This day in 1903

This is a letter reproduced in the Sunday Times from the London Daily Mail. It was written by Walter Malcolmson, an Irishman, whose British media campaign about the maltreatment of Aboriginal workers and women in the north-west pastoral stations of Western Australia, was one of the factors that led to the Royal Commission on the Condition of the Natives (Roth Report) in 1905. His letter concludes, “I shall continue to brand W.A. as the home of slavery, cruelty and inhumanity just as long as the rotten laws and acts continue in force with enslave the aborigines.”

The Sunday Times, 24 May 1903, p11

Slavery in W.A.
Blast from Belfast
Protector Prinsep Pilloried
Walter Malcolmson (Holywood, Belfast, Ireland) writes:-
Sir, A friend in Australia has forwarded me a clipping taken from the West Australian of February last, in which I see Mr Prinsep endeavors feebly to reply to my letter published in London Daily News. Mr Prinsep carefully refrains from trying to answer any of the direct charges I made, but starts quibbling childishly at my use of the word “indenture” when writing of what he is pleased to term “the local contract for sevice made by the aboriginal and the white employer.” Made by the aboriginal!! To show that I am not in error in using the word, I refer Mr Prinsep to his own report for 1901, furnished by himself to the W.A. Government, a copy of which lies before me. In that report Mr Prinsep highly eulogises the services of his travelling inspector, and gives numerous copies of his letters. In this correspondence Mr Ollivey makes repeated use of the word “indenture.” In the third letter printed in the report he says:- “If there are any half caste boys or native boys to be placed out, Mr Ogilvie would take five or six, provided they are indentured to him.” In his second letter he says:- “Mr Drage wished to indenture two or three boys.” The word is to be found all through the letters written by Mr Ollivey and published by the Chief Protector, without comment. So much for Mr Prinsep’s consistency. Mr P complains of my use of the words
Cruelty and Slavery
I would like to have a definition of the word “slavery” from the chief protector’s point of view. I have looked up several dictionaries and find the meaning given as “a state of bondage.” If the indentured natives of W.A. are not in a state of bondage, then I admit I do not know the meaning of plain English. Clause 2 of the 1892 Act now in force, reads thus:- “Subject to the provisions of part 2 of the Principal Act, any aboriginal who shall neglect or refuse to enter upon, or commence his service, according to contract, or shall absent himself from his service, or shall refuse or neglect to work in the capacity in which he has been engaged, or shall desert or quit his work without the consent of his employer, or shall commit any other breach of his contract, shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable, upon conviction before any Justice of the Peace, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labor.”
Any reasoning man with a spark of conscience will admit that any human being indentured under a clause like this is in a state of bondage, and bondage of the worst type. Of course I do not expect Mr Prinsep to admit anything. As regards cruelty, let me ask Mr Prinsep does he consider it cruel to use an indentured native as a packhorse, to load him up with 70 or 80 pound weight of goods and start him off on a 50 miles tramp to deliver said goods, without food for the road, or water bag, and that where the temperature averaged 110 degrees in the shade at the time? Does Mr Prinsep
Consider It Cruel
to flog a native servant with a horse whip, or to drive men, women and children into the bush on “piuki,” lasting weeks, without food? Is it cruel to so stint the supply of rations as to force natives to eat offal such as sheep entrails and paunches? I have seen all these things done by his generous, humane, squatter friends of the Nor’-West to their indentured slaves. Names of men and stations I’ll give when called upon to do so. Mr Prinsep may retort that my information is not up to date. I left the Nor’-West in 1901, and the squatters and others I refer to are still there, and if capable of such cruelty in 1900 and 1901, is it likely their consciences would prick them if similar offences were repeated by them in 1903? Mr Prinsep is cautious to make no reference to the laws and Acts in his reply, although in his report to the Premier (a copy of which I have) he says, “The laws in force are generally more considerable to the black man than to the white man.” This is such a bald lie that it scarcely calls for denial. Mr Prinsep says, “Mr Malcolmson seems to think that slavery exists here.” Yes, Mr Prinsep, I do think so, and, moreover, I am prepared to take my oath on it also. He further says, “The
System of Contract
(indenture) is very loosely availed of.” I deny it, and refer Mr Prinsep to his own report for the year 1901, where his own travelling inspector, Ollivey, reports visiting over 120 stations. Out of this total he mentions six small “cockatoo” owners, who divide between them 166 natives (men, women, and children) all told, whom he is careful to say are not indentured. This is not a big number to boast about out of the thousands of indentured natives of W.A. Mr Prinsep says, “I do not like to notice the words put into the mouths of Mr Daglish, M.L.A., and the Bishop of Perth.” I take it this implies that I put the words into their mouths. In point of fact, my report of what Mr Daglish said is copied verbatim from the W.A. Governement Hansard. Further on he adds, “In the case of the Bishop of Perth, he must have been misquoted.” If Bishop Riley says I am incorrect I will accept his statement, but I do not think he will. The Chief Protector says, “The duty of my department is to relieve distress, to protect those who are ill-treated, and to try and raise the civilisation of these blacks.” What has he done to
Protect the Natives?
What distress has he relieved, and where? He seems to me rather to think that his dury is to uphold rotten laws, to protect the “humane, generous” squatter, and to make last the chains that bind the slaves. He speaks of “gross charges being flung at a generally respectable set of men,” meaning the squatters, but he does not particularise the charge. All the charges I have made I will stand to in any court of justice (Nor’-West barred). I consider Mr Prinsep one of the principal advocates of slavery in W.A. and one of the most strenuous enemies to aboriginal freedom. If he were subjected to a course of what he himself describes as “generous consideration,” he might have more humanity and impartiality in his constitution. I shall continue to brand W.A. as the home of slavery, cruelty and inhumanity just as long as the rotten laws and acts continue in force with enslave the aborigines.

Source: National Library of Australia

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