Samoa Under the Sailing Gods
Prior to his arrival in Samoa, the most favourable reports had designedly been spread concerning Brigadier-General Richardson. He came striding through the open door of the Secretariat, past the kava-howl on its table, to the room that was to be his, with his jaw set, and sword swinging, and a gilt spike in his white helmet; followed by the Aide-de-Camp, who was regarded now almost as a part of the furnishings of Vailima, looking very subdued. This was in March 1923.
Colonel Tate, Richardson's predecessor, left by the same ship, the monthly island steamer, on which the new Administrator arrived. He was gone—characteristically—without saying good-bye to anyone, and in the bustle and scurry his luggage came near to being left behind.
The General had sent a radio from the vessel saying that was there a public building in Apia, he wished at the first possible moment to meet the citizens. And within a night or two of his arrival, in the Market Hall where the picture-show was held—the only suitable building—he met the Beach.
They must nearly all have been there: the place was crowded to its roof and very doors. Although I was close on time, I was able only just to get in. The new Administrator was on the platform, and so were his wife and children; seated, they, on bentwood chairs, from point to point. He, standing, was introducing them in the course of his speech: This was his wife, this was his daughter, this was his son, here another son. Be patient with them! Advise them—all of them! They were new to the country; they had much to learn! Tell him what was wanted; he would try to put things right; and so on. He expressed himself strongly as opposed to Prohibition. He certainly could speak. And the crowd at last streamed out into the night and along the Apia Beach, declaring that "this was the man."page 139
Having put himself right with the Europeans on the Beach, who never tired for the time being of singing his praises, Brigadier-General Richardson, as he was then—his promotion being retrospective—turned a less-flattering attention to the staff of the Administration, and an orgy of systematic and implacable cross-questioning ensued.
Some very lengthy radios were promptly sent from the Secretariat to the External Affairs Department in New Zealand, describing in great detail the enthusiasm with which the new Administrator had been received by Europeans and natives alike. Mine was the duty of putting them in code. They were intended, of course, for issue to the New Zealand public.
Within a few days of Richardson's arrival in Samoa, Cooper suddenly appeared from Savaii. He presented his resignation—which Colonel Tate had demanded—at the same time begging the new Administrator not to accept it, and explaining, in writing, the circumstances of the case. Richardson, however, was adamant in his decision to accept.1
On March 30th, the Administrator was promoted to the rank of Major-General as from the first of that month. His, indeed, was a remarkable career. Some thirty years before, he had been lent by the War Office to New Zealand as a non-commissioned instructor in gunnery. He was discharged, after twenty-one years' service, as a quartermaster-sergeant; but received a commission in the Dominion Militia. He was in England taking a course when the War broke out. During the War he helped direct the misconceived and ill-fated Antwerp expedition, saw service at Gallipoli and Salonica, and finished up as Commandant of the New Zealand troops in England. He was said recently to have been in the running in New Zealand for the supreme (though small) military command; but was appointed to Samoa instead. He still drew a pension, and apparently ranked with the War Office, as a quartermaster-sergeant.
1 Cooper, subsequently, was compensated by the New Zealand Government.
The Director of Education also had left some time before, and the Superintendent of Schools, Rutherford, now acted in his stead. The Engineer in charge of Public Works was due shortly to go; as also was the Collector of Customs. And Gillespie, the Resident Commissioner of Aliepata, was returned in a few months to New Zealand—that important office being abolished and its powers reverting to the Native Department.
As Resident Commissioner of Savaii, in Cooper's place, was appointed the Assistant Secretary of Native Affairs. He previously had been clerk to Mr. Griffin in Savaii, and thence had followed his patron to Apia. The position of Assistant Secretary of Native Affairs was advertised in the Samoa Times as being vacant.
In the course of the morning General Richardson would usually drive off down the Beach in his car, and a place he very frequently visited was the office of O. F. Nelson—a vast and busy room above the store itself, which lay just beyond the Central Hotel.1 With Mr. Nelson the Administrator would confer, and then would proceed on to the office of the Crown Estates, which concern was now engaging much of his attention.
1 Vide Prologue.
Major-General SirG. S. Richardson, K.B.E., C.B., C.M.G.
Nelson, before the War, had been a small storekeeper on the Beach; but during hostilities, it seems, German nationals were allowed to dispose of their produce only through neutrals—of whom he was among the few. The price of copra would increase often while the cargo was on the voyage home, so the exporter was fairly safe to make money. Over and above this, Nelson was an able and astute business man. He acquired a chain of trading-stations all round the islands, and became the wealthiest merchant in Samoa. "If Nelson will work in with me," said Richardson one day to an official, "I will make him, next to myself, the biggest man in Samoa." "He is that already, sir," replied the official.
Of the Administrator's native policy in his early days I can give only these indications: that before he had been here long he presented various lands of the Crown Estates to certain villages—notably at Mulifanua. He was reported also to be making much of a Europeanized Samoan chief—Afamasanga, calling for cheers for him at public meetings; he was often to be seen knocking about Apia in white man's garb, looking exactly like a gorilla, and had not the best of reputations among the Europeans.
One day there came a letter to the office for the Administrator. It was signed by the two Fautuas—advisers to the Administrator—and also by Afamasanga, and requested that Griffin, the Secretary of Native Affairs, be dismissed, and stated various reasons: notably that he was tricky. Griffin was pale, and he appeared decidedly worried.
Shortly after, Afamasanga was summoned to the Administrator's room. Griffin also was present. The voice of the Administrator—to be heard in the outer office—was that of a sergeant in full blast on parade. Presently Afamasanga came stumbling from the room looking as if he had been kicked in the stomach. From thence forward he was out of favour.page 142
King's Birthday—June 3rd—was now approaching, and great preparations were being made for an Agricultural Show and Industrial Exhibition, to be held at Mulinuu. Charlie Roberts was appointed Chairman. The Agricultural Department and Native Department mainly participated. It was the biggest thing of its sort ever undertaken in Samoa.
Roberts, with the idea of publicity abroad, was very anxious that the Show be given due prominence and reported at length in the local newspaper, and interviewed the Editor of the Samoa Times to this end. That gentleman, however, proved awkward, and demanded special payment for the service. Everyone professed indignation at this, for all were now supposed to be working hand in hand for the welfare of Samoa. Roberts announced that he would produce a newspaper himself.
The Editor of the Samoa Times—who also was its largest shareholder—was a swarthy man named Brown, with a waxed moustache, strong glasses, and printer's apron. He occupied a building at the back of the Post Office where he did job-printing and produced a scrappy weekly newspaper; living on the premises. In addition to being a journalist he was somewhat of a poet, and once presented me with a slim, inscribed, paper-covered booklet of his verses and a copy of a political squib he had written, before he came to Samoa, attacking "Brass Hats" in general and the New Zealand Government in particular. The New Zealand Government, he alleged, had taken a severe but decidedly humorous retaliation.
1 Bark cloth.
Rather dubiously Judge Roberts asked me to contribute an article to his newspaper on the subject of the Show. Several others were asked to write: all being suspected of some latent literary talent.
The newspaper—the Samoa Leader—was a long time in appearing. I should think more than a month. It was printed on the London Mission press at Malua, and was to be published from time to time as circumstances might dictate. But there was never more than that one small issue.
Charlie Roberts was greatly delighted with the product of his enterprise and editorship. Indeed it was adduced by Peacock, who also had written, as proof of mental aberration on his part, that Roberts predicted that copies of the Leader would one day be worth money. While this is perhaps unlikely, the paper, none the less, has its value as a sociological document, for the tone throughout is "After clouds, sunshine!" and on that theme Roberts wrote his leading article: "Let Progress be our watchword,"—I quote from memory—"and with the Administrator's hand at the helm, the good ship Samoa, etc. Post nubila sol!"
In the Third Annual Report to the League of Nations, which had been held back and was not despatched from Samoa until about this time, I find—"It is gratifying to record that any discontent or dissatisfaction that may seem to have existed at the commencement of the year has entirely disappeared." And this was but a literal statement of the situation.