British New Guinea (Papua)


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. British New Guinea (Papua) is Number 88 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. On the eve of World War I, sovereignty over New Guinea was shared among the Dutch, who controlled the western half of the island; the Germans, who had claimed the northern half of the eastern part of the island; and the British, whose crown colony occupied the southeastern quarter of the island, across the Torres Strait from Australia. The section on political history recounts how Australia, particularly the governments of New South Wales and Queensland, had pressed a reluctant British government to establish a protectorate over all or part of non-Dutch New Guinea, a step that finally was taken in 1884, largely in response to concerns about German designs on the island. The population of British New Guinea is estimated in the study at between 200,000 and 350,000, with the indigenous population made up of both Papuan and Melanesian peoples. The main industries included gold mining and plantation agriculture, with the most important crops being copra (coconuts) and rubber. In 1905 the British government turned responsibility for administering British New Guinea over to Australia, and in World War I Australian forces occupied German New Guinea. Australia subsequently governed the entire eastern part of the island under League of Nations and United Nations mandates, until the state of Papua New Guinea was granted full independence in 1975. The former Dutch New Guinea is part of Indonesia.

Last updated: July 23, 2015