John Crawfurd — 'two separate races'

The eminent Scottish orientalist Crawfurd enjoyed a stellar career in the administration of Britain's fledgling overseas empire. Trained as a doctor, he spent five years from 1803 with the Indian Army in the Northwest Provinces. After being transferred to Penang, he took part in the British conquest of Dutch-held Java in 1811. Between 1811 and 1816, Crawfurd served as British Resident at Yogyakarta during the period of Java's British administration under Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826). Following a series of further diplomatic appointments — in Siam, Cochin China, Singapore, and Burma — Crawfurd returned permanently to England in 1828 where he established a reputation as a leading linguist and philologist and as an ambitious if frustrated politician.[29] Much like any writer seeking to capture the headwaters of a particular field, Crawfurd published a series of encyclopedias, general histories, and descriptive dictionaries — on the history of Java, the Indian Archipelago (1820), the Burmese court, the Malay language (1852), and the Indian Islands (1856). Combining these scholarly pursuits with a streak of ruthless ambition, he set about conquering London's academic society, a campaign recently documented in some detail by Ter Ellingson (2001).[30] In alliance with James Hunt (1833-1869), later president himself of the racialist Anthropological Society, Crawfurd engineered a coup within the largely monogenist Ethnological Society of London, of which he was elected president in 1860.

Crawfurd's views on race were decidedly individual and polygenist in all but name (Stocking 1987:100). Although strident in his opposition to slavery, (which led to his break with James Hunt and other proponents of slavery in the Anthropological Society), and contemptuous of anthropological and anatomical attempts to classify differences amongst races on the basis of physical characteristics, Crawfurd also denied any unity to mankind, insisting on immutable, hereditary, and timeless differences in racial character, principal amongst which was the 'very great' difference in 'intellectual capacity'.[31] His largely intuitive 'ethnological' approach to the question of the origins of these differences relied substantially upon the conventional skills of a gentleman philologist and ethnologist of the day (1820, I:27): 'It is by a comparison of languages,—of customs and manners,—of arbitrary institutions,—and by reference to the geographical and moral condition of the different races alone, that we can expect to form any rational hypothesis on this obscure subject'.

Crawfurd's earlier writing (1820, I:14-16) appears to acknowledge the significance of environmental elements — notably climate and staple foods — in the formation of racial differences. Championing the grains and cereals which he associated with the history of the European races, he regarded non-European staples such as sago and rice with a dislike bordering on revulsion (1856:262): 'Those tribes that live on sago, which embraces the wide region east of Celebes, including New Guinea, are either illiterate, or rude and savage, whether belonging to the Malay or Negro race'. Yet, in the same textual breath, Crawfurd (1856:264) proceeded to suggest that even where the climatic conditions existed for civilization, as on Java, there was little evidence for European-style progress and that the only possible explanation for this was the 'inferior intellectual capacity' of non-European races. The hardening racialism of Crawfurd's views was evident in a prolific series of tendentious and frequently repetitive articles on race published during the 1860s in the Transactions of the Ethnological Society, under his own presidency. Here (1861a:79, 85, 92), he jettisoned any residual belief in the effects of environment on fundamental human difference, denying any substantial role to either climate or diet, though he allowed for some impact of diet on 'mental development'. While he was dismissive of the Darwinians and of any attempt to align certain races more closely with the apes, Crawfurd placed considerable emphasis on the variety of human races and on the hierarchy of superiority amongst them, concluding that 'practically, the races may be considered as distinct species'.

Crawfurd's three-volume History of the Indian Archipelago (1820) exerted a considerable influence on early nineteenth-century thinking on race in the region.[32] Probably following the lead of Forster, who had referred his 'two great varieties' in the South Seas to 'the two different races of men' in the 'East Indian isles', Crawfurd noted the 'singular phenomenon' of an 'original and innate distinction of the inhabitants into two separate races'. He defined these two 'aboriginal races' visually through the intersection of hair and skin colour attributes: the first was a 'brown' race of 'Indian islanders' with 'lank hair' and the second a 'black' or 'negro' race with 'woolly or frizzled' hair. Crawfurd sought to illustrate this contrast through an engraving that portrayed 'A Papua or Negro of the Indian Islands' alongside 'Kătut a Native of Bali one of the Brown complexioned Race' (Figure 14).[33] Though Crawfurd explicitly denied any connection between the 'African negro' and what he variously referred to as the 'Austral', 'Asian', 'Oriental', or 'Oceanic' Negro, what was transmitted to the latter through the analogizing epithet of 'Negro' was the entire raft of negrophobic assumptions about intelligence, productivity, and so on, long associated with sub-Saharan Africans in European thinking: 'The brown and negro races of the Archipelago may be considered to present, in their physical and moral character, a complete parallel with the white and negro races of the western world'.[34]

Crawfurd then mapped this contrast across the archipelago, discerning a physical and moral gradient descending from west to east:

Civilization originated in the west [of the archipelago], where are situated the countries capable of producing corn. Man is there most improved, and his improvement decreases, in a geographical ratio, as we go eastward, until, at New Guinea, the termination of the Archipelago, we find the whole inhabitants an undistinguished race of savages. (1820, I:15‑16)

This racialized topography could be accounted for through the comfortably familiar historical scenario of the displacement of inferior by superior races:[35]

The East Insular negro is a distinct variety of the human species, and evidently a very inferior one. Their puny stature, and feeble frames, cannot be ascribed to the poverty of their food or the hardships of their condition, for the lank-haired races living under circumstances equally precarious, have vigorous constitutions. Some islands they enjoy almost exclusively to themselves, yet they have in no instance risen above the most abject state of barbarism. Whenever they are encountered by the fairer races, they are hunted down like the wild animals of the forest, and driven to the mountains or fastnesses incapable of resistance (1820, I:24-6).

Crawfurd appears to have been largely indifferent to questions concerning the reliability of his often-uncited sources. Indeed, the extent of his personal observations on Papuans seems to have been limited to the inspection of Papuan slaves who had been brought to Java.[36] Writing in 1820, Crawfurd pronounced the Papuan to be 'a dwarf African negro', amongst whom a fully grown male measured no more than 4 feet 9 inches: 'I do not think I ever saw any that in stature exceeded five feet'. Though he recounted claims by other observers for a 'more robust' Negro in New Guinea, Crawfurd was careful to point out that he had not seen them himself — a sort of backhanded respect for the value of field observations. Having dismissed most other first-hand accounts of encounters with Papuans as 'indistinct and imperfect', he declared that of Pierre Sonnerat to be 'the best' and duly transcribed the most pejorative portions of what was perhaps the least flattering description of Papuans available at the time.[37] Sonnerat, despite the extravagant claim of the title of his book, Voyage à la Nouvelle Guinée (1776), never reached New Guinea.

Figure 14: W.H. Lizars, 'A Papua or Negro of the Indian Islands; Kătut a Native of Bali one of the Brown complexioned Race'.[38]
Figure 14: W.H. Lizars, 'A Papua or Negro of the Indian Islands; Kătut a Native of Bali one of the Brown complexioned Race'.Crawfurd 1820, I: pl. 2.

Engraving. Photograph B. Douglas.

Figure 15: William Daniell, 'A Papuan or Native of New Guinea 10 years old'.[39]
Figure 15: William Daniell, 'A Papuan or Native of New Guinea 10 years old'.Raffles 1817, II: ccxxxvi.

Aquatint. Photograph B. Douglas.

Yet Crawfurd was entirely aware that the 'Papuan' featured in his 1820 volume and used to illustrate the 'puny stature, and feeble frames' of Papuans generally was in fact a ten-year old slave.[40] The Papuan figure in Crawfurd's composite image was an unacknowledged reproduction of an illustration in an earlier volume by Raffles (Figure 15). Raffles (1817, II:ccxxxv) had taken the boy into his service on Bali 'under very peculiar circumstances' and later took him to England where 'his arrival … excited some curiosity, as being the first individual of the woolly haired race of Eastern Asia who has been brought to this country'.[41] The boy, 'whom we sometimes call Papua, and sometimes (more to his satisfaction) Dick', was duly inspected by the physician and anatomist Sir Everard Home (1756-1832), who formally described the 'particulars' in which 'the Papuan differs from the African negro'. Crawfurd's knowing employment of Raffles's image thus perpetrated a double misrepresentation: creating a general type from a known and named individual and, in support of his contrast between Malay and Papuan, wilfully ignoring the age of his subject in order to advance his claim that Papuans were 'puny'.[42]

[29] For further details on Crawfurd's life, see the biographical entry by Turnbull (2004), the introduction by M.C. Ricklefs (1971) to the facsimile edition of Crawfurd's Descriptive Dictionary (1856), and the numerous references in Ellingson (2001).

[30] As Ellingson (2001) demonstrates, Crawfurd was also responsible for re-introducing the pre-Rousseauian notion of 'the noble savage' to modern anthropology and public discourse, crediting it wrongly (and quite deliberately) to Rousseau.

[31] Crawfurd 1861c:372ff, 368; 1865b:61.

[32] Crawfurd's History of the Indian Archipelago appeared fairly swiftly in both Dutch (1823-25) and French translations, with the latter combining the works of both Raffles and Crawfurd (Raffles and Crawfurd 1824).

[33] Crawfurd 1820, I:14, 17-27, my emphasis; Forster 1778:228, 281-4.

[34] Crawfurd 1820, I:18, 27-9, original emphasis. See Crawfurd 1866 for a summary of his own highly pejorative views on the 'Negro races'.

[35] See Chapter Two (Douglas), this volume, for references to the antiquity of this racialized history.

[36] 'I have myself seen in Java several of the Negroes of New Guinea as slaves, and, until better informed, believed them to be Africans — so striking, at first view, is the resemblance between the two races' (Crawfurd 1866:227). Raffles (1822:113) clearly implied that this might have been the full extent of Crawfurd's experience of Papuans.

[37] Crawfurd 1820, I:23, 24, 26-7. Sonnerat described 'the Papuans' as follows:

Their appearance has something hideous and frightening in it. Let us imagine robust men, glistening black, but with rough, coarse skin, mostly disfigured by blotches, like those caused by elephantiasis; let us depict them with very large eyes, a squashed nose, an excessively stretched mouth, very bulging lips, especially the upper one, and frizzy hair of a shiny black or a fiery red (1776:153).

[38] Crawfurd 1820, I: pl. 2.

[39] Raffles 1817, II: ccxxxvi.

[40] Crawfurd (1820, I:24) made direct reference to this boy's connection to Raffles in the same volume and can hardly have been unaware of Raffles's own text that accompanied the original illustration. In later writings (1848:334-5), he would directly acknowledge and quote Raffles on the age of the boy, prompted perhaps by a devastating anonymous review written by none other than Raffles himself (1822:114), who declared it 'unfortunate for the author's argument, that this very individual here figured … has already attained the height of five feet two inches, the medium height, according to Mr. Crawfurd, of the brown race'.

[41] See Smithies 1983 for a review of what little else is known of the life of 'Dick Papua'. Boon (1990:37), Forge (1994), and Thomas (1994:88, 232-3) discussed his image further.

[42] Crawfurd's rendition of the Papuan boy 'Dick' continued to exert its baleful influence throughout the nineteenth century. The French anthropologist Armand de Quatrefages, for example, reproduced it as a line drawing captioned 'Negrito-Papuan (After Crawfurd)' (1895:44). Though he was aware of its origins in Raffles's History of Java, Quatrefages insisted on the value of this image as a representation of the type, completing Crawfurd's own argument for him (1895:61): 'To be sure, the subject is only a child of ten years, and its [sic] youthfulness may call forth criticism. But we must not forget that the physical development of these races is completed at an earlier period than among European populations. This single thought will make us understand how Earl, so good a judge in such matters, could affirm the resemblance of this portrait to adults whom he saw … He thus testifies to the accuracy of the English writers, as well as to the extension of this type in the Indian archipelagos'.