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John Douglas and the Asian presence on Thursday Island : 1885-1904
chapterposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by J Hodes
Torres Strait during the colonial era was synonymous with the name of John Douglas, who, as its Government Resident, ruled this remote and far-flung administration. Here was the last great Australian imperialist - devising, implementing and maintaining an administrative apparatus for the region and its people that was paternalistic, benevolent and autocratic. In this task, he was guided by the principles of 'providential duty, the destiny of race, and the other lofty abstractions of late Victorian imperialism. That he was able to rule Torres Strait as a sort of 'constitutional sovereign'2 for the benefit of its inhabitants, according to his own liberal beliefs, tenets and values, possessing unbounded moral and statutory authority,3 was without parallel in Queensland colonial history. While he was aided and abetted in this by the geographical remoteness of Torres Strait, it was also due in large part to his undoubted administrative ability, coupled with his extensive political connections and experience. Douglas brooked no interference in his domain and indeed encountered little, being left largely to his own benevolent devices by his grateful political masters in far-off Brisbane. This chapter will examine his interaction with Asian peoples on Thursday Island, particularly the Japanese, his attitudes towards them, and his impact on their lives. In order to better understand his role and influence, it is necessary to briefly examine his life and career prior to his arrival in the region.