Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Centenary of John Douglas - 1928

Brisbane Courier, Saturday 24 March 1928, page 24

Centenary of John Douglas. A Thursday Island Tribute
By G.H.V.

On 6th inst, residents of Thursday Island gathered around the grave of the late Hon. John Douglas to mark the centenary of the birth of that notable public man. Born in London, he spent the greater part of his life in Queensland, and it was as Government Resident at Thursday Island that this tribute of affection was paid.

Let Southern people cherish his memory for what they will, up in this outpost and through the far-flung islands that lie like gems before Australia's Northern gateway, his name will ever be held in love and respect as the grand old man of Torres Strait. Every locality has its "G.O.M.", some outstanding personality who is regarded by all classes as the father of the district, and whose memory is kept in reverence and handed down to posterity, though all personal knowledge of the man has long passed away. And so it is with John Douglas in Torres Strait

Who could have filled the position better, physically? His whole appearance marked him out as a leader, and his countenance inspired confidence. The dedicatory window in the Douglas Memorial Chapel, situated in a side aisle of the Quetta Cathedral at Thursday Island, shows the man exactly as he was before he was called to his rest. His great, lion-like head, and his rugged but beautiful countenance, framed in a full flowing white beard, proclaim him a giant in stature as in intellect. He looks, indeed, like one of the old Biblical patriarchs, and his whole character and life seem to carry out this personal resemblance - born leader of men.
Thursday Islanders know little of Douglas' career in Australian politics, except that it was a long and honourable one, culminating in his holding office as Premier of Queensland from March 8, 1877, to January 21, 1879; but of his later career, in what some men may regard as a backwater, one can say that his work was thoroughly congenial, and therefore, eminently successful. After the political reshuffle of '79, Douglas must have slipped into his new position at Thursday Island as a hand into a well-fitting glove so perfectly did he fit it. The job was no sinecure in those days, and he possessed all the qualities necessary for the administration of a turbulent and perplexing community, where a strong loader was required to further the aims of so many conflicting interests. He brought to his task a frank, honest Scotch character enhanced by a public school education at Rugby and Durham University. Behind him were his years of training as a politician, and his experience on the gold-fields of New South Wales, and as a pastoralist in Queensland. A great love of nature and powers of observation aided him in the scientific possibilities of his situation. But above all, was a great love for his fellow men - this with his devotion to duty completed his genius for government, and allowed him to further the interests of the white pearlers of the day, without interfering with his plans to conserve and elevate the natives under his charge.

His Work in Torres Strait

He had a neat way of meeting difficulties. On one occasion, friction arose between rival nationalities on Thursday Island, and the two parties were spoiling for a fight. But in deference to the Resident, some of them appeared before him one morning and ingenuously explained that they would like to have his permission before starting hostilities. Realising that this would only result in the escape of a little hot air which would clear the air to the benefit of all, the Honourable John was quite willing that they should settle their differences in this way, but, as Government Resident it was not his place to say so. He asked the participants to return for an answer at five in, the evening. When they did so, the office was closed, and the Honourable John safely located elsewhere beyond the, necessity for giving an embarrassing decision.

John Douglas was beloved of all, for to all, no matter what their colour or creed, he offered his friendship. His faith in the future of Torres Strait was unshakable, and his admiration of nature's gifts to this region unbounded. To him everything was perfect, the mild and equable climate unequalled, the lovely prospects of island and sea unsurpassed, the varying types of humanity worthy of study in every way. In fact he clearly intimated in one of his lectures that he considered Torres Strait the modern counterpart of the old Garden of Eden, though Douglas himself must have recognised the presence of many a serpent. How different was his attitude from that of many living round these parts to-day, who regard themselves as exiles if separated from Collins Street or the Stock Exchange. To him, his islands and his sunny seas offered a thousand compensations for the strenuous life of cities, and be never scrupled to say so. Perhaps his faith in Thursday Island has not been wholly justified, but it remains as the ideal of a great and good man.

Around the islands, among the amiable, though frail-minded natives of Torres Strait, John Douglas was thoroughly at home. His sympathy, love of justice, and knowledge of the various people therein, made him a beloved visitor, and to-day his memory is carefully cherished on many a distant palm-clad island beyond the ken of most Queenslanders. Had it been possible to invite the island people in to do honour to his name on the day of the ceremony there would have been an instant response, and the gathering at the graveside swelled by many who regarded him almost as a god, and certainly as a dear personal friend.

Memorial Ceremony

The simple ceremony that marked the Douglas centenary, was inaugurated by the local branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, which recently organised the jubilee celebrations at Thursday Island. In spite of showery weather, a little band of citizens, including some island folk, gathered at the cemetery towards sundown, and placed wreaths and bunches of flowers at the foot of the tall granite column, which marks the grave. A short address by the Mayor of Thursday Island (Mr. A. Conan) was listened to with great interest, and this was followed by a service in the Douglas Memorial Chapel, conducted by the vicar of the parish (the Rev. F. W. Slade).

The number that attended was not large, but it was marked by a sincere wish to do honour to the grand old man, who was known personally to many who were there. Everyone must have noted and carried away in their minds the little sentence that is engraved on the column; "Write me as one who loves his fellow men" - and no truer epitaph on John Douglas' life "and character could have been chosen.