The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914–1915
Chapter X. — Apia As We Found It
Apia As We Found It.
The land in which the troops now found themselves was a paradise indeed after the confinement of the troopships. A white, even-surfaced coral road extended from end to end of "the beach" (otherwise the little town of Apia, the capital, and only settlement and port of the Group), passing beneath groves of the tall, stately coconut palm, and shady flamboyant trees a mass of scarlet flame.
Here were set the business houses, many bearing the German names (now long departed) of Krause and Preuss, Hoeflich, Grevsmuhl, Stoeckicht, and last, but by no means least, the great octopus of the Pacific, the Deutsche Handels und Plantagen Gesellschaft der Sudsee Inseln der Hamburg, known for short as the D.H. and P.G. The huge structure forming the headquarters of this firm was situated on the waterfront, and vied with the white-towered Roman Catholic cathedral to form the most conspicuous landmark to any approaching vessel.
Of British traders there were also a few, while several of the more advanced half-caste traders were making a game struggle against the heavy odds of German trade competition.
A butchery, a chemist, numerous bakeries (for the native Samoan is a lover of newly-made bread), an ice works, an aerated water factory, three hotels (the Central, International, and Tivoli), a rickety building serving as a Post Office and Telephone Exchange, a substantially-built Customs House, and a commodious Government Office, comprised the main features of the town.
"Vailima," the home and deathplace of Robert Louis Stevenson, now Government House. The tomb of the late author is on the summit of Vaea Mountain, on the right.
On the verdant hillside behind the town a well-equipped hospital was set in a superb site for such an institution, and nearby a school with its modern schoolrooms and native houses for the school boarders occupied some ten acres.
Set amidst trees on the surrounding slopes, on the prominent points and cool, breezy places of the waterfront or hidden from view amidst the foliage, were the comfortable-looking bungalows of the European population, while the high-thatched roofed and mushroom-shaped houses of the natives were to be seen in every clearing. Higher still, on the mountain foothills, the homes of the planters showed in the midst of their plantation blocks, and Vailima, the famous home and deathplace of Robert Louis Stevenson, and his tomb on the summit of Mount Vaea above, looked down over long, palm-covered slopes to the little town, and across the white-crested reefs to the calm, blue sea beyond.
The natives impressed the troops at once, with their quiet, dignified ways, their intelligent faces and superb and manly bearing. The native women, with their handsomely-moulded features and figures, gentle, musical voices and happy smiles, shared with their menfolk the regal carriage of their race, and appeared to spend most of their day washing themselves, their progeny, and their clothes in the cool, running waters of the Vaisigano, which flowed under a substantially-built bridge of the same name, where its waters entered the Bay.
On the outbreak of hostilities the German Governor had held several councils of war with the leading officials and residents, and discussed with them the steps that should be taken in the event of an invasion. Some of the firebrands were for defending the territory to the last of their resources, but wiser counsels prevailed, and the course adopted when the Force arrived off Apia was decided upon.
The decision of the Chiefs and Orators at a Council hurriedly assembled by Dr. Schultz on the morning of the occupation had left no doubt as to the attitude of the Samoans. "Samoa," they said, "does not take sides in this; we stand by and allow the Great Powers to work out the will of God."
The news of the occupation travelled throughout the length and breadth of the territory in a remarkably short space of time, and many Samoans living within a day's travel of Apia journeyed to the port to feast their eyes on what their hearts in silence had longed for—British control and the Union Jack. For had not the present generation heard from their fathers of the freedom, of the justice, of the sincerity of Great Britain? Had they not as early as 1877 petitioned the British Government to establish a Protectorate over the Islands? And had not Malietoa, their King, written later to Queen Victoria reiterating his repeated requests for the establishment of British Sovereignty in the Territory?
It was true that on this, as on former occasions, when changes had been forced upon them, they had not been consulted. But who among them had aught but good to speak for the country that had first brought them light, that had given them the Bible, that had sent devoted men to spend their lives for Samoa's welfare? Such was the talk in the fales throughout Samoa that night.