This photograph is one of around 30 images taken during the outbreak of hostilities in Samoa in 1899. This photograph is of the wreck of the German warship 'Adler' which was thrown onto the reef in Apia harbour in 1889. This image was probably taken in 1899 long after this event.
This war was the legacy of an earlier dispute between the Samoan chiefs Tamasese and Malietoa which had erupted in 1888-1889 after the heavy handed involvement of British, German and American in Apia, on Upolu. In August 1898 Samoa's King Malietoa Laupepa died and his long-time rival Mata'afa returned from exile supported by the German forces. This act was strongly opposed by the British and Americans who backed Malietoa's son, Tanu, and in January 1899 a war, similar to the one ten yeas previously, erupted in Apia.
On March the 14th the American heavy cruiser U.S.S. Philadelphia shelled Apia in an attempt to dissolve a provisional government set up by Mata'afa and the Germany. Instead it inflamed the hostilities and Mata'afa's forces attacked houses in Apia, particularly the Tivoli Hotel where three American sailors were killed.
On the 30th of March a British and American force under Commander Sturdee, along with about one hundred Samoans under Lieutenant Gaunt, made their way along the coast driving small numbers of Mata'afa's men before them. On the first of April they were attacked by Mata'afa's men and seven were killed.
The deadlock was broken by a ceasefire announced on the 25th of April 1899 and soon after a treaty was agreed to by all parties which recognised the independence of the Samoan Government. In doing so it also divided European interests so that Germany received the western Samoan islands with Savaii and Upolu, the United States received the eastern islands with its capital at Pago Pago on Tutuila and Britain withdrew from the area for recognition of rights on Tonga and the Solomon Islands.
This photographic negative was published by the Sydney firm Charles Kerry & Co. and is part of the Powerhouse Museum's Tyrrell collection which contains over 2,900 glass plate negatives by Kerry & Co. Although a few appear to be from the 1880s most were produced between 1892 and 1917. Over this period, and well into the early 1900s, prints from these negatives appeared in many Australian publications and albums of views. In 1903 the company began producing postcards from these negatives, further establishing the images as some of the most significant and best known early views of New South Wales.
Some of the more significant themes covered by the collection include; views of New South Wales, Queensland, country towns, Sydney, Indigenous Australians, the South Pacific, rural life, native flora and fauna, and sentimental views. In addition a number of significant events from the 1900s are covered by the collection including; embarkation of troops for the Boer War, Hordens fire, the Inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901, the arrival of the Great White Fleet and the Burns verses Johnson boxing match at Rushcutters Bay in 1908.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, May, 2009
Kennedy, Paul M. The Samoan Tangle; a Study in Anglo-German-American Relations, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, 1974
Millar, David, Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1981
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Footnote to History; Eight years of Trouble in Samoa, 1892, transcribed from the 1912 Swanston edition by David Price, 2005, Project Gutenberg eBook, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/536/536.txt
Tyrrell, James, Australian Aboriginal and South Sea Islands Implements, Weapons and Curios, James Tyrrell, Sydney, 1929