EJANZH: Mullins on Social Control in Torres Strait

Dr Steve Mullins, Department of Humanities, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, 4702.

July One is without doubt the most important date in the Torres Strait calender. Indeed it might be said that for most of the past century Torres Strait Islanders have structured their history around the momentous events associated with the ‘coming of the light’, that day in 1871 when white missionaries and their Pacific Islander evangelists first waded across Torres Strait beaches. But for those of us who look from without, and with a more secular eye, another date, or at least a year, has come to rival it in significance. 1871 might mark the divide between darkness and light, bipotaim and pastaim, but 1904 has the distinction or the ignominy, depending on how one looks at it, to be remembered as the year the protectionist era came to Torres Strait. Up until then the provisions of Queensland’s Aboriginal’s Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 (1), the legal instrument which put in place the system of segregation and oppressive paternalism so crucial to government control of Aborigines, were not applied to Torres Strait Islanders. In 1904, however, John Douglas, ex-premier and last of the old style Thursday Island police magistrates who since the mid-1870s had ruled the Strait with a kind of benevolent despotism, died, and with that the heavy hand of the Chief Protector extended its grip to the Islanders – or so the story goes.

This paper looks closely at the motivations and methods of the Queensland administration in Torres Strait at the turn of the century in order to gauge why and how the Aboriginals Protection Acts were initially applied to the Islanders. For the past twenty years or so the neo-marxist notion of internal colonialism has been the most influential academic mode of interpretation, since the anthropologist Jeremy Beckett first applied it to the Strait in 1977.(2) And the model does seem to fit. A capitalist mode of production, in the form of the sedentary fishing industries, did articulate and exploit rather than destroy a pre-capitalist mode of production, in the shape of the Islanders’ subsistence activities. The Islanders, by their participation in those industries, were brought to the very ‘threshold of the Australian economy and then left there’, a clear manifestation of internal colonialism’s key feature – imperialist underdevelopment. The administration also was keen to ‘resocialize’ the Islanders, to mould them into wage labourers, ‘or at most petty commodity producers’.(3) But the crucial, and to my mind the unanswered historical question, is why? Was the administration really intent on moulding the Islanders into future ‘regular sellers of labour-power in the general society’, in accordance with the theory? Did Queensland impose a new order on the Islanders primarily to allow Sydney-based capitalists to exploit the Strait’s abundant marine resources unhindered? While these might have been the long term consequences of Queensland policy in the Strait, the evidence that they were intended outcomes is unconvincing. to say the least.

The temptation to explain Queensland’s actions in the Strait almost exclusively in terms of a political economy model of colonialism comes about largely because of the connection between the application of the Aboriginal’s Protection Acts, and the exploitation of Islander labour by beche-de-mer and pearl-shelling masters, who, in the most conspiratorially-minded versions of this logic, had State politicians and local officials in their pockets.(4) But in the early years the Aboriginal Protection Acts did more to deprive the masters of Torres Strait Islander labour than provide it, and there is convincing evidence that indeed this was the general idea. The eventual formation of a government controlled community shelling fleet also conforms to the internal colonialism model, but as the following shows, the fleet initially was established in order to make the Islanders more independent. Thus, although internal colonialism describes and clarifies patterns of economic relations, it does not explain the administration’s motivations. As Beckett himself conceded in 1987 when he backed away from the model in favour of a form of analysis that emphasised the ‘significance of everyday life’, internal colonialism simply does not ‘make sense’ of government intervention in Torres Strait.(5)

Before going further we should first consider what influenced Queensland to bring Aborigines under the control of the Protection Acts, a problematic issue in itself. Clearly by the 1890s a change in ‘Native Policy’ was in the air, and the details of how it came about are well known. The northern frontier had been ruthlessly won for the pastoral, mining, sugar and sedentary fishing industries, and Aborigines no longer posed a physical threat to colonial commerce. If anything, they appeared to be on the verge of extinction. The government received anxious reports about the deplorable state of affairs that had been allowed to develop, especially in the north and west, and it was under considerable pressure act.(6) Consequently, there were discussions in Cabinet and in the House, and finally Horace Tozer, the minister responsible, commissioned Archibald Meston, former MLA, journalist and self-proclaimed authority on Aborigines, to investigate the matter and produce a proposal, ‘for the improvement and preservation of the aboriginals [sic] so as to pave the way for practical legislation’.(7) A report was also solicited from the new Police Commissioner and soon to be Chief Protector of Aborigines, W.E.Parry-Okeden, and the recommendations of both were incorporated in the 1897 Act.

A more complete explanation for this apparent change of heart in Brisbane’s corridors of power probably lies in an intriguing paradox. Much of what has been written about Queensland’s protectionist policy has sought to portray it, not as an expression of humanitarian reform, but rather as a decisive step towards a more institutionalised form of racism. Certainly if one takes the broader view there seems to have been a hardening of racial attitudes in all the ‘settler’ societies as the high age of imperialism drew to a close, with varying degrees of segregation its hallmark. On the other hand, in the emerging liberal democracies the period was remarkable as well for the expansion of progressive governmental intervention and social regulation. A confluence of these tendencies influenced Queensland government circles and resulted in a bipartisan approach to the ‘Aboriginal question’ in the House which expedited the framing and progress of protectionist legislation. Few would doubt, especially with the benefit of hindsight, that the Act was conceived, to a large extent, as a means of separating an unsightly and unruly Aboriginal remnant from the rest of the Queensland community,(8) but, in the first instance at least, the policy was also the product of a humanitarian impulse to protect Aborigines from excessive exploitation, and the debilitating influence of introduced drugs and diseases.

Clearly the situation on the mainland was desperate and there were understandable reasons why those who were well disposed towards Aborigines would think in terms of segregation, the future cornerstone of protectionist policy. After all, it was the model passed on to the state by that paragon of good intentions, the Christian mission, and the policy had the emphatic support of the church.(9) It is more difficult to explain, however, why the Act was applied in Torres Strait where the Islanders were generally healthy and there was no thought of them dying out. As I have implied above segregation also suited those who bore a deep-seated contempt for Aborigines. A welter of newspaper reports and other printed material exists from the time which testify to the fact that Queensland’s colonists generally held Aborigines in the very lowest regard, and branded them with the most vicious derogatory stereotypes. But the same sorts of sources in Torres Strait reveal nothing comparable. This is not to say that the racial assumptions underpinning colonialism in the Strait were any different from those on the mainland, but rather that there were not the same fundamental conflicts of interest to generate such contempt. In short, the two forces that drove oppressive protectionism, interventionist humanitarianism and virulent racism, had less influence in Torres Strait.

Indeed, by the 1890s ethnographers, colonial officials, and even sceptical politicians were impressed by what they took to be the Islanders’ quick progress towards becoming a community of peaceful, law-abiding, Christian workers. In 1887 Acting Thursday Island police magistrate Hugh Milman wrote, ‘It is astonishing the progress these people have made in civilisation in the past ten years’,(10) and A.C.Haddon, who led the prestigious Cambridge anthropological expedition to Torres Strait in 1898, was so struck by the transformation the society had undergone since pre-colonial days he described it as a ‘metamorphosis’.(11) The Islanders had recovered a considerable degree of autonomy through the inception in the mid-1880s of the mamoose system, consisting of island councils and courts under the leadership of a local head councillor or mamoose, which, according to Parry-Okeden ‘answered excellently’, and was ‘the only rational attempt to govern natives by means of natives that has been known in Australia’.(12) In 1897 Walter Roth, the first Northern Protector of Aborigines, believed that Torres Strait Islanders ‘did not require protective legislation’, and John Douglas felt the same way.(13) Thus, although a local protector was appointed to Thursday Island after the 1897 Act was passed he was not expected to concern himself with Torres Strait Islanders but to concentrate his efforts on the Aborigines of northern Cape York Peninsula.

After the first Aboriginal Protection Act was passed in 1897 no real effort was made to extend its provisions to Torres Strait. Brisbane continued to administer the region with the least possible expense, the policy it had pursued since annexation in 1879, and the hard economic times of the late 1890s encouraged it to be even more parsimonious. As well as this in 1897 there was every chance that a good proportion of the Strait would be handed over to British New Guinea, London having issued an Order in Council to that effect the year before which was awaiting ratification by the Queensland parliament.(14) Federation overtook and complicated the proposed revision of the northern maritime boundary, and ultimately the idea was shelved until the early 1970s when impending Papua New Guinea independence raised the question again, but in the first decade of the new Commonwealth there was every chance that part of Torres Strait would be lost and this probably discouraged Queensland from embarking on any administrative reforms with regard to the islands. Whatever the case, since the mid-1870s distance and the unusual nature of the police magistrates’ responsibilities at Thursday Island, meant that it was expedient for the colonial secretary’s office to allow them a considerable degree of discretionary power. Douglas’ experience of high office, and his time as special commissioner for British New Guinea in 1886-1887, coming as it did so early in his northern career, may have influenced him to be even more independently-minded than his predecessors, if such a thing were possible. After 1897 he continued to administer the region much as he liked, which was with minimal interference in the day-to-day lives of the Islanders.

Two evidential problems make it difficult to know exactly what was going on in Torres Strait with regard to the administration of ‘native affairs’ in the period under consideration, that is from 1897 to the death of Douglas’ successor Hugh Milman in 1911. As Noel Loos pointed out many years ago, after the final annexation of the islands to Queensland in 1879 Torres Strait Islanders became ‘natives of Queensland’, and in official correspondence and statistics they were almost always referred to by the generic ‘aboriginals’.(15) Only a very careful reading of the documentary evidence reveals whether ‘aboriginal’ in a particular context is meant to include Torres Strait Islanders. Sometimes it is impossible to tell and corroborative evidence needs to be found. The other problem is that the surviving official correspondence between Thursday Island and the Chief Protector’s office in Brisbane is swamped by matters concerning the Moravian mission at Mapoon, established in 1891, and problems associated with the engagement of Cape York Aborigines in the beche-de-mer industry. Torres Strait Islander affairs, apart from issues relating to the government schools on the islands, barely rate a mention. This might be indicative of a smooth bureaucratic operation in the Strait. It might possibly be some quirk of the evidence. However, it more likely indicates that a local policy of non-intervention continued until the death of Milman in 1911, or that, at the very least, the Acts were not being applied to Torres Strait Islanders in the same way they were being applied to Aborigines.

Milman stood in for Douglas during his stint as special commissioner in New Guinea, had served as police magistrate at Cooktown, a similar post to Thursday Island, and he was very much in the mould of past Thursday Island police magistrates. But times were changing, and on taking up his position late in 1904 he faced a concerted effort by the Chief Protector’s office to impose in Torres Strait the new methods of administering ‘natives’ which, after the 1901 amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act, were being perfected on the mainland. It is probable that this push was brought on by Douglas’s death and the opportunity that it presented for a change of administrative style on Thursday Island, but it is also likely to have come about as a result of changes in the Chief Protector’s office itself. In 1904 Parry-Okeden stood aside as Chief Protector to concentrate on the considerable problems that confronted him in his final months as Police Commissioner,(16) and his place was taken by W.E.Roth, the former Northern Protector who had been closely associated with tightening up the Act in 1901.(17) By 1905 the office had been substantially reorganised, and after some shifts had settled in the Department of the Home Secretary, the division into northern and southern protectorates being done away with in the process. (18) For the first time the Chief Protectors office had a head whose sole responsibility was ‘native affairs’, and the structure and bureaucratic environment to allow it to flourish. But although the will to unify the administration of ‘natives of Queensland’ now existed in Brisbane, little progress was achieved in Torres Strait itself.

The first use of the labour provisions of 1897 Act in Torres Strait appear to have occurred in 1905 when George Bennett, shipping master and local protector, ordered a European pearl sheller named James Doyle and the Samoan James Mills to obtain permits to employ Torres Strait Islander boat crew. Torres Strait Islanders usually were engaged under ordinary seaman’s articles, but complaints had been received that these men had mistreated their employees and were likely to go on doing so.(19) According to the amended 1897 Act all Aborigines were to be employed under a permit system which gave the local protector the right to stipulate wages, set conditions, and terminate agreements if he thought it justified. It also gave him the right to tell an Aborigine when, where, and for whom he or she could work.(20) However, in the Strait the system was not in general use until after Milman’s death in 1911.(21)

Effective government control of Islander employment, that is control rather than simple regulation to prevent excessive exploitation by employers, came with what was known as the company boat system. In 1903 Bennett used funds from the local Aboriginal protection account to purchase five shelling boats for the communities at Mabuiag (Jervis) and Mer (Murray). A few island communities had been given boats in the past, and some also had been engaged in pearl-shelling on their own account.(22) But in this new system the Islanders were required to sell their produce through Bennett who deducted a percentage of the profit to repay the account.(23) Then in 1904 Frederick Walker, a missionary turned trader, established Papuan Industries Co. It purchased boats for the Islanders in a similar fashion, and although it was a private company with principals who expected a small return on their investment, its main aim was philanthropic, essentially to make the Islanders more independent. The company bought the Islanders’ produce at a fair price and established stores on the home islands to allow the people to avoid the exorbitant prices charged by the storekeepers at Thursday Island.(24)

In 1905 a severe drought, and the departure of a large part of the master shelling fleet for Aru in the Netherlands East Indies which put about 200 Torres Strait Islanders out of work, encouraged Bennett to step up the project by assisting Papuan Industries to buy more boats. He allowed it to forego the expense of having to pay licence and shipping fees and the scheme was fairly successful – by the end of 1905 there were seventeen boats working.(25) In 1906 Bennett was replaced by Charles O’Brien who continued his policies until being transferred against his wishes and under unusual circumstances later in the year. By this time Roth himself had been pressured to resign as Chief Protector and was replaced by Richard Howard who toured Torres Strait with Milman in October-November, so presumably Howard and Milman had discussed O’Brien’s future. There seems little doubt that O’Brien was a diligent protector, even Howard had to concede that, after receiving letters strongly supporting him from Frederick Walker, Gilbert White the Bishop of Carpentaria, and Archbishop Donaldson of Brisbane. (26) But still the transfer to Clermont in central Queensland went ahead. O’Brien’s duties as protector were temporarily performed by Thursday Island police inspector George Brett until the arrival of John Costin towards the end of 1907, straight from the Chief Protector’s office in Brisbane. Costin was the first local protector appointed to Thursday Island who was first and foremost with the Chief Protector’s department. His predecessors had been either shipping masters, customs officers, clerks of petty sessions, or police inspectors who took on the additional duties of protector. Apparently acting on instructions from Brisbane Costin exerted tighter control over Papuan Industries, gave notice that in future Torres Strait Islanders would be employed under permits with their wages controlled by the Protector, locked horns with Mapoon’s Rev Nicholas Hey, and in October 1908 was sacked.(27)

How should these rather turbulent events in the Thursday Island bureaucracy be interpreted? Certainly by 1906 when O’Brien was local protector Roth was determined that Torres Strait Islanders should be brought under the control of the Chief Protector’s office. (28) After Roth’s resignation, however, Milman wrote to the Home Secretary on a number of occasions requesting that the Islanders be once again brought under the sole control of the Government Resident.(29) The available evidence strongly suggests that Milman was resisting the Chief Protector’s push into Torres Strait – but why? It may well have been that he agreed with his predecessors that Torres Strait Islanders did not need the kind of protection the Act offered, and that he was far-sighted enough to see that if its provisions were stringently applied it would stifle a people who already were adapting reasonably well to a new colonial order. He may well have been one of those who had ideological objections to the direction ‘native policy’ had taken under Roth. Writers to the Torres Strait Pilot rallied against the ‘socialistic tendencies’ of a policy that was helping turn Thursday Island into a ‘hive of unionism and incapacity’. (30) According to this point of view Roth was ‘breaking them [Cape York Aboriginal groups] up and gradually they are becoming spiritless, and despite the aid of missionaries…a generation or two will see the last of them, under the present attempt at forcing them into communalism’. (31) Clearly there was a connection in the minds of some between the rise of socialism in Queensland and the direction of Aboriginal policy. The situation was complicated by the fact that ‘native affairs’ had taken on a party political dimension as well on Thursday Island, especially during the short life of the newspaper The Pearler. The owner, Fred Hodel, supported small shelling operators, white labour, the Moravian mission, and protectionist Aboriginal policy, taken together essentially a Labour platform locally. Milman certainly expressed reservations about Torres Strait Islanders being set up by the government in communal boats to compete with the master shellers when the beche-de-mer and shelling industries were facing hard times, and his actions may have been calculated to frustrate the local protectors who instigated and continued to foster the system.(32) In 1907 he supported the new policy of requiring Papuan Industries to pay the usual fees and sell its produce through the local protector’s office, probably to reduce what he considered to be its unfair advantage over the master shellers. (33)

Another possible explanation for the resistance to the Chief Protector’s push into Torres Strait is that the whole episode represented a clash of administrative cultures. For forty years Torres Strait had been administered by police magistrates, known as Government Residents from the appointment of Douglas, who exercised almost complete control over all government business. Although in most places the practice of police magistrates having direct authority over ordinary police was being phased out by the early 1870s (34), in Torres Strait it continued, unofficially at least, until Milman’s time, and the water police detachment at Thursday Island, the only one outside Brisbane, continued under the official control of the police magistrate until the 1890s. Indeed, in the mid-1870s police magistrate Henry Chester was hiring and firing water police as he saw fit.(35) In office Milman bucked hard against the Thursday Island police inspectors’ attempts to assert their independence. After a protracted dispute between inspector George Brett and Milman about who had ultimate control of police buildings on Thursday Island, the premier, William Kidston, stepped in on the side of Milman.(36) Later, following a confrontation over another matter, Brett made the revealing remark that Milman was peeved because he no longer had direct control of the police.(37) It probably is safe to view Milman’s relationship with the local protectors in the same light. For instance, Douglas had had considerable control over the government school teachers on the islands, but on his death they began to deal more directly with O’Brien, the local protector. They also began to assert more authority over the affairs of the island communities than Milman thought warranted.(38) Milman may have felt his authority slipping away as the administration of Torres Strait became more departmentalised and professional.

There were career implications as well. In the final years of Douglas’ administration rumours circulated that a decrease in salary for the Government Resident was under consideration, or that the position might be abolished altogether.(39) Ironically, as Thursday Island grew and its administration became more complicated there was less for the Government Resident to do – middle ranking officials from the various departments were appointed to Thursday Island. After federation customs became a Commonwealth responsibility, as did the supervision of the fishery’s largely Asian immigrant work force, under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. Certainly Bleakley, a later Chief Protector, believed that the positions of Government Resident and local protector were combined to bolster up ‘that somewhat empty but very necessary appointment’.(40)

What of O’Brien and Costin? O’Brien was due for a transfer in 1906, and he did go on to a long and fairly successful career in the public service after leaving Thursday Island. But it may be that he was shifted for being a little too diligent in his duties, not only as protector, but as inspector of Pacific Islanders and clerk of petty sessions. He was involved in a number of controversial cases, and he could be rather officious. In 1905 a leading Thursday Island businessman, H.A.C.Douglas, appealed to the full court in Brisbane against a fine imposed by O’Brien for an infringement of a rather obscure stamp duty law. Douglas won the case with costs, the judges declaring their scepticism that the commissioner himself, or anyone else for that matter, knew of the law.(41) H.A.C. Douglas went on to be the member for Cook. O’Brien may have been popular with Frederick Walker, Nicholas Hey, and the missionary hierarchy, but he had influential enemies on Thursday Island.

Costin’s situation was somewhat different. He applied for a transfer to Thursday Island because of the better pay, but soon after he arrived was in trouble with the Chief Protector’s office over a raffle he had organised while working at Barambah Aboriginal Settlement – there was the suspicion of fraud, and Costin’s explanations failed to satisfy the Home Secretary.(42) Then, in the course of a protracted dispute with Nicholas Hey over a request that the missionary send nine Mapoon women to Thursday Island to work as domestic servants, he communicated directly with the Home Secretary and was sacked ostensibly for failing to observe the proper channels.(43) A close examination of this case reveals two significant points. One is the political influence of the Heathen Mission Committee of the Presbyterian Church, which took up the cudgels with the government on Hey’s behalf, and the other is that no Torres Strait women appear to have been employed as domestics under the Act. A thorough search of the Chief Protector’s files revealed no applications for work permits for Torres Strait women throughout the period under consideration, at a time when the majority of applications for Aboriginal labour in Queensland were for female domestic servants.

Costin’s removal might have been a considerable victory for Milman, because it paved the way for him to be appointed local protector as well as Government Resident. (44) All power with regard to ‘native affairs’ now resided with the Government Resident, but if he was truly against excessive regulation of the Islanders’ lives it was a hollow victory because when he died in 1911 he was replaced by W. Lee-Bryce, both as police magistrate and local protector. (45) In 1902 Lee-Bryce had been asked by Roth to give an opinion of his administration, and he commented that it was not ‘pernicious’ or ‘demoralising’, but that it made ‘blacks too independent and more difficult to deal with as servants’. (46) Needless to say under Lee-Bryce oppressive modes of protectionism proceeded apace in Torres Strait.

By 1912 the government and Papuan Industries controlled separate fleets of about ten boats each, but Lee-Bryce exercised considerable control over both. (47)While the communities were paying off the government boats the protector’s office retained more than 50 percent of the money earned to service the loans and to allow for repairs and other incidental expenses. The rest was given to the mamoose to distribute within the community, the amount distributed being solely up to the protector. After Milman, the protector also controlled the earnings of those working for Papuan Industries. When signed off they were given a little cash and the rest was placed in two accounts; one a government trust account and the other a credit account for Papuan Industries’ stores.(48)

Many Islanders refused to work in the company boats and chose instead to remain in, or return to, the master shellers where the financial rewards for their efforts were better. The company boats were communally owned and the best divers were really supporting the whole community. Also, once the boats were paid for they were often used for communal purposes, such as hunting for turtle and dugong, and visiting friends and relations on neighbouring islands.(49) The Protectors regarded this as another case of the ‘native returning to his old habits, (50) but the system sapped incentive and caused the best men to look for work elsewhere. Even so, those who returned to the European dominated industry were unable to escape the protector’s net. In 1912, the first year of the permit system in Torres Strait, Lee-Bryce won the support of the master shellers to hold off paying their Torres Strait Islander crews until arrangements could be made for boats to take them to their home islands. The men were paid, given a few hours to shop at Thursday Island, and then sent home. (51) In 1921 the protector’s office officially took complete control of the earnings and savings of all Torres Strait Islanders. A percentage of the money was placed in what were known as the Island Funds to be spent on the communities in whatever way the protector saw fit, and the rest went into accounts held in trust that could only be drawn in supplies from the island stores.(52) The Islanders were rarely allowed to have cash and were forced to live by a kind of passbook system. The protector’s control became complete when the government bought out Papuan Industries in 1929 and established government stores on all the inhabited islands.(53)

The screw was tightened on another angle when in 1911 Lee-Bryce instructed the white teachers, appointed by the Chief Protector’s office to replace the Pacific Islander missionary teachers on the islands, that they were to supervise the island councils and courts. This was in direct contrast to the policy pursued by Douglas and Milman.(54) In reality the teachers became magistrates, though never formally commissioned as such. They attended council meetings and reported to the local protector. They also watched how the island boat crews worked, and an adverse report from them could result in boats being taken away from one community and given to another. The local protector relied on their advice, and he controlled the passbooks. In the following year the main inhabited islands were declared reserves, and for the purposes of the various Aboriginal Protection Acts Torres Strait Islanders were regarded as Aborigines. (55)

For whatever reason, Milman stalled the application of the Aboriginals Protection Acts in Torres Strait. Lee-Bryce on the other hand was philosophically and temperamentally suited to the task, and seemed to relish the idea of bringing a new discipline to Torres Strait life. He was keen to go further than even the Act allowed, immediately on appointment recommending the proclamation of ‘stringent regulations, to enforce a fair amount of work by every able-bodied man’.(56) He wanted the children in schools, not so much because he had faith in their educability, but so they would be ‘under discipline’.(57) He regarded the older councillors as obstructionist and hoped they soon would be replaced by younger men.(58) This once again in marked contrast to Douglas who regretted the passing of the old mamooses and encouraged the election of men with traditional status to replace them.(59) Indeed, Lee-Bryce was convinced that the Islanders had not reached the stage at which they could ‘think and provide for themselves’ (60)

The character of the regime in Torres Strait did not change overnight, indeed until 1912 or so Islanders might have been hard-pressed to notice any difference at all in their day-to-day lives from, say, fifteen years before. But after that the changes came more quickly and decisively, though it is difficult to say precisely why. It may well have been that the Chief Protector’s reform agenda had been stalled for so long that there was a backlog of measures to be implemented. It might have been that the more liberal policies of the past were now deemed to have failed. Certainly there was some frustration in the administration about the way in which Islanders tended to slacken the pace of work on the community boats once they had paid them off – perhaps a visceral revulsion at the thought of idle capital was one impetus for intervention and the creation of the company boat system, that crucial mechanism of social control in Torres Strait. Did Douglas and Milman oppose the extension of the Chief Protector’s influence because they recognised the dehumanising potential of oppressive protectionism? Or were they both more interested in the preservation of their own power and the old regime? Was Lee-Bryce predisposed in some way towards oppressive social control, or was he simply a dutiful servant of the state faithfully carrying out the well thought through policies of the Chief Protector’s office? In short, where does the balance lie between the role of personality; what Victor Turner calls the ‘root’ paradigm,(61) the influence of changing structural imperatives, and ideology; those assumptions about race, class, work, community and family that guide human action? To come to even the beginnings of an understanding of administrative motivation in Torres Strait around the turn of the century, the possible intersection of all these considerations needs to be taken into account.


1. An Act to make Provision for the better Protection and Care of the Aboriginal and Half-Caste Inhabitants of the Colony, and to make more effectual Provision for Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Opium, 61 Vic. No.17.

2. Jeremy Beckett, ‘The Torres Strait Islanders and the Pearling lndustry: a case of internal colonialism’, Aboriginal History, Vol.1, 1977.

3. Mervyn Hartwig, ‘Capitalism and Aborigines: the theory of internal colonialism and its rivals’, E.L. Wheelwright & Ken Buckley, Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism, Vol.3, Sydney, 1978.

4 Regina Ganter, The Pearl-shellers of Torres Strait: a study of resource use, development, and decline, PhD, Griffith, 1991, pp.351-352: Regina Ganter, “Trapped in Colonial Grooves: the decline of the pearl shell fishery in Torres Strait”, AHA Conference, 1992.

5. J. Beckett, Torres Strait Islanders: custom and colonialism, Melbourne, 1987, p.8..

6. R. Evans, K. Saunders, K. Cronin, Race Relations in Colonial Queensland, St.Lucia, 1988, pp.386-388.

7. Quoted in Noel Loos, Invasion and Resistance: Aboriginal-European Relations on the North Queensland Frontier 1861-1897, Canberra, 1982, p.172 (Loos pp.160-182 is probably the best account of these developments).

8. Evans, Saunders, Cronin, p.118.

9. Archbishop Donaldson to P.Airey, 17 December 1906, file 136 of 1906, QSA, HOM/J22.

10. Annual Report of the Acting Government Resident at Thursday Island, p.2, QV&P, pp.219-223, 1888, Vol.III.

11. A.C.Haddon (ed.) General Ethnography, Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait, Vol.I, 1935, p.xiv. 12. Report on the North Queensland Aborigines and the Native Police, p.12, QV&P, pp.23-42, 1897, Vol.II.

13. Quoted in Parry-Okeden, Report on the Working of ‘The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897’, p.4, QV&P, pp.499-506, 1898, Vol.IV.

14. Paul W .van der Veur, Search for New Guinea’s Boundaries: From Torres Strait to the Pacific, Canberra, 1966, pp.24-28.

15. Loos, ‘Queensland’s Kidnapping Act: the Native Labourers Protection Act of 1884, Aboriginal History, Vol.4, No.1, 1980.

16. See W.Ross Johnston, The Long Blue Line: a history of the Queensland Police, Brisbane, 1992, pp.103-107.

17. Barrie Reynolds, ‘Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.II, pp.463-464.

18. Aboriginal Affairs: Brief Administrative History, RS26, QSA.

19. Report of the Chief Protector for 1905, p.6, QPP, pp.913-944, 1906, Vol.II.

20. 61 Vic. No.17, Cl.12 & 13.

21. In 1910 51 men were engaged at Thursday Island under permanent (as opposed to casual) permits. In 1911 the number jumped to 545. These figures do not discriminate between Aborigines and Islanders. However, the 1917 figures show 264 Islanders and 171 Aborigines under permits. In 1917 all the Islanders under permit were working on company boats. This indicates that the jump in 1911 was because for the first time the men on the company boats were being engaged under the provisions of the 1897 Act. (Report of the Chief Protector for 1910, p.12, QPP, pp.1297-1330, 1911-12, Vol.III; Report of Chief Protector for 1911, p.9, QPP, pp.991-1025, 1912, Vol.III; Report of the Chief Protector for 1917, p.1, QPP, pp.1671-1681, 1918, Vol.1.)

22. Torres Strait Pilot, 23 October 1897.

23. Report of the Chief Protector for 1905, p.28; Evidence of John Costin, p.62, Royal Commission into the Working of the Pearl-Shell and Beche-de-Mer Industries, QPP, pp.395-756, Vol.II, 1908.

24. Evidence of Frederick Walker to the 1908 Royal Commission, p.208: Report of the Chief Protector for 1905, p.28.

25. Ibid.

26. Walker to home secretary, 10 December 1906; Bishop White to W.J.Paull, 11 December 1906; Archbishop Donaldson to Peter Airey, 17 December 1906, file 136 of 1906, QSA, HOM/J22.

27. Under Report of the Government Resident for 1907, p.2, QPP, pp.5-12, 1908, Vol.I.

28. W.E.Roth to Under Sec. Home Secretary’s Department, 15 March 1906: Roth to Govt. Res. Thursday Island, 21 March 1906: Roth to Protector of Aborigines Thursday Island, 21 March 1906, file 3515 of 1906, QSA, HOM/J16.

29. Hugh Milman to Home Secretary, 30 April 1906, in-letter 6423 of 1906, QSA, HOM/J25; Milman to Home Secretary, 10 July 1907, in-letter 7772 of 1907, QSA, HOM/J29.

30. Torres Strait Pilot, 24 March 1906; 26 January 1907

31. Ibid., 21 March 1903.

32. See his comments in, Report of the Government Resident for 1905, p.2, QPP, pp.17-29, 1906, Vol.I.

33. Evidence of Walker, p.208.

34. D.T.Seymour to Select Committee of Inquiry into the Management and Working of the Police Force, p.13, QV&P, pp.675-817, 1869, Vol.I. 35. Chester to colonial secretary, June 1877, Somerset Letter Book, 1872-1877, QSA, CPS 13c/G1. According to Johnston water police were under the command of police magistrates until after the Royal Commission of 1889. Johnston, pp.20, 46-48.

36. Under Sec.,chief secretary’s dept. to under sec. home secretary’s department, 28 June 1907, file 7987 of 1907, QSA, HOM/J22.

37. Sub-inspector George Brett to inspector Malone, 11 August 1908, file 10336, QSA, HOM/J38.

38. Milman to Roth, 16 March 1904, in-letter 466 of 1906, QSA, A/58907.

39. Torres Strait Pilot, 15 August 1903.

40. W.Bleakley, The Aborigines of Australia, Brisbane, 1961, p.137.

41. Torres Strait Pilot, 22 July 1905.

42. Correspondence re J.M.Costin, files 2991 & 3868 of 1909, QSA, HOM/J45

43. Correspondence re employment of Aborigines from Mapoon Mission Station, files 02317, 10605, 09383, 02117, 38, 00696. 387, 05442 of 1908, QSA, A/58763.

44. Report of the Chief Protector for 1910, p.12.

45. Report of the Chief Protector for 1911, p.15.

46. W.Lee Bryce to Roth, 23 October 1902 (telegram), file 10594 of 1905, QSA, A/58850.

47. Report of the Chief Protector for 1912, p.21, QPP, pp.1071-1109, 1913, Vol.III.

48. Evidence of Costin to 1908 Royal Commission, pp.62-63.

49. Evidence of Walker to 1908 Royal Commission, pp.206-207.

50. Report of the Chief Protector for 1908, p.24, QPP, pp.965-1026, 1909, Vol.II.

51. Report of the Chief Protector for 1912, p.16.

52. Aboriginal Department – Information Contained in Report for the Year Ended December, 1921, p.7, QPP, 1922, pp.471-478, Vol.II.

53. T.Austin, ‘Frederick Walker and Papuan Industries Ltd.’, Journal of the Papua and New Guinea Society, Vol.6, No.1. pp.38-62.

54. John Douglas to Under Home Secretary, 21 May 1904, in-letter 16794 of 1904, QSA, A58907: Milman to Roth, 16 March 1904, in-letter 466 of 1906, QSA, A/58907.

55. Report of the Chief Protector for 1913, p.13, QPP, 1914, pp.1013-1048, Vol.III.

56. Report of the Chief Protector for 1912, pp.21-22, see also 1913, pp.14-15; 1914, p.12, QPP, pp.1677-1696, 1915-1696, Vol.III.

57. Report of Chief Protector for 1916, p.11, QPP, pp.1727-1745, 1916-17, Vol.III.

58. Report of the Chief Protector for 1914, p.15.

59. Report of the Government Resident at Thursday Island for 1892-3, p.7, QV&P, pp.907-921, 1894, Vol.I; Report of the Government Resident at Thursday Island for 1894-95, p.6, QV&P, pp.501-511, 1896, Vol.I.; Reports, Vol.3, 1907, p .vi.

60. Report of the Chief Protector for 1915, p.11.

61. Cited in Alan Atkinson, ‘Isaac Transported’, Labour History, No.5, 1986, p.46.