Researching Samoa: "Samoa Mo Samoa"May 31st, 2012
A good time to research
This year marks 50 years of independence from New Zealand rule for Samoa. The anniversary is important for New Zealanders as it marks a new beginning in our relationship with the Samoan people and nation. It also recalls our shared history from 1914 to 1962.
The collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library also reflect this close association with our Pacific neighbour. The Library is fortunate to have in its collections personal and official papers of many individuals who worked or lived in Samoa during this time.
Occupation in WWI
New Zealand’s administration of Samoa began somewhat dramatically when on 29th of August 1914 New Zealand troops landed at Matautu, Apia, and took control of German Samoa, on behalf of Great Britain, fortunately without a shot being fired.
The “Occupation of German Samoa” had a lot of press coverage in New Zealand, including first-hand reporting by Malcolm Ross, free-lance journalist and photographer.
A report, most likely written by him, appeared in the Christchurch Press of the 10th of September, 1914, and describes the landing of the New Zealand troops.
Malcolm Ross was the official correspondent for a number of New Zealand newspapers, including the Press. He had previously covered the Samoan “troubles” in 1899, and so grabbed the opportunity to travel to Samoa again on the Troopship Monowai, with the landing party.
He later became New Zealand’s only official, government, appointed war correspondent for the Great War in Europe.
You can find out more about Ross at NZResearch.org.nz, where there are two university theses about his life. Both of these include Ross’ experiences in Samoa and both authors used the Library’s collections in their research.
The Library is fortunate to have Ross’ photographs of the occupation along with those of a long time resident in Apia, Alfred Tattersall, who lived in Samoa from 1886 to 1951. Here's a number of them (along with photos by Francis Gleeson of the Mau movement - see below).
Ross' Samoan photographs are part of a group that includes his photos of New Zealanders in WWI, mountaineering, and more.
What the House said
Another fascinating source for information about Samoa are the New Zealand Parliamentary Papers. These are now available online from 1858 onwards and are being progressively added to each year into AtoJs Online.
By the end of June the reports up to 1923 will be available online, including these relating to Samoa:
- The official communiqués concerning the Occupation of German Samoa in Parliamentary Paper 1915 H 19c.
- The Samoan Epidemic Commission in Parliamentary Paper 1919 H31c, containing reports on the influenza epidemic of 1918 and its terrible effect on the Samoan population.
- The first and second annual reports of the Administrator of Western Samoa appear in 1922 and provide detailed coverage of the Administration’s activities from 1920 onwards, in Parliamentary Paper 1922 A4 and A4a. The third report appears in 1923 as part of Parliamentary Paper A4.
The movement for self-rule – called the “Mau”, in Samoa, began in the mid 1920’s as dissatisfaction from some sectors in Samoa grew over New Zealand rule.
An album of photographs compiled by Francis Gleeson documents many of the activities of the movement and the Administration’s response. Francis, as a young police officer, was sent to Samoa as part of larger contingent in 1930 to deal with the “troubles”.
Again you can find in Papers Past contemporary reporting of events in Western Samoa. From 1927 onwards there are regular reports (at times almost daily) in the Evening Post of the “Mau problem”.
A treasure trove of documents
Another collection held by the Library are the papers of Guy Powles, the New Zealand High Commissioner for Western Samoa from 1949-1960. These provide a wealth of material for the researcher of this pivotal period in Samoa’s history, as the country moved towards independence.
A photograph from this collection, of this very popular couple, that I particularly like is this one – perhaps from their farewell tour?
Guy Powles, New Zealand High Commissioner for Samoa, his wife Eileen, and son Michael, photographed by Donald Ross, Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-o-822-24.
Dive into it!
I have really only touched the surface of what is a huge topic – there is plenty more to explore online.