Despatch from Governor Musgrave to the Secretary of State and Colonies regarding matters relating to the annexation of New Guinea

Allegedly concerned with German imperial expansion in the south-west Pacific, Premier Thomas McIlwraith instructed the Government Resident on Thursday Island, Henry Chester, to take formal possession of the eastern half of New Guinea in March 1883. Queensland’s contentious coup d’etat was accomplished the following month, but Britain refused to recognise the annexation on the grounds that Germany had no interest in New Guinea. The geo-political situation took an abrupt turn in November 1884 when Germany annexed north-eastern New Guinea and Britain responded by taking possession of the south-eastern section which subsequently became Papua. This new protectorate became the joint responsibility of the Australian colonies until Federation, when control passed to the new Australian Government. Following World War I, Australian influence was extended throughout the whole of eastern New Guinea, though what motivated Queensland’s original annexation in April 1883 has been the subject of considerable discussion. Modern historians have tended to agree with Governor Musgrave’s assessment in 1886 that McIlwraith’s real intention was to exploit the Indigenous population as a cheap source of labour for Queensland’s burgeoning sugar industry.


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