New Guinea, the largest island next after the Australian continent, from which it is separated by the shallow island-studded Torres Strait, 80 to 90 miles wide at its narrowest part. The two regions at one time formed continuous land, and an upheaval of less than sixty fathoms would again unite them. Elsewhere the mainland is washed by deep waters ranging from 500 to 1300 fathoms. The island stretches 1500 miles NW. and SE. from Cape Goede Hoop, just south of the equator, to South Cape ; its width varies from under 20 miles to 480 miles at 141° E. long. It forms a large central mass from which two peninsulas project south-east and north-west, and has a total area roughly estimated at 320,000 sq.
m., or six times as large as England. It is essentially mountainous, being traversed by lofty ranges, rising In some places 2000 or 3000 feet above the snow-line. These ranges develop in the broader central parts two or more parallel chains with a general south-easterly trend. Thus, the Arfak Hills of the north-west peninsula (10,000 feet) are continued in the central region by the Charles-Louis range (over 14,000 feet), with many peaks of 18,000 and even 20,000 feet. The northern coast-range is known as the Finis-terre Mountains (11,500 feet). Between these two chains run the Bismarck and Kratke ranges (10,000 feet). All these mountain-ranges converge in the south-east peninsula in a single lofty chain which traverses the whole of British New Guinea, the various sections of which take the names of the Albert Victor, Yule, Owen Stanley, and Lome ranges. The prevailing formations appear to be very old plutonic and sedimentary rocks. There are numerous indications of gold. Earthquakes are frequent in some places, but no active volcanoes appear to exist, although there are several recent craters. The three largest rivers appear to be the Amberno (Mamberan, or 'Great River') in Dutch, the Empress Augusta in German, and the Fly in British territory. In the rainy season the Empress Augusta is navigable for many miles by large vessels ; the Markham also gives access to the interior. The Fly, discovered in 1845 by Blackwood, was ascended in a steam-launch in 1889 for over 600 miles by Sir W. Macgregor. The tides ascend the Fly for 150 miles. The Douglas, Centenary, Stanhope, and Queen's Jubilee all converge in a common delta about the head of the Gulf of Papua. The east side of that gulf is joined by other navigable streams from the Owen Stanley range.
The whole of New Guinea lies within the track of the south-east trade-winds, followed by the north-west monsoons, whose rain-bearing clouds are condensed on the cold alpine slopes of the island. The consequent large rain or snow fall, combined with an average high temperature of from S5° to 90° F., results in a hot, moist climate on all the low-lying coast-lands and fluvial valleys - hence fever is endemic. But some of the uplands beyond the fever zone may be found adapted for the establishment of health-resorts for officials, traders, and missionaries. New Guinea is almost everywhere clothed with a rich and highly diversified flora. Sir W. Macgregor's party in 1889, after passing successively through the domains of tropical plants, such as the cocoa-nut, sago, banana, mango, taro, and sugar-cane, and of such temperate or sub-tropical growths as the cedar, oak, fig, acacia, pine, and tree-fern, were gladdened on the higher slopes by the sight of the wild strawberry, forget-me-not, daisy, buttercup, and other familiar British plants; while towards the summits these were succeeded by a true alpine flora, in which Himalayan, Bornean, New Zealand, and sub-antarctic forms were all numerously represented. In New Guinea the Asiatic and Malayan floras are far more richly represented than the Australian. On the other hand, the New Guinea fauna is closely related to that of Australia, as is seen in the almost total absence of placental mammals, and the presence of over thirty species of marsupials (such as the cuscus and kangaroo) and the bower-bird. The spiny ant-eater is allied to the Australian echidna, and like it oviparous. Of the bird of Paradise, a typical New Guinea bird, many varieties occur, and many gorgeous parrots, cockatoos, pigeons, etc. Reptiles are numerous. Between the Australians and Papuans, who form the great bulk of the New Guinea population, there is little in common except the dark colour, considerably darker, however, in the latter than in the former. But the New Guinea natives seem to combine at least four ethnical elements: Papuan proper, diffused over the whole region ; Negrito; Eastern Polynesian; and Malay. Through the mingling of these elements small tribal groups speak a surprising number of distinct languages. Cannibalism is very prevalent; some tribes are predatory ; but many others are peaceful, industrious, and keen traders, displaying remarkable skill in the arts of pottery, wood-carving, and husbandry. New Guinea appears to have been first sighted by D'Abreu in 1511; it received its present name in 1546 from Retez (Roda), who was struck by the resemblance of its inhabitants to those of the Guinea coast. In 1793 the East India Company occupied the island of Manassari in Geelvink Bay. In 1848 the Dutch proclaimed their sovereignty over the western half of the island as far as 141° E. long., and this meridian was accordingly taken as the western boundary of the eastern half in 1884, when that section was divided between Great Britain and Germany. The boundary between the northern or German and the southern or British division coincides with the main water-parting. The areas and populations of the three territories are thus roughly estimated:
Area in sq. m.
Dutch New Guinea .......
British „ .................
German „ ................
In the Dutch section there are no towns or administrative centres. German New Guinea, officially known as Kaiser Wilhelm's Land, is a protectorate administered by the German New Guinea Company, and yields for export tobacco, areca, sago, bamboo, ebony, and other woods. British New Guinea, which includes the D'Entrecasteaux and Louisiade Archipelagoes, was administered as a protectorate till 1888, when the sovereignty of Britain was proclaimed. It was made over to the Australian Commonwealth in 1902, who agreed to contribute £20,000 annually for its administration. The territory is divided into four districts, the chief station being Port Moresby. The revenue does not yet cover the expenditure; and the exports, chiefly gold, pearl-shells, beche-de-mer, and copra, rose in 1897-1901 from £19,320 to £50,000 a year.
See, besides A. R. Wallace's Malay Archipelago (1869 ; new ed. 1891) and A. H. Keane's Eastern Geography (1887), works by D'Albertis (1881), Chalmers and Gill (18S5 and 1887), Limit (1887), Guillemard (1887), Strachan (18S8), Bevan (1890), J. P. Thomson (1892), and Krieger (1900).