The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
ii. The Godeffroy Firm…
ii. The Godeffroy Firm
The firm that sprang forward to seize the opportunity of supplying European markets with coconut oil was the page 63Hamburg firm of Johann Cesar Godeffroy & Son. The only other trading concern of importance in the islands was also German, that of Ruge, Hedemann & Co., established in 1875, which was run on a very much smaller scale. Germans, consequently, were constantly bargaining with natives for copra, and buying their land, and later (after 1876) interfering in native affairs to secure peace and justice.
The Godeffroy agents were not by any means the first Germans to venture to the South Seas. From the beginning of the century Prussian whalers had hunted in Pacific waters, though it was the Hamburg merchants who built up in the Pacific interests of a real and weighty character. In 1837 Hamburg vessels called at Sydney. They were the forerunners of many more, who yearly increased in numbers, and who absorbed a large proportion of the Pacific islands' trade. The first Hamburg merchant ship called at Apia in the Navigator Islands in 1847. Ten years later this port was chosen to be the centre for the trade of the Godeffroy firm.
1 Kirchoff, Alfred, Die Sudsee Inseln und der deutche Sudsee handel, p. 261. Frommel und Pfaff, Sammerlung von Vortragen, 1880, vol. iii.
Fig. 2—Chart Showing Tonnage of Ships—British, German, and American—That Called at Apia, 1858–85(Figures from British Parliamentary Papers)
Chief features: (1) Great preponderance of German shipping. (2) German ships were small and numerous (see Fig. 3).
Fig. 3.—Chart Showing Number of Ships Calling at Apia, 1858–85
(Figures from British Parliamentary Papers)
August Unshelm, the Godeffroy agent, first visited Samoa in May 1854.2 The advantageous position of the islands could not fail to impress him. In 1856 he came for a second time to Samoa, and strongly recommended it as a commercial centre. By 1857 the firm was established with an agency in Apia for trade amongst the islands. Small vessels were commissioned to collect oil, and later copra, from the surrounding island groups, while bigger ships carried the valuable cargo from Apia to Europe.3
1 Stonehewer Cooper, Coral Lands, London, 1880, p. 48.
2 Trood, Island Reminiscences; Brunsdon Fletcher, The New Pacific. N.B.—Various dates are given for the establishment of the Godeffroys in Apia, e.g. Scholefield 1857, Zimmermann 1864. Trood himself records landing in 1857 and finding that Unshelm had been established some three years.
3 Hertz, Richard, Das Hamburger Seehandelshaus J. C. Godeffroy und Sohn, 1766–1879. This is vol. iv of Veroffentlichungen des vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte. Hamburg, 1922.
4 Where coconut palms abounded.
In 1864 August Unshelm was drowned at sea.1 By that time he had woven the outline threads of his web of Pacific trade. The firm was fortunate in having a remarkable man on the spot to consolidate and enlarge his work. In 1861, at the age of only eighteen, Theodore Weber was sent to Apia as his assistant, with a commission for Unshelm as Consul for Hamburg and the North German Confederation. Himself a man of unbounded energy and tact, of foresight, enterprise, and efficiency, he devoted his talents unceasingly to the work of building up Germany's commercial power in the South Seas. It is impossible to say how far his plans at the outset were for political aggrandizement, how far the commercial needs of his firm involved first interference in native politics, and later to ensure the establishment of a stable government. Sterndale2 recounts that prior to 1870 Weber was preparing a scheme for the settlement and colonization of Germans in Samoa. Many more acres of the best land were bought than could immediately be planted. The higher plateau was to be colonized by Germans, the sea-coast by Chinese who were to become indentured labourers. The elder Godeffroy, who was a personal friend of Bismarck's, was to enlist his sympathies. The Hertha was already commissioned to come out when the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War involved the recall of the Hertha and the blockade of Hamburg, and in the succeeding years the Godeffroy firm had too many encompassing difficulties to indulge in any far-reaching schemes. Certainly by 1872 there were rumours in Sydney that the Germans were planning annexation.3 In 1871 Weber suggested to the new
1 P.P. 1866, vol. 69.
2 Appendix to Journal of House of Representatives, New Zealand, 1874, vol. i. Papers relating to South Sea Islands, A. 3. Memo by Sterndale. Also, Lowe, C., Prince Bismarck, 1887, pp. 211–12.
3 C.O. 209/230. Ferguson to Kimberley (No. 10220), August 1, 1873.
Imperial Government the assumption of guardianship, control, or protection over the Samoan islands.1 Webb states that it was with chagrin that Weber saw, in February 1872, Captain Meade of the U.S.S. Narrangansett make his unauthorized treaty with Mauga, chief of Tutuila, for the acquisition of Pago-Pago harbour as a U.S. naval station.2 Within a short time of this he returned to Germany. While he was at home, and we may certainly assume his influence in the affair, Steinberger drew up his agreement with the Godeffroys.3 This implies that the firm was seeking primarily the establishment of peace, and that only later, as the colonial movement in Germany became stronger, and there was hope of Government support, did Germans work for annexation.
1 Townsend, E. M., Origins of Modern German Colonization, p. 47.
3 See infra, chap, v, p. 119.
4 A Footnote to History, p. 89.
The monument to the man, indicative of himself and his methods, is the organization he built up, an organization of immense importance in Samoan affairs. The distinguishing feature of the Godeffroy Company in the South Seas was the large scale of their activities. From Apia trading vessels radiated to the surrounding islets. The consular report of 1883 (Appendix) shows the preponderance of German trade and shipping over that of other countries. Shipping alone increased from eight vessels in 1859 to one hundred and sixty-one in 1883 (see Fig. 3, p. 65).
The methods of running so far-reaching an enterprise are described by an employee of the firm in 1874.1 Men of all nationalities were engaged to serve as agents at the various depôts. Three questions were asked them: "Can you speak the language? Can you keep your mouth shut? Can you live among natives without quarrelling with them?" Among their instructions was the advice to steer clear of missionaries. "Give no assistance to missionaries by word or deed, beyond what is demanded by common humanity," for the missionary taught that cloth or coin were better than beads and tobacco. Traders were further advised: "Have a woman of your own, no matter what island you take her from, for a trader without a wife is in continual hot water." The firm supplied the trader with materials for his house, and the promise of a commission on his produce. It is hardly to be wondered at that tales should come back of the hard actions of the firm's agents. Stationed on outlying islands among hostile natives, a bullying manner backed by the guns of a visiting man-of-war secured the position of the lonely white man. The men who engaged on such enterprises were such as wanted no questions asked.
1 Appendix to Journal of House of Representatives, New Zealand, 1874. South Sea Papers, pt. ii. Memo. by Sterndale.
The masters of the trading vessels were similarly remunerated. They were paid on the low scale of 25 dollars a month, and the ships were not insured, but each master secured a commission of 3 per cent on the profits of every successful voyage.1
It has already been shown how the laziness of Samoans led to the new step of buying and planting land. In this the Germans were pioneers. Even as late as 1883 they were very nearly the only planters.2 The great importance of this was that the possession of land tied down German interests to the islands and that plantations were a proof of this. They further involved a staff of European agents—not by any means always German—but nevertheless in German pay. When the question of annexation by one of the Great Powers came up, the extensive German interests, quite apart from trade, were a deciding factor against British and United States claims. Finally, and perhaps most important, was the fact that native civil wars made planting hopelessly precarious. The constant depredations led to attempts to control the chaos, to insistence on the neutrality of plantations, and so to attempts to control the government. At any rate, until 1879 the evidence seems to show that the German firm wanted primarily peace in order to trade. In 1874 the Godeffroy firm made an agreement with the American adventurer, Colonel Steinberger,3 by which he agreed to establish peace and give the firm certain advantages over other traders in acquiring copra. Yet Steinberger hoped to see the United States establish a protectorate over Samoa. To this the Godeffroy agreement seemed no bar.
2 Exceptions were the Roman Catholic plantations and Cornwall's estate—Cornwall was from New Zealand.
3 See infra, chap. v.
1 F.O. 244/275. Correspondence between Derby and Russell re Arcona affair, October and November 1874.
2 See infra, p. 74.
1 This is not justified. It seems more probable that German traders imported goods from the Australasian Colonies.
3 Congress Doc., Hse. Misc. Doc., Cons. Monthly Report, 1881, Nos. 3–8, vol. ii. Report of Consul Dawson, September 18, 1880.
4 P.P. 1880, vol. 74, c. 2577. It is only fair to say that the currency had always been somewhat mongrel. The Samoan token money was their mats, the missionaries used oil as a basis of exchange. By 1856 the following specie were in circulation:
|Gold.||Spanish doubloons||= 16 Dollars|
|Eagle of the United States||= 10 Dollars|
|Chilean piastre||= 10 Dollars|
|English sovereign||= 5 Dollars|
|French 20-franc piece||= 4 Dollars|
|Silver.||Spanish dollar||= 1 Dollars|
|Mexican and Peruvian dollar||= 1 Dollars|
|French 5-francs||= 1 Dollars|
|English half-crown||= 50 Cents|
|English shilling||= 25 Cents|
Occasional hints show the methods by which the Godeffroys extended trade. Miss Gordon Cumming1 calls them the "grab-all's of the Pacific"—a name which any enterprising firm might covet, if successfully achieved. Their methods of gaining ascendancy are, where traceable, illuminating. In Tonga, for instance, Layard describes the natives mortgaging their copra for ready money that they might outvie each other at the mission meeting contributions.2 It suited the missionaries to obtain ready money, it suited the natives to appear virtuous in their large contributions, and it suited the Godeffroy agents to obtain rights over copra picked or unpicked. Thus the natives fell into debt, the Wesleyans raised £15,000 in a year, and the Godeffroys ousted other traders.
To secure stability to native government and favourable treatment the firm tried to get into touch with, or even to assist in establishing the directors of native governments. In Samoa the Godeffroys made a contract3 with Steinberger by which he was not only to receive German support in his attempt to secure a stable government, but he was to raise taxes in copra which he would sell to the firm.4 Mr. Shirley Baker, the sometime Wesleyan missionary and Tongan Prime Minister, was believed to hold a similar agreement in that island. Consul Liardet of Samoa hints that Weber had the previous Consul Williams "under his thumb" and that he attempted to control any leading member of the community by bribery. He speaks of the U.S. Consul Colmesnil as "constantly in the pay of Mr. Weber."5
1 Gordon Cumming, op. cit., p. 135.
2 F.O. 58/150. Layard to Derby, March 8, 1876.
3 44 Congress, 2nd Sess., Hse. Ex. Doc. 44, Foster to Hunter, March 8, 1876.
4 F.O. 58/150. Layard to Derby, March 8, 1876.
5 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wilde, Confidential, October 18, 1877.
1 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wilde, Confidential, October 18, 1877.
2 F.O. 244/341. F.O. to Lord Odo Russell, November 9th, enclosing Memo. by Maudslay, October 20, 1880.
4 F.O. 244/308. F.O. to Russell, enclosing Memo. by Palgrave to F.O., July 30, 1877.
5 Brunsdon Fletcher in The New Pacific, Stevenson's Germany, who indicts German methods heavily at a time immediately after the war when he wished to prevent German Colonies—particularly Samoa—from returning to Germany.
1 Polynesian word for "man."
2 That of Cornwall, a New Zealander. The overseer was American and his treatment of labourers notorious.
3 Appendix to Journal of House of Representatives, 1874. Papers relating to the South Sea Islands, pt. iii. Memo. by Sterndale.
4 See supra, p. 69.
Within the succeeding years, however, these pleasing conditions seem to have disappeared. As contractors used more brutal methods to obtain labourers, they became hostile and difficult to procure. This tempted planters to keep them longer than they had agreed until more arrived to take their places. Churchward states in 18841 that housing and food was insufficient, and that at times they were ill treated. They were kept beyond their contracts, paid in second-rate produce, and had no one to whom they could appeal. The mortality was high, and in one batch only eleven out of eighty were returned. Escaped labourers, an evil described graphically some six years later by Stevenson,2 were becoming a menace to Samoan native districts. Thurston forwarded Churchward's dispatch with the note that he had no reason to doubt its substantial correctness.
The validity of Churchward's report is supported by the evidence from the report of the U.S. Consul Dawson. In 1882 he describes similar conditions.3 Sewell, however, in 1888, though at the time in open antagonism to the German Consul, yet writes favourably of the German treatment of labourers—that they were well housed, well fed and tended.4
2 Stevenson, A Footnote to History, p. 87.
3 United States Monthly Cons. Reports, No. 25. Cons. Dawson, August 10, 1882.
4 Ibid., No. 97. Cons.-Gen. Sewall, August 15, 1888.
"As a rule," he says, "the labour trade is humanely conducted by the German labour vessels coming home." This would seem to show that Stevenson's hints imply worse conditions than actually existed.1
By 1877 the firm had reached the point at which its activities had become of political importance. In 1876 the German warships sent to the Pacific concluded a trade treaty with Tonga. In 1877 Weber forced the Samoan Parliament, the Taimua and Faipule, to accept a similar agreement,2 which later was to develop into the treaty of 1879. Until the 1870's the main purpose and aim had been commercial, to bring in profits to Hamburg. Gradually there emerged two contingencies that could not be disregarded. The one was that further development would be impossible without political action. The other3 was the growth of an interest in Germany in colonization which not merely shaped the action of German agents in the Pacific, but which was in itself directed to the South Seas as the most profitable field of German enterprise.
1 Numbers of imported labourers in Samoa: 1874, 475; 1880, 1,600; 1881, 1,847; 1888, 1,320.
2 See chap. vii.
3 Townsend, op. cit., chap. iv, quotes "Weissbuch, 1885," ii, p. 4.
|(a)||By statute of limitations which cancelled all debts by Fijians.|
|(b)||By the dispossession and eviction of German settlers without indemnity. The Fiji claims were not settled by England until 1884.|
1 List, A National System of Political Economy.
2 Townsend, op. cit., p. 17, quoted from Lammer, Deutchland nach dem Krieg. 1870.
4 Poschinger, Bismarck als Volkswirt, vol. i, p. 63. Berlin, 1889.
Nevertheless, the years between 1870 and 1877 were critical ones in the growth of colonialism in Germany. Tingling with a new consciousness of triumph and unity after the Franco-Prussian War, she was suffering from abnormal economic conditions, over-production, an increase in industries needing raw materials, and a great flow of emigration resulting from the overstocked labour market. During these years the visits of warships to the Pacific became more frequent. After 1875 German interests were considered important enough to warrant the allocation of two warships there at a cost of 700,000 marks a year, and of two cruisers at 271,000 marks.3 The support of commercial interests by the warships was a real one. For example, in 1874, at the instance of Weber, the Arcona burned down a Samoan village. In 1875, a year after the annexation of Fiji, H.I.M.S. Gazelle went to the Pacific to report. In 1876 the Hertha was ordered off the Asian coast to Samoa and Tonga to negotiate trade treaties. With the negotiations for treaties began the era of political interference.
1 Zimmermann, Geschichte Deutsche Kolonialpolitik. Berlin, 1914, p. 6.
2 F.O. 244/275. Russell to Derby (No. 275), November 6, 1874.
3 Zimmermann, Geschichte Deutsche Kolonialpolitik, p. 1.