Baron Senfft to the Marquis of Salisbury.

[Navigator Islands, November 13; confidential, 67; section 1.]

No. 1.

My Lord: I have the honor to acquaint you that on the 5th of October I have tendered my resignation to King Malietoa, by whom I have been appointed as president of the municipal council of Apia on the 6th May of this year. Since in this capacity I had been agreed upon by the three powers signing the Berlin treaty I found myself obliged, when I took the aforesaid step, to ask the three respective governments for their approval and beg leave to submit herewith most respectfully such a request to your lordship.

At the beginning of the month of August I had occasion to draw King Malietoa’s attention to some bad consequences which would occur if the King allowed irresponsible persons to induce him to take official measures. I got the impression that the King understood my advice, and under that impression I have continued my work.

On the 3d October I read in the local newspaper a correspondence between King Malietoa and a German member of the municipal council. By chance this was the same gentleman whose interference in government affairs had already caused the aforesaid advice on my part. The correspondence consisted of a letter from him dealing again with a matter concerning solely the Samoan Government, and of King Malietoa’s answer. The answer was dated twelve days later than the letter, and concurred in the views of its writer. Before I read the correspondence I had no knowledge of it, although the letter addressed to the King interfered just in my official province, the financial administration, and although it contained personal attacks against my sense of duty.

It was the King himself who then, upon my request, confirmed that indeed the correspondence had taken place.

From this experience I could but arrive to three conclusions, which, at the same time, constituted as many reasons for my request of resignation: (1) No hope of succeeding in my official duties is left to me since I am convinced that King Malietoa does not comprehend the consequences of affording influence in official matters to irresponsible persons. These consequences must be the worse, the Berlin treaty not having furnished the King’s advisor with any means to formally secure his cooperation, although such means would only be the equivalent of his responsibility. I hardly need to add that it could not be my task, especially in the first months of my service, to complete the treaty, with amendments, in order to strengthen my position.

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(2) The same failure of success must arise for me out of the want of confidence the King has proved towards me in concealing the correspondence in question, notwithstanding several conferences he held with me during the respective time.

(3) A full and undamaged authority is not less indispensable for fulfilling the task imposed on my office by the Berlin general act than the King’s confidence. The King himself having apparently damaged my authority, he can not repair the same without getting into a humiliating position on his part, which certainly will raise more harm than there exists already.

In connection with these considerations I can not forbear observing that, according to my opinion, experiences like the above stated would have been avoided if, in consequence of the common interest the treaty powers have in supporting the authority of my office, I had found the common assistance of the consular representatives in one case in which I required their common assistance more than ever. In that case I exerted myself to prevent an unequal action of the Samoan Government in regard to the commercial interests of the three treaty powers, and I believed that I was not at liberty to perform this duty of my office with less energy only because Germany, the interests of which were going to be neglected, is my native country. Your lordship will find the facts in question in the mémoir I have the honor to inclose herewith.

I have declared to King Malietoa as well as to the consular representatives of the treaty powers that I feel obliged to perform my official duties, inasmuch as the Berlin general act does not provide my representation therein, until I am allowed to lay down my position through a joint instruction of the three powers.

I shall be most thankful if this can be done telegraphically.

I also most respectfully ask your lordship to instruct me whether yon wish me to call at the foreign office in returning to Germany.

I have, etc.,

Frihr. Senfft von Pilsach.
[Inclosure in No. 1.]


In a meeting of the municipal council of Apia, held on the 3d of June, the question was discussed how the troublesome state of different coin circulating in Samoa could be altered.

The Berlin treaty not having established a currency for Samoa, the coins of the three treaty powers, and besides the Chile silver, had been introduced, and the fluctuations of the silver value in the money market disturbed to a very disagreeable extent its fixation, and consequently the fixation of the prices of goods in the place.

The majority of the council being inclined to regard that body as competent for making a definite settlement of this affair, I pointed out that a settlement applying to the Samoan Islands could only be made by the Samoan Government.

I added, I had no doubt that, just in this question, the opinion of the municipal council at Apia, if communicated to the Government in the form of a request, would have a considerable weight for their decision, the council consisting mainly of merchants, and, consequently, of men possessing a particular knowledge of the matter.

The result of the discussion was a resolution saying that the council requested the Samoan Government to adopt the following rate of exchange for the country:

“One piece ($5) United States currency gold to be equal to one English sovereign or to one 20-mark gold piece, and, for change, English silver to be taken only, and the Chile dollar as equal to 75 cents, (smaller coins in proportion); and that after the 15th of November next no Chile coin to be taken for taxes or duties by the treasurer.”

This resolution having been submitted to the consular board, I was informed, by their letter dated the 9th of June, that the consular board suggest, as an amendment, “that the consideration of this resolution be deferred.”

In their meeting of the 10th of June the municipal council did not accept this amendment.

I then referred the same, together with the above resolution, to the chief justice of Samoa.

By an accompanying letter, dated the 17th of June, I informed him “that the councillors were not unanimous in the question which kinds of money were admitted in the islands at present, but quite unanimously they regarded the concurrence of much different coins circulating here as a prejudicial one for the interests of the residents, therefore they would like to request the Government that one currency were fixed for the islands as soon as possible, and at the same time to make a proposal with a view to the settlement of this currency question.”

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On the 20th of June the chief justice decided “that the municipal council are at liberty to submit the above-mentioned resolution adopted by the council to the Samoan Government by way of a petition.”

Only after having obtained this decision I considered myself in the position to deal with the matter in my capacity as adviser to the Samoan Government.

By letter dated the 26th of June I submitted the resolution of the municipal council in the form of a petition to the Samoan Government; but as no government office existed at that time except my office, the letter remained at first in my archives, since, before advising King Malietoa in the matter, I desired to ascertain the views of the chief justice.

In private interviews I had with him, his honor declared he was not convinced of the advantages of the arrangement requested by the municipal council; however, he did not intend to interfere in my action.

On the 24th of July I laid the petition of the municipal council of Apia before King Malietoa.

I advised the King to adopt the proposals made in the petition with the modification, however, that I recommended not to exclude the silver of the United States, and to authorize me to publish a corresponding notice in the newspaper.

I expressed my opinion that the lines to be observed by the treasurer in his receipts and disbursements would consequently be observed also in commercial transactions; that, therefore, no law, but only an order given to me by the King, would be required, and that such an order could be changed if necessary after three or six months.

In reply to my speech the King stated that he personally agreed to my proposal, but wanted the Faipule to be asked for their opinion. He said this would be only a formality, because the Faipule did not understand the question and would not make any objection; but on the other hand, if they would not be consulted, troubles might arise afterwards. My answer was: Generally it would not be wise to submit matters to the Faipule in which they were not competent to give a decision; nevertheless, I did not see a sufficient reason for objecting to the King’s wishes.

Interpreter in this interview was the Rev. Arthur E. Claxton, member of the London Missionary Society.

On the following day a. meeting of the Faipule was held in the presence of the King Malietoa and myself.

Having explained the matter, I urged the immediate approval of proposal. Some speakers answered, but wanted time for deliberation, saying they would let me know their decision within two days.

On the 27th July, in the evening, I received a letter from King Malietoa informing me that, with his assent, the Government resolved to admit after the 15th November, only the gold and silver coin of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the United States of America.

I regarded this resolution not to be binding, because I had not yet advised the Samoan Government in regard to such an engagement, nor had I set forth its possible consequences, and I had no doubt that this was an occasion which, according to the spirit and provisions of the Berlin general act, required my advice.

Therefore, in a meeting of the municipal council of Apia on the 28th July, being asked whether the currency question had been settled by the Government, I strictly denied that.

In this condition the matter remained some days.

On the 1st August, I received another letter King Malietoa addressed to the municpal council of Apia, repeating more formally the communication of the 27th July.

In the next meeting of the municipal council, which was held on the 5th August, a German member of the council, M. Grevsmühl, declared that the King took this step on his verbal request.

On Monday, the 3d August, I explained to King Malietoa again, in the presence of the Rev. A. E. Claxton, the reasons for my keeping secret both his letters. He then answered, he comprehended that I was right in acting as I did, and he approved that in another meeting of the Faipule I should try to make them recall their decision.

Before that meeting a conference took place on the 4th August between the three consular representatives and myself, at my request. I acquainted them with the state of the matter, and declared that I was anxious to know their opinion, whether. they, like I, understood the clause contained in the Berlin general act under Article VI, section 4, as admitting all kinds of money in Samoa, unless an alteration would be made by the competent authorities, so that, for instance, the coin of one of the treaty powers could not be excluded by the Samoan Government without the previous assent of the three powers.

I understood that Her Britannic Majesty’s consul, as well as the imperial German vice-consul, clearly expressed themselves in conformity with my interpretation of the treaty, whilst I did not ascertain the views of the U. S. vice-consul-general.

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By the same opportunity Her Britannic Majesty’s consul also stated that the municipal council of Apia was by no means entitled to issue any decision in the currency question; but, that this body ought to take part in its settlement, only in giving their opinion like a chamber of commerce.

On the 5th of August I made known to the municipal council in their meeting both letters I had received from King Malietoa, adding, at the same time, that the decision was not final; for since then the King had instructed me to deal with the matter in another meeting with the Faipule, which I was going to do in the afternoon.

In that meeting I made strong endeavors to convince the Faipule that under the Berlin treaty the Samoan Government was not at liberty to exclude the German coin from the islands altogether without the assent of the treaty powers. Moreover, I said it would be very unwise, especially in the present situation of the country, the Samoan Government would begin to alter the Berlin treaty from their part in neglecting in regard to one of the powers the equality of rights guaranteed in the treaty to all of them.

I acted so because I had not presumed for one moment the decisions of the King and the Faipule, communicated to me on the 27th of July, had arisen in the Samoan mind.

Finding myself suddenly placed in front of the uncontrollable influence of irresponsible persons advising the Government, I felt the more obliged to exert myself to overcome the same and to prevent its consequences.

The Faipule then again expressed their wish to deliberate on the matter in my absence and to let me know their decision afterwards.

I replied no new decision was required. I should be content if they would revoke the first one as being inconsistent with the Berlin treaty, and this they ought to do at once. Their repeated request for time for consideration I repeatedly declined to agree with, but, being unable to obtain a distinct answer, I finally left them, the King having stated that the meeting would be continued on the next day in my presence.

Before I returned on the following day, I received a letter from the King requesting me not to come, because the Government’s members would consider the question privately and acquaint me with the result in a meeting to be held on the 7th August.

In that meeting the King declared that the Government were unwilling to revoke their first decision.

On the following day I advised King Malietoa to communicate the resolution of the Government to the consular representatives of the treaty powers. When 1 repeated that advice on the 11th August through the chief mamea (acting as interpreter), the King replied he had already informed the three consuls on the same day.

On the 7th August the Imperial German consul forwarded to me the German translation of a letter addressed by King Malietoa on the 6th August to each of the three consuls, and also the copy of Mr. Schmidt’s English answer, dated the 14th August.

I learned from that correspondence that the King had asked the consuls whether some declarations I had made in the meeting of the Faipule were true or not, and that the imperial German vice-consul in his answer had ignored this question.

From the part of both the other consular representatives I have not received any information about their respective correspondence with King Malietoa. Only the King himself did show me their letters which also did not contain a reply to the King’s question concerning my explanations.

Besides these, three letters furnished King Malietoa with the three different judgments in regard to the currency resolution of the Government. The German vice-consul stated that “the three consuls in a common meeting came to the conclusion that the decision of the Samoan Government is contrary to the treaty made at Berlin.”

Her Britannic Majesty’s consul stated he was “not at present prepared to object to” the same resolution; and the U.S. vice consul-general declared “he saw no reason to complain and had much pleasure in notifying the same resolution to his Government.”

In the next meeting of the municipal council of Apia, on the 12th of August, I submitted to them the result of their petition.

The council then considered the decision of the Government would not come into operation before the 15th of November, and passed a resolution saying only that the last fixation of the rate of exchange, made by the consular board, 1890, should be binding by the municipal treasurer; but no payments in silver exceeding the amount of $10 were to be admitted hereafter.

As an amendment to this resolution of the council, the consular board suggested that English and German silver should be excluded from the municipal treasury.

On the 20th August the municipal council accepted that amendment, I only objecting to the same, because, as I said, I was not aware that there was any authority in Samoa entitled to alter the Berlin treaty.

On the 27th August, I received from the Imperial German vice-consul a communication informing me that the three representatives, by common letter dated the 25th [Page 522] August, had acquainted King Malietoa with the resolution of the municipal council accepting the aforesaid amendment of the consular board.

Whether they had taken this step on behalf of the municipal council, or in advising King Malietoa, I did not learn from the letter, but in both cases I found the representatives transacting the business of my office.

However, I have laid down my own opinion in the following clause of the quarterly report I have rendered to King Malietoa on the 8th September:

“There existed, and exists no doubt in my mind that according to Article i and Article vi of the Berlin general act, everybody in Samoa is allowed to pay his taxes with any coin which constitutes a part of the currency of a foreign country.

“This state of affairs could be altered, as far as I understood the aforesaid clauses in connection with Article viii, section 1, of the treaty, by consent of the three powers concerning the coin of either of them, and by a law to be passed by the Samoan Government concerning the coin of any other foreign country.

Frihr. Senfft von Pilsach.