Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Hunter (1853–1936)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with George Hunter

George Hunter (1853?-1890) and Robert Hunter (1853?-1936), traders and government officials in New Guinea, were twins born probably to an English county family. In July 1883 Robert arrived in New Guinea with William Armit's expedition. He was described then as ' a good fellow, when sober'. In November George joined his brother and for some time they earned a precarious living by trading and bêche-de-mer fishing. When Sir Peter Scratchley arrived as special commissioner, the Hunters were taken on his staff. George was nominally superintendent of bêche-de-mer fisheries while Robert was supposedly forester and superintendent of natives, but both acted as patrol officers with duties all over the occupied territory, negotiating with native tribes, investigating murders, conducting punitive expeditions and representing the administration in many private exploration parties. In the disruption after Scratchley died they were the senior representatives of British authority in New Guinea for a hundred days.

In 1887 George, the more reliable of the two, was appointed government agent at Rigo and settled there with a native woman while his brother retained a roving commission. Dr William Macgregor described them as 'active, seasoned, dashing men, but they are not truthful, are intemperate, quite uneducated, destitute of patience, harsh and domineering with natives and revengeful'. He therefore refused to confirm Robert's appointment when selecting officers for his government but kept George at Rigo where he could be closely supervised. In May 1890 news of George's death, allegedly from fever, reached Port Moresby; months later it was learned that his native woman, kept against her will, had conspired with a lover and some relations to suffocate him as he lay ill. Two natives were executed for the murder and seven were imprisoned. Robert remained around Port Moresby as a contractor and sandalwoodcutter. He married Namodia of Tatana village. Later he received a government pension and died on 28 August 1936.

Although the Hunter brothers were not particularly moral, they were undoubtedly capable bushmen. Their work in opening up new areas and pacifying tribes laid the foundation for most of the later policy of government exploration and pacification.

Select Bibliography

  • British New Guinea, Annual reports 1886-90
  • S. F. Denton, Incidents of a Collector's Rambles in Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea (Boston, 1889)
  • A. Wichmann, Nova Guinea, vol 2, part 2 (Leiden, 1910)
  • L. Lett, The Papuan Achievement (Melb, 1944)
  • Australasian, 7 July, 29 Dec 1883
  • Administrator's letter books and protectorate papers (National Archives of Papua New Guinea).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Hunter, Robert (1853–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




28 August, 1936 (aged ~ 83)

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