Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Interview with John Douglas - 1900

Queenslander, Saturday 13 January 1900, p. 93


Discussing the position of the pearlshelling industry with a representative of this journal, the Hon. John Douglas, Government Resident of Thursday Island, said the season had not been favourable. The loss of so many boats, when about 300 men lost their lives, in the early part of the year, was a great blow. Since then there 'has been a good deal of wind, which always has the effect of clouding the water and (preventing the divers from seeing: the conditions, therefore, tended to indifferent results. The prices in London, too, have not been altogether good. On the other hand, the prices of black-lip shell advanced, and as the yields of it have been good, the people with small boats profited. The people on Thursday Island have been suffering severely from want of water. If it had not been for the reserve of water at the fort the position would have been worse. The Government Resident is now endeavouring to do something which he hopes will lead to a sufficient water supply being obtained; in fact, it is one of the objects of the present visit.

An occasion recognised as of some importance was the visit during the year of the Home Secretary and Mrs. Foxton. The extended tour which they took through the islands has, "Mr. Douglas considers, enabled Mr. Foxton to understand the position of the people more thoroughly than any Minister has yet done. They felt that be now knew all about them, and that he would do his best for them. Mr. Foxton has taken a great Interest in the education of the Islanders of Torres Straits. It would be a great mistake, Mr. Douglas interposed, to identify these with the mainland aboriginals of Queensland. They are much more advanced in civilisation, live in well-built grass houses, and subsist by means of cultivation and fishing. They are very anxious to improve their position, and eager for education. Wherever education can be given, Mr. Douglas feels sure Mr. Foxton will endeavour to provide the means of teaching them English. In connection with this subject it may be mentioned that Mr. Douglas has undertaken to deliver a lecture, probably on the 16th instant, under the auspices of the 'Royal Geographical Society, on the subject, "The Islands and inhabitants of Torres Straits.'' He has several interesting charts on a rather large scale, which will enable the people to understand the relative positions of the Islands, about, which so little is known.

Not very much has been done during the year on the goldfields. On Horn Island very extensive works for crushing and conserving water are being erected, about forty men being employed. But it is not anticipated that there will be any crushing for two or three months. One reason there was so little in gold mining done this year was that the leases" were being transferred to a Melbourne syndicate, who are erecting the machinery referred to. Within the next few months it is anticipated that there will be eighty stampers at work on Horn Island. The field is of the character that all the soil contains more or less gold, everything being taken to be put through the mill. The gold is not of a high class, but it appears to pervade the whole of the workings. A little gold is being got at Possession Island, the yield being nearly an ounce to the ton.

Trade with New Guinea does not make any appreciable advance. A certain amount of copra and sandalwood comes to Thursday Island, and it is shipped on, principally by the China boats, it is understood In Thursday Island that the prospects of the goldfields of New Guinea are very good. At Cloudy Bay there has been a new discovery. Between Milne Bay and Mullins's Harbour there is an extensive highland region which yields gold. Though the deposits are not rich, all the diggers there are satisfied, as the ground pays, and there are plenty of carriers from Mullins's Harbour, a very populous district.
The Japanese Government are keeping to their contract with the Queensland Government with regard to the admission of Japanese to Thursday Island. None without passports are now coming in, and very few even with passports. Occasionally a few Japanese go to Japan, and some of these get permission to come back. "I don't think there is any dread at present of any great Japanese inroad," said Mr. Douglas. "They make capital boat builders, and they command that industry altogether. They turn out just as good boats as any built In Sydney."

In connection with the defences, Mr. Douglas said a road party had been at work all the year, and had done very well, under a Mr. Park and Captain Coxon. The latter took a great, interest in the military occupation of Thursday Island. The Rifle Club is in a very healthy condition, and a new drill shed has been erected. It was hoped that these would impart some vigour to the Garrison Artillery, a volunteer force. Most of the men of the Permanent Force volunteered for service in South Africa, but their offer has not so far been accepted. The military force is in a very sound condition. The men give very little trouble, and attend to their duties.

There have been a few cases of typhoid fever during the year. A new surgeon has arrived for the hospital, to which a new wing is about to be added.

Mr. Douglas returns to Thursday Island about the 20th of the month.