The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
i. The Copra Trade
i. The Copra Trade
It has been shown that until 1855 the commercial value of the islands lay in the supplying of articles of European manufacture to missionaries and to natives under missionary influence. Payment was made by supplying pigs and fruit, and also a little pearl and tortoiseshell. As the natives came under missionary influence there was added to these coconut oil, the production of which was encouraged by missionaries, who taught them to construct presses for the purpose.
Further commercial developments during the century arose from two things: firstly, the increased demand for oil in European markets for the manufacture of candles and soap; and secondly, the readiness and efficiency of the Hamburg merchants, Godeffroy & Son, in availing themselves of this to build up a far-reaching organization for the satisfaction of the demand. Moreover, Samoa became the centre of their activity.
As the copra and oil trade was essentially dependent upon the demand for oil in Europe, it is well to examine the antecedents of that demand. Until the early nineteenth century the chief house illuminants were either wax or tallow candles, the wax dear, the tallow unpleasant. With the rapid increase in the population, and the rise in England, and later all over Europe, of a prosperous middle class, there arose also a demand for candles. Improved methods of illumination caused an increasing tendency to exploit the hours of night, and vice versa the spread of this habit led to a demand for illuminants.
1 1811–23; see Encyclopædia Britannica, articles "Chevreul," "Soap," "Oil."
In Samoa, the first export of coconut oil was by Williams, the son of the missionary, who in 1842 shipped 6 tons of oil.3 In 1859, 592 tons worth £14,0004 were exported, and in the year 1875 the copra export was valued at £121,360.5
1 R.L. Sturtwant, Patent No. 9230.
3 Murray, Missions in Western Polynesia, p. 466.
4 P.P. 1860, vol. 65, c. 2753. Report on the Navigator Islands.
5 P.P. 1876, vol. 76, c. 1589. Report on the Navigator Islands; 15, 170 tons copra worth $606,800, 20 tons oil worth $2,000.
1 In 1875 oil was still being exported in small quantities.
2 P.P. 1873, vol. 65, c. 828, p. 923. Report of Consul Williams. P.P. 1880, vol. 74, c. 2577. Report of Consul Graves.
Another handicap to the growing coconut oil and copra trade, besides the unwillingness of the natives to work, was the reluctance of the natives of certain islands to part with their copra. In the Ellice and Gilbert Islands, for example, coconuts formed the staple food and drink of the natives. They preferred to let the surplus rot than to risk a famine. These disadvantages led to the principal traders, the German firm of Godeffroy & Co., to embark upon the policy of buying land for plantations. The important effects of this step are dealt with later in the chapter in connection with the growth and organization of the Godeffroy firm in Samoa.
1 P.P. 1860, vol. 65, c. 2753, pp. 14–15.
2 P.P. 1876, vol. 76, c. 1589.
3 Congress Docs., Hse. Mis. Doc, Cons. Monthly Report, 1881, No. 3, vol. ii, September 18, 1880. Total export 1880, 2,500,000 lb.
There were in the 1880's and 1890's considerable and hopeful experiments in coffee, cocoa, and india-rubber.2 In 1888 the U.S. Consul-General Sewall reported that the Germans had 450 acres of coffee planted, from which they obtained a crop of 90,000 lb.3 The outbreak of coffee disease in 1895, however, ruined this culture in succeeding years. Cocoa has since become a source of profit to the islands, and a little rubber is exported at the present day.4 These later experiments, however, lie outside the period under consideration. As early as 1880 it was becoming clear that the first estimates of the fertility of the group were exaggerated.5 The failure of successive crops at a time of native disorders in the 1890's and a severe depression in the Australasian Colonies set the islands on a new standard of value. In the negotiations of 1899 the issue for Germany was one involving sentiment and national honour rather than national gain.6
1 P.P. 1893, vol. 101, c. 1587.
3 Congress Documents (Hse. Misc.), 50–55, Cons. Report, No. 97, vol. 27, August 15, 1888. Coffee. Attempts to introduce coffee were made in 1863, 1879, and 1882. It was found to thrive on the upland plateau at a height of about 800 ft. above sea-level.
5 F.O. 244/341. Memo, by Maudslay, November 9, 1881.
6 Gooch and Temperley, British Documents on the Origin of the War, vol. i. Lascelles to Salisbury, March 24, 1899.