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Komine, Isokichi (1867–1934)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Isokichi Komine (1867-1934), planter and trader, was born on 17 July 1867 at Shimabara, Japan. He migrated to Thursday Island, Queensland, in 1890 and soon advanced from pump-hand to diver, leasing his own pearling lugger. By 1894 he had also acquired an interest in a boat-building yard. He ascended the Binaturi and Fly rivers in Papua in 1895 in search of agricultural land, but was unable to attract Japanese capital to exploit his discoveries.

In 1901, when his plan to purchase land on behalf of Japanese investors to grow sugar near Cairns was frustrated by his failure to secure naturalization, he moved to German New Guinea. There his first employment was to operate his cutter for the government at Rabaul. In time he expanded his operations to include recruiting, planting, ship-building, retail and overseas trade, and sawmilling. In 1910 by borrowing from the New Guinea Co. he was able to acquire a thirty-year lease from the government of plantation land on Manus, Los Negros and Rambutjo islands. In 1911 he built a shipyard and general store at Rabaul. By 1919 he was employing 163 (including 8 Japanese) on the plantations and 144 (including 35 Japanese) at the shipyard. His success was not achieved without risk. In 1909 when trading at Loniu he was enticed into an ambush but managed to recover his pistol from his assailants and escape. In 1910 his plantation at Kali was attacked and its labourers killed.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Komine acted as pilot for the Australian expeditions sent to occupy the Admiralty and Western islands and to capture the steam-yacht Komet at Talasea. He also reported that H. R. Wahlen & Co. was passing military information to the enemy; the Australian administration showed its appreciation by transferring Wahlen's pearling rights to Komine.

With the intention of expanding his existing activities and engaging in direct trade with Japan and Australia using Japanese vessels, Komine in 1917 formed a company in Japan, the Nanyō Sangyō Kaisha, to which in return for a 40 per cent shareholding he surrendered his New Guinea interests, valued at £70,000. The policy of the Hughes government, however, was to keep Japan and Japanese interests as far away from Australia as possible; and to use the military occupation to ensure that in New Guinea foreign enterprises could not expand and that, when the peace conference eventually ceded the Territory to Australia, Australian firms would be able to enter an arena in which there were no strongly entrenched foreign rivals. The Military Administration, largely by its controls over exports, shipping, immigration and mortgages successfully countered Komine's attempts at expansion and diversification. By 1921 (when civil administration was established) the damage had been done: British shipping had returned from the war and, in this and other fields of activity, there were many competitors.

In 1930 financial difficulties forced Komine to transfer the management of his properties to Burns, Philp & Co. to permit profits being applied to pay off his debts. He died at Rabaul on 3 October 1934 of food poisoning and was buried in the botanic gardens with Japanese rites. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Gaimusho, Takumukyoku, Goshu Inintochiryo Nyuginia Jijo (Tokyo, 1938)
  • T. Irie, Hojin kaigai hattenshi, vol 1 (Tokyo, 1942), p 401
  • C.D. Rowley, The Australians in German New Guinea 1914-21 (Melbourne, 1958)
  • P. Biskup, 'Foreign coloured labour in German New Guinea', Journal of Pacific History, 5, 1970
  • Rabaul Times, 5 Oct 1934
  • Piesse papers, Series 6/752, PM's Dept 650/19A/40 and Japanese Foreign Ministry Archives,, microfilm G16166 (National Library of Australia)
  • COL/73, file 98/11159 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Komine, Isokichi (1867–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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