FRONTIER SPACE AND THE REIFICATION OF THE RULE OF LAW: COLONIAL NEGOTIATIONS IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC, 1870-74 by ProQuest

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[...] it is argued that frontiers were not so much spaces inscribed with the absence or presence of law, but were rather legally produced with the critical functionality of dragging reluctant Empires into independent Indigenous lands as an offering of order and civilisation. Rather than the violent colonial activity of the frontiers being representative of the failures or breakdowns of colonial social order therefore, I argue that the frontiers were integrated spaces of disorder whose 'spatio-legalities' were essential to colonialism's expansionary logic.5 The case-studies explored below provide a localised historical insight into the physical manifestations of broad changes in the international law of empires and colonies that took place in the mid to late nineteenth century.

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									                   FRONTIER SPACE AND THE REIFICATION OF
                  THE RULE OF LAW: COLONIAL NEGOTIATIONS
                       IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC, 1870–74


                                               Tracey Banivanua Mar∗



                                                1.0 INTRODUCTION
    In the early 1870s the Pacific, west of Fiji, had been transformed into a colonial frontier on the
    edge of expanding European empires. Trade in this region had intensified throughout the
    nineteenth century, leading to an expansion of Indigenous trading routes and the establishment
    of new patterns of negotiation. By the 1870s traders, planters and settlers from France or the
    anglophone colonies of the Pacific rim established the foundations for what would become a
    frontier industry in labour and sugar, in a space that was purposefully imagined as being beyond
    the sobering reach of the Rule of Law. As colonial desires for, and appropriations of, land and
    labour intensified so too did the conflict and unrest that still defines popular images of the
    lawlessness of frontier zones. During the early 1870s a coincidence of events connected by
    context brought the legal status of this region to the attention of the administrative centres of
    empire in Britain. In doing so, they prompted debate and action that highlights the integrated role
    that colonial jurisprudence played in the violence that expanded colonial empires and, in turn, the
    role that such violence played in consolidating colonial jurisprudence. These incidents are
    examined in this article.
           In 1871, a Queensland-based labour trader, James Coath, was convicted for kidnapping
    Islanders for sale into indentured labour in Queensland's sugar industry. On appeal, his defence
    queried the applicability of British law as a protection for savages beyond the borders of the
    frontier. That same year, Australian, British and American settlers in the Fiji islands, intent on
    preparing the islands for annexation as a settler colony of New South Wales, protested violently
    against attempts by Indigenous leaders to negotiate a legal framework for colonial settlement.
    Their objections and rejections stemmed from the failure of legislators to include the appropriate
    and exclusive privileges for white settlers that they had come to expect in the successful pursuit

∗
    School of Historical and European Studies, LaTrobe University, Australia. Tracey is the author of Violence and Colonial
    Dialogue: the Australian-Pacific indentured labor trade Honolulu University of Hawaii Press 2007, and has published on race
    relations and the dynamics of colonial violence during the nineteenth century. She is currently working on legal and ritual
    methods of land possession and dispossession in the western Pacific region, and a transnational history of decolonization.
    Email: T.BanivanuaMar@latrobe.edu.au




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                                        THE AUSTRALIAN FEMINIST LAW JOURNAL 2009 VOLUME 30


    of settlement. In the following year news of, and subsequent outrage over, a massacre on board
    another labour vessel, the Carl, in which an estimated eighty men and boys from islands around
    Buka and the Solomons were killed, reached the Sydney, Melbourne and London press. This
    confirmed the existence of long-suspected atrocities in the region. Despite the outrage and
    widespread calls for justice, however, only four people were ever convicted for the murders, and
    the exoneration of two of those, contributed to a well-established narrative on the infectious
    lawlessness and disorder of the frontiers.1 Indeed, as will be explored in this article, this narrative
    thread was common to all thre
								
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