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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 50

The New Guinea Question

The New Guinea Question.

Mr. Dickson: I rise to move,-"That an address be presented to the Governor of Tasmania, praying that His Excellency will be pleased to cause to be laid upon the table of this Council all despatches and other papers relating to the establishment and administration of Her Majesty's Protectorate in New Guinea." The announcement of this motion, Mr. President, may possibly have led to an idea on the part of some hon. members that a motion of a concrete form would be likely to ensue, but I am afraid, at the present time, beyond discussing this very important question, the protectorate of New Guinea, that no motion of the sort to which I have alluded is likely to be the outcome of the present resolution. Notwithstanding, however, that we are precluded from discussing any motion of an active nature, I consider the importance of the question is such that it would be exceedingly undesirable that the first meeting of the Federal Council should be allowed to pass without any motion or reference being made to the present position of New Guinea, and it is specially desirable that the hon. gentlemen here assembled should enter into discussion and express their views with regard to such an important subject. I have, therefore, great pleasure in having tabled this motion, with a view to eliciting from hon. members of this Council their opinions concerning this subject Owing to the time that has been occupied by the business of the Council to-day, I shall be as brief as possible in my remarks, with a view of allowing succeeding speakers an opportunity of more fully discussing this important question. The relations of the Imperial Government and of the colonies towards New Guinea have, at the present time, assumed a position which would appear to have resulted from matters having been allowed to drift into the present situation rather than from any clear, concise, or statesman-like policy having been initiated or adopted by the authorities at home, and, unfortunately, the present change of Government in the Mother Country is of itself a barrier to our dealing conclusively with the subject, or formulating any motion in connection with the early future, or future settlement of this very important territory. I do not think that any hon. member would desire that the deliberations of this Council should assume such a character that they might be regarded as a thorn in the side of Imperial statesmen, or that they should be a source of embarrassment to the administrators of the Mother Country in their dealing with the foreign relations of the Empire; but at the same time we should remember that we have been authoritatively requested by the Imperial Act of Federation to review from time to time the relations of the Islands of the Pacific, and it is in that view of the case that I think we are justified in expressing an opinion on the present position of the settlement of New Guinea. Australasia cannot view with indifference a settlement of this important character. Geographically situated as New Guinea is, it occupies such a commanding position in relation to the mainland of Australia, and indeed to all the islands of the Western Pacific, that its settlement may be regarded as of an analogous character to what would ensue supposing there were any undetermined settlement of the island of Tasmania. Geographically situated as it is in relation to North Australia, were New Guinea to be possessed by a foreign power, as great an element of danger and menace would follow to Australia as would be the case if Tasmania were in possession of a foreign power, and all the dangers which were adverted to by hon. members in discussing the subject of defence yesterday must again present themselves. We cannot ignore the position of New Guinea in connection with the question of the defence of Australasia. Doubtless the settlement of New Guinea by any colonial authority, will be a fertile source of embarrassment to colonial statesmen who may undertake its administration at the present time. Still, I think the statesmen of Australia would not be fulfilling their duty to the future prospects of Australasia if they were not to regard in the early future, or at the present time, the possible contingencies which might result from that island not forming part of the Australasian group. That New Guinea will become part of the Australasian territory is to my mind inevitable, and must, I think, have occurred to former British Statesman, having been foreshadowed by the fact that the islands in Torres Straits to within a few miles of New Guinea, if not within sight of its shores, have by an Order in Council and adopted by a late colonial enactment been placed under the jurisdiction of Queensland. Among these the island of Sabai is within a few miles of the coast line of New Guinea, therefore I conclude that as the jurisdiction of an Australian Colony has been extended almost across the Straits, it foreshadows a probable intention, or desire, on the part of former English statesmen that in the future the island of New Guinea should form part of Australasian territory. I think it must be a matter for regret that the limited protectorate now existing in New Guinea was not dealt with at an earlier period. I think also that it is a matter for extreme regret to the whole of Australasia that when the coast was open and clear the protectorate was not extended over the whole of that portion of New Guinea which was not claimed by the Government of the Netherlands. If action had only been taken by the Imperial Government at an earlier period the whole of the island of New Guinea except that portion under the care of the Government of the Netherlands might have been included in the British protectorate, and I would express a hope at the present time that negotiations might in the early future be so concluded with the German Government that the northern portion, which has been annexed by Germany, might be surrendered to Great Britain and I would even go further and express a hope that negotiations may be opened with the Government of the Netherlands, so that the page 97 western part of the island which is under their jurisdiction, and of which they make no use just now, might also be ceded to Great Britain. The position of the present protectorate is one that has not been formulated to the satisfaction of the colonises of Australasia, and while a certain improvement might have been disclosed had the late Sir Peter Scratchley survived to conduct the administration of the protectorate, we are confronted at the present time with increased difficulties owing to the untimely decease of that gentleman. I may here say that the death of Sir Peter Scratchley was received with general and unfeigned regret in all the colonies. His administration commenced under serious difficulties, which, I believe, would have been surmounted by his ability, and we had reason to expect from the continuance of his administration and from the steps he was taking to create a Government a settlement of the question more acceptable and favourable to Australasia than may now probably result for sometime. I have, however, great hopes that under the hon. Mr. Douglas, his successor, who is a gentleman possessed of great natural ability and talent, that the administration of the protectorate will be so conducted that the intentions of Sir Peter Scratchley will be carried out to their fullest extent. What form our ultimate relations will take is a matter of uncertainty. My hon. friend and colleague, the Premier and Colonial Secretary of Queensland, will be in a position to deal more fully than I can with the details of any probable changes or negotiations should he think proper to disclose them. At the same time I am justified in saying that the Cabinet of Queensland have not yet decided on any other course of action than the maintenance of the protectorate as at present established. And here I would remark that I think it unfortunate, and a matter for national regret, that any one of the colonies, through whose action the Imperial Government was induced to undertake the protectorate of a portion even of that island, should have withdrawn from the arrangement which was submitted to the Australasian Governments, and to which they agreed at the time the protectorate was established. I refer, of course, to the withdrawal of South Australia from being one of the contributing colonies. The loss of the contribution is in itself a very insignificant matter, and one that need not be regarded in a serious light. I believe, if necessary, that Queensland would herself furnish the whole amount rather than that the arrangement should fall through.

Mr. Douglas: There is lots of money there. (Laughter.)

Mr. Dickson: I am not deputed to pledge the colony to anything. We are not empowered to deal with finances in this Council. We must let that subject pass, but I can say this, that sooner than allow the protectorate to lapse, and a foreign power to take possession of that part of New Guinea which is now within the boundaries of the protectorate, Queensland would step forward and readily furnish the whole contribution. I do not regret the pecuniary loss sustained by the withdrawal of South Australia, but it seems to me to be a breach of faith towards the Mother Country after we have expressed our intention to do all that is necessary in order to insure New Guinea being included in the British Empire. I will not enter into the question whether we have been treated liberally or not by the British Government. We accepted the position, and so are honourably bound to fulfil the contract. It may interest hon. members to learn the proportion of contribution made by the various Colonies which was received by Sir Peter Scratchley for the financial year ending 30th. June, 1885. The sums were paid on the basis of population of the colonies, according to the census of 1881, and I may say that the Premier of Queensland expressed his willingness to contribute upon the basis of the increased population of 1884, which would be determined by next year's census, thus increasing the contribution of that colony to £1,500 instead of £1,100. The amounts paid were as follows:—Victoria, £4,693; New South Wales, £4,084; New Zealand, £2,668; South Australia, £1,524; Queensland, £1,500; and Fiji, £100.

Mr. Douglas: Did not Tasmania pay anything?

Mr. Dickson: Yes, Tasmania £600; (Laughter.) I think this question should receive the attention of this Council at the present time, although we are precluded from dealing with it in any practical form, and I feel assured from the public utterances of the hon. gentlemen who constitute this Council, that their interest in the settlement of New Guinea has in no wise decreased, and I am still of opinion that considerable improvement might be effected in the matter of either the present British protectorate or in some other form, whereby New Guinea might be included within Australasian jurisdiction. I purposedly abstain from entering into the matter more fully, from reasons which I have already stated. Before concluding my remarks I will say that while New Guinea furnishes a large extent of territory, geographically considered to Australasia, it has also been lately a field for very considerable exploration. I wish to introduce this question briefly in connection with the settlement of the island. The Royal Geographical Society of Australasia recently sent an exploring party to New Guinea, the expenses of which were contributed by Victoria, Now South Wales, and Queensland. That expedition was absent for several months, and has recently returned and reported the progress they made in the exploration of the interior of that island. Baron von Mueller, who has taken a very prominent part in the exploration of Australia generally, has expressed a desire to have the position of the society brought before this Council. With regard to Queensland, the benefits accruing from the expedition are deemed very questionable. It has not been considered an unqualified success, and it is considered that a great deal more information has been obtained from the efforts of private traders, and through the missionaries who have been carrying on for many years excellent work in this unknown land. I will read a letter which I have received from Baron Von Mueller, in which he solicits that the matter shall be made public before the Council, and although in this, as in the other matter, no practical outcome can result, being a matter of finance which is beyond page 98 the scope of our functions, it will give me the opportunity of gratifying the Baron's wish if I read his communication, which is as follows:—


"The Hon. Mr. Dickson, etc.

"This evening, honoured sir, I received the bye-following note from Mr. MacDonald, F.R.G.S., the zealous secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Geographical Society, and I think I cannot do better than forward this note to you, especially as the Hon James Service and the Hon. Graham Berry are likely to bring the desirability of further united action of the Australian Governments for the promotion of geographic researches before the Federal Council. Had I been able to see you in Melbourne, I would have probably pleaded this cause with you, but as you are so favourable yourself to the furtherance of exploration, you are sure to give it your support in the present Federal deliberations. It would be very important that Captain Everill's talent and experience be further utilised for expeditions in New Guinea, and perhaps some provision might be created for this able seaman under the High Commissioner. Your great colony, in the early exploring of which I took an active share, and whose interests geographically and otherwise scientifically I have always endeavoured to advance since very many years, is so very much interested in the opening up of New Guinea for commerce and culture, that your honoured colleague is certain to support also the extension of colonisation and enterprises connected therewith in that direction. I entered on some discussions bearing on the subject in my annual address last Monday, and hope to be able to present copies to you and your colleagues when waiting on you after your re-arrival in Melbourne. With expressions of high regard,—Yours,

"Feed. Von. Mueller."

I have introduced this subject so that hon. gentlemen might have their attention directed to it, and have an opportunity of expressing their views of how far the exploration of New Guinea will prove of value to the scientific world. I need not say any more than to express my deep and firm belief that this question of the government of New Guinea, which is now exciting such general attention, is not at present satisfactorily settled, but must force itself upon Australasian statesmen at a very early period. That settlement, when made, should be in the true interests of Australasia, and should establish eventually New Guinea as a whole being brought within the scope of Federal territory.

Dr. Macgregor, in seconding the motion, said—Mr. President,—As matters connected with New Guinea are sure to come frequently before this Council, I deem it well that the paper's that have been called for should be placed on the records of the Council. I quite agree with Mr. Dickson as to the very great importance of this question, and I think it very desirable that it should be taken into consideration by the Council during this session. A sort of drifting policy has prevailed for a considerable time with respect to New Guinea, but in all probability something more definite will be decided upon with regard to it before another session of the Council can take place. Consequently, unless the members of the Council are now to express an opinion on the subject, there might not be another opportunity before some definite action is decided upon. The question is sure to come up in the course of a few months on account of the financial position. The withdrawal of South Australia from the arrangement as to contribution will naturally make it obligatory on the other colonies to reconsider the matter and re-adjust the contributions that are to be paid. The amount of contribution will of course be altogether influenced by the course of policy that is to be adopted with regard to New Guinea. We might, perhaps, rest satisfied with simply proclaiming a protectorate over that territory, and take no further action in the establishment or organisation of an administration. If that course were decided upon it would be sufficient to leave a flag with some chief on the coast, who would probably keep it for nothing, and no expenditure would be required. But I do not think the people of Australasia or of Great Britain would consider their duty was being carried out unless something much more than that was done. In my opinion, if anything at all is to be done with regard to New Guinea the first step to take would be the establishment there of a resident staff. I say a resident staff because unless the principal officer charged with the Administration of New Guinea is on the spot, I believe he might just as well be in London or Brisbane, or the moon, for all the good he can possibly do in New Guinea. Experience has shown very clearly that the personal influence that can be exercised by such an officer is invaluable; and that personal influence can only be exercised on the spot. It is necessary, in starting an Administration. amongst such a people and in such a place, that very great care should be taken not to make a false start, for if a false start is made it will be exceedingly difficult to retrace the steps and begin anew. The staff must be resident, and must establish itself in friendly relations with the chiefs and the people. Their ways of thinking, their language, their customs and manners, must all be carefully studied before any laws or regulations dealing with their future government can with safety be put in force. This would imply the selection of a suitable spot for the location of the centre of authority, and from this centre civilisation would radiate gradually amongst the people. We can sec in the Pacific already the effects that have been produced by Governments started on the lines I have hinted at, and by Governments started on different principles. In the colony of Fiji, for example, where due respect has been paid to native customs and manners in so far as they were not inconsistent with our own European ideas, and where laws have been passed providing for the government of the native race through their own chiefs, we have got an effective administration carried on at no expense to the Mother Country. The same thing could, in all probability, be effected in New Guinea if it was set about in a proper way. Mr. Dickson alluded to certain explorations that have been made in New Guinea recently by private scientific bodies. 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 page 99 sort of rivers, what is the height of the mountains, and what are the natural productions that are to be found in New Guinea, and nobody can more fully realise than I do the desirability of all such knowledge being brought within our reach at as early a date as possible. 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 to impressed with the idea that anything they come across is everybody's property. I know also 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 if it were 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 they 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 worth while creating hostility in the mind of a single tribe. It may be considered desirable by some at the present moment to push exploration rapidly forward, but on that point I think there can be reason for difference of opinion, because after all it is not of much importance when a mountain or a river is named, or when we are made acquainted with some new flower, or with the existence of some new bird. Should it be considered desirable to hurry forward exploration speedily, it should be done under Government supervision, and I observe from the letter read by Mr. Dickson, that Baron Von Mueller seems to be of the same opinion, because he suggested that Captain Everell might possibly be made an officer under the High Commissioner, and be employed in exploring. I think that there is a disposition to push matters in this direction further than is desirable or necessary at present, but if exploration is to go on, it should do so from the Government centre, when each tribe will know what is taking place; they will be warned beforehand, and know what the exploring party are going for, and in that way the party will be able to do thoroughly sound and useful work without creating mischief. (Hear, hear.) Another matter I would like to bring before the members of the Council is the question of land sales. Very great mistakes have been made in different parts of the world in making a false start in regard to the sale of native land. To begin with, I question very much if land in New Guinea, even if alienated at the present moment, would be likely to be turned to any commercial account. We possess a great deal

more land capable of cultivation in the tropics than we can possibly make use of. Another point to consider is whether it would be desirable to allow alienation of any native land whatever until the administrator of the protectorate has satisfied himself that the natives of any particular district could without injury to themselves in the future dispose of their land, because it very often happens that the cupidity of a native, or of a tribe of natives, for European production is so great that they would not hesitate a moment to strip themselves of all the land belonging to them. Now that is a state of matters that should not be allowed to arise. Again, it is most undesirable that any sales of land should be recognised or registered until the system of land tenure has been properly studied and thoroughly understood. Among such people land sometimes descends in the maternal line, sometimes in the paternal line, and sometimes in other ways, so that it is quite possible, unless care is taken, for a man to come forward and sell land to which he has no title, and even to sell the same piece of land three or four times over. Very great difficulty has arisen elsewhere from one or two members of a tribe coming forward and selling a certain piece of land belonging to the tribe, but to which the vendors had no exclusive right. In all probability it will be found that although a man may be the nominal owner of a piece of land still he is not able without the consent of his tribe to dispose of it. Although he is the cultivator of the land, yet he may only have the land to make use of it for a generation or two generations, and has no power of alienation. A system has sometimes been practised in other countries which we would regret to see introduced into the protectorate. In some places when a European wishes to obtain possession of a piece of land he makes application to the executive authority, which gives him a grant without trying to find out who the native owners are, or without asking whether they were willing to sell, or without giving them adequate remuneration. That is a mistake that should be guarded against, as nothing more exasperates a coloured race—or, for that matter, any race, and for that part the white race also—than being dispossessed of their hereditary lands. Were that system once introduced the consequence would be a long train of murders, reprisals, and revenge, and finally a war of extermination. That system, I feel assured, will never with the consent of the colonies be introduced into the protectorate, and I simply mention it as a system that should be condemned. It further appeal's to me to be undesirable that the recruiting of labour should be allowed in the protectorate until some form of administration has been established there, and strict rules and regulations enforced. I do not think that any administration would be in a position to frame such rules and regulations until a considerable time had elapsed and the general polity of the people had been fully studied. From personal experience I am very much inclined to think that no recruiting should be allowed in New Guinea of men to proceed beyond that colony to work on sugar plantations. We had a sad experience last season of the effect of the climate of Fiji on labourers recruited page 100 from within about 12deg. of the Equator in Western Polynesia. Several of them died of Cerebrospinal fever after three or four hours illness, and it was worthy of observation that the disease began amongst those from places lying nearest to the Equator, and gradually extended to those from the islands further south, but did not attack those from places further south than about 18deg. or 20deg. I am very much inclined to think that labourers from such a latitude as New Guinea do not possess that physical stamina that would justify their employment on the sugar or other plantations of the south. Another subject requiring consideration is a sanitary one, the prevention of the introduction of new diseases amongst the people. No doubt it will be in the recollection of the members of Council that in 1874 and 1875 about one quarter of the whole population of Fiji were destroyed by an epidemic of measles. We have also seen the results of the importation of small-pox and cholera to other places, and it will be necessary to guard against those dangers. Certain places must be appointed ports of entry, and only at these should vessels be allowed to enter, and not until every vessel has been inspected by a competent health officer should they be allowed to communicate with the shore. It will also be necessary to provide for the vaccination of the people, and that of itself will be a serious undertaking, and will cost a considerable amount of money, but it is a work that must be undertaken at once. In my opinion, however, this money will be well spent, as I consider it is needful to save the population from being sooner or later decimated. Another point I wish to allude to is the use of spirits by the people of the protectorate. This is a matter that has been dealt with in almost every country containing a coloured population. In Fiji there is a very stringent law on the subject, and one which I am glad to say has been perfectly successful. I have been told by officers in the French service that there is an identical law in force in Tahiti, although administered in a different manner, and there is no reason to doubt that if this law is administered strictly, it can be made just as effective in New Guinea as in Fiji. It is a matter of great importance. The irresistible love of such people for ardent spirits is notorious, as also the fearful effects produced by them, and therefore the subject is one to which a considerable amount of importance should be attached. Again, such a people should not be allowed to obtain possession of firearms or ammunition. Once these pass into their hands it is very difficult indeed to ever get them back again. They do not require them, and they are of no use to them, and having them in their possession merely serves as a temptation to use them either against ourselves or against their neighbours, and it is therefore very important that great care should be exercised that they should never have the opportunity of becoming armed. With regard to the great and general question of introducing and extending civilisation amongst these people I should be very much inclined to think that the best way would be for us not to be in too great haste about it. It is impossible to civilise such people hurriedly. Civilisation for such a people, in order to be productive of real good, must be engrafted as far as possible on the system of polity prevailing amongst the native population. These people can be better civilised and better governed through their own chiefs than in any other possible way. Civilisation should, in my opinion, gradually radiate from the Government residence, but if we proceed too rapidly and try to do too much, if we pursue a destructive policy, I fear very much a very great evil will ensue; as in other places in the Pacific a great and invaluable amount of good can be effected by the missionaries. There can be no doubt whatever that the missionaries of the Wesleyan body have accomplished a great and almost unique work in regard to the civilisation of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. They have done it thoroughly, and done it in a comparatively short space of time, and all men engaged in such work should receive every possible support, encouragement, and protection at the hands of the administration. There is one other point that I deem of some importance, though it is a small matter, but small matters have a great deal to do with the ultimate result of a question. It was proposed some months ago that the Government should be provided with a certain number of men from Fiji. The proposal was not actually made, but I strongly suspect that the Government of Fiji would have refused to allow Fijians to proceed on such services, on the ground that it would be unfair to send them into a country of which they were totally ignorant, and put them to a service the nature of which they did not understand. Probably on a broader ground, it would be undesirable for the administration of the protectorate to be provided with a number of men from any other country than that under its rule, as their presence might create distrust, and breed suspicion in the minds of the natives of the country. From them exclusively all employees, such as boatmen, constables, guards, and so on, should be selected. If, Mr. President, any form of administration is to be formed in the protectorate, the points I have drawn attention to should be provided for in concluding the financial arrangements that must shortly come up for consideration.

On the motion of Mr. Berry the debate was adjourned until next day.