Page images

The general result of all the available records is that the state of society which prevailed among the natives of Fiji previous to the arrival of the beach-comber was not without a certain admirable orderliness, despite the prevalence of cannibalism and club-law'; but that this was transformed by the influx of white desperadoes into a condition in which atrocious and inhuman cruelty was substituted for all that had been good and orderly. Two influences, of very different character, took up the task of bringing order into this state of confusion. Missionaries passed from Australia to the Pacific islands; and ships of war of the Great Powers began to sail through and about the islands, for purposes of discovery and control. These two forces, working on the whole well together, gradually and with much trouble introduced some sort of order into the island society which had been troubled by the coming of the beach-combers.

The rough preliminary work of civilising was thus being done; but it is important to note that, though there was trade, it was for some time trade in natural products only; and it was not till an article of commerce was produced artificially that opportunity for a settled government-for the formation of a Crown Colonyarose in any of the islands. It was only in the early sixties of the last century that the Civil War in the United States and the dearth of cotton thereby caused gave the Australians and New Zealanders an opportunity of establishing profitably the business of cotton-growing in one of the island groups, i.e. in Fiji; and this resulted a few years later (1874) in the establishment of Crown Colony government in Fiji.

By that time the European population in Fiji had increased considerably in numbers since the days of the beach-combers, and had advanced more than proportionately both in respectability and in wealth. It was, however, a very heterogeneous and discordant crowd. It comprised men of many nationalities, chiefly British citizens who had mostly come in by way of Australia and New Zealand, but also Americans from the United States, and many Germans. The centre of European habitation was at Levuka, on one of the smaller islands (Ovalau); but there were many European plantations widely scattered over the native-owned lands along the coasts of the

neighbouring islands. These plantations were worked -for the natives of Fiji were never very ready to work for white men-by so-called 'Polynesian' labourers, i.e. natives brought by an ill-regulated system of migration, popularly called blackbirding,' from the surrounding island groups, from the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides, and from the Gilbert or Kingsmill Islands.

In this state of society the cross-divisions of interests were almost indescribably intricate. The various European nationalities were divided, each against the other, and were only united, if ever, against the Fijian natives. These Fijian natives themselves, at least those of them whose places were on the seashore-for the mountaineers dwelt in their 'devil country' apart from all other men-were much divided among themselves, each small chiefdom against the other, and all anxious to save what they could from the Europeans who had flowed into their islands. Moreover, by this time, i.e. by 1870, a great migration of other natives from the Friendly or Tongan Islands-the nearest group to the Fijis-had flowed into Fiji, and, under the leadership of Maafu, one of the great personalities of the Pacific, had firmly established themselves in what was regarded as a separate kingdom in the Windward Islands of the Fiji group; and there was an almost constant state of conflict between the Tongans in Fiji and the Fijians themselves.

To mention only one other element tending to create disquiet, no doubt involuntary on the part of its authors, in the Fiji of those days, the missionaries, chiefly Wesleyans, who had been the first respectable Europeans to settle in Fiji, and had in the intervening years gradually acquired a marvellously strong and wholesome hold over the Fijians, were divided between their desire to secure what they considered justice for their native adherents as against the Europeans and their desire to help in the establishment, in those isles of unrest, of some sort of firm rule on the European model. They were distracted, too, though in less degree, by the divergent force of another missionary body, of another nationality, which had followed them into the islands, namely the French Roman Catholics.

In circumstances such as these the pot had been seething in Fiji ever since white men first reached these

islands; and at the time now under consideration, i.e. about forty years ago, it was in danger of boiling over. As in the ebullition of an actual pot, just before it boils over, a more or less solid substance is often tossed up to the surface, so, in the turmoil of Fijian politics of forty years ago, a constitution, or rather several quasi-constitutions, of Pacific manufacture, emerged from time to time. The original of these curious constitutions seems to have been invented somewhere about the middle of the last century by some clever beach-comber in the Eastern Pacific, probably in the Sandwich Islands, and to have been more or less effectively imposed on the amenable natives of those parts. It subsequently did duty in other parts of the Pacific, and notably in the Friendly Islands, where that ablest of South Sea Islanders, George Tubou, with the aid of the Missions, created the Kingdom of Tonga. But that is another story.

An attempt was made, with varying but never complete success, by certain white settlers in Fiji, using the man who was on the whole the ablest of the Fijian chiefs as a puppet king, to introduce some such form of government into Fiji. All that can here be said of this scheme is that something like the full forms of parliamentary government and of diplomatic procedure, as practised in European countries, was attempted in these tiny, remote, and much distracted Pacific Islands. But from the first, within Fiji itself, no one, European or native, who did not happen to be in the Government would have anything to do with it. Nor were the Australians and New Zealanders, who had supplied the capital, and most of the white settlers then engaged in the cotton industry in Fiji, better pleased with it. So it came about that in 1873 all these malcontents appealed, by no means for the first time, to Her Britannic Majesty's Government to take over the islands as a Crown Colony.

The British Government, which had for some time past declined such appeals, now gave way. Mr Edgar Layard, who was at the time British Consul in Fiji, and Commodore Goodenough, who was sent for the purpose, drew up an exhaustive report on the state of local affairs; and Sir Hercules Robinson, afterwards Lord Rosmead, was sent from New South Wales, of which he was then Governor, to accept the cession to the British Crown Vol. 216.-No. 430.


of the Fiji Islands from Thakombau, the so-called 'king' of the main islands, from Maafu, the Tongan who had made himself 'king' of the Windward Islands of the group, and from the other great chiefs. Thakombau personally handed over to Sir Hercules his famous warclub, the great token of the club-law which had up to that time prevailed in Fiji, to be sent to the Great White Queen, as the outward and visible sign of the handing over to Her Majesty of the people and land of Fiji. A few months later, Sir Arthur Gordon, now Lord Stanmore, arrived in Fiji, with a few young Englishmen selected by himself as his assistants, and, as first Governor, took up the arduous task of planting British Crown Colony government in the Pacific.

Sir Arthur Gordon's task in Fiji was indeed arduous; but the conditions were unusually favourable. His great experience in other colonies, his interest in native questions, and his self-reliance, were all in his favour. His family and political connexions added greatly to his strength. It was also much in his favour that in those days direct telegraphic communication with Fiji was impossible, and that even postal communications were slow and uncertain. Consequently, as the man on the spot, he had an unusually free hand, freer than would be possible in these later days, to mould his new Crown Colony in his own way.

It is impossible here to enter into the details of his work in ingeniously applying the stereotyped forms of Crown Colony government, such as prevail in other parts of the British Empire, to the somewhat peculiar conditions then existing in Fiji. It must here suffice to say that he found a society in which natives and Europeans were indeed much mixed together, but without any sort of combination between their two diverse elements; and that he invented a scheme under which the native and the European elements were to be kept separate, the onei.e. the introduced population-under British law, the other-i.e. the indigenous native population—remaining, so far as might be possible, under their own chiefs and customs. This scheme was ingenious and may be regarded as theoretically admirable; it is even possible that it would have been practically successful, if only its inventor had been able to remain perpetually Governor

of Fiji, and if the adjacent peoples of Australia and New Zealand, with their increasing powers of self-government, had not viewed with somewhat jealous eyes a purely Crown Colony, governed from home, within what they naturally regarded as their own territorial waters.

Nor is it necessary or possible here to go into the questions of why and how the native part of the scheme partly failed in the time of Sir Arthur Gordon's successors further than to say that-as will probably be generally admitted—a colony started as a pure Crown Colony, but necessarily advancing, if it is to advance at all, towards representative and eventually responsible government, must sooner or later be administered in one way for all the inhabitants, native and European alike. Otherwise it must happen, with ever-increasing frequency, that the edicts, on the one hand, of British law and, on the other hand, of the Native Regulations' must clash, especially in matters concerning the inter-relations of Europeans and natives.

In the new Crown Colony of Fiji all the executive officers were necessarily the subordinates of the Governor; and even such unofficial persons as were consulted and asked for advice were appointed to advise only on the Governor's nomination. It was therefore easily possible for the Governor autocratically to maintain the special privileges of the natives, as the former owners of the soil, where these infringed in any way on the rights, under ordinary British law, of the settlers. And this artificial adjustment of rights is still to a certain extent possible, even though representative government, in strictly limited degree, has been already given to the Europeans, and nominally to the natives. But, when the inevitable development occurs, and the elective element already introduced is allowed to outweigh, and eventually entirely to replace, the official executive power exercised from Downing Street, then the natives must be displaced from their present exceptional and not altogether enviable position, and must take their place as ordinary British subjects under ordinary British law.

The question of the natives, i.e. the descendants of those who occupied Fiji before it became a Crown Colony, is a thorny one. It is difficult to adjust the

« PreviousContinue »