Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Arthur Monckton (1873–1936)

by Nancy Lutton

This article was published:

Charles Arthur Whitmore Monckton (1873-1936), magistrate, was born on 30 May 1873 at Invercargill, New Zealand, son of Francis Alexander Monckton, surgeon, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Newton. Educated at Wanganui College, in 1895 he went to British New Guinea seeking employment in the magisterial service. Unsuccessful in this attempt, he went prospecting for gold at Woodlark Island, then pearling and trading in the Louisiades. In 1896 and 1897 he published two short articles on native customs in the Journal of the Polynesian Society. He returned to New Zealand to study navigation, and then in 1897 sailed a small boat from Sydney to Port Moresby.

This time, Lieutenant-Governor Sir William MacGregor was able to offer Monckton relief posts as resident magistrate in the Eastern Division, the Mekeo district and the South-Eastern Division during 1897-99. His first permanent appointment was to the newly created North-Eastern Division; he arrived at Cape Nelson with the new lieutenant-governor, (Sir) George Le Hunte, on 4 April 1900. This station was established to gain better control over numerous belligerent indigenous clans as well as to provide law and order for miners on the Yodda goldfields.

Accompanied by his native police whom he had trained to a high degree of efficiency, Monckton mounted a series of expeditions, some punitive, some exploratory. Tough, efficient, quick-witted and ruthless, he conducted each expedition as if it were a military campaign. In bringing under control combative people such as the Doriri, Dobodura and Paiwa, his policy was to 'shoot and loot'. With more peaceful people, such as the Agaiambu who, living in the swamps of the Musa River, were marked by a physique that made it difficult for them to walk on land, he showed some anthropological awareness. While some contemporaries admired him as a 'fearless … fighting man', others deplored his readiness with a gun, his callous punishments and his sexual exploitation of local women. His handling of the 'Paiwa affair', when his police went berserk with bayonets, provoked widespread criticism. Relations with miners in the area, generally mutually helpful, sometimes became explosive, particularly with those who thought an even tougher line should be taken against the Papuans. In 1903 Monckton was given the additional responsibility of the Northern Division. He was also appointed to both the Legislative and Executive councils.

Two major exploratory expeditions were initiated from his headquarters. His was the first party (1906) to climb Mount Albert Edward (13,100 ft, 3993 m). When miners began to intrude into German New Guinea north of the Waria River, Monckton used a necessary border survey as an excuse to cross the island by taking his party down the Lakekamu River into the Gulf of Papua. He had exceeded his instructions and was reprimanded. The report of the royal commission on Papua, published in 1907, criticized Monckton's friends in government. Although the commission commended him personally, he resigned from the service on 4 June 1907 and went to London.

On 24 July 1907 at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, Monckton married Margaret Louisa Arkwright. Returning to New Zealand, he managed a farm near Otago in 1910-14; here he began writing the first of his three books. War interrupted, however, and he went to England to enlist, became a captain in the Sherwood Foresters and served in India. After the war he and his wife settled at Walmer, Kent, where he continued writing. He was elected a member of the Royal Central Asian Society in 1923 and was later made a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Zoological Society and the Royal Geographical Society. Survived by his wife, he died of blackwater fever and influenza in London on 1 March 1936.

Monckton's writing style was readable and racy; every page was packed with adventure. To British armchair travellers he became the epitome of the colonial white man bearing the burden of civilizing native races. His supreme egoism was tempered by astute observations on the customs of the Papuans and peppered by strong opinions on the virtues and faults of his colleagues, missionaries, miners and traders. His official reports, well written and detailed, were used as a basis, and often quoted in full, in Some Experiences of a Resident Magistrate (London, 1920) and Last Days in New Guinea (London, 1922). These two books, though biased in judgements, are factually accurate except where he comments on events outside his province, such as the Goaribari affray. His last book, New Guinea Recollections (London, 1934), sullied his reputation. It is an inaccurate series of unconnected anecdotes in which he attempted to exonerate himself.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Lutton, ‘C. A. W. Monckton’ in J. Griffin (ed), Papua New Guinea Portraits (Canb, 1978)
  • N. Lutton, C. A. W. Monckton's Trilogy of his Adventures in New Guinea (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Papua New Guinea, 1972), and for bibliography
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 2 Mar 1936, p 16.

Citation details

Nancy Lutton, 'Monckton, Charles Arthur (1873–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 May, 1873
Invercargill, New Zealand


1 March, 1936 (aged 62)
London, Middlesex, England

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