CHAPTER XXV. PAPUA AND THE PACIFIC
A 'Monroe doctrine' for the Pacific - French annexation of New Caledonia - The New Hebrides - New Guinea - Captain Morseby's discoveries - The colonies and New Guinea - Queensland's awakened interest - Gold discoveries - German intentions - McIlwraith orders annexation of New Guinea - Action disavowed by British Government - Strong feeling in Australia - German annexations - Lord Granville's surprise - Kanaka labour - 'Blackbirding' - Queensland regulates the labour traffic.
Prevost-Paradol, a French author who wrote an excellent book on the colonies of his country in 1868, predicted that 'some day a new Monroe Doctrine would prevent old Europe, in the name of the United States of Australia, from setting foot upon a single isle of the Pacific.' A policy so exclusive has never been promulgated, though a convention of all the Australian colonies which met at Sydney in 1883 did enter its protest against any foreign power being permitted to acquire fresh territory in the Pacific south of the Equator. But until the achievement of federation the people of Australia were too much immersed in their own particularist affairs to pay attention to, or even to take the trouble to understand, what their future interests might be in the many groups of islands powdered over the face of the Pacific. Only a suddenly stimulated sense of danger warned them, almost at the last moment, to reach out a hand towards New Guinea, lying close to their doors; and their concern for other parts of the Pacific has only been aroused when they have been awakened to its imminence by some striking circumstance.
The transportation of French prisoners to New Caledonia, and their occasional escape to Brisbane and Sydney, afforded such an instance. France annexed the island in 1853, and ten years later determined to use it as a penal settlement. After the Parisian insurrections of 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War and the anarchy of the Commune, between three and four thousand political prisoners were sent to this convict colony. They included journalists, professors, artists, artisans, and a varied assortment of common rascals. The most famous of the better sort was the intrepid political writer, Henri Rochefort. The Australian colonies became uneasy about the establishment so near to their shores of a foreign imitation of the system which they themselves had happily cast off, and their anxiety increased when escapees and time-expired convicts began to find their way to the eastern seaboard of the continent. The police of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland reported that between 1874 and 1883, at least 247 escaped prisoners and 'expirees' were known to have landed in Australia. The Imperial Government made polite representations to the French Republic, explaining that Australia thought the transportation system vexing and its continuance in New Caledonia rather unneighbourly. The French Government, moreover, was finding that by making New Caledonia a jail it was retarding the development of the great natural resources of the island. It therefore determined to discontinue the practice, and after 1898 convictism was abandoned. Up to that date 15,000 prisoners had been transported to New Caledonia.
The British and French joint occupation of the New Hebrides presents a more complicated problem. A French company commenced to buy land in this group of islands in 1882, and organized a regular trading service between them and Noumea, the chief town in New Caledonia. For some years previously the Presbyterian Church had been conducting missions to the Pacific Islanders, and the missionaries, who were strongly posted in the New Hebrides, knew all that was happening. They spread the alarm among the churches of their denomination in Australia. The Presbyterians, being a numerous and influential body, were able to bring political pressure to bear, through the Governments of the colonies, upon the British Foreign Office, which intimated to the French Government that the annexation of the New Hebrides, if that step were contemplated, would certainly give offence in Australia. France gave an undertaking not to annex the islands, and in 1887 a convention was signed between the two Governments by which the New Hebrides were placed under a joint British and French commission of naval officers. This system of government is called the Anglo-French Condominium.
The Convention of 1887 was modified by a more detailed and elaborate convention in 1906, providing a scheme of government for the New Hebrides. It described them as 'a region of joint influence,' in which the subjects of Great Britain and France enjoy equal rights of residence, personal protection, and trade, each retaining jurisdiction over its own subjects 'and neither exercising a separate control over the group.' A British and a French Resident Commissioner were stationed at Vila, in the island of Efate. The joint Naval Commission was also continued, its functions being mainly to maintain order. This somewhat awkward arrangement cannot be said to be satisfactory or to make for just and wholesome government.