By Hilary Rowell
During the nineteenth century, the Australian colonies were nervous of the possibility of one or more foreign powers, especially France or Germany, establishing settlements in a remote part of Australia or on nearby island chains. Although the Australian colonies were anxious to annex the eastern half of New Guinea for security reasons, Britain was not interested. When endeavouring to force the issue, Queensland sent its resident magistrate from Thursday Island to Port Moresby to raise the British flag in 1883, the action was quickly repudiated by London.1
However, colonial pressure, together with a concern for problems arising from white settlement and the infringement of native rights and anxiety about German settlement in adjacent areas, finally persuaded the British to establish a protectorate on condition that the Australian colonies contribute to the administration. And so, a Protectorate of British New Guinea (covering south eastern New Guinea) was proclaimed in 1884.
In the meantime, the German government had moved to support German trading companies that had established operations in the Pacific. These companies felt that the increasing demands of the Australian colonies for British annexation of the islands north of Australia threatened their commercial interests. In 1883, the German government appointed a permanent Imperial Commissioner, stationed at New Britain and supported by the Hyane. His duties included the enforcement of regulations concerning the recruiting of labourers, protection of German traders' rights, and the prevention or limitation of disputes between Germans and other nationals. Annexation of the Kaiser Wilhelmsland (the north-east part of New Guinea), the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain, New Ireland and associated islands) and other small island groups followed in 1884.
The border between German New Guinea in the north and the Protectorate of British New Guinea in the south was finalised in mid 1885. Continuity in the administration of the two areas was affected by internal changes and the two world wars.
In May 1885, the German Imperial Government issued a charter to a trading company, the Neu Guinea Kompagnie, enabling it to exercise rights of sovereignty over German New Guinea for an indefinite period. The company had the right to occupy unclaimed land in the name of the government and could negotiate with the natives, but not with foreign powers. In return, the company paid for and maintained government institutions.
In 1889, at the request of the Company, the German government temporarily resumed responsibility for the general administration of the Protectorate. An Imperial Commissioner (Kaiserliches Kommissariat) was appointed and the Company's affairs were managed by a Director-General. The Company was to continue to pay for the administration, but as the Imperial officials were not paid regularly, they were withdrawn in 1892 and the Company resumed its administrative responsibilities.
In brief, the company's administration was made up of the:
Having experienced labour, health and financial difficulties, the company surrendered its charter in 1899. And so, from 1899 the German Government ruled the Protectorate of German New Guinea (Das Schutzgebiet von Deutsch Neu–Guinea) directly.
In November 1899 the area of control of the German New Guinea administration was extended to the Island Territory of the Caroline, Pelew (Palau) and Mariana Islands which was purchased by Germany from Spain following the Spanish–American War.
The area was further extended to cover the Marshall Islands in April 1906. These islands had been annexed by Germany in 1885 and placed under an Imperial Commissioner responsible to the German Foreign Office. By an agreement of 1888, a trading company, the Jaluit company, undertook to defray the costs of the administration in return for a trading monopoly. This arrangement continued until 1906, when the Protectorate of the Marshall Islands (which included Nauru) was placed under the Governor of German New Guinea and was joined, for administrative purposes, with the Caroline Islands and other groups which were, by this time, known as the 'Island Protectorate' (Inselgebiet) as opposed to the 'Old Protectorate' (Alte Schutzgebiet) annexed in 1884.
Until 1909, the administration of the Island Protectorate from Rabaul was limited: the Governor only intervened occasionally. However, when shipping services were extended, regular contact became possible and, from 1910, estimates and statistics covered both the Old and Island Protectorates.
From about 1908 the Governor had more resources available to him as a result of the increase in commercial activity and so was able to plan developments. By 1914, there were three district offices at Friedrich Wilhelmshafen, Kaewieng and Rabaul and eight government stations.2
On the outbreak of war in 1914, at the request of Britain, Australia sent the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force into the Pacific to capture German wireless stations.
Australian troops took Rabaul where the Imperial Governor of German New Guinea had been located and German New Guinea, including the islands territories, was surrendered. Australian troops, under the name of the British Administration of German New Guinea, then administered the former German New Guinea with the exception of Nauru and the islands north of the equator which were administered by a British appointee and Japan respectively.3
The object of the Administration was to maintain the colony in working order. Under international law, in cases of occupation, no legislative changes were to occur other than those arising from military necessity until the terms of a peace treaty should determine the future sovereignty. The Administrator reported to the Australian Department of Defence. Initially some German officials were retained, but they resigned in December 1914.
The central administration in Rabaul was made up of departments headed by staff with both military and civil responsibilities. As at 1915, there were Departments of Supplies and Ordnance; Treasury and Bank; Works; Post Office and Telephones; Lands, Surveys and Roads; and a King's Harbour Master. Native Affairs matters were separated from the officer in charge of native police but then combined again. The Judge Advocate General of the Force managed legal matters.
The central administration was supported by District Officers. As at 1915, these were located in Herbertshohe (Kopoko), Kaewieng, Namatani, Madang (formally Friedrich Wilhelmshafen), Morobe, Eitape, Lorengau and Kieta.4
After the war, Australia was given two mandates by the League of Nations to administer:
The Japanese received a mandate covering the German possessions in the Pacific north of the equator, that is, the Caroline (including Palau), Mariana and Marshall Island groups.
A Royal Commission had been established by the Australian Government in 1919 to report on the future of German New Guinea. The majority report recommended a separate administration from Papua and the expropriation of German property.6 The Expropriation Board's powers and work largely overshadowed the administration until the late 1920s but then the administration began to assume a pattern somewhat similar to that of Papua.
The Administrator, with his headquarters in Rabaul, reported to the Australian Department of State responsible for the Mandate. The Government Secretary, under the Administrator, acted as the channel of communication between the departments in Rabaul and the local district officers. The departments were the Government Secretary (including Public Works); the Treasury; Justice; Native Affairs; Public Health; Lands, Mines, Surveys and Forests; Customs; and Agriculture. At the administrative district level, a District Officer, supported by Assistant District Officers and Patrol Officers carried out the work of the administration and petty justice under the Native Regulations.
The Mandate of New Guinea Administration operated until the Japanese invaded, taking Rabaul, the administrative headquarters, in January 1942.
Meanwhile, in British New Guinea, although the decision to annex the Territory was taken less than three months after the establishment of the protectorate in 1884, the annexation did not occur until 1888 after it was finally agreed that the Australian colonies (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) would share the financial responsibility for the administration for ten years. It was also agreed that the Administrator (later renamed Lieutenant-Governor) of British New Guinea would report to the Governor of the Queensland who, in turn, reported to the British Colonial Office. This line of communication was the cause of some friction and legal confusion and in practice, the administration of the possession was under the control of Queensland since it held the purse strings.7
In 1898 the joint funding agreement lapsed and the colonies and then, from 1901, the new Commonwealth government were reluctant to accept full responsibility for financing British New Guinea and the administration was on the verge of bankruptcy. Letters Patent enabling the transfer to the Commonwealth were issued in 1902 but the final transfer was dependent on the passing and proclamation of laws for the government of the Territory. The situation was not finally resolved until 1906, when with the proclamation of the Papua Act 1905, the Commonwealth formally accepted complete responsibility for the colony, and renamed it the Territory of Papua.
From March 1902, the Lieutenant-Governor had reported to the Governor-General instead of the Governor of Queensland and then, from 1906, he reported to the Australian Department of State responsible for Papuan matters. These were:
Because of problems between officials and the method of administration employed within the Territory, a Royal Commission was created in 1906 to investigate the conditions and methods of government. It recommended the retirement of a number of officials and changes to the administration.8 After the removal of a number of officers and the resignation of others, the service was out of balance for some time but by 1910 there appeared to be the possibility of smooth progress.
Although there was some fear of German naval attacks, the First World War did not seriously affect the routine of government in Papua but it did increase staffing problems. Many of the more experienced officials enlisted and magisterial staffs in particular were seriously depleted. Between 1920 and 1930, the structure of the administration remained relatively stable but the depression resulted in some reorganisation of the lands, surveys, mines and agriculture functions in 1932, 1935 and 1936. Sir Hubert Murray who had been the Lieutenant-Governor since 1908, died in February 1940 and H L Murray, Sir Hubert's nephew, who had been Official Secretary since 1916, was appointed Administrator.
Following the declaration of war in 1939, a small garrison force was despatched to Port Moresby and when the Japanese entered the war on 7 December 1941, this force was still the only military body in Papua. On 3 January 1942 a further 5,000 troops arrived in Port Moresby and the functions of the civil administration were contracted. While the seat of government, Port Moresby, was not invaded as was Rabaul, there were Japanese air raids. On 14 February 1942, the civil administration was formally suspended and the Administrator left the Territory.9
A military administration, the Papuan Administrative Unit (PAU) took over on 15 February 1942. On 10 April 1942 the Papuan Unit was amalgamated with the New Guinea Administrative Unit (NGAU) which had also been established on 15 February, the combined unit being called the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU). The unit was the first administration to combine the two Territories, although the possibility of an amalgamated administration had been considered on several occasions.10
As those parts of New Guinea and Papua occupied by the Japanese were recovered, ANGAU assumed control.
After World War II, ANGAU handed over the administration to a single entity, the Provisional Administration of the Territory of Papua-New Guinea headed by an Administrator who reported to the Australian Commonwealth Minister responsible for external territories. However, legally, Papua was still an Australian colony, while New Guinea became an Australian Trust Territory under the United Nations. The provisional administration was replaced in 1949 by the Territory of Papua and New Guinea Administration, which moved to self-government and then independence in 1975.
The fate of the pre-1942 records of the administrations was affected by a volcanic eruption and the tropical climate as well as by the events outlined in the previous chapter.
As the two German administrations lasted only thirty years, most of their records were probably still in New Guinea in 1914 and were thus presumably destroyed or captured. It is not clear when the records came to light because when, in 1916, the Japanese government made inquiries regarding the administrative archives of the German Islands under Japanese occupation, they were informed that there were no such documents in Rabaul.11
At various times in the 1920s, the German government attempted to regain possession of local German New Guinea records. It appears that copies of Registers of births, deaths and marriages records were made and forwarded to Germany.12
In 1930, the 'old German records' held by the Department of Lands in Rabaul were examined and 111 files dealing with Nauru, the Caroline Islands and Marshall Islands etc were identified as being of no use to the New Guinea administration. The Administrator directed that the files be forwarded to Canberra with a view to their transmission to the mandates concerned.
The Territories Branch of Prime Minister's Department sought a legal opinion and was advised that as no question of law appeared to be involved, the decision on the disposal of the files was a matter of policy. The Territories Branch therefore decided that 'a better purpose might be served by retaining the files in the Commonwealth'. It was felt that, as the files were at least seventeen years old, they would not be of much use to the mandatory powers – especially as they were in German. They also seem to have been reluctant to forward files to Japan.13
Further records of German New Guinea, together with records of the British Military Administration and of the New Guinea Mandate, no longer required by the mandate administration, were shipped to Australia in a rationalisation after the Rabaul volcanic eruption in 1937.
As, during World War II, Rabaul and other administrative centres were invaded by the Japanese, a high proportion of the New Guinea Administration records were destroyed together with German records remaining in New Guinea.14
Some agencies had packed up records for despatch south or inland but were caught by the speed of the Japanese advance. The Supreme court records, for example, were packed in wooden crates and boxes in rooms adjoining the court or on the verandah ready for transport from Rabaul to Lae on 22 January 1942. Rabaul was invaded on 23 January.15
Records were lost in fires on Manus and in Wau. The Assistant Geologist, Wau, who had rescued certain plans and records, was very annoyed to hear that the geological office including all remaining records, samples and equipment had been destroyed in a scorched earth policy.16
However, some records did survive. In Wau, the Mining Warden sealed all survey plans in a galvanized iron tank and buried it: the tank was later dug up and the records retrieved by ANGAU. Accounting records of the Buka Passage Office and the Kieta District Office were 'removed to the safety of the mountains' in January–February 1942. Unfortunately some of these records were lost due to 'excessive humidity and the flooding of the place where they were concealed'. However, some survived to be despatched to Canberra for safekeeping until their return to New Guinea after the war.17
Perhaps the most surprising case of survival was that of the libraries of the Departments of Public Health and Agriculture (or portion of them). They were recovered in a tunnel in Rabaul in 1945 where, according to a notice posted near the entrance, they had been cared for by a Japanese soldier!18
As the Japanese advanced in January–February 1942, some Papuan Departments started shipping records to Australia. Treasury, survey, staff, Supreme Court and Registrar-General records were despatched.
Individuals also took action after the cessation of civil administration on 14 February 1942. An officer of the Papuan Constabulary who remained to join the army, packed up certain police records and despatched them to Australia where they ended up being stored by his sister before being handed to the Department of External Territories (I) in Canberra in May 1944.19
The officer in charge of records in the Government Secretary's Department, L Lett, was concerned to preserve the unique series of patrol reports dating from 1884 to 1941. He and the Government Secretary saw them as having great historical value. The Executive Council did not make provision for their removal to Australia, so, after the heads of departments had left, Lett took matters into his own hands. He packed the reports and other valuable papers in four old rifle cases while air raid warnings sounded and anti-aircraft guns opened up for the first time. He then persuaded the naval authorities to ship the boxes to Brisbane and notified Canberra of his action. The records dropped from sight for several months and were finally located in the King's Warehouse, Brisbane in August 1942. They were sent by rail to Canberra and placed in the temporary custody of the Commonwealth National Library and stored with other library material in a disused kiln at the Canberra brickworks.
J R Halligan of the Department of External Territories (I) was anxious to locate records and funds of the New Guinea and Papuan Administrations to account for funds and to prepare for the reinstatement of civilian administration. (Burying silver coins in the dead of night, without witnesses figures large in reports of evacuation by district officers. Large quantities of coins were kept to pay natives and were too heavy to carry out in an emergency.)
Halligan coordinated action on tracking records and had lists prepared of records despatched to Australia. Some material was located temporarily in Sydney where evacuated officers of the Papuan Public Service were attached to the New Guinea Trade Agency to finalise action on accounts.20 When action was completed the records were forwarded to Canberra.
Halligan also contacted ANGAU in May 1942 asking that a survey of the location of administration records be prepared. When visiting Port Moresby in 1943, he arranged for the records already collected to be listed and transferred to Canberra. After the material was listed by ANGAU staff, R J Paul and G Whittaker (two pre-war residents of Papua), eleven cases of records were forwarded to Canberra in 1943 and placed in storage in the morgue at the old Hospital, Acton. The records despatched by Lett were moved from the brickworks to the morgue between 1943 and 1945.
The District Censor also confiscated and returned books found in soldiers' parcels sent from forward areas – books such as 'Dysentery in the Federated Malay States' stamped 'Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Papua'!
The Allied Geographical Section asked for access to administration records to assist the war effort and maps and plans were lent. The academic grapevine was also working despite the war. I Hogbin of the Anthropology Department of Sydney University wrote to the Department of External Territories (I) expressing concern about the preservation of the early Papuan records which he had heard were stored at the brickworks. The accommodation was checked and pronounced satisfactory.21
Records required by the PNG Administration were returned to Port Moresby after the war. Other administration records remaining in Canberra were transferred to the Archives Division of the Commonwealth National Library or its successor (the Commonwealth Archives Office) between 1950 and the early 1960s by a number of agencies as the records came to light, usually when storage areas were being cleaned out.22
After the re-establishment of civil administration in Port Moresby in 1945, covering the Mandated Territory of New Guinea as well as Papua, there was still no formal archives based in the Territory. In 1949 a fire in the Government Secretary's Office had destroyed most of the Administrator's records, some Law Department records and ANGAU records. This caused considerable concern in Canberra.
In 1951, L S Lake of the Archives Division visited the Territory. He located Papuan Executive Council minute books and records of the Central Court and Government Secretary in the back room of the Public Library apparently gathered together by ANGAU. He arranged for this material to be despatched to Canberra. He also arranged with the Administrator for circulars to be sent to district officers asking that old records be transferred to Canberra. This resulted in the transfer of the pre-war records of the Resident Magistrate, South Eastern Division.23
H J Gibbney, a Senior Archivist, was sent in 1955 from Canberra to survey Territory records and report on what needed to be done for better records management. Apart from recommendations about the custody and care of the records, he considered that a position of Records Officer and Archivist should be created in Port Moresby. Such a position was eventually created late in 1957, though the appointee, V Prescott, did not commence duties till April 1959. In 1962 a PNG Archives Committee was established, by which time accommodation was available for the Archives in the basement of the Legislative Council building.
During his 1955 survey, Gibbney located lands and mines records that had been stowed away under a native hut at the beginning of World War II and Treasury records rescued from the Post Office, Port Moresby, after it had been looted by Australian troops.24 These records, salvaged by ANGAU during the war, were forwarded to Canberra.
It was agreed in the early 1960s that all pre-1942 administration records would remain for the time being in trust in Australia and that the post-1942 material would be located in Port Moresby. And so, the nine metres of post-1942 records held in Canberra were sent to Port Moresby in 1964.
However, by the late 1960s the Administrator was increasingly calling for older records from Canberra as evidence in court cases. Also there was a growing interest in academic research on PNG in Australia and in Papua New Guinea, after the establishment of the University of Papua New Guinea in 1966. The newly appointed PNG Archives Officer, K Green, and the University Librarian, G Buick, were interested in developing the archival resources available in Port Moresby.
In the meantime, within the Commonwealth Archives Office, the issue of the custody of Papua New Guinea administration archives was reviewed and the Office decided to recommend that the pre-1942 records should be returned to the Territory as part of PNG's heritage after the records were microfilmed for security and Australian reference purposes and after the availability of suitable storage arrangements was confirmed.
The Administrator, D O Hay, agreed on the 27 September 1967 with the Commonwealth Archives Office's proposal and, in 1968, the Federal Executive Council approved the funding arrangements for filming the extant pre-1942 Papuan Archives.
Detailed arrangement and description and microfilming commenced. The original records, after filming, were progressively forwarded to the National Archives of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
The German New Guinea records presented different custody and ownership issues as there were several successor governments to the German New Guinea Administrations. In 1974, with a view to coming to arrangements before PNG independence, the National Archives approached the Department of Foreign Affairs (the Commonwealth agency controlling the records and also the agency dealing with foreign governments) outlining the interests of the three successor states to the former German New Guinea (ie PNG, the Republic of Nauru and the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands which incorporated the Micronesian islands of the former Japanese mandate).
It was argued that although much of the material related to Micronesia, archivally the records and filing systems of the German colonial government in Rabaul were an obvious entity and should be kept intact. It was proposed that the original records be deposited after arrangement and microfilming in the PNG Archives, that PNG allow and facilitate access to the original records by other successor governments and that a copy of the film be provided to Nauru and the US Trust Territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, accepting Archives advice, approached the three governments concerned. The governments expressed interest and broadly agreed with the arrangements although some details were not finalised. However, this project did not progress because, although the two most straightforward series were filmed, the Archives had problems finding appropriately experienced staff to handle the language and handwritten gothic script.
After contact between the National Archives, the German Bundesarchiv and the National Archives of Papua New Guinea, a German archivist visited Australia in 1991 and described the German records. These were then microfilmed and copies prepared for despatch to Germany, to Papua New Guinea and to the other successors to German New Guinea, by now being Nauru, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau. A copy was also to go to the US National Archives because of the USA's involvement with the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The original records were sent to the National Archives of Papua New Guinea.
The records forwarded to Australia included records created by departments in Port Moresby and some records from the out stations located in the administrative divisions.
Records of the following agencies in Port Moresby are represented:
At the out station or divisional office level outside Port Moresby, the only division for which a large quantity of records was transferred to Canberra is the South Eastern Division: forty-five series of the Resident Magistrate (based in Bonagai until 1908, Kulumadau (Woodlark Island) until 1920, then Bwagaoia on Misima Island) survived. They date from 1902 to 1942.
A small number of series (one to three) have survived for:
Four series of records of the Papuan Government Agency (CA 1446) based in Sydney from 1914 to 1922 have also survived. When the civil administration ceased in Papua, some accounting records were transferred to the New Guinea Trade Agency (CA 620) based in Sydney and Papuan Public Service staff used the records to wind up the business of the civil administration.
Further pre-1942 Papuan records came to light in Papua New Guinea from the 1960s. These were not forwarded to Australia and so have not been included in the Australian microfilming project. These records are held in the Papua New Guinea National Archives and include papers of the Divisional offices located in Abau, Baniara, Daru, Kairuku, Kerema, Kikori, Rigo and Tufi.
Descriptions of the British New Guinea and Papuan record series which have been microfilmed are covered in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of this guide in chronological order by the series start date.
The records created by the German New Guinea and Mandated Territory of New Guinea Administrations and forwarded to Australia are fragmentary as outlined above in Part 2. They are mainly those transferred to Australia in 1930 and 1937 as being no longer required for ongoing administration.
Some records of the following agencies of the Protectorate of the New Guinea Company (1885–99) survived and have been filmed:
Records of the following agencies of the Protectorate of German New Guinea (1899–1914) are represented:
Although work was started on identifying record series and attributing them to the above agencies, because of a lack of staff with necessary language skills, the project was suspended. The visiting German archivist who worked on the records in 1991 divided the records up (other than G1, G2, G30 and G250 previously identified) into two artificial groups, G254 covering administrative records and G255 covering correspondence files.
The records of the British Administration have been grouped under one agency, the Military Administration of the German New Guinea Possessions (CA 7462). The administration has not been broken into a number of agencies for the different departments as would normally be done by the National Archives because of the fragmentary nature of the surviving records.
The records of Mandated Territory of New Guinea are grouped under the following agencies:
As for the British Military Administration, the Civil Administration has not been broken into a number of agencies because of the fragmentary records.
1 Part 1 and Part 2 are based on research undertaken in the preparation of the article by Nancy Lutton and Hilary Rowell, 'Return to Port Moresby - the survival copying and restitution of rescued records', in Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 23 no. 2, Nov 1995, pp. 290-305. The article drew on research work undertaken by two former members of staff of the National Archives and its predecessors, H J Gibbney and P J Scott.
3 British Administration of German New Guinea Government Gazette, vol. 1, no. 1, 15 Oct 1914; Australia, Administration of Nauru: Report for Pre-mandate period ending 17th December, 1920..., Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, 1922, vol. II, p. 2809; NAA: CP78/23, 89/68.
8 The report of the Royal Commission of inquiry into the present conditions, including the methods of government of the Territory now known as Papua and the best means for their improvement appears in Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, Senate vol. 1, 1907, pp. 137-463. No records of the Royal Commission survive in the National Archives' custody. Another Royal Commission concerning the Territory which was held in 1904 was that on the Affray at Goaribari Island British New Guinea on 6 March 1904. Its report appears in Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, 1904, pp. 67-175. Again, no records of the Royal Commission survive.
9 H J Gibbney, Draft Guide to the Records of the Territory of Papua (Inventory No. 7), Commonwealth Archives Office: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances relating to the Suspension of the Civil Administration, 1944–1945 (there is a small quantity of records of this inquiry in the National Archives' custody); Territory of Papua Gazette Extraordinary, 14 Feb 1942.
13 NAA: A518, Z 836/2. These files were transferred to the Archives by Prime Minister's Department and by the Department of Territories (I) in 1960. These accessions were later converted to G1 and G2.
14 On 4 January 1946, the Headquarters, First Army (AIF) reported to the Administrator in Port Moresby that inquiries in New Britain and New Ireland revealed that the only property of the Civil Administration found since reoccupation were some library books in Rabaul. No other official documents were found. See NAA: A518, AO 800/1/3, Part 2.