Imperial and Colonial Acts
Reviewed by Catherine Blanchfield – Queensland Content Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
This volume puts together the following Colonial (including Queensland, Victorian et al.) and Imperial (British) legislation and regulations concerning the conditions, employment, treatment and ‘acquisition’ or ‘recruitment’ of’ Pacific Islander people to that date of 1884:
• The Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1872 (Imperial)
• The Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1875 (Imperial)
• The Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880
• The Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880 Amendment Act of 1884
• Regulations under the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880
• Instructions to Government Agents
The 1880 Queensland Act included in this volume, namely ‘The Pacific Island Labourers Act’ repealed the earlier 1868 ‘Polynesian Labourers Act’ and had as its focus to make provision for the recruitment, care, and transportation to Queensland of labourers from the Islands as well as their employment within the Colony of Queensland. In response to complaints and allegations of abuse brought to government attention, the legislation built on the earlier licensing system and inspectors and Government Agents were required to accompany recruiting vessels.
1872 and 1875 – the true nature of the Act is evidenced in the name by which this Act is to be known ‘The Kidnapping Act 1872’. It recognises, and attempts to legislate against, the abhorrent practice of ‘Blackbirding’ or violent kidnapping, of men and women from a number of islands in the South Pacific and attempts to regulate and rein-in the activities of the captains of such British and Colonial recruiting vessels. Thus, also proclaimed in the Queensland Government Gazette of the 31st August 1872 as:
“…an Act for the Prevention and Punishment of Criminal Outrages upon Natives of the Islands in the Pacific Ocean…”
The ‘Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1880 Amendment Act of 1884’ had the most long-term significance as it limited the type of labour the Pacific Islanders were allowed to perform, specifically:
“…Islanders not employed except in certain occupations. 10. From and after the first day of September, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four, it shall not be lawful to employ any islander, except under an agreement for service attested as hereinbefore provided, nor except in tropical or semi-tropical agriculture…” (p: 43)
This Amendment Act, restricting employment opportunities to the coast, as well as this other legislation, led to Commonwealth legislation from 1901 to 1904 which provided the legislative basis for the ‘White Australia Policy’ and led eventually to the deportation and repatriation of the Islanders (see: QLD State Archives “Pathways – South Sea Islanders and the Kanaka Trade” p. 5; http://foundingdocs.gov.au/timeline-b-1837-t-1899.html and http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-66.html#significance)
This book review is part of an ongoing series by State Library staff who have volunteered to review heritage collection materials about labourers who were brought to Queensland from the South Sea Islands beginning in 1863.