Today we continue our 98-day series of photographs celebrating a century of photography with the year 1904 and this image of a "blackbirder" and his human cargo in the Pacific. Each photograph in the series, one from every year since 1900, has been chosen to embody the spirit of the age. All the photographs are from the Hulton Getty Picture Collection, to which The Independent has had been granted exclusive access.
The sea captain (pictured above) would recruit or kidnap islanders from places such as the Solomons, the New Hebrides and Fiji, to work as indentured labourers on cotton and sugar plantations in Queensland, Australia. In 1904, after some areas had been seriously depopulated, "blackbirding" became illegal.
The year was characterised by many unjustifiable acts of violence, tension regarding workers' rights and skirmishes over territorial boundaries. The year began with the massacre of 123 German settlers by Herero tribesmen, and British troops massacred 1,000 Dervishes. In March some 300 Tibetans were killed when they attempted to halt the British Mission to Tibet. The preamble to the First World War began in earnest, with a surprise night raid by Japanese torpedo boats and the shifting of allies through the historic pact between Great Britain and France.
Racial tension was rife throughout 1904. In America there were cases of mobs breaking into jails and killing black men accused of murder, and Maryland joined the other Southern states and disenfranchised its black voters. In May the Anglo-Chinese Labour Convention permitted the introduction of "coolies" to the Colonies.
The movement for workers' rights led to mass strikes, which often resulted in violence, such as in the US where four miners were killed during an industrial dispute. In April the House of Commons passed a bill which allowed "peaceful picketing" by trade unionists.
A speech made at the end of the year captured the mood regarding labour and colonial issues. Speaking to a 4,000-strong rally in London's poor East End, the ex-Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain denounced duty- free imports, called for preferential tariffs for the Empire and demanded curbs on immigration from Europe which he said was disproportionately responsible for crime and disease.Reuse content