German Samoa
Deutsch-Samoa (German)
Siamani-Sāmoa (Samoan)
Flag of
Service flag of the colonial office
Coat of arms of the German Empire of
Coat of arms of the German Empire
Brown: German New Guinea; yellow: German Pacific protectorates; red: German Samoa; orange: North Solomons, ceded to Britain
Brown: German New Guinea; yellow: German Pacific protectorates; red: German Samoa; orange: North Solomons, ceded to Britain
StatusGerman colony
Common languagesGerman (official, administration) Samoan (native)
Tupu Sili (ruler of Samoa) 
• 1900–1919
Wilhelm II
• 1900–1911
Wilhelm Solf
• 1911–1919
Erich Schultz-Ewerth
Historical eraGerman colonization in the Pacific Ocean
2 December 1899
1 March 1900
30 August 1914
10 January 1920
• League mandate
17 December 1920
19122,831 km2 (1,093 sq mi)
• 1912
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Samoa
Western Samoa Trust Territory

German Samoa (German: Deutsch-Samoa; Samoan: Siamani-Sāmoa) was a German protectorate from 1900 to 1920, consisting of the islands of Upolu, Savai'i, Apolima and Manono, now wholly within the Independent State of Samoa, formerly Western Samoa. Samoa was the last German colonial acquisition in the Pacific basin, received following the Tripartite Convention signed at Washington on 2 December 1899 with ratifications exchanged on 16 February 1900.[1][2] It was the only German colony in the Pacific, aside from the Jiaozhou Bay Leased Territory in China, that was administered separately from German New Guinea.

Expansion of German influence

See also: Samoan Civil War, Samoan crisis, Second Samoan Civil War, and Siege of Apia

In 1855, J. C. Godeffroy & Sohn expanded its trading business into the Pacific following negotiations by August Unshelm, Godeffroy's agent in Valparaíso. He sailed out to the Samoan Islands, which were then known as the Navigator Islands. During the second half of the 19th century, German influence in Samoa expanded with large scale plantation operations being introduced for coconut, cacao and hevea rubber cultivation, especially on the island of 'Upolu where German firms monopolised copra and cocoa bean processing.

The trading operations of J. C. Godeffroy & Sohn extended to islands in the Central Pacific.[3] In 1865, a trading captain acting on behalf of J. C. Godeffroy & Sohn obtained a 25-year lease to the eastern islet of Niuoku of Nukulaelae Atoll.[4] J. C. Godeffroy und Sohn was taken over in 1879 by Handels-und Plantagen-Gesellschaft der Südsee-Inseln zu Hamburg (DHPG). Competition in the trading operations in the Central Pacific came from Ruge, Hedemann & Co, established in 1875,[3] which was succeeded by H. M. Ruge and Company until that firm failed in about 1887.[5]

Tensions caused in part by the conflicting interests of the German traders and plantation owners and British business enterprises and American business interests led to the first Samoan Civil War. The war was fought roughly between 1886 and 1894, primarily between Samoans though the German military intervened on several occasions. The United States and the United Kingdom opposed the German activity which led to a confrontation in Apia Harbour in 1887.[6]

In 1899 after the Second Samoan Civil War, the Samoan Islands were divided by the three involved powers. The Samoa Tripartite Convention gave control of the islands west of 171 degrees west longitude to Germany, the eastern islands to the United States (present-day American Samoa) and the United Kingdom was compensated with other territories in the Pacific and West Africa.[1]

Economic development

Saluafata harbour (R. Hellgrewe, 1908), 10 miles east of Apia

During the colonial years new companies were formed to greatly expand agricultural activities which in turn increased tax revenues for public works that further stimulated economic growth; “...over all, the period of German rule was the most progressive, economically, that the country has experienced.”[7] J. C. Godeffroy, as the leading trading and plantation company on Samoa, maintained communications among its various subdivisions and branches and the home base at Hamburg with its own fleet of ships.[8] Since the Samoan cultural envelope did not include “labor for hire,” the importation of Chinese (coolie) laborers (and to a lesser extent Melanesians from New Guinea working for DHPG) was implemented,[9] and “ 1914 over 2,000 Chinese were in the colony, providing an effective labor force for the [German] plantations."[10]

Major plantation enterprises on Samoa:

Colonial administration

Raising the German flag at Mulinu'u, 1900 (photo by Alfred James Tattersall)
Group with Governor Wilhelm Solf (wearing peaked cap), New Zealand parliamentarian Charles H. Mills and paramount chief Mata'afa Iosefo during a visit by Mills to German Samoa, 1903
Governor Wilhelm Solf at Apia in 1910

The German colonial period lasted for 14 years and officially began with the raising of the imperial flag on 1 March 1900. Wilhelm Solf became the first governor. In its political relations with the Samoan people, Solf's government showed similar qualities of intelligence and care as in the economic arena.[11] He skillfully grafted Samoan institutions into the new system of colonial government by the acceptance of native customs.[12] Solf himself learned many of the customs and rituals important to the Samoan people, observing cultural etiquette including the ceremonial drinking of kava.[13]

“German rule brought peace and order for the first time. ... Authority, in the person of the governor, became paternal, fair, and absolute. Berlin was far away; there was no cable or radio.”[14] The German administrators inherited a system by which some two hundred leading Samoans held various public offices. Over the years, rivalries for these positions, as well as appointments by colonial officials created tensions that dissident matai (chiefs) gathered together into a militant movement to eventually march armed on Apia in 1909. Governor Solf met the Samoans, his resolute personality persuaded them to return home. However, political agitation continued to simmer, several warships arrived and Solf's patience came to an end. He had ten of the leaders, including their wives, children and retainers, in all 72 souls, deported to Saipan in the German Mariana Islands, in effect terminating the revolt.[15]

Energetic efforts by colonial administrators established the first public school system; a hospital was built and staffed and enlarged as needed.[16] Of all colonial possessions of the European powers in the Pacific, German Samoa was by far the best-roaded;[17] all roads up until 1942 had been constructed under German direction. The imperial grants from the Berlin treasury which had marked the first eight years of German rule were no longer needed after 1908. Samoa had become a self-supporting colony.[18] Wilhelm Solf left Samoa in 1910 to be appointed Colonial Secretary at Berlin; he was succeeded as governor by Erich Schultz, the former chief justice in the protectorate. The Germans built the Telefunken Railroad from Apia onto the Mount Vaea for transporting building materials for the 120 m high mast of their Telefunken wireless station, which was inaugurated as planned on 1 August 1914, just a few days after the beginning of World War I.[19]

The German colonial administrator used the former home of writer Robert Louis Stevenson as a residence; the building is now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.[20]

Germany did not experience similar levels of violent anti-colonial resistance in Samoa as it did in Southwest Africa, Cameroon, or East Africa.[21] However, there were anti-colonial resistance movements in Samoa, such as the elite-led Oloa and Mau a Pule movements, and youth movements against German colonial rule.[21]


The Union Jack being hoisted at a building in Apia, 30 August 1914

Main article: Occupation of German Samoa

Other than native Samoan police, Germany had no armed forces stationed in the islands.[21] The small gunboat SMS Geier and the unarmed survey ship Planet were assigned to the so-called "Australian Station" (encompassing all German South Seas protectorates, not the British dominion Australia), but Geier never reached Samoa.[22]

British-born Herbert Morley, who was in business in Samoa in 1914, sent a letter dated July 27, 1914, where he tells of six German warships docking off Samoa. The letter was publicized in the Keighley News on November 17, 1914.[23]

At the behest of the United Kingdom the colony was invaded unopposed on the morning of 29 August 1914 by troops of the Samoa Expeditionary Force. Vice Admiral Count Maximilian von Spee of the East Asia Squadron gained knowledge of the occupation and hastened to Samoa with the armored cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau, arriving off Apia on 14 September 1914. He determined however that a landing would only be of temporary advantage in an Allied dominated sea and the cruisers departed.[24] New Zealand occupied the German colony through to 1920, then governed the islands until independence in 1962 as a League of Nations Class C Mandate[25] at first and then as a United Nations Trust Territory after 1946.

Planned symbols for German Samoa

Main article: Armorial of Germany § Colonies

In 1914, a series of drafts were made for proposed coats of arms and flags for the German colonies, including German Samoa. However, World War I broke out before the designs were finished, and the symbols were never used. Following its defeat in the war, Germany lost all its colonies, so the coats of arms and flags became unnecessary.

See also


  1. ^ a b Ryden, George Herbert. The Foreign Policy of the United States in Relation to Samoa. New York: Octagon Books, 1975. (Reprint by special arrangement with Yale University Press. Originally published at New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928), p. 574; the Tripartite Convention (United States, Germany, Great Britain) was signed at Washington on 2 December 1899 with ratifications exchanged on 16 February 1900
  2. ^ Flag raising at Mulinu'u Point was 1 March 1900
  3. ^ a b Masterman, Sylvia (1934). "The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884, Chapter ii. The Godeffroy Firm". George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London NZETC. p. 63. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  4. ^ Suamalie N.T. Iosefa; Doug Munro; Niko Besnier (1991). Tala O Niuoku, Te: the German Plantation on Nukulaelae Atoll 1865-1890. Institute of Pacific Studies. ISBN 9820200733.
  5. ^ Laracy, Hugh, ed. (1983). "The 'Ownership' of Niulakita, 1880-1896". Tuvalu: A History. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific and Government of Tuvalu. pp. 196–197.
  6. ^ Stevenson, Robert Louis (1892). A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa. BiblioBazaar. ISBN 1-4264-0754-8.
  7. ^ Davidson, Samoa mo Samoa, p. 82
  8. ^ Washausen, Hamburg und die Kolonialpolitik des Deutschen Reiches, p. 56
  9. ^ Spoehr, White Falcon, p. 40-42
  10. ^ Davidson, p. 77
  11. ^ Davidson, p. 78
  12. ^ Lewthwaite, in Western Samoa, p. 130
  13. ^ Rowe, Newton A (1930). Samoa Under the Sailing Gods. Putnam. p. 11. Retrieved 25 February 2010 – via NZETC.
  14. ^ McKay, Samoana, p. 18
  15. ^ McKay, p. 20
  16. ^ Samoanisches Gouvernementsblatt, Apia, 20 March 1909
  17. ^ Lewthwaite, p. 153
  18. ^ Schultz-Naumann, Unter Kaisers Flagge, p. 163, the only other German protectorate in this category was Togoland
  19. ^ "THE GERMAN PACIFIC FLEET". Evening Star. 3 August 1914. Retrieved 16 August 2021 – via Papers Past.
  20. ^ "Robert Louis Stevenson Museum". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2021-05-16.
  21. ^ a b c Fitzpatrick, Matthew P. (2023). "'Renegade' Resistance and Colonial Rule in German Samoa". The Journal of Pacific History. 58 (4): 325–347. doi:10.1080/00223344.2023.2212591. ISSN 0022-3344.
  22. ^ At the outbreak of World War I, the gunboat was in transit from German East Africa to German New Guinea and met the light cruiser SMS Emden. Geier initially stayed on station in the German Caroline Islands, but the 20-year-old 'orphan' ship had no military value as a naval combatant and was short on coal and provisions. She proceeded in October 1914 to Honolulu in the United States Territory of Hawaii. Shadowed by the Japanese, she was interned. With United States entry into the war in April 1917, Geier was confiscated, renamed USS Schurz and operated by the United States Navy until 1918, when she sank after a collision mishap off the North Carolina coast.[1] Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "This week in WW1. 17th November — 23rd November 1914". Archived from the original on 2021-01-16. Retrieved 2021-01-12. Keighley News, 21st November 1914 (Keighley News Archives, accessed via Bradford libraries website).
  24. ^ The ships inflicted some damage at Papeete, Tahiti and then rejoined the squadron en route to South America
  25. ^ date of ratification by the League of Nations was 10 January 1920; Class C mandates were designed for populations considered incapable of self-government


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