James Chalmers of New Guinea
A Protectorate Proclaimed


FOR Tarnate, as for his be loved New Guinea, the 6th of November 1884 was an ever-memorable date, for on that day the south-eastern portion of the island was formally taken under the protection of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.

In 1864, a company had been started in Sydney, New South Wales, with the object of colonising the part of New Guinea not taken by Holland, but the idea had to be abandoned when it was discovered that it was not possible to found a British colony without the sanction of the Imperial authorities.

Again, in 1873, Captain Moresby, convinced of the importance of the strategic position of the southeastern coast of New Guinea— dominating the shores of northern Australia; commanding the Torres Straits route, as well as the pearl-shell and the bęche-de-mer fisheries; and in itself a fertile land of promise—took formal possession of the island in name of Her Majesty. But the Colonial Office did not see its way to accept this new responsibility, and the annexation was allowed to lapse.

Later still, in 1883, Mr. Chester, magistrate at Thursday Island, on behalf of Her Majesty and the Government of Queensland, took possession of all that part of New Guinea and its adjacent islands lying beteeen the 141st and 155th meridians of east longitude. But, in spite of the unanimous feeling expressed by Australia in the matter, this annexation was annulled.

At this stage, Chalmers had written as follows: "The whole matter must, I have no doubt, be reconsidered and the island be eventually annexed. It is to be hoped the country is not to become part of the Australian colonies—a labour land and a land where loose money in the hands of a few capitalists is to enter in and make enormous fortunes, sacrificing the natives and everything else. If the Imperial Government is afraid of the expense, I think that can easily be avoided. Annex New Guinea, and save it from another power, who might harass our Australian colonies; administer it for the natives, and the whole machinery of government can be maintained by New Guinea, and allow a large overplus. We have all the experience of the Dutch in Java; I say, accept and improve.

"It will be said that, as a nation, Britain has never tried to govern commercially, or has not yet made money out of her governing; and. why should she now? She does not want New Guinea. Why should she go to the expense of governing? Her colonies may be unsafe with a country of splendid harbours so near in the hands of a foreign power, and the people of that country need a strong, friendly, and just power over them, to save them from themselves and from the white man—whose gods are gold and land, and to whom the black man is a nuisance to be got rid of as soon as possible. Let Britain for these reasons annex, and from the day of annexation New Guinea will pay all her own expenses; the expenses of the first three years to be paid with compound interest at the end of that period.

"Let us begin by recognising all native rights, and letting it be distinctly understood that we govern for the native races, not the white men; that we are determined to civilise and raise to a higher level of humanity those whom we govern; that our aim will be to do all to defend them and save them from extermination by just humanitarian laws—not the laws of the British nation—. but the laws suited for them. It will not take long for the natives to learn that not only are we great and powerful, but we are just and merciful, and we seek their good."

After sketching a scheme for the commercial development of New Guinea as a colony, Chalmers concluded— "As a nation, let Britain, in the zenith of her power and greatness, think kindly of the native races, and now for once in her history rule this great island for right and righteousness, in justice and mercy, and not for self and pelf in unrighteousness, blood, and falsehood. It is to be hoped that future generations of New Guinea natives will not rise up to condemn her, as the New Zealanders have done, and to claim their ancient rights with tears now unheeded. I can see along the vista of the future, truth and righteousness in Britain’s hands, and the inhabitants of New Guinea, yet unborn, blessing her for her rule; if otherwise, God help the British meanness, for they will rise to pronounce a curse on her for ever!"

The proclamation of 6th November 1884 recognised in its preamble that the establishment of a Protectorate had "become essential for the lives and properties of the native inhabitants of New Guinea, and for the purpose of preventing the occupation of portions of that country by persons whose proceedings, unsanctioned by any lawful authority, might tend to injustice, strife, and bloodshed, and who, under the pretence of legitimate trade and intercourse, might endanger the liberties and possess themselves of the lands of such native inhabitants."

The Protectorate was proclaimed by Commodore, now Rear-Admiral, Erskine at Port Moresby. All the vessels of the Australian fleet were present, and the dignity of the British nation was borne in upon the natives by the booming of cannon and the crackle of feus-de-joie, with nocturnal exhibition of search-lights and rockets, accompanied by demonstrations on the fog syrens. In addition, the Commodore used every effort to make the Protectorate a public fact, intelligently understood, among the natives. With the assistance of Messrs. Lawes and Chalmers, the chiefs of several districts were taken on board the flag-ship, where the proclamation was read, translated, and explained to them; and this ceremony, coupled with the hoisting of the Union Jack and the exchange of presents, was repeated at various points along the coast.

Tamate accompanied the Commodore on this cruise of proclamation. It lasted for three weeks, and when he was landed at South Cape to resume his mission work he was not sorry to have a rest and a change of work. His respite was short, however. Within a month H.M.S. Raven returned, with instructions to secure his assistance and proceed to Huon Gulf for the purpose of hoisting the British flag there.

For another three weeks he coasted along the north-eastern shores of the peninsula, visiting places he had never seen before, and giving all possible assistance to Commander Ross of the Raven and to Captain, now Vice-Admiral, Bridge of H.M.S. Dart, in opening up friendly relations, with the natives on these distant shores, and explaining, as far as possible, the purport of the proclamation.

"It would have been impossible to have carried out the delicate and important duty with which I was entrusted, with any degree of reality or thoroughness," Admiral Erskine has written, "had it not been for the able and willing assistance I received from Dr. Lawes and Mr. Chalmers, in making our communication and intercourse with suspicious and treacherous savages, and, in some cases, the cannibal tribes, with whom we had to deal, feasible and effective. Amongst other acts which I remember with gratitude, the rendering into the various dialects of the coast tribes of the terms of the proclamation, and of the address with which I invariably prefaced the ceremony of hoisting the flag, was due to their initiative and exertions; and it was entirely owing to the wonderful influence exercised by Mr. Chalmers amongst the savage tribes—who called him ‘Tamate’—that, accompanying as he did, at my urgent request, the smaller vessels attached to the squadron, the principal and influential chiefs in the various and comprehensive and scattered districts were induced to come on board the Nelson and other ships of war, and to take an interested and intelligent part in the ceremonials."

Of Tamate, Admiral Bridge also has written: "His vigilance, cheeriness, readiness of resource, and extraordinary influence over native savages made his help quite invaluable. I can honestly say that I do not know how I should have got on without him. He had an equal power of winning the confidence of savages quite unused to strangers, and the respect, and even love, of white seamen. Notwithstanding the great inconvenience and, I fear, not inconsiderable expense to which he had been put by giving his valuable services in the expeditions, he firmly refused to allow his name to be officially submitted in any claim for pecuniary remuneration, or even to accept the legitimate compensation to which he was entitled."

Tamate himself rejoiced that the Protectorate had been established, and was glad to bear his share in the work. He allowed himself to hope that its earliest effect would be the immediate stoppage of the Kanaka traffic so far as that affected New Guinea, and for this reason he dreaded that the active control of the Protectorate would be given to Queensland, whose labour-vessels had done all the mischief. "The Annexation is accomplished," he wrote in the preface to one of his books, "and the author does not doubt that the native rights will be reserved, and that for once we shall attempt to govern a savage race in such a way as best meets their needs. It is open to us to hope that for once we may not exterminate the race in the process of ruling it. At the same time, he has grave fears that if New Guinea is handed over to Queensland—and this seems to be by no means improbable

—there will be a repetition of one of the saddest and cruellest stories in Australian history; the weaker race will go to the wall, and might will be substituted for right. The young colony will not readily admit that the savage has any rights, and it is altogether too fond of the doctrine that the day of the savage has gone, and it is time that he made way for the robuster, so-called civilised race. The Australian pioneer of the nineteenth century has more faith in physical than in moral suasion, and it will need careful watching to see that England’s annexation promises are not like pie-crust, made only to be broken."

When the "Beritano war-canoes" had finally left the island, Tamate settled down again to the routine of mission work. This became, in an increasing degree, principally the pastoral supervision of the teachers at the out-stations, and the supply of their temporal wants. Advising, encouraging, and, if need were, correcting the teachers, making personal friends of the chief and people in the neighbourhood, and preaching and teaching in the churches, he laboured faithfully for the promotion of the great cause to which he had consecrated his life.

A pleasing incident in this work occurred in July 1885, when Tamate was able to instal the promised teacher at Kalo. Tau and his wife had been ill with fever, and the promise made in February 1884 was only now fulfilled. Tamate was well received, and Tau took possession of the new house which the natives had made for him. In the evening, it became a question whether Tamate should remain overnight or return to the village of Hula. Anxious to show the Kalo natives that he trusted them, he decided to pass the night with Tau.

"Shortly after sundown we were left alone, and at first I doubted if I had done right in remaining, lest I should be the means of leading our teachers and their wives and my boat’s crew into trouble. No Europeans had slept there since the massacre. We were quite at their mercy, being in an unprotected house and unarmed, and had they attacked us we should all have been killed. In one sense it was foolhardy, as the natives had often said that nothing would satisfy them but my head. On the other hand, if all went well it would be the best augury for future success. I did not feel quite at my ease, and had fully intended to keep awake and watchful through the night. But after evening prayers I rolled myself up in my blanket, feeling it very cold. In spite of my prudent intentions, I soon was sound asleep, and never woke until the next morning at daylight. The people were pleased that I should have shown such confidence in them, as they all knew we were quite unarmed. May He who protected us soon become known to them!"

Before going back to Port Moresby, Tamate visited Aroma. In 1880 he had been the first white man to land on its shores, he had visited the fourteen villages in the district, and he and his party had run great risk of being speared and clubbed. "It was the most desperate plight I have ever been in in New Guinea, and I have had a few narrow escapes." Now, in 1885, he found that at last there were a few who were anxious to be taught, and were inquiring more diligently into the gospel preached to them. He asked the chief, Koapena, when he was going to receive and believe the gospel. The reply was—" Teach me more, only keep teaching me, and it you had done that I might have been the first to understand and believe." "Well done, Koapena," comments Tamate; "faith, blind faith without knowledge, you are not willing to have; mere acquiescence would never become my big strong-minded friend."

Tamate closes the record of this trip with the remark, "So, east and west, we keep extending, and I trust will continue to do so, until New Guinea is occupied with earnest men and women preaching Christ and leading thousands to Him."


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