The Wayback Machine -
Samoa - The Samoan Conflict



The story of European rivalry in the Pacific began even before it was first sighted by Balboa in 1513 and since then Pacific History has been dominated by the European powers ascendant in Europe at any particular time. Portuguese discoveries of the offshore Atlantic islands, the rounding of Southern Africa in 1487 and Columbus's voyage to the Bahamas on behalf of Spain in 1492 caused conflict between Portugal and Spain over the possessions of new lands which the Pope tried to settle by a Bill issued in 1493 awarding all of those lands being newly discovered east of a line one hundred leagues west of the Azores to Portugal and those lands to the west to Spain. By the treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the dividing line was moved to a line running north and south three hundred and seventy leagues west the Cape Verde Islands. The amended line awarded Brazil to Portugal, but most of the Americas and the Pacific to Spain. Portugal claimed the East Indies but Spain took the Philippines in 1564. However, as the determination of accurate longitude was impossible at this period and remained an inexact science until Captain Cook's time and the introduction of the marine chronometer disputes continue as each country tended to fix longitudes favourable to its own claims.

During the sixteenth century the history of European voyaging and discovery in the Pacific remained predominantly Spanish with the Portuguese acquiring the East Indies at the Pacific's western edge until superceded by the Dutch at the end of the century. There were a growing number of voyages, the most of which were those of Magellan in 1520 to 1522 (the first voyage around the world); Mendana's discovery of the Solomon Islands in 1576; Drake's round the world voyage in 1577 to 1580 and Mendana's second voyage in which he discovered the Marquesas and the islands of Santa Cruz.

By the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch had taken over much of the Portuguese East Indies and thereafter continued the Portuguese policy of voyaging and discovery. It is possible that undocumented Portuguese or other voyages to part of Australia had provided the basis for some early maps of about the middle of the 16th century but the documented history of the discovery of Australia was begun in 1605 - 1606 by the Dutch although this was followed immediately by the passage of the strait between New Guinea and Australia by the Portuguese Torres. Tasman discovered Tasmania, New Zealand, Fiji and other groups between 1642 - 1643. Piecemeal and incomplete discoveries continued until the improvement in European ships and navigation in the 18th century allowed the great discoveries and charting of the Pacific of that period.

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Celebrating the birthday of King George V,
Apia Harbour, Western Samoa, 1919.

The ending of the Seven Year's War in 1763 left Britain predominant in the colonial and maritime spheres, nevertheless the French were determined to take an equal share of any European expansion in the Pacific and throughout the second part of the 18th century British and French rivalry increased. Although this period is replete with famous names of voyagers - Byron, Wallace, Cook, Bouganville, Perouse, d'Entrecasteaux - and proclamations of sovereignty on behalf of the various European powers were made by ships' commanders from time to time, no actual settlements or acquisitions were made until the British settlements in Australia at Port Jackson Sydney in 1788. By the beginning of the 19th century, the main island groups of the Pacific had been discovered and chartered by Europeans. It remained to fill in the gaps and develop trade.

Disregarding the early European conquest on the edge of the Pacific - the American coast, the East Indies and the Philippines - acquisition only began with the British in Australia in 1788, followed in New Zealand in 1840; these in turn influenced Britain in later acquisitions as the colonialists in Australia and New Zealand were anxious to monopolize Pacific Island trade for themselves and pressed Britain to acquire islands and island groups to keep out the commerce of rival European powers.

European traders and missionaries of many nationalities were establishing plantation, trade and religious interests throughout the Pacific which often led to conflict which led in turn to request for help to the European countries from their nationals. Crimes committed by or against Europeans led to actions by warships of their parent countries. Attempts were made to control the recruitment of Pacific Islanders or labour and to restrict the sale of guns. These factors among others built up pressure for the acquisition and control of the various island groups by the European powers and after the American Civil War by the United States of America. The French, disappointed at being forestalled by Britain in New Zealand in l840, counted by acquiring the Society Islands and the Marquesas in 1842 and New Caledonia in 1853. Germany became very active especially in Samoa, in the groups to the north of New Guinea and in the Marshall Islands.

In 1874 Britain annexed Fiji; in 1884 Germany acquired New Britain, New Ireland and the Northeast Coast of New Guinea; in the same year Britain under pressure from the Queensland colonialists declared a protectorate over southeast New Guinea. In 1893 Britain declared a protectorate over part of the Solomon Islands and acquired more of them by agreement with Germany in 1900. After a war with Spain in 1898 the USA acquired Guam and the Philippines and after troubles in the Republic of Hawaii the USA annexed Hawaii also. In 1899 the remaining Spanish possessions in the Pacific - the Caroline, Palau and the Marianna Islands - were sold to Germany which also annexed Western Samoa the same year leaving the USA to take over the Eastern Samoan Islands.

To be continued ...

1899samoa.jpg (30078 bytes)

1899 Samoa British/German Dispute.
Series of eight photos on one page from Harper's Weekly.
Title is "Samoa: The Trouble Over the Disputed Kingship."
Shows scenes of conflict between the British
and Germans over control of the islands.
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Jane Resture
 (E-mail: -- Rev. 12th June 2003)