For Torres Strait Islanders the initial years of the pearl-shelling industry were the most disruptive and violent of the occupation. There was a rush of sailing masters to the region chasing quick profits, and no government to regulate their activities. The Strait was, in effect, an administrative no-man's-land: a frontier not given serious consideration when the limits of the eastern colonies were being defined. The original border of New South Wales stretched north to 10 degrees 37' south latitude and passed through Muralag (Prince of Wales), the most southern of the permanently inhabited Torres Strait islands. When New South Wales was granted responsible government in 1855 Governor Sir William Denison's commission gave him jurisdiction over islands to the west of 154 degrees east longitude, but set no northern limit to the colony. governor George Ferguson Bowen's 1859 commission was specific as to Queensland's southern and western borders, but vague as to how far the eastern and northern borders extended into the Coral Sea. He was given authority over 'all and every the adjacent islands, their members, and appurtenances in the Pacific Ocean'.
Bowen assumed that this meant his government had authority over the Barrier Reef islands and the islands of Torres Strait, though he doubted whether its jurisdiction extended as far as 154 degrees. However, in September 1861 Secretary of State the Duke of Newcastle instructed him to take possession of Pabaju (Albany) when he sailed north to select the Somerset site. Bowen was astounded by this because Pabaju was less than a kilometre from Queensland's coast. He wrote to Newcastle expressing disbelief that there was any doubt about the island being within Queensland's jurisdiction, and asked that no time be lost in clarifying exactly how far his government's authority extended. In July 1863, when Bowen's plans for Somerset were well advanced, he was finally informed by the Colonial Office that Queensland had jurisdiction only over those islands which were less than three miles from its coast. The crown law officers ruled that no islands beyond the three-mile limit which were uninhabited by British subjects when New South Wales was granted responsible government could be considered part of any Australian colony. Thus all the Torres Strait islands were in international waters.
Yet some form of government was increasingly necessary. Torres Strait Islanders adapted quickly to work in the maritime industries, and most seemed willing to compromise to accommodate the newcomers. Most shelling masters were also inclined to make concessions to win the goodwill of the Islanders, if only to encourage them to work on the boats or to provide a continuing source of cheap fresh provisions for their crews. Nevertheless there were masters who were not prepared to negotiate to find common ground. They preferred the more short-sighted policy of using their superior force to intimidate Islanders into accepting the new order. There were even more, perhaps the majority, who refused to take responsibility for the actions of their crews. They allowed them to roam unsupervised about the Strait, and this policy led to violent clashes between Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders. Masters took advantage of the fact that they were beyond the reach of British law, and Torres Strait Islanders suffered as a consequence.
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Because the islands were in international waters the beche-de-mer and pearl-shelling masters established their stations in much the same way as they had done in the western Pacific. What evidence there is indicates that the Islanders had little choice but to accept the newcomers. But that is not to say that the masters needed to resort to overt violence. The Islanders were keen traders and awake to the advantages that could result from cultivating a treading master. Nevertheless the mere presence of the crew of a western Pacific trading vessel could be intimidating to the inhabitants of a small island. It generally consisted of between twenty and 60 fit men, some of whom certainly would be armed when first landing at a lightly contracted island. When William Banner arrived at Tutu (Warrior) in the Blue Bell early in 1869 he had about 70 Pacific Islanders aboard. At the time there were just over 40 Tutu men and their families living on the island. They were camped at the south-eastern end, so Banner 'took possession' of the north-west side. Thirteen ?tutu canoes, and the families associated with them, left immediately, probably for Yam (Turtle-Becked), their other home island. But five remained behind. Banner established friendly relations with these, and the others were soon making overtures to be allowed to return. For about three months Banner refused, then, on a promise of good behaviour, they were allowed to come back. When Chester visited in 1870 relations between the tutu and Pacific Islanders appeared to be very friendly, but there was no doubt as to who was in charge.
The pattern of occupation varied from island to island, and was largely a function of the attitude of each group of Torres Strait Islanders, and the personality, experience and means of the master involved. Edwards and Banner chose to assert their authority over the inhabitants, and to maintain more or less permanent stations. William Walton of the Crishna employed a different method. He had been beche-de-mering on the Great Barrier Reef since about 1867, and in 1870 he began to visit Paremar (Coconut) at the beginning of each season to supplement his Pacific Islander crew. The Crishna was a fairly large vessel, 256 tons, and Walton operated it as a 'floating station'. but despite the fact that he did not establish a station as Edwards and Banner had done, his relationship with the Paremar Islanders was a continuing one. When anchored there they were always on and off his vessel, and he left his boats at the island in the charge of a colonial seaman at the end of each season. The Islanders were allowed to take the boats out cruising and fishing, and a store of supplies was also left for their use. The effect was that when he returned the Islanders were always glad to work for him, indeed he claimed they would work for no one else. so, although the relationship was a casual one, and there was no permanent station, the pattern of contact was similar to that which developed on islands where there were stations, and there were advantages for both parties in the arrangement.
By 1872 there were beche-de-mer or pearl-shelling stations at Tutu (Warrior), Gabbha (Brothers), Erub (Darnley), and Mer (Murray), and semi-permanent -floating stations- at Paremar (Coconut) and Tappoear (Campbell). some masters, however, resorted to islands simply to find a safe anchorage. These roving 'floating stations' became more common as the initial shelling grounds were depleted and new ones had to be found. The shelling boats first worked Warrior Reef, then Moa Pass, then the passage between Giralag (Friday) and Muralag (Prince of Wales), then Endeavour Strait. As the centre of activity moved towards the Prince of Wales group some vessels spent most of the season anchored about its islands. In 1873 there were four or five there that had no association with the permanent shore stations in the north-east.
The shellers considered the Kaurareg of Muralag dangerous because of their part in the 1869 Seprwer massacre. They were also more Aboriginal in their habits than other Torres Strait Islanders, and so were regarded rightly or wrongly, as poor workers. Henry Chester thought them 'incapable of sustained energy', and while trading and shelling in the early 1870s he observed that 'Much as they coveted the large knives, tomahawks and tobacco with which I was amply supplied, they could hardly be induced to earn them. As well as having a reputation for lethargy, the Kaurareg were only sporadic cultivators who could not provide the fresh provisions the shellers badly needed. Thus, the masters had little incentive to develop lasting relationships with them, and the Kaurareg resorted to pilfering to obtain the European manufactures they desired. Almost inevitably then there were skirmishes between the Kaurareg and the crews of the 'floating stations'. In April 1873 Edwin Redlich of the Franz 'burnt and plundered' a Kaurareg camp after a quantity of trade was stolen, and in September a violent clash occurred between the Kaurareg and the crew of Scott's schooner The Three Brothers.
Friendly interaction depended on the desire of masters and Torres Strait Islanders alike for a continuing relationship. However, the pioneer pearl shellers had no way of knowing how long the beds would last, and in the scramble for quick profits on a completely unregulated frontier some masters were unconcerned about the long-term consequences of abusing the traditional inhabitants of the islands. It was these masters, generally operating from 'floating stations', who were most likely to be involved in clashes with the Torres Strait Islanders.
The murder of two Mabuiag (Jervis) Islanders by James Thompson, the mate of the schooner Margaret and Jane, was the most infamous crime committed against Torres Strait Islanders by a European involved in the fishery. And yet the circumstances surrounding the voyage of the Margaret and Jane suggest that the incident was not typical. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the murders were reported to Frank Jardine by nine Rotumans who had been brought before the Somerset bench to face charges of desertion, and subsequently confirmed by Chester after he visited Mabuiag. By then, however, Thompson had already left the Strait aboard the James Merriman. But the Margaret and Jane's troubles started some months before, when John tucker, part owner of the schooner but a man of no sea experience offered Joseph Tucker (apparently no relation) a share in the vessel to sail from Sydney to Levuka in Fiji with a cargo of coal, and then to the pearl-shelling grounds of Torres Strait, John tucker going along as a common sailor. While the vessel was taking on provisions at Efate in the New Hebrides, James Thompson and the nine Rotumans approached Joseph Tucker looking for work. Thompson and Joseph tucker, who must have recognised each other as men of the same ilk, then conspired to leave John Tucker and the vessel's mate, William Blunt, at Efate. They sent them ashore to purchase yams and immediately set sail, so that when the Margaret and Jane arrived in Torres Strait it had virtually been pirated.
Thompson and the Rotumans had been active in the labour trade, and he was an extremely violent man who always went well armed. Indeed, he inspired such fear in the crew of the Margaret and Jane that Blunt preferred to be left stranded at Efate rather than go with him when the vessel left. He went ashore knowing what Joseph tucker and Thompson planned to do, and apparently others would have followed had they been presented with the chance. In fact Thompson was probably unbalanced. shortly after fleeing the Strait he tried to kill himself in Sydney. A jury found him sane so he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for attempted suicide. Joseph Tucker also fell foul of the law when he arrived back in Sydney, he was charged with having deserted a seaman, and sentenced to three months hard labour. Thompson was the only European involved in the fishery during the first decades of the occupation who is known for certain to have murdered Torres Strait Islanders. There may have been others, but this kind of behaviour was most unusual.
Although Torres Strait Islanders were generally keen to join the fishery there is evidence that some kidnapping of divers did occur in the early years. In November 1869 Chester reported instances that had come to his notice. Laurence Godfrey, master of the Georgina Godfrey, was supposed to have taken two men from Erub (Darnley) and detainee them on a small island to the east of Paremar (Coconut). The motive for this is not clear. Godfrey was on a turtle-shell-trading and salvaging expedition at the time and Chester does not explain why the Islanders were detained. Chester attempted to reach the island to investigate the report, but the makeshift government cutter proved unseaworthy. Chester probably received this information from John Kelly, who was for a time mate aboard the Georgina Godfrey, and a partner of Godfrey. He and Godfrey had fallen out, and Kelly left the vessel at Somerset a few weeks before Chester made his report. Kelly had a grudge against Godfrey and there is every chance that he had about the 'kidnapping' to incriminate him. Few at Somerset trusted Kelly, and one of the water police later testified that he heard him say he would 'sell any man for a glass of grog'. Statements Kelly made to the Port Denison times about his role in the search for the wife of James Gascoigne in 1870 were demonstrably untrue, and if the 'kidnapping' report was based on his evidence, it needs to be treated with scepticism.
In the same report Chester wrote of two women who had been taken from Erub and not yet returned 'after some months'. However, without evidence from the women themselves it is impossible to tell what 'were taken' actually means. In pre-colonial Torres Strait young women were expected to initiate courtship and this they usually accomplished by passing secret messages and gifts to the object of their affection. There was no formal ceremony, but before the relationship was acknowledged by the community the women's relatives expected gifts from the man. According to Haddon, marriage on Me (Murray) was not a time of rejoicing, often just the opposite: 'virtually it was theft, the bride being always stolen, either with or without her own consent. Marriage is looked at from a business point of view.' Therefore the very nature of Torres Strait courtship meant that there was scope for misunderstandings when the man involved was a European or Pacific Islander seaman. If one of these was approached secretly by a Torres Strait woman he might not appreciate, or care about, his responsibilities to the woman's family. If the woman went with him when he left the island her relatives would certainly consider her stolen. The itinerant nature of the maritime industry, where a station might be on one island for a year or two, and then move to another, meant that this kind of incident was bound to occur.
Chester's report of these incidents has been edited to illustrate the nature of contact between beche-de-mer and pearl-shelling masters and Torres Strait Islanders. but whether either of them occurred, or whether they have been properly represented by Chester, is open to question. Nevertheless there is simple evidence to show that violence was used by Europeans against the Kaurareg. In May 1872 Frank Jardine wrote that a 'large amount of kidnapping 'diver' hunting' had been going on, and because of it he had been unable to obtain any interesting 'curios'. Jardine's principal source of artifacts was the Kaurareg and this, together with the reports of the activities of Redlich and the incident involving The Three Brothers, indicates that traditional life in Muralag (Prince of Wales) was being severely and violently disrupted.
The most serious charge against the masters, however, was that they failed to control their Pacific Islander crews. In order to minimise overheads they sent them out in boats to forage for fresh provisions, not to protect themselves the men were allowed to go armed. Although they were generally expected to pay for what they obtained, collisions occurred, in which New Guineans and Torres Strait Islanders 'suffered in defence of their plantations', as Chester put it. A few months after arriving in the Strait in 1871 the missionary Samuel McFarlane reported these plantation raids to his superiors. He wrote:
We find that dark deeds have been perpetrated by natives connected with the fisheries ... These semi-savages are armed with swords and muskets, and sent off for ten days at t time to seek for pearl shell without a European with them. So that the employers are the responsible parties in the depredations of these men.
Because most workers in the early fishery were illiterate there are few accounts to tell how Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders interacted. However, Pasi, a leading man of Mer (Murray) at the turn of the century recalled one story for Haddon. Pasi was a boy when the events occurred, and 35 years elapsed before the story was recorded. But it is recollected in such detail, and accords so well with the documentary evidence, that it certainly deserves credence. It concerns the Pacific islander crew of the schooner Woodlark, captained by a man named Bruce. The Woodlark was part of the fleet working in association with Robert Towns and Charles Edwards whose station was, at that time, on neighbouring Erub (Darnley). In 1866, or thereabouts, part of its crew was landed at Umar on the north-wesrtern side of Mer, and another on Dauar, a small nearby island. From these bases they began to collect and process beche-de-mer.
The most notable thing Pasi recalled about these strangers was their sexual appetite, and although he did not state specifically that it was their habit of roaming Mer at night in search of women that caused the trouble which followed, his story gives that impression. Soon after they arrived, less than a year, some Paremar (Coconut) Islanders visited Mer to trade for food, and a plot was hatched to ambush the Pacific Islanders. with bows and arrows they confronted a Maori 'leading hand' wandering about at night. He was armed with a pistol and one Islander was shot in the initial struggle, but they harried him doggedly until finally he was killed and decapitated. The next day Bruce began to search for the missing Maori, using as an interpreter a Meriam woman who was living with the beche-de-mer party at Dauar, but most of the people had fled to the hills so Bruce let his men loose. They went along the beach burning huts and canoes, and killed an old man and woman before finding the Maori's body and severed head.
The Pacific Islanders buried the Maori on Dauar and then returned to Mer to further avenge their shipmate. According to Pasi they killed nine people, including women and children, before they were finished. The next morning a canoe arrived from Damut (Dalrymple), and Bruce, who by this was probably nervous about retaliation, sent a boat out to intercept it. On being confronted the Damut Islanders reached for their bows. A struggle ensued and a woman and child were dragged from the canoe and the men ensued and a woman and child were dragged from the canoe and the men shot. Uncharacteristically Pasis did not know the number killed. Apparently there was no trouble after this and the Damut woman and child were later returned to their people. Pasi portrays the Pacific Islanders as the real villains in the story, not Bruce, and although Bruce was unquestionably responsible for the actions of his men, in reality he probably had very little control over them.
By 1872 the Torres Strait Islanders were having to accommodate a whole new population. There were as many as 899 Pacific Islanders at work in the Strait, loosely supervised, and accustomed to working in an industry to which a fairly high level of brutality was accepted. In Chester's opinion men from Mare made the best seamen, but they were also 'the most lawless and difficult to restrain'. Through long experience on colonial vessels they were said to have acquired a sense of superiority over less sophisticated Islanders. A French captain went further when he described sailors from the Isle of Pines as 'haughty, thievish, impudent, drunken (and) more vicious than the most savage on the earth.' Islanders from both these places were well represented in Torres Strait crews, and while probably no more brutal than any other hardened seamen, they were not likely to shy away from c confrontation if it occurred. Given this, and the Torres Strait Islanders' own war culture, violent clashes were perhaps inevitable. Violence was endemic in pre-colonial Torres Strait, but some Islanders had more warlike traditions than others. It was no accident that the Paremar (Coconut) Islanders, rather than the Meriam themselves initiated the attack on the drew of the Woodlark. The Meriam were known as less skilled fighters, probably owing to their isolation and their long history of friendly trading relations with passing ships. In northern, central and western Torres Strait, on the other hand, the cultural emphasis was more martial and the inhabitants more likely to confront the Pacific Islanders.
The people of Mabuag (Jervis) were one belligerent group willing to challenge the newcomers. Just before Chester's first visit to the island in 1871 they had raided neighbouring Moa (Banks) and returned with thirteen heads and several captive women. Despite his being aware of this Chester formed a very high opinion of them. He wrote: 'as regards affection for their children, intelligence and energy, which latter quality to me was their principal recommendation, they far surpass all other natives of the Strait. Later in 1871, apparently in retaliation for some offence committed against them, they set upon a boat's crew of Pacific Islanders from Merriman's station at Tutu (Warrior). One of the Pacific Islanders was badly cut about the head by a tomahawk, and the Mabuiag men managed to west their firearms from them. According to Chester these were later recovered 'through the agency of the Warrior Islanders'. Although Chester admired the Mabuag Islanders for their independent character, and considered them formidable enough to preserve their independence, when he next visited the island two of their men had been killed by Thompson, the mate of the Margaret and Jane, and their 'confident and fearless demeanor' had 'given place to a cowed and sullen manner.' Traditionally they had preyed on their weaker neighbours to the south and were unused to having to concede to a stronger enemy, and while Chester blamed Thompson's brutality for their changed outlook it was also more than likely the result of confrontations with armed boat crews.
It is hard to know exactly how Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders got on in the very early years of the fishery. The reports from missionaries and the Somerset police magistrates emphasise instances when Pacific Islanders supposedly 'stole' Torres Strait women or robbed Torres Strait plantation s, but these were sensational incidents likely to come to the notice of Europeans. The more mundane day-by-day interaction was simply not noteworthy. The missionaries described Tongatapu Joe as a 'shrewd, sensible and observant' man whose sympathies were 'strongly with the native races', and there must have been other Pacific Islander leading hands like him. but on the whole it is fair to say that the Pacific Islanders considered the less sophisticated Torres Strait Islanders their inferiors and treated them as such.
The people of Mabuiag (Jervis) began their involvement in the fishery by collecting shell themselves and trading it to the masters. Chester was one of their principal trading partners and this partly explains why he was concerned that they should remain independent. But by 1873 they were inducted into the industry and were at work under Pacific Islander 'skippers'. As circumstances changed they adapted quickly and with the energy that Chester had admired so much in 1871; perhaps with too much energy. They neglected their gardens, became dependent on what they earned in the boats, and like the Pacific Islanders before them, took to the vices of other colonial seamen. In 1874 the missionary Samuel McFarlane described Mabuaig as 'hell on earth', and considered that the people had been 'totally debauched' by the pearl shellers. But whatever McFarlane thought, the Islanders obviously found the new way of life attractive.
The Paremar (Coconut) Islanders were also quick to take advantage of the changing circumstances. As we have seen Walton left his beche-de-mer boats at Paremar during the 'off season and the Islanders used them to cruise about the Strait. but by 1872 they were in possession of arms and ammunition as well. In February, while the water police were at Tutu (Warrior), two of Walton's boats arrived loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables obtained on the New Guinea coast. When questioned by the police the Paremar Islanders admitted having stolen the provisions, and also that they had hidden their firearms on the reef before approaching Tutu. Bedford, Marriman's superintendent at Tutu, was agitated by this because he believed that the Islanders were in the habit of telling New Guineans that they obtained their arms from him, and this made it difficult for his own men to trade legitimately on the coast. Because the water police had to return to Somerset immediately, the Paremar Islanders were ordered to fetch their firearms from the reef and hand them over to Bedford.
Nevertheless the Paremar Islanders still considered that they had earned the right to use Walton's boats and were not deterred from cruising about the Strait in much the same way as the Pacific Islanders. In June 1873 Jardine reported that they had caused a quarrel at Mer (Murray), 'in which a woman's brains were knocked out'. but whether boats and firearms substantially increased the level of violence between island communities is uncertain. Firearms cannot have been much more effective than traditional weapons, and probably less so once they had been exposed for a time to salt air and water. Hostilities between island communities rarely, if ever, resulted in pitched battles in which guns might give one side an advantage. Rather, the advantage sought was that of surprise. For this the arrow, spear and bamboo beheading knife were infinitely superior. Firearms were more weapons of intimidation. Those who possessed them could brazenly land on a beach before a village, and the inhabitants would hide while their huts and gardens were ransacked. This was the technique used by the Paremar Islanders on the New Guinea coast.
Though the island communities were in the midst of changing ways, quarrels between them were often still caused by grievances which had their roots in the traditional culture. In later 1871, for instance, a Tutu (Warrior) canoe capsized in a squall, drowning some of its crew. In their own craft the Islanders were expert seamen able to predict weather patterns, so any unexpected change was thought to be the product of malevolent magic. ON this occasion the tutu people determined by divination that the Paremar Islanders were responsible and sent a raiding party to seek revenge, but on reaching Paremar it was surprised by gunfire and turned back. None of the tutu men were hurt, and on the way home they attacked a small group apparently unconnected with the canoe capsize and took the heads of two old men.
In the late 1860s and early 1870s Torres Strait Islanders lived in a confused world with two cultures. One was their own, the other that of the western Pacific maritime trade. Both were violent. They were being enticed from their own by their desire for European manufactures, and the attractive prospect of having powerful friends. But the process of change produced tensions as the new way of life was incorporated with the old. while the Islanders appreciated that European and Pacific Islander friends could help them gain ascendancy over traditional rivals, and that a station on their island meant increased wealth, these advantages were counter-balanced by a sacrifice of independence which must have been hard to bear. Traditional leaders who had acquired status through their physical prowess and standing in the traditional trading network had to come to terms with their eroding prestige. Prestige could now be acquired in more speedy, but also more ambiguous ways. for example the ownership of a firearm could give prestige.
Women were traditionally free to choose their partners, and they now had more men to choose from. Few Pacific Islander women came to the Strait, and those who did were generally attached to Europeans or 'leading hands' of various non-European nationalities. Pacific Islanders especially lugger 'skippers' who decided to make Torres Strait their home, presented an attractive prospect for Torres Strait women and their families. To compete with them, and other Torres Strait Islanders, men needed to acquire the wealth and status that flowed from being a part of the new order. These proved powerful incentives for Torres Strait men to commit themselves to the maritime industries, just as the competition four wives must often have degenerated into physical violence.
The extent to which participation in the new industries disrupted the actual pattern of domestic arrangements is hard to say. Before they became involved in the fishery men and women, especially those from the western and central islands, spent much of their time apart. By day they divided into sexually segregated groups to go about food gathering activities, and at night the initiated men retired to the kwod to plan ceremonies and trading and raiding expeditions. Men were sometimes away for long periods on expeditions without their women and children. The maritime industries imposed much the same pattern, right down to the north-westerly lay-off. Torres Strait had always been a fragmented society, held together in the past by a rich ceremonial life. The greatest danger, therefore, was the threat the occupation posed to the Islanders' a temporal existence. But there is nothing to show that the masters made any conscious effort to eradicate traditional religious practices.
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The masters however were certainly interested in modifying the Islanders' temporal view, and so did their best to impress them with the might and sophistication of colonial culture. By 1870 one of the leading Ugar (Stephens) men had been taken to Sydney twice, and at the end of the 1869 season Banner took four Tutu (Warrior) Islanders south with him. Chester thought that, 'the account of the wonders seen, and the wealth and power of the whites will doubtless have a beneficial effect upon their future intercourse with vessels. Chester followed Banner's example, and after having struck up a regular trade with the people of Mabuiag (Jervis) took two, and then seven, of the principal men to Somerset. While there they saw a bullock shot. This apparently impressed them greatly, 'for though they had most likely heard of the effects of firearms, they had never evidently witnessed their power'.
It was an article of faith in the Strait that the most effective method of impressing lightly contacted Islanders with the omnipotence of the British Empire was by regular visits from a man-of-war, and although Frank Jardine complained in 1872 that the Royal Navy had not visited the Strait in 25 years, this was not true. HMS Salamander cruised as far north as Ugar (Stephens) in 1867, and Jardine himself had been aboard. HMS Virago visited Bramble Cay in 1868, and in 1870 HMS Blanche took Chester through the Prince of Wales group after the Sperwer attack. Nevertheless, 10 degrees south was the northern limit of the Australia station, and the royal Navy's commanders were reluctant to go beyond it. They were even more so after both the Salamander and the Blanche had run aground while beyond their station in Torres Strait. British men-of-war were large vessels and it was dangerous to take them off the main Torres Strait shipping channel. This, and the vast size of the Australia station, were probably the principal reasons why the navy did not patrol the region more frequently.
Yet there were other, and perhaps more mundane reasons. The voyage from Sydney to Cape York, and the work done there, were considered 'dull and boring' by the officers and crews of Her Majesty's ships. It meant salted meat, reduced servings of fresh vegetables, and for those on the Salamander lime juice instead of rum. Men from the northern hemisphere found the tropical heat debilitating, and it was made worse by the fact that the ships were paddle steamers with boilers that had to be kept alight from two in the morning until five in the evening. The navy had difficulty keeping up the complements of ships on the Australia station and the keeping up the complements of ships on the Australia station and the commander of the Salamander was even given permission to take on Moreton Bay. Aborigines as second-class seamen to spare others in the crew 'exposure to the excessive heat of a climate like that of Cape York'.
Medical officers complained that visits to Torres Strait detrimentally affected the health of their crews, and John Carnegie, the commander who captained the Salamander to Australia, was invalided out of the service after a year on the station. He was described as being 'of sedentary habits on shipboard, food of a good dinner and glass of wine - and of a generally easy life'. so perhaps it is not surprising that in 1865 the crew of the Salamander spent 129 days enjoying the pleasures of Sydney, or that there were public complaints about the navy's inactivity. Chester wrote to the Brisbane Courier that the Royal Navy vessels which visited Cape York spent their time 'grounding on their beef bones in Albany Pass' instead of patrolling the Strait and the coast of New Guinea. He scoffed at the excuse that these were beyond the limits of the Australia station:
A nervous dread of responsibility seems to have taken the place of that happy audacity which led Nelson to apply the telescope to his blind eye, when recalled by his chief, and few naval men of the present day care to incur the displeasure (?) of the Admiralty by an intelligent exercise of their discretion.
But perhaps this was unfair, because there had been some action. In February 1872 John Moresby had arrived in command of HMS Basilisk with instructions to inspect the fishery and report any irregularities with respect to the employment of Pacific Islanders. Because there were no serviceable boats at Somerset he took his ship into the Strait itself. Although the sight of a 1000-ton man-of-war might have been a sobering one for the pearl-shelling masters, it was even more imposing to Torres Strait Islanders. When the Basilisk anchored off tutu (Warrior) they were probably ware that two years earlier four leading Nghir (Mt. Ernest) Islanders had been executed by men from a similar vessel. Moresby was intent on impressing the Tutu men with a show of power, news of which he thought 'they would be likely to spread with their intercourse with other tribes in the Straits'.
Moresby and Bedford persuaded a number of Islanders to board the Basilisk, and although they were extremely reluctant to do so, twenty of the most courageous eventually climbed on deck. They were awestruck by the number of Europeans and the size of the ship, but, reassured with presents and an 'abundance of sweet hot tea'. To achieve the object of the exercise they were taken to the bridge to watch the guns being fired. The Islanders 'screamed and shouted with amazement' at the sound and range of the guns, and Moresby was satisfied that the display had had the desired effect. The masters associated with Merriman's station at Tutu (Warrior) had nothing to fear from a British man-of-war because their Pacific Islanders were engaged under legal agreements and the Tutu men were happy to work for trade. Indeed, Bedford welcomed Moresby's visit because it afforded an excellent opportunity to impress all his workers with the power of the European, and so reinforce his authority over them.
yet the speed with which so many Torres Strait Islanders joined the fishery cannot be explained adequately in terms of coercion or subjugation. some men and women may have been taken from their islands by force, though this certainly was not usual. Others may have been intimidated into joining the boats by what seemed to them the overwhelming power of the Europeans. but the great majority of Islanders were lured into the fishery by what they perceived to be benefits to themselves. They were able to adapt quickly to the new way of life, but they were also the victims of criminal acts of violence perpetrated by those who were already 'old hands' in the maritime trade. It was the unwillingness or inability of masters to control their Pacific Islander crewmen which caused the Torres Strait Islanders the greatest physical and psychological trauma. It is perhaps ironic therefore that when the Queensland government finally decided to intervene in Torres Strait it claimed that it was doing so in order to protect the rights of Pacific Islanders.
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As we have already seen, all the inhabited Torres Strait islands, and indeed all islands beyond Queensland's three-mile limit, were in international waters. However, on 10 June 1808 the British government issued Letters Patent authorising the governor of New South Wales to grant missing licences and occupation leases for those islands which lay to the west of 154 degrees longitude. This was done mainly to regulate the exploitation of guano, a natural fertiliser in increasing demand as a result of the steady expansion of plantation agriculture in Queensland. New South Wales thereby granted leases for islands which were on, and inside, the Great Barrier Reef, and it was the exercise of its authority so close to the Queensland coast that provided the initial motivation for Queensland to seek an extension of its maritime boundary. New South Wales' new authority caused considerable resentment in Queensland government circles. It was hard to know if or when it might be extended to islands adjacent to more closely settled regions, such as Moreton or Great Keppel, and no one was more irritated about the situation than Queensland's Minister for Lands, J. Malbon Thompson. In July 1872 he wrote to Premier Palmer that, 'under existing relations with the adjoining colonies, the power granted to New South Wales is a foreign jurisdiction extending almost up to the coast line.' He added: 'the government of New South Wales have neither the mans nor the opportunity of making the periodic inspections to see that the (lease) conditions are complied with or order maintained, and also the government of the colony have no right of entry. Thompson had already informed Palmer that he had issued mining licences for islands outside the three-mile limit to avoid 'titles by occupancy' arising in the future, and that pastoral licences for islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria within Queensland's jurisdiction had been issued in Sydney. To end this confusion and to assert Queensland's status as an independent colony, Thompson recommended that the government supply to the colonial Office to have Queensland's jurisdiction extended to islands within 60 miles of its coast. When he made this suggestion he offered no opinion of how the proposed new boundary would affect the people of Torres Strait.
To shore up cabinet support for the extension, Thompson was quick to point out to Palmer the possibility of diverting some of the profits from the new pearl-shelling industry to the Treasury. The existing boundary, and the fact that all the vessels involved were Sydney-based and financed, meant that those profits were returning to New South Wales. If the boundary was moved 60 miles it would include many Torres Strait islands, and export duties could be imposed on shell gathered in Queensland waters for sale in Sydney. But Thompson must have known that in 1782 the prospect of revenue for Queensland from the industry was a remote one. The administrative centre would have to be moved from Cape Yoke closer to the pearl-shelling grounds, and even then the mobile nature of the industry would make it difficult to police customs regulations. Of more immediate concern to the government were reports from Somerset that masters in Torres Strait were employing large numbers of Pacific Islanders without any regulation.
The labour trade was probably the most divisive political issue in Queensland in the early 1879s, and in the minds of contemporary observers this new Torres Strait industry, which by 1872 was employing hundreds of Pacific Islanders, was simply another branch of it. In 1871 the parliamentary opposition demanded the repeal of of The Polynesian Labourers Protection Act of 1868, the legal mechanism which allowed and regulated the immigration of indentured Pacific Islander labour to Queensland, and it had been a significant issue in the previous year's election. Although Torres Strait was beyond Queensland's jurisdiction, and pearl shelling a Sydney-based industry prosecuted in British-registered vessels, any unfavourable publicity regarding the treatment of Pacific Islanders, especially if it concerned incidents close to home, might once again stir public opinion and put Queensland's 1868 legislation in jeopardy. Early in 1872 Palmer requested Frank Jardine to report further on the state of the fishery. although both Jardine and Chester had previously informed the government that Pacific Islander boatcrews were abusing Torres Strait Islanders, the premier was not concerned about that issue yet. He wanted Jardine to confirm reports that Pacific Islanders were being illegally detained aboard vessels. The employment of Pacific Islanders in the fishery had to be regulated to prevent it becoming 'a disgrace to the civilized world', as Queensland's Governor Normanby put it, and consequently a threat to the supply of cheap labour to Queensland's plantations.
Although Torres Strait was outside Queensland's jurisdiction, the government had given its tacit support to the police actions against the Kaurareg and Kulkalaig after the Sperwer massacre, and to Jardine's use of the Somerset water police to put down the 1872 strike at Warrior Reef. yet before 1872 Brisbane had not shown the slightest inclination to intervene in the region to protect the Torres Strait Islanders. The government's lack of concern is clearly indicated by the fact that nothing was done in 1871 to bring James Thompson to justice for the murder of two Mabuiag (Jervis) Islanders, even though Jardine had provided the name of the vessel which took him south. but now, in order to sway the Colonial Office to their way issues; the need to regulate Pacific Islander labour in the Torres Strait pearl-shelling industry, and the need to protect Torres Strait Islanders themselves from the abuse of the lawless colonial seamen. Couching the pro-labour regulation had the added advantage that it would appeal to a home trade. Indeed a Bill intended for that purpose and eventually passed as The Kidnapping Act of 1872 was already before the House of Commons.
In the Queensland's tactics proved effective and the Colonial Office supported its application, Letters Patent were issued in London on 30 May 1872 and Normanby proclaimed the annexation in Brisbane the following August. but by any standards the Letters Patent were poorly formulated. The map included with them showed the new boundary proceeding west to 129 degrees longitude and placed Melville Island, now part of the Northern Territory, within Queensland's control. This was an obvious mistake, and the map was never circulated, but the document was also worded ambiguously. It gave no indication of the standard of measurement used to make this allowed for a variation of nearly one mile depending on which standard part of Queensland, so it was not clear whether islands such as Aurid (Aure), which lay close to it, were part of Queensland or not.
The arbitrary way the new boundary was drawn in Torres Strait, diving the region by a series of compass arcs, supports the contention that the real object of the exercise was to secure the Barrier Reef islands. There were no ambiguities there. Every island was now part of Queensland. There are other signs as well that Torres Strait was a low priority. After the annexation Queensland was painfully slow to require that leases be taken out on land occupied by settlers on the Strait. J. Malbon Thompson had complained that under the previous leasing arrangements New South Wales could not fulfill the responsibility to inspect islands. There were now no conditions of occupation to enforce because until 1881 no one was required to take out a lease. In other words, no attempt was made to protect the Islanders' proprietary rights, and Queensland did virtually nothing to regulate the occupation of the Torres Strait islands which were now within the jurisdiction.
Although the annexation did bring about significant improvements for Pacific Islander maritime workers, the same cannot be said about the Torres Strait Islanders. After 1872 those living within 60 miles of the coast became 'natives of Queensland', and as such they were subject to the same laws which applied to mainland Aborigines. but there were no special regulations regarding the employment of 'natives of Queensland'. The Kidnapping Act, which came into force in September 1872, was framed to regulate the employment of 'native labourers ...not being within the jurisdiction of any civilized power', so it did not apply to them. Nor did Queensland's Polynesian Labourers Protection Act of 1868: it only applied to Pacific Islanders who had been 'introduced' into the colony. After 1872, therefore, the southern Torres Strait Islanders were no better off legally than they had been before.
Governor Normanby thought that the annexation would bring the Torres Strait fishery to an end and thus destroy any idea of mistreatment of Pacific Islanders in the region. In September he took the government steamer Kate on a cruise of inspection and saw dozens of vessels manned by hundreds of Pacific Islanders at work in Queensland's new territorial waters. None of the masters had the licences required to employ Pacific Islanders in the colony under the provisions of Queensland's 1868 Act, and it was difficult to see how they could ever comply with its provisions. Normanby hoped that if his government refused licenses for the introduction of Pacific Islands into the southern part of the Strait, and the Royal Navy enforced the provisions of The Kidnapping Act in the northern part, the industry would come to an end. That this did not occur was largely due, as we will see, to the fact that neither The Kidnapping Act nor Queensland's Polynesian Labourers Protection Act were framed for the purpose. But the annexation, and the conjunction of these two Acts, did have a profound and unintended impact on Torres Strait society...
After 1872 the occupation of Torres Strait went on much as it had before. The Queensland and imperial governments continued to enact legislation in an effort to protect the interests of Pacific Islanders, but the welfare of Torres Strait Islanders was ignored. The Somerset water police were provided with a 40-foot cutter to enable them to patrol southern Torres Strait, but this was mainly done to demonstrate to the imperial government Queensland's determination to regulate the introduction of Pacific Islanders. No extra staff were appointed to the settlement and no special provision was made for the protection of Torres Strait Islanders.
* * *
Throughout the 1870s Torres Strait remained the quintessential political frontier, plagued by legal ambiguity. There was still uncertainty amongst politicians and local officials as to exactly where the new maritime boundary divided the Strait, and which laws applied there. This allowed for gaps which were exploited by masters in the fishery, and eventually by the officials at Somerset as well. Distance, years of uncertainty about the future of he settlement, administrative compromise on the part of the government, and the attraction of profits in the pearl-shelling industry, all combined to create a breeding ground for corruption. by 1872 the Somerset officials were exploiting their position for financial gain and neglecting their duty. At a time when Torres Strait Islanders were in most need of protection the government and its local officials had other priorities.
To allow for effective control of the region the centre of administration needed to be moved from Cape York to one of the islands which were now within Queensland's jurisdiction. The number of steamers using the inner Torres Strait route had not increased as dramatically as had been predicted in the early 1800s, and sailing masters still preferred the quicker outer route which by-passed Somerset altogether. Denham's surveys in the late 1850s and 1860 accurately pinpointed most of the obstacles to navigation in the Coral Sea, and as a result the outer route became safer for sailing ships than the inner. Only one steamer was active in the early fishery, the Wianuia, and most of the pearl-shelling masters entered and left Torres Strait from the north. Although the masters went boats to Somerset to collect mail and provisions, the settlement was poorly situated to administer the fishery. A new settlement needed to be established on an island in the Prince of Wales group where the inner and outer routes converged. There it would also be close to the centre of pearl-shelling activity. In 1872 Frank Jardine was instructed to investigate the group for a suitable site, but the move was not made until 1877. Until then Torres Strait continued to be administered from Somerset.
However, there were reasons other than geographic why the settlement proved an ineffective centre of administration. Since the financial crush of 1866 and the shelving of the proposed Torres Strait mail steamer route, morale at the settlement had steadily declined. In 1872 Queensland was still negotiating with London and with other colonial governments about how Somerset was to be financed, and while these negotiations went on expenditure on the settlement was cut to a bare minimum. Until 1873 when the mail-steamer service was recommenced, communications between Somerset and Brisbane continued to be irregular and Somerset remained very much a frontier outpost. The most significant consequence of this was that the police magistrates there were entrusted with almost autocratic power.
When Frank Jardine was appointed police magistrate in late 1868 he was also made an inspector of police. This was probably done to avoid the problems his predecessor, Henry Simpson, had experienced with sub-inspector Howe. yet in centres where there was sufficient population magisterial and police powers were separated, and the system at Somerset was criticised by David Seymour, the police commissioner, who quite rightly argued that a magistrate 'cannot work up a case and then sit in judgement of it'. The Somerset police magistrates also were shipping inspectors and in charge of all other government business. In these circumstances it was probably inevitable that "frank Jardine and Henry Chester, the police magistrates who were alternately in charge at Somerset from late 1868 to early 1874, were publicly criticised for being tyrannical in the way they managed the settlement.
Although this administrative pluralism saved the government money, it left few checks to corruption. Chester and Jardine were independently minded men who had more than their share of financial difficulties. Chester began his public service career in 1866. Before 1869 he was retrenched three times, a victim of the restrictive policies that followed the financial crisis. When applying for an appointment in May 1869 he wrote to the colonial secretary that these retrenchments had left him financially embarrassed 'beyond hope of extrication'. Mercifully he was sent to Somerset to replace Frank Jardine who went on leave in 1869. Assuming that the appointment was permanent he took his family with him at his own expense, but after eighteen months Jardine returned to resume his post. On the same vessel came Chester's dismissal notice. He complained bitterly to the colonial secretary that for him employment in the public service had been 'absolutely ruinous, rather than a source of profit.'
Frank Jardine's experience of financial difficulty was somewhat different. His father John, who had been Somerset's first police magistrate, came to Australia with a small fortune in 1839, but lost it in the pastoral depression of the early 1840s. In the mid-1860s his financial affairs were a public scandal and came close to costing him his position as police magistrate at Rockhampton. apparently he had gone from one failed speculation to the next. In 1864 he had his sons overland cattle to Cape York with the expectation that Somerset would boom and provide a high-priced cattle market, both for the local consumption of meat and for live export to the ports of the Indonesian archipelago. This too was a failure. Frank had lived with his father's financial failures all his life. It is therefore understandable that both Jardine and Chester were easily tempted by the spectacular profits being made in the early pearl-shelling industry.
The circumstances surrounding Jardine's eighteen-month leave of absence were unusual to say the least. He initially applied for three months, but after that had expired he was requested to apply for another month - the government was still deciding whether or not to maintain the settlement. Jardine wrote to the government again in March 1870, after eight months on leave, but received no reply. Then he met personally with Premier Palmer in Brisbane and was told to make another written application. His future had been decided. On 12 May 1870 he was officially ordered back to his post. Jardine received half salary for the three months leave ha had requested, and full salary for the other fifteen months. This was an exceedingly generous settlement on the part of the government, especially considering its financial circumstances. At the Palmer and Jardine meeting in May it was also decided that Jardine should take a quantity of trade from the government store to Cape York in order to 'foster trade with the natives of the adjacent islands'. He was also given permission to purchase a boat on the government account, and on arriving at Somerset he offered the command to the disgruntled Chester, condemned the old government, especially considering its financial circumstances.
At the Palmer and Jardine meeting in May it was also decided that Jardine should take a quantity of trade from the government store to Cape York in order to 'foster trade with the natives of the adjacent islands'. He was also given permission to purchase a boat on the government account, and on arriving at Somerset he offered the command to the disgruntled Chester, condemned the old government cutter that had been valued by Chester at 75 pounds just the year before, and bought it himself for 2 pounds 10/- Between November 1870 and the end of 1872 Jardine's own cutter, the Vampire, arrived at Somerset on the Western Star, and by early 1873 he had six more small boats and 40 men constantly employed collecting pearl shell.
Jardine's own affairs became inextricably entangled with those of the government. He was given permission to replace time-expired water policemen with seamen from the fishery, and he tailored the government workforce to suit the needs of his speculation. The first to be employed like this was E.I. Brown in April 1871. he later became water police coxswain, but continued pearl shelling while employed in that capacity. Two seamen from the Margaret and Jane were also employed as water policemen. A Maori called Johnny Murray went on the books as a native mounted policemen, but in reality he was one of Jardine's 'leading hands' in the boats. At about the same time Dugald McArthur, a mate on Towns' May Queen, was made master of the government cutter even though he was an incompetent alcoholic. Jardine sold his shell through Towns, and McArthur apparently was employed to please the captain of the May Queen. The water police were often at work repairing and refitting Jardine's boats, as well as boats belonging to others in the fishery. ON two occasions in 18723 they spent days painting and recaulking two boats belonging to the Margaret and Jane. In fact Somerset was being run like a private slipway with the government meeting the cost of equipment and labour. The Native Mounted Police were constantly out bringing in beasts to slaughter for the use of Jardine's divers, and at a time when there was most need for regulation of the fishery the entire government staff at Somerset was neglecting its duty.
By 1873 rumours were circulating on the Sydney wharves that Premier Palmer and Jardine were secretly associated in a pearl-shelling venture. Palmer had been the parliamentarian who negotiated the government purchase of the Jardine family stock and station at Cape York, he had sent Frank back to Somerset on unusually favourable terms, and he had given him government provisions to 'foster trade with the natives of the adjacent Islands'. while on a tour of inspection of Torres Strait in 1872 he had also signed the trading licence for Jardine's private vessel. Jardine's private letters to Palmer indicate that the two were good friends, but this is not surprising given Palmer's political affiliations with the Rockhampton region where the Jardines were a prominent family. whether the relationship involved anything more than the legitimate seeking and granting of political favours was a question destined to be raised at a public inquiry.
In July 1872 the Brisbane Telegraph printed a story which accused Jardine of operating a private pearl-shelling station at Somerset, supplied and manned at public expense. The correspondent also wrote that
Visitors at Somerset state that Mr. F. Jardine occupies an almost autocratic position there, that he boasts of being safe from political attack while the present government are )sic) in power, that he can, in fact, do just as he likes, with Mr. Palmer at his back.
Ten days later the Brisbane Courier published a reply based on information received from the premier's office. It pointed out that Jardine had been instructed to foster trade in the region, and that as far as was known he had not exceeded those instructions. But the Telegraph persisted in the attack. Palmer might have weathered the storm had it not been for a conversation between John Moresby of the Basilisk and the governor. Moresby confirmed that Jardine was heavily engaged in the fishery, and that he was employing Islanders from outside Queensland's territorial waters probably in contravention of The Kidnapping Act. A board of inquiry was finally convened to investigate the allegations. The inquiry was a whitewash. The board had no power to subpoena expenses of witnesses, which meant that no one could afford to come from Somerset. It was particularly important for the board to bear the evidence of water police coxswain Brown, who the Telegraph claimed was constantly out pearl-shelling and neglecting his duties. But Brown resigned his post when the scandal broke and took to pearl-shelling full-time. The inquiry was chaired by H.G. Simpson, a personal friend of Jardine who had supported him in his quarrel with the missionary Frederick Jagg in 1868. Simpson wrote to the under colonial secretary:
as he (Jardine) has been for years an intimate personal friend of mine you will understand it would be somewhat embarrassing to me to have to take part in such an investigation, & as this fact is fairly well known out of doors, I think it might possibly prejudice public opinion as to the impartiality of the board.
But Palmer was unconcerned about public opinion and wanted an inquiry simply to 'clear the air'. He had already decided Jardine's fate. Palmer had been warned of impending trouble about Somerset in June 1872, a month before the scandal broke. Frank Jardine's brother Alec, who was later to be Palmer's brother-in-law, wrote to him from Rockhampton that a man named Cockerill, who had been at Somerset, was spreading stories that
government affairs there are a secondary consideration and that pearl fishing conducted in the interests of Lord Normanby and yourself is the chief business ... if these yarns get into certain hands and are sufficiently manipulated to suit purposes they might be made to appear disagreeable.
It was Cockerill who furnished the Telegraph with the story, and as Alec pointed out to Palmer, he had 'long notes'. Alec Jardine had given Palmer time to arrange his affairs so that in the end nothing could be proved against him. but the circumstantial evidence suggests that he was secretly involved the Jardine's venture. Frank Jardine's career in the public service was over. In October Palmer telegraphed the under colonial secretary that he had appointed Charels Beddorme, a Rockhampton man and friend of the Jardine family, as a temporary replacement for Frank. That Beddome was a friend of the Jardines is significant, because on arriving at Somerset he was expected to make inquiries as to the state of affairs there. but Palmer also stressed that the permanent position of Somerset police magistrate was to go to an old enemy of the Jardines', George Elphinstone Dalrymple. This was to months before the board began its inquiries and it shows that Palmer knew that the allegations against Jardine were true.
The board concluded that the charges against Frank Jardine could not be proved, but it also expressed concern that the inquiry had not been fully satisfactory. There is no doubt that Jardine was involved in the fishery, as he later admitted it on two occasions. When he returned to Torres Strait after the inquiry he established a station at Naghir (Mt. Ernest), and Beddome joined him in partnership as soon as Dalrymple arrived to take over as police magistrate. Thus Jardine, who enjohed almost autocratic power at Somerset, was also an employer in the fishery. But this is not to say that he neglected his duties completely. In fact he instituted some worthwhile reforms. As shipping agent it was his responsibility to witness the articles signed by seamen hired in Torres Strait. In May 1873 he made it known that he would not allow Torres Strait Islanders to be employed for less than 6 pounds a year, the minimum wage for Pacific Islanders working in Queensland under the 1868 Act. He also informed masters that he would not issue warrants for the arrest of Torres Strait Islander deserters unless they had been signed on before him.
Yet even when Jardine appeared to be performing his duties he was often pursuing his own private ends, and a good illustration of this is the treatment of Thomas Chapman, master of the Peveril. In March 1872 Chapman engaged 24 Torres Strait Islander divers and was working in the Prince of Wales group. In June Jardine sent the water police to inspect the Peveril, and while the men were not 'over provisioned' the coxswain thought them reasonably content. Then in August 1873 the government cutter Lizzie Jardine intercepted and inspected Chapman's new vessel the John S. Lawa. The master of the cutter, Dugald McArthur, threatened to seize the vessel because Chapman gave passages to three Torres Strait Islanders and a Pacific Islander missionary teacher from one island to another. Chapman, quite understandably, thought he was being harassed.
Chapman made a written complaint to the Brisbane port master in which he maintained that Jardine was associated with the Torres fleet and that an attempt was being made to force him out of the Strait to reduce competition. To make his point he revealed that in 1872, while he was working a previously unknown patch of pearl shell near Giralag (Friday), one of Jardine's crews arrived at his vessel seeking assistance after having been wrecked at Muralag (Prince of Wales). He provisioned them, gave them a boat, and sent them back to Somerset with a note asking Jardine not to reveal where he was working. According to Chapman, Jardine immediately entered into a n agreement with the Towns masters and shortly afterwards one of their vessels descended on his secret spot with divers. Chapman's claim that there was an improper association between Jardine and the Towns masters was undoubtedly true. There is other, more circumstantial evidence - Jardine's private cutter, the Vampire, was ferried to Somerset aboard the Towns' Western Star, and his shell was usually shipped to Sydney aboard Towns' Western Star, and his shell was usually shipped to Sydney aboard Towns' vessels. That Jardine had Chapman 's vessels inspected does not necessarily meant that he was primarily concerned about the working conditions of those aboard. He may simply have been harassing a competitor. Understandably, some masters were reluctant to trust the police magistrate, and unlikely to keep him informed of their movements, or to call regularly at Somerset. His effectiveness as a regulatory force in Torres Strait was therefore diminished.
Jardine also associated with men known to have taken part in violent clashes with Torres Strait Islanders. The water police painted and repaired boats belonging to the Margaret and Jane, the vessel involved in the murder of two Mabuiag (Jervis) Islanders in 1871, and in June 1873 Edwin Redlich left Somerset as master of Jardine's Vampire, only to months after he had 'burnt and plundered' a Kaurareg camp. Although Jardine instituted some worthwhile reforms, his financial considerations obviously took precedence over his concern for the welfare of Torres Strait Islanders. By the time Queensland annexed the southern part of Torres Strait in 1872, the outpost at Somerset had been allowed to languish to the point where it was ineffective as a centre of administration. while many of the officials there were probably better seamen and shipwrights than regular water policemen, they had an obvious conflict of interest when it came to policing their colleagues in the fishery. In the years when there was most need for regulation and control, Queensland was either unwilling or unlike to provide it. That such a situation had been allowed to develop was a result of government neglect and perhaps corruption at the highest level. As Thomas Chapman put it, "I question of any Governt. would tolerate, but Queensland, what is done at Cape York'.
In July 1871 the London Missionary Society began to land its Pacific Islander teaches in Torres Strait. The Society used these evangelists to pioneer its mission stations throughout the Pacific. They were generally recent converts who had been given a few years of secular and religious training at institutions on islands where the mission was well established. With this meagre education and little more than a rudimentary understanding of formal Christianity they were put to work amongst their own people or sent with their families to spread the Gospel on more distant frontiers of the mission. by the mid-nineteenth century most of the major Protestant missionary societies in the Pacific used teachers in this way. There were three main reasons why the London Missionary Society preferred such people. Firstly, the number of Pacific Islanders willing to take on the work was much greater than the potential number of English missionaries. Secondly, they were far less expensive to educate, locate and support. It was costly to send missionaries with their families and personal effects halfway across the world to the Pacific, and there was no guarantee that they would successfully adapt to their new environment and stay. To encourage them to stay the Society needed to provide adequate housing. European food, and a wage commensurate with that received by clergymen at home. Teachers, on the other hand, lived in dwellings constructed from local materials, ate native food, and in the early 1870s were paid only about 15 pounds a year in trade items. Often these were purchased in England but valued at colonial prices, so that in effect the real wage of each teacher was somewhere between 6 pounds and ten pounds a year.
Thirdly, the Society believed that Pacific Islander teachers were better able to 'get at the heathen of their own class'. This was in keeping with its policy of favouring candidates from the trades for foreign missionary work. It felt that 'Godly mechanics' were not so far removed from those they were expected to convert. but there were other, more practical reasons, why the society favoured 'mechanics'. They were able to perform the day-to-day physical tasks associated with pioneer mission work, and were less likely to abandon their stations if the work proved arduous. It also reasoned that, because men of humble origins were attracted by the status which attached to missionaries, they would be more reluctant than university men to forgo that status and return to their former occupations, and the experience in Torres Strait certainly bore this out.
The teachers were familiar with the Pacific environment and understood the uses of its natural resources. They could build houses from the materials which surrounded them and were often experienced gardeners capable of cultivating native fruits and vegetables. They could also construct canoes to enable them to collect seafood and communicate with their congregations. Many of them had been to sea in whaling and trading vessels and so could handle the small missionary cutters or act as 'stand by' crew when the missionary schooners were short-handed. Like the 'Godly mechanics', they were also attracted by the status that attached to those involved in missionary work, which gave them regular access to European commodities, and authority over their fellow Islanders. furthermore, pioneer teachers often became leading figures in their adopted communities, with the prospect of returning home to take up senior positions in the mission hierarchy. A Rarotongan teacher, Ta'unga, was even credited with supernatural powers by his own people after returning from pioneer work in New Caledonia. Thus, the teachers were attracted to mission work for much the same kind of reasons as English missionaries.
the history of Christianity in the Pacific has been inextricably bound, in the minds of most writers, to the history of colonialism, and there is no doubt that missionaries, administrators and traders were all committed, in their own ways, to the spread of western civilisation. But as Jeremy Beckett has pointed out, the relationship between these three very different elements of colonialism was not constant. Missionaries sometimes took with administrators and traders against 'heathen savagery', and sometimes with Islanders against 'godless' traders and frontier colonial officials. It was up to the missionaries in a particular area to determine what the mission's role would be in the colonial order. Because of their backgrounds, the missionaries who arrived in Torres Strait were well disposed towards traders and British administrators, and although t here were often personalt8y clashes and bitter disputes about methods, there was general agreement that Christianity, commerce and the rule of British law were complementary.
But if the missionary-trader-administrator model of colonial expansion is applied too rigorously it neglects the most significant element in the history of Torres Strait culture-contact: the role of the Pacific Islander. by 1871 many indigenous Pacific peoples had accepted a new colonial order, and one manifestation of this was the development of particular styles of Christianity. These styles derived from a combination of the religious denomination of the missionaries, the personal philosophies of individual missionaries who were dominant in the initial years of conversion, and the nature of the indigenous culture. The operational indigenisation of Protestantism in the Pacific owned much to the presence of Pacific Islander teachers. They were the intermediaries who assimilated the missionaries' teachings and interpreted them for the congregations. by this process the original Protestantism took on a local character, which became entrenched as members, both individually and as a group, rose in the church hierarchy and achieved greater status in their communities. The Protestantism that arrived in Torres Strait, therefore, was not the Congregationalism of the missionaries in charge, nor would it have been recognised as such by the colonists of Queensland. rather it was the religion of the teachers, who, because of the particular circumstances in the Strait, were allowed a free hand to proceed much as they pleased. As a result the Christianity they imparted to the Torres Strait Islanders resembled more the new kind of Protestantism of the Pacific than it did the mainstream Protestantism of Australia.
If the teachers imparted their own style of Christianity in Torres Strait, then what kind of new order did the mission help to create? On one level it was a colonial order, but in the island communities it was an order in which Pacific Islanders played the dominant role. The arrival of the teachers reinforced the status and influence of the Pacific Islander maritime workers who, as we have seen, were placed in charge of Torres Strait Islanders in the boats, and sometimes employed them in their own enterprises. Together they rapidly established an ascendancy over the local people. As with the Europeans, there were disputes between those working in the fishery and those in the mission, but these generally originated in ethnic tensions. On the whole the Pacific Islanders pulled together to forge their own destiny in Torres Strait, and while the overall pattern of between Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders was largely determining how that change would come about.
* * *
The Torres Strait islands were part of the western division of the London Missionary Society's Papua mission, which encompassed all the territory to the west of the fly River. The missionaries' strategy was to use the islands as staging points to the New Guinea mainland, and the conversion of the Torres Strait Islanders had a low priority in their scheme. In 1874 Samuel McFarlane, the missionary in charge of the western division from 1871 to the mid-1880s, wrote that the Society should not waste the resources in Torres Strait. He referred to the islands as mere 'stepping stones' from which missionaries could proceed to convert New Guinea. It is perhaps ironic then, that by the mid-1880s nearly the entire population of Torres Strait was at least nominally Christian, while the missionaries had made almost no headway in New Guinea.
The London Missionary Society had been contemplating the conversion of New Guinea since 1826, and from 1827 onwards the notion was occasionally discussed by the Society's directions. The Rev. John Jones again brought the subject before the directors in 1870, at a time when the Society was looking to expand its field of operation. The choice was between the New Hebrides, where the Society had failed in the 1840s and where the Presbyterians were still struggling desperately against fever and local apathy, and New Guinea. The directors chose New Guinea, and the decision was most probably influenced by Samuel McFarlane's own ambition to pioneer a mission there. McFarlane was a tall, robust, energetic man, who had worked in a Manchester railway workshop before being accepted by the Society for training at the Bedford Academy in 1856. Ordained in 1858, he arrived with his wife Elizabeth at Lifu in the Loyalty Islands a year later when he was just 22 years old. At Lifu he became convinced of the worth of Pacific Islander teachers as spiritual and secular leaders, learned the advantages to himself and to his mission of maintaining close relations with colonial traders, acquired his reputation as a great missionary, and honed the political skills which enabled him later to override his colleagues in matters of mission policy and method in New Guinea. In short, by the time McFarlane arrived in 'Torres Strait his ideas about missionary work were well and truly formed.
McFarlane's attitudes were substantially shape by the long battle with the French. As we have already seen, the French had annexed New Caledonia and its dependencies in 1853, and by the early 1860s the activities of English Protestant missionaries and Sydney-based traders had convinced them of the need to take an active interest in the Loyalty Islands. To counter growing British influence, Noumea encouraged French Marist priests to establish missions on the islands, which caused rivalry that degenerated into violence as different island chiefs adopted one denomination or the other. McFarlane revelled in the confrontation. From about 1864 he waged what he called his 'paper war', constantly complaining to Guillian, the French governor, about the restrictions placed upon his mission, and urging the Society's directors to argue his case with the British government. There were numerous communications between the British and French governments about the situation at Life until, in 1865, a Marist priest complained that McFarlane and his wife had desecrated his church, and this provided the excuse to have him removed. The Society decided to recall him in 1866, but changed its mind when relations with Guillian seemed to improve. But McFarlane remained an obstacle to orderly French government in the region, and in 1869 the society bowed to pressure from the Foreign Office to find him another post.
Having been, at Lifu, at the centre of a political controversy which tested the diplomacy of Britain and France, McFarlane became a symbol for the keener advocates of Protestantism and British Empire in the Pacific. This fed his natural arrogance and made it difficult for him to accept anything but the leading role in the subsequent mission to New Guinea. Almost inevitably he came into conflict with his colleagues, and the bellicosity that had been directed against the French was now turned against them. To begin with, all the Society's New Guinea missionaries were senior men. A.W. Murray had been prominent in the Samoan mission from the late 1830s, William Lawes was the senior man at Niue (Savage) from 1861 to 1872, and James Chalmers was in charge at Rarotonga from 1867 to 1877. But McFarlane's ability to influence the directors frustrated them all, and it was almost a decade before they were able to convince the Society that he was fallible and that his schemes were flawed. They opposed his idea of using the Torres Strait Islands as 'stepping stones' to New Guinea, and there were times when McFarlane himself doubted it could work. but it is a measure of the man's ambition that he held tenaciously to the scheme, because to abandon it would have been to place his position as the senior missionary in New Guinea in jeopardy.
After McFarlane and Murray had landed the first eight Loyalty Islander teachers and their families at Erub (Darnley), tutu (Warrior), and Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) in Torres Strait in 1871. Murray returned to Life and McFarlane left for England. His struggle had made him a celebrity in Protestant missionary circles, and because of this he was able to stir enthusiasm for the New Guinea venture, and win the support of the Society's directors for his plans. In 1872, while McFarlane was in England, Murray and William Wyatt Gill placed seven more Loyalty Islander teachers at Mabuiag (Jervis), Moa (Banks), Masaid (Yorke), Saibai, and at Parama (Bampton) to the west of the mouth of the Fly river. They also landed six Rarotongans on the east coast of the Gulf of Papua at the mouth of the Manumanu River. It had been agreed that Melanesian teachers, such as Loyalty Islanders, would be deployed in the western division of the mission where the people were Papuan, while Polynesians, such as Rarotongans, would be used in the east where the people were Melanesian, because he missionaries assumed that the New Guineans would reject teaches whose skin was darker than their own. Whether this was sound, or simply an expression of their own prejudices, a vitally more important matter was that none of the teachers came from the malaria regions of the Pacific, and thus they were all highly susceptible to deadly bouts of lever.
By 1873 three of the party landed at the Manumanu were dead. In March the Basilisk rescued two more families who were close to death, and in May, after another woman and her new-born baby had died, Murray removed the survivors and the Manumanu was abandoned. When William Lawes and his wife arrived with six Rarotongan and Niuan teachers to continue the work on the south-east coast late in 1874 they settled at Port Moresby, and decided that that was where the headquarters of the mission should be. But McFarlane and Murray had already established a headquarters at Somerset, and the missionaries remained at odds about the issue for the next ten years. To their discredit they made the mortality rate amongst the teachers and their families the principal issue in what was essentially a petty power struggle. Meanwhile the teaches landed in Torres Strait itself were desperately short of supplies. Lat in 1871 William Walton, then of the Matilda, left provisions with those at Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis), but by February 1872 they were again in a 'very critical condition', and in April two were dead from malaria. During Moresby's first inspection of the fishery in February 1872 he encountered two teaches who had been forced to leave their wives at Dauan in order to obtain food and medicine from Merriman's pearl-shelling station at Tutu (Warrior). Moresby's subsequent report to Governor Normandy was highly critical of the manner in which the mission was being connected, and this was forwarded to the Society's directors.
However, when Moresby returned to the Strait in 1873 the situation was even worse. He learned that the teachers at Mabuiag (Jervis) were only 'kept from actual starvation by the humanity of the pearl shellers' and that those at Dauan were prostrate with fever. They had few medicines, and did not understand the use of those they had. The teacher from Massid (Yorke) had fled to Erub (Earnley) and was so wasted away he was not expected to live, while those at Erub and Mer (Murray) were also suffering from fever. At bout the same time Moresby removed the critically ill families from the Manumanu in 1873, news reached Somerset that the teachers at Parama (Bampton) had been killed because they were unable to pay the Islanders for food they had supplied. Incensed, Moresby wrote to Murray, strongly recommending that all the teachers be removed to Somerset until the missionaries were able to take roper care of them.
Taken aback somewhat by the accusing tone of Moresby's note, Murray replied that the mission schooner John Williams was long overdue from the Pacific with supplies, and that since the Besilisk seizures it had been impossible for him to charter vessels to visit the mission stations. He went on to explain that the teachers were only provided with the simplest medicines because to do otherwise would be, 'to risk danger rather than provide against it', and he rejected the notion that those at Parama had been killed because they had nothing to trade for food. Rather, they had too many possessions, and this had excited the cupidity of the Islanders. He later added that some deaths were inevitable in the early years of a mission, especially in an area where fever was so prevalent. Nevertheless Moresby continued his criticisms, insisting that the teachers' poor health was mainly attributable to a lack of nourishing food. The Somerset water police coxswain had informed him that he had never visited a mission station where there was not hunger and severe deprivation.
Although Murray tried to justify the mission's actions to Moresby, he wrote to the directors asking that no more teachers be sent until a vessel was provided to enable their proper supervision. Murray had delayed his retirement to accompany McFarlane to Torres Strait, and left alone in such trying circumstances he suffered terrible anxiety. His situation was made worse by the fact that he could not speak a Loyalty Island language and had to communicate with his own teachers through an interpreter. Murray's nerves were so shattered that when McFarlane finally returned in August 1874 the overwhelming sense of relief caused him to pass out. But McFarlane was optimistic that, with his return, the worst was over for the mission, because while in England he had persuaded a wealthy benefactor of the Society to provide the funds for a mission steamer, the Ellengowan, and it arrived later in August.
The Ellengowan certainly made missionary life more comfortable, but there was no easy way to penetrate the soul of New Guinea, and by 1876 the few teachers McFarlane had stationed on the mainland were forced by malaria and New Guinean attacks to retreat to Torres Strait. He despaired of ever making any progress on the mainland, and the teachers were not replaced. Instead, he changed tack and proposed to the directors that he should establish the headquarters of the mission to China Straits, to the east of Port Moresby. He could not abandon the western division altogether, so in order to allow it to continue in his absence he requested more Loyalty Islander teachers. However, the Sydney ship committee of the Society, which controlled the movements of the mission schooner John Williams, would not provide them. It appears the committee was determined that McFarlane should stay in Torres Strait. McFarlane continued to press the directors about the matter, and sent two of his Loyalty Islander teachers to China Straits to pioneer the work, but by the late 1870s he knew he was beaten. The ship committee probably took its stand because of the agreed policy that Melanesian teachers should be used in the west, and Polynesians in the west. If McFarlane moved to china Straits he would need to be in charge of Polynesian teachers whose language he could not understand. Conversely, there was no other missionary in New Guinea who understood a Loyalty Islander language. Be that as it may, McFarlane sensed a conspiracy against him, and determined that if he was to stay in Torres Strait the headquarters of the mission would remain there as well.
By 1876 it was possible that the western division might become a backwater of the mission, so McFarlane redoubled his efforts to convince the directors that Torres Strait was the key to New Guinea and that his colleagues at Port Moresby were engaged in a little exercise. His great advantage was that there were places in his division which were relatively healthy, and he propagated the idea that a headquarters should also be a 'sanatorium' where teachers with malaria could retreat to recover their health. Although McFarlane took credit for the sanatorium idea, his teachers had often acted on their own initiative, when stricken with fever, to make for healthier islands, or pearl-shelling stations, or Somerset. This dramatically reduced the mortality rate in his division. These options were not available to those in the east, and the mortality level there remained unacceptably high.
Port Moresby's reputation for being an unhealthy place was highlighted by the publicity given a severe measles epidemic in 1875. After the epidemic had passed, deaths from malaria continued, and the Society was subject to both public and official criticism for sending teachers to such a dangerous place. In June 1876 Henry Chester wrote:
17 of 34 native teachers have fallen victims to the deadly climate and want of proper nourishment. Mortality such as this on any Queensland plantation would have provoked indignant enquiry, but he 'John Williams' is shortly to arrive with a further supply of Samoans for expenditure in like manner. It is anything but creditable to the London Missionary Society.
The missionaries were also attacked in the press. An article in the Brisbane Courier accused them of stationing teachers at places where they themselves were afraid to go. As we shall see, McFarlane was largely responsible for the introduction of measles to Port Moresby in 1875, but that did not stop him from using the sensitive mortality issue to persuade the directors that his more cautious 'stepping stones' strategy was correct. Instead of defending his colleagues, McFarlane repeatedly wrote to the directors that the loss of so many fives at Port Moresby was inexcusable, and on one occasion he even described it as 'evangelical manslaughter'. McFarlane's campaign eventually bore fruit, and he considered Somerset, Mabuiag (Jervis) Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis), and Erub (Darnley) before finally deciding in 1877 to establish his headquarters at Mer (Murray). His teachers had made considerable progress there in the years between 1872 and 1875, when the people had been excluded from the pearl-shelling industry, the island was relatively healthy and fertile, and the Islanders cultivated extensive gardens. The island's potential to produce food was important to McFarlane for two reasons. firstly, a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables had been shown to aid the recovery of teachers debilitated by fever, so a sanatorium needed to regular supply. And secondly, by 1877 McFarlane had decided that the proposed headquarters would also be a teacher training institute, and a considerable amount of food would be required to feed the pupils.
The adoption of the 'institution system' to evangelise New Guinea was another major strategic shift for McFarlane. He had first considered using it after being forced to abandon the permanent stations on the mainland in 1876. It entailed taking young men from the mainland villages and training them to work among their own people. The advantage of this was that they had a natural immunity to malaria. He rejected the idea then, because an institute took time to establish and even longer to show results, and in 1876 McFarlane thought he would soon be in China Straits. Now that he was to stay in Torres Strait he decided to pursue the plan. Torres Strait Islanders also had a degree of immunity, and they had traditional ties with the coastal people, so McFarlane decided to train them for missionary work as well. The teachers were already using them as assistants at some mission stations, and they all had Torres Strait pupils attending school. McFarlane hoped that the best of them might be the first candidates at what he eventually called the Papuan Institute. It opened in early 1879 and by the end of 1881 it had 69 pupils, the great majority of them Torres Strait Islanders.
With the institute established, MacFarlane was free to live the kind of missionary life he preferred. Mer (Murray), with its coconut groves and white beaches, reminded him of the South Seas, and he was content to remain there. He settled down to
reduce the languages to writing, and to translate the Scriptures, and prepare school books, to establish and superintend schools, and train a native ministry, and above all, to a new mission, to move about as rapidly as possible, directing, stimulating, and protecting the native teachers.
McFarlane had always believed that the teachers should be largely left to their own devices. He thought that for a missionary to live and work with them in the communities was detrimental because it undermined their standing. The people would look to the missionary for guidance, rather than the teacher who was more suited to give it. With institutional work to occupy his time he felt even more inclined to continue with this policy. Thus comfortably ensconced, it was not until the mid-1880s that he made any concerted attempt to once again place teachers on the western coast of New Guinea. For McFarlane the conversion of the Torres Strait Islanders had never been a priority. His ambition was much grander - to convert the great island of New Guinea from the west. When that seemed impossible he turned his attention east to China Straits. Circumstances thwarted his ambition in that direction, so he settled down to institutional work at Mer (Murray). But the Papuan Institute was a failure insofar as the conversion of New Guinea was concerned. Very few of the Torres Strait Islanders trained there were ever sent to the coast. Instead they returned to their communities to work under the supervision of the teachers, and while McFarlane was preoccupied arguing with his colleagues, and chopping and changing his plans, the teachers were left to covert the Torres Strait Islanders.
* * *
As mentioned earlier, the relationships between missionaries, traders and colonial officials in any particular region of the Pacific changed as circumstances change. In the late 1860s, the Presbyterians in the New Hebrides were vehemently opposed to the labour trade and were initially able to win the support of the imperial authorities to their struggle against it. But as early as 1872, the year that the Kidnapping Act was passed, the Colonial Office began to grow sceptical about their criticisms, and in due course was inclined to dismiss them. Successful missionaries in other parts of the Pacific had a more conciliatory attitude towards recruiters and colonial traders in general. McFarlane shared the opinion of many of his colleagues that commerce was the most effective means of spreading civilisation, and that the highest form of civilisation was British. He also believed that there was no civilisation without the Gospel, and it followed that Christianity and commerce should travel hand in hand. His experiences at Lifu made him even more convinced of this Protestant missionaries in the Loyalty Islands relied on the friendship and support of Sydney based traders in their struggle with the French, and they also exploited this relationship for the financial benefit of themselves and the mission. They tended to play down their commercial activity, however, believing that outsiders might think it at odds with the religious nature of their work.
In his published works McFarlane tried to give the impression that he was a reluctant trader. In 1873 he wrote:
Bartering was a new thing to me however I went at it; I knew we must have some pork to eat, and something to feed the pigs with. We mist have mats for the floor; we must also have servants, and food for them.
But McFarlane lived well at Lifu, and the mission thrived on trade until the French intervened in 1864.In 1863 the Society exported 14,731 lbs of coconut fibre from the Loyalty Islands, and while most of the profit went to the development of the mission, some found its way into the pockets of the missionaries. As Howe has pointed out, when McFarlane was forced to leave Lifu, he left behind personal property 'which would have been the delight of many an English squire'. In Torres Strait there were not the opportunities for McFarlane to amass such obvious wealth, but there is evidence that the had personal financial dealings with some pearl shellers. At least one of these, involving the Swede Carl Thorngren, was quite shady, and it not only reflects McFarlane's rather devious nature, but also demonstrates that he experienced no difficulty reconciling his personal financial dealings with masters in the fishery with his religious duties.
The French accused the Protestant missionaries in the Loyalty Islands of conniving in the labour traffic, and to a certain extent this was true. Like other missionaries they were concerned about the depletion of their congregations by recruits, but they accepted that the men wanted to go to Queensland, and were willing to witness the legal agreements Islanders made with recruiters. Because of the antagonisms between Noumea and the Protestants, the missionaries believed that it was to the benefit of the Islanders to go to an 'English' and Protestant colony like Queensland rather than remain under the authority of the oppressive French. Indeed for Sydney-based traders and Protestant missionaries alike the French were the common enemy, and this brought them closer together. When the French forced Henry Burns out of Uvea in 1860, the Marists were glad to see him go, and he donated his station to the London Missionary Society. some Sydney merchant ship-owners refused to charge the missionaries for conveying their goods to the Pacific, their sailing masters ferried missionaries and their teachers around the islands, and the missionaries were quite comfortable with the idea of their people being employed aboard Sydney-based vessels.
In the Loyalty Islands traders had paved the way for the missionaries. For twenty years before McFarlane's arrival Lifuian men had gone to se in colonial whaling and sandalwood vessels, and by the 1840s seafaring was becoming part of their tradition, as it was in other Pacific regions. McFarlane took pride in the growing sophistication of the Lifuiana, as he did in their reputation for being excellent seamen. In his book Among the Cannibals he recalled a sermon given by a senior Lifuian teacher to those chosen as the first evangelists for the Papua mission. The preacher developed an analogy his fellow teachers could understand. He likened mission work to that of the whale chasers:
New Guinea is the whale. It is sighted. We are going to chase it. You are the first boat, remember. Take care and make fast, and we will follow and help to tow it. You may only wound the whale and drive it away.
The output of mission coconut fibre suggests that numbers of Loyalty Islanders were involved in both the religious and commercial aspects of mission life, and while there is no direct evidence it is likely that some of McFarlane's own teachers had been seamen. The London Missionary Society party that arrived in Torres Strait aboard the Surprise in July 1871 followed in the wake of the western Pacific trading masters. Both the missionaries and the traders had been pressured to leave the Loyalty Islands by the French. Lawes' biographer, Joseph King, maintains that it was William Banner, the pioneer of the Torres Strait fishery, who suggested that John Jones should ask the Society to send missionaries to the region, and a number of other Torres Strait masters, among them William Walton, Henry Hovell, Carl Thorngren, Edwin Redlich, Charles Edwards and Henry Burns, were also friendly acquaintances of McFarlane and Murray from their time in the western Pacific. Indeed Jones wrote to the directors:
How remarkable the ways of Providence! Most of the captains engaged in the pearl fishing in Torres Strait were formerly engaged in the sandalwood trade in these islands ... now we find these same kindhearted men providentially placed in close proximity to our infant mission.
On their first voyage from Lifu to Torres Strait, McFarlane and Murray visited Andrew Henry, one of the pioneers of the western Pacific sandalwood trade, at his station at New Caledonia, and spent a few hours being pleasantly entertained by him and his wife. The Surprise then anchored at an island about 100 kilometres to the west of New Caledonia, and the missionary party watched while 21 Islanders wee landed to establish a beche-de-mer station. When the Surprise arrived at Erub (Darnley) it was expected. There had been a beche-de-mer station there since 1864, and Thorngren had recommended it as a convenient and safe place to locate teachers. Yet McFarlane's published account of the event is deliberately misleading. he tries to give the impression that the Erubians had only had slight contact with visiting traders. He wrote, 'never did men feel more than we did then their absolute dependence on Divine Help'. But McFarlane was not so foolhardy as to trust in God alone, he was also relying on the help of the Torres Strait masters. His experience at Lifu had taught him that they might be a reliable system of support.
Until the arrival of the mission steamer Ellengowan in August 1874, McFarlane and Murray were totally dependent on the masters. After landing the teaches Gucheng, Mataika and their families at Erub (Darnley) in July 1871, the Surprise made directly for Banner's station at Tutu (Warrior). Banner gave the missionaries the use of his boats and crews, and his most experienced overseer and pilot Tongatapu Joe, to enable them to land Josaia and Siwene at Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis). When the second party arrived in 1872 the missionaries once again had the services of Joe, and Thorngren's Viking, and William Gay's steamer Wianuia ferried the teachers to their new mission stations. Later, when teachers were driven away by fever or threats, the masters fed and sheltered them, and provided passages to Somerset. Murray wrote that the Society 'owed a great debt' to James Merriman, the owner of the Tutu station, and his sense of helplessness in early 1873, when the Basilisk seizures almost cleared the Strait of vessels, indicates just how much the missionaries relief on the masters.
Despite this, however, it was not long before McFarlane and Murray became critical of the pearl-shellers for not exercising adequate control over their Pacific Islander crews. The men were allowed to roam the Strait in their boats with firearms, and cases came to the missionaries' notice on which Torres Strait Islanders had been intimidated, robbed, and in at least one case murdered, by Pacific Islanders. They made repeated complaints to the directors about the crews, at the same time emphasising that it was the employers who were to blame for the actions of their men. but they refused to name the masters responsible or make any specific allegations against them. McFarlane and Murray had placed themselves in a situation where they were totally dependent on the pearl-shellers and they could not afford to risk losing their goodwill. The missionaries also faced another dilemma. They needed the support of those in the fishery, but were conscious of the moral threat they posed to their prospective converts. Wherever there were pearl-shelling stations the teachers found it difficult to compete with the more worldly attractions they offered. by August 1874 almost the entire population of Mabuiag (Jervis) was employed in the fishery, and McFarlane considered them 'totally debauched by the shellers'. A similar situation existed at Tutu (Warrior). McFarlane realised that he needed to place teachers where they and their congregations would not be in moral danger, but the teachers knew that they could find sustenance and safety at the shelling stations, as well as the companionship of men from their own islands, so they continually fell back to them in times of need.
When McFarlane arrived in Torres Strait he regarded the work of the mission as being complementary to that of the other two arms of British colonialism in the region - the fishery and the Somerset administration. As time went by his opinion changed, and he tried to make the mission independent of both. but he could not isolate his teachers from the Pacific Islanders in the fishery and they grew steadily more dependent on each other's support. McFarlane liked to depict the teachers as rather simple creatures, but his view of them lacked dimension. He saw only what he wished to see, and that was their childlike devotion to himself and God's work. On the other hand he regarded the Pacific Islanders in the fishery as 'semi-savages'. But McFarlane rarely visited his Torres Strait stations, and he was oblivious to the fact that whatever success the teachers were having was largely due to the support they received from other Loyalty Islanders.
Many Pacific Islander maritime workers were missionary-grained Christians. There were a number of Loyalty Islanders at the first service held at Erub (Darnley) in July 1871, and when W. Wyatt Gill visited Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) in 1872, 40 Loyalty Islanders from the fishery attended a morning service. In 1878 McFarlane noted that most of the Pacific Islanders employed at Mabuiag (Jervis) attended Saneish's meetings when they could, and McFarlane and Murray both wrote that Tongatapu Joe, perhaps the most influential Pacific Islander in the Strait, was a man whose sympathies lay firmly with the missionaries. Certainly almost all the Loyalty Islander, Samoan, Rarotongan and Rotuman leading hands in the fishery were at least nominally Christian. As already mentioned, from the beginning the teachers relied on the support of other Pacific Islanders, especially their fellow Loyalty Islanders. In 1871 McFarlane wrote that Gucheng and Mataika were elated when Carl Thorngren's John Knox, arrived at Erub (Darnley) shortly after the Surprise, because many of the crew were friends of theirs from Life. The whole crew of the John Knox immediately deserted, and some of them helped the teachers to establish their stations. When Mataika left Erub to begin work amongst the people of Mer (Murray) he took tom, 'his excellent fellow-countryman', with him. Gucheng employed another of the John Knox deserters, Citania, as his assistant teacher, and Murray later appointed him to help Elia on the west coast of New Guinea. The teachers received support from their fellow Pacific Islanders in other ways as well. Elia's cutter was manned and skippered by Loyalty Islanders, and others even pilfered from the pearl-shelling stations in order to assist teachers who were short of provisions.
The teachers clearly were not as subservient as McFarlane liked to make out. They often acted on their own initiative and for their own reasons. A few, such as Elia and Josaia, had their own cutters to cruise about in, and it was not unusual for teachers to be away from their stations when the missionaries arrived to inspect them. They were appointed to particular communities, but often moved if the situation did not suit them. In October 1876 McFarlane admitted that there was scarcely a teacher in the Strait who had remained at the place where he had first built his house. Although McFarlane believed that they should be left largely to their own devices, by 1875 he was concerned about their increasingly independent attitude and he took steps to restrict their freedom. In 1874 the teachers had met, without the knowledge of the missionaries, to consider how to improve their pay. by this time Pacific Islanders in the fishery had successfully exploited the labour shortage to obtain shorter terms of contract and higher incomes. In comparison with their counterparts in the fishery therefore, the teachers were very poorly paid, and the gap was widening. In May 1875 they put their case to McFarlane and he agreed to pay them between 10 pounds and 12 pounds a year, partly in cash, and partly in goods of their choice ordered through him. but McFarlane added between 80 and 100 percent on to the cost price of the goods, and their discontent continued. some went behind his back to buy from the pearl-shellers, and by 1876 a number of them were in debt. They continued to complain until in 1877 McFarlane was forced to raise their wage to 20 pounds, though now he refused to give them any cash at all.
At the May 1875 meeting McFarlane also took the opportunity to reprimand the teachers for their shortcomings. He castigated Elia and Kutchene, who had built a house for the pearl-sheller Archibald McAusland at Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis), and then fallen out over how to divide the profit. He decided to send Mataika and Tom back to Lifu because of a scandal involving a woman, and he announced that the mission's boats could henceforth be used only for evangelical work on the coast of New Guinea. He also remonstrated with them about their excessive zeal in trying to stamp out the Islanders' traditional entertainments, arguing that they should concentrate on preaching about the positive aspects of Christianity. but this had little effect, and the teachers carried on much as they had in the past. Although the administrators and masters initially supported the mission, they soon became critical of the teachers. The teachers' Protestantism was different from theirs, but more importantly, they resented the manner in which they exercised their influence over the men in the fishery. Frank Jardine was convinced that the teachers had encouraged those who had taken part in the 1872 strike at Warrior Reef. In August 1872 he wrote, 'I lame them in a great measure for most of the rows and bother with the men employed in the fisheries, as they are a mischievous, lazy, and psalm singing lot, and make the stones for the others to throw.' The Tutu (Warrior) teachers had sent him a letter asking him to be lenient with the ringleaders who were in the Somerset lock-up for
mobbing their Captain and Chief Officer and almost beating them to death, to which they pleaded guilty. Also to calling them b....y white sons of b....s and as they are pupils of the missionary teachers it is only fair to conclude that the last sentence was learned at school.
What probably irritated Jardine and the masters most of all was that the teachers at Tutu were being materially supported by the pearl-shelling masters at the time of the strike. both Murray and gill considered Jardine to be a genuine friend of the mission. At a meeting in Sydney in February 1873, Gill recalled a conversation with him in which he heard 'one of the best testimonies of the use and value of Christian missions'. He quoted Jardine as saying of the teachers, 'Why, sir, you have made them men. You can do more with these men than we can do with handcuffs and our revolvers'. Gill believed that Jardine 'was too honest to flatter' and for that reason his testimony should be highly valued. But only two months before Jardine allegedly uttered these words he wrote:
I am sorry I touched on the missionary subject as I must say they are cattle I do not like. It is neither wise, or just, to leave a lot of ignorant nigger teachers (pardon the paradox) to their own devices, and the sooner the Rev Mr McFarlane returns to look after his flock the better for all concerned, and the pupils especially.
It was not the aims of the mission that Jardine objected to, but the method. He was clearly prejudiced against the very idea of Pacific Islander teachers, and the attitude was not uncommon. Moresby wrote of the teachers he met at Tutu (Warrior) in 1872.
instructed only since manhood in the truths of Christianity, and holding them like children in a simple illogical way, brought up by the missionaries in a state of dependence, indolent by habit and constitution ... they had been suddenly transplanted from their home and semi-civilized associates, a thousand miles hence.
Even Governor Normanby was of the opinion that it was 'quite preposterous' to think that any good could result from the teachers' presence in Torres Strait unless they were closely controlled by missionaries. The critics of the mission wrote disparagingly about the intellectual ability and character of the teachers, but the masters were more concerned about the fact that the teachers encouraged both the Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders to question their employers' authority. During the inquiry into Edwin Redclich's treatment of the crew of the Franz, held in March 1873, Redlich expressed the opinion that his men had been perfectly happy until they began to consort with the missionary party at Somerset. Redlich stated that a sudden change came over their general behaviour:
they were always away from the ship, spending their time at the missionaries, and I could not keep them on board, or, get them when they were wanted. Johnni 'Samoa' left the ship and went away to the missionaries where he remained three days, and even then only returned because he was ordered by the Police Magistrate.
The Franz's steward made a wager with the mate that because of the teachers not one of the crew would be aboard the schooner when it left Somerset. It is not known whether he won the bet. On islands where pearl-shelling and mission stations were in close proximity there was often intense animosity between masters and teachers. The masters objected to the teachers' practice of taking money from helplessly drunk divers. The teachers answered that it was common on their home islands to fine drunken seamen. The masters regarded the taking of roll calls at Sunday services as an attempt to intimidate Islanders who did not attend. The teachers considered they had a perfect right to keep a check on their congregations. The teachers also kept women at the mission houses while their men were out in the boats. They claimed that they did this to protect the women against the unwanted advances of other men. The masters thought they did it to satisfy their own sexual appetites. Indeed in 1879 the masters accused Saneish, the teacher at Mabuiag (Jervis), of conducting what was virtually a common brothel. Captain de Hogton of HMS Beagle and Charles Pennefather, captain of the Queensland government steamer Pearl, investigated the charges and Saneish was removed.
The teachers' behaviour often allowed the masters to take the high moral ground on these kinds of issues, but their criticisms were motivated more by a desire to undermine the growing influence of the teachers among their Pacific and Torres Strait Islander employees. The antagonism between the Pacific and Torres Strait Islander employees. The antagonism between masters and the teachers was essentially the product of a conflict of authority. In February 1876 Chester ordered that no Pacific Islanders, except the teachers and the crew of the Ellengowan, were to be allowed in the vicinity of the mission house at Somerset. by this time there were pearl-shelling stations at Pabaju (Albany), and the overall increase in the numbers involved in the fishery had transformed Somerset into a bustling little port. The small water police detachment was hard pressed to maintain order, and this was probably the principal reason why Pacific Islanders were banned from the hill where the missionaries lived. Chester and his family lived there as well and he preferred to keep black sailors at a distance. But like Jardine and most of the masters he also believed that the colonial order in Torres Strait would be best served if the teachers could be kept separate from the seamen.
By the late 1870s, the pearl-shelling masters were complaining that the teachers were actively discouraging Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders from entering the fishery. The missionaries denied the allegation, and argued that Torres Strait Islanders were not being persuaded into leaving the fishery, but that they chose to do so in order to learn how to deal with the masters as successfully as the Pacific Islanders had done. Nevertheless, Pennefather was convinced that there was a degree of coercion, and that the teachers were using their influence to stop the young men from joining the fishery in order to keep them under their control. Pennefather, however, had himself been a pearl-shelling master, and his idea of what was best for the Islanders reflected his past. He believed they were happier and better off when employed in the boats and certainly lore useful members of society than spending their lives sitting under coconut trees crooning Moodie and Sankey's hymns. While it is probably true that some Torres Strait Islanders wanted education to allow them to emulate the Pacific Islanders, it is also true that the teachers exercised a degree of coercion. Colonial officials and pearl-shellers resented this because they considered the teachers' influence to be disruptive of the colonial order. The missionaries encouraged it because it protected Torres Strait Islanders from unruly and immoral elements in the fishery, and because they wished to see an order in which Protestant Christianity was dominant.
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At first Torres Strait Islanders rejected the teachers wherever they were landed. In 1871 McFarlane had to negotiate with the Erubians for four days before they accepted Gucheng, and even then for a trial period of one year. In 1872 the people of Ugar (Stephens), another north-eastern island, refused to have a teacher among them at all. In 1873 the teachers at Parama (Bampton) were killed, and those left at Badu (Mulgrave) were forced to leave because the people refused to support them. Between 1871 and 1878 the teachers at Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) and Saibsai fled their stations on at least four occasions for fear of being killed. Indeed by 1874 the situation was so discouraging that McFarlane and Murray were convinced there was a determined conspiracy between the Parama, Tutu (Warrior) and Saibai Islanders to persuade other Torres Strait communities to reject, or even kill, the teachers who lived amongst them. Despite this resistance, Gucheng and Mataika were able to achieve considerable success in the north-eastern islands. The situation there was unique. The fishery had begun in the north-east, but from 1870 the islands became progressively more remote from the center of activity. As we have already seen, between 1872 and 1875 the north-eastern Islanders were effectively excluded from employment in pearl-shelling, and because the islands were beyond Queensland's jurisdiction they attracted a population of Pacific Islander deserters and time-expired men who had opted out of the European-dominated industry. There were a few European beche-de-mer fishermen at Erub (Darnley) and Mer (Murray) as well, but they had limited influence, and with other Pacific Islanders for support the teacehrs were not troubled by them. They encouraged the Torres Strait Islanders to work for their Pacific Islander friends in the beche-de-mer industry, and the communities were soon under the effective control of a clique of Pacific Islander teachers and skippers.
The mission's success in the north-eastern islands must also be seen in the light of Gucheng's character. McFarlane portrayed him as a gentle and stoical man. He recalled him reassuring his wife in 1871 that, 'If they (Erubians) kill us, or steal our goods, whatever we have to suffer, it will be very little compared with what He suffered for us'. But Gucheng's handling of the crisis that developed at Erub in 1873 shows a more determined side of his character. The Parama (Bampton) Islanders were encouraging their trading partners to follow their example and kill the teachers. Elia and Dauan (Mt Cornwallis) reported to McFarlane that they had offered the men of Saibai canoe loads of sago for the teachers' heads, and Gucheng suspected the Parama attack, canoes from there visited Erub on a Saturday night and left the next morning. This was an unusual thing for them to do after having travelled so far, and it aroused Gucheng's suspicions the Islanders' behaviour at Sunday morning service strengthened his suspicions, and at the afternoon service he warned the congregation that he knew what was in their minds:
Do you think that I don't know what your intentions are? And do you think that I am afraid of you? I come from a country of warriors. This man (pointing to a teacher who was staying with him) and I could beat you all. I come here to teach you, but remember I can fight. What are these but bits of Bamboo to me (here he took a bow from a native next to him and broke it across his knee). Be off to your homes and let me hear no more of this.
He added, 'Don't forget that I have a gun. I shall keep a good lookout at night. I warn you that the first man who approaches my house after dark will be shot. This seems to have cowed the Erubians, and leave no doubt that Gucheng was a man capable of intimidating them into accepting his authority. By 1875 McFarlane knew that the Torres Strait Islanders had no Polynesian-style 'chiefs', and his experience at Lifu had convinced him that a mission progressed more quickly if teachers became secular as well as spiritual leaders. Gucheng had the personal qualities to achieve this. In traditional Torres Strait society, status and authority were acquired through prowess in war, spiritual matters and trade. Gucheng had brought a new religious cult to the people, was armed with a gun, and had all the trappings. He lived in the largest house on the island, and when members of the Chevert expedition met him in August 1875 they were lavishly entertained with 'roast pig, fowl and a savoury bake made of cockles and yams'. This was at a time when his colleague at Mabuiag (Jervis) was still living wretchedly off the charity of the pearl-shellers. Gucheng was an outsider who nonetheless possessed all the necessary qualities to be a Torres Strait leader.
Murray claimed that the Erubians appreciated Gucheng as a secular leader because he protected them from the attacks of their traditional enemies and was able to keep pilfering Pacific Islanders out of their gardens. But he also bound himself to the community on other ways. Infanticide was practised throughout Torres Strait, and in keeping with mission policy Gucheng dedicated himself to the eradication of the practice. Soon after his arrival at Erub he adopted a newly born girl whom he believed was to be killed. Presents were made to the father, and the mother suckled her for a month before Gucheng and his wife took her in. Adoption was common throughout the islands, and although the elders remembered a child's natural parents, the foster father was always considered the 'real' father by the community. By adopting Mareta, Gucheng set an example against infanticide, and he also became more thoroughly integrated into the community and more acceptable to the Islanders as a community leader. Gucheng's determined character enabled him to take advantage of the favourable circumstances at Erub, and by 1875 he was undoubtedly the most influential man on the island.
With a stronghold in the north-east to fall back on, the teachers were able to increase their influence in all the Torres Strait communities. The people of the northern islands of Boigu (Talbot) and Saibai were the slowest to respond, probably because they were remote from the changes occurring on other islands, and because their strongest social, religious and commercial connections were with the villages of mainland New Guinea. Even so, after 1875, conversion increased apace on all the islands, even at Mabuiag (Jervis) and Tutu (Warrior) where the teachers had to compete with the pearl-shelling stations. The most probable cause was the massive measles epidemic of 1875. Although the evidence is fragmentary it appears that measles was introduced to Torres Strait from the Pacific via the ports of Queensland in about May 1875. In that year the disease was epidemic in the Pacific and 40,000 Islanders died at Fiji alone. In May 1875 the recruiting vessel Jason was quarantined at Maryborough with seven cases aboard, and a further seven recruits had did on the voyage. In July the May Queen was quarantined at Brisbane with six cases, and two recruits had died on the voyage. Despite these precautions the epidemic spread to the Queensland plantations. After 1874 the Torres Strait masters had permission to engage Pacific islanders at Queensland ports, and the disease was probably brought from there to Somerset.
In July 1875 Aplin, then Somerset police magistrate, reported that about fifteen Kaurareg from Muralag (Prince of Wales) had died from some type of fever, and that the rest were too weak to bury the dead. by August all the Gudang camped near Somerset were dead, besides 'a very large number from Prince of Wales and other islands'. In all cases the symptoms were the same, and Dr James of the Chevert pronounced the disease to be measles. The Chevert had just returned from Erub (Darnley), and its master, Charles Edwards, later informed the press that the epidemic had spread to Erub, and that about 100 people had already died at Mer (Murray). The population of Erub before the epidemic was about 140, and when Pennefather inspected the island four years later it had fallen to about 80. Pennefather attributed the decline to the epidemic. Edwards also reported that the disease was so prevalent in the fishery that the masters had been forced to suspend pearl-shelling. Measles is a droplet disease, and the close proximity of life between decks and the mobile nature of the maritime industries would have caused it to spread quickly, especially if masters returned sick crew to their home islands. The mortality rates at Muralag (Prince of Wales), and in the north-eastern islands at the opposite end of the Strait, surely indicate that few communities escaped infection.
The dramatic decline of the populations of Saibai and Moa (Banks) suggests that measles was there as well. In 1873 there were more than 600 people at Saibai. In June 1877 the population was about 270. There were about 250 people at Moa in May 1875, but by the end of the year the number was about 170. In his letters McFarlane often mentioned that the Islanders were dying out, but he never referred to the epidemic. This was because he was partly responsible for introducing measles to Torres Strait, and almost solely responsible for its spread to Port Moresby. McFarlane left Somerset on 12 June 1875 aboard the Ellengowan bound for Port Moresby with a group of Rarotongan and Niuan teachers. A few of the teachers were prostrate with fever, but at the time McFarlane had no idea it was measles. He stopped at Yam (Turtle-Backed) to engage a Loyalty Islander stoker and then sailed to Ugar (Stephens) to take on coal from the wreck of the Batavia. McFarlane then made for Erub (Darnley), where the missionary party wandered around the island for four days. When the Ellengowan sailed for Port Moresby on 18 June the stoker was left behind because he was too sick to travel, and between Erub and Port Moresby the measles reached epidemic proportions aboard the steamer. At Port Moresby William Lawes expressed his fear that whatever the disease was the New Guineans might catch it. But McFarlane answered that 'They most likely would but they must take their chance of that'. From Port Moresby measles spread along the coast in both directions and into the interior. Lawes wrote that every canoe that comes from east or west brings the same sad tidings of sickness and death. How far the epidemic spread and when it died out is impossible to say. Thousands of New Guineans may have died.
In 1882 Henry Chester claimed that the epidemic had taken off more than twenty percent of the population of Torres Strait. Yet in May 1876 McFarlane wrote that the people of Erub (Darnley) and Mer (Murray) were dying out because the pearl-shelling masters had ruined their constitutions with diving and drink. This is hardly credible. These Islanders grew up at sea in their canoes, were not being employed in significant numbers in the pearl-shelling industry, and had very limited access to alcohol. McFarlane's explanation was obviously an attempt to shift the heavy burden of responsibility from himself for his part in the whole sorry affair. Torres Strait Islanders did not believe in death by natural causes, and when it occurred they blamed malevolent magic. Now they began to associate new sicknesses with the new religion. In 1873 when fifteen Mabuiag (Jervis) Islanders died from some unknown disease, the people immediately moved away from the teacher's house because they thought they were being punished for having stolen from him. A year later the teachers at Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) fled the island after one of the old leading men died. He was an opponent of the mission, and the people there were convinced that the teacher had used magic to kill him. for the Islanders the 1875 epidemic was a massive display of supernatural power, and they reacted to it in different ways. The Saibai Islanders rejected Christianity because it was 'a gospel of death, carrying sickness wherever it goes'. They handed back their grammar books and would not let the children attend school. The people of Boigu (Talbot) on the other hand reacted in just the opposite way. When Chester visited them in 1877 a group approached him holding up 'English primers' printed for them by the missionaries in their own language. Chester believed they regarded the books with a kind of superstitious reverence as talismans for their protection'. Whether Torres Strait Islanders sought the protection of the teachers' magic, or tried to escape from it, they were clearly convinced of its efficacy.
The teachers' was one of terror and revenge. At Mer (Murray) in the 1890s, Finau preached that if the Islanders did not abandon their traditional dances they would go to hell, where kerosene would be poured over them and set alight. He also blamed the Bathurst Bay cyclone of 1899, in which about 100 boat crew lost their lives, on an irreverent seaman who refused to stop playing his concertina during a service. For nearly four years before 1875 the pioneer teachers were under the sole guidance of Archibald Murray. He was a preacher of a 'highly spiritual character', and the highlight of his career was the Tutuila revival of 1839-41 at Samoa. Gibson described the revival as 'the greatest phenomenon of its kind in the history of the Samoan missions'. The revival followed an influenza epidemic which swept through all Samoa, but it was most dramatic at Tutuila, where Murray was stationed. He sanctioned and exploited the hysteria caused by the epidemic in order to win converts. Given the teachers' habit of calling down the wrath of God it is possible that they did the same in 1875, and that they encouraged the Islanders to believe the measles had been sent by God to punish them for being slow to accept his, and therefore their, authority.
Whatever the case, by 1880 the teachers were the most influential men in most Torres Strait communities, and they were in almost total control of the north-eastern islands. Josaia, the teacher who replaced Mataika at Mer (Murray) after his disgrace in 1877, kept all the women of marriageable age locked up in a compound near the mission house at night, and during the day they were required to work for the mission, probably as domestic servants at the teacher-training institute. Anyone who wished to marry first had to obtain his permission, and those who offended against the laws of the mission were severely punished. Indeed, Josaia had men and women whipped for the most trivial offences. On one occasion he ordered three boys to be tied to a tree and flogged for passing a 'joking remark about his having taken a boat's crew of women on the reef with him to fish'. A woman was flogged for arguing with her husband, and another for arguing with her brother. One young man was flogged with a stingray tail for pulling a girl's hair. Eventually Josaia's conduct was brought to Henry Chester's attention by the distinguished Russian naturalist Mikluho-Maklai, who visited Mer (Murray) in April 1880, and Chester sent Pennefather to investigate. He reported to Chester that the wounds on one of Josaia's victims were still fresh, and that, 'judging from the way in which the stripes had been laid on, I should say the flogger was well qualified for a boatswain's-mate's berth on board of a man-of-war.'
Pennefather questioned Josaia about the floggings. He claimed that they had been carried out on the orders of Booguie (Harry), the headman appointed by Chester after Mer was annexed to Queensland in 1879. But Bouguie was a weak old man and the people told Pennefather he was 'merely a tool' in the teacher's hands. Pennefather concluded that Booguie was 'completely under the thumb of the missionary teacher, who is supported by a staff of idle, loafing, South Sea Islanders'. He gathered all the Islanders together and told them that flogging would not allowed, and that in future, offences of a serious nature would be dealt with only by the police magistrate. He warned Josaia hat he would report what he had learned, and that there would be trouble if the flogging continued. Josaia's conduct was hardly exceptional. On the New Guinea coast a teacher shot a boy for fishing on Sunday, and another boy was killed when a teacher pushed him from the platform of his house. Canoes were broken up after their owners had gone fishing on Sunday, and shots were sometimes fired over villages to intimidate the inhabitants into attending services. In the north-eastern Torres-Strait islands the teachers were able to achieve even greater control over the communities than was possible in New Guinea. The populations were relatively small, and the teachers had the support of their friends from the fishery. Although they moderated their behaviour after the missionaries relieved Josaia of his authority in 1881, the north-eastern islands remained firmly under the control of Pacific Islanders until the colonial administration made a concerted attempt to challenge their authority in the mid-1880s.
1880 was probably the high point of the Pacific Islander ascendancy in Torres Strait. by then those engaged in the pearl-shelling industry were earning wages far in excess of their colleagues on sugar plantations, and some of the more successful skippers had purchased boats to work on their own account. With the support of these men the teachers were able to consolidate their secular authority. This done they began rigorously to impart their own style of Christianity to the Torres Strait Islanders. But although they destroyed the most sacred objects associated with the old religion, many of them believed in the efficacy of the Islanders' traditional magic, and some practices continued. The teachers incorporated known Torres Strait islander sorcerers into the mission hierarchy in order to prevent them from becoming the focus of opposition, and one of the first Torres Strait Islander teachers to graduate from the Papuan Institute at Mer (Murray) claimed to be a sorcerer himself. The new religion was being indigenised, and this process was being directed by the teachers. In 1880 there was a real threat that before the century was out the Pacific Islanders would eradicate altogether the customs and traditional practices of Torres Strait.
The Torres Strait Islanders And The Pearling Industry: A Case of Internal Colonialism
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