Places - Before the War | Territorial Administrations - Mandated Territory of New Guinea

9 May 1921 - 11 February 1942

In 1919 it was decided by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers that the Territory of New Guinea, which Germany gave up as one of the terms of the peace, should be entrusted under Mandate from the League of Nations to the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia. The issuing of the Mandate was delayed until 17 December 1920 when its terms were settled and the Mandate itself did not reach Australia until 6th April 1921. The following day, the Governor General issued a Proclamation bringing the New Guinea Act into force on 9th May 1921. From that date, the Military Administration ceased and Civil Administration was established throughout the territory.

From the New Guinea Handbook:-

Upon the day of the proclamation of Civil Administration, the first Ordinances made by the Governor-General in Council under the New Guinea Act 1920 came into force. Of these, the most important was the Laws Repeal and Adopting Ordinance 1921 which provided that the German laws should cease to apply to the Territory, and substituted other statute laws, together with the principles and rules of common law and equity in force in England, as the basis of the law of the Territory, subject to the modifications by Ordinance made by the Governor-General.

The Ordinance also preserved the rights of the natives in land, and their rights, privileges and customs with regard to cultivation, barter, hunting and fishing; and it provided that tribal institutions, customs and usages should continue as far as they were not repugnant to the general principles of humanity.

Other Ordinances which came into force on the same day provided for the establishment of courts of law, and prohibited the supply to natives of opium, intoxicating liquor, ammunition and firearms.

Brigadier-General E. A. Wisdom, CB, CMG, DSO, VD, was appointed the first administrator and the capital was established at Rabaul, New Britain. He was succeeded in on 13 June 1933 by Brigadier General T. Griffiths, CMG, CBE, DSO and then Brigadier General W.R. McNicholl, CB, CMG, DSO, VD, who was appointed on the 13 September 1932.

At the time of Japanese invasion in 1942, the administration was in the process of moving to Lae, following the volcanic eruptions in 1937. With the bombing of Rabaul by the Japanese in January 1942, the Deputy Administrator, Harold Page, cabled Canberra seeking to evacuate the civil administration and population. After consideration by the Chiefs of Staff and the War Cabinet a reply was sent on the 20th January which asked for numbers 'as a preliminary step' for evacuation and stated that 'the withdrawal of administrative officers, so long as there is work for them to do, is deprecated.'



  • League of Nations Mandate for the Territory of New Guinea [Document]
    Date: 17 December 1920  Source: Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No 31-1938

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