From first residents to island experts – Papua New Guinea

As the Baton moves on to Papua New Guinea today (04.11.2013) – who would have thought that we would have two stories linking the University to that island?

William George LawesThe first permanent European residents of Papua New Guinea were the Lawes family, who settled in the capital Port Moresby from 1862. Reverend William George Lawes was a missionary of the London Missionary Society, for which he opened new missions on the island. During his time there he gained an in-depth knowledge of the people, culture and language, publishing Grammar and vocabulary of language spoken by Motu tribe (New Guinea) in 1888.

On several occasions he found himself acting as an interpreter and adviser to the various civil administrations – it is said that he was the interpreter for the Protectorate proclamation by James Elphinstone Erskine in 1884, when the southern half of the island was colonised by the UK who named it British New Guinea.

Lawes was considered an expert on the island and on the recommendation of the then colonial governor of British New Guinea, William MacGregor, it has been claimed, Lawes was conferred a DD by the University of Glasgow in 1895. MacGregor had been a medical student at the University of Glasgow in 1869-71, and his career as a medical officer overseas was so successful that he was appointed numerous high-ranking civil administration roles.

In 1900 another Glasgow graduate and fellow LMS missionary, Robert Lister Turner, joined Lawes as his assistant at the Training Institute for Teachers at Vatorata, which was transferred under Turner’s principalship to Fife Bay in 1930 and named Lawes College.

Turner’s matriculation slip 1892-93

Turner also turned his hand to translation and together with his wife, Edith Emma (née Calvert), translated the Bible into the native dialect. He served on the Legislative Council of Papua New Guinea, and was awarded a George VI medal for his services to the country. As well as teaching, translating and holding public office, Turner also undertook explorations of the mountains if island for which he was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, and provided information on the island’s flora for the Australian administration.


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Filed under Commonwealth of Nations, Europe, Glasgow Firsts, Oceania

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