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The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884

Chapter II — The Origins of British Official Interest in the Navigator Islands, 1845–55, and the French Menace, 1846–62

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Chapter II
The Origins of British Official Interest in the Navigator Islands, 1845–55, and the French Menace, 1846–62

The decision of the Foreign Office to make the Navigator Islands the seat of a new consulate1 was very natural. The growing communication of the Australasian Colonies with the Pacific Islands made it desirable that there should be a Consul in the vicinity of the colonies—Tonga and Fiji, both nearer, were still too wild. Their inhabitants were still cannibals, whereas the Navigators were by 1844 apparently well under Christian influence. In 1842 Walpole, the Consul in Chile, wrote to Aberdeen suggesting "the Samoan isles as a spot well adapted as an establishment for the refreshment and refitment of British vessels."2 A later correspondent emphasizes their fertility, implying that they might become important on that account in the future.3 "The Navigator Islands are not much more extensive, but far superior to the Society Islands. The land is fertile to the tops of the mountains, and will produce any quantity of sugar, coffee, spice, arrowroot, coconut oil, and all tropical products and plants. With European capital and labour they would become very important. The natives are peaceable and governed by various chiefs. They are favourably situated for trade with the colonies of New South Wales and New Zealand, and lie almost in the direct line for the Sandwich Islands." And he continues by recommending the establishment of a respectable Resident there.

1 1824, a Consul appointed for Sandwich Islands; 1822, a Consul for Society Islands.

2 F.O. Chile 16/47. Walpole to Aberdeen, August 22, 1842.

3 F.O. 58/26 (Pacific Islands). Consul Miller to Aberdeen (No. 45), August 22, 1844. Encl. 1. Captain Dennett to Miller.

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From the beginning Pritchard found his task by no means easy. The country seemed wild and the Samoans barbarous in contrast with his friends, the Tahitians. His landing was inauspicious. The captain of the warship in which he arrived put him on shore, fired a salute of guns, and sailed away without making any attempt to explain his office to the Samoans or to introduce him to the chiefs, and so facilitating his task. He was mortified by not being able to buy a house or land, and his horses were stolen by the Samoans. Only the kindness of Mr. J. Williams1 in inviting him to his own house saved him from being homeless.

The islands were during these years attracting a greater number of ships and Europeans. The mixed, shifting "beach" (or "beachcombers") of Pacific Islands was appearing. With such a community growing up, there arose the likelihood of disputes between Europeans, or between natives and Europeans. Though the Consul was in an official position to look after the interests of British people, he was powerless to redress wrongs or demand reparation for outrages upon British people. Serious affairs had to wait until the captain of a visiting man-of-war could hold an inquiry and enforce compensation. It was difficult to find who was the criminal, and to persuade the natives to deliver him up for judgment or punishment. On occasion, a whole village was burnt before the offender was handed over.

The guiding principle in such cases was certainly admonitory rather than punitive. The visits of warships were rare, and the captains were often given to conciliatory methods of dealing with natives. This was bitterly deplored by Pritchard. "When the American squadron were here," he writes to Palmerston (1847), "they burnt down a whole village." The French demanded pigs and mats as atonement

1 Son of the missionary. Commodore Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition had appointed him United States Consul.

page 47for a robbery, whereas the British were by their leniency a laughing stock.1

The need for regular visits of warships to those islands where British people were stationed was gradually borne home to the Government. Pritchard's letters alone are constant in their appeals for visits at regular intervals. Within two months of his landing, Pritchard wrote to the Earl of Aberdeen emphasizing the importance of the occasional visits of a British man-of-war.2 A note was made of this, and there the matter rested. Again in October and December his dispatches bear a similar strain. In 1851 Pritchard received a crushing reply.3 "From this paper you will observe," wrote the Under-Secretary for Palmerston, "that the Navigator Islands have lately been more frequently visited by H.M. ships than any of the other groups in the Pacific, and I have to observe that the naval establishment of the British Empire is not sufficiently large to enable the Admiralty to place a ship of war at the disposal of each of H.M. Consuls in distant stations…. The intervention of a ship of war must be reserved as an extreme and last remedy." Nevertheless, Pritchard continued to urge the need with commendable insistence. Again in 1853 and 1855 he presses his point. In the meantime, with the development of trans-Pacific trade the islands were becoming more important. In 1858 a British Consul for Fiji was appointed, and in 1859 one for Tonga. The rapid increase of communications and trade involved the need of a regular oversight of British interests. From 1858 a man-of-war was sent annually on a cruise round the islands.

The problem was not, however, so easily solved. In the early days the naval officer acted as judge, whose verdict

1 F.O. Pacific Islands 58/67. Pritchard to Palmerston, April 17, 1847. The F.O. reply commended the behaviour of the naval captain as an example to Pritchard.

2 F.O. 58/38. Pritchard to Aberdeen (No. 6), September 8, 1845.

3 F.O. 58/71. Palmerston to Pritchard, July 9, 1851.

page 48was taken, and who could punish with impunity according to his judgment. With increased trade, disorders arose among mixed Europeans and natives. Not only did it become increasingly hard to control natives half emancipated from their barbarous law and order, but British justice could only be administered to British subjects.1 Consequently, other Europeans behaved as they wished. From the comparatively simple situation which required only dealing with natives who had wronged British missionaries or traders sprang a chaotic condition of lawlessness, of which the protection of British subjects was only a small part. So by the time the visits of warships were assured, they were already insufficient. Of the ultimate arrangements which brought foreigners under a regular system of law and justice there is more in a later chapter.2

Though Pritchard urged the visits of warships, it was only as an immediate measure of expediency. Ultimately he and other of H.B.M.'s servants in the Pacific hoped for the annexation of Samoa by Great Britain. Two points of view are given; the one setting forth the supposed advantages to Great Britain, the other considering primarily the islanders. Grounds for the first point of view3 were the fertility of the islands, the ease with which they could be seized, the desirability of anticipating French action. Grounds for the second4 were, that ultimately the islands would have to be annexed by some European Power. It was, therefore, desirable that annexation should come before disorders became too serious.

Annexation was urged by Pritchard during his first year. Previous to his arrival in Samoa the chiefs of Tutuila had

1 And, of course, to natives who had outraged British subjects.

2 Chap. vii. The establishment of the Municipality of Apia. This controlled foreigners who had had no consular jurisdiction, i.e. all except British, German, and American.

3 That of Pritchard.

4 That of Mr. Charles St. Julian, Hawaiian Consul at Sydney.

page 49appealed to Great Britain for protection. This was partly a repercussion of the Tahiti affair, and probably due to missionary influence. For example, the missionary on Tutuila, Mr. Murray, wrote in 1844 that "the French are acting in a most outrageous manner at Tahiti, and it is said to be their full intention to seize these islands [Navigators] when they have sufficiently secured themselves there. They claim the Samoan group by right of discovery, and England, it is said, has refused to interfere. So, unless God graciously interpose, we have nothing between us and French oppression and tyranny. A fiery trial is doubtless coming upon us."1 Or again: "Can we refrain from again repeating the cry to Britain! Wilt thou suffer the boar out of the wood to trample down this vineyard? Wilt thou suffer the precious of thy countrymen to be chased as partridges on the mountains? Shall we, as a nation, fall under the just judgment of an offended God, because our rulers shut their ears against the cry of the bleeding flock of Christ, and close their eyes against the desolating encroachments of the French Anti-Christ?"2 It is not surprising, with such violent protagonists of British interference amongst them, that the chiefs should appeal to Great Britain. This also illustrates the change in missionary opinion, from supporting autonomous kingdoms to advocating British protection.3 Yet it was not that they wanted annexation in itself; they wanted Great Britain to prevent other Powers from establishing themselves on the Navigators. "They desired," as one writer has aptly put it, "to establish native kingdoms under missionary influence behind the shield of British protection."4
Her Majesty's Government in their reply to the chiefs (1845) showed no desire to extend their protection any

1 Lundie, Missionary Life in Samoa, p. 280.

2 Ibid.

3 See chap, i, p. 34.

4 Cambridge History of the British Empire, vol. viii, pt. ii. Chapter on "The Western Pacific."

page 50further than was absolutely necessary. "Her Majesty's Government," wrote Aberdeen to Pritchard, "do not think it advisable or politic to accept this offer of cession by the chiefs of Tutuila." All the same, no other Power should exercise a greater degree of influence than that possessed by Great Britain. "It is unnecessary to add," he continued, "that Her Majesty's Government would not view with indifference the assumption by another Power of a Protectorate which they, with a regard for the true interests of the natives, have already refused."1

At the end of some five months in office Pritchard described outrages and the lawlessness of the islands. "It is in the opinion of many," he wrote, "that the only way in which an alteration for the better can be effected, is for some foreign Power to take possession, and place over them a Governor with equitable laws. This might be accomplished with perfect ease, for the natives are so divided among themselves that they would not unite in opposing any Power that might come to take possession."2

The matter was not considered. Great Britain had enough to concern herself with in her colonies to wish for more. Though at the very time Grey3 was dreaming of a new British Oceana with New Zealand at its heart, yet these were the ideals of a visionary, not of the practical opportunist at the Foreign Office table. The dispatches to Pritchard epitomize the British attitude. Britain did not wish to interfere, nor would she gladly suffer any other Power to do so.

After seven years in the group, Pritchard evolved an annexation scheme, elaborated to tickle the appetite of the Home Government for further acquisitions.4 It smacks

1 F.O. 58/27. Aberdeen to Pritchard (No. 2), January 15, 1845.

2 F.O. 58/38. Pritchard to Aberdeen (No. 9), December 31, 1845.

3 Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, 1845–53. See chap, iv, infra, for his ideas.

4 F.O. 58/74. Pritchard to Malmesbury, January 1, 1852.

page 51somewhat of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Settlers should be tempted out and sold land at the cheap rate of a dollar an acre. Natives should retain "as much land as they are likely to cultivate," which, with his knowledge of easy-going natives, must have been jotted in a mental reservation as a very small area. Natives should pay taxes at the rate of one gallon of coconut oil per head for children under fifteen, two gallons per head for all over fifteen. A "respectable chief" was to be Deputy Governor in each district, and a few laws, plain and simple, should be enacted. A Governor, a band of some hundred soldiers, a police force of mixed natives and foreigners, an extensive and lucrative production of tropical products would assure the government, security, and prosperity of the proposed colony.

Alas for Pritchard! Malmesbury merely poured cold water on his schemes for territorial aggrandizement. "I have heard of him," a minute reads, "as a busy, active, meddling man, and he will be doing something on his own account if you don't stop him."1

A more considered memorandum by the Hawaiian Commissioner and Consul-General at Sydney, Mr. Charles St. Julian,2 was forwarded to the Foreign Office by Governor Denison from Sydney (1855). St. Julian depicted the spasms that would convulse Samoa unless the Great Powers realized the very real problems that were arising, and attacked them before they should become acute. "The time is at hand," he wrote, "when it will be necessary to decide promptly and finally upon the course of policy to be pursued. There are three alternatives for the Home Government, (a) 'To assume or rather accept an actual protective sovereignty over the archipelago'; or (b) 'to aid in the construction and maintenance of an independent national government'; or (c) 'by leaving Samoa without aid of any description, to permit

1 F.O. 58/74. Minute, July 27, 1852. Pritchard to Malmesbury.

2 F.O, 58/82. St. Julian to Denison, May 10, 1855.

page 52that splendid archipelago to become a dependency of another Power.' "He continued by explaining that it would be impossible to expect natives "without aid from without to maintain an independent existence." But that "by the influence of the great maritime Powers … 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"—a fair description of Malietoa Laupepa's Government-on-sufferance of 1881–84.1 In Note VIII of his memorandum, St. Julian emphasized the growing strategic importance of the islands, the result of mid-century developments in trans-Pacific trade and communications.2

During the first three decades of the nineteenth century the British had a virtual monopoly of the South Pacific. Had they wished, they could have claimed the whole island world. This was very naturally undesirable, but the absence of rivals left Great Britain supreme, and later the advent of other Powers was regarded by British subjects in the Pacific (e.g. missionaries) as an intrusion. The British monopoly was broken into first by the French, and then by the appearance of Germans and Americans. Of the growth of German and American interests in Samoa there is more in a later chapter.3

The French influence in Samoa was only that of the Roman Catholic priests and was not political. For a time, however (1845–62), the British Consuls considered that there was a danger of French intrusion into island affairs, and for this reason the extent of French interests deserves consideration.

The French Roman Catholic Missionary Association of Picpus was founded at Paris in 1814, that of the Marists in

1 See chap. vii.

2 See chap. iv.

3 Chaps, iii and v.

page 531817.1In 1826 an apostolic prefect of the Sandwich Islands was appointed. It was, however, in the fourth decade of the century that the activities of French missions became marked. In 1834 missionaries were placed on the Gambier Islands. In 1836 the first attempt to gain admission for Roman Catholic priests on Tahiti was made. In 1837 Wallis Island, 250 miles west of Samoa, was missionized, and there a Roman Catholic seminary was founded. Wallis Island was, in fact, destined to become a Roman Catholic centre, as Samoa had become a Protestant one. In 1838 priests made their way to the Marquesas and New Zealand. It was not until 1845 that Marist priests landed in Samoa. By that time their potent influence upon other islands was so well known that their appearance caused the utmost alarm among the English residents and those under their influence.

The proceedings of the Roman Catholic missionaries were not confined to the conversion of souls. Traders and priests went hand in hand. "It seems," so reads an article in the Samoan Reporter of 1846, "a strange mongrel affair for his Holiness the Pope to be engaged in the buying of oil and in disposing of powder and shot."2 Pritchard wrote to the Foreign Office (1846) that the Society of the Virgin Mary was formed "for the purpose of supplying the whole of Polynesia with merchandise at a little more than cost prices in France, and to render facilities for opposing the Protestant missions, by placing amongst them Roman Catholic priests, and by these cheap goods to win over to the Roman Catholic faith all the isles of the Pacific."3 He feared that the influence would be "very detrimental to British commerce in this part of the world."

1 The priests of the Picpus Society worked in Tahiti. The Roman Catholic priests in Samoa were Marists.

2 Samoan Reporter, November 16, 1846.

3 F.O. 58/45. Pritchard to Palmerston, November 16, 1846.

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The association of the extension of the Catholic faith and the extension of French interests was, from the outset, in people's minds. The action of French warships in enforcing the entry of priests into Tahiti, and of imposing the protectorate of 1842, was due cause for alarm and suspicion, and it defined the Protestant missionaries' attitude. Although missionaries retaliated bitterly to French activity, the French can only deserve criticism for pursuing their activities in those parts where missions had already been established. The general indignation over the treatment of Queen Pomare and the British Missionary-Consul was such that Aberdeen instructed Cowley to inquire into the intentions of the French in the Pacific. "Public feeling in England," he wrote, "having been deeply wounded by the French proceedings in Tahiti, might be again intensely excited by any further operations of the French in the immediate vicinity of the islands, where our missionaries are successfully using their utmost exertions to bring the inhabitants within the pale of Christianity and civilization."1 Guizot, however, assured Lord Cowley that the French "have not the slightest intention of interfering in any manner with those islands [Navigators] or with the missionaries therein established."2 The French Government announced their intention of annexing the Gambier Islands, which had been under Roman Catholic influence for some time and where the bishop resided, but they declared that they had no designs for the annexation of Wallis Island—an action which might cause alarm in Samoa.3 All the same, in September of the same year (1846) two Roman Catholic priests were landed at Samoa and "mass was said, accompanied with the firing of cannon, kissing of images and many other Popish cere-

1 F.O. France 27/6go. Aberdeen to Cowley, 1844 (quoted by J. Brookes, Anglo-French Rivalry, 1815–61, p. 170).

2 F.O. Pacific Islands 58/38. Aberdeen to Pritchard (No. 3), January 15, 1845.

3 Ibid. Wallis Island was officially annexed by France in 1887.

page 55monies
."1 This was, of course, construed as a first step in French machinations toward aggrandizement. In Samoa, however, Catholic activities were not political.

In the succeeding years Pritchard wrote with alarm of the visits of French warships. "If we have not an equal force out here [to that of the French], I am fully persuaded that all the principal groups of islands in the Pacific will, ere long, be in the hands of the French, which may prove a most serious affair for our British Colonies, etc."2 It must be remembered, though, that Pritchard had every reason to be violently suspicious of the French, and his interpretation of their visits was inevitably coloured by his vivid memory of their treatment of the Tahitian kingdom, even if his judgment was not impaired by a deep mortification and personal loss resulting from his rough imprisonment and deportation.

Again in 1846 he indicated a French menace, feared, so he stated, by the natives. He added the sting that the chiefs believed that the British would not be able to give protection if the French interfered.3 In November of the same year he described the arrival of two French ships "laden with priests, merchants and merchandise."4 In 1847 he wrote that "many of the natives are fearing this [French aggression] and are wishing they were under the protection of the English. If H.M. Government should be disposed to do anything with these islands, they must act promptly or it will be too late."5

In July 1847 rumours of French intentions on New Caledonia caused some alarm,6 but when the annexation actually took place in 1853 there was no hint of the exten-

1 Samoan Reporter, September 1846.

2 F.O. 58/38. Pritchard to Aberdeen (No. 8), October 11, 1845.

3 F.O. 58/45. Pritchard to Aberdeen (No. 1), May 28, 1846.

4 F.O. 58/45. Pritchard to Palmerston, November 16, 1846.

5 F.O. 58/57. Pritchard to Palmerston, April 17, 1847.

6 F.O. 58/57. Pritchard to Palmerston, July 30, 1847.

page 56sion
of French interests to Samoa.1 The last hint of French designs on Samoa is in a report by Williams of a rumour in May 1862 that the French intended to take Samoa. Nothing, however, shows that this was more than rumour. In the succeeding discussions on the Samoa question France took no part.2

In 1855, then, British interests in the islands were greater than those of any other Power.3 The missionaries by their influence had induced a general regard among the natives for England, English customs, and civilization. The presence of a British Consul kept the Foreign Office in touch with the British and foreign commercial developments on the islands, with native affairs, and with any actions of foreign Powers that might be construed as political or aggressive.

At the same time the British Government were clearly averse to annexation, and were unwilling to extend their influence by the visits of warships or any other means. Yet they were also desirous of preserving natives and native rights. The reference to the "regard for the true interests of the natives"4 may be construed as a piece of Victorian hypocrisy, veiling an unwillingness to incur responsibilities or to allow other Powers to reap benefits. In practice, however, leniency towards natives was applauded at a time when every other nation used force. This attitude, only faintly outlined during these years 1845–55, is indicative of the British standpoint in the decades that followed.

Before 1855 there was indeed little incentive to annex the Samoan islands. They were remote in the Pacific until trans-Pacific communications developed. As yet their productive resources were unexploited. It was the developments of the years 1855–79 that enhanced the value of Samoa and made the group important Pacific affairs.

1 Commodore Erskine, in A Cruise Among the Islands in 1853, writes of this in Tonga, and adds that "this apprehension of foreign occupations has been very general among the Polynesian islands since the establishment of the French at Tahiti" (p. 133).

2 The only exception was in 1880—see chap. vii.

3 The Americans had a Consul, but otherwise they had practically no interests.

4 P. 50.