Party: Labour on Overseas Plantations



Beginning in the early 1870s, Solomon Islanders took part in the labour trade to and from Queensland, Australia and Fiji, and smaller numbers worked in Samoa and New Caledonia. (Moore, Leckie, and Munro 1990; Moore 1985; Scarr 1967b; Corris 1973; Saunders 1982; Graves 1993; Mercer 1995; Banivanua-Mar 2007; Takeuchi 2009; Shineberg 1999; Price and Baker 1976; Siegal 1985) The largest numbers went to Queensland. (Moore 1978-1979, 1978a, 1979, 1985, 1991, 1996, 2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2004-2005; Moore and Mercer 1978, 1993) Labourers were employed mainly on plantations and farms. Usually this was to process copra and sugarcane, although some also worked in maritime industries, sheep and cattle industries and even in domestic service. Overwhelmingly the labourers were men in their late teens into their mid-thirties; only about 5 percent were women. The beginnings of this indentured labour trade came after the abolition of slavery as a form of forced labour, and it was formally based on contracts. However, particularly in the 1870s and 1880s, the participants were illiterate and could never have understood the contracts. Furthermore, master and servant contracts were designed to favour the employers, and not to achieve equality of employment conditions for the labourers. Some of the early recruiting practices involved kidnapping and other illegalities and they were often said to resemble slavery. The death rates in the trade were also high, though mostly this was because recruits lacked immunity to the many new diseases to which they were exposed on European-operated plantations. (Shlomowitz 1989a, 1989c, 1990; McDonald and Shlomowitz 1988; Moore 1985, 218-273; Newbury 1974; Rannie 1912; Romilly 1886; Wawn [1893] 1973; Scarr 1967; Shineberg 1967, 1995, 1999)

Even at its best, the indentured labour trade was 'cultural kidnapping', in which Europeans took cultural advantage of the Solomon Islands. (Moore 1984, xi) This is not to say that Solomon Islanders over the decades between 1870 and 1911 did not come to understand what was involved, as sons followed fathers and uncles to far away plantations. Nor was the exploitation only one-sided since many passage masters and bigmen participated in arranging the labour supply. The labourers were not all 'kidnapped', and many enlisted more than once, some three times, perhaps once to Fiji and twice to Queensland. There were 24,865 contracts and probably around sixteen thousand individuals involved. Most of the contracts were for three years and these could be extended for various periods. In Queensland labourers worked in maritime endeavours, pastoral industries and the sugar industry, and Fiji labourers worked in the copra and sugar industries. (Shlomowitz 1979a, 1979b, 1981, 1982a, 1982b, 1984, 1985a, 1985b, 1986b, 1986c, 1987a, 1987b, 1987c, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1990, 1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1994-1995, 1996; Shlomowitz and Bedford 1988)

Mortality rates were high, but those who participated in this circular labour migration process and survived were immensely changed. (Shlomowitz 1986a, 1987b, 1987c, 1989a, 1989c, 1990) The first labour recruits began to return to the Solomons in the mid-1870s, but some stayed away for many years. Others chose to stay in Australia and were forced to return in the 1900s when Australia legislated for a White Australia Policy. One such person was Joe Lovë, Headman of the Vololo area of Guadalcanal in the 1930s, who had been bartered by his chief for a Snider rifle when he was about twelve years old, and worked in Queensland for many years. He petitioned to be able to remain in Australia in the 1900s but was deported, returning home only to find his parents dead and himself forgotten. He gradually reincorporated himself into his descent group. (Horton 1965, 136-138) Others returned from Fiji in the 1910s. There are still significant communities of Solomon Islands descendants in Australia (see Australian Solomon Islanders), mainly in Queensland and northern New South Wales, and also in Fiji (see Fiji Solomon Islanders (Solomoni)), with a smaller group resident in Samoa. Those who returned from overseas service had a significant influence on the development of the Solomon Islands and helped to introduce Christianity and literacy. They were often middlemen at the forefront of negotiations with missions, plantations and the government. (Corris 1973a; Moore 2000c)

Solomon Islander Indentured Labourers in Queensland and Fiji, 1870-1911

Rennell & Bellona65469000690.27

Source: Price and Baker 1976; Siegel 1985.

Related Concepts

Published resources


  • Banivanua-Mar, Tracey, Violence and Colonial Dialogue: The Australian-Pacific Labour Trade, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2007. Details
  • Graves, Adrian, Cane and Labour: The Political Economy of the Queensland Sugar Industry 1862-1906, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1993. Details
  • Horton, Dick C., The Happy Isles: A Diary of the Solomons, Originally published: 1965, Heinemann, London, 1965. Details
  • Mercer, Patricia M., White Australia Defied: Pacific Islander Settlement in North Queensland, Studies in North Queensland History No.21, Department of History and Politics, James Cook University, Townsville, 1995. Details
  • Moore, Clive, Kanaka: A History of Melanesian Mackay, Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies and the University of Papua and New Guinea Press, Port Moresby, 1985. Details
  • Rannie, Douglas, My Adventures Among South Sea Cannibals, Seeley, Service and Co. Limited, London, 1912. Details
  • Romilly, Hugh H., The Western Pacific and New Guinea: Notes on the Natives, Christians and Cannibal, with Some Account of the Old Labour Trade, Murray, London, 1886. Details
  • Saunders, Kay, Workers in Bondage: The Origins and Bases of Unfree Labour in Queensland 1824-1916, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1982. Details
  • Shineberg, Dorothy, They Came for Sandalwood: A Study of the Sandalwood Trade in the South-West Pacific, 1930-1865, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1967. Details
  • Shineberg, Dorothy, The People Trade: Pacific Island Laborers and New Caledonia, 1865-1930, Pacific Island Monograph Series 16, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1999. Details
  • Takeuchi, Mahito, Imperfect Machinery: Missions, Imperial Authority, and the Pacific Labour Trade, c. 1875-1901, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken, 2009. Details

Book Sections

  • Corris, Peter, 'Kwaisulia of Ada Gege: A Strongman in the Solomon Islands', in J.W. Davidson;Deryck Scarr (ed.), Pacific Islands Portraits, Australian University Press, Canberra, 1973a, pp. 253-266. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Luke Logomier', in Henry Reynolds (ed.), Race Relations in North Queensland, History Department, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 1978a, pp. 181-194. Details
  • Moore, Clive, ''Me Blind Drunk': Alcohol and Melanesians in the Mackay District, Queensand, 1867-1907', in Roy McLeod;Donald Denoon (ed.), Health and Healing in Tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea, Department of History and Politics, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 1991, pp. 103-122. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Fatnowna, Harry Norman (1897?-1967)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 14 (1940-1980), Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1996, p. 146. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Fatnowna, Oliver Noel, 1929-1991', in Brij V. Lal;Kate Fortune (ed.), The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2000b, pp. 112-113. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Kwaisulia, 1850s-1909', in Brij V. Lal;Kate Fortune (ed.), The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2000c, pp. 145-146. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'The South Sea Islanders of Mackay, Queensland, Australia', in Judith M. Fitzpatrick (ed.), Endangered Peoples of Oceania: Struggles to Survive and Thrive, Greenwood Press, Westport Conn., 2001a, pp. 167-181. Details
  • Moore, Clive, and Mercer, Patricia, 'The Forgotten Immigrants: Australia's South Sea Islanders, 1906-1991', in Henry Reynolds (ed.), Race Relations in North Queensland, Revised edn, Department of History and Politics, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 1993, pp. 208-242. Details

Conference Proceedings

  • Shlomowitz, Ralph (ed.), Coerced and Free Migration from the United Kingdom to Australia, and Indentured Labour Migration from India and the Pacific Islands to Various Destinations: Issues, Debates, and New Evidence, International Institute of Social History Conference, Migration and Settlement in a Historical Perspective: Old Answers and New Perspectives, Amsterdam, September. Details

Edited Books

  • Moore, Clive (ed.), The Forgotten People: A History of the Australian South Sea Island Community, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sydney, 1979. Details
  • Moore, Clive, Leckie, Jacqueline, and Munro, Doug (eds), Labour in the South Pacific, Department of History and Politics and Centre for Melanesian Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, 1990. Details

Journal Articles

  • McDonald, John, and Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'On Calculating Crude Death Rates in the Pacific Labour Trade', Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 97, no. 4, December, pp. 435-439. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Oral Testimony and the Pacific Island Labour Trade to Queensland: Myth and Reality', Oral History Association of Australia Journal, vol. 1, 1978-1979, pp. 28-42. Details
  • Moore, Clive, ''Good-bye, Queensland, Good-bye, White Australia; Good-bye Christians': Australia's South Sea Islander Community and Deportation, 1901-1908', The New Federalist, no. 4, December, pp. 22-29. Details
  • Moore, Clive, 'Working the Government: Australia's South Sea Islanders, their Knowledge of an Interaction with Government Processes, 1863-1908', South Pacific: Journal of Philosophy and Culture,, vol. 8, 2004-2005, pp. 59-78. Details
  • Moore, Clive, and Mercer, Patricia, 'The Forgotten People: Australia's Immigrant Melanesians', Meanjin, vol. 37, no. 1, 1978, pp. 98-108. Details
  • Newbury, Colin, 'Labour Migration in the Imperial Phase: An Essay in Interpretation', Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 3, no. 2, 1974, pp. 234-256. Details
  • Price, Charles, and Baker, Elizabeth, 'Origins of Pacific Island Labourers in Queensland, 1863-1904: A Research Note', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 11, no. 1-2, 1976, pp. 106-121. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'The Search for Institutional Equilibrium in Queensland's Sugar Industry 1884-1913', Australian Economic History Review, vol. 19, no. 2, September, pp. 91-123. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Team Work and Incentives: The Origins and Development of the Butty Gang System in Queensland's Sugar Industry, 1891-1913', Journal of Comparative Economics, no. 3, 1979b, pp. 41-55. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Markets for Indentured and Time-Expired Melanesian Labour in Queensland, 1863-1906', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 16, no. 2, 1981, pp. 70-91. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'The Profitability of Indentured Melanesian Labour in Queensland', Australian Economic History Review, vol. 22, 1982a, pp. 49-67. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Melanesian Labor and the Development of the Queensland Sugar Industry, 1863-1906', Research in Economic History, vol. 7, 1982b, pp. 327-361. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Plantations and Smallholdings: Comparative Perspectives from the World Cotton and Sugar Cane Economies, 1865-1939', Agricultural History, January, pp. 1-16. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Time-Expired Melanesian Labor in Queensland: An Investigation of Job Turnover 1884-1906', Pacific Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring, pp. 25-44. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Time-Expired Melanesian Labour in Queensland: The Measurement of Job Turnover, 1886-1906', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 20, no. 1, 1985b, pp. 55-56. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'The Fiji Labor Trade in Comparative Perspective, 1864-1914', Pacific Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, July, pp. 107-152. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Indian and Pacific Islander Migrants in Fiji: A Comparative Analysis', Journal of Pacific Studies, vol. 12, 1986c, pp. 59-86. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Mortality and the Pacific Labour Trade', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 22, no. 1, 1987a, pp. 34-55. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Epidemiology and the Pacific Labor Trade', Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 19, no. 4, Spring, pp. 585-610. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'The Pacific Labour Trade and Super-Exploitation?', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 24, no. 2, 1989b, pp. 238-241. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Differential Mortality of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Pacific Labour Trade', Journal of the Australian Population Association, vol. 7, no. 2, 1990, pp. 116-127. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'Marx and the Queensland Labour Trade', Journal de la Société des Océanistes, no. 96, 1993a, pp. 11-17. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, 'The Queensland Labour Trade: A Comment on Williams' Rejoinder', Journal of Pacific Studies, vol. 20, 1996, pp. 293-297. Details
  • Siegel, Jeff, 'Origins of Pacific Island Labourers in Fiji', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 20, no. 2, 1985, pp. 42-54. Details


  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, Mortality and the Pacific Labour Trade, Working Papers in Economic History No.11, Flinders University, Adelaide, October. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, Survey of Demographic and Economic Aspects of the Internal and External Labour Trades in Melanesia, Working Papers in Economic History No.21, Flinders University, Adelaide, December. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, Mortality and Indentured Labour in Papua (1884-1941) and New Guinea (1920-1941), Working Papers in Economic History No.14, Flinders University, Adelaide, March. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, Differential Mortality of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Pacific Labour Trade, Working Papers in Economic History, No. 29, Flinders University, Adelaide, 1989c. Details
  • Shlomowitz, Ralph, On Labour Systems: A Rejoinder to Brass, Working Papers in Economic History No.50, Flinders University, Adelaide, February. Details


Grisi from Simbo Island, an indentured worked on Founden plantation, Mackay, Queensland, Australia, c1874
c. 1874


Guadalcanal and Malaita men on Foulden Plantation at Mackay, Queensland, Australia in the 1870s.
Amherst and Thomson 1901