were the result of unprovoked violence and murder on the part of the indigenous natives. Furthermore, I give great weight to Musgrave’s study and conclusions not only because it was compiled on-the-spot by a creditable official with sufficient authority to access relevant documents and records, but Musgrave had the document vetted by Andrew Goldie, an equally creditable figure because of his longstanding association with British New Guinea. The 6 incidents or collisions alleged to have involved provocation by outsiders or Europeans were: Item 44, July 1878, Annie and Pride of the Logan at Keppel Point; item 45, 1878, McCourt at Brooker Island; item 55, 1880, murder of Chinese at Aroma; item 56, 1880, Mulholland at Cloudy Bay; item 65, 22 December 1884, Reed at Slade Island; and item 71, 29 July 1889, Frier at Moresby Island.

All the victims in the above six incidents were bêche-de-mer fishers. In Chart 5, the first returns for fish caught, commenced in 1878. On 21 January 1879, the Rev. W. Lawes wrote to Sir A. Gordon, High Commissioner for the Western Pacific as follows:

The discovery of quantities of bêche-de-mer along the coast has already led to several vessels going from Australian ports.  The men on board these vessels are of the worst character, and as they have their vessels to escape in there is but little self-interest to induce them to respect native rights. It is from these vessels that difficulties have already arisen with the natives, as reported in the colonial papers. I was resident for three years at Port Moresby and found the natives friendly and amenable to kindly treatment. I visited a great many villages, in most of which no white man had been before. I went along the coast as far as China Straits in our little mission steamer, calling at many places en route. In none of these journeys or voyages was I molested.[43]

Sir Peter Scratchley, Special Commissioner for the protectorate of British New Guinea noted in his diary as follows:

Wednesday, October 7, 1885. I am satisfied that these traders are often reckless, unscrupulous, brutal, and piratical. They cheat the natives and are apt to appeal to their revolvers. I cannot feel any sympathy for such men. They go where they have no business to. They are a thorn in my side, and I do not think the life of any white man should be risked in avenging their deaths.[44]

The Rev. W. Lawes, Port Moresby, on 17 September 1885 wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald as follows:

Papers just to hand bring us news of the killing of Captain Frier, at Hoop Iron Bay, Moresby Island. The press as a whole seems to take it for granted that the natives are entirely in the wrong, and that righteousness and justice are entirely on our side, “Murder,” “Massacres,” and “Outrages,” are the chosen headings for calling public attention to events into which no inquiry has been made, and no opportunity for explanation given.

There are some states of society in which lynch law is justifiable. The same plea holds good for club law. There is no other known among the natives of New Guinea. White men who come to New Guinea must be prepared to run some risk in pursuit of the object they have in view. The climate of New Guinea is unhealthy, its people barbarous, and its government club law.

I don’t think there is one case which may not be attributed either to reckless disregard of warning or violation of native rights. Captains Webb and Frier I know personally. The whole course of their lives and treatment of the natives was such that I am not the least surprised at the ending.

I could mention other cases where the intruder had caused things with a high hand, until his career has been suddenly stopped. The public is horrified by another massacre, but know nothing of the line of conduct which has led up to it, and to which a violent death is the natural sequel. The man Read, who was killed at Slade Island, is said to have provoked and irritated the natives by persistently following the women, &c. The ostensible reason for his death was his ill treatment of the boy who ran away and hid himself in the bush, and was believed by his friends to be dead.

I see there have been indignation meetings and a great cry for punishment. By all means; but let it fall upon the guilty men those who for love of greed violated the first principles of civilisation and inhumanity.[45]

The Rev. Lawes was answered by the well-known New Guinea explorer and writer T. F. Bevan[46] by a letter to the editor which appeared in the Brisbane Courier as follows:

Rev. W. Lawes, of Port Moresby, apologises on behalf of the native murderers of William Reid, Captain Webb, wife and party, Bob Lumse, Frank Gerret, Captain Frier, and Watkins, and of Captain Fred Miller.

Now audi alteram partem—from one of yourselves. The abovementioned massacres have all taken place, as Mr. Lawes well knows, not within “recent years,” but within this “present” year; not before but all the time after the Mission were entrusted with interpreting and expounding to the natives of New Guinea that “club law” was once and for ever superseded by “British law;” not when the country was destitute of war vessels, but while in some cases ships of war were passing to and fro near to the very spots, and while those who have since been murdered were not—a plague on such insinuations—interfering with native women or violating native rights, but were trembling in their shoes, having heard their own death knell. What time the unnoticed murder of William Reid took place at the Engineer Group in December last—say a month after the protectorate ceremony—and Mr. Chalmers, in HMS Raven, passed by near at hand a few days thereafter, and heard of, but heeded not, the first murder of the new series, and under the British protectorate, namely, murders for plunder, which the natives concluded could be enjoyed with impunity!

So much for Mr. Chalmers as an interpreter, and hater of white settlers! “Disregard of warning” and “violation of native rights” forsooth, and justification of “club law” on the extraordinary grounds that “there is no other law;” extraordinary because his Excellency is now holding his court in New Guinea.

But assuming that Mr. Lawes is correct, and that “club law” is “lord paramount,” what, I would ask, would be done to the white man that exercised it, even in self-defence? Who made Messrs. Lawes and Chalmers judges over those murdered men? When do they reside in or what do they know of the east end of New Guinea, with their snug quarters, solely in Port Moresby, save what they are told by men of colour, who say what they are wanted to say?

And—mark the amazing anomaly—nothing has angered the Mission more than because some have said that the natives have never been made to understand the true character of the protectorate, and nevertheless, a year nearly after the mission were entrusted with interpreting the proclamation of “British law,” Mr. Lawes, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says, on 6 October last in effect of New Guinea: “Its Government is “club law,” and it has no other law.” If such a statement does not involve gross disrespect to our indefatigable and popular, but sadly hampered Governor, his Excellency Sir Peter H. Scratchley, and disloyalty to Queen and country, I am at a loss to know what would! At all events, its tone will give some idea to the British public generally with what deep felt detestation the Mission is regarded by settlers in New Guinea.[47]

Chart 5 indicates that in the period 1885-1886, twenty deaths of bêche-de-mer fishers were recorded at the hands of Papuans. This level of fatalities generated a good deal of notoriety and criticism of the protectorate’s administration in their failure to protect white men and their crews who were fishing and trading along the coast of New Guinea. J. Douglas, Special Commissioner for New Guinea, on the progress of the territory during the year 1886 reported that the valuable pearlshell and bêche-de-mer fisheries were now abandoned on account of the numerous murders of those engaged in them, and it was no longer safe for a white man to show his face on the coast.[48]

The qualitative analysis suggests that the LMS and Scratchley believed the cause of the collisions between Europeans and the Papuans was as a result of the Europeans and their non-white servants provoking the Papuans by breaching their customs, manners and etiquette. The major breaches appeared to be sexual abuse of Papuan women, deceptive trade practices,[49] and disrespect for cultural sensitivities.


Chart 6 sets out the locations where Europeans were killed by Papuans. The geographical area having the largest number of fatalities was the south east of British New Guinea. During 1884, Queensland labour vessels recruited labourers from this area. In fact, from some of the localities identified in Chart 6 i.e., Mewstone Island and Moresby Island. After a Royal Commission inquiry, it was found that the natives taken from this area had been duped and had never consented to be employed on the cane fields of Queensland as labourers. As a consequence, the Queensland government returned them to their home islands. It seems that through bureaucratic bungling not all labourers were returned, but more importantly, of the deceased labourers, not all family members were compensated with blood money (wergild). These families and their relatives went unrecompensed, and naturally bore a grudge against white man.

In the native mind, all white men belonged to one tribe and, therefore, were jointly and severally liable for the actions of other white men. However, white men did not need to offer a head as compensation but could pay a fine instead of the wergild (a head). Mr. Romilly, Deputy Commissioner, put it this way:

it becomes a matter between natives and white men, it is not held to be absolutely necessary that a white man’s head must be procured before the unquiet spirit can be laid. Heavy payment in trade goods will answer the same purpose. During the last two years two of the murders committed in the south-east, were probably by this omission. As there was no prospect of obtaining compensation, the natives had to take the first white heads they could procure.[50]

The catch-all phrase “disrespect for cultural sensitivities” might be better understood when viewed from the reality of a white man confronted by an aggressive band of tribesmen brandishing weapons and threatening violence, when Mr. Romilly with characteristic clarity of view, says:

 unless large allowances are made for them by white men trading in their midst, that friendly relations are not likely to continue for long unimpaired. Many a white man has offended their prejudices and done so unconsciously but with serious results to himself. No allowance is made for him by the natives on the score of ignorance. They assume that he is as conversant with their customs and superstitions as they themselves are. Their reasoning faculties are not sufficiently acute to perceive that it is impossible he should be so till he has spent some years of his life amongst them, nor do they possess any abstract idea of justice as we understand the word. The lex talionis they understand, but even in enforcing this law they would prefer two eyes for an eye and two teeth for a tooth.[51]

Chart 6


Again Mr. Romilly will do the honours and clear the air with some straight talking and clear thinking on the matter:

6. It is impossible, while on the subject of the causes which promote quarrels and bloodshed between the two races, to omit the mention of one fruitful cause of disorder and murder. I allude to the intercourse between white men and native women. The question has frequently been discussed before, but I think the tendency in such discussions has generally been to place the white man on too low a pedestal and the native woman on too high a one. To explain my meaning clearly, it will be necessary to say a few words about the position women hold in their tribe, and the estimation in which they are held.

We are apt to fall into the same mistake in our estimate of them as the natives do in their estimate of us. The intimacy of married life, as we understand it, among them does not exist at all. A woman after marriage is as much her husband’s property as his spear or canoe is; she is his slave and must bear his ill-tempers and castigations without complaint. She bears him one child every three or four years, and her services are entirely at his disposal, whether he requires them for himself, or whether he requires them from a feeling of hospitality or profit, for another. She would have no voice in the matter. Virtue with her is generally compulsory, as any deviation from its path would bring her husband’s anger upon her.

In intercourse with white men, it is a matter of daily occurrence that husbands prostitute their wives for their own gain; nor, if the price previously arranged be paid, would any feeling of dishonour or dissatisfaction remain behind. Before marriage the woman is her own mistress. The immorality of her life begins when she is a little child playing about the native villages with other children. When she is grown up, she would not of her own accord solicit white men, as she would be aware that her father or brother would deprive her of any profits which might accrue from such a proceeding. It is also probable that she prefers her own people. But she is frequently ordered by her relations to accept the solicitations of white men, and her future value, matrimonially, is not damaged. It is when white men desire to attain their ends without the intervention of the relations, that claims for compensation are made. If they are refused the quarrel not infrequently ends by the murder of the offending white man.[52]

In summation, the settlement of British New Guinea was nothing more than colonisation, whether it was with the best intentions or the worst, I suppose is a matter of opinion. But before the reader responds, perhaps a little taste of Adam Smith might sweeten the pot:

The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. Their consequences have already been great… By uniting in some measure, the most distant parts of the world, by enabling them to relieve one another’s wants, to increase one another’s enjoyments, and to encourage one another’s industry, their general tendency would seem to be beneficial. To the natives, however, both of the East and West Indies, all the commercial benefits which can have resulted from those events have been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes which they have occasioned. These misfortunes, however, seem to have arisen rather from accident than from any thing in the nature of those events themselves. At the particular time when these discoveries were made, the superiority of force happened to be so great on the side of the Europeans, that they were enabled to commit with impunity every sort of injustice in those remote countries. But nothing seems more likely to establish this equality of force, than that mutual communication of knowledge, and of all sorts of improvements, which an extensive commerce from all countries to all countries naturally, or rather necessarily, carries along with it.

Each of the five groups of Europeans went to New Guinea for a purpose. The Royal Navy ruled the waves and spent its time policing Oceania. The London Missionary Society went to spread the gospel and save souls. Explorers and collectors went to discover and collect rare specimens and the traders and fishermen went to create wealth. From the above narrative, contact between the foreigners and the indigenous natives resulted in collisions. These collisions involved not only loss and damage to property, but also loss of life. Within the narrative above, there is a collection of probable causes for these collisions. Taken as a whole, do they amount to a hypothesis? Or is it a series of random results arising out of the innumerable collisions?

Speaking broadly, for a group of indigenous people who collectively practised headhunting and cannibalism, where the prey was another human being, perhaps, colonisation and the propagation of the Christian gospel may have been a worthy cause, even though the Papuan got roughed up.


In the introduction to this book, I referred to my book Bêche-de-mer and the Binghis[53] and said that the original plan was to have included Aboriginals from the mainland of the colony, Pacific Islanders, Torres Strait Islanders, and the indigenous natives of British New Guinea in a study of marine incidents in Queensland waters and adjacent islands. However, the work became far too extensive to try and reduce to a book of even 500 pages.

Bêche-de-mer and the Binghis dealt with Queensland coastal and reef waters where “it was found that two types of activity emerged from the data, Bêche-de-mer fishers and Other. The category Other consisted of a broad range of activities. However, irrespective of the activity, when a vessel within this group, for whatever reason, found themselves shipwrecked, windbound or with shore parties on the Queensland foreshore or coastal islands, they were attacked by Aboriginals domiciled at the place of anchor or landing.”[54]

In category Other, for the period 1859 to 1901, there were 20 marine incidents involving Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. From the 20 incidents, (Australian) indigenous natives killed 50 white men and one Aboriginal, as they intercepted shipwrecked mariners or shore parties.[55]

Turning now to the Bêche-de-mer industry, within the relevant period, 75 marine incidents occurred in which 124 persons were killed, murdered or missing at sea by the actions of myall blacks, binghi crews or others.[56]

Number of Deaths by Cause

RaceMyallBinghisOthers[57]Total Killed

Graph 2 ― Bêche-de-mer Industry (Queensland)

Graph 3 ― Bêche-de-mer Industry (Queensland)

New Guinea Waters

Arising out of the forty-eight marine incidents, one hundred and twenty-four deaths of non-Papuans occurred from physical violence by indigenous natives (Papuans). These non-Papuan deaths are identified as follows:

Deaths per each European Group[58]

Royal NavyMissionaryFisheryTraderExplorer

Chart 1

The statistics suggest from both studies that bêche-de-mer fishers were the most vulnerable group of Europeans who operated vessels in Queensland waters and along the south-eastern coastline of New Guinea and adjacent island waters. The simple reason appears to be because they had the most frequent and intimate contact with each of the indigenous groups.

The reader needs to be aware that there was a significant difference in the way the fishery was conducted in New Guinea waters. The fisher would visit each village and either buy the dried bêche-de-mer from the villager (indigenous native) direct or enter into an exclusive contract with the villager to supply the fisher to the exclusion of all other fishers. Whereas in Queensland, the fisher was forced to employ the Aboriginals as labourers to gather and process the fish, a far greater risk to the fisher.[59]


This book cannot be completed without mentioning the following incidents, which are outside the scope of the book. However, they need to be included because they belong within the general narrative of white Anglo-Australian colonial rule in New Guinea and its adjacent islands. The two incidents are the massacre of the Rev. James Chalmers and party at Goaribari Island, Western District, and the Nakanai massacre on the north coast of New Britain 120 miles from Rabaul. Chalmers and party were killed in 1901 and the Nakanai incident in 1926.

The Nakanai incident was the subject of an article by Patricia O’Brien which was published in the journal, Australian Historical Studies in 2012.[60] The article makes no reference to the murder of Rev. Chalmers and party of 1901. She adopted the modern approach to writing Australian colonial history as outlined and prosecuted by Henry Reynolds and others. O’Brien says:

Over recent decades, Australian historiography has focused squarely upon colonial violence, particularly in the form of collective punishment on Australia’s pastoral frontiers. A number of Australia’s most respected historians have convincingly demonstrated how endemic collective punishment was on Australia’s frontiers and how frontier violence was a critical historical measure of Australia’s political, social and cultural constitution. Yet these studies of violence and collective punishment have largely been confined within Australia’s national borders. Pacific historians have also analysed violence in Australia’s colonial contact with Pacific peoples providing either a basis for Australia’s colonial history in the Pacific generally, or New Guinea in particular. Through investigations of corporeal and capital punishments, labour indenturing and its multiplicity of abuses, sexualised violence and discriminatory juridical practices, these historians have variously shown the centrality of these forms of violence to Australia’s colonial history with the Pacific Islands and its inhabitants. However, their analysis has not extended to punitive expeditions. Also, both groups of historians have largely operated in isolation from one another.[61]

The Rev. James Chalmers and party incident was the subject of an article by Dario Di Rosa which was published in the Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History in spring 2017.[62] Di Rosa quoted from the O’Brien’s article above. Di Rosa concluded:

In 1904, when the Possession was still a British colony but the transition to an Australian administration was being debated, the (Australian) administrator failed to maintain control of his troops and used dishonourable practices to seize at least one of the “culprits” accused of the original killings, thus undermining the authority and integrity of the colonial state. In an era when Australia was becoming a colonial power in the Pacific, unrestrained violence came to be considered a serious threat to the honour of the state and its duties toward its colonial subjects, marking in Australian public discourses a difference from the supposed “British character” of earlier colonialism.[63]

Both incidents were covered by Chris Ballard and Bronwen Douglas in their article “Rough Justice:” Punitive expeditions in Oceania.[64] Their article was an attempt to focus on what they saw as frontier violence in Oceania and then to portray the violence in a way that suggested the colonial power was the aggressor while the indigenous native was the victim of a thoroughly gratuitous military action of suppression and reprisal. The definition of a punitive expedition per Stowell (1921) is:

When the territorial sovereign is too weak or is unwilling to enforce respect for international law, a state which is wronged may find it necessary to invade the territory and to chastise the individuals who violate its rights and threaten its security”.[65]

The Chalmers incident and the Nakanai incident were within the jurisdiction of the municipal criminal law of British New Guinea and the Territory of New Guinea, respectively. Each incident was a police action to arrest and bring before the courts indigenous natives within the jurisdiction of the police alleged to have murdered other citizens, in particular, white men. Ballard and Douglas describe the incidents as follows:

However, a punitive expedition might have been sanctioned at the outset, official and public approval was often retrospective. “Civilized outrage” in response to the contronym of a “Native outrage” could just as swiftly be turned upon the agents of punishment. The public response to the punitive expedition to the Nakanai in 1926, which had been relabelled an “affray,” precisely and possibly consciously echoed events two decades earlier in British New Guinea: Di Rosa draws a sharp distinction between the reception of the two reprisals for the Chalmers massacre against the Kerewo of Goaribari Island. Whereas the first was understood to be a punitive expedition, conducted on behalf of the state according to established norms, the second, which engaged in deception deemed to be dishonourable (thus directly undermining the moral basis for intervention), was dismissed as an “affray.” This distinction had dire consequences for Christopher Robinson, leader of the second expedition, who committed suicide in anguish over the public indignation at his actions.[66]


Thursday Island, 22 April 1901. The LMS schooner Niue while anchored off the creek near Risk Point on Goaribari Island, near the mouth of the Omita River, in the eastern part of the western district of BNG, on the 8th instant, a party consisting of the Rev. Oliver Tomkins, of the London Missionary Society, in charge of the society’s mission in Torres Straits, and James Walker, a half-caste native of Torres Strait, together with the Rev. James Chalmers and nine mission students (natives of this district) and the chief of Akewai village, landed at a small creek, saying they would return in half an hour for breakfast. The Niue remained for the whole of the day, and that night, and as the party had not returned, and the vessel had in the meantime been surrounded by a large number of canoes full of natives, who boarded and stripped her of everything in the shape of tanks, clothes, and trade, the vessel got up sail and cruised round the island, but could see or hear nothing of the party. The captain therefore determined to return to Daru and report what appeared to be a terrible massacre.[67]

It was described by Kemeri: the signal for a general massacre was given by knocking simultaneously, from behind, both Messrs. Chalmers and Tomkins on the head with stone clubs. This was performed, in the case of the former, by Iake of Turotere; in that of the latter by Arau-u of Turotere. Kaiture, of Dopima, then stabbed Mr. Chalmers in the right side with a cassowary dagger; then Mururoa cut off his head; and Ema cut off Mr. Tomkins’ head. They both fell senseless at the first blow of the clubs. All the heads were immediately cut off. We, however, lost one man, Gahibai, of Dopima. He was running to knock a big man [note this must be Naragi, chief of Ipisia) on the head, when the latter snatched a stone club from a man standing near, and killed Gahibai. He (Naragi) was, however, immediately overpowered. The other boys were too small to make any resistance. In the meantime, the people in canoes left at the Niue returned to shore, after looting her of all the tomahawks, &c. This party was led by Kautiri, of Dopima. Finding the party on shore dead, it was determined to go back to the Niue and kill those on board. However, the Niue got underweigh and left. Then Pakara, of Aimaha, called out to all the people to come and break up the boat, which had been taken right inside the creek, it being high water. This was done; and the pieces were divided amongst people from the various villages. Directly the heads had been cut off the bodies, some men cut the latter up and handed the pieces over to the women to cook, which they did, mixing the flesh with sago. They were eaten the same day. Gebai has got Mr. Chalmers’ head at Dopima, and Mahikaha has got Mr. Tomkins’ head at Turotere. The rest of the heads are divided amongst various individuals. 

The Administrator, Sir George Le Hunte, immediately organised an expedition consisting of several Europeans and 40-armed constabulary, which arrived at Goaribari Island on 2 May 1901 in the Government yacht Merrie England, accompanied by the Ruby, a launch, and the s.s. Parua, a vessel sent by the Queensland Government with a small party of soldiers, to assist. Lieutenant Brown and 10 men of the local Artillery Battery. When the boats reached land at the villages of Dopima and Turotere the natives fired arrows at them; the signal to attack was therefore immediately given, and the boats’ crews instantly opened fire with their rifles. The natives fled, and the punitive party occupied the villages. It was estimated that thirty-four of the natives were killed during these operations. After burning a number of dubus,[68] destroying 120 of the fighting canoes, and holding a funeral service in memory of the missionaries, the punitive expedition left Goaribari on 6 May 1901 with one prisoner, Kemeri.

 The Administrator, Sir George Le Hunte, returned a second time to Goaribari Island from 1 to 6 March 1902. Prisoner Kemeri vanished. To gain the natives’ confidence, on landing, Le Hunte promised he would take on action against them. He asked for the ringleaders to be handed over and the skulls of Chalmers and Tomkins returned. Only Chalmers’ skull was returned. The ringleaders were about the place but Le Hunte would not take them, as the natives would see it as an act of treachery since he had given his word no harm would come to them.

The Acting-Administrator, Judge C. S. Robinson, Chief Judicial officer, visited Goaribari Island in the Merrie England, Captain R. H. Harvey, with Mr. E. Rothwell as Chief Officer, arriving there on 5 March 1904. Robinson was accompanied by the Resident Magistrate for the Division, with his party of native policemen, seven in number; and by the Commandant of the Armed Native Constabulary with thirty-two native policemen, half of whom were raw recruits. On 6 March, while the ship was lying at anchor between the mainland and Goaribari Island, numerous natives, variously estimated as high as 600, came out to the vessel in their canoes. They seemed to have more confidence than the day before. Some of them came on board to trade with the crew, native weapons being bartered for tobacco, knives, etc. Iake was induced to come on board; Ema had been near the ship in his canoe, but went back to shore. Shortly after the natives came on board, Iake and others were seized. At the same time, the native police fired on the natives, in their canoes, firing arrows at the ship; the firing was joined in by the Acting-Administrator and by a few of the officers and crew. Several natives were killed or wounded and retreated at once. In a few minutes, the firing ceased. 

The report of the Royal Commission (Judge Murray) appointed to inquire into the circumstances attending the affray at Goaribari Island British New Guinea, on March 6, 1904 was tabled in the House of Representatives on 13 September 1904. The findings of the Commission were, inter alia:

Unequivocal treatment of savages necessary to retain their confidence, quite as much as the scrupulous execution of threats.

Whole course of action condemned.

The fault lies with the Judge (Mr. Robinson); but it is one of over-zeal and want of judgment. 

Firing by the Judge at retreating natives was inexcusable, unless, in charity, it be ascribed to temporary loss of self-control due to excitement.[69] 

The Rev. E. Baxter Riley, writing to Mr. Thomas Pratt, representative of the London Missionary Society in Sydney, said that the Merrie England had been to Goaribari Island, and returned two natives, named respectively Iaki and Kauko, who had been arrested by order of Judge Robinson, the late Administrator, for being concerned in the murders. The natives had been in gaol at Port Moresby, and were liberated on February 18, 1905. Five other men were detained at Daru, on account of the island being quarantined through the existence of whooping cough. Before leaving for home, they were requested to hand over to the Government the skull of the late Mr. Tomkins. This request was complied with, and it was in the possession of Mr. Riley, at Daru. A native at Dopima, a village on the island where the massacre took place, assured the Government officer that the skull was the genuine one, and the authorities were satisfied that this was the case. It was found, upon examination of the skull, that the Rev. Mr. Tomkins was not clubbed, as was at first supposed. There was no fracture, and the skull was perfectly sound. After Mr. Chalmers was clubbed, Tomkins, with a few of the Kiwai (Fly River) boys, made for the whaleboat at top speed, and, whilst running, was shot with arrows in the back, and, as he apparently turned, in the chest, after which he was overpowered.[70]

My analysis of the Chalmers incident is as follows:

In 1901, Chalmers, with reckless disregard for his own safety and the safety of his party, accepted an invitation from an unknown tribe and went to their island where they were murdered, and subsequently eaten by the offending tribe. The tribe then attacked Chalmers’s ship and looted the ship but allowed it to leave the island.

The Administrator of the colony, together with his police force, visited the island to investigate the matter and was attacked by the offending tribe. The police were ordered to fire on the tribe and a number were killed. The authorities then withdrew.

The following year, 1902, the Administrator, together with police, revisited the offending tribe. A truce was called for the purposes of advising the tribe that the heads of the two white men (Chalmers and Tomkins) had to be returned and the principal offenders had to surrender to police. One skull was returned, nothing else. The tribe (Dopima and Turotere) was then informed that “we have not made friends or done with them yet.”

In 1904, Robinson the current Administrator together with police returned to the island to arrest the offending tribesmen. On arrest, the tribesmen resisted and they were aided and abetted by other tribesmen firing arrows at the police who returned fire killing a number of tribesmen. The arrestees were transported to Port Moresby for trial.

On 20 June 1904, Christopher Robinson, acting Administrator, killed himself by a gunshot wound to the head at Government House, British New Guinea.

A Royal Commission inquired into the matter. The commissioner did not discuss or examine whether the actions of Robinson and the police were within laws of the colony, but found the method or policy of Robinson was immoral in having lured the offending tribesmen onboard his ship for trade purposes and then arresting them. Police duplicity or treachery was not permissible in dealing with rude and uncivilised indigenous natives. If Robinson had given evidence before the Royal Commission, he may have been able to demonstrate that he was within the law in arresting a fugitive from the law and that police were allowed or given wide latitude in bringing fugitives to justice.     


Rabaul, 17 November 1926. The Nakanai massacre occurred in the district near Talasea on the north coast of New Britain, 120 miles from Rabaul. The District Officer and two assistants with about 30 police proceeded to the scene only to find that of a party of six prospectors, Messrs. N. T. Collins, B. I. Marlay, L. A. Fischer and D. Page were killed; while Britten and Nickols escaped. The District Officer returned to Rabaul and reported the murders and recommended that a large force was necessary to cope with the hostile natives of that district.

Intense excitement was aroused in Rabaul over this affair and the repeated attacks on Europeans in this district. A Citizens indignation meeting was held which passed a resolution and sent a deputation urging the Administrator to allow citizen volunteers to accompany the official expedition, to ensure adequate forces to subdue the district. Permission for this was granted and a force was organised at once under the command of Colonel Walstab, together with the District Officer, two assistants and about sixty police. There were about fourteen-armed citizen volunteers in the party. They were subjected to a night attack under cover of a rainstorm but the attackers were driven off. Three were shot dead and numbers wounded. The report stated that there was evidence in numerous villages of complicity in the massacre. All such villages were burnt and their gardens destroyed.

A Government patrol party was left behind in occupation of the district. The majority of the party returned to Rabaul on the evening of the 17th. The bodies of the four murdered men (Messrs Collins, Marlay, Fischer, and Page) were recovered and brought to Rabaul. They were accorded a public funeral with military honours.[71]

The party under Lieut. Col. Walstab with a machine gun section, joined D.D.O Taylor, A.D.O. Ellis, and Dr. Cilento at Tairobi, and arrangements were at once made to enter the hostile area, which was reported to be held by 500 to 700 natives in strong entrenched positions.

On November 7, 1926, the force moved from Tairobi in column, the order being as follows: —1. Guides with D.D.O. Taylor and No. 1 platoon: 2. Machine gun section, under Col Woodman; 3. Advanced dressing station and medical carriers, under Dr. Cilento: 4. No. 2 platoon, under A.D.O. Ellis: 5. Carriers and details; 6. No. 3 platoon. G.O.C. Lieut. Col. Walstab. After two hours march the force was found to be progressing too slowly, and two units were maintained, one a striking force of sections 1, 2, and 3, which moved on rapidly to reach Sinanga,[72] and to establish a camp, and secondly, a guarded transport force which include the remainder of the party.

The mobile column reached a position in contact with Sinanga a little after noon. They entered Sinanga village finding it deserted. The bodies of Marlay, Collins, and Fischer were lying where they fell, at the village boundary, in the nearest fringe of undergrowth, and a search was at once made for Page. His body was found 43 yards down the slope from the village itself (which is set on a small hill) in a tangle of secondary jungle.

On returning to base camp, it was found that Col. Walstab had arrived and had already established excellent camping grounds. The party, after allotment to alarm posts etc., spent the night at this base preparing to move on the following morning towards Umu. Early on the morning of the 8th the force moved in two columns towards Umu, meeting a severe obstacle in the shape of a cliff some three miles from Sinanga which had been rendered almost inaccessible by the natives, felling trees across and down the “chimney” that led up its steep sides.

A scouting party was sent forward under Taylor and Ellis to spy out the land. They found Umu full of warriors, but were seen by two native sentries. These gave the alarm and were fired on by the police. An immediate uproar came from Umu. The garamuts were beaten furiously and war cries and cries of defiance and derision hurled across the plain. Neighbouring villages at once took up the signals and from every height and spur garamuts and “sing-sings” were heard. These continued at intervals all the evening and all night until dawn, the interpreters stating that every new burst heralded the entrance of a new party of warriors into Umu entrenchments.

As the form of the enemy was unknown, but thought to be high, it was decided to make an attempt to entice the warriors out from their defences by a display of feeble force, and, failing that, to rush the positions under the protection of a machine-gun barrage directed at keeping the summit clear. A party of ten men or so, with Ellis, showed themselves accordingly, and were at once received with screams, hoots, and wild beating of tom-toms, the natives crying out again and again: ″Come up here, come up here, if you want us. We have killed four of your skin; come up here and die likewise!”

After some time, a short-range burst of machine-gun fire was directed at the hill-top, and falling among the bushes well this side. This aroused only louder hoots and insults. A second burst had a similar effect. The range was therefore lifted to the feet of the natives, and one appeared to fall; the whole of them immediately fled. The Government party at once rushed the heights without resistance, and found the village deserted, only bullet-scarred ground and a few drops of blood marking the site of the congregation of natives half an hour before. It was decided to camp on this spot, and for purposes of defence and visibility, it was necessary to cut back the undergrowth on all sides and to destroy most of the houses. This was accordingly done, and guards set.

The following day at mid-day, during a heavy downpour of rain that drove all shivering to their tents, a sudden warning cry was given, “Kanki i kum.” And a crowd of approximately 120 naked native warriors, who had got to the edge of the clearing mentioned above without being observed, rushed the camp. There was a brisk volleying for some five minutes, with many desultory shots, and the party, which, to the bewildered senses of many of the whites, had never seemed even to come into view, had dashed back in retreat into the undergrowth, and threw themselves down one of their favourite ″funk holes” (an eighty-foot cliff face), and disappeared in the dense bush at foot. Taylor and Ellis with a party at once pursued, but not being natives (or birds), were stopped by the cliff returned, bringing in three dead natives. From the cries that came faintly up the slope, it is supposed several others were killed or wounded also.

On the 14th the work was complete and ready to be entrusted to the officers of the district and the Government police. On the evening of the 15th the entire party, without a casualty, had again reached Tairobi, where the s.s. Nusa was awaiting to convey it to Rabaul.[73]

Arising out of the incident 14 natives were arrested and tried. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. However, their sentences were commuted to 15 years imprisonment.[74]

[1] Brisbane Courier 10 December 1878 p 2.

[2] Brisbane Courier 14 December 1878 p 5.

[3] British New Guinea, Report of 1886 by Special Commissioner, Queensland 1887, Appendix D.

[4] Brisbane Courier 6 August 1888 p 6.

[5] In Australia this school of thought is known as the Black Armband Brigade.

[6] For the purposes of this exercise, the participants are identified as British subjects and Papuan natives and the geographical location is broadly speaking the coastal zone of the south coast of New Guinea and adjacent islands.

[7] Note European in this context may include non-whites acting as servants or agents of whites.

[8] Discoveries & Surveys, Moresby, 1876 p 166. Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter 10 April 1872 p 3.

[9] A.W. Murray, Cape York, March 11, 1873

[10] Rev Chalmers was murder by natives in 1901 at Goaribari Island, Western District in circumstance of reckless disregard for own safety and that of others.

[11] Queanbeyan Age 9 March 1878 p 3.

[12] Sydney Morning Herald 7 March 1878 p 5.

[13] British New Guinea, Report for 1888, Queensland 1889, Appendix E, p 18. FIFE, WAYNE. “THE BAMPTON ISLAND MURDERS: EXPLORING THE HUMAN FACE OF COLONIALISM IN EARLY PAPUA.” The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 107, no. 3, 1998, pp. 263–86. JSTOR, Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

[14] C. 3617 P 29

[15] C. 3617 P 33

[16] C. 3617 P 34 & 38.

[17] Morning Bulletin 18 Jul 1878 p 4.

[18] Australian Town and Country Journal 25 January 1879 p 16.

[19] Brisbane Courier 13 May 1879 p 2.

[20] The phrase “Exeter Hall” became a metonym for the abolitionist lobby, native sympathiser.

[21] Brisbane Courier 7 June 1879 p 4, abridged.

[22] PMB_1214-15.pdf.

[23] Queenslander 13 November 1880 p 613.

[24] Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser 27 November 1880 p 2. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 11 December 1880 p 1120. Brisbane Courier 25 November 1880 p 3.

[25] Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 25 February 1881 p 15.

[26] PMB 1214 Vol 17 p 1.

[27] Brisbane Courier 15 February 1881 p 2

[28] Argus 29 January 1881 p 9, abridged.

[29] Minutes of proceedings of the Intercolonial Conference held at Sydney, January, 1881..

[30] PMB 1214 Vol 9 p 36, abridged.

[31] Fort, G. Seymour & Scratchley, Peter. (1886). British New Guinea: report on British New Guinea, from data and notes by the late Sir Peter Scratchley, Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner, Melbourne p 6 & 12.

[32] GG VOL. XXXVII.] 2 October 1885. [No. 59 p 1163.

[33] Papers relative to Armed Reprisals inflicted upon Natives of various Islands in the Western Pacific by HMS Diamond, GB PP, 1886, 51-Sess. 2.

[34] British New Guinea: report for the year 1887, Victoria, 1888 Appendix J p 41. Griffith, Samuel & Forbes, Henry O & Douglas, John & Gillies, Duncan. (1887). Massacres in British New Guinea: (correspondence respecting, and report of special commissioner upon) Retrieved November 28, 2022, from

[35] British New Guinea: report for the year 1887, Victoria, 1888 p 9

[36] British New Guinea, Report for 1 July 1897 to 30 June 1898, Queensland 1898, Appendix J p 70.

[37] British New Guinea, Report for 1 July 1891 to 30 June 1892, Queensland 1893, p XIV.

[38] Papua: or, British New Guinea by Murray, John Hubert Plunkett, T. Fisher Unwin, London 1912 p 212, 234.

[39] British New Guinea, Report for 1888, Queensland 1889, Appendix F p 33.

[40] British New Guinea, Annual Report 1886, Queensland 1887, Appendix D p 17.

[41] Ibid., p 25.

[42] Ibid., p 25.

[43] A & P C. 3617, Enclosure in No. 32, p 100.

[44] Australian Defences and New Guinea compiled from papers of Peter Scratchley, by Kinloch-Cooke, Clement, London, Macmillan, 1887 p 337.

[45] Sydney Morning Herald 6 October 1885 p 4, abridged.

[46] H. J. Gibbney, ‘Bevan, Theodore Francis (1860–1907)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 November 2022.

[47] Brisbane Courier 19 January 1886 p 6, abridged.

[48] British New Guinea, Report for 1886, Special Commissioner, Queensland 1887 p 8.

[49] Under paying, not paying, over charging, failing keep a bargain made, defective goods, etc.

[50] British New Guinea, Report for 1887, Special Commissioner, Melbourne 1888 p 35.

[51] Ibid., p 36.

[52] Ibid., p 36.

[53] BÊCHE-DE-MER and the BINGHIS by Paul Dillon, ISBN: 978-0-9946381-4-4, 2022 p 7.

[54] Ibid., p 56.

[55] Ibid., p 57.

[56] Ibid., p 58. Myall blacks and binghi crews are Australian indigenous natives.

[57] Others is a mixed-race category and it cannot be assumed that as a class they were exclusively white men.

[58] Note European in this context may include non-whites acting as servants or agents of whites.

[59] Toil, Travel, and Discovery in British New Guinea by Bevan, Theodore Francis, 1890, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner p 147.

[60] Patricia O’Brien (2012): Reactions to Australian Colonial Violence in New Guinea: The 1926 Nakanai Massacre in a Global Context, Australian Historical Studies, 43:2, 191-209.

[61] Ibid., p 191. This is classic Black Armband Brigade rhetoric, in other words, humbug.

[62] Rosa, D.D. (2017). A Lesson in Violence: The moral dimensions of two punitive expeditions in the Gulf of Papua, 1901 and 1904. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 18(1), doi:10.1353/cch.2017.0001.

[63] Ibid., p 9.

[64] Ballard, C., & Douglas, B. (2017). “Rough Justice:” Punitive expeditions in Oceania. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 18(1), doi:10.1353/cch.2017.0018.

[65] Stowell, Ellery Cory (1921). Intervention in International Law. Washington, D. C.: J. Bryne & Co pp. 41–42.

[66] Ballard & Douglas, (2017) p 6.

[67] Telegraph 22 April 1901 p 2.

[68] The longhouses of fighting men made of sago-palm. 

[69] Australia. Parliament issuing body, author. (1904). Report of the Royal Commission on the affray at Goaribari Island, British New Guinea on the 6th of March 1904: together with the proceedings, minutes of evidence, and appendices Retrieved November 27, 2022, from

[70] Daily Telegraph 21 March 1905 p 4.

[71] Papuan Courier 19 November 1926 p 5.

[72] Sometimes spelt Silanga.

[73] Cairns Post 16 December 1926 p 5.

[74] Herald 12 July 1927 p 5. Daily Telegraph 25 November 1927 p 2, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate 25 November 1927 p 5.

Social Commentator

Bêche-de-mer and the Binghis

Bêche-de-mer is an edible sea creature used to make soup. These primitive sea creatures are a popular food in several Asian cultures, especially Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisines. During the colonial period of Queensland’s history, Aboriginals were employed to harvest the animals at low tide amongst the coral reefs of Torres Strait and the Great Barrier Reef. Many hands were required to hunt the exposed reefs and shoals, to wade the rock pools and dive the shallow waters of the fringing reefs. After a day of harvesting the animals, the work parties would return to the employer’s bêche-de-mer station, located on the nearest island, and begin the equally labour-intensive process of bringing the product to a marketable condition so that it might be sold in Hong Kong. These island work camps or “sit-down country” proved to be locations of dissatisfaction where the Aboriginal workforce would, it appears, acutely experience or develop an intense feeling of isolation and disgruntlement through pining and fretting for their tribal country. Consequently, the imperative to return to their tribal haunts and habitats, drove them on occasion to steal vessels and even to murder their overseers. Employing Aboriginals or Binghis, as they were known, proved to be a challenging task knowing that their unpredictability might at any time lead to an outburst of violence, which would not only terminate the contract of labour but also the life of the employer. 

Available from InHouse Publishing Brisbane,

Social Commentator


The subject of this monograph is whether there was a massacre of Aboriginals on Fraser Island, Queensland between the dates of 24 December 1851 and 3 January 1852?  You might ask, why bother to comment on a massacre in Australian colonial history, let alone feel the need to query the veracity of the event, when surely such events were common enough at that time of our history? After all, conflict was the rule rather than the exception in the discovery and settlement of the new world? The trouble is that those who propagate this view of history allege that 304 massacres occurred in the settlement of Australia.

Now an educated Australian with a substantial connection to the country, going back say four, five or six generations, would find these statements an affront to his pioneering heritage; l’article est injurieux. Furthermore, such papers and publications are cast in a style of writing that appears to suggest the possibility of “erroneous facts, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”. They are a challenge to common sense. Therefore, one might be forgiven for enquiring into these matters to determine whether they might stand the scrutiny of an audit. Scholarly papers and articles were once assumed to have inbuilt quality assurance because learned men or scholars of the past were gentlemen of integrity, who adhered to the principle of intellectual honesty, characterized by an unbiased, honest attitude. The idea that a third party might stoop to check the sources, the accuracy or otherwise of the quotes, the accuracy or otherwise of the citations was certainly not a manly thing to do. But when an individual or a group who have no grassroots in a cause or firsthand experience of victimisation or discrimination and are given the privilege to study the history of their country, thereby use that privilege to write scurrilous papers, articles or books that seek to destroy the hearth stone of the pioneers and founders of the country, then it is time to scrutinise their works.

There is, of course, within the study of Australian colonial history two broad schools of thought, which appear to have grown out of W.E.H. Stanner’s ABC 1968 Boyer Lecture where he coined the phrase “the Great Australian Silence”. Stanner surveyed the then classic texts on Australian history and found “total silence on all matters Aboriginal (which) seems to argue that the racial structure which is part of our anatomy of life has no connection with our civilisation past, present, or future”. The other factors that contributed to a changed outlook on Australian history were the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 which followed the Holt Government’s referendum of 27 May 1967 related to Indigenous Australians.

One of the schools of thought is directed to fostering and encouraging high quality academic research to investigate and reveal an accurate and complete study of Australia’s history.

The other school of thought is known as the Black Armband approach which holds that the central tenant of Australian colonial history is: Aboriginals violently resisted settler incursions, that the settlers in turn attacked and massacred the resisting Aboriginals, and then wrote fake official reports regarding their reprisals against the Aboriginals.

How did this come about? A strange political phenomenon arose in the Federal parliament in 1949 with the election of the Liberal-Country coalition under Robert Menzies. From that date forward, the Liberal-Country coalition Government stayed in power for twenty-three years. The 1949 election marked the end of the Labor Government which had been in power since 1941. Broadly speaking, Menzies and his government were anglophiles who believed in free enterprise coupled with a strong work ethic within a framework of a merit-based, apolitical system of advancement.

The Labor party struggled with their commitment to socialism. What type of socialism would it adopt and how would it be implemented? The implementation was the easy bit; Labor, if elected, would simply nationalise all important industries thus allowing the workers to take control of the means of production without the need for a revolution. However, the type or strain of socialism proved to be the stumbling block. It was said that party members who were Catholics were opposed to a Soviet or communist style of socialism which they believed had infiltrated the trade union movement. As a consequence, the great schism occurred in 1955 and the Labor party split with the break-away group called the Democratic Labor Party. Until the election of Whitlam, the Labor party remained inward looking hoping to regain their lost glory.

On 2 December 1972, a federal election was held for all 125 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as a single Senate seat in Queensland. The Australian Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam obtained 67 seats out of the 125. This was the first Labor government elected in twenty-three years. Whitlam and his government then set about implementing their election platform which was extensive and wide ranging. Almost every Australian was affected but some people were greatly benefited by his policies of entitlement.

2 December 2022, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Whitlam Government. Whether the passage of fifty years is sufficient time to admit of a review of Whitlam’s policies to determine if his actions have been detrimental to the core values of the Australian way of life, I cannot say. But what I intend to do is to look at the concept or method behind his policies. By that I mean that I don’t intend to get bogged down in political dogma, such as communism, progressivism, liberalism and conservatism.

It is often said that Whitlam introduced free tertiary education. He did not. Prime Minister Menzies introduced the Commonwealth scholarship scheme in 1951. Scholarships were awarded on the basis of academic merit and paid the university fees of all recipients without a means test. The rationale behind the scheme was academic excellence by promoting the most capable students.

After the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, university fees were abolished. The competitive scholarship nature of earlier student assistance schemes was removed. The rationale for assistance was now about promoting broader participation. Menzies believed in merit with an emphasis on academic excellence. On the other hand, Whitlam believed every citizen was entitled (had a right) to tertiary education.

Again, take the matter of single mother’s benefit, which was introduced by the Whitlam government in 1973 to provide financial assistance to supporting mothers who did not qualify for the widow’s pension.  Prior to Whitlam, widows could make application and show that they were deserving of welfare. Other single mothers were excluded. Whereas Whitlam confirmed by legislation that any single mother supporting offspring had a right to welfare even though they were morally undeserving of the financial support.

The above two examples show that the Menzies government had an approach to governance which might be said to advance merit and moral rectitude while at the same time balancing the budget. On the other hand, Whitlam might be said to have had no policy but simply adopted populist reforms for the undeserving and fiscal profligacy.

Whitlam also went on to make additional changes to the social fabric of Australia. Australia had a long association with Papua New Guinea which commenced with Queensland annexing New Guinea in April 1883. After WWII, Australia held a trusteeship over the country for its economic development and political preparation for independence. Under Whitlam, PNG achieved self-government in 1973 and independence in 1975. This is what he said: “By this legislation, we not only divest ourselves of the last significant colony in the world, but we divest ourselves of our own colonial heritage.” So, we once again see Whitlam adopting the populist approach of simply meeting superficial political agitation rather than giving critical trustee support and know-how in preparing PNG for statehood.[1]

The next area of comment might be broadly defined as Aboriginal and race relations within the Australian community. Prior to the 1967 referendum, the federal government had no legislative authority over Aboriginals nor did it have a specific legislative power over domestic racial inequalities/disadvantages. In regards to Aboriginals in the sixties, there was certainly a good deal of agitation for improving or changing the then laws and policies relating to Aboriginals. The 1967 referendum gave the federal parliament power to make laws regarding Aboriginals. However, the head of power did not go far enough. It did not allow the federal parliament to make a law that covered the field which would thus make all state laws repugnant to the federal law and consequently, strike them down for inconsistency. Now to overcome this difficulty, Whitlam placed particular emphasis on the adoption of international agreements as a method for securing human rights protections domestically and internationally. Accordingly, the most significant International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions to protect human rights were ratified or enacted by the Whitlam government.  Of course, the most memorable is section 18C (racial vilification) of the Racial Discrimination Act. Whitlam set entrain many other schemes and entitlement for Aboriginals.

Prior to Whitlam, the Menzies government had developed in consultation with the states a policy of assimilation which meant, in practical terms, that, in the course of time, it was expected that all persons of aboriginal blood or mixed blood in Australia would live as do white Australians. The acceptance of this policy governed all other aspects of native affairs’ administration. Of course, from time to time, adjustments were made at the margins of this policy. This approach did not suit a hard-core reactionary group of métis agitators and hangers-on and thus the most memorable aspect of this time was the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which Whitlam visited and promised that a Labor government would ‘absolutely reverse’ the Liberal-Country government’s policies. It is unnecessary for me to list out in detail the changes Whitlam and Labor made after 1972 and all the subsequent legislation and developments. Suffice is to say that they have fallen on the old guard like a ton of bricks and there they remain to this day. Once again, Whitlam reacted to minority agitation, simply motivated by populism where the perceptions of grievances are more imagined than real.[2]

To sum up, Menzies governed with a policy of nationalism striving to create an Australian character from a diverse colonial past; preference was given to a white Anglo-Celtic national identity formed within the Christian mould. Prior to Whitlam, Labor supported this concept but seemed fixated on implementing socialism which was rejected by the electorate.[3]  Whitlam could see that socialism was a waste of time and adopted a populist approach, promising to acknowledge and support all or any of the grasping and self-centred groups within the electorate who thrived on a liberation diet rich with lashings of white-Anglo dominance, repression and oppression.  This approach, in hindsight, was a nasty, selfish and divisive policy, which has now degenerated into virulent forms of public policy such as political correctness, identity politics and social justice mania.

On the face of it, two groups within the Whitlam collage, women and Aboriginals, have successfully maintained the rage over time and have continued to agitate for the imaginary goals of equality and self-determination. Within each group there is a cadre of scribes and propagandists solely dedicated to the perpetuation of the mythology of oppression, discrimination, dispossession, extermination, etc & etc. In fact, it would be fair to say that these two groups have dominated and pushed out virtually all other serious discussion that has arisen regarding other issues. In fact, over the past decades there has been a sharp and intense historical focus on the contact between Aboriginals and British settlers to the exclusion of all others aspects of colonial history. Attempts have been made to develop this alleged conflict history into a major discipline of history in its own right. Henry Reynolds et al have been the major proponents of this particular school of thought which has become known as the Black Armband view of Australian history. Of course, when viewed against Whitlam’s anti-colonial political agenda one can readily discern the motive for this historical narrative. However, the reader needs to keep in mind that this is not the authentic voice of the aboriginal natives of Australia.

W. E. H. Stanner, the leading Australian anthropologist, who worked extensively with indigenous Australians made the following observation regarding their ability for diplomacy or conciliation:

The blacks have never been able to make a formal protest, except by an occasional spear. They have never been able to stir and hold any lasting interest in their plight. They themselves have no notion of tribal tragedy on a national scale, nor perhaps would it interest them if they had. Most of their interests and loyalties are narrowly tribal. The petition sent to the King by eighteen hundred civilised natives in 1937, asking to be saved from extinction and given political representation in Parliament, was the only articulate national plea they have yet made on their own behalf, and they were almost certainly prompted to it. The interest taken in their welfare by a few missionaries, protection societies, and secular organisations is very much a luxury in which only a thin selvedge of urban interest concerns itself. It draws no support from the mass of the people.

Doubtless much of this apathy is due to the fact that the tribes never stood and fought the invaders in the resolute and able way of the Zulus and Maori. The Aborigines were never politically minded enough to speak of their ‘rights’, or to demand minimum conditions for the co-operation they undoubtedly did give, and still give, in the work of settlement. They never set up any real competition for the land of which they have been dispossessed without compensation. Not having any established villages or hamlets they could, and did, bend their frontal line whenever the whites came, and after flinging a few spears, co-operated in their own destruction by accepting a parasitic role which enabled them to live peaceably near the intruding whites.

Therefore, Reynolds’ propaganda is not the voice of full blood tribal blacks from the 18th – 19th centuries but a hybridised, synthetic voice of the 20th and 21st centuries, a reconstructed cultural heritage as opposed to an authentic tribal culture.[4]

Whitlam didn’t set up a country nor did he attempt to form or pioneer a country. He is no founding father of the Australian nation or of its national character. One hundred and fifty years after foundation, he joined a political party in the hope of leading the party to electoral success and gain self-aggrandisement by becoming the political leader of the country. His party during his membership, failed to win electoral victory in twenty-three straight years of regular democratic elections. Whitlam had no policy. He was the greatest snake-oil salesman Australia ever had. His election policy was a box of bon-bons, full of lolly and folly. To gain office, Whitlam adopted a populist approach of simply appeasing each and every mob of street agitator that barked and shouted at the hustings of his campaign.

Surely, as there are mountebanks for the natural body, so are there mountebanks for the politic body; men that undertake great cures, and perhaps have been lucky, in two or three experiments, but want the grounds of science, and therefore cannot hold out.

[1] The reader might ask, so what? One view of PNG is that it is a failed state; the cause of which is directly attributable to premature statehood being foisted on it by Whitlam when it was ill prepared for statehood. Australia has also lost the strategic advantage of the having forward bases at Manus Island and Rabaul.

[2] A phenomenon of Aboriginal relations in Australian society is that the further away a white Australian resides from an Aboriginal community the greater is his inclination to support Aboriginal causes.

[3] I also pledge myself to actively support and advocate at all times the party’s objective — the socialisation of industry, production, distribution, and exchange. Labour Party Parliamentary candidate’s pledge.

[4] The need for a marginalised, leftist Métis to gain political power through alleging cultural wrongs by the ruling white elite-a Whitlam construct.

Social Commentator

What’s in a name?

Mr. Paul Dillon, a Sunshine Coast author of several books on Queensland colonial history has written once again another straight-shooting, straight-talking book about the Wide Bay frontier during colonial times: Fraser Island Massacre Vrai ou Faux.

Captain Cook called it the Great Sandy Island; the locals called it Fraser Island; now the Queensland Labor government calls it K’gari. It’s the place to be when you need a secluded, tranquil haven set among hundred-year-old gum trees, with palms, ferns, exotic plants, mysterious lakes and waterways. It’s the place to be if you want to catch a fish or two, or see a dingo in the raw.

Gone are the days of sand mining for rutile, zircon, ilmenite and monazite; gone are the days of the bullock and the timber-getter, safe are the blackbutt, the Fraser Island turpentine and the kauri. Gone are the Fraser Island brumbies speeding over the sandhills with outstretched tails and flying manes, or chased along the back beach in motor trucks. Gone to are the corroborees, and the Fraser Island Aboriginal gum-leaf orchestra.

Each creature as it crawls from its chrysalis yearns to tell of its origination and as it struggles to become a butterfly spins a yarn of self-interest and self-promotion. A group has arisen that claim to be the long-lost tribes and clans of Fraser Island. To that end, they have persuaded the Queensland Labor government to acknowledge their existence and in turn their heredity rights. Accordingly, the Queensland Labor government consented to a grant of native title known as QCD2014/015 – Butchulla People #2 over Fraser Island and recently re-named the area as K’gari.

In making that claim the clans have felt it necessary to impeach and defame the forbearers and pioneers of another group of citizens. Whether it was necessary to adopt that approach is another matter. However, in doing so it extended to the offended party the right to at least examine the material put forward.

But massacre there was none. This book by Paul Dillon is a forensic audit of the modern-day political flotsam and jetsam that has grown up around the politics involved in bringing into existence the political identity known as K’gari. The book is obtainable from Connor Court Publishing, Brisbane.

Social Commentator

The Irvinebank massacre.

Folks, I’ll be bringing out a new book shortly. So don’t forget to keep a lookout for it when it comes on the market.

On the evening of 18 October 1884, a group of at least five Aborigines, were sitting round a camp fire boiling the billy and yarning in blackfellow talk when they were fusilladed. Tommy jumped up and ran for it; followed by the thwacks and zings of the bullets as they whizzed after him. The others stayed where they fell. The next day, Alicky, a town blackboy spoke to John Moffat, a leading citizen about the incident, who asked to be shown the campsite.

On reaching the camp, a gruesome scene of partially burnt Aborigines confronted the eyes of Moffat. Driven by curiosity and trepidation, he examined the bodies. One was the body of an old blackfellow, the two others were adult females and one was a picaninny whose sex was unknown. The bodies were lying side by side. Two with their heads one way and the other two in the opposite direction. The fire being in the middle of them. There were no observable marks of violence on the bodies other than that caused by fire. The faces were lying somewhat downward and it could not be established whether they were disfigured or not.

Mr. Mowbray, the Police Magistrate at Herberton was notified. On 23 October 1884, when he arrived in Irvinebank to conduct an inquest on the bodies of the four Aborigines, all that he found was the remains of a large fire. The fire was still smouldering but no bodies were found. Constable Moroney raked the fire and several pieces of bone were recovered from the ashes. But nothing could be identified. Nevertheless, Mowbray held an inquest and suspicion fell on the native police who were in Irvinebank at the time.

The Attorney-General then directed the police to investigate the matter. They arrested the Nigger Creek native police including Sub-Inspector Willian Nichols, and the rest is history.

Social Commentator

Aborigines Massacre White Settlers. Three Celebrated Attacks: Hornet Bank, Cullin-la-Ringo & the Maria Wreck By Paul Dillon

The name of this monograph is taken from Henry Reynolds’s book, The Other Side of the Frontier. In particular, from a subheading called Three Celebrated Attacks, under which he deals with a South Australian incident known as the Maria massacre of 1840, ‘and the successful Aboriginal attacks on’ Hornet Bank of 1857 and Cullinlaringoe of 1861. Please note that Reynolds calls the Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe incidents, successful Aboriginal attacks on white settlers, as if they were events to celebrate. Each of the above three incidents involved white settlers, male, female and children being killed, mutilated and sexually violated in circumstances of total depravity. In other words, the killing of civilians in undefended and unprotected situations and then mutilating their corpses. The Maria incident involved the murder of helpless shipwreck survivors, Hornet Bank, a night-time home invasion on sleeping family members and Cullinlaringoe, a daytime attack when the family were having a catnap after lunch.
The conventional approach to these three incidents would have been for a common or garden variety of historian to have sat down and gone through the European source material and given a standard Eurocentric narrative about what happened, how it happened and why it happened. Then Bill Stanner blew the lid off Australian history with his “Great Australian Silence” statement. He said it was a disgrace to the heritage of Australia because it failed to acknowledge the Aborigines, who according to him had been totally ignored. He added that current attitudes and research would possibly rectify this and end the silence. True to form, schools of thought, theses and books have poured forth like a biblical flood and broken the dirty big drought of silence that had descended over the historical landscape of Australia, loudly proclaiming and defending the rights and entitlements of the Aborigines. Prime Ministers and the High Court have rained cats and dogs on the tin roof of the old regime for being out of touch and downright wrong and ornery when reviewing the contribution Aborigines have made to the historical and cultural advancement of Australia.
Stanner’s injunction appears to have provoked Henry Reynolds and he came up with the idea of relating historical incidents ‘from the other side of the frontier’. He has been the Garbaldi in leading the resurgence of Aborigines in Australian history; leading the charge with a determined and indefatigable spirit to prosecute the cause for the Aborigines, hammering the market place with a plethora of books and publications. Now as a statement of intent, ‘from the other side of the frontier’, is an admirable approach to Australian historical studies. One would put aside the European or white sources and pick up the Aboriginal sources and go forth with a new vision of a glorious future and the cockies shall see your righteousness. Of course, the best and surest way to find out would be to ask an Aborigine what really happened at the time of white settler expansion into the Australian interior. After all, they were one of the principal actors in the alleged invasion chronicles of Australia. Unfortunately, there are no Aborigines left. Nor are there any Aboriginal sagas, nor a Dharmakoori, no hidden stelai to be found in the Valley of Lagoons or the Arnhem Land escarpment, no Rosetta Stone, no epigraphy, no papyrology, not even a clay tablet or a palm-leaf sutra might be scrounged from the old ochre trail to Blue Mud Bay from Oodnadatta, all is in vacuo. The three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, never featured in the Aboriginal way of life. The Aborigines were as Marcel Marceau, practicing the “art of silence”. They lived in a period now known as prehistory, the period before the invention of writing systems. So how are we to obtain the Aboriginal perspective of their encounter with colonialism or white settlers?
Therefore, the European or white sources cannot be abandoned or rejected. What are we left with then? The dreary old parchments of yesteryear hidden away in government vaults, deliberately mislabelled, bowdlerised, expurgated, censored, placed in the Jewish filing system or just plain torn-up and burned? As to the cache of private memoirs and writings that may be found in various libraries, they cannot be relied upon either because they were written by a bunch of right-wing, bigoted, racists who had nothing good to say about the Aborigines. There ya go, no mean feat to write the history of the settlement of Australia from the Aboriginal perspective.
The next question that arises is a matter of methodology. How then are the European sources to be stripped of their Eurocentric contamination, their racism? Who is to extract the relevant information? What guidelines are to apply to the process and who is to verify the resultant material and, if competing interpretations arise, who is to arbitrate? This activity will require a high level of reasoning and professional objectivity. Just scooping up sources and slanting or twisting them to reflect a particular view is nothing more than yellow journalism or rendering a tendentious script. It will require a strong and highly developed integrity to analyse, evaluate, assess and to avoid subjectivity and bias.
Reynolds has with unflagging eagerness and persistence maintained that high levels of frontier violence and conflict were involved in the colonisation of Australia, which should be rightly characterised as a war and Aboriginal resistance should be admired and given significant cultural recognition in the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. He is not alone in this view. Stretching behind him is a phalanx of paladins, all armed to the teeth, ready and willing to swing into action in support of his idee fixe, many of them dangling scalps from their girded loins. Reynolds has sifted through the many words and papers that litter Australian history, all written incidentally by whites or non-Aborigines and has found a trove of chronicles that contain, according him, a catalogue of aboriginal hostilities towards white settlers. Reynolds has developed over the lengthy span of his career, a school of thought that has been dubbed the ‘black armband’ view of the pastoral settlement of Australia. He has developed a macro-history that is painstakingly spelt out in his book, Forgotten War which perhaps can be briefly summarised as follows:

Armed conflict was the central feature of the relationship between settlers and the indigenous nations. It was a war of conquest to transfer the sovereignty of the Aborigines to the British government and its successor colonial administrations.

Reynolds effort to single out one factor in the settlement of Australia, such as armed resistance by Aborigines, as the central driving force of Australian settlement is a nonsense. His book reminds me of a scrub turkey’s nesting mound which consists of leaf litter and sundry other detritus at which the ever-present male bird spends long hours of fastidious scratching and raking to produce a pile of rubbish. Like the tiresome turkey, Mr Reynolds has raked and scratched the congeries of Australian history into a pile of humbug. Human history, at virtually every level, appears to embody a large degree of arbitrary acts committed at random. The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large collection of incidents put forward to support the theory. This is what this book is about. Does the historical evidence support Reynolds’ theory of armed conflict or are the events just the random opportunistic acts of criminal gangs of indigenous bandits and thugs?
Let us compare and contrast the Reynolds’ theory of Aborigine resistance with some of our home-grown rebels who all gave voice to their grievances and demands. Take our dearly beloved Ned Kelly, even though he was the product of the bog Irish, he managed to write the Jerilderie letter. Thus, sharing his thoughts with us and at least giving a warning of what was to come:

The police can’t protect you, all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund. And do not attempt to reside in Victoria but as short a time as possible after reading this notice, neglect this and abide by the consequence which shall be worse than rust in wheat in Victoria or the drought of a dry season to the grasshoppers in New South Wales. I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.

Then there is the Eureka Rebellion, they assembled themselves around their flag to resist further licence hunts and harassment by the authorities and swore an oath:

We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

And who could forget the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 which was a major confrontation between Queensland graziers and their shearing hands:

Fellow Unionists, an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack has been made upon the above shearers’ and labourers’ unions by the squatters’ associations. It therefore becomes our duty to take such action as will best conserve our interest and frustrate the attempts of organised capitalism to crush unionism and reduce wages in this district…

Yet Reynolds says the following about the sources of the ‘other side of the frontier’:

The historian has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased.

This is because the Aborigines cannot represent themselves. They must therefore be represented by a know-all, who knows more about them than they know about themselves. Reynolds has assumed the power to narrate the Aborigines’ story by seizing white settlers’ sources and material and subjugating its words and contents to the meaning he desires to attribute to them. This is not a credible historical method but a discriminatory attack on the settlers and a false voice of Aborigines. He has developed a macro-history with ideological and racial investments, which go well beyond academia into realms of politics and social theory. Moreover, it is destructive of existing national and cultural symbols, beliefs and perceptions. His concepts appear robbed of their empirical content but are festooned with nod and winks to his prejudices and objectives. This particular ideological structure of thought should not be allowed to go unchallenged since we must always ask what kinds of intellectual, cultural and material energies went into the construction of this ideology.
There is no Académie française in Australia or an equivalent academic curia which might make authoritative pronouncements on matters pertaining to or incidental to Australian history and culture. The closest we have to such an institution was when the High Court delivered judgement in what is now called the Mabo [2] case. The interpretations or understandings arising from that case seem to me to ignore or fail to recognise the limited power and scope of the High Court’s authority in matters of Australian history. Since Australia was discovered and taken possession of by the British, it is said the principle of discovery gave title to the British government against all other European governments, and such title might be consummated by possession. Captain Arthur Phillip on disembarkation and entry, together with the formal proclamation and reading of his instructions, duly bestowed British sovereignty over the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, which was further strengthened by the fact that the Aborigines of the day did not object but acquiesced in the British occupation of the country. Arising out of that is the fact that the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies came under the control of the British Parliament, which had omnipotent powers to legislate for the control and regulation of Australia and its inhabitants, white or black.
It seems to me that a line was drawn in the sand by Mabo [2] where it was held:

1. The acquisition of territory by a sovereign state for the first time is an act of state which cannot be challenged, controlled or interfered with by the courts of that state.
2. Under the common law of England, a distinction has traditionally been drawn, for the purposes of identifying the law of a new British Colony, between colonies where British sovereignty was established by cession or conquest and colonies where such sovereignty was established by settlement or “occupancy”.
3. The result is that, in a case such as the present where no question of constitutional power is involved, it must be accepted in this Court that the whole of the territory designated in Phillip’s Commissions was, by 7 February 1788, validly established as a “settled” British Colony.

How is it then that Henry Reynolds’s with his mare’s nest of history, has continued to dazzled, if not the world, then at least most of the literati of Australia? How is that Henry Reynolds and his acolytes persist with this endless stream of historical verbiage about the war fought on the Australian homeland between the white settlers and the Aborigines?

Social Commentator

Aborigines Massacre White Settlers. Three Celebrated Attacks: Hornet Bank, Cullin-la-Ringo & the Maria Wreck By Paul Dillon

Chapter Two ― Hornet Bank, Henry Reynolds

In 1974, Henry Reynolds published Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, I quote:

Some of the dangers and complexities of frontier contact can be illustrated by reference to the fate of the Frazer and Wills families who died in Aboriginal attacks at Hornet Bank in 1858 and Cullinlaringoe in 1861. At Hornet Bank the Frazers initially had good relations with the local Aborigines who had been ‘let in’ and who assisted in the work of establishing the station. Suddenly violence erupted. In a well-planned attack most of the family were killed. To Europeans this was an example of senseless and motiveless savagery perpetrated for the sheer joy of killing. On the frontier Hornet Bank came to symbolize the dangers of ever trusting the blacks. But from the Aboriginal side things looked very different. By piecing together scattered pieces of information it is possible to partially recreate the course of events. The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Frazer family or their employees. Such behaviour merited dire punishment in tribal society. When no action of appeasement or retribution came from the Europeans the blacks took matters into their own hands and carried out the vengeance which traditional custom demanded. The whole Frazer affair then looks very different indeed when seen from the other side of the frontier.

The reader is asked to note that Reynolds does not give any authorities or footnotes for his categorical statement: “The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Fraser family or their employees.”
In his introduction to his above paper Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, Reynolds appears to be saying, the aboriginal version of events must be put and since there is no aboriginal version, white commentators are to be used only after a thorough vetting as to possible bias:
Yet many problems confront the historian wishing to reassess this aspect of our past. Perhaps the most difficult is the task of trying to look at early race relations from the other side of the frontier, to see the encroaching tide of settlement as far as possible through the eyes of the Aborigines themselves. Clearly no easy endeavour! The historian – perhaps rather the ethno-historian – has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased. Fortunately a small number of explorers, officials or squatters were remarkably intelligent and perceptive observers of Aboriginal life despite the lack of sophisticated anthropological knowledge. Information gathered has to be weighed and tested against modern studies of traditional life and acculturation in Central and Northern Australia. What eventually emerges can hopefully be built up into a meaningful mosaic of the Aboriginal response to settlement.

Reynolds makes no reference to his own bias and how it might be filtered out or supressed. In 1976, Reynolds published in the journal of Historical Studies, the following article, The Other Side of the Frontier: Early Aboriginal Reactions to the Pastoral Settlement in Queensland and Northern New South Wales. He made the following observations:

Considerable problems confront the Australian scholar who seeks new perspectives. Evidence is scarce, widely scattered and comes overwhelmingly from European settlers and travellers, missionaries and officials. Oral history can still yield valuable material about early contact in the north and centre of the continent where settlement was recent and will be essential for the study of 20th century race relations, but it is probably already too late to gain detailed information from Aboriginal sources about the first years of contact in the greater part of south-eastern Australia. Modern anthropological studies of acculturation provide the historian with valuable insights but they need to be used cautiously when investigating the 19th century. Traditional Aboriginal society was so fragmented that any generalisation about a particular clan or tribe may be inappropriate if applied elsewhere. It seems probable that the Aboriginal response to Europeans was far more complex and diverse than our limited stockpile of evidence will ever suggest.

The above statement outlining his approach to writing about ‘the other side of the frontier’ is a fair assessment of the problems one would face in attempting to produce a credible version of the motives and reasons for Aboriginal destructive behaviour towards white settlers on the frontier, without the added burden of trying to justify it. Since the Aborigines never came forward as a group and approached government regarding their possible grievances, their actions have remained reactionary and troublesome, without justification or reason. The above article appears to be an attempt to deal with a lot of historical information from white sources detailing depredations by Aborigines on livestock and station plant and stores in the pastoral settlements across northern New South Wales and Queensland. Depredation means the act of attacking or plundering. Reynolds faithfully details the acts of robbery and the killing of livestock and white settlers as a kind of rite of passage, an acculturation into:

In some places the Aborigines appear to have become effective herdsmen on their own account before they had come in to European settlements. This helps explain why Aborigines often became effective workers in the pastoral industry in a very short time, for they had learnt about the exotic animals before coming in, while as first generation stockmen they continued to utilise many traditional skills.

Then he goes on to say:

I turn now to consider the violent conflict which dominated relations between white and black in practically the whole of Queensland. My concern is not with European brutality towards the blacks but with Aboriginal violence—perhaps their counter-violence—towards the settlers and with the motivation for attacks which resulted in about 500 deaths on the pastoral frontier between 1840 and 1890.32
Revenge killing for the death or serious injury of kin was a common feature of traditional society.33 Clearly many Europeans died in such culturally sanctioned executions. Settlers often understood this.
32 With N. A. Loos I carried out a survey of frontier deaths in Queensland consulting a wide range of source material. We estimated that 800-850 Europeans and their ‘allies’ i.e., Chinese, Melanesians and so called ‘civilised’ blacks, were killed between 1840 and 1897. Precision is impossible, but somewhat more than a half of those killed were employed in the pastoral industry.
33 See R. M. Berndt, ‘Law and order in Aboriginal Australia’, in R. M. and C. H. Berndt Aboriginal Man in Australia, Sydney 1965, pp. 167-206.

These statements or conclusions from his research are in reality absurd, and fall into the category of apologetics. It is similar to a legal representative submitting during a plea in mitigation that the victim deserved it and the perpetrator had benefited by acquiring new criminal skills. Reynolds has not provided an historical analysis of, but a defence of, Aboriginal violence towards white settlers. He is simply saying, Aborigines were violent people who killed each other as part of their cultural make-up, therefore, it is not unreasonable to argue that they adopted a similar practice towards white settlers but he tacks on the Eurocentric concept of political resistance. This line of reasoning lacks academic gravitas.
In 1981, Reynolds published his seminal work, The Other Side of the Frontier. In his introduction to the book, he says:

This book presents an interpretation of the Aboriginal response to the invasion and settlement of Australia during the hundred or so years between the late C18th and the early C20th. It is a white man’s interpretation, aimed primarily at white Australians … It is based on extensive research among a vast array of historical records. Yet the book was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship. It is inescapably political, dealing as it must with issues that have aroused deep passions since 1788 … I sought to put down as clearly as I could my vision of how the Aborigines reacted (Emphasis added) to the invading Europeans and to include as much detail as possible without needlessly clogging the flow of the text.

The following is Reynolds’ considered opinion on the Hornet Bank massacre:

The events at Hornet Bank are fairly well known. The Frasers were managing the property and had close, if not always amicable, relations with the neighbouring Aboriginal clans camped on or near the station. An apparently well planned and unexpected attack was made late at night and all but one member of the household were killed. It appears that the women were raped before death an unusual accompanyment (sic) of Aboriginal attack. Various attempts were made at the time to explain Aboriginal motivation but none could compete with the insistent references to the savagery and treachery. However there are scattered pieces of evidence which enable the historian to advance beyond the folk-wisdom of the frontier. The Honourable M.C. O’Connell told the 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police that the killings were a consequence of the young men ‘having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins’ in neighbouring camps. Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls. This story was confirmed by W. Robertson who claimed to have discussed the events of 1857 with old Aborigines who as youths had been present at the time. They reported that after the women were raped the local clans attempted to use sorcery against the offending Europeans. When that appeared to have no effect they sent an old woman to the Fraser’s to explain the circumstances and seek redress. When no action was taken by the whites the clans determined on revenge. So the evidence concurs on the importance of sexual attacks on Aboriginal girls but attributes blame variously to black and white employees of the family. But one account directly implicates the young Fraser men. J.D. Wood explained in a memo to the Colonial Secretary that when arriving in Queensland he made enquiries about Hornet Bank. He was told by a Mr Nicol who had been in the Native Police in 1857 that Mrs Fraser had repeatedly asked him to reprove her sons ‘for forcibly taking the young maidens’ and that in consequence she ‘expected harm would come of it, that they were in the habit of doing so, notwithstanding her entreaties to the contrary’. Several other informants told Wood that the Frasers were ‘famous for the young Gins’ and all agreed ‘that those acts were the cause of the atrocity’.52
52 W. Robertson: Cooee Talks, pp.129-131.; J.D. Wood: Remarks on the Aborigines; Magistrates, Upper Dawson to Col. Sec., 3 December 1857, Qld. Col. Sec. 4995 of 1857; W. Wiseman to Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, 16 November 1857, Qld. Col. Sec., 4319 of 1857; M.C. O’Connell evidence to Select Committee on Native Police, p.87: A.L. Meston, Courier Mail cutting in Oxley Library Scrap Book Queensland Towns, Districts, Stations, pp.81-82.

Reynolds then sums up as follows:

At Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe Aboriginal action was carefully planned and thoroughly considered and followed months of provocation – harassment by the Native Police on the one hand, sexual molestation by some, if not all, the young men on the station on the other. Even the raping of the Fraser women appears in retrospect to have been a deliberate, political act.

In the introduction to the 2006 edition, The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds’ said inter alia:

The intellectual criticism of the book has long been overshadowed by attacks that are political in motivation. In fact many of them come from people who give the impression of not having actually read the text, yet don’t like the idea of it. Some of the antagonism stems from my open avowal that the book could not escape the fate that awaits a political document. In the opening paragraph of both editions I nailed my colours to the mast observing that it was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship.

Perhaps the question that faces anyone who dares to offer a critique of Mr Reynolds’ work is, will they be zapped by the force field that he says protects his body of work from scrutiny. He has, if you consider his above statements regarding his methodology in writing the ‘other side of the frontier’, issued many warnings, disclaimers, clauses of limited liability and even exclusion clauses regarding his work. Mr Reynolds, however, was a professional academic at the time he authored The Other Side of the Frontier in 1981 and appears to have enjoyed governments grants to carry out his research. The book was published by James Cook University and bears the university’s imprimatur. The consumer, therefore, could expect the book to conform to best practice standards regarding academic research methodology, and professional integrity in the ethical and honest presentation of that research data in his academic papers, articles and publications.
Although the Fraser family were murdered by Aborigines, no person either, white or black, ever stood trial for their murder. Therefore, no official record exists which authoritatively states what happened and why it may have happened. The consensus is that the perpetrators were from the Iman tribe but no contemporaneous statements were taken from them for obvious reasons and, indeed, there were no claims of responsibility for the attack made by the Iman or indeed, any black group. The Blacks simply made off with sheep and loot from the station after killing and raping the whites. What I am trying to suggest is that freedom fighters or resistance movements normally claim responsibility for their military acts of violent resistance against their tormentor. In the case of the first terrorist attack in modern times, the King David Hotel bombing, 1946, the Zionist paramilitary organization, Irgun, claimed responsibility for the bombing shortly after the event. Be that as it may, many statements were made about the Hornet Bank massacre by all sorts of people with varying degrees of direct and relevant knowledge of the incident. The reader will recall from Chapter One that TR Boulton had given a lengthy description of events leading up to the massacre. However, Reynolds doesn’t rely on TR Boulton as a witness, presumably, because Reynolds considered Boulton ‘to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased’ rather than telling the truth. Reynolds relied on the following: MC O’Connell, I Downes Wood, W Robertson, and A Meston. None of these people were involved in the Hornet Bank incident as Boulton was. Reynolds called them ‘scattered pieces of evidence‘. They cannot be described as witnesses because the only information they have is hearsay, what someone told them. In the 1930s, there was a popular song that went like this:

I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales. He said “Topping band” and she said “Delightful, Sir”.

That is about the strength of Reynolds’ sources for his conclusions about the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. The striking dimension to Reynolds’ assessment is the rather casual construction he put on the rape of the Fraser women, calling it a legitimate weapon of war by the Aborigines.
This was MC O’Connell’s evidence before the Queensland 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police Force:

102. I know nothing of the circumstances of the Hornet Bank murders, (Emphasis added) having been at Port Curtis at the time, but I have heard something from an officer of the Native Police—Lieutenant Sweet—who told me himself that he had been informed by a trooper then in the Native Police, that the murder of the unfortunate women at Hornet Bank was in consequence of the young men who owned the station having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins on the camps of the aborigines in the neighbourhood.

Take I Downes Wood who is the authority for Reynolds defaming the Fraser men as cads, gin jockeys, criminals, and white trash by alleging they systematically raped the local female Aborigines. There is no greater insult than to accuse the dominate white race of hypocrisy, double standards, with allegations of sexual exploitation of black women. On 12 March 1862, over 6 years after the event, I Downes Wood wrote an epistle to the Chief Secretary of Queensland on the conflict between the Native Police and the Aboriginals of Australia. He was not present at the Hornet Bank killings. His submission is a long rambling piece of cracker-barrel thinking on Aborigines by an uneducated rustic. Now Downes Wood probably was unaware that Mr Nichol aka Nicoll was a disgraced officer of the Native Police and had a motive to lie about the Fraser brothers. But Henry Reynolds should have known the facts and he should have warned the reader that Nicoll was not a credible source for defaming the Fraser men in the first place, nor a reliable source on which to base a considered academic conclusion about the causes and effect of the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. Wood’s statement has been effectively dealt with in Chapter One.
Reynolds next witness is Willian Robertson who again was not present at Hornet Bank. He arrived in Australia circa 1870 as a child. Robertson was a homespun expert on Aborigines having been brought up on Caithness Park cattle station at Boulia amongst station blacks and seems to have been initiated into the Myall Murri tribe and given the tribal name, Brin-ga. Robertson was a radio journalist with 2BL, who differentiated his market by giving talks about Aborigines, known as Coo-ee Talks. In 1928, he published a book called Coo-ee Talks, in which he gives a version of the events that led up to the massacre at Hornet Bank and the cause of the massacre. He said he heard it from the offending tribesmen himself. The version bears no similarity to the original version and it can only be treated as apocrypha or an urban myth. Robertson is said to been au fait with Aboriginal culture but he says the following:

It was perpetrated by a number of young warriors of the Coongarrie tribe in central Queensland, at Hornet station, on the Dawson River, one of the tributaries of the Fitzroy. The story was told me by some of the natives who were present at the massacre. … Twenty years afterwards I myself met some of them among the Fitzroy tribe.

Robertson appears to be suggesting he spoke with the Coongarrie tribesmen some time in 1877 which is highly unlikely having only recently arrived in Australia as a child in 1870. Moreover, calling the perpetrators, the Coongarie tribe, rather than the Iman and further alleging that the majority escaped to the Fitzroy tribe, which is presumably the Fitzroy River mob (Rockhampton), when the official view is that white reprisal parties completely exterminated the Iman from the face of the earth, appears to suggest that Robertson had no idea of the actual events at Hornet Bank station in 1857. Robertson cannot be regarded as an accurate, reliable and credible source for the Hornet Bank incident. He can only be regarded as a doubtful source, bordering on invention.
Reynolds’ final witness is:

Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls.

I am afraid the material cited in the footnote does not support this statement. Meston kept a scrapbook of press clippings. The cited pages of the scrapbook contain press clipping on the Hornet Bank massacre but were not authored by Meston. They are a rehash of the incident for the 1938 anniversary of the Hornet Bank massacre, journalistic hype. Reynolds appears to have lost concentration and misunderstood the material. A Meston is not a credible source because he was not a party to the material cited. The material is set out at Appendix B.
So much for the grand principle of letting the Aborigines give their version of the events. Reynolds’ selection of white sources is superficial. It lacks a rigorous and critical appraisal of the material and his narrative and summation is, therefore, a tawdry little piece of cherry-picking worthy of a place in Pravda as a feature article.