Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This time after reading "Following The Equator" a book by Mark Twain, I've decided to post something about the South Sea Islanders for a change.

"According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the word "kanaka", which was once widely used in Australia, is now regarded in Australian English as an offensive term for a Pacific Islander.[1] In part, this is because most "Kanakas" in Australia were people from Melanesia, rather than Polynesia, and included few Hawaiians. The descendants of 19th century immigrants to Australia from the Pacific Islands now generally refer to themselves as "South Sea Islanders", and this is also the term used in formal and official situations.
Most of the original labourers were recruited from the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides (Vanuatu), though others were taken from the Loyalty Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Some were kidnapped ("blackbirded") or otherwise induced into long-term indentured service.
Reflecting European prejudices of the time, the men were generally referred to as "Kanakas" (boys). Islander descendants regard this term as a pejorative and insulting reminder of their ancestors' exploitation at the hands of white planters and their recruiters. In Australia, South Sea Islanders were often unfree labour, of the specific form known as indentured labour. It is often alleged that their employment in Australia was a form of slavery, due to the belief that many people were recruited by "blackbirding", as the enslavement of Pacific Islanders and indigenous Australians was known at the time."
Taken from Wikipedia.

At a time when the Western World was beginning to turn its back on all systems of slavery, Queensland was in the process of embracing it in an attempt to get industry on its feet and flowing financially. A man named Robert Towns was the first instigator of using South Sea Island labour. Towns could almost be likened to Cecil J Rhodes, of Rhodesian fame, for his empire-building attitudes, and his almost flagrant disregard for official and public opinion. The American Civil War broke out in 1861, and lasted until 1865, during this time the American cotton crop dwindled to a trickle and died. this left the industrious maw of Britain's Midlands region without the raw material for its massive weaving industry, and worldwide the demand for cotton was   enormous.

Queensland's Governor Bowen was interested in meeting that demand, and he was backed by Robert Towns and other powerful pastoralists, who made it quite clear to the Governor, that for a project of this magnitude to succeed, a vast amount of labour would be required; cheap labour accustomed to working in the harsh sub-tropical climates found in Queensland, and negotiations were entered into with a view to importing labour from India. However, these broke down after a multitude of discussions, and towns decided to import men from the Pacific islands. Towns' needs at this time, were obviously desperate. His property on the Logan River urgently required an influx of cheap workers following one very bad season, and he did not wish a repetition of that unhappy event, and so he commissioned one of his many ships under the command of Captain Geurber with Ross Lewin as recruiting officer, to sail to the Polynesian Islands for the purpose of purchasing labour.

 Considering who we're talking about you can just imagine what followed.

To read more click here.