James Erskine

James Elphinstone Erskine (1838-1911), British naval officer who proclaimed a protectorate over southeastern New Guinea at Port Moresby on 6 November 1884, on behalf of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Born and educated in Scotland, he joined the British navy in 1852, became a Captain in 1868 and Commodore on the Australian station in 1882. The ceremony was witnessed by a number of Papuans. Erskine promised them that their lives and land would be protected by British officials. His speech was translated into the local language, Motu, by the London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary W. G. Lawes. Erskine also proclaimed the protectorate at villages along the coast where, with the help of LMS missionaries, he selected ”chiefs” to whom he gave ebony staffs as emblems of office. He told the “chiefs” to report complaints about Europeans or Papuans to Administration officials and restrain the people from taking action themselves. He returned to England in 1886, was appointed Rear Admiral in 1895 and retired in 1908.

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