History of New Ireland


by © Jim Ridges of Kavieng (Post Courier 2005)

At one time a century or more ago and up to independence the maps of Papua New Guinea were litered with foreign names of rivers, mountains, islands, headlands and sea straits that meant little to the people.
To those in the know however, they provided clues to the rich history of the areas.
Be that as it may the few foreign names that remain are sometimes not realised to be foreign, except by the people of the immediate locality, and even they use the more "popular" name sometimes. One of these is Baudissin Island, shown still on all the maps, but with a name that that goes no further back than 1886 or 1887. It is inextricably linked to the short, narrow channel between the most westerly point of mainland New Ireland and Bingen Island ( Baudissin Islands Local name).
This channel is called Albatross Passage ( also the popular dive site named after the passage )
and gives clue to those interested in history.
When the Germans Annexed, in November 1884, the northeast of New Guinea Islands and the large islands of New Britain and New Ireland, that they were to call the Bismarck Archipelago, it was necessary to be able to enforce the peace. Also in those days of sailand early steamship travel and commerce, survey of the treacherous coastline and shoals was a necessity. for this purpose a number of German Naval ships over the years were stationed in New Guinea waters. One of these was the S.M.S Albatross.
in 1886 the captain of the Albatross was Ernst von Frantizius and navigating officer, later to be her captain was Graf von Baudissin, a German nobleman who later breitling klockor kopior became an Admiral and then chief of the admiralty. The Albatross was sent to punish the people around Kabien ( villages off the west coast close to the dive site Kabien II) who had developed the annoying habit of attacking small ships heading to or from Nusa harbour, which was fast becoming a hub for traders in the Tigak islands and North Cape area- and the people of Kapsu on the East coast for buring down a tradestore.

It is not difficult to imagine a whale boat from a ship, rowed by a crew close inshore, perhaps with Baudissin in charge, noticing a strong current and deep water from the hidden passage, otherwise unable to be seen, and investigating further. They would of found the westerly point of New Ireland, as they thought, was in fact and island, and the passage a useful short cut for small boats going to Nusa.
What more natural in those days to to enter on the maps and call the passage after the ship, Albatross and the Island after the navigating officer, Baudissin. As the short cut saved time it was used frequently, and name became well known and stuck.
In talking to people in Kavieng it has even been suggested that the name is a rapid slurred derivation of Bruce Tsang, a local long time bussinessman in town.
If you say Bu-ru-san quickly it can be understood why people might think that, especially as a few years ago he owned or leased the plantation on the island. That however is definitely not the origin of Baudissin Island.
The Albatross went on to Kapsu and shelled the village area and put an armed party of sailors ashore. They met no resistance as everyone had fled. however in burning down houses a collection of Malagan figures were discovered and removed.
Not long ago in the early 1990's the museum of Lodenburg in Germany, a large old building previously occupied by the Count of Oldenburg, decided to do a stocktake and clear out its cellars. in doing so a crate of Malagan carvings were discovered which had been sent to by Baudissin to his friend the count. These must almost certainly be the "hijacked" malagans from the raid at Kapsu, and they are now on display in the museum.

Jim Ridges January 2005 ( from the post courier)



by © Jim Ridges of Kavieng.

PNG has evidence of human occupation of up to 60,000 years, similar to Australia, but in New Ireland the limited excavations that have occurred show human activity of about 30-35,000 years in two places. It is generally accepted that the spread into the Pacific of human beings was through New Ireland down to the Solomon Islands via Bougainville. Lapita pottery has also been found in a number of sites in New Ireland.

The first travellers from the ‘old world’ of Europe to see New Ireland were the Dutch, The first European ship ever to sail around, and name, Cape Hoorn at the southernmost tip of South America (earlier ships had sailed through the Straits of Magellan to reach the Pacific since Magellan in 1521) was the Dutch sailing vessel Eendracht. Jacob le Maire, with his pilot Willem Schouten then sailed across the Pacific Ocean and on June 24 1616, sighted the Anir/Feni islands and named them St.John's Island, because it was that Saint's day.

They continued NW along the coast of New Ireland, thinking, such were the difficulties of determining longitude at the time, they were on the north coast of New Guinea island. They carryied with them New Ireland’s first recorded, and probably reluctant, overseas traveller. He was nicknamed 'Moses' by the crew and had failed to be ransomed by his people for food, following an attack on the ship in which three New Irelanders were captured. He went with the ship to Jakarta where it was impounded and no more is known of 'Moses' fate.

In 1643 Abel Tasman in the Heemskerck was the next visitor following almost exactly Le Maire's route. On 1st April he reported his position as "off Cabo Santa Maria, as named by the Spanish" so he must have known they were there earlier, but this information as to definitely who it was is not now unavailable to us. Cape St Mary is on all the old maps and is now called East Cape, near Maritsoan.

Tasman was returning to Batavia, in today’s Indonesia, having discovered Van Diemans land (Tasmania) and New Zealand in 1642. He named the Tanga and Lihir islands as Anthony Caens island and Gerrit de Nys island respectively. Tabar island he called Fischer island and a sketch was made recording the first ethnological item from New Ireland, a canoe with carved prows carrying shark-killing equipment.

The next European sailing ship passing through New Ireland waters, but from the opposite direction, having 'discovered' Mussau and Emira islands (St. Matthias group), was the English Royal Navy Roebuck, with former buccaneer William Dampier as Captain, in 1700. He recorded sailing into a large bay with many canoes encouraging him, but when in late afternoon he changed course to head out to sea for the night, many of the men in the canoes used their slingshots to hurl stones at the ship. He named it 'Slingers Bay' and it is probable that it was Ramat/Nabuto Bay. Dampier went on to round and name Cape St.George and sailing west along a southern coast discovered for the first time a strait between New Guinea and the island that he called New Britain, and the strait, Dampier Strait.

So at that time, and for 67 years, Europeans thought that New Britain island was much larger and included all of what later was to be called New Ireland.

The next significant visitor was Captain Philip Carteret of the Royal Navy in the Swallow. On his round the world voyage he called into Lambom harbour in September 1767 and no doubt annoyed everyone very much by cutting down the coconut trees for their edible crown as a fresh vegetable, so great was the need of his crew suffering from scurvy.

Carteret had no contact with the local people and when he left he sailed north finding and naming the Duke of York islands, and realising for the first time that New Britain was separate from the other island, he named it New Ireland and the passage St. George’s Channel. The Frenchman Louis de Bougainville visited Lambom the following year and in 1781 the Spanish warship Princesa under Captain Maurelle sailed along the East Coast of New Ireland.

Until that time and a few years more, the occasional visits by sailing ships probably had little effect on the lives of people, but events taking place across the world were to hasten the process of change for ever.

In 1788 the 'First Fleet' landed at Botany Bay in Australia to begin the Colony of New South Wales. From that time, and later as Sydney town and port began to grow, ships leaving Sydney to trade with the Dutch East Indies, China and India increasingly sailed via St. George's Channel. It was the shortest route and one where fresh water could be obtained either from Port Hunter in the Duke of York’s or English Cove near Lambom island. After 1814 the major trading privileges enjoyed only by the East India Company in the Pacific ended, increasing the ships in the Pacific.

Whaling ships, mainly from Britain in the early years, sailed the Pacific from 1800 to 1840 (at least 1,000 voyages is estimated) after which, from the 1850's, the majority of the whalers sailed from America and Australia. By the early 1830's British whalers were regularly cruising for whales in New Ireland waters. Some of those voyages lasted up to four years before returning to their homeports. It was necessary to find fresh water and food where possible, and safe places ashore for weeks at a time where the sperm oil from the whale blubber could be boiled off and collected into barrels. Small islands with small populations often served that purpose.

Records from the whaling voyages are rare, but some of those that do exist show that the whole of what is now the New Ireland Province were visited by whaling vessels from time to time.

Surgeon John Coulter on the American vessel Hound in 1835 recorded meeting a British sailor Thomas Manners from London who had been living with the natives in southern New Ireland for ten years and accompanied the 'king' Boolooma on board where they had a meal in the Captain's cabin. He claimed to have four wives, one of whom was a daughter of the chief and he appeared to exercise authority over most of the many natives coming to trade with the ship.

Surgeon John Wilson of the whaler Gypsy recorded how on December 4 1840 near Cape St.Mary the 3rd mate Mr. White went ashore to trade and "got abundance of taro & yams, bananas, plantains, mangoes, & but one pig". He was introduced to a chief "& to some other sable damsel with whom he cohabited, at the cost of a common clasp knife. The women had a leaf, bunch of grass or small piece of tappa to cover their shame: as for the men, they had none, & therefore were they naked, the more comfortable in so hot a climate".

On the next day, meeting up with the barque Kitty, Capt.Brown told them that the Caroline had been at anchor in Gowers Harbour (Lambom area) near Cape St.George, to procure wood and water "and there 14 of the crew of the Caroline deserted her, & 4 other men from another ship; all from Sydney, probably runaway convicts afraid to return: they have formed a settlement near the harbour; as there are but few natives thereabouts."

Wilson commented that it was "by such worthless and reckless characters that…white men…are the first to reconcile the dark savage to hold a friendly intercourse with the white…it is startling to contemplate the ultimate fate of numerous island natives who have acquired a taste for European vices! Rum and tobacco and disease."

This seems to be confirmed by the record of Captain Keppel in the H.M.S Meander in 1849 who, again in the Lambom area, says "it is a place occasionally visited by English and American whalers- as was proved by a salutation which met our ears, while we were standing in to shore. 'What ship that?' shouted a black savage, one of a party in a canoe; 'Tobac got!'- God dam!'- 'Rum got'."

These influences had been continuous spasmodically for nearly a hundred years before a very different type of white man landed on 16th August 1875 and settled in the Duke of York islands. Christian missionaries from the Australian Wesleyan Methodist Mission with their Pacific island counterparts, 8 Fijians and 2 Samoans with wives and helpers, arrived on the John Wesley and some quickly visited southern New Ireland, particularly the SW coast.

That mission influence was confined to that small area but as at the same time traders had appeared on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, and one of their commodities was to supply black labourers for Queensland, Fiji and Samoa; the infamous ‘blackbirding’; some New Irelanders were taken away, and those lucky to return were undoubtedly influenced by their experiences, including christianity and the ways of the white man.

1880 also saw the arrival near Lambom island of the first vessel carrying settlers from Europe for the ‘Free Colony of New France’, the infamous scam perpetrated by the Marquis de Rays and his cohorts. Altogether over a period of about 18 months four ships carrying over 700 persons landed at ‘Port Breton’ perhaps the most inhospitable part of New Ireland. Had another place been chosen we might have been speaking French?

Thousands of investors in Europe paid money for land in this new colony in the tropics that was to include all of PNG and the Solomon Islands. It was not supported at all by France. When the ships arrived and found nothing established as they had been promised, most soon left. Many finished up in Australia and some founded ‘Little Italy’ near Lismore in NSW. Almost 100 never made it and are buried in unmarked graves on New Ireland.

By 1884 when Germany declared a protectorate over the NE part of New Guinea and offshore islands, New Irelanders were also being recruited to work on the new plantations being created on the Gazelle Peninsula.

This recruitment was now mainly done from Nusa Island, opposite the future Kavieng where the first trading station was established in 1880. Many labourers then went to work for Germans near today’s Madang, and also to the German colony of Samoa. Many died. At this time there was no ‘government’ on New Ireland and the people developed a reputation as fierce warriors as well as notorious cannibals. Over the twenty years from 1880 to 1900 when German colonial rule finally arrived at Kavieng, many an isolated white trader was burnt out and killed, resulting in indiscriminate punitive expeditions by German gunboats often many months after the event. One by the Albatross in 1886 resulted in the deaths of 26 natives.

‘Pax Germanica’ came to New Ireland in the form of a steely eyed German called Franz Boluminski who landed at Kavieng on 30th June 1900 with his wife Frida, and only 8 volunteer native police, such was our reputation for ferocity. Remarkably, within two years, he had established peaceful relations based on his assumption of responsibility for dispute settlement, removal of all firearms that the traders had supplied for copra traded and very active patrolling with his small police troop.

Realising the almost complete lack of harbours on the northeast coast, but the availability of large tracts of land for plantation development, he set the local people the task of road building that would eventually allow produce to be taken to the fine harbour at Kavieng. It was remarkably successful and in less than four years 100 kilometres were built using the dead coral (coronus) that is in plentiful supply. The road and bridges were constantly upgraded and improved, and by 1904 settlers from Germany were being encouraged to take up land and create plantations.

Chinese had been brought to German New Guinea shortly after 1884, especially to the Madang area, but this had largely been a failure and many died. Chinese artisans were later brought to Kokopo and on Boluminski’s arrival in Kavieng the Chinese followed shortly afterwards. In due course a thriving community was established. As copra traders on their own behalf and for the established companies, as well as taking up small plantations, the Chinese were often pioneers and the first into new areas. Sadly there are few records of their activities.

Unusually, in northern New Ireland the government was ahead of the missions in establishing peace. It was 1905 before the Methodist Mission arrived in Kavieng with the Catholics a few years later. The people on the whole rapidly accepted Christianity, mainly because returning labourers for 25 years had had contact with the churches elsewhere. Nevertheless the changes necessary but strains on the traditional ways and customs of the people, and today they are only a shadow of what previously existed and sadly much of that is unrecorded, or is not yet translated from the German.

Malagan MaskUnique to New Ireland is the carving of malagan figures. They are only a concluding, but integral, part of months long mortuary ceremonies in the northern New Ireland area, but because of their 3-dimensional nature and intricate interweaving of one figure into another they immediately caught the attention of early travellers. Museums in Europe, especially Germany, have many fine examples that today would not be found. In fact in the last 25 years the number of recognized master malagan carvers has reduced from 15 to only 2, and they are now old. Many thousands of these art pieces were collected in the German period that would otherwise have been destroyed.

Such was the enthusiasm of Boluminski’s administration, and his tough but fair dealings with natives and whites alike, that New Ireland was frequently referred to by visiting Germans as the South Sea Pearl of German colonial possessions. He had built a fine residence on a ridge with a grand staircase descending to the harbour with extensive gardens. A Post Office was established in 1904 and overseas vessels were visiting Kavieng by 1912.

By the time of Boluminski’s death on 28th April 1913 at Kavieng; he is buried there in the Bagail cemetery marked by a large concrete cross; a fine road capable of being used by the new motor vehicles just arriving, stretched 165 kilometres from Kavieng carrying the produce to the port and facilitating the administration by strategically located government resthouses. It was the longest and best road in the Pacific until the 1950’s.

The First World War put an end to the rapid development and Australia occupied German New Guinea in September 1914 at Rabual and Kavieng in 17th October. Australian military administration until May 1921 was content to care take while the many developing plantations of the Germans were improved as the profits could not be exported to the enemy Germany.

The blow fell in 1920/21 when the Australian government legislated to expropriate all German property as reparation for part of their costs in fighting the war. At about the same time the League of Nations mandated the Territory of New Guinea to Australia’s care. Thus many pioneer overseas Germans with little interest in Europe, and who had spent years building up the province and developing their businesses, suddenly lost everything and were returned penniless to a Germany on its knees and economically depressed.

Australian ex-servicemen were eventually offered credit to tender for plantations in 1926/7, which many did. Indirectly it was also a way to defend New Guinea not allowed by the mandate. Little new development occurred and it was 1935 before the road started by Boluminski reached Namatanai, 265 kilometres from Kavieng, New Ireland’s second administrative centre started in 1904. The depression years of the 1930’s had been hard as the price of copra the main plantation product was low and many of the settlers ended up mortgaging their properties to the large shipping and trading companies of Burns Philp and Carpenters.

War came to New Ireland on 23rd January 1942 with the arrival of the Japanese forces and the departure of about 150 members of the Australian army 1st Independent Company. Whilst the European women and children had hurriedly been evacuated in late December about 100 civilians remained and only a handful survived. A plaque naming those who died was unveiled at the Kavieng War Memorial on 4th July 2002. 32 had been garroted on the Kavieng Wharf in March 1944 and Rear Admiral Tamura was hanged in Hong Kong in March 1948 following a War Crime trial there. About 13,000 Japanese troops were on New Ireland in September 1945 when the HMAS Swan arrived to accept their surrender.

Essentially nothing remained of infrastructure in Kavieng as a result of the almost constant bombing in 1944/45 and the plantations had been largely destroyed. The local people had suffered horribly from mistreatment, malnutrition and lack of health services.

Prewar there had been only one small government school in New Ireland and apart from the recovery of the plantation sector and the rebuilding of the government stations and extension services the main change was the establishment of more schools and in1963-5, following and adverse UN report, a crash education plan saw many new schools built in PNG.

Independence came to PNG in 1975 and in 1977 the New Ireland Provincial Government was established. Gold was found on Lihir island and 10 years ago saw the opening of a large gold mine there.