Resource Sheet 2

The Bingera Plantation

It is our pleasing duty to announce the completion of Messrs Gibson and Howes sugar factory at Bingera Plantation. This magnificent estate is situated some twelve miles from Bundaberg…

Between 1883 and 1885 they have cleared and planted many hundreds of acres, erected a splendid sugar mill, a sawmill, expensive water pumping machinery, a railway, a tramway, erected 22 substantial buildings, put up several miles of fencing, and possess about three miles of portable rail for cane haulage…

An evening festival in celebration of the completion of the mill, was held by invitation in the large sugar house. The company, which included all the white employees, seventy-five in all, with their wives and families, all settlers residing in the neighbourhood, and several visitors from Bundaberg, were banquetted in a most lavish style.

Bundaberg and Mount Perry Mail, 13 October 1885.

South Pacific islander workers in Cairns, 1890

A photograph of a group of South Sea islander workers on a property in Cairns around 1890

Group of South Sea Islander workers on a property in Cairns c 1890, State Library of Queensland, APO-025-0001-0013.

statement on the general question of Polynesian labour

…sold at the island by the chiefs and bought by white men and sold a second time at our wharves in Brisbane, Maryborough, Rockhampton, and Mackay. Our newspapers contained advertisements that the injured helpless creatures could be bought on application to agents. They were carried by our steamers, not as passengers, but as freight, like horses, cattle, and sheep. They had a market price; were quoted at so much a head… They were, in fact, merchandise.

William Brookes, Select Committee on the General Question of Polynesian Labour, Queensland, Votes and Proceedings 3, 1876, pp 3–5.

Cheap labour

A cheap and reliable source of labour is at present an indispensible condition to the profitable cultivation of sugar.

JY Walker, History of Bundaberg, Bundaberg, 1890.

Imported labour

But without imported labour I doubt whether Queensland sugar can be grown. I found the cost to the sugar planter of these Polynesians to be about £75 per head for the whole term of three years – which was divided as follows:–

  • Journey out and back…
  • Average cost of getting the man up to the station
  • Wages for three years
  • Rations (3s 9d. a week, say for three years)
  • Blankets, clothes, etc.
  • For lost time by illness, etc. (say)

This amounts to nearly 10s. a week for the entire time. The average wages of a white man on a plantation may be taken at about 25s. a week, including rations. I was told by more than one sugar-grower that two islanders were worth three white men among the canes.

Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, Chapman & Hall, Robertson, 1873.