The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
Chapter VI — The Years of Unrest That Led to the German, American, and British Treaties with Samoa, 1876–79
The Years of Unrest That Led to the German, American, and British Treaties with Samoa, 1876–79
The civil war that followed the deportation of Steinberger and the deposition of Malietoa brought the native question, as it affected the white community in Samoa, to a head. From the first Great Britain had maintained the ideal which she had absorbed from the missionaries, the ideal of native autonomy. The history of Samoa is indeed the history of the failure of that ideal either to profit natives or white men, or indeed eventually to be compatible with civilized law and order. In face of foreign enterprise and native impotence and vacillation, Great Britain was forced to admit that the islands must be submitted to some form of foreign government, whether to the condominium of several Powers or to the annexation by one.
The establishment of a unified and peaceable government had been in Tahiti, in Hawaii, in Tonga, and even in Fiji, very greatly simplified by the native form, or acceptance of the form, of monarchical government under missionary influence. The king became Christian, the people followed his example. He made laws that applied to all. The matter resolved itself into one problem, that of winning the ear of the king. In Samoa, however, the kingship or highest title carried no powers of legislation or, more important, for the enforcement of laws; neither was he supreme over all districts in his rule. If the Samoan "king" (lit. high chief) became Christian, this was sufficient reason for a large party to remain heathen, or to join an opposition sect. The districts that elected high chiefs were by tradition opposed to one another. "There are rival provinces," wrote R. L. page 132Stevenson, "far more concerned in the prosecution of their rivalry than in the choice of a right man for king. If one of these shall have bestowed its name on competitor A, it will be the signal and sufficient reason for the other to bestow its name on competitor B or C."1
2 Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprise.
3 Samoan Reporter, 1845 seq.
4 F.O. 58/165. Swanston to Salisbury, June 2, 1879.
5 June 4, 1880. Graves to Granville, June 5, 1880.
Nowhere was it more clearly shown than in Samoa that a king, or a constitution, set up by Europeans could not be maintained except by those who had given the authority in the first place. Autonomous government as applied to Pacific states was a myth covering an unsatisfactory condition of partial and half-hearted interference. In 1855 Mr. Charles St. Julian had emphasized this.2 "By the influence of the great maritime Powers, or any one of them," he had written, "especially Great Britain, the native chieftains might be induced to combine for the construction of a Government among themselves. But such a Government, when constructed, would have to be supported by the same influence which called it into existence, or it would not long endure. And while it did endure, it would exist only in name, and would be powerless for good."
The king, who received the support of foreign Consuls, was in no enviable position. He was expected to control local chiefs, to promulgate laws, to punish offenders, to raise taxes, to build roads—all, it may be said, for the eventual benefit of the foreigner. Gradually to instil foreign principles of liberty, of justice, or of law might be the work of a Steinberger in Samoa, or a Pritchard in Tahiti. That was not the method of the Consuls. They agreed on the appointment of a king, and they badgered him to set up his government according to their ideas. Little wonder was it that the much-harassed Malietoa offered his uneasy crown to England or New Zealand or America.
1 F.O. 58/177. Graves to Granville, November 18, 1881.
2 See chap. ii. F.O. 58/82. Memo, by St. Julian to Governor Denison, May 10, 1855.
|British, about||950,000 acres|
|German, about||100,000 acres|
|American, about||650,000 acres|
The total area claimed was 1,700,000 acres—some 1,000,000 acres more than the total estimated area of land on all the islands!
Land was sold twice, was inadequately paid for, was sold dishonestly to honest buyers, was settled and not bought. Natives were cheated and defrauded—as were probably some of the white men. Speculators3 bought large tracts of land at low prices to sell again at a profit. Natives having once parted with their lands often lived to regret the sale, and among the most popular schemes in this troubled period prior to 1879 were those to sell back land to the natives. Consul Liardet attributes Steinberger's early success to his promises to get the land for the natives.4 Land disputes inevitably caused friction either between two white claimants or between white and native. In both events the result was much bad blood, sometimes retaliation, and often participation in intrigue. By 1889 the land question was among the most pressing to be settled by the Berlin Congress.5 The Commission appointed then did not finish its work until 1894.
1 See supra, Introduction.
2 Br. & For. St. Pap., vol. 85, p. 954. Hatzfield to Salisbury, February 10, 1892.
4 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde. Confidential, October 18, 1877.
5 B.F.S.P., vol. 81, pp. 1217–73. Protocols of Berlin Conferences, April 29-June 14, 1889.
The extent of land owned by the Germans was begrudged by the Samoans, and accounts in part for German unpopularity. Disputed lands caused friction between rival traders. As disputes became more intense1 they became also international, the German Consul supporting the German claimant, the American Consul the Californian, and the British the British trader.2 Thus the land question served to foment international hostility.
We find, then, the Samoans often dispossessed of their lands by unfair means, with little to control them beyond ancient custom and a tribal chief, breaking free of the former under the influence of Christianity, and of the latter under the persuasion of white men. The area from which they could obtain their food was thus greatly diminished. They themselves, occupied between 1876–81 in warfare, neglected to cultivate their own village plantations. Warfare meant not merely destruction of villages and plantations, but also that the hungry natives, unable to conceive of stored-up private property, regarded the fruit-laden lands of the Europeans (primarily German) as fair game for spoliation.
1 When others began buying land. Americans bought from 1871 onward. New Zealand firms only began to buy land on a large scale after 1883.
2 E.g. in 1887, a dispute between Weber (German) and McArthur (New Zealand) over the land on Mulinuu Point. Correspondence between Great Britain, Germany, and the United States, 1885–88. B.F.S.P., vol. 79 (No. 178, Wilton to Salisbury, September 26, 1887), pp. 963–1053.
3 Maudslay, A. P., Life in the Pacific Fifty Years Ago, p. 212.
2 See chap. iii.
3 German-Samoan agreement of July 3, 1877. F.O. 58/160. Swanston to Salisbury, No. 36/78, July 22, 1878.
4 German-Samoan treaty of January 24, 1879. B.F.S.P., vol. 70, pp. 241–46.
It is, therefore, hardly remarkable that those who suffered most should seek most persistently to gain the control of the weak Government. It was not, however, until Bismarck showed signs of favouring a colonial policy, and until the acquisition of colonies gained national and popular support, or at any rate interest, that the German Consul, Stübel, and the head of the German firm, Weber, dared to attempt to gain a monopoly of the Samoan Administration. Quite apart from establishing German sovereignty in the islands, this practical problem of gaining security for German plantations was essential to German commerce. It was therefore, in the first place, the Samoans who so irritated the planters that, on the first indication of support from Berlin, they resolved to obtain control of the native Government.
1 Turner, Nineteen Tears in Polynesia. Turner also records how in the early days of missionaries chiefs would insist on fining Samoans who came late to missionary schools.
2 Stevenson, A Footnote to History, p. 93.
3 Churchward, My Consulate in Samoa, p. 185. Churchward recounts how after some very serious burglary, when the criminal could not be traced, it was discovered to have been done by a convict, who, having skeleton keys of the prison, roamed at large during the night, but preferred the comforts of gaol to escaping.
Prior to 1879, however, the suspicion and intrigue were such that every action was construed as a step toward annexation. In 1876 Commodore Hoskins on H.M.S. Pearl was sent to inquire into the skirmish that had taken place in March 1876 between English sailors and Samoans.2 He demanded an indemnity of $2,000 for this outrage, which was eventually paid in 1878 to Maudslay,3 the Acting British Consul.
1 How far this was true is indicated in the next chapter.
2 See infra, chap. v. Stevens' misguided attempt to reinstate Malietoa, March 13, 1876.
3 Maudslay, A. P., The Pacific Fifty Years Ago, p. 191. Maudslay was in the Colonial Government in Fiji, 1875–80, as Secretary, Deputy Commissioner, and Consul-General for Tonga. He describes the Samoans complaining bitterly and begging from door to door in Apia to get more money from anti-British residents, even though they had already collected the full sum. By mistake they handed over $100 too much, and when this was returned they had a right royal feast on the strength of it.
1 January 29, 1877-February 22, 1878, when he died.
2 F.O. 58/160. Telegram. Derby to Liardet, February 23, 1878.
3 A fact which he attributes to his refusal to "work with Weber" as did the American Consul. F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde, October 18, 1877.
4 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Derby, July 17, 1877.
5 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde, October 18, 1877.
6 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde. Confidential, October 18, 1877. Constant references to the intrigues of Stewart, Woods, and others in Liardet's dispatches.
The lawlessness amongst Europeans was quite sufficient to create numberless difficulties for a Consul who, fresh from England, was unfamiliar with conditions in the South Seas. In native affairs war continued, and frequent skirmishes occurred in and near Apia. An example of difficulties that arose from this may be given. In July 1877 certain chiefs of the Puletua sought sanctuary from attack in the grounds of the British Consulate. The opposing party dared not attack them there, but surrounded the Consulate to prevent their escape. Consequently the Consul was forced to allow the chiefs to encamp in his grounds, a concession they appreciated and enjoyed for some seven months!3
1 As a result of this, however, there was an attack on the United States Consulate and Griffin only escaped with difficulty.
2 He was solemnly tried and condemned and executed by an assembly of white residents—partly, indeed, as a demonstration of the need for some authority to control the lawlessness. Many troublesome people had come from Fiji to Samoa after Great Britain annexed Fiji.
3 Maudslay, The Pacific Fifty Years Ago, p. 187. F.O. 58/160. Liardet to Derby, July 17, 1877.
4 Liardet states that these were fostered by Stewart. F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Derby, March 30, 1877. Also another deputation sent to Fiji in April and in September. F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Gordon, September 12, 1877.
The deputation, however, returned somewhat crestfallen at Gordon's refusal to grant what they wished, and the Consuls who succeeded Liardet3 received strict injunctions not to countenance petitions for annexation.
1 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Derby, April 9, 1877.
3 March 12, 1878, Consul Maudslay (temporarily appointed from Fiji, where he was Colonial Secretary to Gordon); April 1878, Acting-Consul Swanston; August 1878, Consul Graves, who remained until 1882; March 1882, Acting-Consul Churchward. (See infra, chap, viii.)
4 B.F.S.P., vol. 69. American-Samoan treaty signed January 17, 1878, in Washington.
1 This was the occasion when Maudslay arrived and demanded the indemnity for the Barracouta outrage.
2 F.O. 58/150. Williams to Lister, December 4, 1876.
3 It was at this that Consul Colmesnil first hoisted the United States flag.
4 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Derby, April 23, 1877.
5 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde, December 20, 1877. Enclosure, Weber to T. and F., June 15, 1877.
This informal agreement was primarily commercial.2 By the first two clauses the Samoans promised to clear warriors off Mulinuu and to guarantee its neutrality. The third clause secured the inviolability of the German plantations and the promise of the Samoans to pay for damage. The fourth clause in the Samoan-English translation reads thus:
We are bound not to ignore the German Government. We are bound not to give superiority to any of the great Governments over Germany.
For the time Weber was satisfied with his agreement. Civil war, however, continued and a fruitless appeal to England directed Samoans to hope for American protection. The return of Mamea's deputation in June 1878 was to the Samoans disappointing.3
1 F.O. 58/156. Liardet to Wylde. Confidential, October 18, 1877. It is possible that this may not be true, as Liardet was ill and rather unbalanced at this time (Maudslay, p. 187). He died on February 22, 1878, in Apia. At the same time it is quite in accordance with general accounts of the firm's methods.
2 F.O. 58/160. Swanston to Derby, July 22, 1878. Encl. 1.
3 See supra, p. 155.
To this occupation of the two harbours of Saluafata and Falealili the Samoans had to submit, and the British Consul was instructed to use his best endeavours to persuade the Samoans to give Germany the treaty "on a just and reasonable basis."1 In January the Germans secured their treaty2 from the Taimua and Faipule.
Meanwhile the Royal Party, the Puletua, gained in strength, and in May Malietoa Talavou was "anointed king."3 The Taimua and Faipule were expelled from Mulinuu, the seat of government. Nevertheless, Malietoa made a declaration that he would regard the validity of the German and American treaties even though they were made by the faction in opposition to his Government.
1 F.O. 58/165. Salisbury to Swanston, January 2, 1879.
2 The terms of all three treaties are discussed in chap. vii. See also Appendix.
3 May 5, 1879.
4 F.O. 58/165. Salisbury to Swanston, January 2, 1879.
By this time it was evident to all white people that without a co-operative effort of the foreigners there could be no peace in Samoa. By mutual agreement between the Governments at London, Berlin, and Washington2 the Consuls were instructed to act in unison to force the hostile Samoan party to submit. United action was facilitated by the opportune appointment of a new German Imperial Consul-General, Captain Zembsch, "one still remembered," wrote Stevenson in 1892, "as the gentleman who acted justly."3 He was quite unconnected with the German firm, and consequently was free to act as he considered right. Stevenson implied that his recall was due to Weber's dislike of Zembsch's interference to prevent some of the shadier transactions of the firm.4 All reports from British officials express satisfaction at their happy relations with the German Consul at this time.5
1 B.F.S.P., vol. 76, pp. 133–35. Treaty between Great Britain and the malo of Samoa.
2 F.O. 244/341. F.O. to Russell (Cons. 13). Encl. dispatch, Thornton to Salisbury, January 26, 1880.
3 Stevenson, A Footnote to History, p. 89.
6 F.O. 58/165. Graves to Salisbury, October 17, 1879.
7 November 21, 1879, by Capt. Deinhardt of H.I.M.S. Bismarck; January 5, 1880, Capt. Purvis of H.I.M.S. Danaii shelled Lufilufi.
8 F.O. 58/169. Granville to Graves, September 7, 1880.
Accordingly the fighting continued. Consul Graves describes the intermixture of primitive and civilized warfare. "The Malietoa party," he wrote, "have been bombarding the villages of their opponents from a forty-ton schooner, purchased two months ago from a British subject, with a 12 lb. gun—one of those with ammunition presented to Samoans by Colonel Steinberger on behalf of the U.S. Government in 1875. No quarter is given by either side, and the barbarous custom of parading the heads of the slain on spears is still continued."3
The rebels submitted in June 1880, and there was peace until Malietoa Talavou died in 1881. His death threw the country again into confusion. While the majority supported Malietoa Laupepa, two districts gave their support to two other high chiefs, Tamasese and Mataafa. Hostile to the more generally accepted ruler, they united in a decision to support each other's nominee in an alternate monarchy, each chief to rule for a year at a time. The Consuls were able to prevent a further convulsion of civil war. On board the U.S.S. Lackawanna an agreement was reached which lasted for some three years.4 Malietoa Laupepa was to be king. Tamasese was to be vice-king. Mataafa, who, according to Stevenson, was the only regal and decisive personality of the three, was left out of account.
1 Graves to Salisbury, March 24, 1880.
2 There is further discussion of this in chap, vii infra.
3 F.O. 58/165. Graves to Salisbury, October 17, 1879.
4 F.O. 58/177. Graves to F.O., June 5, 1880.
The most successful outcome of these troubled years was the establishment of municipal government in Apia (September 2, 1879). All Europeans except some eight or nine missionaries and their families, certain German planters, and a few store-keepers at Pago-Pago2 were in Apia. In 1874 the total number of European residents in Apia was estimated at about 158.3 This number is surprisingly small when compared with the population of Fiji in 1874, which was reckoned at 2,000.
Map VI shows the situation of the town of Apia, between the arm of land at Mulinuu, the seat of native government, and the other arm Matautu, where at this time there was a native fort. With swamps between Mulinuu and the coast to the westward, armed parties inevitably passed through Apia en route to Mulinuu unless they chose, as they frequently did, to go by sea. Both town and harbour were frequently the scenes of skirmishes, and the disturbance of shots and street fighting became annoying and destructive. On these occasions the Consulates were barricaded with empty cases and barrels, and nationals were invited to take refuge there.
1 Stevenson, op. cit.
3 P.P. 1875, vol. 76, c. 1284: English, 75; United States, 22; German, 33; French, 19; Portuguese, 2; Swedes, 5; Spanish, 1; Dane, 1; Total 158. There are no estimates of residents given later than this. In 1871 an estimate of 445 is given in Seed's report, but this probably includes half-castes. Appendix to Journal of House of Representatives. Papers relating to South Sea Islands, Pt. A. 3, p. 21.
It was clear by 1879 that in war-time no territory could be neutral unless there was a power created to enforce the neutrality by punishing all who violated it. The Apia residents combined in finding a solution. Under the leadership of the three Consuls they set up a Municipal Board. This consisted of eight men. Each Consul appointed one, the king appointed one, and the Samoans in Apia one, and four were elected by the Apia residents. They made arrangements for raising revenue, policing the town, construction of public works, supervising sanitation, and other useful and necessary works. In particular they demarcated certain boundaries of neutral territory, where all fighting must cease.2
The measure was at first only to be for four years, until the Samoan Government should be able to take over its functions. In 1883, however, the Convention for the Municipal Government was renewed. It was clear by then that the Samoan Government under Malietoa Laupepa was steering a very shaky course in dangerous waters.
1 P.P. 1871, vol. 65, c. 343, p. 156.
However open to criticism, it was yet the only attempt to expel disorder from Apia, and as such its efforts deserve praise.
1 Not merely for selling liquor but for practically almost any trade or profession a licence was required.