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Pacific Islander involvement in the pastoral industry of the Gulf of Carpentaria (1).

Introduction: Queensland and the Pacific labour trade, 1863-1882

Much of the historiography of Pacific Islanders in Australia has concentrated on their role in the sugar industry, ignoring their early involvement in the pastoral industry. (2) Pacific Islanders, who as individuals or as small groups involved in pastoralism, have yet to be effectively incorporated into the historiography of the labour trade. Very little detailed information or research has emerged on Pacific Islanders engaged in pastoral pursuits in Queensland during the 1860s-1870s. One reason is the paucity of surviving governmental or other archival materials dealing with this particular aspect of the labour trade. (3) However, recent research by Carol Gistitin has begun to resurrect their involvement in the early pastoral industry of central Queensland from 1867, and in the process has demonstrated a long-term Pacific Islander community presence that exists to the present day. (4) This article therefore seeks to provide a glimpse into the presence and experience of Pacific Islanders in Queensland's gulf country, who so far have been largely ignored by historians.

During the span of the nineteenth century, the south-west Pacific region was drawn into the net of British, German, American, French and Australian imperialism. This penetration was usually carried out initially by traders, then by missionaries, settlers, administrators and foreign military forces. The concomitant disruption or disintegration of traditional Island societies and economies has been well documented, as has the siphoning off of the diverse resources of these areas towards centres of imperial and colonial control. The south-west Pacific region also provided human resources, which were eventually turned into a vast labour reserve that could be called upon to serve the needs of capitalist enterprises, not only among the islands of the region, but also in the Australian colonies. (5) It is as part of this experience that Pacific Islanders found themselves in Queensland in areas such as the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York, Torres Strait and in eastern New Guinea. (6) Dawn May has already clearly established it was the shortage of labour in north Queensland that saw pastoralists experiment with Pacific Islander (7) labourers from the 1860s:
 Because of distance and isolation, poor working conditions and Aboriginal
 resistance, squatters initially found it necessary to offer high wages to
 induce workers into the industry. These rates were maintained after 1866
 because of labour shortages resulting from competition from newly emerging
 industries and a loss of manpower to the north Queensland goldfields. In a
 bid to obtain an adequate supply of labour and to lower wages, pastoralists
 tried to inundate the market with European immigrants and, when this
 failed, to introduce cheap Melanesian and Chinese labour. (8)

Indentured Pacific Islanders were first introduced into New South Wales for pastoral purposes in 1847 by Benjamin Boyd, but no large-scale recruitment took place until the early 1860s. (9) But it must also be remembered that Pacific Islanders as working ships' crews were independently arriving in Australian ports, particularly Sydney, throughout the intermediate decades as part of the maritime trade. It was not until 1863 that Pacific Islanders were brought into the colony of Queensland, first solely under the Masters and Servants Acts, and from 1868 under the extra supervision of the Polynesian Labourers Act. (10)

Within the formal labour trade there was over time a shift in the areas of recruiting from south to north. For Queensland, like other Pacific recruiting centres, the principal recruiting areas were the Loyalty Islands up to 1866, the Loyalty Islands and the New Hebrides from 1867 to 1872, the northern New Hebrides and southern Solomon Islands from 1873 to 1877, and then the northern New Hebrides, Santa Cruz and the southern Solomons from 1878 to 1882. (11) A very important factor to consider in any assessment of Pacific Islander participation within colonial activities is that Islanders were almost always regarded by their European contemporaries as biologically inferior beings, and thus perceived to be highly exploitable as a labour resource, and cheap to employ and sustain. Pacific Islanders, as well as other non-European labour, were also believed to be the only viable labour force that could withstand the rigours of labouring in tropical Queensland, Torres Strait and New Guinea.

Colonial expansion and Pacific Islanders in north Queensland and the gulf country in the 1860s-1870s

The 1860s and 1870s mark a period of determined European colonial expansion and occupation of north-eastern Australia and eastern New Guinea. The success of this colonial expansion has generally been perceived as being due to the efforts of European administrators, missionaries, pearlers, beche-de-merers and pastoralists who established the first permanent settlements in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York and Torres Strait, and eastern New Guinea. Within this process though, some of the crucial participants in, and contributors to, the `success' of European colonial expansion into these regions was in fact the widespread presence of Pacific Islanders who were used by Europeans to establish their dominance. During this period, Pacific Islanders were some of the most significant and in some locations actually the majority of, non-indigenous people involved in the process of colonial expansion and development. The involvement of Pacific Islanders on the mission, maritime, agricultural, and pastoral frontiers ensured the successful operation of these ventures.

The few far northern European settlements that emerged in the 1860s were small and had few resident Europeans. These settlements were also geographically remote not only from each other, but also from the main centres of colonial settlement in the distant south-east. These beachheads of European expansionism were highly dependent for most of their communications and supplies on inconsistent and irregular sea links. Islanders from many parts of the Pacific were in many cases a substantial part of the crews of the coastal trading vessels that served these isolated settlements.

Apart from the joint imperial--colonial settlement at Somerset (Port Albany) on the tip of Cape York established in August 1864, the only other settlements recently established in the far north were Burketown on the Albert River at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cardwell in Rockingham Bay, Cleveland Bay (Townsville), and Port Denison (Bowen) in Edgecumbe Bay. (12) Settlement at Cooktown, Port Douglas, and Cairns did not follow until the 1870s. (13) These settlements were dependent upon obtaining a large and cheap labour force to carry out many labouring functions. The very limited nature of European settlement, plus contemporary perceptions that labouring in the far northern and tropical regions was beyond the capabilities of Europeans, created a situation where the employment of large numbers of non-Europeans, particularly Pacific Islanders, was encouraged. In the far north the importance of cheap labour, and the near total dependence upon maritime industries for communications, services and supplies, created a strong Pacific Islander presence during the 1860s and 1870s.

Demand for labour in north Queensland was created by the expansion of squatters into the region. `Apart from the labour requirements for day to day operations of properties, considerable additional labour was required to help erect basic structures on newly established runs.' (14) Dawn May has pointed out that the `only potential supply of labour' in this 1860s period was the Aboriginal population, but it was some time before `this valuable source could be tapped'. (15) Through the first half of the 1860s the emergent northern pastoral industry was to be plagued by the shortage of suitable labour:
 Scarcity of labour in the area was to be expected. With sheep initially
 being preferred, shepherds were the main type of labour required and
 shepherding had always been regarded in Australia as an extremely
 uncongenial occupation carried out by cantankerous dotards, incapable of
 doing anything better with their lives. (16)

Of course the region's labour shortage was not only confined to shepherding, as bush workers required for carrying out improvements and other general maintenance were also in short supply throughout the 1860s. Some of the reasons for this situation were clearly the time lag in communications between these isolated stations and recently created northern townships with more established communities in the distant south-east of the colony. A major inhibitor for labourers venturing to north Queensland locales was also the fear of Aborigines, for which `massacres' such as that at Cullin-la-Ringo (between Springsure and Emerald) in 1861 were recent reminders of the potential violence that lay on Queensland's pastoral frontiers. This determined high wages as the only inducement available for attracting European labourers throughout 1866-71, and although demand for labour decreased in the late 1860s, the supply of labour also diminished, resulting in continued high wages. To combat such operating expenses and to ensure the requisite labour was available, northern pastoralists turned to cheap coloured labour, and from 1867 Pacific Islanders now began to feature in Queensland's pastoral industry. (17)

In a report on `Polynesian Laborers' in Queensland dated 6 July 1868, the Brisbane Immigration Agent, Mr M'Donnell, informed parliament that of the total of 1147 `Polynesians' employed in the colony, 488 (or 42.55 per cent) were occupied in the pastoral industry. Those were distributed amongst the following Queensland districts: Burke--10; Bowen--104; Brisbane--2; Clermont--119; Condamine--13; Dalby--46; Gayndah--17; Ipswich--7; Maryborough--9; Nebo--47; Roma--29; Springsure--23; Taroom--28; and Mitchell--34. (18) In 1868-69 forty-five per cent of all Pacific Islanders in Queensland were engaged in pastoral activity, the trend continuing though to a lesser degree until the end of the 1870s, when new legislation restricted their places of employment to tropical and sub-tropical locations and to the type of occupations engaged. The legislative restrictions enacted in 1877 and 1880 aimed to appease growing working class interests and to limit competition with white labour. (19)

During the early 1860s the northern parts of Queensland were also experiencing a westward pastoral expansion towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. Favourable reports circulated about the rich pastures of Queensland's north-west, earlier named the `Plains of Promise'. In January 1864 the Queensland Government opened the new pastoral districts of Burke and Cook, which had by the end of the year led to a land rush in the Gulf country. (20) In 1867 William Landsborough, the Police Magistrate at the Burke settlement in the Gulf, confidently reported to the Colonial Secretary:
 I cannot conclude without again expressing my firm belief strengthened by
 the [exploration] experience I have lately gained that Carpentaria-country
 must become a territory of greatest importance owing to the vast extent of
 fine available country which has proved itself singularly well adapted for
 sheep and cattle. (21)

The 1860s witnessed the establishment and development of the important, though geographically isolated Gulf settlements of Burketown, Normanton and Sweers Island.

Burketown was originally known as Carpentaria Township but was later renamed in honour of the explorer Robert Burke who had traversed the region in 1861. This settlement was located on the Albert River inland of the Gulf and was first settled by pastoralists who intended it to be developed as a distributing centre for services and supplies for inland pastoral stations of the Burke District. (22) Normanton was established in 1867 following the explorations of William Landsborough who selected the site for the settlement on the Norman River, and was developed into a major port of access for the surrounding pastoral region. (23) T. H. Cowl recounted there were only forty Europeans at this location in September 1871, and that during the early 1870s Normanton was merely a small depot from which to distribute goods to the pastoral interior. (24)

Sweers Island is part of the South Wellesley Group in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and was the site of the attempted settlement of Camarvon initiated by William Landsborough. In the 1860s Sweers Island was advocated as the best place for a major port and settlement in the Gulf. (25) But Sweers Island declined in importance in the 1870s, losing out to the other settlements, especially Normanton, which had established itself as a viable and more convenient port. Initial support for Sweers Island as a commercial entrepot is evident in the interest shown by Robert Towns & Co. in November 1868. The company requested permission from the Queensland Government to purchase allotments of land on the Island:
 ... we are making arrangements for establishing regular communication
 through the Straits to England, and forwarding the produce of the northern
 portion of Queensland by ships going that route direct.

 We have during the preceeding [sic] and present year sent vessels to take
 the wool tallow &c. of the Settlers, and have gone to great expense in
 carrying out a plan which must be of essential service in increasing the
 commercial importance of Sweers Island as well as Northern Queensland. (26)

The islands adjacent to Sweers Island were also seen to have commercial potential. Mr W. Yaldwin in 1869 applied to lease Bentinck Island `for the purpose of stocking the [island] ... with cattle and horses with the view of supplying the settlement at Sweers Island and the shipping at the Gulf with beef, and the Indian market with horses'. (27)

In a substantial study on Aboriginal labour in north Queensland's pastoral industry, Dawn May has drawn attention to the type of squatters located in this region:
 The typical squatter in the 1860s was an owner-manager who frequently had
 the backing of a sleeping partner, business house or family member ...
 Writing of the area round the Gulf, Edward Palmer noted that between 1861
 and 1869, most of the owners of suitable country bordering the Gulf were in
 fact resident owners. These included J. Sutherland of Rockland, D. McIntyre
 of Dalgonally, G. McGillvray of Eddington and Martin Hetzer of Urilla.
 Others in the Burke District who were resident owners included Frank
 Annings and his sons, initially at Reedy Springs, Robert and Charles Gray
 at Hughenden and Glendower, Kirk and Sutherland at Marathon and John Ranken
 at Afton Downs.

 There was however some company ownership of properties in the 1860s. Most
 noticeable in this respect were the numerous runs taken up on behalf of
 various Towns partnerships. J. G. Macdonald took up a string of runs to the
 Gulf including Harvest Home, Carpentaria Downs, Inkerman and Gregory Downs
 while J. M. Black, a partner with, and northern agent for Robert Towns,
 applied for a series of runs including Woodstock and Jarvisfield. These
 were operated by managers ... (28)

The Gulf pastoral industry initially depended on sheep as the primary livestock, but by 1865 the industry began the changeover to cattle. Firstly, sheep proved to be unsuited to the conditions of the Gulf, and by 1867 wool prices had also decreased. Running cattle also utilised less labour, which in turn involved lower running costs when compared to sheep which required extensive fencing and the employment of numbers of shepherds, as well as far more constant attention and vigilance. (29) Dawn May has emphasised that Queensland's economic development during 1861-1900 was more dependent on the expansion of its primary industries, rather than through processes of urbanisation more applicable elsewhere in Australia:
 The first wave of pastoral occupation in north Queensland, beginning in
 1861, was characterised by unbounded optimism tempered with a sense of
 urgency. Although the area is now predominantly cattle producing, sheep
 were preferred initially; by 1868, nine per cent of the colony's total
 sheep population was located in the Burke, Cook and Kennedy pastoral
 districts. However the prevalence of footrot, fluke and lung worm and spear
 grass rendered much of the area unsuitable for sheep. By 1873 only two per
 cent of the colony's sheep remained in the northern zone. The situation
 continued until the early 1880s when parts of the Flinders region were
 restocked with sheep. The situation was different with cattle. In 1871, the
 three northern pastoral districts contained only 14 per cent of the
 colony's cattle, but this steadily increased until the turn of the century
 when the northern district held 37 per cent. (30)

Yarwood in his expansive study of the Australian horse trade pointed out that limited horse exports left Queensland as early as the late 1840s for destinations such as India. The earliest mention of the breeding of Walers in the Gulf region for the Indian market though is stated as not occurring till the late 1880s onwards at Floraville Station. (31)

Despite this changeover from sheep to cattle, a large and cheap labour force was still essential for the development and prosperity of the Gulf pastoral industry. European settlement in the late 1860s was clearly not very far advanced, nor in any way near providing the numbers required to carry out the grand objectives of the pastoralists. In March 1868, William Landsborough, the Police Magistrate for the region, reported on the meagre number of European residents in the gulf country. `There are about 100 people at the three townships of Carpentaria [Burketown, Normanton, and Sweers Island], each township has at present about the same number inhabitants, Sweers Island has however by recent calculations rather the most.' (32) The region's isolation and climate, which limited the desirability of the Gulf as a destination for European labourers, was also a consideration. (33) The pastoral industry's requirement for a large and cheap labour force would as a result see hundreds of Pacific Islanders brought into the Gulf of Carpentaria during 1868-1871. Those involved in the Gulf pastoral industry also commenced employment of Aborigines very early on, whether local inhabitants or those brought in by the pastoralists from the older pastoral districts, with David Trigger pointing out that `Gulf Country squatters (in the Burketown area) us[ed] local Aboriginal labour from as early as 1867'. (34)

Dawn May has already pointed out that `Melanesians' had a reputation for being more docile to handle in comparison to European shepherds. This was of course confirmed by the fact these Pacific Islanders were indentured for three years service, so pastoralists were `assured of a far more stable labour supply than he was accustomed to with white workers'. This benefit was then complimented by the cheaper costs involved with the utilisation of Islanders:
 Their annual wage, regardless of where they were employed was 6 [pounds
 sterling]. To this had to be added agency expenses, return fares to the
 Melanesians' homes at the expiration of their term, tobacco, clothing and
 blankets. With rations it was estimated that this averaged out to around
 41.0.8 [pounds sterling]per annum over the three year period compared with
 approximately 100 [pounds sterling] for a white shepherd to the north. (35)

One of the first indications of Pacific Islanders in the Gulf district of Burke prior to 1868-69 is the presence of fifteen `Polynesians' who are recorded as being employed in the pastoral industry. These `Polynesians' were recorded as twelve from Lifu (Lifou--Loyalty Islands) and three from the Sandwich Islands (Efate--New Hebrides, now Vanuatu). (36) Then on 17 September 1868 the 132 ton schooner Spunkie (37) arrived at Sweers Island bringing 150 indentured male Pacific Islanders, 141 of whom were subsequently employed in the pastoral industry, and nine in other `agricultural' occupations. (38) A passenger on board the Spunkie during this labour voyage, Samuel H. Hunter, recalled in 1872 how he accompanied the vessel in the capacity of agent for a Mr Crossley: `the Schooner "Spunkie" ... left Port Denison for the South Sea Islands about the month of July 1868, for the purpose of recruiting laborers for Employers in Queensland under license by the Government authorizing Mr. John Crossley to engage one hundred and fifty Islanders for certain Employers in the Gulf District'. (39)

The experiences of Pacific Islanders in the Gulf, 1868-1872

All 150 indentured Pacific Islander labourers who arrived aboard the Spunkie appear to have been obtained from the islands of the New Hebrides and Banks groups (now Vanuatu). (40) In a Sydney press item entitled `Carpentaria', republished from the Queensland Express in February 1869, we get a rare glimpse of these Pacific Islanders:
 A correspondent of the Queensland Express writes on the 30th November
 [1868]:--I am glad to be able to report that a small gold rush to the
 Gilbert has taken place, especially at present, as the 150 Kanakas must
 have thrown some people out of employment, and these, I hope will now be
 more profitably employed for the country ... The Kanakas will be good
 shepherds, if they are only as well treated as they were on the ship that
 brought them (the Spunkie). It was a great pleasure to see how happy they
 were on that ship. The settlers require some cheaper labour than they have
 had previously, for such was ruinous, especially in a new district where
 everything is at a disadvantage. The Melanie has arrived, and takes some
 Kanakas home. To-day I saw one of the Kanakas who is going home collecting
 water-melon seeds to sow in his Island home. This has been a very dry
 season, more so than any known since the country was settled upon four
 years ago ... (41)

Problems associated with these newly arrived Pacific Islanders were alluded to in a letter to the editor, `The Polynesians at Carpentaria', by `A. K.' of Sweer's Island (originally dated 15 December 1868) published in the Brisbane Courier in March 1869:
 ... the Spunkie, arrived here some months ago with a cargo of Polynesian
 laborers. They were parcelled out, some amongst the squatters on the main
 land, a few were taken by the residents on Sweer's Island, and the
 remainder by a firm which has at present the trade of the Gulf.

 On the night of Sunday, the 13th December, all the blackfellows, with the
 exception of two, and a gin, decamped, to the number of twenty-eight,
 including those belonging to the steamer Pioneer, at that time lying on the
 beach, under repairs, taking with them a large boat, the property of
 Messrs. R. Towns and Co. They supplied themselves with rations, axes, &c.,
 and have not been heard of. It is supposed they have made for the mainland.
 On their being missed the Customs and pilot boats were at once got
 underweigh, and the Pioneer sailed at midnight on the 13th in quest of the
 runaways. I do not wonder at their bolting, seeing the manner in which they
 have been treated by the understappers of the firm alluded to.

 I have seen slavery in the British West India Islands in 1832-33, and until
 it was abolished ... I never saw or heard of a white man striking a negro
 with his fist, using a rope's end, or galloping after and flogging them
 with a horsewhip, as has been witnessed on this island.

 Injustice to the settlers on the island, who engaged one or more of those
 blackfellows, I would beg to state that they were fed, clothed, and treated
 most humanely, and would not have bolted with the others had they not been
 forced to do so.

 Our worthy Police Magistrate, Mr. Landsborough, is at present on leave of
 absence; however we have two JJP on the island at present ... who will no
 doubt see justice done to all parties, the great difficulty being the want
 of an interpreter. The Polynesians said they were to be sent back in three
 months to their own country.

 ... Affidavits can be forwarded detailing the cowardly treatment those
 helpless people have been subjected to ... (42)

Most of this group of 150 Pacific Islanders served out their indentures as labourers on pastoral stations, many distributed amongst various employers, large and small, in and around Burketown and the surrounding Gulf region. Thirty-one members of this group initially were sent as labourers to Carnarvon, Sweers Island; twenty-five of these were contracted to Robert Towns & Co. who possessed pastoral, maritime and trading concerns on this island, as well as throughout the district. William Landsborough in 1870 was also able to confirm that these Gulf Pacific Islanders made `first rate shepherds'. (43) Archival sources record though that of this group of 150 Pacific Islanders, at least twelve died within approximately twelve months of their arrival in the Gulf, and there is also an additional death recorded as occurring on 3 July 1870 from this group: (44)
 Many Islanders, especially newly arrived recruits, had difficulty adjusting
 to the different environment. The Melanesian death rate was at times five
 or six times higher than that for Europeans with respiratory illnesses
 being the major cause of death ... It was also believed that the drastic
 change in diet, from one based on fish and coconuts to one with a large
 meat component, often caused dysentary and ultimately death. (45)

Other information on the experience of these Islanders can be found in a government register of South Sea Islanders on stations kept by the district Police Magistrate, William Landsborough. Great distances were involved between the employment locations of many of the Islanders and Landsborough's headquarters and his official travels. It appears only some were ever properly `inspected' or `instructed', some only ever partially inspected, while others seem not to ever have been inspected at all during their period of engagement. The register notes problems with the condition of the Islanders, often due to mistreatment. At the establishment of John Swan at Carnarvon (Sweers Island), on `Jan. 11 1870 Capt. Swan complained of His boy ... [who] deserted and the boy complained of ill [treatment]. [T]he boy returned when his master had been cautioned.' (46) Also recorded were cases of Pacific Islanders absconding from their employers. In May 1870 an employee absconded at the establishment of Joseph Travers of Burketown, and at Canobie Station on `June 3, 1869 [Edward] Palmer reported that Which had deserted. Afterwards returned. Toilier was also returned, was reported to have absconded previously.' (47)

In a letter from J. Brodie (Chairman), John Brown JP, and M. Hetzer JP, dated Police Court Norman (Creek District), 15 September 1869, the Queensland Colonial Secretary was informed of the large numbers of `Polynesians' present and the necessity of an Inspector under the Polynesian Laborer's Act at the Gulf:
 ... in room of Mr. Police Magistrate Landsborough who has left this
 District, and in doing so we beg to mention for a considerable time no
 steps have been taken to carry out the provisions of that Act, although the
 number of Polynesians employed in this District appears to be very large.

 We therefore respectfully beg to recommend that as Mr. Frederick William
 Myles, late Superintendent of Floraville Station has been nominated Sheep
 Inspector for the District, he may be also appointed to the Office of
 Inspector of Polynesians, the combination of which Offices will be
 considerable public convenience. (48)

Government comments attached to this letter note that `Returns are regularly received from employers in this district ... There is no vessel with Polynesians expected at the Norman. [and] It has been decided that the Police Magistrates should be Inspector of Polynesians in their respective districts'. (49)

There are also at least four additional instances of small parties of Pacific Islanders arriving at the Gulf on vessels coming from places such as Maryborough. One of these was on 18 February 1871 when four Pacific Islanders from `Apie' (Epi--New Hebrides) arrived on the vessel Mary Campbell (50) bound for Canobie Station near Normanton. (51) This vessel later brought a further thirteen Pacific Islanders from Maryborough to the Gulf on 26 June 1871. This group consisted of four Islanders from `Lifu' (Loyalty Islands) and nine from `Apie' of which two were recorded as having died on the passage to the Gulf. The eleven surviving members of this group were initially employed at Sorghum Downs Station near Normanton. (52)

Another group of four Pacific Islanders from `Apie' arrived in Normanton on the vessel Ottawa on 15 July 1871, the master of which was named Robinson. This group was also noted as having `arrived from Islands at Maryborough--transhipped to Norman'. (53) And again, on the 22 December 1871, the Hannah Broomfield captained by a man named Lake is recorded as having arrived in Norman (Normanton) with eleven surviving Pacific Islanders. (54) Four of these Islanders came from `Lifu' and nine from `Apie', all `imported from Maryborough'; two other `Apie' Islanders died on route to the Gulf. (55)

It seems possible that the Pacific Islanders who arrived in the Gulf on the Hannah Broomfield on 22 December 1871, were in some way confused or double recorded, with the wrong vessel named in the original registers. These Islanders and those which arrived aboard the Mary Campbell on 18 February 1871, seem to be the same group, as both have the same details of the arrival of eleven survivors out of an original group of thirteen, with two dying during the voyage from Maryborough to the Gulf. Therefore this may be the result of clerical deficiencies but, importantly, the registers do distinctly state two separate vessels, arriving at two different times, so it may in fact indicate two separate groups which by mere coincidence had similar numbers and fatalities on the voyage to the Gulf.

Additional information regarding Pacific Islanders in the Gulf of Carpentaria comes to light as a result of an investigation accompanied by a report from the Governor of Queensland, Lord Normanby, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Kimberley, dated 4 May 1872. This investigation was initiated following the receipt of information from Normanby's New South Wales counterpart, Governor Belmore, in January 1872. Normanby drew attention to alleged outrages against `Polynesians' said to have been committed on board the schooner Spunkie during the 1868 voyage to recruit 150 Pacific Islanders for the Gulf pastoral industry. (56) Governor Belmore stated:
 [A]bout three years ago a vessel named the `Spunkie', well known in the
 Polynesian labour trade called at the Island of Marabal Banks' Group and
 obtained possession of a number of natives of that Island under the
 representation that the `Spunkie' was the Bishop's (Patterson) vessel. The
 natives were taken to the Gulf in Queensland and hired by Mr Hetzer Edkins,
 managing for Morehead and Young, and others were engaged for a station of
 Messrs. Towns and Co. It is not stated that the hirers knew the way in
 which they had been obtained.

 The `Spunkie' was commanded at the time by a German named Rees, still in
 the labour trade and well known ... (57)

It was also reported that one group of Pacific Islanders who had arrived aboard the Spunkie was expected `to arrive in Brisbane shortly driving cattle overland, and they will be sent to their homes their term of service having expired'. (58) These overlanding Pacific Islanders from the Gulf were `Nome of the Natives hired by Mr Heizer Edkins', managing for Morehead and Young. (59) This overland droving group possibly included some of the twenty-two Pacific Islanders from `Muralaba' who were initially engaged on the 23 September 1868 to work on Moocoobye Station near Burketown owned by Morehead and Young. (60)

Governor Normanby's report and evidence to Earl Kimberley considered `that it satisfactorily disproves the charge which has been made'. (61) Amongst the documentation and statements gathered by Normanby there is also the evidence of D. Salmond the Sub-Immigration Agent at Rockhampton, who questioned some of the Pacific Islanders employed by Mr Edkins. This evidence provides insight into factors that encouraged Pacific Islanders to enter into indentured labour engagements:
 I carefully and minutely questioned them by means of two interpreters,
 countrymen of their own, as to the manner in which they were obtained at
 the Island and the reasons which induced them to come to this Colony; they
 answered that they came because they wished to get axe, musket, tomahawk
 for work, that the Captain of the vessel `Spunkie' did not steal them. I
 may add that the Islanders were all in good spirits and apparently well
 satisfied with the treatment they had received in this Colony, I asked them
 if they had liked their master, they answered very good. (62)

Apart from evidence associated with those Pacific Islanders who were to be returned to their island homes upon completion of their overland journey in 1872, there is little information on what became of the other Pacific Islanders employed in the Gulf in this period. They may have been returned home at the completion of their engagements, or they may have re-engaged for additional periods of service. What evidence there is indicates that a few individuals were `transferred' away from their initial place of employment to other locations, as well as one example where an Islander left the Gulf district completely. `Baylup' was reported as having left via Rockhampton with a Mr Donkin. (63) Only one group of twenty-eight Pacific Islanders, most probably part of the 150 brought to the Gulf in 1868, are recorded as being properly returned to their home islands in accordance with the Polynesian Laborers Act 1868 following the completion of their service. This returning group of twenty-eight males were recorded as fourteen for `Maralava', eleven for `Gana or Gow', and three for `Vanalava', all of whom departed from Sweers Island aboard the Spunkie on 6 January 1872. (64) In recollections of `The Gulf Country', James Abercombie who was noted as having had two years residence in the region, remembered taking a passage in the Spunkie for Sydney, during which the vessel made `a detour through the islands, to convey to their homes some return Polynesian laborers'. (65)

Evidence of other Pacific Islanders in the gulf country

The examples provided here may in fact indicate far more Pacific Islanders actually drifted into the Gulf to work on pastoral properties and other enterprises than can actually be located in surviving records. The pastoralists themselves would most probably have engaged individuals or small groups of labourers at other ports of entry to the colony when they required additional labour, then shipped them to the Gulf. As well, labourers may have also been brought into the Gulf district by the pastoralists from their other properties in adjoining pastoral districts. Very large commercial enterprises such as Robert Towns & Co. which had diversified interests, could well have brought additional Pacific Islander labourers into the Gulf on their own company vessels to work on the many stations and other associated enterprises already operating there.

According to the register of `South Sea Islanders' in the pastoral stations in the Burke District between 23 September 1868 to 26 June 1871, some 167 Pacific Islanders were employed mostly in the pastoral industry. (66) Unfortunately the surviving official records are few, inconsistent and sparse in detail. Taking this into account and noting the evidence of the arrival of several small groups of Pacific Islanders, and the distinct possibility of others arriving by sea or overland from surrounding pastoral districts, it would seem feasible the actual number of arrivals would have been in excess of this figure.

One other aspect to consider when trying to gauge the true extent of the Pacific Islander presence in the Gulf of Carpentaria, is the number who came as ships' crew. Many of the vessels that worked the Gulf region would have carried at least some Pacific Islanders as crew members. These Pacific Islanders are likely to have resided at least on some temporary basis at Gulf port settlements. Some may have ended their contracts while in the Gulf, while others may have jumped ship and sought other employment there. Evidence that Pacific Islanders were members of ships' crews during this period can be found in an inquest held on the 3 April 1869 into the death of a `Polynesian deckhand' from the steamer Pioneer, following an attack by a crocodile on the banks of the Norman River. Apart from the deceased individual, four other `Kanakas' are mentioned as being part of the crew in the inquest that subsequently took place. (67)

Pacific Islanders would presumably still have had some degree of presence in the Gulf region well into the late 1870s, although evidence is again scant: for example, one death of a `South Sea Islander' was registered as having occurred in the district of Burke as late as 1877. (68) Other evidence indicates Pacific Islanders maintained some degree of presence in the Gulf as time-expired labourers seeking further employment. (69) In 1885 a complaint was expressed in the colonial press stating: `It would be well that some restriction was placed on this constant influx of coloured labour, as it prevents Europeans from obtaining employment here [at Thursday Island] or at Normanton and other places to which the time expirees flock.' (70) What is tantalising is to conjecture on the degree to which Islanders interacted with the local Aboriginal population, and whether such interaction created the same sort of socio-cultural impact and changes as experienced by Torres Strait Islanders in their interaction with Pacific Islanders. Unfortunately no such evidence has come to light, but future research may well uncover material that provides further information. (71)


This article has served to add another element to the literature on the Pacific labour trade--the role played by Pacific Islanders in the development of pastoralism in the gulf country of Queensland--either as individuals or small groups. Pacific Islanders in this locale were exploited for their labour and skills, as they were in other industries such as the fisheries and sugar, therefore contributing to the process of European colonial expansion and economic development. Pacific Islanders such as these gulf country sojourners are rarely acknowledged, and there is no data comparable with that relating to agricultural activities such as sugar production, where large numbers of Islanders were involved, and over a far greater length of time. This therefore amends some of the inadequacies of the current available literature by directing attention to these Pacific Islanders who were valuable labour components in the early development of pastoralism in Queensland's gulf country. Despite the paucity of records available, this article has sought to shed some light on their presence and experiences in the Gulf, and though the experiment in their use in this industry at this location was not expanded, they nonetheless played an important part during 1868-1871.

461 Stafford Road Stafford, Queensland 4053


(1) I would like to thank Dr David Cameron, Bryan Jamison, Dr Judy Powell, and Dr Anna Shnukal for their helpful suggestions during the preparation of this article.

(2) For a detailed analysis of the historiography of the Pacific labour trade in Australia refer to, Clive Moore, `Revising the Revisionists: The Historiography of Immigrant Melanesians in Australia', Pacific Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, June 1992, pp. 61-86.

(3) Dawn May's timely study of Aboriginal labour in north Queensland's pastoral industry acknowledged the paucity of certain records which hindered her research endeavours, that are equally applicable to Pacific Islander involvement in this same industry. `While the archives of the past and the columns of the Queenslander along with a multitude of other sources, have been consulted in close detail, it was a source of considerable frustration that so few squatters wrote about the relationship with their Aboriginal employees', Dawn May, From Bush To Station: Aboriginal Labour in the North Queensland Pastoral Industry, 1861-1897, Townsville, 1983, p. 2.

(4) Carol Gistitin, South Sea Islanders in Central Queensland: A history from 1867 to 1993, MA thesis, University of Queensland, 1993, see especially pp. 20, 23, 31, 32, 35, 41. For other information on Pacific Islanders in the pastoral industry of Central Queensland, refer to: C. Gistitin, Kanakas--Labour of Love, Rockhampton, 1989; and Quite a Colony: South Sea Islanders in Central Queensland 1867 to 1993, Brisbane, 1995.

(5) A. Graves, `The Nature and Origins of Pacific Islands Labour Migration to Queensland, 1863-1906', in S. Marks and P. Richardson (eds), International Labour Migration, London, 1984, pp. 118-19, and `Colonialism and Indentured Labour Migration in the Western Pacific, 1840-1915', in P.C. Emmer (ed.), Colonialism and Migration: Indentured Labour Before and After Slavery, Dordrecht, 1986, pp. 239-40.

(6) J.E. Hopkins [now Hopkins-Weise], An Analysis of the Place of `Foreign' Pacific Islanders in the Development of North-Eastern Australia and Eastern New Guinea, 1863-1878, Honours thesis, University of Queensland, 1993; and `The Place of `Foreign' Pacific Islanders in Torres Strait and Papua, 1863-1878', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol. 15, no. 12, August 1995, pp. 571-8.

(7) These labourers were contemporarily referred to as `Polynesians' or as `Kanakas'. In more recent decades it has been found more appropriate to describe these people as Melanesians, but for the purpose of this analysis the term Pacific Islanders has been utilised.

(8) May, p. 33.

(9) For discussion of Ben Boyd's 1847 experiment in the use of Pacific Islanders in the pastoral industry see: M. Diamond, The Sea Horse and the Wanderer: Ben Boyd in Australia, Victoria, 1988, pp. 111-40; G.L. Buxton, The Riverina 1861-1891: An Australian Regional Study, Victoria, 1967, p. 19; O.W. Parnaby, `The Labour Trade', in R.G. Ward (ed.), Man in the Pacific Islands: Essays on Geographical Change in the Pacific Islands, Oxford, 1972, p. 125; and A. Dwight, `South Sea Islanders to New South Wales', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 68, part 4, March 1983, pp. 273-91.

(10) D. Munro, `The Origins of Labourers in the South Pacific: Commentary and Statistics', in C. Moore, J. Leckie, and D. Munro (eds), Labour in the South Pacific, Townsville, 1990, p. x1ix; and R. Shlomowitz, `Markets for Indentured and Time Expired Melanesian Labour in Queensland, 1863-1906: An Economic Survey', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 16, no. 2, April 1981, p. 71.

(11) P. Muhlhausler, `Melanesian Pidgin English (Kanaka English) in Australia', Kabar Seberang, no. 8-9, July 1981, p. 93.

(12) `Mission to the Aborigines at Somerset', Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol. 2, 1867, p. 994.

(13) S. Wilson, `The Early Days of Pearling', Queensland Geographical Journal, vols 40-41, nos 26, 27, 1926, p. 108.

(14) May, p. 33.

(15) May, p. 33.

(16) May, p. 33..

(17) May, pp. 34 43; Bruce Elder, `The Massacre and the Reprisals at Cullin-la-Ringo--1861', in Blood on the Wattle: Massacres and maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, Sydney, 2000, pp. 149-58.

(18) The Brisbane Courier, 18 August 1868, p.3. Molesworth provides figures for March 1868, where of the 1539 Pacific Islanders at work in Queensland, 697 were employed in the pastoral industry. B.H. Molesworth, `Kanaka Labour in Queensland. [1863-1871]', The Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, August 1917, pp. 145-6.

(19) O.W. Parnaby, Britain and the Labor Trade in the Southwest Pacific, Durham, N.C., 1964, pp. 124, 126, 130-1; O.W. Parnaby, `The Labour Trade', in R.G. Ward (ed.), Man in the Pacific Islands: Essays on Geographical Change in the Pacific Islands, Oxford, 1972, pp. 138-9; K. Saunders, `Pacific Islander Recruitment', in J. Jupp (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, Sydney, 1988, p. 723; Muhlhausler, 1981, p. 94.

(20) G.C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away: A History of North Queensland to 1920, Canberra, 1975, p. 27.

(21) W. Landsborough, Police Magistrate, Burke Settlement, Gulf of Carpentaria, to the Colonial Secretary, 9 February 1867, in letter 1154 of 1867, COL/A90, Queensland State Archives (QSA).

(22) T.H. Cowl, Some of My Experiences During a Voyage to the Gulf of Carpentaria and Three Years' Residence at Normanton in the early Seventies, Brisbane, [19077], p. 16; L.E. Skinner, `Pastoral Frontiers of Queensland Colony', in Settlement of the Colony of Queensland, Brisbane, 1978, pp. 18, 22; W.H. Shaw and O. Ruhen, Lawrence Hargrave: Aviation Pioneer, Inventor and Explorer, Brisbane, 1988, p. 7.

(23) D.J. Farnfield, `The Moving Frontier: Queensland and the Torres Strait', in B.J. Dalton (ed.), Lectures on North Queensland History, Townsville, 1974, p. 64.

(24) Cowl, p. 20.

(25) W. Landsborough, Police Magistrate Albert River, to the Colonial Secretary, 6 May 1866, in letter 1977 of 1866, COL/A81, QSA.

(26) R. Towns & Co., to the Chief Commissioner of Crown lands, 20 November 1868, in letter 6525 top numbered 1486 of 1869, LAN/A15, QSA.

(27) Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, to the Secretary for Public Lands, 19 April 1869, in letter 3066 of 1869, LAN/A17, QSA.

(28) May, p.12.

(29) Bolton, pp. 37, 39; Cowl, p. 16.

(30) Dawn May also clearly identified as part of this process that `Aboriginal employees made a significant contribution to the northern cattle industry, but they also worked on sheep stations prior to the fencing of runs in the early 1880s'. May, p. 1; also refer to p. 5.

(31) A.T. Yarwood, Walers: Australian Horses Abroad, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 117, 150-1.

(32) W. Landsborough, Norman River Settlement, to the Colonial Secretary, 10 March 1868, in letter 1474 of 1868, COL/A105, QSA.

(33) For a discussion of this climate issue, refer to H.R. Woolcock, `"Our salubrious climate": attitudes to health in colonial Queensland', in R. Macleod and M. Lewis, (eds), Disease, Medicine, and Empire: Perspectives on Western Medicine and the Experience of European Invasion, London & New York, 1988, pp. 176-93.

(34) D.S. Trigger, Whitefella Comin': Aboriginal Responses to Colonialism in Northern Australia, Cambridge, 1992, p. 18.

(35) May, p. 44.

(36) Statement showing the number of Polynesians in each District of the Colony of Queensland, registered under Clause 2 of the `Polynesian Laborers Act' distinguishing their native Islands, and the occupations in which they are employed, and the number of Employers in each district, Queensland Parliament Votes and Proceedings, 1868-9, p. 554.

(37) E.V. Stevens, `Blackbirding: A Brief History of the South Sea Islands Labour Traffic and the Vessels Engaged in it', The Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol. 4, no. 3, December 1950, p. 399.

(38) Statement Showing the Names of Vessels arrived in Queensland since the passing of the `Polynesian Laborers Act' on 4th March, 1868, together with the Number of Islanders Introduced, the Names of the Islands from which they are Engaged, Queensland Parliament Votes and Proceedings, 1868-9, p. 555.

(39) Samuel H. Hunter, statement made before the Police Magistrate at Ipswich, 12 April 1872, in Enclosure No. 2, Despatch No. 32, 4 May 1872, GOV/26, QSA.

(40) These 150 Islanders are listed as coming from the following locations: 46--Maralava (New Hebrides), 5--Amota, 61--Gana, 34--Valua or Matlop, 4--Vanalava, which are all islands from the Banks Group. Register of Ships arriving under Polynesian Laborers Act of 1868, No.5--`Spunkie', Port of Arrival--Sweers Island, date of arrival 17 September 1868, IPI 3/1, QSA.

(41) The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 1869, p. 5.

(42) The Brisbane Courier, 22 March 1869, p. 3.

(43) Dawn May asserts these Pacific Islanders `in general appeared to be well treated by their European employers. However, only a few had received wages and Ellis Read, agent for Towns and Co. claimed that this due to a "shortage of coin in the district". Two Gulf pioneers Martin Hetzer of Urilla and Brodie of Donor's Hill were obviously pleased with their labourers and claimed that if Europeans and Melanesians could be obtained at the same wage, the latter was preferable'. May, p.43.

(44) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA; Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of the Arrival of South Sea Islanders at Sweer's Island, 17 September 1868-22 December 1871, CPS 14c/15, QSA.

(45) May, p. 44.

(46) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(47) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register.

(48) J. Brodie Chairman, John Brown JP, and M. Hetzer JP, Police Court, Norman, 15 September 1869, to the Colonial Secretary, in letter 4012 of 1869, COL/A134, QSA.

(49) Brodie to Colonial Secretary.

(50) This vessel is presumably the Mary Campbell, brigantine of 144 tons, listed as bringing Pacific Islanders to Maryborough in 1871. Stevens, p. 394.

(51) Clerk of Petty Session, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(52) Two of this group of eleven surviving arrivals from the voyage of the Mary Campbell (on 26 June 1871) are later recorded as having died in the Gulf: one on 30 April 1872, and another on 31 March 1872. Clerk of Petty Session, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(53) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of the Arrival of South Sea Islanders at Sweer's Island, 17 September 1868-22 December 1871, CPS 14c/15, QSA.

(54) An additional piece of archival evidence states: `the schooner "Hannah Broomfield" (belonging to Messrs. Clifton & Aplin of Cleveland Bay) ... [is] a regular trader to Normanton'. Frank Jardine, Police Magistrate at Somerset, to the Governor of Queensland, Normanby, 1 January 1872, Enclosure in Despatch No. 19, 19 March 1872, GOV/26, QSA.

(55) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of the Arrival of South Sea Islanders at Sweer's Island, 17 September 1868-22 December 1871, CPS 14c/15, QSA.

(56) Governor Normanby, to Earl Kimberley, 4 May 1872, Despatch No.32, GOV/26, QSA.

(57) Governor Belmore, to Governor Normanby, Sydney, 3 January 1872, Enclosure No. 1, Despatch No. 32, 4 May 1872, GOV/26, QSA.

(58) Belmore to Normanby.

(59) Belmore to Normanby.

(60) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(61) Governor Normanby, to Earl Kimberley, 4 May 1872, Despatch No.32, GOV/26, QSA.

(62) D. Salmond, Sub-Immigration Agent, to the Immigration Agent Brisbane, 20 February 1872, Enclosure No. 2, Despatch No. 32, 4 May 1872, GOV/26, QSA.

(63) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(64) Inspector of Pacific Islanders, Maryborough, Register of the departure of Vessels taking Pacific Islanders home, 5 January 1869-14 October 1881, IPI 3/4, QSA. Another government source states this group departed from `Norman Town', with Government Agent, A. Scott Holmes, and Master on the Spunkie, H.M. Browne, `Polynesian Emigration, Table No. 5, Return of Emigrant Vessels and Emigrants which left Queensland for the South Sea Islands during the year 1872', Queensland Parliament Votes and Proceedings, 1872, p. 4.

(65) The Queenslander, 14 December 1872, p. 7.

(66) Clerk of Petty Sessions, Normanton, Register of South Sea Islanders Employed on Plantations (later called stations), 23 September 1868-26 June 1871, CPS 14c/14, QSA.

(67) Depositions and Findings in Coroner's Inquest No. 69 of 1869, JUS/N 21A, QSA.

(68) `Deaths of South Sea Islanders in each District of the Colony', Queensland Parliament Votes and Proceedings, 2, 1878, p. 46.

(69) T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia: From the First Settlement in 1788 to the Establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901: Volume III, London, 1918, p. 1301; J.P.C. Sheppard, The Pacific Islander in Queensland 1863-1883, B.A.(Hons) thesis, University of Queensland, 1966, pp. 20, 25.

(70) The Queenslander, 25 July 1885, p.134.

(71) David Trigger's study of the Aboriginal people in the Gulf country in Whitefella Comin' has little to say about the period prior to the 1890s, and does not discuss the presence or possible impact of hundreds of Pacific Islanders in the region during the late 1860s through to the 1870s.
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