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‘Guardians and Wards’ : (A study of the origins, causes, and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa.)


page 105


“No,” says the conqueror, “don't assume that because I love action I have had to forget how to think. On the contrary, I can thoroughly define what I believe. For I believe it firmly and I see it surely and clearly”.

(Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus)

G.S. Richardson was born in England, of an undistinguished family, in 1869. After entering the commercial life and disliking it, he enlisted in the artillery at Woolwich in 1887, at the age of eighteen. He served as a gunner for four years, and was promoted to the rank of Master Gunner in 1891. After a gunnery course in Shoe buryness, he was loaned to New Zealand forces as a gunnery instructor. His initial term was for three years, but, because he was outstanding in his work, he was retained.

In 1907, he retired from the Imperial Forces, and was gazetted as a Captain in the New Zealand Defence Force, with the title, Director of Artillery. In 1912, while still Director of Artillery, he attended Camberle Staff College, England, where he graduated with distinction, acquiring the rank of major.

Just before the beginning of the First World War, he was appointed New Zealand representative at the War Office. And, shortly after the start of the War, he helped to organise a force of 25,000 men for the defence of Antwerp. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. As quarter-master general of the Naval Division, he served in Gallipoli; and in, 1916, was made Brigadier General. Shortly after, in 1917, he was put in command of the New Zealand forces in England. As commanding officer, his duties were mainly administrative. He proved a brilliant organiser, winning the praise both of New Zealand and England. Even when holding this high military post, page 106 he was reputed to have never lost touch with the rank and file, the individual soldier.

After the War, he was made General Officer in Charge of Administration at the New Zealand Army Headquarters, Wellington. Where he was a prominent member of the Returned Servicemen's Association.92

Like Nelson, therefore, Richardson was a self-made man. Successful, energetic, and confident. Whereas Nelson had made his mark in the business world, Richardson had reached the peak of the military ladder. Both were extremely proud men. Would take personal affrontery and insult perhaps too far.

Nelson had amassed a fortune; Richardson had collected military honours and decorations.93

Unlike Nelson, Richardson was not a widely-read man; his correspondence does not reveal any depth of learning. He also lacked insight into individual people. But he possessed a pleasing personality; he was friendly, kind, and well-meaning. New Zealand appointed this man as its second Civil Administrator to Western Samoa. The dangers of appointing such a man escaped the notice of the government. Success, with Richardson, had tended to breed intolerance, arrogance, and self-satisfaction. Nearly all his life had been spent in the army; and, as a military commander, he had become used to expecting unquestioning obedience from his subordinates, and prompt responses to page 107 his commands. In the army, he had ruled alone, whereas as an administrator he would have to rule with others. These characteristics were hardly ideal for an administrator of Samoans. Yet he was transferred, without special training, from the Army to control and administer a territory well-known for the intricacy of its affairs.

In the army, Richardson had lived in a world of order and discipline; a world where each man knew his place, where order was a supreme virtue; a machine with its various parts fitting exactly into each other. He tended, therefore, to look upon any semblance of disorder as a waste, a crime, a sin, if you like. Any individual, who dared to disturb the smooth functioning of the machine, was promptly dealt with. As an administrator, therefore, he was prone to the habit of viewing any society as a systemmatic whole with its parts neatly dovetailed into each other. If such a society was a model of order, he thought it healthy, wholesome, pleasant to behold. But a society, we must remember, does not exist for the benefit of an administrator. It exists to bring a tolerable if not happy life to the people who compose it.

Richardson was also influenced, to a marked degree, by the prevailing attitudes and ideas regarding colonies and colonial peoples. Developed nations, so the League dictated, existed to help unenlightened peoples achieve social and economic fulfilment. The Mandatory Power knew best; it must guide its childlike wards toward self-government, gradually. Such attitudes inferred that the Mandatory power was superior to its wards. And, immediately, attitudes of benevolent paternalism became the basis of the policies of the mandatory power. There can be no doubt that Richardson, as an administrator, was a paternalist. But, unlike experienced adminis- page 108 trators such as Lord Lugard of Nigeria, Richardson sadly lacked the knowledge of Samoans and the finesse and sophistication vital to the implementation of New Zealand's paternalistic policy. Richardson was well-meaning but naive; he attempted to govern the Samoans according to his own ideas of what was right and desirable. This was one of his major weaknesses as an administrator.

His other major weakness was connected to his devout belief in exacting order. When he looked at Samoan society, he saw great human and economic waste. And disorder. Nothing seemed to fit into place. Very little coincided with his preconceived ideas of what an orderly society should be. However, he believed that all that Samoan society needed to put it right was reform, radical reform if necessary. With very little knowledge of Samoan society, how was he to know that perhaps behind this outward display of disorder, the people, in their own way, were contented; that the Samoans did not want to be hurried into the twentieth century. But, being the dynamic reformer that he was, Richardson saw no major obstacles, or when he recognised obstacles, he believed that they could be overcome, given time, given more concerted effort and persuasion. Like Nelson, Richardson had never failed in anything he had attempted.

Richardson was also a victim of the racialist myths concerning the Samoans and European residents.94 He was also directly responsible for perpetuating these myths at the official level. With his thinking, - in relation to these recial groups, - dominated and motivated by these prejudices, he remained blind to the true nature of the Mau.

page 109

At the beginning of his Administration, he held Nelson in high regard. But when the Mau agitation began, Richardson reverted to the argument that Nelson, being a ‘half-caste’, was responsible for the growing sedition; Europeans had been responsible, in the past, for the political troubles in Samoa, now it could only be them inciting trouble again. Richardson insisted, that once the Samoans were freed, - by New Zealand government, - of their ‘evil’ European ringleaders, the Samoans would again pursue the objectives of the Mandate. ‘It is an old game in Samoa to stir up the Natives but I have taken up a strong stand and consequently must stand the fire and slander fired against me by liars and unscrupulous persons’… ‘Natives here will not cause trouble but a percentage of them have been influenced by Nelson to give him their support in his bid for Power and Prestige in their eyes.’95

In relation to the Samoans, Richardson never really knew what their real aspirations were because he tended to treat them as children, as a ‘backward race’. For instance, his favourite punishment of minor political offenders (even high ranking matai) was to summon them to his office, where he castigated them, verbally; after which he exacted a promise of good behaviour in the future. Even the members of the Fono of Faipule, in whom he put so much faith, could never really discuss matters with Richardson, as equals. To Richardson, the Fono was, above all else, the training ground for future Samoan leaders. He did not trust the intelligence and judgement of the Fono members. He claimed that the official members of the Legislative Council were promoting and safeguarding Samoan interests; there was no need for Samoan representation on the Council, therefore. So, viewing page 110 the Samoans as children, he concluded that they were being led astray by unscrupulous men.

Given his instructions by his superiors, namely the New Zealand government, Richardson interpreted them in his own way, and implemented them to the best of his ability. He achieved a great degree of success in the spheres of health, education and economic development. He displayed tremendous drive, initiative and forceful leadership. Yet he remained blind to the true aspirations of the people he was trying to reform. The system of civil administration, established by New Zealand, allowed him too much power, too much freedom of action. The system, so the Mau argued, permitted Richardson to become the ‘military martinet’96 he had been in the army. The paternalistic policies he was expected, by his government, to implement also emphasised and encouraged his weaknesses; turned his very strengths, as a man, into glaring faults in the eyes of his critics. The subordinate officials, in Richardson's Administration, did not help his popularity in any way. In fact, they were responsible for a large measure of the unpopularity attached to the Administration.

When the Mau cast him as the villain in the drama, Richardson took it as a personal insult. And, like Nelson, he fought, - till his death in 1938, - to clear his name and reputation. He held Nelson personally responsible for the attack on his character. Two men so alike yet so far apart.

In 1926, Richardson wrote: ‘Here [Samoa] pebbles on the beach are magnified into Mt. Everests but distance will reduce them to their natural dimensions’.97 Time has reduced the Mau and the troubles associated with it to their ‘natural dimensions’. And historians are left with the pebbles out of which to create ‘scholarly’ Everests.