The Pacific in the Nineteenth Century
Australia, Fiji, Hawai'i and Aotearoa New Zealand were critical nodes in Britain’s Pacific empire during the nineteenth century. Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand because they were colonies of largely British settlement, and Fiji and Hawai'i for their strategic locations as refuelling sites for trans-oceanic travel and trade. Fiji would also later become the home of the Western Pacific High Commission which oversaw much of Britain's southwestern Pacific imperial interests. So too Hawai’i, which increasingly came under United States rather than British imperial influence, was also a critical site in a wider anglophone settler community.
The linked but distinct histories of these places offer an opportunity to explore the consistency in diversity of dispossession. In the Australian colonies, colonisation and appropriation of land proceeded on the legal assumption of terra nullius without recognition of Indigenous peoples or their sovereignty; in Aotearoa it was on the basis of a treaty; in Fiji through a deed ceding Indigenous sovereignty; and in Hawai’i through a similar but more complex military annexation of already re-organised and registered native lands.
 Land and Colonial Cultures is focussing on the latter half of the nineteenth century—a period described by David Harvey as one of an accelerated compression of ‘space-time’—when the march of global capital placed intensified pressure on Indigenous peoples and lands.[i] A before and after snapshot shows just how transformative this was.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, many Indigenous peoples throughout the Pacific remained in effective possession of their land. With the exception of the Australian colonies, anglophone or common law practices still tended to accommodate Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and ownership of land, and often as a means of securing settler title. In humanitarian discourses, Indigenous peoples’ rights were also still being framed as a force to be reckoned with.
By the decade of the 1850s, however, events on both sides of the Pacific had begun to erode the standing of Indigenous rights in land, as perceived in non-Indigenous legal systems.[ii] And by the end of the century, anglophone outposts of the Pacific rim were self-governing settler colonies with varying degrees of national self-consciousness, and recognition of
Indigenous sovereignty had become largely irrelevant or unnecessary. The signing of treaties had become rare, and treaty rights where they had existed mid-century were being effectively or explicitly set aside.
Throughout the settler colonies many Indigenous peoples had been physically, and legally, dispossessed of the land they held in 1850; in NZ and Australia legal developments effectively nullified Indigenous sovereignty as a legal entity;[iii] and in both Fiji and Hawai’i, the shared imperative to limit the power of land hungry planters or aggressively ‘white’ settlers from Australia, the US and NZ resulted in attempts to codify Indigenous possession, yet both had lost their status as sovereign powers.

Viewed as a singular site of imperial traffic, land hunger and colonial governance, the Pacific encapsulates the emerging legal and spatial efficiency of dispossession in the late nineteenth century. But viewed from another angle, the counter-discourses that Indigenous peoples deployed in defence of land often ensured that dispossession was effectively piecemeal rather than wholesale. Even in the Australian colonies where dispossession was protected by a powerful legal fiction, Indigenous peoples have continued to test the capacity of legal discourses to effect dispossession in perpetuity.
The period of the late nineteenth century thus marks a period of profound change, and yet we don't know alot about how this change happened both 'on the ground' in multiple places at the same time. Were they connected, and how did links between people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, shape these happenings?


[i] Harvey, David The Condition of Postmodernity, (1989): 171.
[ii] Robertson, L.G. Conquest by Law, (2005).
[iii] Such as the Prendergast decision of 1877 (Wi Parata v The Bishop of Wellington (1877) 3 NZ Jur (NS) 72), and Cooper v Stuart in the Privy Council in 1889 (14 App. Cas. 286)
The historiography of Colonialism in and around the Pacific   
In his comparative survey of land appropriation in the Pacific, Stuart Banner noted that the Pacific region with its sheer variety and coincidence of anglophone colonial settlement in the second half of the nineteenth century, promises to offer significant insights for histories of dispossession.[i] This has been reflected in recent scholarship.
In Australia, Aotearoa and North America, postcolonial negotiations of land rights have invigorated scholarship on the historical circumstances and legacy of colonial dispossession.[ii] Legal and cultural histories of nations and regions have helped to illuminate an ongoing colonial contest between the state, settlement practices and the actions of Indigenous peoples;[iii] and the refinement of technologies of land ownership—legal, social and spatial—that enabled and ordered this process.[iv]
Earlier histories of colonisation and colonial settlement in the Pacific that drew sharp distinctions between a violent land-grabbing frontier rabble, and the order of the colonial or imperial state, are being balanced by more recent studies that emphasise the mutual reliance between frontier violence and state-formation.[v] So too, cultural geographers and spatial or environmental historians have emphasised the role of the land itself as a spatial register of dispossession.[vi]
Yet we still know relatively little about the comprehensive web of what JC Weaver described in The Great Land Rush, as the “evolving cultural attitudes about property, social station, the market economy, popular democracy and improvement” that provided the common ground for colonial settlers, and Indigenous peoples, as they moved throughout the highly mobile world of the colonial Pacific.[vii]
While histories of colonialism in the Pacific are beginning to treat the region as an integrated or comparative site, much of this scholarship remains focussed on  the perspectives that are privileged in the archives, those of relatively powerful white men. We still know comparatively little about the ways dispossession, as a set of practices and discourses, was shaped, challenged, and influenced by Indigenous peoples' engagement and resistance.[viii]
Our understanding of whether, and in what ways the experience of colonialism and dispossession of land was interlinked across the Pacific remains limited. This leaves key questions unanswered. Were there underlying sources of coherence connecting distinct regimes of newcomer and Indigenous land ownership? To what extent, and in what ways did interconnected imperial networks of knowledge and discursive technology drive the rapid re-configuration of land and Indigenous spaces?[ix] Were Indigenous peoples’ counter-discourses themselves also transimperial and transcolonial, and to what effect?
[i] Banner, Stuart. Possessing the Pacific, (2007); Thomas, Nicholas, Islanders, (2011); Denoon, Donald, et al. A History of Australia, N.Z. and the Pacific. (2000).
[ii] Goodall, H. Invasion to embassy, (1996); Kawharu, I. H. ed. Maori Land Tenure, (1977); Reynolds, H., The Law of the Land (1987); Kaplan, M., ‘Promised Lands: from colonial lawgiving to postcolonial takeovers in Fiji’, in Merry, S. E., and Brenneis, D, (eds), Law & Empire in the Pacific, (2004):153-87; Williams, D., ‘Te Kooti Tango Whenua’, (1999); Silva, N.K. Aloha Betrayed (2004); Kame’eleihiwa, L. Native Land and Foreign Desires (1992).
[iii] Kercher, B., ‘The Recognition of Aboriginal Status and Laws in the Supreme Court of New South Wales under Forbes, CJ, 1824-1836’, in Buck, A. R. et al, eds., Land and Freedom, (2001), 83-102.; Cassidy, J., ‘A Re-appraisal of Aboriginal Land Policy in Colonial Australia: imperial and colonial instruments and legislation recognising the special rights and status of the Australian Aboriginals’, Journal of Legal History, 10 (1989): 365-379; Young, G., et al, Native and Maori Land Legislation in the Superior Courts, 1840-1980, (2005).; Meek, C. K., Land Law and Custom in the Colonies, (1968); Merry, S.E. Colonizing Hawai’i (2000).
[iv] Burroughs, P., Britain and Australia, (1967); Kercher, B, ‘Native Title in the Shadows: the origins of the myth of Terra Nullius in early New South Wales Courts’, in G. Blue et al., eds., Colonialism and the Modern World, (2002): 100-19; Evison, H. C. The Long Dispute, (1997); Macnaught, T., The Fijian Colonial Experience, (1982); Hacksaw, F., ‘Nineteenth Century Notions of Aboriginal Title and their Influence on the Interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi’, in Kawharu ed, Maori Land Tenure, (1977): 92-121; Frost, Alan, ‘New South Wales as ‘Terra Nullius’: The British denial of Aboriginal Land Rights’, Historical Studies, 19:77 (1981): 513-523.
[v] Galbraith, J. S. Reluctant Empire, (1964); Wolfe, P. ‘Land, Labor and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race’, American Historical Review, 106:3 (2001): 866-905; Adelman, J., Stephen, A., ‘From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation States, and the Peoples of North American History’, American Historical Review, 104, (1999); Marshall, J., Land Fever, (1986); Banner, Stuart. How the Indians Lost Their Land, (2005).
[vi] Byrnes, B. Boundary Markers, (2001); Cain, J. P. and Baigent, E., The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State (1992); Carter, Paul. The Lie of the Land. (1996).
[vii] Weaver, J. C., The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900 (2003).
[viii] Thompson Roger, Australian Imperialism in the Pacific, (1980).
[ix] Harris, 2004; 167; Lester, Alan. Imperial Networks, (2001):192-3.