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FYI: European Contact

While some coastal and island people could have had occasional contact with Southeast Asian pirates and traders from the 13th to the 15th centuries, there is no firm evidence of contact with non-Melanesians until the 16th and 17th centuries when Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch explorers came seeking spices, and souls to convert to Christianity. They were unsuccessful. In the 19th century, parts of the coast were charted by the British and French, and the European presence in the region was firmly established when Britain founded the colony of New South Wales, in Australia, in 1788.

In the 19th century some coastal and island people met traders seeking sandalwood, beche-de-mer, pearl shell and bird of paradise feathers. Whalers and ships trading between Australia and Asia also visited looking for water and provisions. Some local people were recruited as ship’s crew. Others were taken, often by deception or force, to work on sugar plantations in Samoa and Australia. Those who worked for Europeans acquired goods such as metal and cloth and learnt some Pidgin and English.

European settlement began in the late 19th century when individual entrepreneurs, and companies based in Britain, Germany, France and Australia, established trading posts and cash-crop plantations, and European-based churches established mission stations. By 1900 the Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic missions and the London Missionary Society, had built simple schools, begun to write down local languages, and attempted to convert the people to Christianity.

European claims to New Guinea were formalized when the Dutch took the western half of the island in 1828, and the British took the southeast and the Germans took the northeast in 1884. The Germans aimed to further their trading and plantation interests. The British, concerned by the Dutch and German presence, wished to protect Australia, their most important colony in the South Pacific.