The annexatlon was disavowed in Downing Street, and the Colonial Minister continued his tranquil meditations on both sides of the New Guinea question. At length Germany stepped in, and forestalled the fixed purpose of the Australian Colonist. The larger half of the coveted territory was added to the German possessions in the Pacific. Then Lord Derby—doubtless with a feeling of thankfulness to Prince Bismarck for his considerateness in leaving a fragment of the prize unappropriated—bethought him of the propriety of taking steps to secure the interests of his own nation in the matter. His lordship appointed an Imperial Special Commissioner, and despatched him to Australia to obtain the funds requisite for establishing and maintaining a British Protectorate over Southern New Guinea and the adjacent Archipelago.
Sir Peter Scratchley, the newly-appointed Commissioner, set forth upon his mission, and arrived in Melbourne at the close of the year 1884. His first task was to procure a vessel to convey him to his destination, and also suitable for a floating viceregal residence, pending the erection of a palace on shore. His next business was to obtain from the several Australian Governments contributions towards the salary and expenses of the Special Commissioner. This object was gained without any difficulty, although there was a good deal of grumbling at Lord Derby's remissness in allowing Germany to steal a march upon him. But, as matters could not now be remedied, the Colonial Premiers, one and all, agreed to share jointly the expenses of the Protectorate, and the Premier of New South Wales, in addition, offered the use of H.M.C.S. "Wolverene," then stationed in Sydney Harbour, for a six months' service on the New Guinea coast. This offer the Commissioner gladly accepted; but just then, as it happened, reports were raised of an impending rupture of friendly relations between Great Britain and Russia, and the "Wolverene" would, in case of that event occurring, be required for purposes of local defence. Instead of continuing his efforts to procure another vessel, Sir Peter Scratchley devoted his attention to the condition of the colonial defences, most of which had been constructed under his own supervision. Happily, the Russian scare speedily subsided, and tenders were called for from shipowners possessing a vessel suitable for