The Aborigines' Protection Society (APS) was an international human rights organisation, founded in 1837, to ensure the health and well-being and the sovereign, legal and religious rights of the indigenous peoples while also promoting the civilization of the indigenous people who were subjected under colonial powers.
The foundation of the Society was prompted by a group centred on Thomas Hodgkin, with experience from around the world: Saxe Bannister (Australasia), Richard King (North America), John Philip (South Africa). The founders were, on King's account, William Allen, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Henry Christy, Thomas Clarkson, Hodgkin, and Joseph Sturge. Buxton, after the 1832 British abolition of the slave trade, had taken an interest in particular in the Cape Colony.
The Quaker background and abolitionism were significant in the setting-up of the Society. The Quaker Meeting for Sufferings set up a committee on the issue in 1837, at Hodgkin's prompting, and in 1838 backed Buxton's Select Parliamentary Committee by publishing under its own name extracts from the evidence it had taken. It appeared as Information Respecting the Aborigines in the British Colonies; it was drafted by John Hodgkin but then rewritten by his brother Thomas, to sharpen the effect and reduce the references to missionary activity. The Report of the APS in 1838 put the case that colonisation did not inevitably have detrimental effects on indigenous peoples, as conventional wisdom had it, even to the point of their extinction: if the effects were negative, that was a criticism of the plan and regulation for the colony.
The principles of the APS combined "equal rights", i.e. legislation not based on race, with "racial amalgamation". There was no commitment therefore to preserving the indigenous peoples as encountered.
The Society remained active for about 70 years. But the differing views of Buxton and Hodgkin on how to proceed caused some fundamental divisions in the early years. Hodgkin was interested in a forum for both scientific discussion (of early ethnology, a discipline that hardly yet existed separately from the study of language), and protective activities based on lobbying. Buxton shortly became caught up in the activist drive that led quickly to the Niger expedition of 1841, the failure of which was a huge personal blow and also drove missionary considerations into the background for a time. Hodgkin was unhappy with Buxton's published criticism of Elliott Cresson, and the general British disregard for Liberia as an abolitionist project. King issued a prospectus for the new Ethnological Society of London in 1842, following Hodgkin's view that the humanitarian and scientific objectives should from then on be pursued separately.
Activity from 1840
In 1842 the purpose of the APS was restated: "to record the history, and promote the advancement, of Uncivilized Tribes".
On Buxton's death in 1845, Samuel Gurney took over as President. Finances improved, and from 1847 Hodgkin had an assistant as Secretary on the payroll for a period, the activist Louis Alexis Chamerovzow. Chamerovzow published on the rights of Māori in 1848, and worked on Charles Dickens as opinion-former, with some success (as Dickens wrote to George Payne Rainsford James). He was a perceptive analyst of the difficulties in reconciling the interests of indigenous people and settlers.
The Society published tracts, pamphlets, Annual Reports and a journal entitled The Aborigines' Friend, or Colonial Intelligencer, from 1847. Hodgkin's concerns over the indigenous peoples in the Hudson's Bay Company territory in western Canada were pursued both by correspondence with Sir George Simpson, and in the pages of the Intelligencer. In 1889 Henry Richard Fox Bourne became its editor, and took over as Chair of the APS. He was a critic of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, and used the Intelligencer to accuse it for the first time of "atrocities".
- Aborigines' Protection Society: Transactions,1837-1909 Archived June 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
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- ProQuest Database: Aborigines' Protection Society
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- Information respecting the aborigines in the British colonies microform : circulated by direction of the Meeting for Sufferings : being principally extracts from the report presented to the House of Commons, by the select committee appointed on that subject (1838).
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- Kass and Kass, p. 377.
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- Aborigines Protection Society: Canada West and the Hudson's-Bay Company: A Political and Humane Question of Vital Importance to the Honour of Great Britain, to the Prosperity of Canada and to the Existence of the Native Tribes (London, 1856)
- Aborigines Protection Society: Report on the Indians of Upper Canada (London: W. Ball, Arnold, 1839)
- Thompson Chesson Scrapbooks From the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress
- Documents and clippings about the Aborigines' Protection Society in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)