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Athabasca University

Sir Hubert Murray

Hubert Murray served as Lieutenant-Governor of Papua from 1908 until his death in 1940. He had been in British New Guinea since 1904, serving as a judge. Since he was the only trained lawyer in the colony, Murray presided over all trials without the benefit of defense or prosecution or, indeed, a jury. His unique situation afforded him the opportunity to draft legislation, advise the administration on legal matters and serve on the legislative and executive councils. In 1906, his testimony at a royal commission was critical in the dismissal of the existing administration. He was subsequently appointed administrator and then Lt-Governor of the newly formed colony of Papua in 1908.

Murray’s administration was plagued by lack of funds and so he inaugurated a series of Native Taxation and Native Plantations Ordinances that generated funds he could use to promote native agriculture and support native education. Monies generated by this tax funded the establishment of the office of Government Anthropologist, a post to which he hired F.E. Williams in 1928. Adapting current anthropological ideas about cultural functionalism to his own practical needs, Murray asked Williams to provide annual detailed reports on the various cultural groups under his jurisdiction.

The knowledge they gained from Williams’ frequent trips around Papua aided them in applying Williams’ own theory of cultural contact to practical use. As part of their joint efforts to assist Papuans in assimilating to Western culture, they established the monthly newspaper, The Papuan Villager in 1929, which was published until Williams’ own death in 1941. Murray himself published consistently over the years, outlining his philosophy of native administration. Beginning with his two books, Papua or British New Guinea (1914) and Papua of Today (1925), Murray published conference papers and articles that were widely read and respected.  Taken as a whole, Murray’s native policy was widely accepted as benign in an era marked the world over by punitive colonial administrative practices.

For more information, see Reports & Historical Documents.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services