The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
Chapter VII — The Problem of The Government of Samoa, 1878–81
The Problem of The Government of Samoa, 1878–81
The last chapter recounted the events that led to the conclusion of treaties between the various factions that governed Samoa and the United States, Germany, and Great Britain respectively. These treaties rendered impossible what had before been improbable, i.e. the establishment of peace on a permanent basis in Samoa. "One cannot help noticing," wrote Maudslay in a memorandum,1 "that no representative of a foreign Power ever misses an opportunity of telling the natives that there is nothing that his Government desires to see more than the establishment of a strong and independent Government in Samoa, yet some of the stipulations of the treaties are such that even if the Samoans had the highest capacity for government, the formation of a strong and independent Government is rendered impossible."
1 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, November 19, 1886. Encl. memo. by A. P. Maudslay, October 20, 1880.
2 For terms of the treaties see: American, B.F.S.P., vol. 69, p. 76; German, B.F.S.P., vol. 70, p. 241; British, B.F.S.P., vol. 70, p. 133. Also Appendix.
All three Powers, further, claimed freedom from import and export duties. Great Britain and Germany supplemented this clause with another giving them full freedom of "commerce, trade, and agriculture." Whatever Samoan Government, therefore, was established, it would have to obtain its revenue from sources other than customs. There would be, indeed, little hope of any native Government being established on a sound financial basis. The Great Powers snatched the benefits and expected the Samoans to manage.
1 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, March 10, 1880. Encl. 1, dispatch Thornton to Salisbury, February 16, 1880.
It is, therefore, little wonder that Malietoa and the chiefs writing to Queen Victoria, the German Emperor, and the United States President appealed for protection and help, and says that "these treaties have apparently been framed for the purpose of protecting your own people, and that only. This indeed is right; but it is only we who are in trouble, because our Government is of no account; we have no influence; it is as though our hands were tied through these treaties."1
The most elaborate of the three treaties was the German. The articles were lengthy, and the Samoans were accorded rights in Germany similar to those granted to Germans in Samoa!2 Germans were guaranteed "peaceable possession of all lands in Samoa which they have hitherto bought from Samoans in a regular manner and according to the custom of the time" [sufficiently vague phrases to be useful], "and all further interference with regard to such lands is therefore excluded by this confirmation by the Samoan Government of the ownership of the German subjects." A similar article in the British treaty confirmed British landholders in their Samoan lands.3 German and British both obtained a clause granting exemption "from the occupation of houses, lands, and plantations by war parties."
1 F.O. 244/331. Salisbury to Lord O. Russell, December 2, 1879. Encl. 2. Malietoa to Queen Victoria, August 31, 1879.
2 E.g. exemption from military service and religious toleration.
1 F.O. 244/314. Pauncefote to Russell, February 27, 1878. Encl. from Thornton to Derby, February 4, 1878.
2 E.g. in 1879, in the formation of the Municipal Government for Apia. He co-operated also in issuing proclamations to the war party, and in an attempted conciliation of the war parties, December 1879, on board the Bismarck. His grudging attitude is described by Acting Consul-General Maudslay in The Pacific Fifty Tears Ago, pp. 252–53.
1 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, February 13, 1880. Encl. 1. Thornton to Salisbury, January 26, 1880.
2 Dawson's deportment won him the nickname from Maudslay of "Dismal Jimmy" (Maudslay, op. cit., p. 252).
3 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, March 10, 1880. Encl. 1. Thornton to Salisbury, February 16,1880. Also F.O. 244/341. F.O. to Russell, April 8, 1880. Encl. 2. Thornton to Salisbury, March 16, 1880.
4 F.O. 244/341. Granville to Russell, September 7, 1880. Encl. Granville to Drummond, September 7, 1880.
The year 1880 proved to be an important one in defining the attitude of Germany toward Samoa, and this was inevitably reflected in the action of the German agents and officials in Samoa. Between 1877–79 the attitude of Germans in Samoa had changed from aggression to conciliation and co-operation.1 This change reflects in some measure the feeling of the German Government. By 1879 German trading concerns were established in a number of Pacific islands. In Samoa a second German firm, that of Ruge & Hedemann, had begun trading in 1875. But of all trading concerns, by far the most active, the wealthiest, the most widespread was still the Godeffroy firm.
1 E.g. action in seizing the harbours, while in 1879 they co-operated in every act with the British. This was, of course, partly due to a real desire for peace, and also to the new German Consul-General, Zembsch.
4 F.O. 244/402. Derby to Russell. Confidential, November 26, 1877. Also F.O. 244/341. Pauncefote to Russell (No. 7), January 28, 1880. Encl. Layard to Salisbury, November 11, 1879.
2 See supra, chap. iii. Also Townsend, E. M., The Origin of Modern German Colonialism, p. 63.
Map V.—Sketch Map Illustrtating the Extensive Trade of the Deutsche Handels Und Plantagen Gesellschaft
(Trading stations of the Company are given in italics)
This very wide network of rights was regarded as the prelude to widespread acquisition. Yet Lord Odo Russell, writing at this time to Derby, represents Bismarck as emphasizing the impossibility of maintaining a colonial empire without a fleet. "Later on, no doubt," wrote Russell (1877), "his successors will have to yield to the pressure of public opinion in regard to the establishment of German Colonies in the Pacific and elsewhere—a contingency we may look forward to some fifteen to twenty years hence."2 The truer explanation of the treaties seems to be not that Germany wished to acquire South Sea islands, but that she wished to prevent others from doing so.3 In his preamble to the Samoan treaty Bismarck states this expressly: "Should the Empire continue its policy of refusing the acquisition of colonies, which has been followed heretofore, it would be all the more imperative for it to preserve the neutrality of its overseas settlements, and, at the same time, to establish the complete equality of opportunity for Germany with all other nations."4 The complaints of restrictions that followed the cession of Fiji made this policy the more pressing.
2 F.O. 244/305. Russell to Derby. No. 44.0. Confidential, December 6, 1877.
3 F.O. 244/331. Russell to Salisbury. No. 43, June 17, 1879. Encl. extracts from speeches by Kusserov and Bülow, emphasizing this point of view.
4 Townsend, op. cit., p. 65, quoted from Hahn Wippermann, Fürst Bismarck, Sammlung der Reden (Berlin, 1878–91), vol. iii, pp. 714–15.
1 Zimmermann, Geschichte Deutsche Kolonialpolitik, p. 17.
2 Documents Diplomatiques Français, 1871–1914, 1re Serie 2, No. 362, p. 402. M. de Sainte Vallier à M. de Waddington (Conf.), Nov. 21, 1878,
3 Ibid., No. 418, p. 487. M. de Sainte Vallier à M. de Waddington, May 5, 1879.
4 Ibid., No. 424, p. 494. M. de Sainte Vallier à M. de Waddington, May 19, 1879.
5 Koschitzky, Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte, pt. 2, p. 13. Also F.O. 244/331. Russell to Salisbury (Cons., No. 43), June 17, 1879. Encl. Bülow's speech in the Reichstag, June 13, 1879.
Early in 1880 came a more crucial test of popular feeling on the matter of Government support to the extension of German interests in the Pacific. For some years the Hamburg firm of J. C. Godeffroy & Son had become involved in financial difficulties owing to unsuccessful investments in Europe. In 1878 the South Sea business, the most successful portion of the firm's activities, was consolidated into a stock company—Die Deutsche Handels und Plantaeng Gesellschaft der Südsee Inseln zu Hamburg—but the majority of shares remained in the hands of Godeffroy & Son.1 On the failure of certain mining speculations in Europe, ruin seemed imminent. This was, however, postponed for a year by a loan from Baring Bros. of London. The Godeffroy shares in the Deutsche Handels und Plantagen Gesellschaft, and the firm's holdings in Samoa, amounting to about 160,000 Prussian acres, were given as security. The failure of the House of Godeffroy in December 1879, therefore, threatened to throw into English hands the greater part of German interests in Samoa.
At this juncture Bismarck was approached by Geheimrat von Hansemann. He suggested that the South Sea Company might be revived under Government auspices. Its work in the Pacific had been commercially successful in the past. It was on the way to becoming a political power in building up for Germany a colonial empire in the Pacific. The plan for supporting the company would "not only rescue German trade but expand German colonial interests in the South Seas."2 By January 1, 1880, Bismarck manifested his approval.
1 Townsend, The Origins of Modern German Colonialism (1871–85), p. 113, chap, vi, "The Test."
2 Ibid., p. 115.
The proposal, embodied in a Bill which passed the Bundesrat on April 14, 1880, came up for discussion in the Reichstag on April 22nd and April 27th. The Bill was then defeated by 128 to 112 votes. This seemed to show that the feeling in the country was opposed to or at least unprepared for a colonial policy. The debates, however, do not justify this assumption. The chief arguments brought against the Bill were: (a) that the firm must be unsound to collapse at all; (b) that it was bad policy to support a private firm; (c) that it would be unfair to other German trading firms if the Government were to lend support to one in particular; (d) that as Germany had no fleet, this would lead to disputes and war with other countries. The arguments, all but the last, clearly are not against colonies but against the support of a private firm.2 Therefore, though immediately the defeat of the "Samoan Subsidy Bill" was a set-back to German trade, in the long run it served to give just that necessary pause before she was able to launch effectively, with popular backing, on a new course of territorial expansion.
The South Sea interests were saved from Baring Bros. by the hasty formation of a board of directors, who assumed the debts of Godeffroy & Son.3 The new company—the Deutsche Handels und Plantagen Gesellschaft der Süd-See Inselnzu Hamburg, "in practice shortened to the D.H. & P.G., the 'Old Firm,' the 'German Firm,' 'the Firm,' and (among humorists) the 'Long Handle Firm,'"4 carried on the traditions, methods, and policy of its forerunner.
1 Townsend, The Origins of Modern German Colonialism (1871–85), p. 117, quoted from Anlagen des Deutschen Reichstages, 1880. Aktenstück, No. 101, p. 720.
2 Townsend, op. cit., pp. 121–24.
3 Russell, indeed, suggested that if Great Britain wished to annex Samoa she must act immediately on the failure of the Bill. F.O. 244/341. Russell to Granville, No. 17. Confidential and Immediate, May 14, 1880.
4 Stevenson, A Footnote to History, p. 86.
The immediate importance to Samoa of the rejection of the Bill was that it became impossible for Germany to take any greater part than her rivals in the affairs of the islands.1 No question of annexation or protection of Samoa could be put before the Reichstag after this rebuff. Hence the German Consul in Samoa was instructed to strive primarily to secure peace in the islands.
Having considered the treaties, and the attitude of the United States and of Germany in 1880, it remains to define the situation in the islands that the three Treaty Powers had to face. The British policy is revealed in her decision as to the Government of Samoa which she proposed to support.
In 1880 it was abundantly clear that something must be done about Samoa. Each of the three Powers had made treaties with Malietoa.2 The representatives of all three had given him support (1879). The anarchy, if not due to white men, had certainly been enhanced by their sale of ammunition and guns, and meddling in native affairs. The chaos was ruining trade and planting, and making life and property insecure. The Convention for the Municipal Government of Apia of September 2, 1879, certainly seemed to ensure neutrality and self-government for Apia. But it was concluded with Malietoa, and therefore depended upon his establishment as king. There was no reason to suppose that every faction would observe it, unless the white men unitedly were prepared to defend and enforce their convention. Having committed themselves to ratifying the establishment of a municipality in Apia, the three Powers were involved in the setting up of a central authority that would assure its regard by Samoans.
1 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, January 24, 1880. Encl. Münster to Salisbury, January 20, 1880. "Germany," said Münster, "does not want to strive for exclusive rights on her own account."
2 Germany and the United States made their treaties with the Taimua and Faipule, but they had been confirmed by Malietoa when he drove the other party from Mulinuu (June 1879).
The immediate problem in 1879–81 was the form that this central government should take. There were three apparent alternatives: (a) annexation, or at least control by one of the Treaty Powers; (b) a tripartite government; (c) the restoration and support of a purely native Government.
Annexation was the solution proposed and supported by all authorities on the spot. In November 1880, Sir Arthur Gordon noted that even Zembsch and Dawson, who had hitherto "deprecated annexation of Samoa by England or any other Power," were now in favour of it.1 Earlier in the year Gordon had written that "nothing but external authority can preserve the country and its people from utter ruin."2 Further, there was a conviction among natives "of their inability to manage their own affairs, and of the necessity for intervention on the part of some Great Power."3 The Consul, Graves, reiterates this in 1881,4 and Maudslay, in a memorandum which he presented to the Foreign Office in 1880 after his official connection with it had ceased,5 states the position with vehemence:
4 F.O. 58/177. Graves to Granville, November 18, 1881.
5 Maudslay returned from the Pacific in 1880, and in the succeeding decades won a reputation for his archaeological discoveries of Maya remains in Guatemala.
Foremost among the natives to desire annexation by any Power—preferably England—was the king, Malietoa himself. He begged Sir Arthur Gordon that Queen Victoria should annex Samoa. He had "no chance of the establishment of permanent peace in Samoa unless its future rule were undertaken by a civilized Power. He said that this was the general feeling of all natives, that the presence of so many foreigners in the country made it impossible for Samoans to carry on the government in their own way, while they were wholly unable to do so in a more civilized fashion."2
1 F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, November 19, 1880. Encl. memo. by A. P. Maudslay, October 20, 1880.
1 F.O. 58/169. Minute by Lister to letter from Graves to Secretary of State, June 28, 1880.
3 Quoted by Maudslay in his memorandum. F.O. 244/341. Lister to Russell, November 19, 1880. Memo. by Maudslay, October 20, 1880.
A final set-back to any consideration of annexation of the islands by any single Power was given by France. In December, Lord Lyons wrote to Salisbury from Paris that, though France had no interest in the Samoan islands, "it is nevertheless probable that she would look with dissatisfaction on their being annexed to any one of those Powers without her being consulted…. It is possible she might be led to retaliate by taking possession herself of the New Hebrides or of some other island conveniently situated with regard to New Caledonia."2
1 F.O. 58/169. Minute by Lister to dispatch Graves to F.O., June 28, 1880. "I don't see," he wrote, "howwe can throw over King Malietoa."
2 F.O. 244/331. Pauncefote to Russell (Cons., No. 59), December 18, 1879. Encl. Lyons to Salisbury, December 8, 1879.
"This determination was not prompted by any apprehension of national jealousies, but it was a deliberate resolve on the part of H.M. Government altogether to refuse duties and responsibilities which it did not feel called upon to undertake, even if it were unanimously desired (which it is not) by the Samoans themselves, and were it not (which it is) inconsistent with the provisions of Treaty engagements solemnly entered into by the Samoan Government."1
As a solution, then, annexation, protection, or participation in the native Government by any single Power was passed over—not because it was not the best solution, but because it involved most trouble at the time. The Great Powers determined to temporize.
1 F.O. 58/169. Graves to Granville. Minutes of a meeting held at Samoa, August 28, 1880.
2 F.O. 58/169. Minute by C. H. Hill to dispatch. Graves to Granville, June 28, 1880.
Consequently the only remaining alternative was autonomous native government. The Powers determined to establish Malietoa's position and see what he could do. "That is," said Maudslay, "we are still to rely upon the impossible…. No one knows better than Malietoa himself that his recognition as king is not in the least likely to lead to the formation of a strong and independent Government."3
Gordon's comment is little more encouraging: "Although," he wrote, "I believe nothing short of a far more active intervention than any of the three Powers interested are prepared to undertake would restore order to Samoa, I, at the same time, am of opinion that the supremacy of Malietoa affords a prospect of rather less disorder than would otherwise probably prevail…. I think, therefore, that the retention of power by the present king is slightly preferable to his overthrow."4
With such encouraging words the reign of peace was inaugurated. From 1881 to December 1884 there was a sullen peace among the natives, a peace whose disorder dissatisfied natives and whites alike.
1 F.O. 244/231. Granville to Russell, September 7, 1880. Encl. account of conversation between Granville and Brincken.
2 F.O. 244/341. Pauncefote to Russell, December 27, 1879. Encl. Thornton to Salisbury, December 8, 1879.
3 Ibid., memo. by Maudslay. F.O. 244/341, loc. cit.