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The Age 1883-05-09
". . .The story of the cruise of the “blackbird” steamer Montserrat was told in yesterday’s “Examiner” by the special correspondent, mr. W.H. Brommage, who had shipped as a sailor for the voyage. In obedience to the instructions under which he set out Mr. Brommage confined his narrative to a simple and accurate statement of the facts with no attempt of sensational effect. In fact, the story was modified by the suppression of some details which would have thrown the horrors of the traffic into stronger relief. To-day our correspondent makes some additions to his narrative which will be found exceedingly interesting. . ."
". . .On the 23rd of last April the tramp steamer Montserrat left San Francisco for the ostensible purpose of a trading voyage among the South Sea islands, but in reality, as was suspected at the time, to go on a slave-trading expedition. Her purpose was to make laboring contracts with the simple people of the islands to work on the plantations of the fever-stricken west coast of Guatemala for five years. On the face of it, the contract is legitimate, but when it is known that for little or not pay these people leave their beautiful island home, go into a strange country, among a people whose language they do not understand, live like dogs and die like sheep in the cane-covered marshes, and under the burning suns of tropical Guatemala, the cruelty of such deportation becomes apparent. Such traffic in the South Seas has gone on for years under the familiar name of “blackbirding,” but the ships that come out of the Western Pacific, packed with the half-garbed natives of the islands, are no less slavers than those swift barks that in other days sailed from the west coast of Africa to the southern shores of America. This enterprise was under the joint management of San Francisco and Central American capital. The manager-in-chief of the expedition was W.H. Ferguson, whose connection with a similar slave ship, the ill-fated Tahiti, in which 400 natives were drowned, will be remembered. In command of the Montserrat was Captain Blackburn. Dr. R.J. McGittigen of San Francisco, a graduate of the Cooper Medical College, accompanied the expedition as surgeon, and James S. Osborne, a young San Franciscan, went along as passenger. With a full crew, provisions and supplies to last four months the vessel sailed, and after visiting eleven islands of the Gilbert group carried 388 imprisoned laborers to San Jose de Guatemala, and there delivered them to the wealthy Spanish plantation owners, who lodged them upon their sugar plantations along the coast to labor out the five years of their contract or to die with the infectious diseases coming to that marsh district. On board the Montserrat was a reporter of the “Examiner” in the guise of and performing the functions of a sailor. His vivid story of the methods used to secure the laborers, their weary voyage of twenty-three days from their sea-girt (?) home to Guatemala’s coast, their painful journeys overland to the plantations in the interior is told below. . ."
San Francisco, Sept. 7 (Special). - Much interest is taken here in the brig Tahiti, which is now lying in Drake's Bay, near here, with 300 Gilbert Islanders in the hold. The vessel is American, yet she is engaged in carrying these islanders to San Benito, Mexico, to work on coffee plantations. Captain Fergusen explains that his human cargo was secured by legitimate contract, and that when their period of service is completed the Mexican Government agrees to return them to their homes.
The New York Tribune 1891-09-08
San Francisco, Nov. 20 - In a brig dispatch from Manzanillo comes news of the wreck of the brig Tahiti, with every soul on her, 270 South Sea slaves, missing. This wreck is a noteworthy one, as it marks the failure of the first extensive attempt at "black-birding" on the Pacific Coast.
The New York Tribune 1891-11-30
In the account published in The Tribune yesterday of the wreck of th brig Tahiti, the dispatch, which of passengers, 270 in number, all of whom are believed to be lost, as "South Sea slaves." Humphrey H, Leavitt, of this city, who was a three-fourths owner of the brig, and Captain C. Erickson, who was in command, are also supposed to have perished.
The New York Tribune 1891-12-01
In Queensland one step has been taken towards increasing the products of the colony. The employment of Polynesian labourers on the sugar plantations has again been sanctioned at the instance of Sir Samuel Griffith, who was formerly the prime minister in preventing the engagement of Kanakas, and who has freely admitted that he was in error. The articles which we have published regarding the Kanaka traffic will serve to show how ridiculous and unfounded are the complaints that have been made against it.
The Argus 1892-12-31
She considers that the present mode of recruiting is above any shadow of reproach, and states that she never say any average manual labourer as well cared for as the kanakas working on the plantations.
The Argus 1892-12-29
"Many British subjects would envy the lot of the kanaka labourer in Queensland." Such are the words in which our representative who has made a cruise incognito in a labour vessel through the Solomon Islands, who has seen with his own eyes the recruiting of the plantation labourers, who has visited the beach in the boats of the schooner Helena and seen the relatives and friends of those who volunteered for the Queensland service, and who has talked with the recruits on their voyage to Bundaberg, and had every opportunity of discovering whether they had any complaint to make or whether any advantage was taken of their supposed ignorance by an unscrupulous captain – such are the words in which our representative sums up his experience of the labour traffic. Sentiment is cheap, and it is an easy thing for people who have never seen an islander from the Solomon group, and who know nothing of the intelligence of that race, which is mentally and physically one of the strongest among all the races that inhabit the lands of the Pacific, to assume that the labourers are cajoled or kidnapped by the guile or force of the white man. It is easy also, and it may give pleasure to such men as the Rev. Dr. Paton, to say that the labour traffic is injurious to the mission settlements. A complete answer to this sentimental quackery is given by our special correspondent.”
The Argus 1892-12-22
I make this suggestion feeling confident that The Argus, after going to the expense of sending a special commissioner to inquire into all the particulars as to how the labour traffic is conducted, will make use of it if considered of sufficient importance. And a recommendation from The Argus would doubtless have the desired effect in providing this additional security for the safe conduct home of the returned Kanakas labourer.
The Argus 1892-12-10
It will be noticed that our correspondent gives a very different description of the recruiting of Polynesian labourers from that which has formed the basis of innumerable speeches at Exeter-hall and at church meetings both in Australia and the United Kingdom. Our correspondent recounts the facts that he has seen; the philanthropists who begin by assuming that English planters and traders must be cruel and unscrupulous and oppressive, have to rely on their own imagination or on the wearisome reiteration of old grievances which can never be heard of under the present system.
The Argus 1892-12-07
The cruise of the Helena made it very clear that malpractice in the recruiting of islanders is, practically, impossible under the existing system. The traffic is hedged in by legislation in every direction. A ship-owner who intends to bring islanders to Queensland must give a preliminary notice, stating where the vessel is lying, what condition she is in, how many islanders it is desired to carry, what islands she is to visit, and what limit he will place on the duration of the voyage. He has then to apply for a license.
The Argus 1892-12-22
Brought by my duties into close and daily contact with the boys, I had soon to acknowledge that though many of them were savages in reality, there was much of ordinary human nature in them all.
The Argus 1892-12-20
An unusual thing happened on the Sunday night. At 10 o’clock a large canoe came alongside, and its occupants – six youth from Coolacombor, where we got our last two recruits – offered themselves as labourers for Queensland. Could the natives be in league against me? One of the chief objects of my mission was to see and expose the misrepresentations, the cajolery, and the kidnapping, by force or fraud, which certain controversialists alleged to be inseparable from the Polynesian labour traffic. So far I had seen nothing which could be twisted to mean any of those things. On the contrary, I had witnessed natives face danger and overcome difficulties that would have been insurmountable without great determination to join the ship.
The Argus 1892-12-19
We explained that a large number of boys, on learning that the labour traffic was to cease, and that they would probably have no chance of recruiting again for Queensland, re-engaged for another term without leaving the plantations, and it was more than probable that the friends asked for were amongst that number.
The Argus 1892-12-17
On Monday a recruiter made a fair start. At a beach village named Corpew, where the boats were sheltered from the full force of the ocean rollers by outlying reefs, he found himself thronged with natives. It was a lively crowd, chiefly intent on selling produce, birds, and the discarded European clothing of former recruits - all for tobacco and pipes. Two boys offered as recruits. One was refused on the score of youth; the other was accepted at the apprentice wage of six pounds a year.
The Argus 1892-12-16
On Friday (September 22) the Helena shifted to Urassie, 11-miles northward. A comfortable anchorage was found inside long lines of reef and close to a creek, whence a supply of excellent water was obtained. Next morning a native market was held near by. From half-a-dozen islets which studded the reefs a small army of people, chiefly women, came in canoes to barter fish for yams and taro from the bush natives.
The Argus 1892-12-15
We had now 16 recruits, and I found for the first time that they had a certain amount of English to learn by rote before they reached Queensland. Perhaps this was not absolutely necessary, but it was evidently regarded as highly desirable. In this matter, too, it was thought that the sooner they commenced their lessons all the better would it be in the end. So when the time came on Sunday for distributing their weekly supply of tobacco and pipes they were put through their facings.
The Argus 1892-12-12
Poor Oleseemar, the consumptive return, was now within a dozen miles of his home. He had wasted steadily from day to day in spite of nourishing food and medicine. At Maron Sound he crawled to the poop for an airing and asked for some tea. He was always supplied with whatever he fancied in the way of food, and tea with biscuit was what he liked best.
The Argus 1892-12-10
One young man, with large and wondering eyes and open mouth, listened to all that was said about the good masters and abundant ki-ki (food) in Queensland, and as to recruits being brought back by-and-by with ‘big fellow’ boxes of their own. He had also the eager look of a youth who desired to see something of the outside world, and he lingered much, first by one boat and then by the other. But he could not apparently make up his mind. Now he would, and then he wouldn’t or couldn’t; and he had to be left in his indecision.
The Argus 1892-12-09
So here was an islander who had learned by experience what the so-called slavery in Queensland was, and who was seeking another term of bondage. Where had he worked before? ‘Bundaberg!’ – the very place we were recruiting for, and he was so well posted as to have the Christian name of our recruiter at the tip of his tongue. He was in short thoroughly au fait with the whole business, and wide awake.
The Argus 1892-12-08
Meanwhile Mr. Mulhern had returned with his trade-box, and was calling for fresh recruits. No doubt different recruiters have different styles. I should imagine that Tom Gash used to be genial and demonstrative. I have been told of one who depended on grotesque antics and Cheap Jack oratory for his success. Mr. Mulhern is not demonstrative, and there is nothing of the buffoon in his manner.
The Argus 1892-12-07
When they heard that land was in sight, the ‘boys’ deserted their quarters and crowded the bows and rigging. After a prolonged absence, they looked once more on the higher outlines of the first of their native isles. They seemed deeply interested, and were remarkably serious. If they were glad, it was not in a demonstrative way. There was no shouting, no ringing cheer. What was the meaning of their seemingly apathetic demeanour? Did they realize that they were about to pass from civilization back into savagedom – from the care of a parental Government back to the lawless tyranny of island life; from bread, meat, and etceteras in abundance to a scramble for native food; from peace to war; from a country where toil is rewarded and protected to one where might only is right?
The Argus 1892-12-06
Pending developments, I classed myself with the men in the town who were looking for employment, registered myself to the labour bureau, visited some of the plantations as a swagman, got a job or two branding and filling sugar bags and cutting firewood, and eventually secured an appointment as supercargo on the Helena, which proved the first of the two vessels to sail.
The Argus 1892-12-05
The ‘bed rock,’ so to speak, of the discussion is the assertion made far and wide that the traffic is a form of slavery, the labourers being decoyed into servitude and cruelly treated. If there was no such accusation there would be no agitation worthy of the name, but the charge has been made and persistently repeated. With a view, therefore, to obtaining an absolutely reliable insight into the manner in which the traffic is conducted, the proprietors of The Argus determined upon a bold and difficult enterprise. They resolved, if possible, to send a representative secretly to the scene of the recruiting, so that every phrase of the work might be watched and impartially and fully reported upon. A capable, experienced, and trusted journalist, who has been very successful in many important ventures requiring tact, discrimination, and perseverance, was selected to the duty, and he has just returned to Melbourne after a four months’ cruise in the Solomon Islands in the labour schooner Helena.
The Argus 1892-12-03
The annexation of New Guinea by Queensland, which may be regarded as an accomplished fact, again directs attention to the Pacific labor trade, and to the relations of white men to the inferior races with which they are brought into contact. The northern portions of Queensland are in need of colored labor for the cultivation of semi-tropical products, and there can be little doubt that the native population of New Guinea, a country which lies so conveniently near her shores, will ere long be laid under contribution for labor supply.
The Age 1883-05-12
The Leader 1882-11-25
The Leader 1882-11-18
The Leader 1882-10-28
"I have shipped as an ordinary seaman, and I am off to see the way in which the labor trade of Queensland is recruited. . ."
The Leader 1882-10-21
We had to land three boys on one of the most dangerous pieces of the island - dangerous by reason of an inherent propensity of the natives to regard a succulent man as the daintiest of luxuries. The recruiter, Bill and the crews were therefore armed to the teeth, and amid a great excitement the boats set off.
The Leader 1882-11-11
The next morning a crowd of men and women sat on the nearest rocky point and sent over the water the most dismal wailing and howling for the man we had taken the evening before. This, I may say, was a red letter day in my life, for it witnessed the first occasion on which I have sat down to dinner with royalty.
The Leader 1882-11-04
The supposed recruit was put into our boat, and it was found that he merely wished to see the schooner, and had no intention whatever of going to Queensland. When the captain heard of it he was happily in a state past feeling chagrin.
The Leader 1882-12-02
Our voyage was drawing to an end. We left the South-west Bay with 75 on board, we never increased that number. It was a barren, uninteresting coast that we now sailed round, with few inhabitants and these the crankiest. They were so timid that they would not venture out of shelter: a motion as we were looking for a market or a pretense to jump ashore sent them away like wild beasts.
The Leader 1882-12-09