A declaration of distant love

Charles Monckton – the trigger happy colonialist

Charles Monckton  1907
Charles Monckton in 1907

| Academia Nomad

Charles Monckton: Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate

PORT MORESBY –Charles Arthur Whitmore Monckton (1873-1936) first arrived in the protectorate of British New Guinea (later known as Papua) in 1895 having been recruited from New Zealand as a magistrate.

Upon Monckton’s arrival, Lieutenant-Governor Sir William MacGregor was unable to employ him.

This was partly because the colonial budget was constrained and also because the young Monckton was inexperienced and lacked knowledge of New Guinea and its people.

So Macgregor directed Monckton’s to the newly-discovered goldfields on Woodlark Island. Monckton was happy about this and made his way there, later engaging in pearling and trading in the Louisiade Archpelago.

He returned to New Zealand for a time to study navigation and in 1897 bought a small boat in Sydney and sailed to Port Moresby.

Macgregor was now able to offer him relief postings as resident magistrate in the Eastern Division, then the Mekeo district and finally the South-Eastern Division.

From 1899 Monckton took up permanent appointments in the North-Eastern and Northern Divisions.

His book, ‘Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate’, published in 1920 was the first of several he wrote about his time in British New Guinea.

It is a gripping and adventure-packed narrative in which Monckton recounts his exploits as a miner and trader on Woodlark Island and in the Louisiades, and his later experiences as a resident magistrate in a land largely unpenetrated by colonial impact.

Taking up his job as resident magistrate at Samarai for the South-Eastern Division, Monckton discovered that, apart from his magisterial responsibilities, he was expected to train police, sail boats, marry people and act as gaoler, undertaker, surveyor and doctor in the absence of these and other specialists.

Sir William Macgregor, Monckton learnt, expected resident magistrates to “know everything and do everything”.

The Samarai gaol at the time held the troublesome Binandere prisoners who had been charged with the murder of Northern Division resident magistrate John Green at Tamata Station.

In the book Monckton tells of the events that unfolded which led to punitive expeditions by the colonial government into the Mambare River area.

In the Mekeo District, Monckton tells of his exasperated efforts to aid the missionaries’ work and to establish government order in an area where cunning sorcerers held the local people in a fearful grip.

It was in the newly created North-Eastern Division that Monckton took up his first permanent appointment as resident magistrate.

Arriving at Cape Nelson (now Tufi) in April 1900, Monckton was charged with establishing a government station to control a number of warlike tribes and exercise law and order for miners at the Yodda goldfields.

Monckton trained local police, led by trusty Binandere men, into one of the most effective fighting forces in British New Guinea and embarked on exploratory and, at times, punitive expeditions throughout the North-Eastern Division.

He wisely forged close alliances with the chiefs of some of the more intrepid tribes, notably Chief Giwi of the Kaili Kaili and Bousimai of the Binandere, and enlisted their help in his expeditions. He also won to his side to assist the government’s cause captured war leaders like the powerful Oiogoba Sara of the Baruga tribe.

With highly disciplined police and warrior tribe allies, Monckton effectively subdued cannibalistic raids by combative groups like the Doriri, Dobuduru and Paiwa tribes on their weaker neighbours and brought relative order to the region.

Monckton described his amiable encounter with a peculiar people known as the Agaiambu in the Musa swamps. Over generations the Agaiambu had adapted to living entirely in stilt house villages, rendering their feet impractical for walking on land.

Monckton’s stories in ‘Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate’ have been confirmed as factually accurate concerning events in which he was directly involved.

His book also has perceptive observations of the local people and their customs accompanied by sketches and historical images.

In his writing, Monckton both extols and criticises the conducts of his colleagues, missionaries and other expatriates in the protectorate.

Monckton was considered to be an efficient, tough and quick-witted officer who showed great loyalty and respect for his Papuan allies and subordinates.

He was admired as a “fearless fighting man” by some of his colleagues. But his trigger-happy methods in some of his dealings with aggressive tribes made him unpopular with some officials.

Monckton’s book provides a first-hand glimpse into the operations of early colonial government as well as the raw, pre-modern way of life of Papuan tribes as they came into increasing contact with a strong foreign influence.

Monckton, C A W (2016). ‘Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate’. Palala Press. The book is available here from Amazon

Bradley Gewa is a research technician with the New Guinea Binateng Research Centre based in Madang


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Arthur Williams

I bought paperback editions of book 1 & 2 some years back. They were first printings by Penguin in 1936. The original autobiography was 1920.

Both were good reads by the imperialist Monckton describing life, warts and all, of expats in Papua at the fag end of the 19th century.

They are full of little cameos of some of the characters inhabiting his life. Anyone interested in mucking about in boats will surely enjoy some of his salty tales.

The one story that continues to stay with me is that, way back at the start of the 20th century, Woodlark island having over 200 gold miners "illegally holding title."

Today Kingston Resources are legally about to continue this 130 years exploitation of the yellow stuff but of course on a level that the poor islanders have never seen before.

I imagine what is about to hit the people both socially and environmentally will merely be a replica of what has happened by gold mining on the islands of Misima, Lihir, Simberi. Sori tumas.

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