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Experts et expertise dans les mandats de la société des nations : figures, champs, outils

Philippe Bourmaud
Norig Neveu
Chantal Verdeil

Le système mandataire : un concours d'experts aux qualifications hétérogènes

Anthropological Expertise in the League of Nations C Mandate Territory of New Guinea

L’expertise anthropologique dans le territoire de Nouvelle‑Guinée placé sous mandat C de la Société des Nations

Geoffrey Gray


Colonie allemande jusqu’en 1914, la Nouvelle‑Guinée fut placée après la Première Guerre mondiale sous gouvernement australien, militaire jusqu’en 1922, puis civil. L’Australie était une nation coloniale inexpérimentée qui chercha des conseils extérieurs. E. W. P Chinnery était l’incarnation de l’administrateur colonial moderne : il avait l’expérience des populations colonisées, et avait été formé en anthropologie à Cambridge, par Alfred Cort Haddon. Il fut l’anthropologue du gouvernement dans la colonie australienne de Nouvelle‑Guinée de 1924 à 1937. Son expertise sur les populations coloniales fut reconnue avec sa nomination comme Conseiller aux affaires indigènes du Commonwealth. Il s’agissait d’un rôle complexe : d’un côté, il servait d’agent du changement, « civilisant » des populations « arriérées », d’un autre il soutenait l’utilisation de ces mêmes populations au sein de l’économie coloniale comme mains d’œuvre, travaillant dans des plantations ou accomplissant d’autres tâches serviles. Dans cet article, je discute l’œuvre d’un expert colonial et ses limites : les populations dont il veut protéger le bien-être et encourager le progrès vivent sous domination coloniale.

Texte intégral

You will notice that practically nothing is said about anthropology, but of course the whole structure is built upon the assumption that anthropological methods of administration are […] used. (E. W. P Chinnery, 1940)

1In 1901 Australia became a federation of ex‑colonial states—the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia was an inexperienced colonial ruler possessing only the Territory of Papua from 1906 (described as “the first grandchild of the empire”)1 and the Northern Territory from 1911, an internal land based colony. Internal Australian colonial practice (since first settlement in 1788) was built on dispossessing and removing (often massacring) the indigenous population. The situation was different in the Territory of Papua and the ex‑German colony of New Guinea. In short Australia was a young nation inexperienced in colonial administration.

2The employment of anthropologists by colonial administrations, especially during the interwar period, resulted from the acceptance of an argument that it was a scientific discipline, a helping discipline, able to understand “primitive” peoples in need of advancement, and caring for their welfare. That is, the value of anthropology was based on the assumption that a knowledge of dependent peoples “will help the government in legislating and providing for their welfare.”2 Trained anthropologists, through their knowledge and appreciation of the cultural, social, economic and political lives of colonized peoples, enabled peaceful expansion and pacification of new territory. In fact it was assumed that they had in the “forefront of their minds the interests of the indigenous inhabitants.”3

3Colonial administrations were interested in practical or applied anthropology, and the appointment of government or staff anthropologists mark a time in the entanglement of anthropology and the colonial enterprise where it can be said that anthropology was inimical to, and deeply implicated in, the colonial enterprise as providing expert advice on “primitive” life.

4While anthropology was accepted as a discipline useful in the governance of colonized peoples, formal training in anthropology was not paramount: generally colonial administrators emphasized character, rather than educational or anthropological training, in the selection of field officers. The long serving Lieutenant‑Governor of Papua (1908‑1940), J. H. P. Murray, was not particularly concerned with the educational qualifications of field staff, rather he looked for “sober, energetic and fit young men […] who could learn patience and self‑control in the face of hardship or danger.”4 Moreover, it was underpinned by a belief that once officers had gained some field experience could they benefit from formal training in anthropology. Overall Murray had an ambivalent relationship with the methods and theories of anthropology, and expressed skepticism over its value.5

5A colonial administration endeavored “to get the wild natives under control” by “controlling and effecting modifications in native life.”6 That is to say, a knowledge of the customs, languages and habits of subject peoples was necessary. This could be achieved by the preservation of cultures insofar as they were functioning wholes but “subject to the judicious excision of social defects (but not solely those that outrage notions of propriety);” “cultural enrichment” in the sense of introducing new items that “give the native a chance of fuller development than has hitherto been possible for him.”7 The agents of colonial rule, explorers, planters, pioneers, settlers, travellers and missionaries were part of a general enterprise to control, manage, develop and domesticate the “wild native” and make them integral to the commercial and industrial aspects of colonial rule (Indigenous women were ascribed a different role and were used to assist in making the domestic life of the colonizer easier).8

6The administrations of Papua and New Guinea were anthropological in their aspirations, evidenced by the appointments of government anthropologists, and, the training of field staff locally, and, from 1928, externally at the University of Sydney.9 Nevertheless the administrations of Papua and New Guinea “were not actively animated by what [were] known as ‘advanced’ or ‘progressive’ ideas.” The Papuan administration, though, was inclined to provide basic protection for Papuans. In contrast, the New Guinea regime developed a reputation for brutality, “pinning their faith on ‘bashing the coons’ as the only sound basis for race relations,” and regarded the humanitarian attitude of the Papuan colonial government as hypocrisy.10

Government anthropologists in Australian colonial administration

7J. H. P. Murray, a keen proponent of anthropology and its application in the governance of colonized peoples, had been casting around for a government anthropologist, and, in an act of desperation appointed W. M. Strong, the Chief Medical Officer, as Government Anthropologist in 1920.11 In mid‑1921 Murray appointed the Cambridge trained W. E. Armstrong as Strong’s assistant.12 Armstrong’s anthropological reports were the first real attempt in Papua to make practical administrative recommendations on the basis of observations by a trained anthropologist. Murray ignored his recommendations. He wanted an anthropologist who would amass ethnological data and he, Murray, would provide the anthropological analysis and its application to an administrative problem or the management of uncivilized behaviour. Soon after Armstrong’s departure for an academic position at Cambridge, Murray appointed Francis Edgar Williams, trained at Oxford, as Strong’s assistant; he was elevated to government anthropologist in 1928. He remained in Papua until his death in 1943.

8A New Zealand historian Ian Campbell argues that the decision to appoint a government anthropologist in New Guinea was largely a result of Murray’s efforts.13 Aware of the reluctance of the Australian administration in New Guinea to appoint a staff anthropologist Murray, Campbell contends, “mobilised the scientific community” to support of such an appointment. In two long essays in 1920 and 1921 Murray urged the need for staff anthropologists in the “interests of sympathetic government and the importance of basing policy and practice on a sound understanding of native culture, which in turn required research by properly trained and qualified personnel.”14 A weakness of this argument is that when Murray wrote these articles there had been no formal control given to Australia. Perhaps coincidentally, in early 1922, a year after the formal beginning of the mandate, the New Guinea Protector of Natives informed the Australian government that the District Officers, many of whom were ex‑military who either served in New Guinea or on the Western Front, “have absolutely no knowledge of Ethnology and therefore a good deal of information concerning the sociology and customs of the native life in its primitive state in the Territory is being passed over.” He observed that “a study of Ethnology [was] a necessary adjunct of native administration in most other Colonial administrations.” He went on to make the point that the “value of the report to the League of Nations would be enhanced by a comprehensive Ethnological Survey of portion of the Territory, the report including information as to the sociology, native customs and other phases of native life.” To this end he recommended as an “urgent necessity” the appointment of a Government Ethnologist for the Territory of New Guinea.15 There were other pressures on the Australian government and the New Guinea administration to make an appointment of a government anthropologist.16

9Ernest William Pearson Chinnery applied for an anthropological appointment in New Guinea. He stressed the “question of anthropology in connection with the administration of colonies” and its value for colonial administrations. He had experience under Murray and was deeply influenced by the idealism of Murray’s colonial philosophy, as well as the practical and theoretical outlook of the Cambridge anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon, his advisor and mentor.

10Chinnery had resigned from the Papuan service in 1917 to join the Australian Flying Corps in London.17 After the war he enrolled in the diploma in anthropology at Cambridge. At Cambridge, Chinnery came under the influence of Haddon and W. H. R. Rivers, who was moving away from anthropology to psychology, but his ideas on anthropology and its use were profoundly influential. Haddon was interested in the “distribution and migration of cultures in Oceania” as well as contending that colonial officers “who have to deal with natives should have an adequate training in ethnology and ethnological methods.”18

11Fundamental to an understanding of Chinnery’s enthusiastic embrace of applied anthropology was Rivers’ argument as laid out in his paper on “The government of subject peoples.” Hoping that “our rulers will recognize the value of those sciences which will make our possessions more healthy and more productive,” Rivers set out to show how “anthropology can point the way to the better Government” of peoples ruled by Britain. Whatever the degree of interference, “knowledge of the culture to be modified is absolutely necessary if changes are to be made without serious injury to the moral and material welfare of the people.”19

12Rivers recommended that colonial governments should either employ anthropologists or sponsor research, as well as require anthropological training of their recruits. Such training, however, should be concerned not with facts, but with “the principles which underlie the vast variety of social institutions and belief of mankind.” In short, Rivers looked to the formulation of “policies which will reconcile the general needs of the Empire with a due regard for the moral and material welfare of the peoples to whom the Empire has so great a responsibility.”20 Chinnery, already sympathetic to such a view, hoped to implement such a framework in New Guinea.

13It is clear that Chinnery had been cogitating on the value of anthropology in colonial administration and how to put it into practice. While in England he lectured to audiences of government, academic and amateur associations on colonial rule. He gave a lecture to the Royal Geographic Society on the “sound principles of [native] administrative policy.” A newspaper report declared that what was new was his illustration of these principles by accounts of expeditions which he had carried out in various parts of Papua. He described opening new districts under the policy advocated by Murray in Papua. Field officers were required to:

[…] use every possible friendly means of weaning the tribes from such practices as head hunting and cannibalism. Force is used only as a last resource; it is not employed until spears or arrows have been discharged by hostile natives and then only if the lives of the penetrating party are in danger. Bloodshed cannot always be avoided, for the Government, in its work of civilisation, is faced at the outset with the formidable task of suppressing the practice of homicide, which occupies a fundamental place in the social and religious practice of the people. […] The success of the policy is seen in the loyalty of tribes who were only a short time ago constantly engaged in cannibal warfare but have now accepted Government control.21

14In the same address he provided a personal example to illustrate his point. A village was raided and a “hitherto unknown tribe” murdered some of its inhabitants. Chinnery was sent to capture the people responsible for the raid. He and three police accompanying him was attacked by nearly three hundred people “with spears and large stones and in the fighting which ensued six of the ringleaders of the massacre which had given rise to the expedition were shot. The remainder fled.” Chinnery’s offer of friendship was accepted “on condition that he went into the next valley and pacified the people there, in order that inter‑tribal warfare might cease.” This he did “under native guidance.” He “achieved his objective without further fighting […] Subsequently when his successor visited the district he found the natives peaceful and contented under the new conditions.”22

15To the Royal Anthropological Institute he laid out how greater efficiency could be achieved by colonial administrations when dealing with their “responsibility to civilize backward” peoples.23 He pointed out that his experience had given him “a knowledge of the psychology of numerous tribes, and the application of such knowledge to general methods of administration enabled [him] to assist [his] people through their many stages of transition.” The key to good government in the colonies, he declared, was knowing how the minds of indigenous people work (this resonates with Murray’s notion of encouraging his officers to “think black” or “think brown”).24 He discussed modifications to various unacceptable elements of Papuan societies, and concluded by making the following recommendations: first, that “general training in anthropological subjects be [given to all] District Officers and other persons holding positions of responsibility over natives;” and second, that “publication and circulation of all existing and subsequent records of New Guinea ethnography [be provided to District Officers] for their guidance.”25

16This progressive view of anthropology contrasted with the topic of his thesis, part of the requirement for the diploma in anthropology. It was in keeping with the diffusionist thrust of anthropology taught at the time, and contained many speculations and inaccuracies while illustrating the influence of the heliocentric school of ethnology of W. J. Perry and Grafton Elliot Smith at University College, London.26 These musings about origins and diffusion were never far from his mind. In 1956 and 1957 he made a series of broadcasts on the Australian Broadcasting Commission, when he returned to the topics of his thesis.27 He described New Guinea objects (mortars, pestles, stone clubs, stone circles and incised stone work) as similar in “many aspects to objects associated with megalithic cultures in other parts of the world.”28

17On completion of his diploma he returned to Australia. He presented himself as both the practical man and an anthropologist, a scientist who could assist in ameliorating the dramatic changes that were occurring among the colonized populations in Australia’s external colonies. Unable to secure a position with the Papuan service he applied his experience and training to “studying problems of native labor for the New Guinea Copper Mines (just outside of Port Moresby) and applying the results to their organization.”29 This is an early example of applied anthropology enabling the use of colonized labour in the service of industry.30

18Initially the Administrator of New Guinea, Brigadier General Evan Wisdom, was opposed on economic grounds to the position of government anthropologist; he explained to the Minister for Home and Territories that it was the policy of the Territory to live within its income, “I cannot afford an anthropologist at present.”31 Within three months he had altered his stance but it was conditional: the position had to be “entirely for the direct benefit of the natives […] [and a] cost […] properly borne by the Native Education Trust Fund.”32 George F. Pearce, the responsible Minister, was sure the League of Nations would welcome the appointment as a “tangible assurance of Australia’s appreciation of its obligations under the mandate to safeguard the rights and interests, and generally promote the moral and material progress, of the native population.”33

Chinnery anthropologist in the Australian administered colony of New Guinea

19Chinnery was appointed and departed for Rabaul, the administrative capital of New Guinea, in early June 1924. He told the Government Secretary that he planned to spend the “first few months […] making a general investigation of the distribution, cultures and conditions of native inhabitants; becoming acquainted with District Officers, their methods of native administration, etc. and examining the conditions of life and treatment of native labor on various places of employment.” A general survey of this nature would bring Chinnery “in touch with existing problems and allow [him] to examine them in the field; it will also provide the necessary ground‑work for [his] future activities.” He was “anxious to complete this survey as soon as possible since, in addition to giving [him] the opportunity for work of a general nature, it will bring [him] in intimate contact with factors contributing to special problems such as ‘Decline of Population’, etc.”34

20He was aware there were many difficult problems in preparing “backward” people for civilization. These problems, besides depopulation, included magical practices, sorcery, “Native” marriage, “cargo cults,” burial customs, mortuary rites, “headhunting,” social control, land tenure, the “economics of native foods,” the influence of European contact on “backward” peoples and such like.35

21Chinnery advised the government that it should not “interfere in any way with native customs which are not repugnant to European laws and standards.”36 Whatever the degree of interference “knowledge of the culture to be modified is absolutely necessary if changes are to be made without serious injury to the moral and material welfare of the people.”37 This was an implicit argument for the collection of ethnographic information about what were considered fast disappearing cultures (and peoples) through anthropological research; what the anthropologist Sally Falk Moore has described as the “complex intertwinings between the needs of colonial administration and the interests of anthropologists.”38 It was, however, the task of patrol officers to engage in the process of change particularly the elimination of undesirable practices. This necessitated training in anthropology and its method.

22Training in anthropology fitted neatly with the work of the patrol officer, which Chinnery described as the exploration of:

[…] new areas, discovering and pacifying the natives living there, and guiding them through an administrative system which includes among other things, the establishment of law and order, the improvement of sanitary and health conditions, the encouragement of contact and friendly relations between tribes, the introduction of new economic ideas and the encouragement of education.39

23To this end he proposed a course of instruction that embraced

a brief survey in the history of our native peoples, their distribution and culture; a general outline of the problems peculiar to the Territory (complex conditions arising out of the discovery and development of backward peoples, especially those questions connected with native labour, native institutions, population, etc.) and instruction (practical where possible) in scientific methods of investigating native problems together with advice as to the practical application of ethnographic knowledge. […] To better illustrate my instructions and further to impress upon the cadets the nature and importance to their future work and obligations I shall arrange a series of “talks” dealing with the experiences of a “new tribe” from the time of its discovery until it reaches a condition of definite control.40

24He assured the Administrator that “the Cadets should be able to make good use of what [he] taught them by the actual work they do.”41 Wisdom’s response is unknown.

25Unlike Murray and Williams in Papua,42 Chinnery was not opposed to independent anthropological research. He was eager to encourage outside researchers, who “want to study real difficult problems […] Our most interesting and pressing problems are connected with groups like the labourers in Rabaul—the people of New Ireland and New Hanover—the Bainings. […] [S]tudents of ‘contact with alien cultures’ can help with things that are taking place now.”43 In fact such research was useful in carrying out the spirit of the League of Nations Mandate, the “moral and spiritual progress of the natives.” The place of anthropology in this was obvious to Chinnery. Anthropology, as he promoted it, was a benevolent, knowledgeable and paternalistic educator of Europeans about New Guineans; and, an overseer of New Guineans helping in their adaptation to a new colonial regime, different to the earlier German rule albeit retaining its character. Moreover, through the application of anthropological knowledge, resulting from research, the field officer could encourage “the natives themselves […] to take an active interest and responsibility for their own progress.”44

26In his early years he saw his task as evaluating the work of anthropologists who worked in New Guinea and reports from field officers, and judge between those customs detrimental to the wellbeing and welfare of people being introduced to industrial life and contact with various agents of change, and advise accordingly. He told Haddon that he would be critical of the New Guinea administration, which he considered detrimental to the wellbeing and welfare of the local population. But of all the matters that a government anthropologist in the Territory of New Guinea confronted, the recruitment and treatment of labour were paramount.45 The historian Susan Pedersen makes the point that the Territory’s “main ‘industry’ was the production of indentured labour, a most profitable ‘trade’ that kept hundreds of licensed private recruiters in work and the whole territory running.”46

27There were consequences of taking young men to work on plantations, that not only depleted the village workforce, it encouraged sexual relations between them or created problems for village women and men located near the plantations.47 Homosexuality was of some concern to the colonial administration and although illegal, it turned a blind eye. Chinnery offered advice on how to deal with homosexuality on plantations. He explained that when he worked for the New Guinea Copper Mines they dealt with the problem of “homosexuality among the native labourers” by “employing on the job a number of labourers (married) from districts where all women are used in common by anyone who cares to make arrangements with the man socially recognised as the husband.”48 Somehow the exploitation, if not prostitution, of women was more acceptable than homosexuality; he made no reference to sexual assault or rape as a problem on plantations or nearby villages.49 Overall his main interest was ensuring that labourers were fairly treated, had reasonable working conditions, were paid a fair remuneration, and repatriated to their village at the completion of the indenture.50

28Although Chinnery saw his main responsibility connected to the requirements of the “sacred trust of the mandate” it nevertheless masked the reality of his position; he had to strike a balance between the sacred trust of trusteeship, that is the welfare of New Guineans, with commercial interests and the economic development of New Guinea. Plantation owners and miners demanded cheap labour. In addition he had to contend with the criticism of Christian missions, who had local mission stations but transnational organizations and international communication networks. In spite of his best efforts he failed to achieve change in the labour ordinance and the situation remained unaltered until the end of the war when indenture was phased out.51

29The Australian government was required to report annually to the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC). The Australian government appeared to be particularly sensitive and not overly enthusiastic over such scrutiny.52 Rather Australia expected to be left alone and to on with administering what it saw an their territory, a trophy of war.53 These early reports suggested acquiescence to the demands of the PMC but done in a manner which brought forth criticism by the PMC. This is illustrated by the 1924‑1925 report, which “show something of the critical and slightly contemptuous attitudes which often showed through.” Australia was criticized for:

[…] failing to answer observations made by the PMC on the previous year’s report, for failing to include laws and ordinances applied in the territory and for including a not inconsiderable number of pages on the “Vocabulary of Native Languages” which could hardly be of any value to anyone except an anthropologist or a language expert.54

30In 1929 the PMC held over its report owing to insufficient information supplied by the Australian government.55 The following year the Australian government, by good luck rather than design, had Chinnery attend the PMC interrogation.56 It was fortuitous he was able to represent Australia so soon after a major crisis in settler‑indigenous relations, that came to be known as the 1929 Rabaul strike. This was the first time that a senior member of the New Guinea administration had attended. He was acceptable to the PMC as he was trained as anthropologist and understood the humane and progressive ideals of interwar anthropology. He was one of them. Chinnery was charming and informative yet uncritical of the Administration’s actions and policies. His appearances at the PMC may have placated the more strident critics of Australian administration but opened him to being perceived as the Administration’s “tame anthropologist.”57

31He pointed out to the PMC that New Guineans had difficulty adapting to changed conditions, made harder by the unpredictability of “the native.” He provided personal anecdotes to illustrate his points and the value of an anthropologically informed administration.58 He moved on to the Rabaul strike in 1929, where the entire New Guinean workforce, including domestic servants, had ceased working.59 The PMC was particularly interested in his explanation. Chinnery relied on the Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by Brigadier Thomas Griffiths, a past and future Administrator, which exonerated “all white men from possible responsibility, defended the Administration’s attempt to deprive the strike of significance, and reassured Rabaul’s citizens.”60 Hence he provided an explanation that we subsequently know was a whitewash.

32He pointed to the vulnerability of the European population in the face of a labour force of 3,500, “who could easily be worked into a frenzy by agitators.” He went on to say that the strikers “had been prevailed upon by a few agitators, and had left their work with the object of seeing what was going to happen. So fruitful a field, however, did they provide for the agitators that they might easily have been turned into a mob of potential murderers.” Chinnery not only explained the response by the government, but he justified its actions and the punishment of the “agitators.” He told the PMC that the only way to control such a threat was through “strictness” whereby the “native agitators” were not to be allowed to inflame “public opinion against Europeans.” This was underlined by his description of the agitators and their motives. They

cunning men, ex‑labourers, returned to their home villages in search of power. The sole motive of the agitators appeared to be a desire for power and, with it, personal gain. […] Outside influences had also been at work. For example, natives from the West Indies, firemen on board ships passing through Rabaul, had jeered at the local natives and taunted them because they worked for such low wages.61

33Chinnery, like other expatriates had developed a one‑way relationship with New Guineans, a relationship wherein demands were made on its subjects without being responsive to their demands. He supported the severe sentences for the strikers, which prevented “a future riot.” The historian Bill Gammage, who wrote a nuanced and careful history of the strike, describes the sentences as monstrous.62

34In 1934 the PMC congratulated the Australian government on “the revolutionary policy of the territory.” The fact that District Services and Native Affairs now formed a single department, directed along anthropological lines, was of “happy augury in solving the difficult problems that always arose from a contact of races.”63 The following year it commented that in the past it directed “attention […] to the lack of knowledge of the anthropology and ethnology of the natives with whom the Administration was dealing. During the last two or three years, however, real progress had been made in that direction.” Chinnery was thanked for “documents which had been forwarded […] concerning ethnology and anthropology” in the territory. The PMC commented on the “progress made in anthropological work being done in the territory under Mr Chinnery’s direction.”64 Chinnery convinced the PMC, that despite their reservations, anthropology was at the centre of the Australian administration. Critics were placated and the Administration conducted its business without hindrance.

35In spite of its new found enthusiasm, the PMC overlooked or was directed away from taking a view, that the aim to uplift New Guineans, to enable them to advance “towards the modern world,” was militated at every turn. The historian Heather Radi suggests that the failure owed something to the “inadequate understanding of the problems that confrontation with very different culture created” for New Guineans.65 It was further hindered by the economic role of the New Guinean to provide cheap labour. The interests of the settler overrode the interests of New Guineans. In this sense Chinnery failed, as he was unable to impose his anthropological concepts other than to provide a sort of anthropologically informed paternalism sympathetic to the interests of commerce and industry.

36His promotion in 1932 to Director of District Services and Native Affairs (he retained his position as Government Anthropologist),66 was seen by him as a triumph for anthropology: “Don’t you think,” he wrote to Haddon, “my appointment to this extremely important job is a compliment to anthropology?” It was, he declared, a further opportunity to direct and develop “wide spread ethnographical surveys and exploration and […] apply anthropological methods to […] administration.” He planned to organize the department so that he could spend a “certain amount of time in the districts” and “put certain trained officers on anthropological work of an administrative nature—such as depopulation inquiries mapping and other things of importance—marriage customs, systems of inheritance etc., etc.” What happened as a consequence was that his patrol work diminished as did his occasional and brief anthropological investigations. What he hoped for in 1932—“in a couple of years I hope to be publishing reports contributed by officers”—also did not eventuate.67 Rather his efforts were focused on matters to do with Australia’s stewardship of the territory and other administrative matters especially the opening of the highlands and consequent problems;68 anthropological research was pushed to the margin. In his correspondence at the time there is a sense the weight of administrative matters was dulling his enthusiasm.

37The eruption of Vulcan Island in May 1937 underlined his discontent.69 Further eruptions in the Rabaul area led to a re‑appraisal of his life and achievements hastened his departure.70 In late 1937 he took long service leave; within a few months of his arrival in Australia he was transferred on secondment to the Commonwealth Public Service and appointed Commonwealth Advisor on Native Affairs. This was recognition that his expertise was required across all areas to with “Native” affairs. Importantly, he assisted in the radical change in Aboriginal policy undertaken in 1938‑1939. In 1939 he was appointed director of the newly established Native Affairs Branch in the Northern Territory.71

38He resigned in 1946 albeit retaining his position as Commonwealth Advisor in which capacity he represented Australia at the United Nations Trusteeship Council until 1949. During this time he was a member of a visiting mission to the trust territories of Ruanda‑Urundi and Tanganyika; it observed political, economic, social and educational conditions, the progress toward self‑government and independence. He returned to New Guinea in 1951 to complete a longitudinal study on depopulation, which was started under German rule in 1911.72 He retired in 1952. His ambition to write a book about his life and times as government anthropologist and colonial administrator died with him 1972.

39There have been various judgments about Chinnery’s success or otherwise as a government anthropologist and his contribution to anthropological knowledge. A Dutch historian of anthropology, Sjoerd Jaarsma, dismisses Chinnery’s “contribution to anthropology [as no] more than that of a gatekeeper.”73 A historian of anthropology George W. Stocking Jr, described Chinnery as a “humane and talented person” and wondered whether his contribution to ethnography “might have been much greater had he not been so pre‑occupied with the day‑to‑day responsibilities of empire at close quarters.”74 Francis West, a biographer of Hubert Murray, doubted the value of Chinnery’s anthropology and contends that Chinnery “supplied useful contemporary raw material on native society,” but, he argues, his “type of anthropological work was overtaken by the new professional standards of the 1920s and 1930s.”75 Haddon, in contrast, when writing to the Australian Prime Minister in support of Chinnery, described Chinnery as:

[…] a young Australian who has what [he] can justly describe, a brilliant record. He has been particularly successful in dealing with wild natives and bringing them under the Government. He has wide sympathy and great tact in dealing with such. He has fine ideals of Empire building […] [H]e has been trained in the Modern Methods of Ethnological Research.76

40Chinnery was convinced that anthropology was an enlightened discipline that could only benefit indigenous peoples experiencing cultural and social upheaval. He was confident in his ability as an anthropological expert on colonial administration, the managing and controlling of subject peoples. It was Chinnery’s anthropological training that enabled him to obtain administrative success and it was paradoxically his success as an anthropologically informed administrator that undermined his work as an anthropologist. To sum up, it is hard to resile from a conclusion that Chinnery’s contribution was slight: he did not provide direction on broader aspects of policy and his anthropological work was limited in its application.77 This assessment of Chinnery conforms with that of the British anthropologist and historian of anthropology Adam Kuper, who wrote “it is not too much to say that by [the 1930s] the direct anthropological contribution to native administration was nugatory.”78

41The implementation of Chinnery’s method depended upon acceptance and application by the colonial administration. The attendance of patrol officers and cadets, supported by government, at the University of Sydney to be trained in anthropology in relation to colonial administration supported Chinnery’s methods. A patrol officer, who went on to become a District Officer, told me that without anthropological training there is much he would never have understood in his dealings with New Guineans.79 It is less clear how the administration applied his method outside the work of field officials.

42However, it is not possible to dismiss the indirect impact of anthropology on the lives of people, as it introduced a humane and progressive stance on the governance of colonized people. Colonialism, the development and expansion of anthropology, created a symbiotic relationship between anthropology and colonialism. This relationship restricted anthropological critiques of colonial rule other than as an ameliorating voice able to question the excesses of colonial rule. For example, Chinnery, in spite of his views expressed to the Administrator, was unable to reform the labour ordinance and the treatment and conditions of indentured labour. At the same time anthropological knowledge could be, and was, used by colonial administrations to justify modifications to cultural practices considered undesirable.80 Anthropologists provided detailed knowledge of social life in all its ramifications and were able offer suggestions to government and mission with regard to changes which were considered desirable. That is to say, changes proposed by anthropologists was not so much a modification of colonial practices rather a modification of indigenous cultural and social life.

43Overall anthropology as an instrument of governance was considered critical in a mandate like New Guinea and was recognized as such by the PMC. Anthropological expertise was a linchpin in effective colonial governance in the eyes of the PMC, especially Lord Lugard, the British representative.81 New Guinea, like other C mandates, was charged with the uplift of “backward” peoples. The expertise of Chinnery helped allay the concerns of the PMC over Australian rule. He was described as an “expert of high calibre” with wide knowledge of “primitive” peoples in the Southern Hemisphere which was recognized by his appointment to United Nations visiting missions to Africa, especially Ruanda and Tanganyika.82

44Finally, post war saw an expansion of anthropology as an academic discipline, and the rise of applied anthropology. As the war drew to an end there was established a School of Civil Affairs, where future colonial officers as well as those participating in the military government of re‑occupied nations and colonies were trained. Renamed the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) it usurped the training course provided by the University of Sydney. It taught a range of courses, short and long term, preparing field officers—patrol officers, teachers and health workers—for service in the Pacific colonies although it was primarily focused on Papua and New Guinea. The courses taught included Law, Government (Colonial Administration), Geography and Anthropology, which was taught not as a subject of antiquarian interest, but as one “immediately relevant to the Government of native peoples.”83 There were attempts to incorporate ASOPA into the newly established Australian National University but this was unsuccessful. In 1947 it was attached the Australian government department of external territories.84

45In addition there were several attempts to create specialised staff positions for anthropologists in education and Native Affairs in post war Papua New Guinea. However, no government anthropologist appointed to the jointly administered territories of Papua and New Guinea.85 Indeed, anthropological expertise was neglected yet anthropological knowledge of Papua New Guinea, especially the New Guinea highlands expanded.86



Ainsworth John, 1924, Report on Administrative Arrangements and Matters Affecting the Interests of Natives, Government Printer, Melbourne, 92 p.

Annual Report Territory of New Guinea, various.

Chinnery Ernest W. Person, 1919a, “Stone‑Work and Goldfields in British New Guinea” in Man, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 49, pp. 271‑291.

Chinnery Ernest W. Person, 1919b, “The Application of Anthropological Methods to Tribal Development in New Guinea” in Man, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 49, pp. 36‑41.

Chinnery Ernest W. Person, 1920, “The Opening of New Territories in Papua” in The Geographical Journal, vol. 55, pp. 439‑459.

Chinnery Ernest W. Person, 1932, Applied Anthropology in New Guinea, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, p. 12.

Elkin Adolphus Peter, 1934, “Anthropology and the future of the Australian Aborigines” in Oceania, no 1, vol. 5, pp. 1‑18.

Elkin Adolphus Peter, 1935, “Anthropology and the Australian Aboriginal” in Needham John S. (ed.), White and Black in Australia, National Missionary Council, London, pp. 13‑37.

Mair Lucy, 1948, Australia in New Guinea, Christopher’s, London, 238 p.

Murray John Hubert P., 1920, Review of the Australian Administration in Papua from 1907 to 1920, Edward George Baker, Port Moresby, 48 p.

Murray John Hubert P., 1921, “Anthropology and the Government of Subject Races”, January, Port Moresby, read at the Pacific Science Congress in Melbourne.

Perry William J., 1923, The Children of the Sun. A Study in the History of Civilization, Methuen, London, 551 p.

Powdermaker Hortense, 1933, Life in Lesu. The Study of a Melanesian Society in New Ireland, Williams & Norgate, London, 352 p.

Rivers William Halse R., 1917, “The Government of Subject Peoples” in Seward Albert Charles (ed.), Science and the Nation. Essays by Cambridge Graduates, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 2‑28.

Williams Francis Edgar, 1939, “Creed of a Government Anthropologist” in Schwimmer Erik (ed.), Francis Edgar Williams. “Vailala Madness” and Other Essays, C. Hurst & Company, London, pp. 396‑417.


National Australian Archives (NAA), Canberra, Melbourne.

Murray Family Papers (MFP), Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Chinnery Paper (CP), Private collection (Now deposited in the National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT. MS766).


Campbell Ian C., 1998, “Anthropology and the Professionalisation of Colonial Administration in Papua and New Guinea” in Journal of Pacific History, no 1, vol. 33, pp. 69‑90.

Chinnery Sarah, 1998, Malaguna Road. The Papua and New Guinea Diaries of Sarah Chinnery, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 246 p.

Connolly Bob & Anderson Robin, 1987, First Contact. New Guinea Highlanders Meet the Outside World, Viking Penguin Books, New York, 317 p.

Denoon Donald, 1989, Public Health in Papua New Guinea. Medical Possibility and Social Constraint, 1884‑1984, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 155 p.

Gammage Bill, 1975, “The Rabaul Strike, 1929” in The Journal of Pacific History, no 3, vol. 10, pp. 3‑29.

Gammage Bill, 1998, The Sky Travellers. Journeys in New Guinea, 1938‑1939, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 292 p.

Gray Geoffrey, 1999, “Being Honest to my Science: Reo Fortune and J.H.P. Murray, 1927‑1930” in The Australian Journal of Anthropology, no 1, vol. 10, pp. 56‑76.

Gray Geoffrey, 2003, “There Are Many Difficult Problems: Ernest William Pearson ChinneryGovernment Anthropologist” in Journal for Pacific History, no 3, vol. 38, pp. 292‑312.

Gray Geoffrey, 2004, “‘Mr Chinnery Should Be Given the Recognition He Deserves’: E.W. Chinnery in the Northern Territory” in Journal of Northern Territory History, no 15, pp. 21‑33.

Gray Geoffrey, 2007, A Cautious Silence. The Politics of Australian Anthropology, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 293 p.

Gray Geoffrey, 2008, “E.W.P. Chinnery: A self‑made Anthropologist” in Telling Pacific Lives: Prisms of Process, ANU ePress, Canberra, pp. 227‑242.

Gray Geoffrey, 2012a, “W.E.H. Stanner: Wasted war Years” in Gray Geoffrey, Munro Doug & Winter Christine (eds.), Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939‑1945, ANU ePress, Canberra, pp. 95‑116.

Gray Geoffrey, 2012b, “H. Ian Hogbin: Official Adviser on Native Affairs” in Gray Geoffrey, Munro Doug & Winter Christine (eds.), Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939‑1945, ANU ePress, Canberra, pp. 73‑94.

Gray Geoffrey, 2015, Abrogating Responsibility, Australian Scholary Press, Melbourne, 291 p.

Gray Geoffrey, 2016, “Scientific diplomacy and the establishment of an Australian Chair of Anthropology, 1914‑1925” in Darnell Regna & Gleach Frederick (eds), History of Anthropology Annual, vol. 10, p. 121‑148.

Griffith Deidre, 1977, The Career of F.E. Williams, Government Anthropologist of Papua, 1922‑1943, Australian National University, Canberra, 162 p.

Hays Terence E. (ed.), 1992, Ethnographic Presents. Pioneering Anthropologists in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, University of California Press, Berkeley, 301 p.

Healy A. M., 1975, “Australia’s Essay in Colonialism” in Meanjin Quarterly, no 3, vol. 34, pp. 231‑238.

Hudson Williams James, 1968, “New Guinea Mandate: The View from Geneva” in Australian Outlook, no 3, vol. 22, pp. 302‑316.

Hudson Williams James, 1980, Australia and the League of Nations, University of Sydney, Sydney, 224 p.

Jaarsma Sjoerd, 2001, “Conceiving New Guinea. Ethnography as a Phenomenon of Contact” in McPherson Naomi M. (ed.), In Colonial New Guinea. Anthropological Perspectives, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, pp. 27‑44.

Kuklick Henrika (ed.), 2007, A New History of Anthropology, Wiley‑Blackwell, London, 418 p.

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Moore Sally Falk, 1993, “Changing Perspectives on a Changing Africa: The Work of Anthropology” in Bates Robert H., Mudimbe Valentin‑Yves & O’Barr Jean (eds.), Africa and the Disciplines, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 3‑57.

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Pedersen Susan, 2015, The Guardians. The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, Oxford University press, Oxford, 571 p.

Radi Heather, 1971, “New Guinea under Mandate”, in Hudson Williams James (ed.), Australia and Papua New Guinea, Sydney University Press, Sydney, pp. 74‑137.

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Rosman Abraham & Rubel Paula G., 1991, “Powdermaker’s Lesu” in Journal of Anthropological Research, no 4, vol. 47, pp. 377‑388.

Stanner W. E. H., 1953, The South Seas in Transition. A Study of Post‑War Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in Three British Pacific Dependencies, Australasian Publishing Company, Sydney, 448 p.

Stocking George, 1982, “Gatekeepers to the Field: EWP Chinnery and Ethnography of the New Guinea Mandate” in History of Anthropology Newsletter, no 2, vol. 9, pp. 3‑12.

West Francis, 1968, Hubert Murray. The Australian Pro‑Consul, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 296 p.

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1 Unattributed press cutting (London), 6 March 1920. National Australian Archives (NAA): A1/1, item 21/9820.

2 Address, August 1936. Francis Edgar Williams Papers, Mitchell Library (ML): MSS 5/1, item 229.

3 Hansard. [British House of] Lords sitting. 11 May 1949, 579.

4 West, 1968, p. 118.

5 Griffith, 1977, p. 5.

6 Elkin, 1934, p. 2.

7 Williams, 1976, p. 410.

8 Sexual relations is an under researched area of colonial rule. Rodman, Kraemer, Bolton & Tarisesei, 2007.

9 Nelson, 1997. See also Healy, 1975; Gray, 1999 & 2003; Campbell, 1998.

10 Stanner, 1953, p. 28.

11 Denoon, 1989, p. 27.

12 Armstrong was initially engaged for three months to collect anthropological information in the Eastern Division on 7 February 1921. He was appointed Assistant Government Anthropologist on 7 May 1921 and resigned 23 April 1922. NAA: A1, 23/29353.

13 Campbell, 1998.

14 Murray, 1920, pp. 41‑42; 1921.

15 Memorandum, Prime Minister’s Department, 5 May 1922. NAA: A452, item 59/6066 Part (1); Memorandum, Prime Minister’s Department, 5 May 1922. NAA: A452, item 59/6066 Part (1).

16 Gray, 2016.

17 For a discussion on Chinnery’s Papuan work, Gray, 2008.

18 Haddon to Atlee Hunt, 15 November 1918. NAA: A1, 1921/9820.

19 Rivers, 1917, pp. 2‑28.

20 Ibid.

21 “At the Sign of the World’s Cross Roads. A Young Australian Administrator,” unnamed newspaper report, nd. NAA: A1/1, item 21/9820.

22 Chinnery, 1920; also “At the sign of the world’s cross roads,” NAA: A1/1, item 21/9820.

23 Chinnery, 1919b.

24 West, 1968, pp. 210‑211.

25 Chinnery, 1919b, p. 41.

26 It was published as, Chinnery, 1919a. In fact, Perry used Chinnery’s Papuan map in Perry, 1923.

27 NAA: A452, 1957/2232.

28 Chinnery, 1920, p. 279.

29 Chinnery to Official Secretary, Commonwealth of Australia, 27 May 1921. NAA: A518/1, R815/1 Part 1.

30 When A. P. Elkin was advising two young anthropologists undertaking a survey of labour on northern Australian cattle stations in referred them to Chinnery’s work for New Guinea Copper Mines as a model for their own research. See Gray, 2015.

31 Wisdom to Secretary, Home and Territories Department, 22 September 1923. NAA: A452, 1959/6066, Part 1.

32 Wisdom, 12 January 1924. NAA: A452, 1959/6066, Part 1.

33 Pearce to Acting Prime Minister, 6 January 1924. NAA: A452, 1959/6066, Part 1.

34 Chinnery to Secretary, Home & Territories, 10 June 1924. NAA: A5/1, NG 24/1564.

35 Rivers, 1917, pp. 302‑303.

36 Annual Report Territory of New Guinea, 1934‑1935.

37 Radi, 1971, p. 137.

38 Moore, 1993, p. 9.

39 Chinnery, 1932, p. 163; Chinnery to Haddon, 12 December 1924. Chinnery Papers (CP). Private Collection.

40 Chinnery to Government Secretary (Rabaul), 6 April 1925. CP.

41 Chinnery to Administrator, 29 September 1926, CP.

42 Gray, 1999.

43 Chinnery to Firth. 14 March 1932. CP.

44 Chinnery, 1932; See Ainsworth, 1934.

45 Chinnery to Haddon, 29 July 1929. CP.

46 Pedersen, 2015, p. 301.

47 See Powdermaker, 1933, in which she downplays social problems caused by foreign plantation workers. Rosman & Rubel, 1991. The use of domestic labour, mostly women, is rarely discussed in published material. See however, Rodman et al., 2007.

48 Chinnery to Administrator, 12 April 1927. CP.

49 See Gammage, 1998, for examples of the “unknown” life of New Guineans under colonial rule.

50 Cf. Radi, 1971, pp. 91‑93, 118‑119 & 130.

51 NAA: MP 742/1, 274/1/246 Native Labour Conference, Sydney: 1st & 2nd Dec. 1944.

52 Cited in Hudson, 1968, p. 310.

53 The idea that New Guinea was a trophy of war is due to Douglas Newton [pers. comm. 23 November 2014]. Rabaul was often described as a suburb of ANZAC.

54 Cited in Hudson, 1968, p. 311.

55 Hudson, 1968, p. 315.

56 Chinnery was undertaking a study tour on depopulation funded by Rockefeller Foundation.

57 I would like to thank Susan Pedersen who brought such an insight to my notice at the conference.

58 Mandates Commission, June 9‑27, 1930, 63. Copy in CP.

59 For a full description of the strike see Gammage, 1975.

60 Ibid., p. 26.

61 Mandates Commission, June 9‑27, 1930, 62. Copy in CP.

62 Gammage, 1975, p. 25.

63 Mandates Commission, 1934. Examination of Annual Report, 1932‑33. Copy in CP.

64 Mandates Commission. Examination of Annual Report, 1933‑34. Copy in CP. See also Radi, 1971, p. 191.

65 Radi, 1971, p. 79.

66 Chinnery to Haddon, 25 September 1932. CP.

67 Chinnery to Haddon, 30 October 1932. CP.

68 Connolly & Anderson, 1987.

69 For an eye‑witness description see Chinnery, 1998, p. 205‑224. After the eruption the family relocated to the Australian mainland.

70 Chinnery to Sarah Chinnery, 24 March 1940. CP.

71 Gray, 2004.

72 Chinnery to Haddon, 20 August 1931. CP. See also NAA: A52, item 312.09936 CHI.

73 Jaarsma, 2001.

74 Stocking, 1982, p. 4.

75 West, 1979, p. 640.

76 Haddon to Prime Minister (Hughes), 23 September 1921. NAA: A452, 1959/6066, Part 1.

77 Radi, 1971, p. 103.

78 Kuper, 1983, p. 105.

79 Ian Downs, pers. comm., 23 February 1993.

80 Elkin, 1935, p. 34. For further discussion on this aspect of anthropology see Gray, 2007, p. 1‑18.

81 He was a member of the committee of experts on Native Labour from 1925‑1941.

82 Hansard. [British House of] Lords Sitting, 11 May 1949, 579.

83 Mair, 1948, p. 42.

84 Hogbin, 2012.

85 Gray, 2007, pp. 195‑202.

86 Hays, 1992.


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