Wednesday, December 21, 2011

John Douglas, Special Commissioner to New Guinea, 1886 - 1888

John Douglas served as the special commissioner to New Guinea from 1886 to 1888. This article covers his appointment to the post, achievements while in the position and the influence he exerted on the protectorate’s nascent administration.  Douglas’s sparsely documented time in New Guinea also provides an insight into the establishment of a remote colony cum protectorate.

Also discussed are the hardships, privations and dangers Douglas faced and his frequent trips away from Port Moresby, the seat of his administration.  Australian interest in New Guinea and the establishment of the protectorate by Great Britain over part of the island are not examined in this article, but will be covered in a later one

Appointing a special commissioner

Under Sir Peter Scratchley’s administration, the new British protectorate of New Guinea had slowly begun to develop in 1885.  Despite being there for only 12 weeks in late 1885, Scratchley had made an energetic start, undertaking a couple of trips into the interior and along the coast.  However, his premature death aboard ship off the north Queensland coast meant that a successor had to be appointed as a matter of urgency, so that the momentum would continue, and the gains he made not be lost.  Finding and appointing a successor to Scratchley unleashed intense machinations and manoeuvrings in Brisbane, with much of it ‘leaked’ to the press.

There were two frontrunners for the post of administrator of British New Guinea: Douglas and John Bates Thurston, deputy governor of Fiji and consul-general for the Western Pacific.[1]  Despite lobbying for the post in England the previous year, a more experienced Douglas now expressed only a lukewarm interest in the position, entertaining doubts as to New Guinea’s viability.  “What we, or what anybody else will be able to make out of New Guinea is another question.”[2]

Thurston, who was keen to secure the promotion the post afforded, had reservations of his own, considering the push by Queensland to annex New Guinea as a case of “colonial jingoism.”[3]  While supporting annexation, provided it occurred under the auspices of England instead of Queensland, Thurston was almost contemptuous of its inhabitants, dismissively declaring, “a governor, a judicial officer, a chief of police and an expert hangman are all that is necessary to start with.”[4]

During Scratchley’s administration, Douglas, owing to his residing so close to New Guinea, had gradually been drawn into the affairs of the protectorate.  As early as June 1885, Scratchley had appointed him to act on his behalf in the western district,[5] and in October 1885 he appointed Douglas as government agent for the protectorate “with the permission of the Queensland Government.”[6]  Because Douglas lived in the region, Griffith and the Queensland government considered him the obvious choice to succeed Scratchley, but the Colonial Office and Victoria both supported Thurston.[7]   Thurston had impressed the Colonial Office when he had gone to England, in March 1885, as the British Commissioner to the Anglo-German commission appointed for discussing the question of land claims in Fiji and conflicting territorial claims in the South Pacific.[8] 

There was also the ongoing problem for the Colonial Office of Douglas’s ‘unpresentable’ wife..[9]  Meanwhile Thurston, as he confided to his family, was informally approached by the Colonial Office: “H. M. Government desire to confide that great mass of tropical savagery and malarial fever to my keeping.”[10]

However, Griffith was determined that this time Douglas’s claims to the position would prevail.  He wanted Douglas to combine the two posts and oversee New Guinea from his Thursday Island headquarters.  He also knew that with Douglas in charge, there would be no trafficking of labour from New Guinea to Queensland, and that Douglas would tenaciously use his considerable influence to convince the other colonial premiers to fund their share of the cost of maintaining the protectorate.  The Brisbane Courier strongly supported Griffith, explicitly endorsing Douglas’s claims in an editorial only two days after Scratchley’s death.  It also pertinently noted, “our money will be saved and the work better done if a colonist be employed.”[11]  In a hint of the fight to come, the paper demanded that Australia, and not only the Colonial Office, should have a say in the appointment.[12]

On 7 December 1885, only days after Scratchley’s death, Griffith wrote to the Victorian and New South Wales premiers asking them to support Douglas’s candidature.  Such support was quickly forthcoming.[13]  Sir James Garrick, the Queensland agent-general in London, was instructed by Griffith to advance Douglas’s claims with the Colonial Office, and this he energetically did.[14]  Colonel Frederick Stanley, the secretary of state for the colonies, was extremely reluctant to consider Douglas for the post, for the same reason that Douglas was not seriously considered for appointment as special commissioner in the first place – namely that his wife was unpresentable.  Stanley convened a meeting of the Australian agents general in London to discuss the matter,[15] and Garrick supported Douglas and most of the others, including R. Murray Smith, the Victorian agent-general, supported Thurston.[16]

Sir James Service, the Victorian premier, then telegraphed his agent-general instructing him to support Douglas.[17]  This intervention by Service was crucial for Stanley then had to recommend Douglas to the British cabinet as the Australian colonies’ choice.[18]  However, Douglas would not be permanently appointed to the post because of “private reasons,” a euphemism for his wife, Sarah, being considered unpresentable.[19]  A compromise, acceptable to the British cabinet was therefore reached whereby Douglas was appointed in a temporary capacity, pending the protectorate of New Guinea becoming a colony.[20]

Meanwhile, Douglas, who had become aware of efforts by Griffith to secure the post on his behalf, informed him that he would not accept the position unless New Guinea was “placed under the supervision [of] either Queensland or federal Australia if necessary.”[21]  Given Douglas’s previous propensity for unpredictability, both Griffith and Garrick were understandably alarmed by this turn of events.  Garrick quickly negotiated with the Colonial Office for Douglas to take instructions from the governor of Queensland, who would in turn consult with his executive council.[22]

On 26 December 1885, Douglas was formally appointed “Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner for the Protected Territory in New Guinea” on a salary of £2,500 per annum[23] and the title of ‘His Excellency.”  Douglas reluctantly accepted, spurred on by Griffith’s admonishment: “You are bound to accept the acting appointment under the circumstances.”[24]  Nevertheless, not only did Douglas want to remain the government resident, he also insisted on returning to Thursday Island upon completion of his acting appointment in New Guinea.[25] 

Douglas’s position was an interim appointment pending the British government and the Australasian colonies agreeing on their respective contributions to finance the proposed colony’s ongoing administration and agreeing on an interior boundary between the German and British portions of the island.[26]  All parties underestimated the time needed, and Douglas remained in the position for almost three years.[27]

The £2,500 per annum salary Douglas received as special commissioner was a significant sum; sufficiently large that Griffith objected, preferring it to be only £1,500.[28]  It is hardly surprising that Griffith complained about how much Douglas was paid, for at the time his salary was only £1,000 per annum.[29]   However, Douglas did not consider his salary “excessive.”  He believed that the responsibilities and “demands made upon his judgement”  to be equal to those of the other Australian colonial governors and entailing considerable interaction with the local populace in a manner not encountered elsewhere,[30] as Basil Thomson, accompanying Douglas’s successor on a trip around the island discovered:

I was asked the other day if I had come down from heaven but instead of worshipping me the flippant old man who asked me poked me in the ribs to see if I was solid.  However, I lit my pipe which so awed him that he found I was supernatural after all and ran away.[31]

Another example of the unusual duties associated with the post concerned a visit to a village where, as described by one of the party, they found:

"A few natives completely naked, grouped in front of a   large house, the principal of whom was an old white-headed man, intelligent looking, to whom Mr. Douglas, with his usual good nature, immediately gave a new suit of serge clothes, and assisted him to don them."[32]

Shortly afterwards Douglas discovered that this man, the village chief, had attacked mission teachers the previous month intending to make “bacon or ‘long pig’ of them, wild pigs being uncommonly scarce that season!”[33]  This encounter demonstrates the challenges and dangers Douglas faced in administering the fledgling protectorate and he later informed his brother that, “I have myself often of late had to face several risks to my own life.”[34]

Douglas’s salary remained at £2,500 per annum, and he was able to use the extra income to buy two plots of land on Thursday Island as well as a property at Tenterfield, a small town in northern New South Wales, the following year.[35]  In March, April and May 1886, Douglas travelled to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to discuss the administration and funding of New Guinea with the Queensland, Victorian and New South Wales governors and premiers.[36]  This set a pattern whereby Douglas spent more time outside the protectorate than in it, and when he did reside in New Guinea, he was frequently away from Port Moresby travelling and exploring.[37] 
It was intended that Douglas would live on Thursday Island and combine both his New Guinea and Torres Strait posts,[38] but as this proved unrealistic,[39] Hugh Miles Milman, the police magistrate at Cooktown, was appointed acting police magistrate on Thursday Island in May 1886 and then acting government resident in September of that year.[40]  By then Douglas had relocated to Port Moresby, arriving on 28 June 1886, almost six months after he was appointed to the post,[41] and some time after Sarah and the children had departed Thursday Island to the family home in Sandgate.

Douglas faced many difficulties in administering New Guinea.  His post was a temporary one, he had few staff to call on, the protectorate was remote and unexplored, and he had to expend considerable time and energy ensuring that the promised colonial financial contributions were paid.  Despite this, he achieved moderate success in some areas because he kept the nascent administration functioning, oversaw the development of its capital Port Moresby, and ensured that the promised financial contributions from several Australian colonial administrations were paid.

Douglas administered the protectorate at Port Moresby, with Milman, the acting government resident on Thursday Island, responsible for the Western district of New Guinea.  An agent of the Burns Philp Company looked after the Motu Motu station at the mouth of the Williams River, 100 kilometres to the west of Yule Island; Rigo, to the east of Port Moresby, was the responsibility of one George Hunter; while a government official was responsible for Dinner Island, also known as Samarai, which was located further east.[42]  However, the assistance provided Douglas by these men was limited.  They rarely if ever travelled far from their headquarters, and consequently the control they exercised over the surrounding inhabitants was extremely tenuous.[43]

Port Moresby

Douglas has been described as the founder of Port Moresby,[44] for it was he who chose its new site on the narrow saddle between Touagaba and Paga Hills.  Known as Paga Point,[45] Douglas relocated it from its existing location at Hanuabada, because, alongside the small European settlement, the New Guineans were burying their dead in shallow graves inside their village there.[46]  Douglas had sound reasons for relocating the small European township:

Port Moresby is a fever trap.  The native village under the nose of the mission station is a festering mess of putrid abominations enough to infect a regiment of men or missionaries.  I don’t go near the place and don’t intend to.  The first thing I intend to do is build a lock-up to secure order and obedience to sanitary regulations. [47]

Douglas employed Walter Cuthbertson, a surveyor from Adelaide, to design and lay out the new township.[48]  Douglas Street, one of the main streets, was named for him, as had also been the main street on Thursday Island when surveyed by Howard St. John Wood in 1877.[49]  While Douglas was able to improve the sanitary conditions for the 700 people in the village by piping in water,[50] he was powerless to eradicate the malaria prevalent there.  The disease afflicted many of its inhabitants, including Douglas.[51]  

The adults in the village offended Douglas’s Victorian sensibilities, as this observation, recorded shortly after his arrival, attests:

The children are nice bright little things and they are fond of ornamenting themselves with flowers.  The men and women are not pretty.  The women wear petticoats made of grass, but most of the men wear nothing at all.  They are a very uncivilised and dirty people.[52]

Douglas did what he could to ‘civilise’ the embryonic township, setting up a reading room containing “The Times, the illustrated papers, the leading Australian journals, and a few periodicals.”[53]  Nevertheless, despite occupying a government bungalow positioned on “a healthy eminence commanding a magnificent view of the surrounding country,”[54] he was happiest when away from Port Moresby and travelling to Australia to be on official business and visit his family or exploring the coastal reaches of the protectorate.[55]

Funding the protectorate

Much of Douglas’s time and energy was taken up with ensuring the Australasian colonies paid their promised annual dues.  Douglas travelled frequently to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, holding discussions with the premiers and governors residing there, as well as with Rear-Admiral George Tryon in Sydney, the commander-in-chief of the British government’s ships and vessels on the Australian Station.[56]  Some colonies were less willing to discharge their responsibilities, leading somewhat inevitably, given Douglas’s persistence and stubbornness, to rancour and recrimination.

It had earlier been agreed that all the Australian colonies, as well as New Zealand and Fiji, would each contribute up to £15,000 per annum for three years to help fund the cost of the protectorate, with the amount  owing by each colony calculated on a proportional basis according to their population.[57]  When Douglas asked the New Zealand government for their annual contribution for the year ending June 1886, he was told that instead of the period of their contribution ending in June 1886, it would in fact only commence from that date.[58]  Douglas refused to accept this unilateral amendment to the original agreement, and a lively correspondence followed, with a decidedly reluctant New Zealand government eventually paying its share after the Colonial Office intervened in support of Douglas.[59]

South Australia refused, from July 1886 onwards, to contribute its agreed share.[60]  Douglas therefore demanded that the remaining contributors make up the shortfall.[61]  Victoria’s premier took umbrage at his choice of words, especially Douglas’s claim that South Australia had “failed to act up to what I believe to be a debt of honour, and this default … will remain on record as a warning that cannot be despised.”[62]

As Premier Gillies informed the governor, these were “derogatory statements,” couched in language “wholly unwarranted,” inferring that the colonies were “not to be trusted.”[63]  In a detailed reply and rebuttal, Douglas justified his actions, [64] but this failed to mollify the aggrieved premier, leading to a further round of correspondence.[65]  While both sides expressed deep regret over their differences, neither side retreated from its position, although Victoria did subsequently contribute the additional amount sought by Douglas.

These incidents demonstrated how seriously Douglas took his duties regarding the protectorate.  In his view, the Australian colonies had agreed to pay a set annual amount to ensure the maintenance of the protectorate – and pay they would, and, indeed pay they eventually did.  Recalcitrant colonial premiers were not the only ones to incur his displeasure, Douglas taking a particular dislike to those explorers who somewhat shamelessly expected to be compensated with large tracts of land in grateful recognition of their exploits within the protectorate.

Relations with explorers

An explorer who ran foul of Douglas was Theodore Bevan, who had established a store and a base camp in Port Moresby. He was a contentious figure, detesting missionaries and creating controversy and animosity wherever he went.[66]  Bevan undertook several explorations of New Guinea, and, mindful of the need to befriend authority, on one of them renamed the Aird River the Douglas River.  However, Douglas objected to Bevan having “unjustifiably tampered” with the river’s name, and also rejected Bevan’s request for 254,080 acres of land in recognition of his services and the value of his discoveries, claiming he had no authority to do so. [67]  An angry Bevan then retained the original name of the river on his maps and disparaged Douglas in his published memoirs.[68]

Bevan displayed a talent for shameless self-promotion, once describing his explorations as having “elicited world-wide astonishment and approval.”[69]  Nevertheless, Douglas, for his part, displayed an equal felicity of language, dismissing Bevan’s explorations as having

been exceeded in extent and importance by almost every bĂȘche-de-mer explorer on the coast of New Guinea, and they have become celebrated only because Mr. Bevan has considered them worthy of celebration.[70]

Bevan complained to the Colonial Office, who declined to act, beyond noting that Douglas “aught not to have published” these comments![71]

Another explorer to incur Douglas’s displeasure was Captain John Strachan.  Like many others, Strachan had sought employment from Douglas, in his case as assistant commissioner, but was rejected, Douglas noting that:

I was too well aware of his character and antecedents to think of entrusting him with any duties under me.  On one occasion, when mad drunk, he was arrested here, and placed in the lock-up for safety.[72]

Strachan was incensed when Douglas refused to grant him land concessions in recognition of his explorations[73] and in his published account of his time in New Guinea unflatteringly and inaccurately portrayed Douglas’s appointment and tenure in New Guinea:

Douglas received an acting commission, on receipt of which he quickly gave evidence that he was the last man in Australia fitted to guide the fortunes of a newly acquired territory where there were so many conflicting interests.  A man without confidence in himself, he naturally leaned on others who led him as their interests or inclinations prompted.  The result was that he succeeded in estranging many of his best friends.  He insulted the heads of several of the colonial governments for which he apologised, and after a short reign of eighteen months was compelled to resign to make room for a better and an abler man.[74]

Not only was Strachan incorrect over how long Douglas had acted in the position, he was also incorrect in claiming that he had resigned or estranged his friends.  As well, Douglas was a man who had supreme confidence in his own abilities, and while his relations with some colonial government heads in relation to financially supporting the protectorate were strained, he did not consider his actions inappropriate and certainly never apologised for them.  It was hardly surprising therefore, that Douglas considered these comments vindictive and libellous, and written by a “half cracked” man “not worth powder and shot.”  He promptly launched legal action against the publishers and the book was withdrawn.[75]  Douglas’s actions in relation to these two men once again illustrate his sense of duty and the lengths he was prepared to go to uphold his reputation against those deemed to have impugned it.[76]

Maintaining justice

In New Guinea, Douglas was forced to tread a fine line between looking after the welfare of the local inhabitants and punishing those responsible for frequent hostilities.  When outbreaks of violence occurred, Douglas attempted, wherever possible, to establish individual rather than collective responsibility, and to apprehend the actual offenders rather than rely on reprisals against the whole community.[77]  This was seldom easy, as Douglas informed his brother, Edward, after an incident at Joannet Island resulted in the death of six Europeans and three Malays:

It is a most difficult thing, to measure out justice in these cases.  The real offenders are sure to make themselves scarce.  They easily get out of reach of any men-of-war, and what is to be done but to make reprisals on people who may be perfectly innocent?[78]

Maintaining justice was further complicated by Douglas’s belief that attacks were mainly the result of European provocation, leading to reprisals that were required by native custom.  In these instances, Douglas was loath to deal severely with any offenders identified and arrested.[79]  The exception was an attack on a South Sea Island teacher murdered at Motu Motu in 1887, where Douglas, in order to demonstrate the government’s power and authority, sanctioned a reprisal raid on two villages.[80]  As he explained:

"It is necessary that the white man should, under proper limits, assert his power and I should not myself hesitate to take life in order to vindicate justice, but I am most desirous to avoid not only the appearance but the reality of practices which are as barbarous as the native themselves."[81]

Family

While diligently carrying out his duties to the best of his ability, Douglas’s mind was frequently on his family.  He missed them greatly, wrote to them regularly, and visited them whenever possible.  In March 1887, he helped relocate them from their Brisbane home to a property they purchased at Tenterfield on the soon to be completed Brisbane-to-Sydney railway line. 

Why Sarah and the four boys settled there is unknown, although it is probable that she had relatives in the district.[82]  Before their relocation, he brought his oldest son, Edward, with him on official business to Sydney, and in November 1887, it was Hugh’s turn, the latter being treated with a visit to the zoo.[83]  On that occasion, Sarah also accompanied them.  Wracked with fever, caused by previously contracting malaria in New Guinea, Douglas spent his time alternating between official business, when he visited the premier, the admiralty and government house and inquiring, with Sarah, about educational opportunities for the children at St. Ignatius’ College, Riverview and St Joseph.[84]  Returning to Tenterfield, Sarah appeared to be ill for most of December, while Douglas taught the children horse-riding, took them for drives and went walking with them.[85]

Seeing his family at infrequent intervals made him miss them even more when they were apart and his letters to them and his brother Edward in Scotland provide a rare insight into his feelings and emotions.  Like most middle and upper-class Victorian men, these were hidden and never displayed in public.  However, in his letters a different Douglas appears, a loving, tender and affectionate father:

I shall often look at the stars and think of you all.  You will not hear again from me for some time, very likely not for six weeks, but I shall often be thinking of you all.  Be good boys, and do what mother tells you, and always speak the truth.  May God bless you dear boys, all of you. My love to all of you.[86]

23 November 1886 was the 10th anniversary of the death of his first wife, Mary.  Douglas, then on board a ship in the South China Sea, informed his brother about his feelings: “A memorable anniversary this for me.  Ten years ago.  What vicissitudes.  Nicer then!”[87]  Douglas immersed himself in his duties, but he found it difficult to be so far away from those he loved,[88] especially as these duties frequently placed him in harm’s way: “I have myself often of late had to face several risks to my own life, and I have felt as I have never felt before.” [89]  At times like these, Douglas found solace in his religion[90] and his young family.[91]

Selecting a replacement

Douglas’s appointment to New Guinea was of an interim nature pending the proclamation of the colony.  For a variety of reasons, this took much longer than anticipated, with the outstanding matters - mainly financial - between the colonies and the imperial authorities taking almost three years (1886-88) to resolve.[92]  This delay meant that Douglas’s administration was, through no fault of his own, largely ineffectual, because it was difficult for him to act decisively and plan for the future of the protectorate pending the proclamation.  Despite this state of affairs resulting in anger and frustration within Queensland, colonies such as New South Wales had now lost interest in administering the protectorate, causing even further delays.[93] 

Douglas was less than impressed by the recalcitrant actions of some of the Australian colonies: a lack of interest by New South Wales, a refusal by South Australia to pay its dues, and by Victoria and New Zealand haggling over their liability or the size of the bills.[94]  For Douglas believed that when it came to New Guinea, no less than the honour of Australia was at stake.  Moreover, it was the colonies who had demanded that New Guinea be annexed, with Great Britain reluctantly agreeing, despite there being no support for that position within the imperial government.  Douglas believed that through Britain’s actions, the Australian colonies had “gained a great protection for its northern frontier,” and he was angered over the various colonies begrudging the financial obligations this protection entailed.[95]  Douglas also recognised that by the colonies uniting to finance the administration and development of New Guinea, they had developed a coherent foreign policy position that would stand them in good stead come federation.

For his part, Griffith, still irritated over the size of Douglas’s salary, took this opportunity to settle some old scores when he informed the Queensland parliament that:

I do not think it at all justifiable that the money contributed to the colonies should be frittered away in the payment of a salary of a commissioner who has no function or authority whatsoever.[96]

There was also the matter of choosing Douglas’s replacement to govern the new colony on its eventual proclamation.  Because Douglas’s appointment was, due to his wife’s evident unsuitability, of a temporary nature, the Colonial Office would not permanently appoint him to the post.  Griffith therefore sought out a permanent replacement.  At the annual meeting of the federal council in Hobart in 1886, he struck up a friendship with William MacGregor, the colonial secretary for Fiji.[97]  The following year, in London for a colonial conference, Griffith strongly recommended MacGregor to Lord Knutsford, the secretary of state for the colonies.[98]  Griffith’s influence carried the day, and MacGregor was offered the New Guinea appointment in July 1887, a promotion he eagerly accepted.[99]

Word of Macgregor’s appointment leaked out before it was officially announced, provoking anger in the Queensland parliament that Douglas had been overlooked.  However, Griffith defused it by disingenuously declaring that he was not in a position to say anything, despite being well aware that MacGregor had already accepted the post.[100]  Robert Herbert, the permanent under-secretary in the Colonial Office, also had his regrets:

Mr Douglas, who is an officer of high standing and ability, will no doubt be much disappointed at his supersession in favour of Dr Macgregor, but we cannot avert this.  I wish a colonial secretaryship or other good employment could be found for him in a colony in which it should not be disadvantageous that he has an unpresentable wife.  (I believe, though, he might leave his wife in Australia.)  He should I think on retirement be offered K.C.M.G., which he may not feel able to accept.[101]

Lord Knutsford was of a similar mind, observing: “I should be glad to promote Mr Douglas if the difficulty (family) can be surmounted.”[102]  Herbert could not have been more wrong over his remark about Douglas being disappointed, but he was on firmer ground about Douglas refusing a knighthood were it offered.  In August 1887, Douglas confided his true feelings about his time in New Guinea to his brother Edward: “I am rejoiced to say that I see a prospect soon of my time here coming to an end.”[103]

Douglas had little time, either, for knighthoods.  When Griffith received one, Douglas, although congratulating him, let him know that he did not believe in them,[104] and expressed admiration when Alfred Deakin declined his.[105]
More than a year passed between MacGregor accepting the position of administrator of New Guinea and his arrival there.  During this time, Douglas became increasingly frustrated.  An extract from one of his letters accurately portrayed his life in Port Moresby and the extent of his boredom:

There is little or nothing to do.  I get up at daylight, most times before.  Anthony, my servant, who does everything for us, brings a cup of cocoa and we endeavor to amuse ourselves by doing something in the cool of morning.  There are eight naked savages from a place called Keile whom we shepherd, teaching them to hoe and make paths through the long grass, or perhaps we go across to Paga Point in the boat and look round.  Then we have breakfast at 8 o’clock.  Breakfast, which consists of porridge and powdered milk, some tinned fish, boiled rice and honey.  Then there is a long day indoors from 8 to 4 o’clock.  There are perhaps a few official letters to write, not many, some few accounts to post.  I read, and write and walk up and down the spacious verandah overlooking our glorious harbour, but really it is very slow work.  At 4 o’clock we sally forth for a ride or a walk, or we go out in the boat over to Paga Point.  In the evening we have Maka the interpreter up to give us a lesson in the Motu language.  Then smokes in the verandah and to bed at 9 o’clock.  Sometimes the monotony is varied by a game at dummy whist.[106]

Fortunately, for Douglas, the imperial government and the Australian colonies eventually resolved their differences, allowing MacGregor to proclaim British sovereignty over the colony of New Guinea on 4 September 1888.[107]  Douglas returned to Thursday Island, following a stint in Brisbane to write up the annual report on British New Guinea and a visit to the centennial international exhibition in Melbourne.[108]

During his time in New Guinea Douglas experienced danger, frustration, deprivations, loneliness and recurrent bouts of malaria.  He was separated from his family and, due to the interim nature of his position, constrained in what he could achieve.  Despite this, Douglas’s achievements, limited though they were, were surprisingly substantial and wide-ranging.  In overseeing the development of Port Moresby, regularly patrolling the coastline, encouraging cordial relationships with the local inhabitants, resolving jurisdictional disputes by competing missionary organisations[109] and prudently regulating the exploitation of the protectorate’s natural resources, Douglas had laid much of the preparatory work for the launch of the new colony.[110]  More was now known about its inhabitants, their traditions and customs, while they in turn had a greater understanding of the nature and influence of the colonial government.[111]  Griffith’s faith in Douglas’s abilities had been vindicated, for the latter had kept unscrupulous Europeans out of the protectorate, while safeguarding its inhabitants from exploitation in the Queensland labour trade.
---------------



[1] Smith, George, ed.  “Thurston, Sir John Bates (1836-1897.)”  The Dictionary of National Biography.  Oxford, Oxford University Press, vol 19, 1964, pp. 837-38.  At this time, Thurston was the acting governor of Fiji.  (“Conference on New Guinea Matters.”  The Week, 19 December 1885, p. 587)
[2] John Douglas.  “Our Queensland Letter.”  Town and Country Journal, 28 April 1883, p. 794
[3] John Thurston to his sister Eliza West Moreton, 12 August 1883.  Thurston Papers, Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Australian National University, PMB 1142, reel 1
[4] Ibid.
[5] Douglas held this post from 10 June 1885, receiving an honorarium of £100 per annum.  (John Douglas to Edward Stanthorpe, 28 August 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, pp. 133-34.  (Australian no 119.)  For additional insights into how closely the two men collaborated and supported each other, see Peter Scratchley to John Douglas, 1 July 1885.  National Archives of Australia, G23, Item 1
[6] Queensland Government Gazette, vol 37 no 59, 2 October 1885, p. 1163; John Douglas to Peter Scratchley, 10 September 1885.  National Archives of Australia, G9, Item 229/85
[7] James Service to Samuel Griffith, 17 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives.  The London correspondent for the Telegraph newspaper went so far as to predict that Thurston would get the position.  (“Death of Sir Peter Scratchley.”  The Week, 12 December 1885, p. 558
[8] Smith (1964), p. 838
[9] James Francis Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 1 January 1886.  Griffith Papers.  MSQ 186, p. 264-68.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
[10] John Thurston to Arabella Thurston, 24 January 1886.  Collections held by Gloucestershire Records Office Relating to Australia and New Zealand.  Australian Joint Copying project (AJCP), M2290
[11] Brisbane Courier, 4 December 1885, p. 4
[12] Ibid.  However, the rival paper, the Week, disagreed, contending that the “imperial government should have the exclusive right to appoint governors.”  (“A Vacancy.”  The Week, 12 December 1885, p. 564)
[13] Samuel Griffith to James Service and George Dibbs, December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; George Dibbs to New South Wales Agent-general, 10 December 1885.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 112 (Australian no 112a.)  National Library of Australia microfilm no G7447.  The Victorian premier remarked of Douglas: “personally I think he would be an excellent choice,” while his New South Wales counterpart considered Douglas to be a “highly suitable man, and “a compliment to the colonies.”
[14] Samuel Griffith to James Garrick, 9 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; “New Guinea Commissionership.”  The Week, 19 December 1885, p. 586
[15] “Conference on New Guinea Matters.”  The Week, 19 December 1885, p. 587
[16] Ibid.
[17] James Service to Samuel Griffith, 17 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives.
[18] James Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 1 January 1886.  Griffith Papers, MSQ 186, pp. 264-68.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales.  On 20 December 1885, in a meeting with Stanley, both Smith and Saul Samuel, the New South Wales agent-general, supported Douglas’s candidature.  (“New Guinea Affairs.”  The Week, 26 December 1885, p. 611.)  Thurston himself anticipated this, noting, “the Australians want a man of their own and not an imperial officer.”  (John Thurston to Arabella Thurston, 24 January 1886.  Collections held by Gloucestershire Records Office Relating to Australia and New Zealand.  Australian Joint Copying project  (AJCP) M2290)
[19] James Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 1 January 1886.  Griffith Papers, MSQ 186, pp. 264-68.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
[20] Ibid.; James Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 11 December 1885 and to Anthony Musgrave, 22 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; “Cablegrams.”  The Week, 2 January 1886, p. 11
[21] John Douglas to Samuel Griffith, 19 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives
[22] James Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 1 January 1886 & 31 December 1885, p. 23.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives.  For further information see, Samuel Griffith.  “Memorandum.”  New Guinea, Queensland Legislative Journals, vol 2, 1886, pp. 162-65; Colonial Office to Major-General Scratchley, 17 November 1884.  “New Guinea Protectorate.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 2, 1885, pp. 1011-12 
[23] Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea (In Continuation of [C.-4584] August 1885.)  London, Houses of Parliament, 1890, p.7; “New Guinea.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 2, 1886, p. 997 
[24]Samuel Griffith to John Douglas, 24 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; 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 
[25] John Douglas.  Annual Report of the Government Resident at Thursday Island, Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 3, 1890, p. 169
[26] James Garrick to Samuel Griffith, 31 December 1885, p. 4.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; Conley, p. 433; Colonial Secretary, New South Wales to Samuel Griffith, 12 January 1886.  Col/4, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives. The Germans had annexed the north-eastern portion of New Guinea on 3 November 1884.
[27] Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor of Queensland, 16 January 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 140   (Australian no 112a); John Douglas.  “British New Guinea.  Report for the Year 1886, by Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner for the protected Territory.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, 1887 vol 3, p. 631; Queensland Government Gazette, vol 37, no 38, 22 March 1886, p. 1106.  Although Douglas was appointed to the position on 26 December 1885, he was unable to take up the post until his commission arrived from London.  Hugh Hastings Romilly had been appointed acting special commissioner following Scratchley’s death, and continued acting until Douglas formally took up his duties on 27 February 1886.  He served as Douglas’s deputy until the colony was proclaimed in September 1888, and then became British consul for New Hebrides.
[28] Samuel Griffith to the Administrator of Queensland, 20 May 1886.  “New Guinea.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 2, 1886, p. 1003
[29] Blue Book of Queensland 1886.  Brisbane, Government Printer, 1887, pp. 12 & 24.    Governor Musgrave’s salary was £5,000 per annum.
[30] John Douglas to the Administrator of Queensland, 21 April 1886.  “New Guinea.”  Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 2, 1886, pp. 165-66
[31] Basil Thomson to his father, 17 November 1888.  Thomson Papers.  National Library of Australia, MS 7028, folder no 14.
[32]  “Exploration of New Guinea.  Capt.  Everill’s Report.  Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.  New South Wales Branch.  Vols 3-4, 1885-86, p. 173
[33] Ibid.
[34] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 5 August 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/6
[35] Arthur Palmer to Granville, 21 May 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 139 (Australian no 118.)  National Library of Australia microfilm no G7448]; Samuel Griffith to John Douglas, 14 April 1886.  National Archives of Australia, G9, Item 23/86.)  Douglas purchased the properties on Thursday Island in early 1886.  (List of Owners and Occupiers, Thursday Island, 22 March 1886.  Col/077, Queensland State Archives.)  He purchased the Tenterfield property, a house and half lots on either side, on 4 March 1887.  (John Douglas.  1887 Diary.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/A/2)
[36] John Douglas to Granville, 20 May 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 136 (Australian no 118.); “The Ministerial Northern Tour.”  Queenslander, 22 May 1886, pp. 806-7
[37] Patricia Ann Prendergast.  A History of the London Missionary Society in British New Guinea, 1871-1901.  PhD thesis.  University of Hawaii, 1968, p. 336; Mason, p. 187; “The Commissioner in New Guinea.”  Brisbane Courier, 22 July 1886, p. 6.  For a detailed account of Douglas’s first trips around New Guinea, see John Douglas to Samuel Griffith, 1 July 1886, Griffith Papers.  Dixson Library, NSW State Library, MSQ 186, pp. 419-29; 3 July 1886, pp. 434-37; 14 July 1886, pp. 445-57 & 9 August 1886, pp. 513-17
[38]Samuel Griffith to John Douglas, 24 December 1885.  Col/3, New Guinea Correspondence, Queensland State Archives; Samuel Griffith to John Douglas, 14 April 1886.  National Archives of Australia, G9, Item 23/86
[39] Barry Scott.  The Governorship of Sir Anthony Musgrave, 1883-1888.  BA Hons thesis.  University of Queensland, 1954, p. 22; Musgrave to Colonial Office, 13 January 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, pp. 176-77 (Australian no 112a)
[40] Queensland Government Gazette, vol 38 no 77, 22 May 1886, p. 1845 & vol 39 no 48, 11 September 1886, p. 969
[41] Douglas (1887), p. 660.  Douglas first reached the New Guinea coast on 13 June 1886, and then spent two weeks cruising along the coast, visiting the country and its inhabitants.
[42] John Mayo.  “The Protectorate of British New Guinea 1884-1888:  An Oddity of Empire.”  In, The History of Melanesia; Papers Delivered at a Seminar Sponsored Jointly by the University of Papua and New Guinea, the Australian National University, and Administrative College of Papua and New Guinea, and the Council of New Guinea Affairs, and Held at Port Moresby from 30 May to 5 June 1968.  2nd Waigani Seminar, Port Moresby, University of Papua and New Guinea, 1969, p. 28; William Parker Morrell.  Britain in the Pacific Islands.  Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1960, pp. 404-5
[43] Mayo, p. 28
[44] Ian Stuart.  Port Moresby Yesterday and Today.  Sydney, Pacific Publications, 1970, p. 41; Nigel Denis Oram.  Colonial Town to Melanesian City:  Port Moresby, 1888-1974.  Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1976, p. 21
[45] Douglas (1888), p. 228
[46] Douglas (1887), p. 225
[47] John Douglas to Samuel Griffith, 3 July 1886.  Griffith Papers, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, MSQ 186, pp. 434-37.  Douglas was also moved to describe the village as a “festering piggery.”  (John Douglas to Earl Granville, 25 September 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea (In Continuation of [C.-4584] August 1885.)  London, Houses of Parliament, 1890, p. 72.)  Musgrave described the conditions in the village as being in “an absolutely pestilent state.”  (Douglas (1887), p. 657)
[48] Stuart, p. 41
[49] Ibid., p. 43; Lawrie, p. 290.  Both streets have survived as main roads up to the present day, retaining the names Douglas Street.
[50] John Douglas.  British New Guinea. Report for the year 1887 by Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner for the Protected Territory.  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 3, 1888, p. 229; Stuart, p. 46.  Shortly after arriving in Port Moresby, Douglas made the village chief, A-U-to, promise “to make the village clean.”  (John Douglas to his children, 8 July 1886.  McCourt Papers) 
[51] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 13 July 1887.  Douglas Papers.  John Oxley library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/5; Stuart, p. 50.  See also Douglas’s diary for 1887, especially the entries for 10 & 14 October, 11, 15, 23 & 27 November, 18 & 26 December.  (Douglas Papers.  John Oxley library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/A/2)
[52] John Douglas to his children, 8 July 1886.  McCourt Papers
[53] Douglas (1888), p. 228
[54] John Douglas to Earl Granville, 29 July 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea (In Continuation of [C.-4584] August 1885.  London, Houses of Parliament, 1890, p. 73
[55] For information on his extensive travel in and around the protectorate, see:  John Douglas to Samuel Griffith, 1 July 1886, Griffith Papers.  Dixson Library, NSW State Library, MSQ 186, pp. 419-29; 3 July 1886, pp. 434-37; 14 July 1886, pp. 445-57 & 9 August 1886, pp. 513-17; Douglas (1888), pp. 237-41; John Douglas to Stanhope, 23 September 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea (In Continuation of [C.-4584] August 1885.  London, Houses of Parliament, 1890, pp. 82-83.  Douglas described his government residence as “a most unpretentious building.”  (John Douglas.  “The Sudest Rush.  Lecture by Hon. John Douglas.”  Telegraph, 22 October 1888”
[56] Details of Douglas’s travel are contained in his 1887 diary (Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/A/2.)  Tryon was appointed commander of the Imperial Squadron in Australian waters in December 1884.  (B. N. Primrose.  “Tryon, Sir George (1832-1893.)”  Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 6.  Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp. 305-6)
[57] Douglas (1888), p. 237
[58] William Jervois to John Douglas, 30 June 1886.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 4 (Australian no 120)
[59] Ibid., pp. 4-7 & 29; Roger Bilbrough Joyce.  The Administration of British New Guinea, 1888-1902.  M.Litt  thesis.  Cambridge, Cambridge University, 1953, p. xvi (Appendix to chapter 2)
[60] Mayo, p. 25; Douglas (1888), p. 237; John Douglas to Edward Stanhope, 24 February 1887.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting New Guinea and Other Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, p. 77 (Australian no 120)
[61] Ibid.
[62] Ibid., p. 78
[63] Gillies to Henry Loch, 7 March 1887.  Ibid., p. 133
[64] John Douglas to Henry Loch, 25 May 1887.  Ibid., pp. 133-35
[65] Ibid., pp. 145-47
[66] Stuart, p. 51
[67] Theodore Francis Bevan.  Fifth Expedition to British New Guinea.  Government Printer, Sydney, 1888, pp. 46-47
[68] Ibid., p. 47; Theodore Francis Bevan.  Toil, Travel and Discovery in British New Guinea.  London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1890, pp. 282-83; John Douglas to Lord Knutsford, 7 May 1888.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting British New Guinea, pp. 47 & 81 (Australian no 127
[69] Bevan (1888), p. 47; John Douglas.  “Mr. Bevan and New Guinea.”  Sydney Echo, 25 May 1888.  In, Bramston to Lord Knutsford, 17 August 1888.  Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel 2686, CO 422/4
[70] Ibid.
[71] Ibid.
[72] John Douglas to Lord Knutsford, 4 April 1888.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting British New Guinea, p. 61 (Australian no 127); John Douglas to Henry Parkes, 27 July 1887.  Sir Henry Parkes Correspondence vol 51, A881, CY reel 73, pp. 570-78.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
[73] John Douglas to Lord Knutsford, 7 April 1888.  In, Further Correspondence Respecting British New Guinea, p. 68 (Australian no 127)
[74] John Strachan.  Explorations and Adventures in New Guinea.  London, Sampson Low, 1888, p. 170
[75] Stuart, p. 41; John Douglas to Lord Knutsford, 23 September 1888.  Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel no 2680, CO 422/4/21737; John Douglas to Henry Parkes, 27 July 1887.  Sir Henry Parkes Correspondence vol 51, A881, CY reel 73, pp. 570-78.  Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales.  Whilst I am unable to independently verify Stuart’s assertion regarding the withdrawal of Strachan’s book by his publishers, I believe it to be a reasonable assertion.
[76] Unfortunately for Bevan, Strachan and others, permission was needed from Douglas to visit, reside or explore the protectorate.  This permission was not always granted.  For examples of permissions granted, as well as instructions to leave the protectorate, see “Permission Granted to Albert Ross Hovel to Reside and Trade at Port Moresby, 10 January 1887.”  National Archives of Australia, G12, Item 1; “Memorandum of Conditions Under Which Permission is Granted to Christie Tarflotte, Ernest Pries, Albert Tuckbusch and John Schluter to the Purpose of Collecting Copra etc. at Gilli Gille, Milne Bay, National Archives of Australia, G13, Item 1;  “Nicholas Minister – Warning to Leave Protectorate Waters etc., 19 April 1887.  National Archives of Australia, G124, Item 3
[77] John David Legge.  Australian Colonial Policy:  a Survey of Native Administration and European Development in Papua.  Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1956, pp. 41-42
[78] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 22 November 1886.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/3
[79] Legge, pp. 43-44
[80] Ibid., p. 44; “Massacres in British New Guinea.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 3, 1888, pp. 263-69
[81] John Douglas to H. O. Forbes, 16 February 1887.  “Massacres in British New Guinea.”  Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol 3, 1888, pp. 263-69
[82] Presumably, the boys went to the local Catholic primary school, but the school registers for St. Joseph’s Primary School in Tenterfield for this period have not survived.
[83] John Douglas.  Diary, 19 January & 30 November 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/A/2
[84] Ibid., November & December 1887
[85] Ibid., December 1887
[86] John Douglas to his children, 9 June 1886.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/3; John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 1 June 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/4
[87] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 22 November 1886.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/3
[88] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 13 July 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/5
[89] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 5 August 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/6
[90] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 5 August 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/6
[91] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 19 September 1887.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/7
[92] A detailed analysis of the many reasons for this delay is beyond the scope of this thesis.  For more information, see Joyce (1953), Appendix – Causes of Delays 12/1884 – 9/1888.
[93] Ibid., p. xv
[94] John Douglas.  “Sudest and the Louisiade Archipelago.”  Proceedings and Transactions of the Queensland Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.  4th Session, 1888-89, vol 4, p. 15
[95] Ibid.
[96] Joyce (1953), pp. xiv-xv
[97] Roger Bilbrough Joyce.  Sir William MacGregor.  Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp. 97-98; Roger Bilbrough Joyce.  “MacGregor, Sir William (1846-1919.)”  Australian Dictionary of Biography vol 5
[98] Joyce (1971), p. 101
[99] Ibid., p. 102
[100] ‘Supply.”  Queensland Parliamentary Debates, vol 52, 1887, pp. 520-23
[101] Robert Herbert, 20 May 1887.  Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel no. 2686.
CO 422/3/9629
[102] Ibid.
[103] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 5 August 1887.  Douglas Papers.  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/6
[104] John Douglas to Samuel Griffith, 9 August 1886.  Griffith Papers.  Dixson Library, NSW State Library, MSQ 186, pp. 513-17
[105] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 24 May 1899.  Douglas Papers.  John Oxley, State Library of Queensland, OM 89 –3/B/2(c)/7
[106] John Douglas to Edward Douglas, 1 June 1887.  Douglas Papers.  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/4/4
[107] Joyce (1974), p. 159
[108] “British New Guinea.”  Torres Strait Pilot and New Guinea Gazette, 1 September 1888
[109] Douglas was generally supportive of missionary work in the protectorate.  (John Douglas.  “The Hon. John Douglas, C.M.G.”  In, Church of England.  Papers Read at the Church Congress held at Sydney on the 30th April, 1st, 2nd and 3rd May 1889.  Sydney, Joseph Cook & Co., Sydney, 1889, p 197)
[110] An indication of this commitment was the dedication of a Burns Philp & Co. booklet to him.  (Burns, Philp & Co, Limited.  British New Guinea.  Sydney, John Woods and Co, 1886.  Copy held at the Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University, N115/583.  I am indebted to Dr Anna Shnukal for alerting me to the file’s existence.)
[111] John Douglas.  “The Sudest Rush.  Lecture by Hon. John Douglas.”  Telegraph, 22 October 1888