Douglas sailed to England on
22 February 1884.  It was 13 years since he had last been in the
mother country, and he spent time with family and friends in England and Scotland. However, the primary purpose of this visit
was to secure a paid position, specifically heading up any proposed New Guinea
Griffith would have been pleased to have Douglas as far away as possible after the embarrassment the latter caused him in the 1883 election. He therefore strongly supported Douglas’s attempts to gain an administrative position and instructed his agent-general in London to lobby Earl Derby, secretary of state for the colonies, on Douglas’s behalf. However, Griffith’s support of Douglas was more than simply a desire to have him far enough away to do no political harm to himself or his government. Griffith strongly opposed any attempts by Queensland planters to “blackbird” New Guineans, and knew that if Douglas was in charge of New Guinea he would curb this odious practice.
Douglas arrived in London in April 1884 and stayed with his cousin, Helen Mackenzie. He wasted no time staking his claim for employment, and met with the secretary of state for the colonies early the following month. The Queensland government helped where it could, with its agent-general, William Hemmant, calling on Lord Derby and requesting that a suitable position be found for Douglas. While the Colonial Office was sympathetic, there were concerns over Douglas’s age - he was now 56 - and the unsuitability of his wife. As a Colonial Office official delicately put it:
Mr. Douglas is a man of ability and high character and though he could not now take a junior subordinate appointment, he would do well in many places as the head of a department on temporary service.
By May 1884, the British government had reluctantly agreed to annex New Guinea, providing the Australasian colonies contributed £15,000 to the cost of its establishment. In July 1884, the Australasian colonial governments informed the Colonial Office that the money would be forthcoming, leaving Gladstone, the British prime minister, to announce the establishment of the protectorate, and it was formally proclaimed by Commodore James Elphinstone Erskine, of H.M.S. Nelson, at Port Moresby, on 6 November 1884.
Douglas continued to push his claims for the post of New Guinea administrator, informing Griffith that:
I have some hopes of being appointed, though I hear that General Scratchley is first favourite.
Major-General Peter Henry Scratchley was a formidable rival for the post. A soldier and military engineer, in 1878 he was appointed commissioner of defences for the Australian colonies. Retiring from active military service with the honorary rank of major general, he returned to England in 1883 to consult the British War Office on a general colonial defence plan. Unfortunately for Douglas, Scratchley’s wife, Laura Lilias, was eminently presentable, being the son of a ship’s captain and squatter, and sister to the noted author, Thomas Alexander Browne.
It therefore came as no surprise when Scratchley was appointed special commissioner for the New Guinea protectorate. A deeply disappointed Douglas, who had returned to London after visiting his family in Scotland, sailed home empty-handed, arriving back in Brisbane in early 1885.
Having failed to secure employment administering New Guinea or indeed any other colonial post, Douglas swallowed his pride and sought Griffith’s assistance. He had a family to support and needed a decent livelihood, one more secure than “the uncaring and uncertain nature of literature and the press.” Two days after returning to the colony, he asked Griffith to secure him a position.
It was only 18 months since Douglas had campaigned against Griffith for the seat of Bulimba, and the embarrassment and pain he had then caused Griffith still rankled. Securing paid employment for Douglas, preferably as far away from Brisbane as possible, would help distance him from the political life of the capital, and make him less of a danger to Griffith and his faction come the next election.
March 1884, p. 325; “Shipping.”
Courier, 23 February
1884, p. 4. Douglas sailed
to Sydney on the Maranoa, intending to
take the first Orient steamer from there to London.
Samuel Griffith to William Hemmant [Queensland agent-general in London]
26 February 1884. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel
no 1938, CO 234/45, folio 461
 Although the desire for New Guinea labour was only one of McIlwraith’s reasons for annexing the island, it was one of the main reasons for Griffith, then opposition leader, opposing it. For a detailed account of the New Guinea labour trade, and Griffith’s ultimately successful attempts to curb it, see Edward Wybergh Docker. The Blackbirders: The Recruiting of South Seas Labour for Queensland, 1863-1907. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1970, pp. 169-226 & Trainor, pp. 41-44. Douglas was appalled by this labour trade, and wanted it stopped. (Douglas to F. W. Chesson, [Secretary, Aborigines Protection Society, 1866-1888],
23 June 1884. Aborigines Protection Society. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP),
M2427, C133/19; Edward Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby (1826-1893.) Diary entry for Friday 2nd May 1884, Australian Joint
Copying Project (AJCP), reel no 1972)
 Helen Mackenzie to F. W. Chesson, 28 May 1884. Aborigines Protection Society. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), M2428, C141/179. Helen Mackenzie (1819-1910) lived at 12 Argyll Road, Kensington, London, and was Douglas’s second cousin once removed. A noted author, her father was Admiral John Erskine Douglas, and her late husband, who had died three years earlier, was Lieutenant-General Colin Mackenzie.
 John Douglas to the Earl of Derby (Secretary of State for the Colonies)
30 April 1884. Australian
Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel no 1931, CO 234/45: Edward Henry
Stanley, Earl of Derby (1826-93.) Diary
entry for Friday 2nd
May 1884, Australian Joint Copying Project, reel no 1972.
 Colonial Office Minute, May 1884. Australian Joint Copying Project, reel no 1931, CO 234/45
 Ibid. It was because Sarah Douglas was considered to be unsuitable that the Colonial Office would, as outlined in this minute, only consider Douglas for “temporary service.” (James Francis Garrick to Samuel Griffith,
January 1886. Griffith Papers. MSQ 186, p. 264-68. Dixson Library,
State Library of New South Wales; Robert Herbert, 20 May 1887. Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), reel
no. 2686 CO 422/3/9629)
 “Annexation of New Guinea.” Brisbane Courier,
2 July 1884, p. 5; “The
Annexation of New Guinea
(Further Correspondence Respecting.)” Queensland
Legislative Council Journals, 1884, part one, pp. 279-80
 “The Annexation of New Guinea (Further Correspondence Respecting.)” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1884, part one, pp. 280-82
 Melbourne (1927E), p. 152; William Ewart Gladstone to Queen Victoria, 7 August and 8 October 1884, Cabinet Reports by Prime Minister of the Crown. National Library of Australia, Microform G18363
 B. Jinks, P. Biskup and H. Nelson, eds. Readings in New Guinea History. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1973, pp. 36-40
 John Douglas to Samuel Griffith,
14 August 1884.
Papers. MSQ 186, pp. 14-25. Dixson Library,
State Library of NSW
 Roger Joyce. “Scratchley, Sir Peter Henry.” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 6. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp. 98-99
 Ibid.; T. Inglis Moore. “Browne, Thomas Alexander.” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 3. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp. 267-69
 “Appointment of Major-General Scratchley as Special Commissioner for the New Guinea Protectorate, and Request for Further Contributions from the Australasian Colonies Towards the Maintenance of the Protectorate.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, 1884, part one, p. 285. The original is to be found in, “Correspondence Re Annexation of New Guinea.” Queensland State Archives, Col 2 (also numbered as PRV 7192.) Scratchley’s appointment came into effect on
17 November 1884 and his salary was £2,500 per annum. (Great Britain. Parliament.
Accounts and Papers, vol 10. Council
Papers, vol 54, 1884-85, p. 297)
 John Douglas to Edward Douglas,
5 August 1887.
Douglas Papers. John Oxley Library,
State Library of Queensland, OM
 “Shipping.” Brisbane Courier,
13 February 1885,
 John Douglas to Samuel Griffith,
14 February 1885. Griffith
Papers. MSQ 186, pp. 92-96. Dixson Library,
State Library of NSW