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Tour of the South Seas

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y309C

Scope and Contents

An album containing mounted photographs of various sizes showing scenes in Australia, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. The collection of amateur photographs is by members of the tour and professional work mainly by Burton Bros. of Dunedin (but see a note on the photography below). The most interesting and historically important photographs are those showing scenes from, and participants in, the Samoan Civil War of 1899. There is also a good portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, and pictures of Vailima. The amateur snapshots are of indifferent quality. The prints by professional photographers are generally signed and titled. The album contains various ephemera, including boat tickets and press cuttings, and two letters, one from a Samoan friend to Lady Mary Keppel (plate 29), the other, dated February 18 1899, from King George Tubou II of Tonga concerning legal matters of a not very specific nature (addressee unknown).

This tour of the South Seas was undertaken by a small group consisting of Hilda and Mary Keppel (aunts of the 9th Earl of Albemarle), the Hon. Violet Blanche Douglas Pennant, Sir William Anstruther, Mr. C. Wentworth Dilke and Alfred Tennyson, grandson of the poet and nephew of the South Australian Governor. Alfred Tennyson is the only figure positively identified in the amateur photographs in the album. Starting from Melbourne and visiting Sydney, the group left Auckland on board the SS ‘Waikere’ on July 8 1899, stopping at Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. There are no photographs of the New Hebrides and New Caledonia in the album although these islands were on the return itinerary. The group returned early in November (the arrival from Sydney of the Keppel sisters is mentioned by Audrey Lady Tennyson in a letter dated November 4 1899).

A note on the photography: Although many of the prints are signed ‘Burton Bros. Dunedin,’ it is unlikely that they were in fact taken by Alfred Burton, since he had sold his photographic business to Muir and Moodie in 1898 (Knight, 1983), and many of the pictures relate specifically to the events of 1899. A probable explanation is that Muir and Moodie continued to use Burton’s name on Pacific, and possibly other, photographs, since his work was well known to a large public (Alfred Burton did in fact make a famous series of South Seas Islands photographs, dated 1884, for which he was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society). It is more likely that these pictures were taken by George Moodie, who had worked for Burton as a landscape photographer prior to buying his business, and who is known to have visited the Pacific Islands several times.

Events in Samoa leading to the war of 1899: The Civil War of 1899 was the outcome of the complicated and often chaotic framework of the Samoan political scene, and of the uneasy coexistence among the various foreign interests, each seeking to influence the precarious political situation in these nominally independent islands (in 1884, for instance, Stuebel, the German Consul, had managed to persuade Malietoa Laupepe to give German officials a place in the administration). Violence had been narrowly averted in 1889 (in some measure as a result of the great hurricane of that year which destroyed nearly all the German, English and American warships recently assembled in Apia (see Y309993A/24-26) and a conference was convened in Berlin to decide the fate of Samoa. The conference resolutions can be seen in hindsight to have some responsibility for the war ten years later. On a general level it was agreed to preserve Samoan autonomy under international supervision, which, if not actually a contradiction in terms, at least begged several questions. Malietoa Laupepe (plate 32), who had first come to the throne in 1868, and who had been deposed and reinstated several times since, and who was possibly the least suitable candidate for the kingship, was given power, with Mata’afa (plate 31) as a backing authority. Mata’afa however revolted in 1891 and after being beaten by Malietoa Laupepe was exiled. Following on this Tamasese (plate 60) seized the throne. In the next few years the situation became more and more fragile, with a struggle for the kingship and a simultaneous breakdown in strong and efficient administration by the treaty powers who were equally busy (especially the Germans) in jockeying for position among themselves. The one man, Mata’afa, who could probably have united the Samoans was in exile and eventually the Germans, with the acquiescence of the other powers, decided, with certain conditions, on his return. Malietoa Laupepe had died in August 1898 and Tamasese not unnaturally hoped to be the German candidate for the throne (especially since Mata’afa had been specifically excluded from the kingship by Bismarck at Berlin in 1889 for his part in the attack on fifty German sailors the previous year). In the event, the Germans backed the ‘fono’ or assembly, which gave Mata’afa the crown. The British authorities, on the other hand, declared (in the person of Justice Chambers) that the election was invalid (ironically enough invoking Bismarck’s exclusion of Mata’afa from the kingship as part of their argument) and decided for Malietoa Tanumafili, Laupepe’s son. Mata’afa then formed a government which an Anglo-American force proceeded to destroy - by the bombardment of Apia and the coastal villages, and by sorties on land to round up Mata’afa’s rebels (see Y309C/42, 62, 66 and Y309993A/32). They also sent warships to the neighbouring Samoan Islands to bring back warriors who supported Malietoa Tanumafili, arming, training and often leading them in battle (see Y309C/60, 61 and Y309993A/31). Eventually a commission was sent to resolve the situation, and fighting had stopped by May 13 1899 (see Y309C/43). The partition which resulted was probably the most equitable solution both to the Samoans and to the treaty powers, since it acknowledged Germany’s undoubted commercial pre-eminence in Samoa while giving the islands a single and stable government, it gave America one of the finest harbours in the Pacific in Pago Pago, and it allowed Great Britain generous concessions in other areas (notably Tonga, parts of the German Solomon Islands, West Africa and Zanzibar). The war also afforded a salutary illustration of the results of the mismanagement of territorial and diplomatic disputes, exacerbated by a poor choice of men in positions of authority. Quite how the Berlin conference hoped to allow an ‘autonomous’ Samoan government to operate, when the government was riven with dispute, intrigue and dissention, and when the treaty powers themselves had strong vested interests in bringing to power the ruler most suited to themselves is unclear.


  • Creation: 1899

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87 item(s) (87 images)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

generally good to fair condition.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Album donated by the 9th Earl of Albemarle.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: Oceania, fiche numbers 3-4.


Knight, Hardwicke (1983), 'Photography in New Zealand,' p.51.


This item level description was entered by NE and MJC using information from the original typescript catalogue.



Includes index.
2006-10-24 09:58:35+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

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