Mr. White to Mr. Gresham.

No. 997.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch, No. 994, of the 17th instant, I have the honor to inclose herewith, for your information, an article which appeared in the Times newspaper of yesterday relative to the affairs of Samoa.

I have, etc.,

Henry White.
[Inclosure in No. 997.]

Mr. Stevenson has not written, it would seem, too strongly about the state of things in Samoa and the behavior of Baron Senfft von Pilsach and Chief Justice Cedercrantz. Those who suspected that a master of historical romance and a humorist of rare ingenuity had, on a slender basis of fact, constructed a story of phantasy vying with the “Treasure Island” should read the “Further correspondence respecting the affairs of Samoa,” just issued as a blue book. In official documents, some of them under the hand of Baron Senfft von Pilsach himself, he appears as absurd a personage as in the letters from Mr. Stevenson, which we have from time to time published. Far from being the inventor of imaginary grievances and grotesque dignitaries, the latter is only the spokesman of a community, once amused, but long ago indignant, at the antics of official comedians. Mr. Stevenson is not a harsher critic of the reign of petty tyranny and licensed extravaganza at Apia than our consul-general and the members of the municipal council. Under the Berlin treaty, which gave it effect, three of the great powers control Samoa; Mr. Otto Cedercrantz, [Page 745] a Swedish lawyer, was appointed chief justice, and a little later Baron Senfft von Pilsach, a regierungs-assessor in the Prussian service, was nominated president of the municipal council. Since these worthies set foot on the islands peace has deserted them, and for about eighteen months almost every mail must have brought our foreign office, the German chancery, and the Secretary of State at Washington dispatches complaining of something done or omitted by these officials. Mr. Stevenson may have made too much of a few incidents, and failed to mention all condoning circumstances. He may have credited the chief justice and the ex-regierungs-assessor with a vein of comedy of which they were innocent. But in the official history is abundant corroboration of the substance of his charges.

Shortly after the arrival of the chief justice he took the earliest opportunity of snubbing the Samoan land commissioners, who exercise important administrative and quasi-judicial duties in regard to land claims. They can not incur expenditure without his approval. He did not answer their letter of request with ordinary promptness, and in the end he declined to sanction expenses which all the commissioners agreed were necessary, to the serious obstruction of public business. In a crisis in the history of the colony, when a revolt had broken out, he suddenly announced that he was about to go to Fiji and Sydney, and to shut up the; supreme court for three months—a course which he took, notwithstanding the protests of the consuls. He did not improve matters by claiming personal exemption from the payment of duties or taxes. In a little time we find him further embarrassing the land commission by inhibiting it from settling disputed claims; and he outdid his previous, performances by deciding that the import duties belonged solely to the Samoan Government, and not, as had hitherto been believed, to the municipality of Apia., thus reducing the latter at one stroke to a state of insolvency. Both the English and German governments at once recognized the injustice of the decision, which appears to have been in flat contradiction to a previous opinion publicly expressed; but before they could make known their opinion the chief justice had further distinguished himself by announcing his intention of levying a fee of $5 on the registration of each land title, the proceeds going to Dr. Hagberg, a Swedish lawyer, appointed registrar by the chief justice. This was followed up by a decision that registration of title to any estate should be dependent on a preliminary survey of the land. Both these decisions Lord Rosebery and the German foreign office declared to be ultra vires. Evidently, Baron Senfft von Pilsach had made up his mind not to be outdone in arbitrariness by the chief justice.

As early as August, 1891, our consul-general is writing to Lord Salisbury that “the municipal president, in his capacity of adviser to the King, has assumed the position of dictator to the Samoan Government.” He had apparently come to Upolu with the notion that the Government could not manage its affairs and that the business of an adviser was to give orders and meddle as much as possible. Without consulting the municipal council he instructed an architect to prepare plans and specifications for a costly edifice and issued an advertisement inviting tenders for “capitol buildings,” which, remarks our consul-general, “prove to be mainly a dwelling house for Baron Senfft von Pilsach.” This pseudo Bismarck took very high ground. He declared it to be a constitutional “necessity that no one should be allowed to correspond with the King or the King permitted to reply without the knowledge of and advice from the municipal president.” He quarreled with the auditors of his accounts and persisted in maintaining, on subtle, metaphysical grounds, that their duties did not include checking the cash which he said he had in hand. He gave offense to the U. S. Government by announcing pro prio motu that the pound sterling and the 20-mark gold piece were to be received at $5 U. S. currency, instead of $4.76. He informed the consuls that he would no longer allow them to inspect his financial reports to the King; and when the Government could barely pay its way it bought up, at the baron’s suggestion, an opposition newspaper, and then started a Royal Gazette to compete with and lessen the value of that which had been bought. The result was what might be expected. “The various officials,” our consul-general wrote last September to Lord Rosebery, “are unable to draw their salaries, and there is no money even to pay police. An order of the King’s upon the treasury to pay for a boat, amounting to £100, has been returned by the president, who states that there is no money in the treasury,” and he suggests that this collapse would have been avoided if money had not been spent in building a dwelling house for the baron and an expensive gaol never used, and in buying up a troublesome local newspaper.

Before the arrival of the two officials whose vagaries form the staple of Samoan history for the last two years the group of islands was far from being well governed. Malietoa, the Sovereign, has an arbitrary turn, if we may judge of his disposition from the tenor of one of his royal speeches, which runs thus: “I have forbidden to all Samoans to play cricket by ordinance made on the 20th June. * * *. I am of opinion that this (the game of cricket) should be forbidden, else nobody would think of doing useful work. From it results the shortness of food and the impossibility [Page 746] to think of ways and means to earn money for paying taxes to the Government and for paying debts to the merchants.” Chance gave Malietoa a chief justice and an adviser who hastened to act with naive recklessness, and to treat a whole community as so many naughty boys and its gravest affairs as lightly as a cricket match. Mr. Stevenson has been only too completely justified by the story of bureaucratic blindness, pompous inefficiency, and financial disaster told in the official record. There are always elements of trouble and danger in Samoa. The respect of the natives for the Government is small. Mataafa, the plotting pretender to the Crown, sits hard by, as Mr. Stevenson has often reminded us, and sees the blunders of high authorities do more for him than he could ever hope from the spears of his followers; and the fear must be that, if the official comedians remain much longer on the stage, their concentrated folly may have a tragic ending.