European powers, including Germany and France, became a more visible colonising presence in the South Pacific from the early 1880s. In Australia, and particularly within Queensland, there was concern that their expanding power might pose a future threat to Australia.
In response to the perceived threat, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, the Premier of Queensland, ordered Henry Chester, the Police Magistrate on Thursday Island, to formally annex the south-eastern section of Papua New Guinea and adjacent islands. The annexation was proclaimed, in the name of the British Government, on 4 April 1883.
The British Government strongly rebuked McIlwraith for his actions and repudiated the claim. A year later, Germany took possession of north-east New Guinea. This spurned the British Government into declaring the southern half of eastern New Guinea a British protectorate, with Australian colonies promising to provide financial support.
On 4 September 1888, Britain formally annexed the protectorate, along with adjacent islands, naming the region British New Guinea. In 1902, in the aftermath of Federation, the protectorate was placed under the authority of Australia although formal Australian administration did not commence until 1906. Papua New Guinea achieved independence in 1975.
Section of map of British New Guinea, with inset of the whole of New Guinea, c 1892
Queensland State Archives Item ID 1139529, Digital Image ID 2941 Survey Office
Queensland Government correspondence about the planned annexation of New Guinea, c 1874 (extract)
Queensland State Archives Item ID 1139505, Digital Image ID 2918 Colonial Secretary’s Office Curatorial notes
Around the world
- 1883 Silver discovered at Broken Hill
- 1883 Gaudí began building the Sagrada Família in Barcelona - it is still under construction today
- 1884 First May Day
- 1885 LA Thompson patented the roller coaster
- 1885 First motor car built by Benz
- 1886 First advertisement for Coca-Cola
- 1887 Australia defeated England in the first cricket series
- 1887 Adolf Eugen Fick invented the contact lens
- 1888 British law passed to permit bicycles on the road