...the laws of the white man...
Captain Pennefather, 'Report of a Cruise', 19 December 1879.
At Tutu Island, close to the site of a battle led by Islander Kebisu against Captain Bligh nearly a hundred years before, the island's 85 inhabitants were 'mustered' by Pennefather and given official notification of their century old defeat.
'I told them that in future they would be amenable to the laws of the white man as the island now formed part of the territory of Queensland. In the afternoon I fired five shells from the guns, close to the island and from a distance of 200 yards, which had the effect of showing them what could be done if necessary.'
Captain Pennefather also reported the numbers of Islanders on each island visited whom he counted personally. At the Murray Islands there were 166 men and boys; 114 women and girls and 94 children. He commented on the decreases in numbers which were greater at Erub Island where a measles epidemic had recently 'taken away' many people. Matthew Flinders had estimated the Murray Islander population at 700 on Saturday 30 October 1802. It had dropped to 374 some eight decades later.
The aims of annexation were to control the Torres Strait shipping channel and to regulate the pearl fisheries. Although it was nearly a hundred years before the Meriam and other Torres Strait Islanders came to know of it, according to Queensland law, all the islands became 'waste lands of the Crown' upon annexation. This fact became invisible to the inhabitants on account of the basic continuity of their inherited land tenure system. At the Murray Islands the people's own sense of 'nationality' combined with certain historical events to foster collective cohesiveness, often in new forms. Within a generation of the imposition of colonial rule the Meriam had the kernel of a council, a court, school, and pearling boats, and they were free to move about and associate with white workers on mainland Queensland.
Keywords: annexation, colonial rule, crown land, Erub Island, european contact, Flinders, Matthew , Kebisu, Murray Island, pearling industry, Tutu Island, 1879
Author: Sharp, Nonie