Robert Louis Stevenson.

A footnote to history: eight years of trouble in Samoa online

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in the blow of February 14th. In this over-
crowding of ships in an open entry of the reef,
even the eye of a landsman could spy danger ;
and Captain-Lieutenant Wallis of the Eber
openly blamed and lamented, not many hours
before the catastrophe, their helpless posture.
Temper once more triumphed. The army of
Mataafa still hung imminent behind the town ;
the German quarter was still daily garrisoned
with fifty sailors from the squadron ; what wa§

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The Hurricane 249

yet more influential, Germany and the States,
at least, in Apia bay, were on the brink of
war, viewed each other with looks of hatred,
and scarce observed the letter of civility. On
the day of the admiral's arrival, Knappe failed
to call on him, and on the morrow called on
him while he was on shore. The slight was
remarked and resented, and the two squadrons
clung the more obstinately to their dangerous

On the isth, the barometer fell to 29°. 11
by 2 P.M. This was the moment when every
sail in port should have escaped. Kimberley,
who flew the only broad pennant, should cer-
tainly have led the way : he clung, instead, to
his moorings, and the Germans doggedly fol-
lowed his example : semi-belligerents, daring
each other and the violence of heaven. Kane,
less immediately involved, was led in error by
the report of residents and a fallacious rise in
the glass ; he stayed with the others, a mis-
judgment that was like to cost him dear. All
were moored, as is the custom in Apia, with two
anchors practically east and west, clear hawse
to the ^orth, and a kedge astern. Topmasts

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250 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

were struck, and the ships made snug. The
ni^ht closed black, with sheets of rain. By
midnight it blew a gale ; and by the morning
watch, a tempest. Through what remained of
darkness, the captains impatiently expected day,
doubtful if they were dragging, steaming gin-
gerly to their moorings, and afraid to steam too

Day came about six, and presented to those
on shore a seizing and terrific spectacle. In
the pressure of the squalls, the bay was
obscured as if by midnight, but between them
a great part of it was clearly if darkly visible
amid driving mist and rain. The wind blew
into the harbour mouth. Naval authorities de-
scribe it as of hurricane force. It had, however,
few or none of the effects on shore suggested
by that ominous word, and was successfully
withstood by trees and buildings. The agita-
tion of the sea, on the other hand, surpassed
experience and description. Seas that might
have awakened surprise and terror in the midst
of the Atlantic, ranged bodily and (it seemed
to observers) almost without diminution into
the belly of that flask-shaped harbour ; and the

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The Hurricane


war-ships were alternately buried from view in
the trough, or seen standing on end against the
breast of billows.

The Trenton at daylight still maintained her
position in the neck of the bottle. But five of
the remaining ships tossed, already close to the
bottom, in a perilous and helpless crowd; threat-
ening ruin to each other as they tossed ; threat-
ened with a common and imminent destruction
on the reefs. Three had been already in col-
lision : the Olga was injured in the quarter, the
Adler had lost her bowsprit ; the Nipsic had lost
her smokestack, and. was making steam with
difficulty, maintaining her fire with barrels of
pork, and the smoke and sparks pouring along
the level of the deck. For the seventh war-
ship, the day had come too late ; the Eber had
finished her last cruise ; she was to be seen no
more save by the eyes of divers. A coral reef
is not only an instrument of destruction, but a
place of sepulture; the submarine cliff is pro-
foundly undercut, and presents the mouth of a
huge antre, in which the bodies of men and
the hulls of ships are alike hurled down and
burie4. The Eber had dragged anchor^ yrith

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252 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

the rest; her injured screw disabled her from
steaming vigorously up ; and a little before
day, she had struck the front of the coral, come
off, struck again, and gone down stem foremost,
oversetting as she went, into the gaping hollow
of the reef. Of her whole complement of
nearly eighty, four souls were cast alive on the
beach; and the bodies of the remainder were,
by the voluminous outpouring of the flooded
streams, scoured at last from the harbour, and
strewed naked on the seaboard of the island.

Five ships were immediately menaced with
the same destruction. The Eber vanished —
the four poor survivors on shore — read a
dreadful commentary on their danger; which
was swelled out of all proportion by the vio-
lence of their own movements as they leaped
and fell among the billows. By seven, the
Nipsic was so fortunate as to avoid the reef
and beach upon a space of sand; where she
was immediately deserted by her crew, with the
assistance of Samoans, not without loss 0/ life.
By about eight, it was the turn of the Adler
She was close down upon the reef; doomed
herself, it might yet be possible to save a por-

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The Hurricane 253

tion of her crew ; and for this end, Captam
Fritze placed his reliance on the very hugeness
of the seas that threatened him. The moment
was watched for with the anxiety of despair,
but the coolness of disciplined courage. As
she rose on the fatal wave, her moorings were
simultaneously slipped ; she broached to in ris-
ing ; and the sea heaved her bodily upward and
cast her down with a concussion on the summit
of the reef, where she lay on her beam ends,
her back broken, buried in breaching seas, but
safe. Conceive a table : the Eber in the dark-
ness had been smashed against the rim and
flung below; the Adler^ cast free in the nick
of opportunity, had been thrown upon the top.
Many were injured in the concussion; many
tossed into the water; twenty perished. The
survivors crept again on board their ship, as it
now lay, and as it still remains, keel to the
waves, a monument of the sea*s potency. In
still weather, under a cloudless sky, in those
seasons when that ill-named ocean, the Pacific,
suffers its vexed shores to rest, she lies high
and dry, the spray scarce touching her — the
hugest structure of man's hands within a circuit

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254 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

of a thousand miles — tossed up there like a
schoolboy's cap upon a shelf; broken like an
egg: a thing to dream of.

The unfriendly consuls of Germany and Brit-
ain were both that morning in Matautu, and
both displayed their nobler qualities. De Coet-
logon, the grim old soldier, collected his family
and kneeled with them in an agony of prayer
for those exposed. Knappe, more fortunate in
that he was called to a more active service,
must, upon the striking of the Adler, pass to
his own consulate. From this he was divided
by the Vaisingano, now a raging torrent, im-
petuously charioting the trunks of trees. A
kelpie might have dreaded to attempt the pas-
sage ; we may conceive this brave but unfortu-
nate and now ruined man to have found a
natural joy in the exposure of his life; and
twice that day, coming and going, he braved
the fury of the river. It was possible, in spite
of the darkness of the hurricane and the con-
tinual breaching of the seas, to remark human
movements on the Adler; and by the help of
Samoans, always nobly forward in the work,
whether for friend or enemy, Knappe sought

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The Hurricane 255

long to get a line conveyed from shore, and was
for long defeated. The shore guard of fifty men
stood to their arms the while upon the beach,
useless themselves, and a great deterrent of
Samoan usefulness. It was perhaps impossible
that this mistake should be avoided. What
more natural, to the mind of a European, than
that the Mataafas should fall upon the Ger-
mans in this hour of their disadvantage } But
they had no other thought than to assist ; and
those who now rallied beside Knappe braved
(as they supposed) in doing so a double dan-
ger, from the fury of the sea and the weapons
of their enemies. About nine, a quartermaster
swam ashore, and reported all the officers and
some sixty men alive, but in pitiable case ; some
with broken limbs, others insensible from the
drenching of the breakers. Later in the fore-
noon, certain valorous Samoans succeeded in
reaching the wreck and returning with a line ;
but it was speedily broken ; and all subsequent
attempts proved unavailing, the strongest ad-
venturers being cast back again by the bursting
seas. Thenceforth, all through that day and
night, the deafened survivors must continue to

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256 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

endure their martyrdom ; and one officer died,
it was supposed from agony of mind, in his
inverted cabin.

Three ships still hung on the next margin of
destruction, steaming desperately to their moor-
ings, dashed helplessly together. The Calliope
was the nearest in ; she had the Vandalia close
on her port side and a little ahead, the Olga
close a-starboard, the reef under her heel ; and
steaming and veering on her cables, the un-
happy ship fenced with her three dangers.
About a quarter to nine she carried away the
Vandalia' s quarter gallery with her jib-boom;
a moment later, the Olga had near rammed her
from the other side. By nine the Vandalia
dropped down on her too fast to be avoided,
and clapped her stem under the bowsprit of
the English ship, the fastenings of which were
burst asunder as she rose. To avoid cutting
her down, it was necessary for the Calliope to
stop and even to reverse her engines ; and her
rudder was at the moment — or it seemed so to
the eyes of those on board — within ten feet
of the reef. "Between the Vandalia and the
reef" (writes Kane, in his excellent report) "it

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The Hurricane 257

was destruction/* To repeat Fritze's manoeuvre
with the Adler was impossible; the Calliope
was too heavy. The one possibility of escape
was to go out. If the engines should stand,
if they should have power to drive the ship
against wind and sea, if she should answer the
helm, if the wheel, rudder, and gear should hold
out, and if they were favoured with a clear
blink of weather in which to see and avoid the
outer reef — ^ there, and there only, were safety.
Upon this catalogue of ** if s " Kane staked his
all. He signalled to the engineer for every
pound of steam — and at that moment (I am
told) much of the machinery was already red
hot. The ship was sheered well to starboard of
the Vandaliay the last remaining cable slipped.
For a time ■^- and there was no on-looker so
cold-blooded as to offer a guess at its duration
— the Calliope lay stationary ; then gradually
drew ahead. The highest speed claimed for
her that day is of one sea-mile an hour. The
question of times and seasons, throughout all
this roaring business, is obscured by a dozen
contradictions ; I have but chosen what ap-
peared to be the most consistent ; but if I am

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258 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

to pay any attention to the time named by Ad-
miral Kimberley, the Calliope^ in this first stage
of her escape, must have taken more than two
hours to cover less than four cables. As she
thus crept seaward, she buried bow and stem
alternately under the billows.

In the fairway of the entrance, the flagship
Trenton still held on. Her rudder was broken,
her wheel carried away ; within she was flooded
with water from the peccant hawse-pipes ; she
had just made the signal " fires extinguished,"
and lay helpless, awaiting the inevitable end.
Between this melancholy hulk and the external
reef, Kane must find a path. Steering within
fifty yards of the reef (for which she was actu-
ally headed) and her foreyard passing on the
other hand over the Trenton s quarter as she
rolled, the Calliope sheered between the rival
dangers, came to the wind triumphantly, and
was once more pointed for the sea and safety.
Not often in naval history was there a moment
of more sickening peril, and it was dignified
by one of those incidents that reconcile the
chronicler with his otherwise abhorrent task.
From the doomed flagship, the American^

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The Hurricane 259

hailed the success of the English with a cheer.
It was led by the old admiral in person, rang
out over the storm with holiday vigour, and
was answered by the Calliopes with an emotion
easily conceived. This ship of their kinsfolk
was almost the last external object seen from
the Calliope for hours; immediately after, the
mists closed about her till the morrow. She
was safe at sea again — tma de multis — with
a damaged foreyard, and a loss of all the orna-
mental work about her bow and stem, three
anchors, one kedge anchor, fourteen lengths of
chain, four boats, the jibboom, bobstay, and
bands and fastenings of the bowsprit.

Shortly after Kane had slipped his cable,
Captain Schoonmaker, despairing of the Van-
dalia^ succeeded in passing astern of the Olga^
in the hope to beach his ship beside the Nipsic,
At a quarter to eleven her stem took the reef,
her head swung to starboard, and she began
to fill and settle. Many lives of brave men
were sacrificed in the attempt to get a line
ashore ; the captain, exhausted by his exertions,
was swept from deck by a sea; and the rail
being soon awash, the survivors took refuge in
the tops.

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26o Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

Out of thirteen that had lain there the day
before, there were now but two ships afloat in
Apia harbour, and one of these was doomed
to be the bane of the other. About 3 p.m. the
Trenton parted one cable, and shortly after a
second. It was sought to keep her head to
wind with storm sails and by the ingenious
expedient of filling the rigging with seamen;
but in the fury of the gale, and in that sea
perturbed alike by the gigantic billows and the
volleying discharges of the rivers, the rudder-
less ship drove down stem foremost into the
inner basin; ranging, plunging, and striking
like a frightened horse ; drifting on destruction
for herself and bringing it to others. Twice
the Olga (still well under command) avoided
her impact by the skilful use of helm and
engines. But about four the vigilance of the
Germans was deceived, and the ships collided ;
the Olga cutting into the Trenton's quarters,
first from one side, then from the other, and
losing at the same time two of her own cables.
Captain von Ehrhardt instantly slipped the
remainder of his moorings, and setting fore
and aft canvas and going full steam ahead,

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The Hurricane 2 6 1

succeeded in beaching his ship in Matautu ;
whither Knappe, recalled by this new disaster,
had returned. The berth was perhaps the best
in the harbour, and von Ehrhardt signalled that
ship and crew were in security.

The Trenton^ guided apparently by an under-
tow or eddy from the discharge of the Vaisin-
gano, followed in the course of the Nipsic and
Vandaliay and skirted southeastward along the
front of the shore reef, which her keel was
at times almost touching. Hitherto she had
brought disaster to her foes ; now she was
bringing it to friends. She had already proved
the ruin of the Olga, the one ship that had rid
out the hurricane in safety; now she beheld
across her course the submerged Vandalia^ the
tops filled with exhausted seamen. Happily
the approach of the Trenton was gradual, and
the time employed to advantage. Rockets and
lines were thrown into the tops of the friendly
wreck; the approach of danger was transformed
into a means of safety; and before the ships
struck, the men from the Vandalia's main and
mizzen masts, which went immediately by the
board in the collision, were already mustered on

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262 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

the Trenton* s decks. Those from the foremast
were next rescued; and the flagship settled
gradually into a position alongside her neigh-
bour, against which she beat all night with
violence. Out of the crew of the Vandalia
forty-three had perished ; of the four hundred
and fifty on board the TrentoUy only one.

The night of the i6th was still notable for
a howling tempest and extraordinary floods of
rain. It was feared the wrecks could scarce
continue to endure the breaching of the seas ;
among the Germans, the fate of those on board
the Adler awoke keen anxiety ; and Knappe, on
the beach of Matautu, and the other officers of
his consulate on that of Matafele, watched all
night. The morning of the 17th displayed a
scene of devastation rarely equalled : the Adler
high and dry, the Olga and Nipsic beached, the
Trenton partly piled on the Vandalia and her-
self sunk to the gun-deck ; no sail afloat ; and
the beach heaped high with the debris of ships
and the wreck of mountain forests. Already,
before the day, Seumanu, the chief of Apia,
had gallantly ventured forth by boat through
the subsiding fury of the seas, and had suc-

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The Hurricane 263

ceeded in communicating with the admiral;
already, or as soon after as the dawn per-
mitted, rescue lines were rigged, and the sur-
vivors were with difficulty and danger begun to
be brought to shore. And soon the cheerful
spirit of the admiral added a new feature to the
scene. Surrounded as he was by the crews of
two wrecked ships, he paraded the band of the
Trentofiy and the bay was suddenly enlivened
with the strains of " Hail Columbia.'*

During a great part of the day, the work of
rescue was continued, with many instances of
courage and devotion ; and for a long time suc-
ceeding, the almost inexhaustible harvest of the
beach was to be reaped. In the first employ-
ment, the Samoans earned the gratitude of
friend and foe; in the second, they surprised
all by an unexpected virtue, that of honesty.
The greatness of the disaster, and the magni-
tude of the treasure now rolling at their feet,
may perhaps have roused in their bosoms an
emotion too serious for the rule of greed, or
perhaps that greed was for the moment sati-
ated. Sails that twelve strong Samoans could
scarce drag from the water, great guns (one of



264 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

which was rolled by the sea on the body of a
man, the only native slain in all the hurricane),
an infinite wealth of rope and wood, of tools
and weapons, tossed upon the beach. Yet I
have never heard that much was stolen; and
beyond question, much was very honestly re-
turned. On both accounts, for the saving of
life and the restoration of property, the govern-
ment of the United States showed themselves
generous in reward. A fine boat was fitly pre-
sented to Seumanu; and rings, watches, and
money were lavished on all who had assisted.
The Germans also gave money at the rate (as I
receive the tale) of three dollars a head for
every German saved. The obligation was in
this instance incommensurably deep, those
with whom they were at war had saved the
German blue-jackets at the venture of their
lives ; Knappe was, besides, far from ungener-
ous ; and I can only explain the niggard figure,
by supposing it was paid from his own pocket.
In one case, at least, it was refused. " I have
saved three Germans,** said the rescuer; " I will
make you a present of the three."

The crews of the American and German

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The Hurricane 265

squadrons were now cast, still in a bellicose
temper, together on the beach. The discipline
of the Americans was notoriously loose ; the
crew of the Nipsic had earned a character for
lawlessness in other ports; and recourse was
had to stringent and indeed extraordinary meas-
ures. The town was divided in two camps, to
which the different nationalities were confined.
Kimberley had his quarter sentinelled and pa-
trolled. Any seaman disregarding a challenge
was to be shot dead; any tavern-keeper who
sold spirits to an American sailor was to have
his tavern broken and his stock destroyed.
Many of the publicans were German; and
Knappe, having narrated these rigorous but
necessary dispositions, wonders (grinning to
himself over his despatch) how far these Ameri-
cans will go in their assumption of jurisdiction
over Germans t Such as they were, the meas-
ures were successful. The incongruous mass
of castaways was kept in peace, and at last
shipped in peace out of the islands.

Kane returned to Apia on the 19th, to find
the Calliope the sole survivor of thirteen sail.
He thanked his men, and in particular the en-

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266 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

gineers, in a speech of unusual feeling and
beauty, of which one who was present remarked
to another, as they left the ship, "This has
been a means of grace." Nor did he forget to
thank and compliment the admiral ; and I can-
not deny myself the pleasure of transcribing
from Kimberley's reply some generous and en-
gaging words. " My dear captain,*' he wrote,
" your kind note received. You went out splen-
didly, and we all felt from our hearts for you,
and our cheers came with sincerity and admi-
ration for the able manner in which you han-
dled your ship. We could not have been glad-
der if it had been one of our ships, for in a
time like that I can say truly with old AdmL
ral Josiah Latnall, *that blood is thicker than
water.* ** One more trait will serve to build
up the image of this typical sea-officer. A tiny
schooner, the Equator^ Captain Edwin Reid,
dear to myself from the memories of a six
months' cruise, lived out upon the high seas
the fury of that tempest which had piled with
wrecks the harbour of Apia, found a refuge
in Pangopango, and arrived at last in the deso-
lated port with a welcome and lucrative cargo

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The Hurricane 267

of pigs. The admiral was glad to have the pigs ;
but what most delighted the man's noble and
childish soul, was to see once more afloat the
colours of his country.

Thus, in what seemed the very article of war,
and within the duration of a single day, the
sword-arm of each of the two angry powers was
broken; their formidable ships reduced to junk;
their disciplined hundreds to a horde of casta-
ways, fed with difficulty, and the fear of whose
misconduct marred the sleep of their com-
manders. Both paused aghast ; both had time
to recognise that not the whole Samoan Archi-
pelago was worth the loss in men and costly
ships already suffered. The so-called hurricane
of March i6th made thus a marking epoch in
world-history ; directly, and at once, it brought
about the congress and treaty of Berlin; indi-
rectly, and by a process still continuing, it
founded the modern navy of the States. Com-
ing years and other historians will declare the
influence of that.


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268 Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa



With the hurricane, the broken war-ships, and
the stranded sailors, I am at an end of violence,
and my tale flows henceforth among carpet inci-
dents. The blue-jackets on Apia beach were
still jealously held apart by sentries, when the
powers at home were already seeking a peace-
able solution. It was agreed, so far as might
be, to obliterate two years of blundering ; and
to resume in 1889 and at Berlin those negotia-
tions which had been so unhappily broken off at
Washington in 1887. The example thus offered
by Germany is rare in history ; in the career of
Prince Bismarck, so far as I am instructed, it
should stand unique. On a review of these two
years of blundering, bullying, and failure in a
little isle of the Pacific, he seems magnanimously
to have owned his policy was in the wrong. He

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Laupepa and Mataafa 269

left Fangalii unexpiated; suffered that house of
cards, the Tamasese government, to fall by its
own frailty and without remark or lamentation ;
left the Samoan question openly and fairly to
the conference : and in the meanwhile, to allay
the local heats engendered by Becker and
Knappe, he sent to Apia that invaluable public
servant, Dr. Stuebel. I should be a dishonest man
if I did not here bear testimony to the loyalty
since shown by Germans in Samoa. Their posi-
tion was painful ; they had talked big in the old
days, now they had to sing small. Even Stue-
bel returned to the islands under the prejudice
of an unfortunate record. To the minds of the

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Online LibraryRobert Louis StevensonA footnote to history: eight years of trouble in Samoa → online text (page 13 of 18)