In 1875 Gordon began his governorship of Fiji, an administration which historians usually credit as being his most important one, as well as being a period which shaped the political future of that colony. He set in place a system of indirect rule through Fijian chiefs which became part of the permanent system of government, and which was to help initiate the system of indirect rule which was later used in Africa by F. J. D. Lugard.
While in Fiji he encouraged the importation of Indian labourers by the white planters in order to protect the indigenous population from commercial exploitation. His plan was to give the Fijians a twenty-five-year remission from competition in the modern commercial arena, but his system became a permanent orthodoxy in Fijian politics and administration. His intentions have been seen as motivated by his theoretical interests in anthropology, but a more balanced view is that his ideas developed in a pragmatic fashion and were partially borrowed from established Fijian residents such as J. B. Thurston. He left the governorship of Fiji in 1880 for a short-lived governorship of New Zealand (1880-83), but he continued to exert some influence in the former colony because from 1877 to 1883 he held the extra position of high commissioner and consul-general for the Western Pacific. In New Zealand he was unpopular with a portion of the settler population because of his attempts to defend the interests of the Maori.
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