Shortly after the visit of the H.M.S. Challenger, the eastern part of New Guinea came under colonial power. Several attempts to claim land in the name of Queen Victoria had already been made, but were always repudiated by the British Government. The protectorate was at last declared in 1884, and British New Guinea was made a colony in 1888. The period of British administration lasted until 1906 when it was transferred to Australia. Naturally many of the items in the collection are associated with this period of British administration - artefacts would be sent to correspondents in Britain, or the collectors themselves would bring them back once their period of duty was over.
Hugh Hastings Romilly
Several of the artefacts in the collection were collected by Hugh Hastings Romilly; the British Deputy-Commissioner for the Western Pacific in 1884, and one of the major personalities associated with British rule. When Commodore James Erskine, accompanied by four warships, arrived at the beginning of November 1884 to formally announce New Guinea as a British protectorate, he was ‘greatly annoyed to find that Mr. Romilly (through some misapprehension) had already proclaimed the protectorate, and went through the ceremony over again.' Romilly acted as Special Commissioner and Deputy Special Commissioner for various periods of time during the protectorate, living comfortably in Port Moresby, and wrote several books on New Guinea.
The dominant figure in the history of British New Guinea was William MacGregor, a Scottish man who had originally begun a medical career, but became increasingly involved in colonial administration and government. He was appointed the first Administrator of British New Guinea when it became a sovereignty in 1888, and was eventually promoted to Lieutenant-Governor. He retired from this position in 1898.
British New Guinea was a very poor territory, run on a tiny grant from the Australian colonies, and MacGregor spent many of his years in office in exploratory work, personally ascending mountains and rivers. Although limited by resources, MacGregor energetically tackled the huge task of laying the foundations of administration.
During his time in New Guinea, MacGregor put together a fine collection of artefacts, most of which ended up in the Queensland Museum. A large proportion of these items have now been returned to the National Museum in Port Moresby under a repatriation program. Some of the samples of plant material MacGregor collected came to Kew's Economic Botany Collection, usually with the assistance of Ferdinand von Mueller who was the first government botanist in Australia and had a lifelong correspondence with Kew Gardens.