Memorandum on the currency question in Samoa and the resignation of Baron Senfft von Pilsach. (Communicated by the German embassy, November 28.)


[Navigators Islands, November 28.—Confidential, 79; section 2.]

No. 1.

During the time the three representatives of the treaty powers were administering provisionally the customs and taxes in Apia, a resolution of the consular court of last year fixed as follows the relative values of coins receivable under Article vi, paragraph 4, of the Samoan treaty, for the payment of customs duties and taxes, as compared with the denominations “dollars” and “cents” therein used, namely: 1l. =4 dollars and 86 cents; 20 marks =4 dollars and 76 cents; and 7 dollars Chilean currency =5 dollars American currency.

On the 3d of June last the municipal council, on the motion of the president, resolved, in view of simplifying the accounts, to ask the Samoan Government to notify that the 1l. and the 20-mark piece should be taken to be of the same value as 5 dollars of the American currency, and to make English and Chilean coins alone receivable for the payment of customs duties and taxes, with the provision that Chilean silver coins should, on account of the considerable fluctuations in their value, be so receivable only up to November 15 of this year.

The consular court, to which this resolution was communicated for concurrence, was in favor of postponing a settlement of the matter. The municipal council, nevertheless, submitted the resolution to the chief justice for decision, in accordance with the Samoan treaty, and stated in the note submitting it that the members of the council were not quite unanimous on the question itself, but agreed that it was not to the interest of the inhabitants that coins of different values should be receivable.

The chief justice was, at the same time, requested to prepare a measure in this sense and to lay it before the King for sanction. Herr Cedercrantz rejected the request, but suggested that the municipal council should bring the resolution before the Government in the form oil a petition. This was done on the 24th July, and Baron von Senfft advised the King to confirm the resolution, adding the provision that American silver should also be receivable for the payment of customs duties and taxes. The King agreed, but wished for form’s sake to submit the matter for the decision of the Feipule (native council), who, he had no doubt, would make no objection.

On the 27th July Baron Senfft received from the King the surprising information that the Feipule had passed a resolution that, from the 15th November of this year, English and American gold and silver coins should alone be received into the public treasuries. Baron Senfft von Pilsach did not bring this resolution of the Feipule to the knowledge of the municipal council, assuming that the resolution in question was invalid, because he, as adviser of the King, had had no opportunity of explaining to the King the consequences it would have. At a meeting of the municipal council, which took place the next day, the chairman, in reply to a question put to [Page 523] him on the subject by a member, stated that no final settlement of the currency question had yet been arrived at. Acting on the instigation of the German member of the municipal council, Herr Grevesmühl, who was accounted an opponent of the chairman, the King, with whom Herr Grevesmühl had had private communication, sent to Baron von Senift on the 1st August a formal confirmation of the resolution adopted by the Government on the 27th July, which Herr von Pilsach again, and for the same motives as those given above, refrained from communicating to the municipal council. On the representations of Herr von Pilsach, who pointed out that, under Article vi of the treaty, the Government was not justified in adopting such a resolution without the sanction of the treaty powers, the King, Malietoa, declared himself ready to move the Feipule to cancel it. At a meeting of the consular court, Baron von Senfft gave an account of the circumstances of the case, and declared that, in view of the provisions of Article vi, paragraph 4, of the Samoan treaty, the resolution adopted by the Government, whereby German money was excluded, was invalid. The German and English representatives concurred in this view but Mr. Blacklock, the American consul, expressed no opinion.

The Feipule did not cancel its resolution, notwithstanding Herr von Senfft’s endeavors to induce it to do so. Malietoa informed the three consuls of this fact by identical notes, and inquired at the same time whether the conjecture of the chairman of the municipal council, that the resolution was opposed to the provisions of the Samoan treaty, were correct. The three consuls answered this note separately, and the German consul alone stated that the resolution which the Government had adopted was contrary to the provisions of the Samoan treaty. The English consul’s answer avoided the point “that he was not at present prepared to object to the same resolution,” and the American consul accepted the resolution, “no reason to complain.” On the 12th of August the municipal council resolved that the rates mentioned at the commencement of the present paper, which had been established by the three consuls in 1890, should again be put in force for payments into the municipal treasury, but that no higher payment than $10 might be made in silver. The consular court altered this resolution in the sense that German and English silver should not be received at all, but that American and Chilean silver should be received to an unlimited extent. The municipal council declared against Baron von Senfft’s note, that they were agreeable to this arrangement, and in a joint note of the 25th of August the three consuls informed the King of this resolution. Baron von Senfit considered this direct communication on the part of the consuls as an encroachment on his rights, and on the 5th ultimo he placed in the King’s hands his resignation of his post of chairman of the municipal council, adding that he would continue to discharge his functions until measures had been taken otherwise to provide for them.

Such renunciation of his post by himself alone remains inoperative so long as the authorities who appointed Baron von Senfft to the chairmanship of the municipal council do not accept it. He was appointed under an understanding with the treaty powers by the imperial chancellor, and the imperial chancellor thinks it deisrable that, in the interest of peace and good order in the Samoan Islands, Baron von Senfit should remain at his post.

In support of his resignation Baron von Senfft alleges that he can not hope to do useful work at Apia now; that he no longer possesses the confidence of the King, who has publicly passed him over and followed the advice of irresponsible persons. He is convinced that this would not have happened had he found in the representatives of the three treaty powers the support he was entitled to expect.

In opposing the resolution adopted by the Samoan Government, whereby German currency wan excluded from being used to pay customs duties and taxes, Baron von Senfft relied solely on the Samoan treaty (Article vi, section 4). The Imperial Government claims no manner of advantage in Samoa over the two other treaty powers, but they must decidedly oppose any such diminution of the rights secured to them by treaty as would be involved in the exclusion of German currency. The Imperial Government is convinced that the loyal observance of the provisions of the Samoan treaty by the representatives of the treaty powers will be successful in restoring peace and good order in Samoa. But in order to obtain this end it is, before all things, necessary that the representatives in question should not work one against another, but that they should, on the contrary, work together in the interests of peace, and should therefore support Baron von Senfft.

The latter’s conception of his position must be modified in two directions. On the one hand, he is in error in denying to the consular court, when unanimous, the right of access to Malietoa. On the other hand, Baron von Pilsach must not judge of his position with Malietoa by that of a minister with an European King, and resign when he thinks that influence other than his own is prevailing. The chairman of the municipal council must not forget that he owes his appointment to the treaty powers.