Trove Tuesday: Christopher Robinson

While we were visiting Samarai in the Milne Bay District (PNG) a couple of months ago we saw the memorial which appears on Tropical Territory today. Apparently there was quite a lot of conflict over it when it was erected, and couldn’t be placed anywhere else so it was eventually placed on Samarai even though there was no specific connection.

Mr Cassmob remembers his father saying the miners (why??) wanted to have the comment “killed by the missionaries” on the memorial and that the Robinson issue was about the killing of some “natives”. Now plainly this was all quite intriguing so I turned to my good friend Trove to see what it could tell me about the background event.

My Trove reading suggests that there were a number of complicating factors surrounding this event:

  1. In 1901 Australia became an independent federation and nation.
  2. In 1902 Papua, or the British Protectorate of New Guinea, had become the responsibility of Australia
  3. In 1905, it became the Territory of Papua.
  4. Australia’s federal election in December 1903.

The events we’re looking at straddle this time frame and affect how they was seen.

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/918589. The Advertiser 19 March 1903.

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/918589. The Advertiser 19 March 1903.

Early in 1904 Christopher Robinson, a Brisbane solicitor, was appointed acting Administrator and Judicial Officer of British New Guinea, pending the implementation of legislation formalising the Territory of Papua under Australian control. Soon afterwards Robinson set sail on the ship the Merrie England, to the Gulf Province (west of Port Moresby) where two missionaries, Rev James Chalmers and Rev OF Tomkins, had been massacred on Goaribari Island (now in the Gulf Province, PNG) in 1901. On the face of it this was not unreasonable, but in the event, the local people approached the ship, firing arrows from their canoes, apparently in retaliation for the arrest of some of the men believed to have taken part in the killing of the missionaries. Shots were fired from the ship and an undefined number of “natives” were killed. This “Goaribari incident”, as it was euphemistically called, occurred in March 1904. While one could hardly expect the ship’s crew to ignore being fired at, it appears that the response was ill-considered and due to panic.

The Queenslander 28 May 1904

The Queenslander 28 May 1904

Robinson’s reputation was under a very dark cloud as a Royal Commission of Enquiry was instigated, of which Judge Murray (presumably Sir Hubert Murray) was in charge. Shortly before the enquiry commenced, Christopher Robinson put a gun to his head and killed himself, leaving behind a note which was not released (according to the papers). It is through the reports of the enquiry that we learn that at least eight men were killed, three possibly by Robinson.

Perhaps the simple fact is that, with no prior experience of New Guinea, or of the risks associated with working there, he simply panicked and imagined himself massacred as had been the missionaries in 1901. This in no way excuses what happened, whether by him or by others, but he was also human, and perhaps in fear of his life after the decision to capture some of the locals who may/may not have been part of the original massacre.

Western Mail, 17 September 1904 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3767552

Western Mail, 17 September 1904 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3767552

When we lived in Papua in the 1970s, 70 years later, there were patrol officers who had encountered tribes meeting their first white men, and where cannibalism still occasionally occurred. From the local side they felt betrayed by what had initially seemed like a positive interaction with the Europeans. In short, a major conflict of culture and loss of judgement, with consequent loss of life.

Discussions around the event were very much focused on Australia’s image, and the need to see it as not condoning the hapless killing of the very people under its protection.

Christopher Robinson’s body was returned to Australia on board a boat accompanied by a missionary Mr Jekyll, who had been present at the killings, a coincidence which seems quite ironic to me.

The mystery of why the “miners” blamed the missionaries remains unknown, as does the question of why the memorial to Christopher Robinson is on Samarai Island many miles from where the “Goaribari incident” occurred, but, also ironically, not far from Killerton Island where missionaries had been cannibalised. It’s also ironic that it remains on an island which is now entirely settled by local Milne Bay people yet they tolerate its presence.

The full story behind this event would merit further investigation as well.

Some Further Reading

The Queenslander 28 May 1904

Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld) 23 June 1904

The Register (Adelaide, SA ), 24 June 1904.

Kalgoorlie Miner 5 May 1904

The Register (Adelaide, SA) 14 September 1904 “The Merrie England began it”.

The Mercury (Hobart) 14 September 1904

Home again

In case you’ve been wondering why my responses to comments have been a bit slow lately it’s because we’ve been having a great adventure: our first return to Papua New Guinea since we left in August 1978.

We had an absolutely fantastic time and met lots of people including some who knew Mr Cassmob’s parents or his brother and one lady who he knew on Samarai.

We spent most of our time in Alotau in the Milne Bay Province which I wrote about back in the alphabet series in April here. It was such fun we’re wondering why we haven’t been back before.

I’ll be sharing some of the stories and photos soon on this blog or on Tropical Territory 

but for now I just wanted to say I’m back in Darwin and looking forward to catching up on other people’s blog writing from the past couple of weeks.

Talk soon.

Pauleen

M is mulling over Milne Bay Islands, Murphys Creek and Mull (via Lismore)

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we travel to different locations on the far side of the world from each other. 

M is for MULL (with a detour to the Isle of Lismore) (Scotland)

BTW I’m trialling a slideshow below for Mull because there’s a number of photos I want to show you. My husband’s Argyll ancestry is drawn from the islands of Lismore and Mull so it was important for us to schedule the two islands on our latest Scottish excursion. The family story went that his Donald Black (2x great grandfather) used to row across the strait between the two islands to woo his future bride, Mary McIntyre. It is possible that the story is true given you can easily see Mull from Achinduin on Mull…they were probably well used to the sea, but you’d have wanted the tide and weather with you.  On the other hand, when the weather is fierce you really know what you’re up against. I’m sure we didn’t see the worst weather by any means when we walked down to the ruins of Achinduin Castle, but even so we were struggling to stay upright in the wind.

Lismore is just gorgeous though its population is small due to the massive emigration and evictions during the 19th century. The island now has a new Heritage Centre with displays and genealogical information, so if you have Lismore ancestry it’s definitely worth getting in touch. Caledonian McBrayne took us over the sea to Mull, with our goal of learning more about the McIntyres. If the weather was blowy on Lismore it was truly hideous on Mull that day, wet, blustery and cold. We were ever so pleased to place ourselves in the hands of our hospitable B&B owner, Helen, hours earlier than planned. With a nice hot coffee and a piece of homemade cake we could look out over Tobermory harbour from the warmth of our room. Delicious!

But of course these diversions do not make for good family history so on a much sunnier day we took ourselves back to the Cal-Mac port at Craignure and the information centre, where the ladies did their very best to assist us. With their help and an internet map from the Mull Genealogy site, we managed to locate the area of Ardchoirk (my aide memoir is to call it Artichoke). As always, still more research to be done, but at least we saw the area where they lived. The Mull Historical Society site offers some historical background for interested readers. While on Mull we made the drive to Iona, a small island off the coast easily reached by ferry. Iona is the site of St Columba’s ancient monastery and almost as soon as you arrive the peace of the place seeps into your spirit. We loved everything about it: the ancient carvings, the simplicity of the church, the ancient chapel, the amazing carved gravestones, the scenery…. We drove back to Tobermory via the west coast road which would have been more relaxing if we hadn’t been racing the fading daylight, but we did have an interesting encounter with a Highland cow and calf. And probably my favourite quote attributed to St Columba: Angel nor saint have I seen, but I have heard the roar of the western sea, and the isle of my heart lies in its midst. And on a pragmatic note, I’m trialling the slideshow facility because I had a number of photos I wanted to share with you.

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M is for MILNE BAY ISLANDS (Papua New Guinea)

I’ve talked a bit about Milne Bay under my A for Alotau post but I just wanted to add some comments on its islands. Milne Bay Province, or District as it was known then, is a now-peaceful coastal area of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The people lack the aggressive attitude sometimes found in other parts of PNG, perhaps a reflection of their surroundings. My husband’s family lived in this district for many years and it was to Milne Bay that he returned from boarding school a couple of times a year for the holidays. In those days the district headquarters was on the small island of Samarai, off the southern tip of PNG.

Apart from the government offices, the churches and two sort-of-general stores (BPs and Steamships) and some trade stores, there really wasn’t a lot there. By the time I visited you went there by government trawler on a 3-4 hour trip, breathing in diesel fumes from the engine and trying to rest. A visit to the Steamships Trading Co store caused much interest to those who’d worked with my husband during the school holidays, and knew his parents well. Mr Cassmob has many fond memories of Samarai: their house on the waterfront with the little crabs scurrying on the flats; the Catalinas taking off and landing; evenings at the Club. These two blogs provide stories about Samarai here and here.

Yam huts, Trobriand Islands, taken by Les Cass in the 1960s. © L Cass 1962.

Margaret Mead and Malinowski, both famous anthropologists, are known for their research in the Trobriand Islands. Less well known is that these islands are part of Milne Bay. As a young and fairly naïve woman I visited Losuia on a charter flight not long after I got to PNG. It was quite an introduction as the Trobriand Islanders are known for their minimal dress, explicit dancing, and amazing, and sometimes graphic, carvings.

These old photos were taken by my father-in-law in the early 1960s on the Trobriand Islands © L Cass 1962.

Selling carvings and artefacts on the Trobriand Islands © Les Cass 1964.

On another charter Losuia became our refuge. We’d visited Guasopa on the Woodlark Islands earlier that day, when I’d been in raptures to see surf and sand again, but on the return flight in the six seater, 4 passenger, aircraft the weather closed in.

Despite the fact that the area is generally flat as a tack, there was a minor sticking point: the 100 ft hill en route to the Trobs, which couldn’t be seen because of the cloud cover (these were the days of visual flying). Luckily the cloud lifted at the last minute and we landed with minimal fuel in the tank, so we had an enforced overnight stay at Losuia and were very grateful for it. We have always regarded that day as a lucky-flight day and I’ll bet the pilot did too! Papua New Guinea certainly made for interesting life experiences.

M is for MURPHYS CREEK (Queensland)

How on earth I omitted this initially I don’t know as it was on my writing list, probably talking too much about Mull and Milne Bay. Murphys Creek is a pivotal place on my family tree as this is the nearest village to where my Kunkel ancestors lived at the Fifteen Mile. It’s highly likely they also lived there during the construction of the railway line and I’ve wondered whether the newspaper quote which refers to them “even having their own pork butcher”, might relate to George Kunkel whose occupation that was.

After they’d returned to the area in 1874, and settled at the Fifteen Mile(see F is for..), George worked for the railway as a labourer to earn cash for the family’s support. Oral history suggests that his wife Mary also lived there “in a humpy” (a shack) where she looked after him during the week. Whether this is true or not I have no way of knowing. There was also a string of young children to care for back on the farm so perhaps this was after they’d grown up.

Murphys Creek is also where they worshipped at the little timber Catholic church, which they no doubt contributed to financially and possibly in labour. The Kunkel children would have attended the Murphys Creek school but unfortunately the admission records don’t survive back to that time. One of the Kunkel sons was also on the school board later on. In short, the Kunkel lives were woven into this community.

The newly restored gravestone for the Kunkel family in the Murphys Creek cemetery, Queensland. © P Cass 2012.

Murphys Creek is also where George and Mary Kunkel were buried, together with their son George Michael and daughter Mary Ellen, who had predeceased them. Their gravestone stands isolated at one side of the small cemetery and I suspect they are in the Catholic area. Over the recent decades their gravestone had taken on a nasty lean with the impact of drought and a few bits had snapped off.

In the terrible floods of January 2011 I feared it had been swept down-river to Moreton Bay, a small potential loss compared to what others suffered on that shocking day. Fortunately for our own family’s heritage this wasn’t so and our plans to restore their memorial took effect soon afterwards. We’d collected funds at our second reunion in 2007 to celebrate George and Mary’s 150th anniversary but these things take time. I visited recently and the newly-levelled and restored stone is standing proud with a bronze plaque which repeats the information carved into the stone but which is slowly deteriorating and far too expensive to restore.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 23rd December 2011 – Christmas Sweetheart Memories

Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

The Christmas season has been pretty unpopular as a marriage time for those on my family trees: probably because it’s just too hot here, but only one in the European branches too.

Apparently we’re both far too unromantic since neither of us has a memory of what my first Christmas present was from my husband (my first sweetheart). Nor does he remember what I gave him. I think his present to me may have been the carved ornament of a Chinese fisherman but I’m not sure. Not too much should be read into this gift-amnesia, after all I remember many of the other gifts he gave me for no reason at all when we were dating, not to mention the bunches of violets and other flowers.

The wharf at Alotau in Milne Bay a few years after we lived there. This is just a small snippet of the Bay.

Our first Christmas together was the one after we married…all the preceding years he’d been far away in Papua New Guinea with his family with no means of communication other than very slow snail mail and radio telephone. We lived in a very small town in Milne Bay District and had limited shopping opportunities –just four trade stores in the town and a somewhat larger store on Samarai where “himself” used to work when they lived on the island. We bought our first family Christmas decorations and our first LPs of Christmas music from one of these trade stores. The decorations were very 1970s as they were in flourescent colours. We still have one or two that successive cats and children haven’t mangled and proving that what was “once old is new again”, a few years ago the colours even came back into fashion.

Our first Christmas Day nearly ended up being a repast of very simple standards – the planes hadn’t been able to land for some days due to the weather. Milne Bay is shaped like  a horseshoe with mountains surrounding it meaning that when it rained HEAVILY during the Wet Season the bay was filled with dense clouds and the mountains shrouded. It was a foolhardy pilot who took the flying conditions lightly..it was an unforgiving place to fly.

Anyway on that Christmas Day we sat at a friend’s place, with food to nibble on but with no main course as all our meat had to be flown in from Port Moresby. We listened optimistically as once again we heard the buzz of the small aircraft trying to find its way through the murk. Imagine our excitement when we could hear it below the clouds and heading for the runway at Gurney. Everyone jumped in a vehicle of some sort and took off for the airstrip some 20kms of rough road and a couple of un-bridged creeks away. We happily recovered our Christmas food orders and were joyful that our Christmas meal would no longer be such a simple repast. Ironically neither of us remembers what it was that we ordered – only that it arrived in the nick of time, thanks to the efforts of a gutsy pilot who was working on Christmas Day. Hopefully when he got home there was a nice meal waiting for him too.

We didn’t own a camera at this stage of our married life when funds were tight, so we have no visual record of our first Christmas together.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.