The display representing New Zealand’s occupation of Samoa, this country’s opening action in the First World War, may be small but the objects in the case are anything but mute. They embody the voices of the participants whose collision in that wartime action significantly changed the trajectories of three nations: Samoa, New Zealand and Germany.

The case is on display now in the Scars on the Heart gallery, Level 2. 

When New Zealand invaded Samoa at the request of the British Imperial government, coming ashore at the capital of Apia on 29 August 1914, the Auckland Observer published a cartoon by William ‘Blo’ Blomfield titled Samoa Yielded without a Struggle. Against a backdrop of palm trees, Blo depicts Germany drunk in a hammock while Samoa has quickly transferred her wanton attention to an indifferent but satisfied New Zealand soldier. Stereotypes and innuendo aside, the German administration in Samoa were advised by Berlin not to resist an invasion by Allied forces.

A victor’s narrative demands a victory however and newspapers of the time carried New Zealand Prime Minister Bill Massey’s self-congratulatory message: 

"Samoa is of great strategical importance to both New Zealand and Australia. There is already a very powerful wireless station some distance inland from Apia, probably the most powerful in the Pacific, and we have reason to believe that it is still intact. Though we have secured it much more easily than we expected, we have to hold Samoa, a strong force will be required to garrison the island for some considerable time to come. A further reason for gratification is that not only was the New Zealand force the first contingent of British troops to proceed overseas to its allotted task, but it is also the first to secure German territory for the Imperial Crown." 

Massey’s final statement was not quite correct. Two days before the Samoan occupation began the West African German colony of Togoland (modern day Togo) had unconditionally surrendered after a three-week British and French offensive. The operation in Togoland had been aimed at destroying the German wireless station at Kamina. Apia’s new station was similarly viewed as a critical communications link for Germany that would allow unacceptable wartime advantages for that country in the Pacific region. Samoa, like Togoland, was viewed only in terms of the needs and opportunities for the colonial powers. 

The marginalization of Samoan perspectives is a common thread in contemporaneous reporting and informed subsequent opinions. It wasn’t a new phenomenon as British, American and German governments had been arguing over their spheres of influence in the Samoan archipelago for decades. Interfering in internal politics by backing and fomenting leadership struggles contingent on what would best serve their own interests. At the end of the civil war in 1899 the Tripartite Convention formalized colonial rule partitioning the eastern islands of Samoa to establish the unincorporated United States Territory of American Samoa, and what became known as German Samoa, a German protectorate from 1900 to 1919, with Britain stepping away from Samoa to extend its dominion over the Solomon Islands. 

German Samoa Proclamation EPH-PW-1-96

Despite Euro American domination, Samoan power structures persisted and survived. German Governor Wilhelm Solf’s declared intention in 1900 was to ‘render ineffectual […] and slowly do away with the instrument of Tumua and Pule which dates back to the earliest times.'3 Tumua ma Pule was a coalition of tulafale (orator chiefs) from the islands of ‘Upolu and Savai‘i. ‘We are Tumua and Pule, we are the rulers of Samoa’ said leading tulafale Lauaki Namulau‘ulu Mamoe. Solf recognized the power within this cohort which he labelled both a ‘body of indolent intriguers’4 and a thirteen headed ‘hydra’5 and on 14 August 1905 proclaimed the abolition of the Tumua and Pule at Mulinu’u.6 Solf instituted an alternative and, some say, powerless7 advisory body known as Fono a Faipule containing some of the same membership as the Tumua ma Pule, such as Lauaki. From a colonial viewpoint then the influential cohort was neutralised but their impact and standing within fa‘a Samoa would continue up to 1914 and beyond. 

Solf’s successor and Governor of Samoa during New Zealand’s invasion was Dr Erich Schultz. He had initially left Apia when the invaders arrived but eventually surrendered to New Zealand military administrator Colonel Robert Logan.8 Logan’s signature ratifies the proclamations on display in the Samoa case and he casts a long shadow in Samoan history. Among Logan’s legacies in Samoa was his impact on the Chinese indentured labourers originally brought to work on plantations by the German administration in 1903. During the four years of the war, he cut the number of Chinese plantation workers from 2184 to 832 and devised a number of ways in which to criminalise and control Chinese lives. Not that the labour force had been well treated under German rule; a point made repeatedly by Chinese-Samoan editor of the Samoanische Zeitung James Ah Sue and recognized by the Chinese consul as early as 1908.9  

Lauaki Namulau'ulu Mamoe, circa 1909, Sāmoa, by Thomas Andrew. Te Papa (O.001123/01)

Logan’s notoriety was largely formed however by his response to the Spanish flu epidemic, a disease which arrived in Samoa aboard the steamship Talune on 7 November 1918. The Talune had come up from Auckland where influenza was widespread but no mention of this had been made in the bill of health given to the ship before departure. Neither was Samoa notified ‘by wireless immediately influenza was made a notifiable disease.’

Model of the SS Talune, A Moody. Auckland Museum Collection: 1970.90; Mar.186.14

The 1919 Commission of Inquiry10 into Samoa’s epidemic concluded that the New Zealand ‘Health Department and (or) the Defence Department failed in its duty in ignoring the fact that New Zealand was, for the time being, responsible for the welfare of the inhabitants of Samoa.’11 The disease had a devastating impact under Logan’s administration and the final death toll was conservatively estimated to be 8500 or 22 percent of the population. An accurate toll may never be known however because of the difficulty of keeping records when so many people died, the majority in just six weeks following the arrival of the Talune. The outcome was not inevitable, and the Inquiry noted that the impact from the transmission of measles to Pacific Island nations was already known and foreshadowed the influenza epidemic12. The actions of US Naval Governor John Poyer to minimise the effect of the influenza epidemic in American Samoa stand in stark contrast to Logan’s.  

The number of deaths tore at the fabric of Samoan society and left a scar on every dimension of fa‘a Samoa for decades to come. Of the 31 members of the Faipule, for example, only seven survived the epidemic.13 ‘Logan’s callousness’ was reported in New Zealand papers; in depositions for the 1919 Commission, Hilda Small, an assistant teacher at Papauta School gave evidence of her experience. 

The trauma of the epidemic and Logan’s response to it cemented his reputation and by extension, that of the New Zealand administration in Samoa. Toleafoa Lagolago who inherited the Afamasaga title when his predecessor died during the epidemic, said: ‘Colonel Logan has no love for the Samoans.’15  

It is a common trope for Pacific nations to be characterized as providing no resistance to colonial takeover, even welcoming it, but the number of exiles of Samoan leadership by both German and New Zealand colonists tells a different story16. The desire for sovereignty and ‘Samoa mo Samoa’17 can be discerned in response to the earliest colonial presence in Samoa but as AUT Vice Chancellor Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa says, the mishandling of the flu epidemic was key for the Mau independence movement: ‘it is no accident that they built their headquarters right by the mass graves. That is one of the great wrongs they feel New Zealand committed against Samoans, overseeing the mass mortality of the influenza epidemic.’18  

The Samoa Case, Scars on the Heart gallery, Level 2



Written by Andrea Low (Associate Curator Contemporary World) and Gail Romano (Associate Curator War History).




Case images by Jessie Maucor, Museum Photographers © Auckland Museum

  1. Waikato Argus, Volume XXXVI, Issue 5700, 1 September 1914, Page 3 
  2. Germany formally renounced its possession of Samoa when it signed the Versailles Treaty on 28 June 1919. See Article 119, ‘Peace Treaty of Versailles, Articles 118-158, German Rights and Interests Outside Germany.’ For discussion of this article see ‘Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Volume XIII', Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, United States Department of State,  
  3. John A Moses. ‘The Solf Regime in Western Samoa: Ideal and Reality’, New Zealand Journal of History. Vol 6, No.1, 1972 p42-56 (p47)
  4. Peter J Hempenstall. Pacific Islanders Under German Rule: A Study in the Meaning of Colonial Resistance. 2016, ANU Press, p34
  5. Ibid, p47
  6. The seat of government in Apia, the capital of German Samoa.
  7. Michael Field. Black Saturday: New Zealand’s Tragic Blunders in Samoa. 2006. Reed Publishing
  8. Schultz was interned on Motuihe Island in New Zealand with other German prisoners of war.
  9. Malama Meleisea et al “German Samoa 1900-1914" in Lagaga: A Short History of Western Samoa, ed. Malama Meleisea (University of the South Pacific, 1987) p108
  11. ‘Samoan Epidemic’, Evening Post, 16 August 1919, 5.
  12. p8
  13. Equivalent to 26 out of 120 members of New Zealand’s present-day parliament.
  14. Manawatu Times, Volume XLIII, Issue 14162, 11 July 1919, p5 
  15. Field, p54
  16. Mata‘afa Iosefa was exiled to German controlled Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1893. Solf exiled Lauaki Namulau‘ulu Mamoe and 72 others to Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands in 1909. Ta‘isi Olaf Nelson – leader of the Mau was exiled to New Zealand first in 1928 and again in 1934.
  17. Samoa for Samoans, the slogan of the Mau movement.



[…] about a week after the arrival of the Talune all the children in the school and 46 people on the plantation were down with influenza. Application was made for beef to make beef tea, which angered Colonel Logan, who said: ‘You ask for beef. I won’t give these fat, lazy girls' beef.” He said, pointing to a horse which had strayed on the school property and died: “Let them eat the dead horse. It is good enough for them.

Hilda Small, an assistant teacher at Papauta School, for the depositions for the 1919 Commission.