NEVER A COLONY By Ken Humphreys – Una Voce Sept 2006

Never a Colony

Over the years many writers have accepted that British New Guinea (BNG) was a British Crown Colony. This article draws a line in the Koki Mud stating that BNG was never a Colony.

The latest publication that accepts the concept of a Colony is The Kokoda Trail by S. Hawthorne published by Central Queensland University Press (CQUP) in 2003. I was disappointed in the work as some historical errors were evident. For instance, Hawthorne has Queensland Government Agent WB Ingham’s murder on the wrong island (it was on Brooker in the Calvados Chain). Then resident Magistrate Monckton’s WW1 service is misplaced (Monckton first enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters and served in India, not Europe: awarded the DSO). Hawthorne nurtures the idea that the Overland Mail was opened to link Port Moresby with Buna whereas the truth is that it was to link Port Moresby with Kokoda. The Kokoda Station and Post Office opened in July 1904. At that time Buna No.1 was only a galvanised iron storage shed. Buna Bay Government Station did not exist.

The writer then has the rendezvous of Barton and Griffin at the Gap as occurring on 22.12.04 ‘three days earlier than planned’. The historic meeting that initiated the Overland Mail came around 10am on Xmas Eve. And why is Papangi (Papaki) Government Station sited on the Opi and not the Kumusi (pxiii)? One final complaint concerns the Lawes family (p48n). Doctor and Fanny Lawes arrived at Hanuabada in 1874 accompanied by 12 year old Frank Ernest (not 6 years). Frank went on to be Postmaster and died on 12.8.1894 as shown by his Old European Cemetery headstone (not 1895). Baby Percy was interred on the LMS selection when he died at 18 months in 1876. Percy was not an only son as stated by P Maiden in Missionaries, Headhunters & Colonial Officers also published by CQUP in 2003.

We pass on to the subject of a BNG Colony.

I have attempted to define Annexation, Possession and Colony.


 The first step in ‘Colonisation’. Annexation is an act whereby a state takes possession of a territory belonging to no other state. It is a unilateral action mostly without the consent of the inhabitants who most probably would not comprehend what was happening. Once annexed, it is usual for the ruling authority to decide how to classify the territory – Protectorate, Possession or Colony. An example of consent annexation was Pitcairn Island where annexation was welcomed in 1838. Recent court decisions have classified Pitcairn as a British Possession when previously general opinion considered it a Colony.


An area the soil of which does not belong to the ruling authority, though that is not universal. However the foreign relations of the area are subject to the control of the ruling authority based on an association or agreement with the indigenous population by treaty, request, grant, capitulation or occupation. Internal administration is not ceded to the local population but is the task of the protective ruling authority.

BNG was officially declared a Protectorate in 1884 – ‘Whereas it has become essential, for the protection of the lives and properties of the native inhabitants of New Guinea…’ and to give protection against ‘persons (who) might endanger the liberties and possess themselves of the lands of such native inhabitants…’ 44 German New Guinea also became a Protectorate in 1884. It was administered by the Neu Guinea Compagnie until 1899 when the Reich assumed control under a ‘Governor’ appointed by the Emperor.

The Solomon Islands was a British Protectorate until self-government in 1976. Prior to 1953 the Protectorate was administered by a Resident Commissioner. In that year the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific moved from Suva to Honiara and then the four Protectorate Districts were administered by District Commissioners responsible to the High Commissioner.


A title describing an annexation more secure that that of a Protectorate, but short of being a total and complete Colony where a Governor is usually appointed. The ruling authority is totally responsible for the area as it now owns the soil but can accept advice, assistance and finance from interested parties.


An area of land which, with its inhabitants, is entirely subject to the rule of an independent state, of which it does not form an integral part. The grant of a degree of self-government and of a representative legislature does not prevent the ruling state from disallowing legislation of which it may disapprove. In British Colonies the sovereign is represented by a Governor or an administrator bearing a title of suitable importance. Whatever the degree of self-government the Colony is still subject to Acts passed by the British Parliament.


BNG was proclaimed a Protectorate in 1884 and a Possession in 1888. Sir William MacGregor reported to the Queensland Governor ‘…I read a Proclamation declaring the Protected Territory to be from 4.9.88 a British Possession’.

In 1895 MacGregor explained that the reason the BNG Possession fell short of being a Colony was that Queensland, NSW and Victoria contributed funds to meet the cost of administration. They were thus allowed to control to a high degree the affairs of the Possession. Queensland acted for NSW and Victoria so the Queensland Governor became the intermediary to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. The non-Colony status is seen in MacGregor’s titles, firstly the Administrator, then Lt Governor, never a full Governor. MacGregor was never one to hide his ambitions under a bushel. Thus, if there was ever a hint of BNG being a full Colony with himself as Governor, it would have been vigorously pursued to success!

Moving on to 16.9.1905 when the Papua Act was passed: proclaimed in Port Moresby on 1.9.06 – ‘The Possession of BNG is hereby declared to be accepted by the Commonwealth as a Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth…’ No mention of BNG having been a Colony. The only reference of worth I can find that asserts BNG’s Colony status is Joyce’s biography of MacGregor ‘…other significant arrangements followed decisions made at the 1887 Colonial Conference. BNG formally became a Crown Colony, with an uncertain and anomalous power of supervision given to Queensland’. Obviously, no one told MacGregor!

It therefore seems obvious that BNG was never a Colony.

Note: Ken Humphreys also included an extensive bibliography.


Worked for Burns Philp in Popondetta and Port Moresby from 1980 through 1987

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