Torres Strait newspaper chronicles the Cape York frontier

The Torres Strait region has long been part of the Australian frontier. Its long serving newspaper, the weekly Torres Straits Pilot, published on Thursday Island from 1887 to 1942, was not only an advocate for the area’s principal industry, pearl-shelling and beche de mer fishing, but strongly opposed to the implementation of the 1897 Protection of Aboriginals Act, which effectively removed Aboriginal labour from the fishery, created the system of reserves, and thus also effectively marked the closing of the frontier.

This paper examines some of the attitudes revealed by the extant copies of the newspaper 1897-1914 as the north Queensland frontier closed and the era of protection began.

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Does the Torres Straits Pilot enlighten our frontier history?


Books and articles

Austin, C. G. (1949), “Early History of Somerset and Thursday Island”, Historical Society of Queensland Journal,  4 (2): 216-230.

Bartlett, Norman (1954), The Pearl-Seekers, London: Melrose.

Blainey, Geoffrey (1991), Blainey, Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey, Melbourne: Schwartz Books.

Blainey, Geoffrey (1982), The Blainey View, Melbourne: Macmillan.

Byerley, F.J. (ed) (1867), Narrative of the Overland Expedition of Messrs Jardine, Brisbane: Buxton.

Beckett, Jeremy (1987), Torres Strait Islanders: Custom and Colonialism, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Ganter, Regina (1994), The Pearl-Shellers of the Torres Strait. Resource Use, Development and Decline 1860s-1960s, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Haddon, Alfred C. (1971), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits (6 vols), New York: Johnson Reprint Corp.

Loos, Noel, (1982), Invasion and Resistance. Aboriginal-European Relations on the North Queensland Frontier 1861-1897, Canberra: ANUP.

Manne, Robert (1998), The Way We Live Now: The Controversies of the Nineties, Melbourne: Text.

Mullins, Steve (1995), Torres Strait. A History of Colonial Occupation and Culture Contact 1864-1897, Rockhampton:  CQU Press.

Mullins, Steve (1997), “Internal Colonialism, Communalism, Institutionalised Racism, Progressive Reform, Clash of Administrative Cultures, or All of the Above: Motivations for Social Control in Torres Strait, 1897-1911”, Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, < .htm.>[Accessed 1 July 2003].

Prideaux, Peter (1988), From Spear to Pearl-Shell. Somerset Cape York Peninsula 1864-1877, Brisbane: Boolarong.

Reynolds, Henry (1972), Aborigines and Settlers: The Australian Experience 1788-1939, North Melbourne: Cassell Australia.

Reynolds, Henry (1989), Dispossession: Black Australians and White Invaders, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Reynolds, Henry (1995), The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (2nd ed.), Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books.

Reynolds, Henry (1996), Frontier: Aborigines, Settlers and Land, St. Leonards, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin.

Reynolds, Henry (1998), This Whispering in our Hearts, St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.

Reynolds, Henry (1999), Why weren’t we told?: A  Personal Search for the Truth about our History, Ringwood, Vic.: Viking.

Reynolds, Henry (2000), Black Pioneers (Rev. ed.), Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin.

Reynolds, Henry (2001), An Indelible Stain?: The Question of Genocide in Australia’s History, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin.

Reynolds, Henry, & University of London. Australian Studies Centre (1984), The Breaking of the Great Australian Silence: Aborigines in Australian Historiography 1955-1983, London: University of London Institute of Commonwealth Studies Australian Studies Centre.

Ryan, Lyndall (1996), The Aboriginal Tasmanians (2nd ed.), St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Sharp, Nonie (1980), Torres Strait Islands, 1879-1979: Theme for an Overview, Bundoora, Vic.: Dept. of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University.

Sharp, Nonie (1993), Stars of Tagai: the Torres Strait Islanders, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Singe, John (1989), The Torres Strait. People and History, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Windschuttle, Keith (2002), The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Paddington, N.S.W.: Macleay Press.

Government reports

Douglas, John,  “Annual Report of the Government Resident Thursday Island”, Votes & Proceedings 1892, Vol 2.

Queensland Legislative Assembly. “Report of Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the Beche-de-mer and Pearlshell Fisheries”, Queensland Parliamentary Papers 1908, Vol 2.

Queensland Legislative Assembly. “Report of the Commissioners appointed to Inquire into the General Working of the Laws regulating the Pearlshell and Beche-de-mer Fisheries”, Votes & Proceedings 1897, Vol 2.

Queensland Legislative Assembly. “Report on Beche-de-mer and Pearlshell industries of North Queensland” by W. Saville-Kent, Votes & Proceedings 1890, Vol 3.

Commonwealth of Australia. “Report on Pearlshell Fisheries of North Queensland”, by Judge Dashwood, Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, 1901-02, Vol 2.


The Torres Straits Pilot and New Guinea Gazette 27 Feb. 1897 – 21 March 1914 Incomplete. Microfilm. Queensland State Library.