Event: Young Dick Massacre, Malaita, 1886


The Young Dick, a 162 ton, thirty-two metre schooner built in 1869 operated in the Queensland labour trade for two years, 1884 to 1886, when it was wrecked near Dungeness, Ingham, Queensland. The ship left Brisbane on 16 April 1886 with two returning labourers under part-owner Captain John Hugh Rogers and Government Agent Charles Hope Popham. The Young Dick returned to Maryborough, Queensland, in June the same year after it was attacked at Malaita. Jock Cromar said that Rogers had avoided recruiting around Malaita, but in fact he had been mate on the Heron in 1883 and had been involved in illegal recruiting at 'Ataa. There is also oral testimony, collected by Roger Keesing, that Boosui, son of Taafana'au had been seized while he was at Leli Island, and that his family planned to attack the next ship that ventured to that area. Cromar said that Malaitans had put a price on Rogers' head. There had previously been attacks on two other labour trade vessels, the Borealis and the Janet Stewart, in the same area. Taafana'au had put up 'blood money', which motivated the attack. In 1963, Fa'atalo, nephew of 'Ala'otana, gave an account of a plot to take the ship, saying that it was hatched by 'Arumae from Tetefou, Be'e, Fa'aua (Fa'auta), and Ala'atalo ('Ala'otana) and that sacrifices were made beforehand to ensure success.

On 2 May 1886, John Harding from the ship was tomahawked and almost killed at Port Adam in South Malaita. He was attended to by the surgeon on HMS Opal, and after a message sent to the local chief brought no response, the village was shelled. The ship was attacked again on 20 May while recruiting at Sinalagu Harbour in the Kwaio language district in east Malaita. Fourteen recruits were in the hold. Rogers was away recruiting with a passage master named 'Eloa (which was illegal without the presence of the Government Agent) when twenty of 'Arumae's men came aboard, their skins oiled to prevent easy capture, and pretended to arrange an enlistment. They used axes to kill two Europeans working on the rigging, and the cook Merlin and a sail maker, Laggerbloom. Thomas Crittenden, a sailor, seized a Snider rifle, climbed into the rigging, and opened fire, killing many attackers and chasing away the rest. The ship was searched and the carpenter Bean was found dead. Mate Charles Marr was found injured and Popham was in his cabin with his head stove in from axe blows. Five Malaitans were lying dead, including Fa'auta, Fi'oi, Taafana'au and 'Ala'otana, and one recruit. One more Malaitan was found hiding in Popham's cabin and shot dead.

Rogers returned to the ship and found the carnage and, distraught, headed the ship for home, arriving on 2 June at Woody Island off Hervey Bay, Maryborough. After an inquiry was held by the Maryborough Magistrate, HMS Diamond was sent to destroy Kwaio houses, canoes and crops in retaliation. At Sinalagu, a reward of one hundred thousand porpoise teeth was offered for the capture of a ship and a smaller reward for the head of a European. This was claimed in 1888 when the people of Maana'oba Island just off north Malaita decapitated T. S. Armstrong, Government Agent of the Ariel. (Keesing 1986; Fowler 1969; Cromar 1935, 234-236, 265-266; Wawn 1973 [1893], 418-421; Scarr 1967, 14; Woodford 1890a, 15; Rannie 1912, 195, 197, 199; Mitchell Library, FM4/1678, v. 38, Australian Station, New Guinea and Solomons, 1886, Correspondence Respecting Outrages, case 14, 28-42)

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Published resources


  • Cromar, John, Jock of the Islands: Early Days in the South Seas: The Adventures of John Cromar, sometime Recruiter and Lately Trader of Marovo, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Told by Himself, Faber & Faber, London, 1935. Details
  • Rannie, Douglas, My Adventures Among South Sea Cannibals, Seeley, Service and Co. Limited, London, 1912. Details
  • Wawn, William T., The South Sea Islanders and the Queensland Labour Trade, Pacific History Series No.5, Originally published: 1893, Peter Corris, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1973. Details
  • Woodford, Charles M., A Naturalist Among the Headhunters: Being and Account of Three Visits to the Solomon Islands in the Years 1886, 1887 and 1888, G. Philip, London, 1890a. Details

Journal Articles

  • Fowler, Wilfred, 'The Young Dick', Queensland Heritage, vol. 2, no. 1, November, pp. 23-35. Details
  • Keesing, Roger M., 'The Young Dick Attack: Oral and Documentary History on the Colonial Frontier', Ethnohistory, vol. 33, no. 3, Summer, pp. 268-292. Details