Maritime mechanisms of contact and change: archaeological perspectives on the history and conduct of the Queensland labour trade

Beck, Stephen William (2008) Maritime mechanisms of contact and change: archaeological perspectives on the history and conduct of the Queensland labour trade. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis examines, from an archaeological perspective, the ‘maritime mechanisms’ of contact and change between Europeans and Indigenous populations (Islanders) in Oceania in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; in particular, how those mechanisms might be better understood through the application of archaeological methodology. For the purposes of this thesis, maritime mechanisms are defined as those mechanisms of contact and change associated with human activities on the sea.

The Queensland labour trade is used as a case study. The key research questions are: • How were the Islanders being changed as a result of their participation in the Queensland labour trade? • Was the Queensland labour trade affected, changed or controlled by the Islanders involved in the trade, and • Did Victorian society and its values, as expressed in part through a changing legislative framework, have any influence on the Queensland labour trade? The thesis begins with a re-analysis of the historical sources, in particular citing the changing legislation that pertained to the Queensland labour trade. This analysis concentrates on understanding the nature of trade relationships within the islands before European influence and what changes seem to have come about after. Archaeological research centred on the wreck of the Foam, combined with my analysis of the artefacts recovered from this site by the Queensland Museum, are also key to this dissertation. The main conclusions fall into two groups. First, the more practical outcomes include the following; 1. schooners were the favoured types of vessels used across the labour trade, 2. some island groups were frequented more by recruiters than others, and 3. the ceramic armbands used as items of trade were not specifically manufactured for the Queensland labour trade but were part of a larger European trading system in which ceramic copies of Indigenous status goods were used as trade items from Africa across to Papua New Guinea and the South Sea Islands. Secondly, the broader conclusions are that; 1. when analysed as artefacts in their own right and due to their nature as ‘built environments’, the vessels themselves should be considered as sites of change for the Islanders as they were being transported, 2. the Islanders’ identity continued to transform during their participation in the various stages of the trade, 3. part of the reason for these transformations is that the existence of the Queensland labour trade allowed individuals to bypass traditional restrictions on travel and provided the opportunity to increase status and/or develop new trading relationships, 4. people of influence on the islands exploited the Europeans, their vessels and trade goods to maintain and enhance their status, and 5. given the prevailing position on slavery and with ongoing lobbying from Missionary groups, legislation did bring about changes in the European method of operation. In sum, the Queensland labour trade was a catalyst for change in indigenous social, political and economic systems. Further, it is argued that it is critical to recognise that the Queensland labour trade was as much a Melanesian system as it was a European one.

Finally, it is recommended that further field work on the wreck of the Foam be conducted, together with an investigation of the extent to which trade goods are present in the South Sea Island archaeological record. A major question that remains to be answered is whether the labour trade challenged, subverted or inflated traditional systems.

Item ID: 8113
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: maritime archaeology, South Sea Islands, Queensland, labour, labor, recruitment, trade items, ceramic armbands 19th century, 20th century, legislation, shipwrecks, Foam, schooners, exploitation, missionaries, society, politics, economy
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2008 Stephen William Beck.
Additional Information:

Date previously recorded as 2009, corrected to 2008.

Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2010 05:34
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210108 Historical Archaeology (incl Industrial Archaeology) @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210110 Maritime Archaeology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 30%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950599 Understanding Past Societies not elsewhere classified @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 40%
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