ANZLHS Conference Day 3, December 13 2014

And so to the final day. Only two sessions today, then off to the airport and home.

The first session, titled rather intriguingly POST-COLONIAL COLONIAL ADOPTIONS, covered the rather disparate areas of  doctors’ professional organizations, enquiries into ‘lunacy’ institutions and the Vice Admiralty court.

Gabrielle Wolf’s paper looked at the Medical Board of Victoria which had had to wait over seventy years to be granted the right to strike off medical practitioners for ‘infamous conduct’, even though the parallel board in England had had this power since the mid 19th century. When, in 1933 it  finally was enabled to do so, it took some three years before the first doctor was struck off- a Dr Cohen who was found guilty of disreputable billing practices.

The second paper by  Fiona Davis also addressed a critique of the medical profession, this time through the West Australian Royal Commission into Lunacy in 1928.  This inquiry was instituted through the needling of an ex-patient  W. E.  Courthope, an articulate and educated activist, who had been briefly committed to Claremont, Western Australia’s largest asylum. The commission, headed by a Victorian expert who was himself deeply embedded in the parallel system in that state, was not lengthy but it did take testimony directly from patients. Courthope was given latitude by the Commissioners to provide lengthy testimony to the commission,  possibly as a means by which his state of mind could be brought into question.  The commission mainly exonerated the staff and recommended business as usual. Courthope left for England, where he became engaged in labour activism.

The final paper in this session was delivered by Bevan Marten, who discussed the Vice Admiralty Court which had empire-wide jurisdiction but relied on local colonial personnel.  The appointment of the Governor as Vice Admiral seems to have been fairly straightforward, but the establishment of the Vice Admiralty Court and the judges to sit in it  was ill-defined.  The whole concept seems to have been a rather haphazard undertaking with indeterminate roles and processes that seemed to be discovered more in the breach than by outright direction. Nonetheless, ‘my’ Judge John Walpole Willis managed to become embroiled in the question of appointments to the Vice Admiralty Court, and Bevan’s presentation helped to explain why there seemed to be such uncertainty about judicial involvement in the court.

The last session, and the one for which I was scheduled was headed ‘COLONIAL OFFICE CASE STUDIES’, but because one of the presenters was absent, it combined the speaker from the other stream.  I was preceded by Mel Keenan who gave a fascinating paper about the attempted annexation of New Guinea territory by Queensland, and the discomfort that Governor Gordon of Fiji and many at the Colonial Office felt over this prospect. Gordon argued that Queensland in particular was unfit for the task, given its treatment of South Sea Islanders indentured as ‘blackbirds’. Although the Colonial Office disallowed the Queensland annexation, it very shortly annexed the territory itself, for fear of German activity in the region.

Then in my own paper I looked at two cases- one in British Guiana and the other in Port Phillip- where the Special Magistrates and Protectors appointed by the Colonial Office to oversee the protection of ex-slave Apprenticed Labourers and Aborigines were subjected to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court through Judge John Walpole Willis.

The final paper for the session and the conference was quite different both in time-span and approach to much of the rest of the conference. It was delivered by Louis Sicking from Amsterdam. He examined the phenomenon of funduqs, fondacos and feitorias which acted as a medieval form of consultate established by the Amalfi, Venetian, Catalan, Genoan and Portuguese traders during the early Modern period around the Meditteranean.  His final graphic showed the harbour front at Canton harbour, with the factors of the European powers, each in their own European building with flag flying at the front. It hadn’t been timetabled this way, but as the very last presentation of the conference,  it made a striking visual and historical link between this century-old trade and the colonialism that the conference had addressed through the theme of ‘Law’s Empire or Empire’s Law?’.

And so, home James and don’t spare the horses. Well actually, the engines were held because after embarking and settling in, we all had to disembark because of a technical fault, only to be called back to re-embark about fifteen minutes later.  I’m writing this on my tablet as the plane nears Melbourne. My ears are popping, the seat belt sign is on, the turbulence is rocking the plane and I think that finally the ANZLHS conference is over for this year.

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