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John Oxley Library

Book Review - Rev. William Gray (1895) - The Kanaka, or how the Queensland planters get and treat their ---------.

By JOL Admin | 22 April 2013

The Reverend William Gray published The Kanaka or how the Queensland planters get and treat their ---------, in Adelaide in 1895.

Gray was reacting to what he saw was an immoral trade in labour which adversely affected, or diminished, all who were involved.  He saw the practice of recruiting Melanesians as labourers as a form of slavery, as indicated by the obvious implication of the missing word in the title of his book.

The Reverend William was the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in South Australia.  He had been ordained in 1882 and in his early career had served as a missionary in the New Hebrides, living on the island of Tanna for some thirteen years.  It was during this period of his life that he saw first hand the practice of labour recruitment and its affects on the lives of those involved.  He undertook extensive research into labour recruitment during this time as well as later when he returned to South Australia and was able to use this in the writing and publication of this work.

Contents Synopsis - The Kanaka by Rev. William Gray

Gray argued his case against the Melanesian labour trade on various practical and moral grounds, as shown by the range of topics listed in the book’s synopsis.  Also, at the conclusion of his book, Gray carefully summarised his indictment of the traffic in labour, as follows:

Conclusions - The Kanaka by Rev. William Gray

It is not known how influential Gray’s work was in this area, coming as it did towards the end of the period when the practice of labour recruitment was most prevalent.  However, his book joined the large and growing body of research and publications which was by then appearing and which generally laid out the immorality of the overall practice of Melanesian labour recruitment.

This book review is part of an ongoing series by State Library staff who have volunteered to review heritage collection materials about labourers who were brought to Queensland from the South Sea islands beginning in 1863.

Brian Randall -  Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland


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