Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page

Samoa 1899 as portrayed in Punch

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Yeonhwa
Term Paper, AP European History Class, May 2008

Table of Contents
I. Samoa's Location
II. Samoa's Economy in 1899
III. Background History of Samoa
IV. Samoa in 1899
V. Samoa in 1899 as Portrayed in Punch
VI. Conclusion

I. Samoa's Location
            The Samoan Islands, also called Navigators' islands are islands in the Pacific Ocean, about 2000 miles south and 300 miles west of the Hawaiian Islands. The land Samoa lies approximately 80 miles (130 km) west of American Samoa, 1,800 miles (2,900 km) northeast of New Zealand, and 2,600 miles (4,200 km) southwest of Hawaii in the Pacific (1).

Fig. 1 : Map of the Samoan Islands after Partition (2)

            The Samoan Islands are now a major tourist site, possessing all the attractions pacific islands have. However, it was not just an archipelago of beauty throughout its history. Since the 1800's and especially towards the late 1800's, it had been the center of dispute of foreign powers, namely the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. As a result of their interference, it not only suffered directly from them, but indirectly as well due to the civil wars that were instigated.
            This paper examines the crucial period of Samoan history, most representatively 1899, and events leading up to that year.

II. Samoa's Economy in 1899
            Samoan Islands came to receive much attention from three powerful powers: the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. The 19th century was a period of imperialism, where foreign powers, mostly European and the U.S., established their governments in, for example, the African continent, Asia, etc. The Pacific was no exception. Numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean were declared the possession of individual powers, most notably Britain, France, Germany, the United States. In such an international trend, Samoa came to play a role in international politics.
            Establishing an empire was indeed a symbol of national strength, and thus the imperialism was in a way a race of acquiring territories for the powers. However, even if that is the case, it is crucial that the characteristics of the Samoan Islands that could have served as appealing factors to the foreign powers be examined, to fully understand the interests these powers had.
            The Samoan Islands have fertile soil and a moist climate, suitable for the cultivation of crops. Its principle crops included cocoanuts, copra, cotton, sugar, and coffee - typical plantation crops. In the late 1890's, the islands were beginning to focus more on the production of tropical fruits such as vanilla, bananas, and pineapples, which were grown with more success and far more fitting for the local climate.
            By the late 1890's, the three powers already had a considerable share in the economy of Samoa. "The imports were USD 329,630, of which Germany contributed USD 83,562; the United States, USD 53,415; Great Britain, USD 13,322; and New Zealand and New South Wales, USD 157,695" (3). Although these shares were not significant in the view of the colonial powers, in view of the economy of Samoa which had a population of a mere 32,512 by 1904 (4), the colonial powers played a crucial role. In addition, the numbers might not have amounted to much considering the economy of the powers as nations, but for individual investors and exporting companies, it is apparent that the Samoan Islands were of worth.
            Considering the fertility and productivity of the islands and the islandsĄŻ function as the powers' market albeit it be small, the foreign nations' interests in the islands are comprehensible. With such values at stake, the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain slowly increased their interference in the domestic affairs of Samoa and eventually led to the partition of the islands, by 1899 and 1900.

III. Background History of Samoa
            The history of Samoa, leading up to the year of 1899, consists of several encounters and interactions with the foreign powers.
            For example, the U.S. interest in the Samoan Islands began as early as 1838, and increasing dramatically after the Civil War, continued so. A U.S. naval officer, Commander Richard W. Meade, negotiated a treaty with the Samoan chieftains in 1872, receiving exclusive rights to a naval station at the harbor of Pago-Pago on the island of Tutuila. Colonel A. B. Steinberger who was a special agent on the islands in 1873, sent by President Grant, was acknowledged as an American governor by the Samoans. Ties between the United States and the Samoan Islands could develop as the islanders and the U.S. had a mutual interest in blocking German influence on the islands.
            However, as Great Britain, Germany, and the U.S. all took interest in the islands, tension and rivalry developed after 1879. Though the three powers cooperated in matters such as providing for a protectorate over the municipal government of Apia, which was later extended to all of the islands, through tripartite agreements, tensions, protests, and conflicting interests led to the Washington Conference in 1885. Nevertheless, as matters turned out to be of diplomatic, political characteristics - such as Britain supporting Germany's ambition over Samoa as a promise for German recognition of British ambitions in Africa and Near East - no consensus could be reached among all three. Tension culminated as Germany stepped the line, by "deporting the resisting ruler and establishing a government under direct German influence." The new government hindered the U.S. and the British in their pursuit of commercial interests (5). By the end of 1888, warships were deployed in Apia Harbor, and war was imminent.
            A hurricane prevented an armed conflict from occurring, and the issue was settled in Berlin Conference through the Act of Berlin in 1889. Act of Berlin put the islands under the joint control of the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain; it formally recognized Samoa as an independent state and the native king as the ruler. It also established that the natives choose their own form of government and their king, "according to their laws and customs." However, in this act which seemingly respected the sovereign rights of Samoa, there was room for ample foreign interference.

       1. The three powers chose the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Appeal was not allowed, but he could be dismissed if two of the powers consented to it.

       2. The new municipality of Apia would have a president chosen by the three powers.

       3. Only the three powers had the authority to make any changes regarding the act

            These were some of the possibilities of interference that were explicitly agreed upon in the Berlin Act. It is safe to assume that there were other ways, both institutional and non-institutional. Eventually, such interference grew to take forms such as certain powers supporting certain candidates as king, an American chief justice using his authority to reflect his own government's position in Samoan affairs, and on. Such actions resulted in the chaos observed in 1899.

IV. Samoa in 1899
            After cases of the powers' involvement in domestic political conflicts, the consuls recognized that the German-supported Mataafa party was the de facto ruling power in 1899. A virtually German-headed government was hence established. Then, the Anglo-American forces opposed to the government's policy of abolishing the Anglo-American Supreme Court. Combined with jealousy and rivalry, proclamation and counter-proclamation were exchanged between an American Rear Admiral Kautz and the German consul. The powers as well as Samoa were in deep confusion and turmoil.
            Ultimately, the disputes culminated into an armed conflict. Officers and army forces of all sides were killed; ambush, criticisms, and disapprovals were rampant and out of control.
            Finally, the Anglo-American convention of November 8, 1899 settled the disorder and instability. It dictated that the archipelago be divided between Germany and the United States. Great Britain forewent its rights to the archipelago for compensations elsewhere. The Yearbook of 1899 specifies the arrangements : Germany received the two western groups of the Samoan islands - that is, Savaii and Upolu, with its capital at Apia, while the United States received the [eastern] group, Tutuila, with the important harbor of Pago-Pago. . . . By way of compensation, England received from Germany the Tonga Islands, lying to the south of Samoa, including the Vavau and Savage Island groups, and also the islands of Choiseul and Isabelle in the Solomon group. . . . the neutral zone between [German Togoland and the English Gold Coast] was divided anew, by far the greater part falling to England (6).:

V. Samoa 1899 as Portrayed in Punch
            Punch, or the London Charivari, was a series of political cartoons that depicted both domestic and international affairs. The following cartoons are cartoons that were published on April 26th, 1899, and on November 15th, 1899, depicting situations in Samoa.

Fig. 1 : Punch Vol.116 p.194 April 26 1899

            The caption below the cartoon says "The Tug of - Peace." In the middle, a Polynesian woman representing Samoa is being pulled in three directions by three men. The man behind Samoa, with his cowboy hat and his shirt of stars and stripes, symbolizes the United States. Having knowledge of the circumstances in Samoa in 1899, it is not difficult to guess that the three men depicted are the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, each tugging on Samoa to have her as his.
            The words, "The Tug of - Peace" are rather ironic, as the three powersĄŻ rivalry culminates to bloody conflict, especially starting in early April of 1899 when Anglo-Americans were ambushed (Note date of this cartoon: April 26, 1899); in fact, ironically, in the cartoon, the three men are all armed. This can be interpreted as the cartoonist satirizing the situation in Samoa and criticizing the thirst of the three powers.
            Below the ironic words is what Samoa says : "How happy could I be - alone! Were all these three charmers away." The words that the cartoonist put into Samoa's mouth are more direct compared to the ironic statement written above. It simply states that Samoa does not want the three powers on her islands and that it would be a wise political move to step out.
            Hence, here, what the audience finds is not a British cartoon biased towards the British, but a satirical cartoon that makes fun of and criticizes British foreign policies - not just that of the British, but also that of Germany and the United States as well.

Fig. 2 : Punch Vol.117 p.230 November 15 1899

            This cartoon, published in November 15, 1899, after the Anglo-German convention that settled the partition, illustrates the British leaving the Samoan Islands. It says in bold letters, "Good-Bye, Samoa !" which are probably words spoken by the British. Far away, there is a man waving in a boat, leaving the island, and the boat has a flag, none other than that of Great Britain. The cartoon indicates that the British decided to take no part in the partition (however, they tacitly had approved of it and had been compensated with territory elsewhere).
            Below the bold caption, it says, "'Farewell,' she cried, and waved her nut-brown hand." She, with a "nut-brown hand" must indicate Samoa, represented by the Polynesian woman. The way the cartoonist depicted the situation is rather cunning. The two parties, the British and Samoa, kindly exchanging good-bye's make it seem as though the two formerly had an amicable relationship, whereas in reality, the British contributed significantly to exposing Samoa to great turmoil. Or, if the cartoonist had not intended on telling the slanted version of the story to the public, sublimating the departure of the British conveys the relief on the part of cartoonist, which can be extended into the relief on the part of the British public.
            As such, Punch, or the London Charivari provides various insights on top of historical facts. Utilizing such media, one can see how the Samoan affairs were received by the British.

VI. Conclusion
            Samoa, albeit a small archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, had once been the center of conflict of the great powers, the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain, during the late 1800's until its partition in 1899. The archipelago itself was a group of islands of fertile land and agreeable climate and had already established economic ties with the powers for decades by the time of the great turmoil in the late 1890's.
            The three powers had been establishing considerable amount of influence in the Samoan islands. Although the Berlin Act acknowledged the Samoan Islands as an independent native state, there were articles that ensured interference of domestic affairs on the part of the three powers. Small uses of authority snowballed into the powersĄŻ involvement in and instigation of massive civil conflicts, eventually armed conflicts, in the islands. However, the partition of the Samoan Islands in November of 1899 settled the chaos. Germany took possession of the western islands, and the United States took the eastern.
            Punch, or the London Charivari, depicted Samoa and the three powersĄŻ involvement in its affairs in 1899. Little elements of the cartoons such as the description of the rivalry between the three powers as, "The Tug of - Peace," show the satirical nature of such political cartoons as well as the minds of the British public at that time. However, some of the cartoons were rather factual and non-satirical.
            The western islands, which become the Western Samoa, become the first of the Pacific Islands to gain independence (1962), after being handed from Germany to New Zealand, administered under the auspices of the League of Nations, and then the United Nations trusteeship. Western Samoa has taken on the official name of Independent State of Samoa, whereas the neighboring U.S. territory of American Samoa still retains its name (7), though reluctantly, as they identify themselves as much Samoans as the Samoans of the Independent State of Samoa do. As such, the period of late 1800's of the influence of the three powers manifests itself today.


(1)      Article "Samoa.", from Encyclop©Ądia Britannica Online.
(2)      Map of Samoa 2008, from WHKMLA
(3)      Samoan Islands or Navigators' Islands., from The International Yearbook 1899
(4)      The Samoa Islands. (Navigators' Islands), from Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch 1905
(5)      Article "1878.", from Encyclopedia of American History.
(6)      Samoan Islands or Navigators' Islands., from The International Yearbook 1899.
(7)      Background Note: Samoa., from U.S. Department of State


Primary Sources
Punch Cartoon Library, in an email dated June 2nd 2008, was so generous to permit the usage of Punch cartoons in students' papers as this one. Punch Cartoon Library does offer full-size decorative prints of individual cartoons for sale.
Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol.116 p.194 April 26 1899 (figure 1)
Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol.117 p.230 November 15 1899 (figure 2)

Secondary Sources
Note : websites quoted below were visited in May 2008.
1.      Samoan Islands or Navigators' Islands, pp.717-719 in : The International Yearbook 1899. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company 1900
2.      Encyclopedia of American History. 7th Edition. 1996. New York: Harper Collins (Organized by year.)
3.      Samoan Civil War 1898 - 1899, from Wars of the World ? Armed Conflict Event Data.
4.      Article "Samoa." from Encyclopaedia Britannica Online 2008. .
5.      Samoa. Online Map from Ganse, A. "Western Samoa." World History at KMLA.
6.      Background Note: Samoa.Ą± Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. U.S. Department of State.
7.      Ganse, A. "Samoa, 1830-1899." World History at KMLA.
8.      The Samoa Islands. (Navigators' Islands) Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch (Atlas German Colonies with Yearbook), edited by the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (German Colonial Society). Berlin: 1905, p.18f., translated by A. Ganse, translation posted on psm-data

Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page