In the early 1880s, Sir Peter Scratchley, Special Commissioner to the Crown, was sent out to manage the affairs of this latest addition to British Imperial interests. He established his residence on a hillside near the village of Hanuabada, overlooking the beach of Konedobu, now the official residence of the Governor General. With only a small annual purse, the British colonial administrators could not do much more than visit the coastal communities and try to impose the law. Scratchley died of malaria in 1885 and Papua New Guinea did not have official colonial status until 1888, but during his short tenure he set a government policy that became the prototype for ensuing generations of British and Australian administrators. Scratchley was an enlightened man and recommended to his superiors in London that the Papua New Guinea government should employ and serve the native people as well as the empire.
The German administration in the northern part of the country was administered on a very different basis. Managed by businessmen, the German Territory was in effect a private company, originally floated in Berlin in 1884 and aimed at creating a profit-based plantation economy. Legal and domestic administration played a secondary role and was essentially designed to maintain an accessible labour force. The Germans energetically set about ‘purchasing’ prime fertile tracts along the coast and establishing a chain of trading stations while they experimented with various kinds of tropical crops. Their efforts resulted in the copra plantations along the northern mainland coast from the Sepik to the Markham, on the Admiralty Islands, New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville. This venture was a commercial success and it underwrote the export economy of the territory for the next thirty years, but with a heavy price to pay on both sides. Many of the German colonialists died of malaria and other diseases and the Papua New Guineans suffered under an oppressive regime, the local people being indentured and beaten when they did not comply to the ‘Pax Germanica’.