John Douglas, along with many other prominent Australians, had long had an interest in this large island to their north.  In 1875, he urged the
Queensland parliament to annex New Guinea, and, shortly after becoming premier, wrote to both the Queensland governor and the New South Wales premier seeking their support for Britain to annex the coast of New Guinea not already claimed by the Dutch, as well as those islands in the Torres Straits not already part of . As the premier visiting Thursday Island, in November 1877, Douglas instructed the police magistrate, Henry Chester, to travel to the Queensland New Guinea coast and report to him, and he also appointed William Bairstow Ingham as a government agent of the colony and gold fields warden in . New Guinea Britain, however, was lukewarm to any annexation, sceptical of the claim that other foreign powers were interested in the island, but it did appoint a high commissioner for the Western Pacific, while the northern and eastern islands in the Torres Straits were subsequently incorporated into . Queensland
Douglas’s successor, Thomas McIlwraith, held similar views to Douglas. On 24 February 1883, he dispatched a cable to London instructing his agent-general to urge Lord Derby, the British colonial secretary, to “annex New Guinea to Queensland.” Without waiting for a reply, McIlwraith then instructed Henry Chester to sail from Thursday Island to New Guinea to annex the eastern portion of New Guinea. On 4 April 1883 Chester duly raised the British flag in Port Moresby and formally annexed eastern New Guinea to Queensland.
The reason given by McIlwraith for this decision was that he feared Germany was preparing to annex the island. Another, unstated reason was the desire to recruit New Guineans for the Queensland labour trade. As the Queensland governor later informed the Colonial Office in a confidential memorandum:
It is useless to disguise from ourselves the fact that in Australia the black races are regarded much in the same light as the African Negroes were regarded by the Jamaica planters a hundred years ago; and not much doubt is entertained by those who know most about the matter that the annexation of New Guinea was intended to supply black labour for the sugar planters.
This unauthorised annexation of New Guinea was enthusiastically supported by the various Australian colonies, but the British took a very different position, ostensibly disallowing the annexation because it would not be regarded as a friendly act by rival powers. Moreover, they were alarmed by what had taken place, considering it, “very cocky” and the actions of a “cheeky young colony.”
The official British position was not supported by the majority of its own citizens. It was also resented by many in Australia, leading McIlwraith to call for the establishment of the first Australian Intercolonial Convention held in Sydney in November and December 1883. This inaugural convention, with the new premier, Griffith, as the Queensland representative following a change of government in this colony, strongly endorsed McIlwraith’s action and urged the British government to act immediately to make New Guinea part of the British Empire. It was now increasingly evident that Britain would formally have to intervene in New Guinea on behalf of Queensland and the other Australasian colonies, one way or another.
 For example, in 1874 the
New South Wales premier, Sir Henry Parkes, urged the British to colonise . (Henry Parkes. Fifty years in the Making of Australian History. London, Longmans, Green and Co., 1892, pp. 135 & 412-13.) See also John Conley. “ New Guinea Australia in Prior to Annexation.” Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol 6 no 2, 1959-60, pp. 428-29; “The Annexation of New Guinea.” Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 3, 1876, pp. 15-19 New Guinea
 “Annexation of
.” Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 18, 1875, pp. 498-502; H. C. Brown. New Guinea Queensland’s Annexationist Ambitions in 1859-1884. BA Hons thesis. New Guinea University of Queensland, 1968, pp. 26-27; (1969), pp. 190-91) Wilson
 John Douglas to the Colonial Secretary, NSW,
28 April 1877. “A Circular ‘Secret’ Despatch Relative to the Annexation of .” New Guinea Archives, COL/1 (Colonial Secretary's Office); John Douglas to Arthur Kennedy, Queensland State 29 April 1877. Archives, COL/1(Colonial Secretary's Office.) Also reproduced in: The Queensland State Torres Strait Boundary Report by the Sub Committee on Territorial Boundaries of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Volume Ii. Appendix Ix to the Report, Historical Documents Relating to the Maritime Boundary of . Queensland , Government Printer, 1976, pp. 139-141; Mullins (1994), p. 141 Canberra
 Henry Marjoribanks Chester. Narrative of Expeditions to
, in a Series of Letters Addressed to … the Colonial Secretary. Brisbane, Government Printer, 1878 New Guinea
 John Douglas to W. B. Ingham,
1 June 1878. Archives, A/71730; Geoffrey Bolton. A Thousand Miles Away: A History of Queensland State North Queensland to 1920. Canberra, Press, p. 141; Clive Moore. “ Australian National University ’s Annexation of New Guinea in 1883.” Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol 12 no 1, 1984, p. 35. The gold field was at Laloki. Queensland
 Paul W van der Veur. Search for New Guinea’s Boundaries: From Torres Strait to the Pacific.
Canberra, Press, 1966, p. 15 Australian National University
Douglas (1884), p. 859. The relevant correspondence is reproduced throughout the Torres Strait Boundary Report by the Sub Committee on Territorial Boundaries of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Volume II. Appendix IX to the Report, Historical Documents Relating to the Maritime Boundary of . Queensland Canberra, Government Printer, 1976, and in “The New Maritime Boundary of .” Queensland Votes and Proceedings, First Session, 1879, pp. 39-41. See also Jean Farnfield. “The Moving Frontier: Queensland Queensland and the Torres Strait.” In, Lectures in North Queensland History. Townsville, , 1974, pp. 68. By the time the islands were formally annexed by James Cook University Queensland, in August 1879 (Queensland Coast Islands Act 1879), Douglas was no longer premier.
 Moore (1984), p. 40; Peter Overlack. “
’s Annexation of Papua: A Background to Anglo-German Friction.” Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol 10 no 4, 1978-79, p. 131 Queensland
(1984), p. 40 Moore
 Ibid., p. 26; Veur (1966A), p. 15; “The Annexation of
: Further Correspondence Respecting.” New Guinea Votes and Proceedings, Session of 1883-84, pp. 207-45. As Queensland Steve Mullins has pointed out, McIlwraith later indicated that he was more concerned that New Guinea be in British or Australian hands rather than under control. ( Queensland Steve Mullins. “ Queensland’s Quest for Torres Strait: The Delusion of Inevitability.” Journal of Pacific History vol 27 no 2, 1991, p. 166)
 Veur (1966A), p. 15; Bernays, p. 92; Overlack, pp. 130 & 133
(1984), pp. 41-50 Moore
 Governor Musgrave to the Secretary of State fro the Colonies,
13 January 1886. In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, pp. 176-77 (Australian no 112a)
 Bernays, p. 93; Conley, pp. 430-32; Overlack, p. 133.
Douglas, for his part, viewed the annexation as an “exciting demonstration that will be recorded in our history as a dashing exploit carried out at the instigation of one who had a comprehensive grasp of the situation.” (Douglas (1884), p. 859)
 Overlack, p. 133; Luke Trainor. British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism: Manipulation, Conflict and Compromise in the Late Nineteenth Century.
Cambridge, Press, 1994, pp. 44-46. The other power was Cambridge University Germany, and Lord Derby was, “perpetrating a bargain … with Bismark which [would] give the Germans their slice of New Guinea, and gave Great Britain a free hand in .” (Douglas (1900A), p. 12.) The British Government was also concerned that making New Guinea part of Queensland would “remove from Imperial control the labour trade around New Guinea, as it would then become a coasting trade subject only to Queensland laws.” (Moore (1984), p. 42.) Other reasons given by Lord Derby were that New Guinea was too large, it was too little known, the native population was too numerous, the cost of administration would be too great, and that Queensland, with its comparatively small resources, could not be entrusted with such an onerous responsibility. (Alexander C. V. Melbourne. “The Relations between Egypt Australia and up to the Establishment of British Rule in 1888, part 1.” Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, vol 12, part 5, 1927, p. 308.) See also William Ewart Gladstone to Queen New Guinea , Victoria 13 June 1883, Cabinet Reports by Prime Minister of the Crown. National Library of , Microform G18363 Australia
 Edward Robert Drury (
Queensland agent-general in ) to Thomas McIlwraith, London 20 April 1883. McIlwraith / Palmer Papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 64-19/158
 Overlack, p. 133;
Douglas (1884), p. 860
 Alexander C. V. Melbourne. “The Relations between
Australia and up to the Establishment of British Rule in 1888, part 2.” Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, vol 13, part 3, 1927, pp. 145-49; Deakin, p. 155 New Guinea
 Overlack, pp. 133-34
 Veur (1966A), p. 16; “Intercolonial Convention, 1883: Report of the Proceedings of the Intercolonial Convention held in
in November and December 1883.” Sydney Votes and Proceedings, Session of 1883-84, pp. 247-382; Trainor, pp. 41-42 Queensland
 As the
agent-general informed his premier, following the annexation, “I saw Herbert [Colonial Office] before the news became public. I told him that we should take Queensland . He said I believe you will. Did not either seem much concerned about it. I see the Victorian government back you up and hope you have got the other colonies to do so. We must not go back one single step.” (Edward Robert Drury to Thomas McIlwraith, New Guinea 20 April 1883. McIlwraith / Palmer Papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 64-19/158)