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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



The first New Zealand Administrator of Western Samoa (1914) was Colonel Logan, who had been in command of the Expeditionary Force. He retained Dick Williams as Deputy Administrator of Savaii; appointed Charlie Roberts—to whom I have referred in the Prologue—Chief Justice; and Loibl became Treasurer. Many of the other offices were filled by men under his command. In this way, with a leavening of local people, he built up an efficient Administration.

Prior to the landing of the military forces the German Governor, Dr. Schultz, had called the natives together and told them that the quarrel was not of theirs, but between Germany and Britain, and that they were to take no part. Some of them had suggested opposing the occupation. All of the public servants were given a year's pay in advance. There was no resistance offered by the Germans. The Germans in the Pacific seem from the first to have realized the hopeless nature of the position. A tale is told that the Collector of page 92Customs was in the bar of the Central Hotel upon the Apia Beach when the news came through that England had declared war upon Germany. "Gentlemen," he is reputed to have said, "that is the end of Germany!" and, having placed his glass untasted upon the counter, to have walked out.

Shortly after the New Zealand occupation, the German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau appeared off Apia and trained their guns upon the town. A column of New Zealand troops, owing to bad leadership, marched across the Vaisingano Bridge immediately beneath them. The Germans did not open fire. Asked afterwards why he had not decimated the column, Von Spee replied indignantly that he was not a butcher. He proved himself a worthy foe, is believed to have grieved at the death of so many brave men in Admiral Craddock's squadron which he sunk at Coronel, and before finally his ship took its last plunge at the Falklands is said to have called his sons to him upon the quarter-deck and stood with them saluting the German flag as they sank.

Of the New Zealand military occupation of Samoa during the war one hears but little; so I should imagine that in the main it was well conducted. In 1915, however, British residents—consisting of planters, merchants, and others—forwarded to the Colonial Office in London a petition requesting that in the event of Samoa remaining under the British flag after the termination of the war, it might come under the direct control of Downing Street and not New Zealand. That, being under the control of Great Britain, the territory would have the advantages of Britain's great experience of administration in tropical climes and government of native races; while New Zealand was inexperienced, and had no island experience other than her administration of the Cook Group, which was not considered satisfactory. To this irrelevant document small attention would seem to have been given.

Towards the end of 1918 there appeared some old-style sailing-gods off Upolu, and Western Samoa was visited by the world epidemic of pneumonic influenza, from which more than a fifth of the native population died. Their relations in Eastern Samoa—sixty miles away—escaped entirely, owing to the maintenance of a strict quarantine: a precaution entirely lacking in page 93these western islands, which had not been advised from New Zealand of any danger. It is worthy now of note that the ship which brought the disease from Auckland was quarantined on her way to Samoa both at Suva and Levuka in the British Crown colony of Fiji. And although she was given a clean bill of health before leaving New Zealand, she had already had the 'flu aboard. And influenza in New Zealand was now a notifiable disease. No temperatures were taken at Apia.

Within a few days' time the epidemic was raging in Western Samoa, and the natives were dying like flies. On November 20th the United States Governor of Eastern Samoa radiographed from Pango-Pango offering medical assistance. Pango-Pango is only a few hours' steam from Apia, and has a highly equipped naval hospital with numerous staff. But the offer was not accepted. Not merely was this so, but the Administrator of Western Samoa closed down all wireless communication with Pango-Pango, and allowed no call subsequently to be put through.

During the visitation individual members of the Protestant missions seem to have lived up to the (Samoan) traditions of their respective orders. At the very beginning of the epidemic a missionary of the London Mission was working the villages of the north coast of Upolu towards Mulifanua, his purpose being to take up one of the periodic cash collections to which the natives are privileged to contribute. As he went with his party, coming from the direction of Apia, he is credited with carrying with him the 'flu; and those of his party who fell sick were left at various wayside villages.

The missionary, having completed his itinerary, set out on his return by the same route along which he had come, his carriers being now heavily laden. The 'flu was already in full blast in all these villages he had recently traversed. And in many, it is alleged, the people, too sick to get to their plantations for food, came out and begged for a return of a portion of the money they recently had given, to enable them to buy rice from the stores: to be met only with a blank refusal. The missionary, it is declared, continued on his way, his carriers laden with the pieces of silver; and such of them as fell sick were replaced by other Samoans recruited from among those page 94villagers who had not yet succumbed to the epidemic. The natives, it should be remembered, as a result of the mission collections, were probably already up to their necks in debt with the stores.

Later in the epidemic, it is well attested, when there were white men—soldiers and others—digging graves in Apia Cemetery, a missionary went to Colonel Logan, the Administrator, regarding them and protested that they were drinking intoxicants on holy ground. He demanded that it be stopped forthwith. Logan, who was himself giving a lead in relief work, and clearly in no mood for flummery, commandeered the gentleman's services on the spot, and sent him straightway under escort to the cemetery to labour there with pick and shovel burying putrefying corpses under the tropical sun. Before the morning was out the missionary had caved in, and begged for and been given a drink of whisky: whether from design, weakness, or some sense of decency on his part one can only speculate.

Some time after the epidemic, when Colonel Logan had gone on leave, a native petition, supposed to have been instigated by the Protestant missions, was handed to the Acting-Administrator, and worded as follows: "Our hearts are sore with New Zealand. We have lost brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives, in fact many of our brethren are dead. We pray to God that Great Britain will take over the control of Samoa from New Zealand, and that New Zealand and those responsible …" Upon Colonel Tate, the Acting-Administrator, promising that a Royal Commission of Inquiry would be appointed, the natives agreed to withdraw the petition. A Royal Commission was appointed; and Logan, who when he left Samoa was a sick man, was not permitted to return at the end of his furlough, thereby it would seem being made the scapegoat. He appears to have been a good enough Administrator, but is said to have had an antipathy to Americans, which under stress of circumstances was perhaps to be regretted.