A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 7
Apia, Isle Upolu, Monday, 24th.
We arrived here yesterday morning, and I confess that, having heard so much of the beauty of this place, I am rather disappointed. It is not to be compared with Levuka from a picturesque point of view. A very long village, scattered round a horse-shoe bay, with cocoa palms ad libitum, and background of rather shapeless rich green wooded hills, part of which are under cultivation. Certainly the hills do gradually ascend to a height of fully 4000 feet, so they are not to be despised; but our eyes are satiated with the beauty of volcanic peaks and crags, rising from an ocean of foliage wellnigh as rich as this. Doubtless if we have time to explore the interior, we shall find no lack of loveliness; indeed even from the harbour we could distinguish one grand waterfall, like a line of flashing quicksilver on the dark-green mountain. But to reach it, would involve a long day of hard walking, such as I could not attempt, even were the sun less powerful than it is to-day. This town, which is the capital of Samoa, consists of about two hundred houses and stores—German, English, and American consulates, a Roman Catholic college and cathedral, a Congregational chapel, and two newspaper offices, representing the stormy politics of the isles—namely the 'Samoan Times' and the 'South Sea Gazette.'
The strong point of Apia is the excellence of its harbour—a point which the German traders have made good use of, in securing their own right to a large part of it.
As soon as we anchored, M. Pinart escorted me, first to call on Dr and Mrs G. A. Turner of the London Medical Mission, and then to H.B.M. Consulate, which was my destination—the wife of the consul, Mrs Liardet, and her mother, Mrs Bell, having been our friends in Fiji, before they were sent to this place. We found that Mr L. had just sailed for Fiji to consult Sir Arthur Gordon on the best course to follow in the present critical state of affairs, when every man's hand is seemingly against his neighbour, and each trying to induce the natives to espouse his individual quarrels as well as their own. So the whole community are at loggerheads. The whites are mostly riff-raff of a very low order; and in short, the Samoa of to-day is simply a reproduction of what Fiji was before annexation. Many of the scamps who are now working its strings are the identical men who, finding Fiji no longer a happy land of misrule, have just moved on to the next group, there to repeat the intrigues of their previous life.
As I have explained to you, the Samoans are divided into two great factions, betwixt whom there is war to the death; and, fortunately, this ill feeling is kept up by the utterly unprincipled whites—German, English, and American—who have their own interests to serve, and are quite unscrupulous as to the means they employ. So, thanks to their machinations, there was a sharp skirmish about three months ago actually in the town, close to this house, and to the convent, where the. French Sisters have a large and excellent school for girls. There appears no doubt that it began by a treacherous onset unawares, instigated by a scoundrelly American. The fight lasted all night, just behind this house. Sixty men of the Puletoa faction were slain, and their heads were cut off and sent to friendly chiefs as delicate offerings.
You can imagine the horror of that night to the ladies here, hearing the noise of battle, the firing of muskets, and the shouts of the warriors, but unable to distinguish through the darkness what was going on. In the first glimmer of dawn they looked out, and saw a great crowd of poor terrified refugees of the Puletoa party crouching round the flag-staff here (at the consulate), claiming British protection. The Union-jack that was run up that morning has never since been lowered day or night, as the conquerors have as yet given no definite promise to spare the lives of the vanquished. Others, who had hidden in the scrub, have since crept in, under cover of night; and from that day to the present, the fifty men (great chiefs and their followers), besides wives and children, are living within the very confined grounds of the consulate.
The men never dare to venture outside these bounds, knowing that for long the place was surrounded by guards of the enemy, watching to shoot any of the refugees who might venture to step over the enclosure, which at the time of the fight was only partially fenced in. The women and children are, however, allowed to go out and forage. The principal chiefs sleep in the dining-room and passages, and wherever they can find room to lie down; and when I come to my room at night, I have to pick my way in and out among the sleepers. But the majority of the followers have built a large native house in the garden, where they sleep; and as they dare not go out even to bathe, they have dug a deep well for their own use; and Mrs Liardet has given them her tin-lined piano-case, which they have converted into a very good comfortable bath. They have sunk it near the well, and fenced it round, so it answers capitally, and has the merit of being quite a novel use for a piano-case!
All their arrangements are very tidy; and they are a fine, dignified lot—especially the chiefs; and all are so very nice and respectful, that their presence in and about the house is not half such an inconvenience as you might imagine. Indeed Mrs Liardet and Mrs Bell have grown quite fond of them; and they in their turn delight to play with Mrs L.'s baby, who is a bright little laughing pet. Indeed they act as a splendid guard, and are always quiet and well-behaved. But some of the poor fellows have terrible coughs, which keep themselves and us awake half the night; and being awake, they do talk a good deal, which diminishes the chance of our falling asleep again.
They are a handsome race, pleasant to the eye, and happily do not, like so many of the Tongan chiefs, affect foreign dress. They either wear fine mats, or else very thick handsome native cloth of bread-fruit or paper-mulberry fibre. Very few wear any covering on the shoulders, so the fine bronzed figures are seen to full advantage; and as I look down from this verandah I see on every side of me such groups as an artist would love to paint. Picturesque men, women, and children, bright sunlight and gay blossoms, rich foliage, and palm-leaves flashing like quicksilver as they wave in the breeze, framing the blue waters of the harbour, where the foreign ships lie anchored.
But all these poor people do look so sad, and no wonder; for even if their lives are saved, all their property is lost, and many of these were the wealthy nobles of the land. Some people here say that they might now safely return to their usual life; but others, equally old inhabitants, and equally well informed, say they are in as great danger as ever. It seems just touch-and-go whether a few days will see the renewal of a very bloody war, or whether all will agree to an unconditional cession to England. There is a strong impression that if Sir Arthur Gordon were to arrive here now, the latter would be certain; and that it is the only possible panacea for poor Samoa's wounds.
Within a stone's-throw of this house lie the grounds of the French convent, where four nice ladylike French Sisters, and two Samoan Sisters, devote themselves to the care of about sixty native girls—bright, pleasant-looking lassies. The native Sisters appear to be thoughtful and devout women. There is an atmosphere of peace and calm within the convent grounds strangely in contrast with all the disquiet which prevails outside. Life here is quite Dr Watts's ideal—
" In books, and work, and healthful play,
Let my first years be passed."
I can answer for the joyousness of the merry games that were played beneath the cool green shade of banana and bread-fruit trees, and also for the excellent work done in graver moments. Very pleasant, too, are the sweet young voices, trained in their singing by one of the Sisters, who is herself an admirable musician and a good vocalist. They were all greatly interested in hearing news of the Sisters at Tonga, which I was happily able to give them. Great is the delight of every one here at the return of the bishop, to whom all who desire peace seem to look with trust.
Do you remember my telling you, when the Samoan chiefs came to Fiji to consult Sir A. Gordon, that they brought with them two pretty, high-caste girls, Faioo and Umoo, with whom we made great friends? I found them both here, and they seemed overjoyed on recognising me. They are both girls of good (Samoan) character, and daughters of high chiefs. Their fathers, who are in the victorious government party, likewise recognised and cordially welcomed me. A considerable number of the bright merry girls at the good Sisters' school are half-castes—the children of Samoan mothers by French, English, or German fathers. Amongst these, two gentle, modest-looking lassies were pointed out to me as the daughters of the notorious "Bully" Hayes, of whose piratical exploits I have heard many a highly seasoned yarn from the older residents in Fiji, where he occasionally appeared, as he did in all the other groups, as a very erratic comet, coming, and especially vanishing, when least expected, each time in a different ship, of which by some means he had contrived to get possession; always engaged in successful trade with stolen goods; ever bland and winning in manner, dressed like a gentleman, decidedly handsome, with long silky brown beard; with a temper rarely ruffled, but with an iron will, for a more thoroughgoing scoundrel never sailed the seas. The friend who trusted to his courteous promises was his certain victim. If he was in the way, he was as likely as not to have his throat cut, or to be turned adrift on a desert isle. If owner of the vessel, he was probably landed to make arrangements for the sale of his cargo, while Bully Hayes was already on his way to some distant port to sell the said cargo for his own benefit, and then trade with the ship, till it became inconvenient to hold her, when she was deliberately scuttled.
It is about twenty years since this notorious pirate first made his appearance in the Pacific, when for some reason he was landed on the Sandwich Isles, apparently against his will. He was then accompanied by Mrs Hayes, the mother of these two girls, who now lives at Apia in respected solitude. For many years her lord has cheered his voyages with companions from all manner of isles, whom he has contrived to dispose of so soon as metal more attractive presented itself.
At last this inhuman miscreant has met his doom. Only a few days ago a vessel came into port bringing the news of his death. As he was entering his cabin he was knocked on the head with a marline-spike by his mate, who had suffered brutal ill-treatment at his hands, and so, determined on revenge. I doubt if even one woman was found to mourn him. It was a meet ending to such a career.
A messenger has just run here in hot haste to tell me that a ship is in the act of sailing, and will take this letter. This morning we asked in vain if there were any chance of a mail, and were assured that there was none. I can barely catch this—so good-bye.
Truly those whites of Samoa are aggravating Ishmaelites—all striving to outwit one another, without one thought for the common weal. Ever since we anchored here we have been trying to learn whether any vessels were about to leave the harbour, and this very day we sent an express to the German consul, who replied that he believed it would be three weeks before a vessel sailed. But it seems that he represents Godeffroy's house, whereas this ship belongs to Hedeman & Rouget; and all these firms are so jealous of one another, and so afraid of being asked to carry letters that their ships all try to sneak out of harbour without giving notice to the postal authorities.
Dr Turner heard of this chance by the merest accident, through a grateful patient, and sent me word immediately, but being at the other end of a long beach, the information reached me just too late. Now weeks may elapse before there is another chance.
Just now I mentioned the house of Godeffroy of Hamburg. This place is the headquarters of that great firm, which absorbs the principal trade of the Pacific. There is "neither speech nor language" where the name of this omnivorous firm is not heard. At Cochin-China in the north-west, Valparaiso in the south-east, and Samoa midway, they have established centres, from which their emissaries radiate in every direction, and their vast fleet of trading vessels are for ever on the alert to enlarge the field of their operations. They are the Graballs of this side of the world. Hearing of the profitable trade carried on here by Messrs Brander & Hort of Tahiti, they decided to follow in their footsteps, and ere long succeeded in effectually supplanting them.
This was partly effected by artfully fostering the intertribal disputes, which were ever smouldering among the Samoans, and then liberally supplying the combatants with arms and ammunition from their own arsenal at Liège (Belgium). For these useful imports they accepted payment in broad tracts of the most fertile lands in Samoa, where they now own about 25,000 acres of the finest alluvial soil and richest forest, all intersected by streams and rivers, acquired at a cost of about three shillings an acre! On this land they are establishing large plantations, upwards of 4000 acres being devoted to cotton. To work these they employ about 1000 "foreign labour," imported from the multitudinous groups with which their vessels trade.
Here, at Apia, they own a first-class harbour, and have established a regular shipbuilding-yard, wherein to refit old vessels and build new ones. And in many a remote isle, in various parts of the Pacific, they have acquired lands and harbours, to secure central points of operation. In the Ellis group they have bought the isle of Nukufetau, on account of its excellent harbour; and (passing onwards towards their original establishment at Cochin) they have secured 3000 acres on the isle of Yap, in the Pelew group, to the west of the Caroline Isles. I believe there is not one group in the Central Pacific where they have not established trading relations. They are said to have agents resident on every isle where there is any possibility of gain, and where the natives will tolerate the presence of a white man. Naturally the majority of these are by no means men calculated to improve the people; in many cases they are taken from the riff-raff, who in past years have sought in the isles an asylum from civilised laws, and by long residence have acquired a thorough knowledge of the habits and language of the natives. These men receive no salary. They are simply provided with the materials to build a solid house, and a supply of whatever trade is likely to prove acceptable to the people as barter, and are expected to accumulate an equivalent in produce within a reasonable period. No awkward questions as to character are asked. The sine quâ non is a knowledge of the language, a power of discreet silence, and a capability of not quarrelling with the natives. To further the latter requirement, their employers stipulate that every agent of theirs shall have his own "establishment," no matter from what isle he may import his companion. But they resolutely refuse to sanction the legal marriage of any German subject with a native woman.
Nor is this the only point in which this mighty anti-Christian firm opposes itself to all efforts for the improvement of the people. To all their widely scattered agents one clear direction is given: "Never assist missionaries either by word or deed, but, wheresoever you may find them, use your best influence with the natives to obstruct and exclude them."
It is interesting to find so plain an acknowledgment of the principles which animate so large a section of the mercantile communities in all quarters of the earth. In every case the opposition seems due to the same cause—a covert hatred to the teaching which discountenances immorality of all sorts, including that of exchanging bad goods at fictitious prices for useful products. It matters little whether blue beads and muskets, or opium (with a background of English artillery), be the goods to be disposed of, the principles involved, and the consequent antagonism to every agency for good, are necessarily the same.
How well the agents and shipmasters carry out their instructions may be inferred from such an experience as that of the mission ship Morning Star, which, a few years ago, made her way to the Kingsmill group on the equator. A pilot came out to meet her, and made her anchor three miles from the village, desiring that no one should venture to land without permission from the king. The latter, on hearing that it was a missionary ship, recalled the counsels given to him by the captains of various trading vessels, who, he said, had all warned him that should a missionary ever come to the isles he must on no account be permitted to land, as he would shortly bewitch both king and people. So the wary monarch vowed that no such sorcerer should set foot in his realms; and he accordingly sent a message to the strangers to say, that if they stood in need of anything he could give them, they should have it, but they must go right away, and never come back. Thus the unrighteous counsels prevailed, and the true friends were banished at the bidding of the selfish money-grubbers.
It is unfortunately only too notorious that wherever, as in those northern isles, the natives have derived their first impressions of civilisation from traders, they have invariably deteriorated, and the white influence has been exerted to exclude all improving influences. On the other hand, throughout Polynesia, the missionaries were the first to occupy the field, where traders dared not venture, and in every case they so tamed the fierce savages that commerce naturally followed in their wake and under their protection. Yet even here no debt of gratitude is considered due to the successors of those early pioneers; and the antagonism of the traders to the missionaries is unfortunately notorious.
From what I have told you, you can gather that the transactions of the house of Godeffroy are carried out on a pretty extensive scale; and as all European goods are sold at a clear profit of a hundred per cent, exclusive of all expenses, they contrive to heap up riches at a very rapid rate. One of their peculiarities is, that they never insure their ships. They pay their shipmasters very low salaries, rarely exceeding £5 a-month, but supplement this sum by allowing them a commission of three per cent on the net profits of each voyage.
Another peculiarity, which is particularly annoying to the white community (and this is a point on which I speak feelingly), is that of despatching their ships from Apia with sealed orders, which are not opened till the vessel reaches a certain latitude, so that no one on board knows her destination. Consequently, however great a boon the chance of a passage might be to any person detained in the isles, or how valuable an opportunity of sending letters, ship after ship leaves this harbour without giving a hint of her intentions. The house of Godeffroy has not been the only purchaser of vast tracts of land in these isles. The Polynesian Land Company (whose claims to enormous tracts in the Fijian isles were somewhat upset by annexation, and the consequent necessity of proving their titles to their broad acres) carried on very pretty land speculations in Samoa, where they profess to have legally acquired about 300,000 acres on the four largest and most fertile islands. Their leader is a Mr Stewart, one of two brothers who have struck out for themselves very remarkable careers in these seas. The other brother was a well-known character in Tahiti, who blew a brilliant bubble company, which for a while dazzled the world of the South Seas—till the bubble burst, and the blower died miserably.
H.B.M. Consulate, Tuesday Night.
Yesterday evening we were sitting in the verandah enjoying the coolness of the lovely evening, when we heard very pretty singing in a garden near. Some gentlemen who were calling took me to the spot, where a large party of Samoan girls were sitting on the grass beneath the palms and rosy oleanders. The singing and surroundings were all attractive. Indeed it is difficult to look on such a peaceful scene, and realise how very recently it was a hideous battle-field; and sad indeed to think how few days may elapse ere the grass—to-day so green—may be stained with the blood of all these fine men. In Samoan warfare the aim of each warrior is to secure as many heads as possible. Hence the sixty ghastly heads which were carried from here to all parts of the group only three months ago. But before they are so scattered, it is customary for the victors to pile them up in a hideous pyramid, surmounted by the head of the highest chief slain. An ugly feature in war here, is the practice of a large body of men landing at dead of night at some distance from an unguarded settlement, and stealing stealthily in, to surprise the unsuspecting sleepers: then suddenly rushing into the houses, slice off every man a head, of grey-haired patriarch or slumbering infant boy, and dashing down to the shore, where their canoes have meanwhile arrived, push off ere the startled villagers are sufficiently awake to arm for defence or vengeance. Only male heads are required. It would be considered cowardly to kill a woman. Nevertheless these are sometimes desperately wounded in the struggle to defend their little ones from their ruthless assassins.
In old days, after a battle, such of the headless bodies as were recognised received decent burial; the others were left as carrion, a prey to the village dogs and pigs. The influence of Christianity now secures burial for all. Strange to say, it also secures a rigid observance of the Sabbath, on which day the belligerents, by common consent, abstain from fighting, and allow teachers and missionaries to pass freely in and out of their camps, holding religious services in which all join, each no doubt invoking the aid of the God of battles on his own behalf. I doubt whether many of the nations among whom Christianity has been long established, would pause in their battling from any deference to the day of rest. And though these raids and distributions of heads savour rather of Jewish than of Christian practices, I think the British Isles could have furnished pretty close parallels in the days of Border forays, when a foeman's head, stuck on a halbert, was reckoned no mean trophy ; or when one who was considered a traitor had fallen by the headsman's axe, and his head and quartered body were stuck on pikes—a ghastly spectacle for all men—while his entrails were thrown into the fire. So you need not decry the Christianity of these poor Samoans, because the old war-spirit still stirs in their veins.
I have just had a visit from Mrs G. A. Turner, who most kindly called to ask whether I would like to accompany her husband to a lovely place, twelve miles from here, where he expects to have a large meeting of the people. It is very tempting, and being a three days' trip, would give me time for some sketches; but there is so much that is interesting here, that I have reluctantly declined.
After luncheon Mr Pritchard took me along the shore to Malinunu, the village on a peninsula, where the unfortunate skirmish occurred between the Samoans and the men of the Barracouta. It is now the seat of government, and here the Taimua and the Faipule, who are the triumphant faction, reign. One of their English instigators occupies the house of Malietoa, the conquered king, and lives under the special protection of the men whom he has beguiled. It is a tidy village of thatched houses, smothered in bananas and tall sugar-cane.
We have been exploring all the near neighbourhood. Passing through the grounds of the Fathers' house (where the good bishop gave us welcome), we ascended a pretty steep hill to the Catholic college for young men—a large and very orderly establishment. It was a pretty walk, through woods and cultivated ground. Everything seems to grow here, and some plantations are worked on a large scale with imported foreign labour. Cotton, sugar-cane, maize, coffee, nutmegs, cinnamon, arrowroot, tapioca, millet, barley, and even rice, of a sort which does not require irrigation, and can be grown on high levels. Vegetables of all sorts thrive in the French gardens, telling of industry and care; but somehow here, as in Fiji, European flowers do not repay the trouble expended on them, except for old association. Their place is taken by the datura, with its heavy-scented, white, trumpet-shaped blossoms, the gay pride of Barbadoes, various fragrant jessamines, and hybiscus of all colours.
In all these volcanic soils, water, and water only, is needed to convert the thirsty dust into most fertile earth. Here, what with perennial springs and an excessive rainfall, the mountains have an abundant water-supply; and in every ravine a clear sparkling stream is fed by countless rills and waterfalls, cool and delicious. But so dry and thirsty are the lower hills, that the generous streams, giving instead of receiving, are actually absorbed ere they reach the seaboard, and only a bed of dry stones marks the channel, by which in occasional floods the torrents rush into the ocean. Consequently all cultivation on the lower levels involves artificial irrigation.
The fish-supply here seems good. There are rock-fish in endless variety,—albicore, bonto, and a sort of salmon with white flesh, and a very delicate fish called the gar-fish, with a projecting lower jaw. When this creature grows large and strong, it sometimes unintentionally proves a very dangerous neighbour, as when startled by the approach of a canoe, it is very apt to spring on board with such force as seriously to injure any person whom it strikes with its sword-like jaw. I believe that nude natives have actually been killed by those frightened creatures. The fishers here still practise the somewhat unfair method of stupefying fish by throwing into the water the bruised seeds of the hutu, or Baringtonia tree. Turtle abound, both the hawk's-bill, which yields the tortoise-shell of commerce, and the green. Prawns, shrimps, and eels are found in the rivers, while the coral-reefs yield all manner of shell-fish, lobsters, and crabs. I hear that oysters are to be had, but have not seen any.
Speaking of the reef, the natives say that they can foretell a storm, hours before its approach, by noticing the echini crawling into snug holes where they may lie secure, undisturbed by the raging waters. "The sea roars and the echini listen," is the Samoan proverb to describe prudence.
I have just heard with great interest that the balolo (here called palolo)—those curious sea-worms, concerning whose annual visit to Fiji I wrote to you at the time—also honour the reef of Apia with a call, just in the same mysterious manner, rising to the surface of the sea for a couple of hours before sunrise on one given day, which the natives can always calculate beforehand, so as to be out by midnight, watching for the first glimmer of dawn, when, sure enough, countless myriads of black and green worms, thin as threads, and perhaps a yard long, come to the surface—an easy prey to the joyous crowd of men and girls, who scoop them up in baskets, nets, gourds, anything they can get hold of, each trying who can collect the biggest share of the writhing, wriggling worms which, when baked in a banana-leaf, are esteemed a most delicious dainty, and do taste something like spinach and salt water, with a soupçon of lobster. But the extraordinary thing about them is their only rising once a-year for two hours, and never mistaking their set time, then disappearing totally till the following year. In Samoa, I am told, the day falls in August. In Fiji a few come one morning in October, but their grand day is about 25th November.
This afternoon Captain Aube kindly lent us his whale-boat to take us across the creek to Matautu, which is the further end of the settlement. We went to make some small purchases at the various stores, chiefly to see them. One of these belongs to the celebrated Stewart, whose partner being an American, the firm has the advantage of flying either the Union-jack or the Stars and Stripes, as may best suit the tide of affairs. At present this house is divided against itself; and a few days ago the agent of the American partner declared the place to be the sole property of his superior, and having sealed everything with the consular seal, he ran up the Stars and Stripes. Being, however, obliged to go to Fiji on business, Stewart's agent has broken these precious seals, and in the name of his chief, has hoisted the ensign of Britain. This is a fair sample of the sort of pull-devil, pull-baker way in which business is conducted in this curious community. It leads to endless complications, as each party invariably appeals to his consul to visit his opponent with all the terrors of the law. At the present moment Stewart's store is a centre of interest, because the American consul wishes forcibly to remove thence a certain Captain Wright, a citizen of the United States, who defies his authority, and whom we saw sitting peacefully in the store, under the shadow of the Union-jack.
The coin chiefly in circulation here is the Chilian and Bolivian dollar, of very debased silver, commonly known in the Pacific as "iron-money." Its introduction was one of the sharp speculations of Messrs Godeffroy, who obtained an enormous amount at a very cheap rate, and therewith commenced trade with the Samoans, who accept the dollar as the equivalent of 100 cents, or the half-dollar as 50 cents, whereas two half-dollars or one whole, are barely worth 75 cents. So the profit on this little job was considerable—and if it has added one more straw to poor Samoa's burden of trouble, that is no concern of the traders.
On our homeward way we called on a very friendly lady, who, with her daughters, was engaged in preparing an immense array of excellent pastry, for a great picnic "Fa-Samoa"which is to be given to-morrow in honour of us, the visitors. Then we went on to the convent, to invite the good Sisters to join us, and bring all their girls. I am sure they will enjoy the chance of a French talk with their countrymen.
It is quite impossible to get at the truth about anything here. Another German vessel went out of harbour this morning. No one knew she was going till she was actually under way. I can only hope that my letter may reach you some day, by some route! Meanwhile, good-night.
- Capital of Fiji.
- Shortly after the above was written, the Pacific was electrified by the sudden collapse of this huge mercantile house, which failed for the modest sum of one million sterling.
- Vide New Zealand Blue-Book, 1874—evidence of Mr Sterndale, late employé of Mr Godeffrov.
- Fa "in the manner of"—Vaka-Viti,
Fiji-wise.Faka-Tonga, Tonga-wise.Fa-Samoa, Samoa-wise.