Mr. Adee to Baron von Thielmann.1

No. 208.]

Excellency: Having reference to the Department’s note, No. 130, of March 28, last, and to your reply of May 9, 1896, touching the preservation of the records of the Samoan land commission, I have now the honor to apprise you of the receipt of a dispatch, No. 129, of the 11th ultimo, from the vice-consul-general of the United States at Apia upon the subject.

It appears that Mr. Blacklock, acting under the Department’s instructions, has conferred with the German and British consuls in relation to the matter. It was agreed that a subsequent conference should be held, at which the chief justice should be present, since the greater part of the papers connected with land matters were now in possession of the supreme court, and has become part of its files.

I inclose—though it is probable that your Government has already received it—a copy of the report from Mr. Ide upon the subject which explains very fully the exact condition of these records. Mr. Blacklock remarks that danger to the archives from any native attack is extremely remote, but of course such a thing is not beyond the bounds of possibility. The great danger, however, to which they are exposed, in his opinion, is from fire. He says:

The record books of the commission are now in the German consulate in a wooden box, underneath an iron safe, and not in the safe itself.

Mr. Blacklock suggests that the supreme court should be provided with ample fireproof accommodations for all deeds, books, documents, and records whatsoever connected with land matters in Samoa, and [Page 546] that the record books or other documents of the archives of the Samoan land commission now in the possession of either of the consulates be transferred to the supreme court, where they could be kept together safely preserved, and always available in case of need.

He thinks there can be no question as to the right of the chief justice in declining to return the original deeds upon which aliens have based their claims, and is of opinion that some arrangement should be made between the three treaty powers, so that instructions to this end may be sent to the chief justice at Apia in case of future trouble in this regard.

It is remarked that the original deeds can not possibly be of any use to landowners for legitimate purposes after they are in possession of court grants for their property, and that they should certainly be kept in the archives of the supreme court. That court he regards as the only place where the records should be permanently deposited, so that at any time, upon the payment of a small fee, any person could learn the particulars regarding any piece of land in Samoa. Under no circumstances does he regard a consulate as a proper place for the safekeeping or custody of such important records.

It was decided, as I understand, that the consuls should recommend to their Governments the purchase of a suitable fireproof safe of sufficient capacity to hold all the Samoan land commission records.

If the suggestions herein referred to are favorably considered by the German Government, I deem it proper to say that the Government of the United States will contribute its share toward the purchase of a fireproof safe for the preservation and greater security of these important land records, and unite in instructions to the chief justice requiring him to demand of the consular corps the immediate surrender of all such records that they may be kept under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the supreme court.

I shall make a similar communication to Lord Gough for the information of the British Government.

Accept, etc.,

Alvey A. Adee,
Acting Secretary.
  1. Sent also mutatis mutandis to the British ambassador, August 13, 1896.