1868: three-way fight for control of Fiji by Britain, America, and Australia; Thakombau crowned king, Melbourne-based Polynesian Company offers to pay Cakobau’s debt; but on 10th October, 1874, a deed of cession to Britain, was executed at Levuka

Trollope, Anthony reported in 1875 the Sir Hercules Robinson view of Fijian affairs which lead up to the signing of the deed. It appeared a three-way fight for control of Fiji by Britain, America, and Australia. A group of 10,000 Melbourne investors formed the Polynesian Company, and offered to pay Cakobau’s debt in exchange for a large piece of Fiji, and a banking monopoly and tax-free status. Trollope said “For twelve years, various struggles were made to carry on a native government on European plans and with European officers.

In 1865, Cakobau elected president, constitution drafted: With American advice, “Thakombau, who had hitherto been only the first of the native chieftains, was elected president, and a constitution was formed similar to that which had been adopted under American auspices in the Sandwich Islands. (Hawaii) At this time, Thakombau’s chief minister was an American.

1868: But reliance on the United States did not last long, and in 1868 Thakombau was crowned king. There was, however, still that debt of £9000, and a clearly expressed determination on the part of the United States that the money must be forthcoming. As we know, our brethren in America are very urgent in the collection of such debts”.

The Polynesian Company offers to pay Cakobau’s debt: Then a company was formed in Melbourne, called the Polynesian Company, to whom a charter was given conferring vast rights, on condition that the £9000 should be paid. The company was to have;

– a monopoly of banking;

– freedom from taxation; and

– 200,000 acres of land.

But English paid the money, the Polynesia Co faded: “The Americans got their money, and the Polynesian Company entered in upon a small fraction of their land”.

In 1871, Thakombau, who had already been declared king, was proclaimed a constitutional sovereign, and a parliament, consisting of twenty-five members, was elected—a parliament consisting of white men. The first thing, of course—I believe I may say the on thing—the parliament did was to get into debt. Establishments and expenditure were sanctioned amounting to double the revenue which could be collected.

Civil wars break out: “The bickerings of the Europeans were incessant. Civil wars broke out among the natives, which had to be put down by a British man-of-war.

Fiji risks descent into mere nest of robbers: “Fresh offers of cession were made; and, in the meantime, King Thakombau was at his wit’s ends, and the British fortune-hunters were in terrible lack of security for their ventures.

Fortunes to be made if capital secured: “Money was borrowed at almost whatever rate of interest might be demanded. The one thing wanted was government. Cotton could be grown, and sugar, and fortunes might be made, if only some real government were possible—some security that property would be protected by law.

“Poor King Thakombau” “A Fijian parliament with poor King Thakombau at its head and self-appointed English ministers could do nothing but get into debt. Some strong staff on which the little place might lean with safety was necessary to its existence. If England would not take it, Fiji must become a mere nest of robbers, and a curse to that side of the world—especially a curse to our Australasian colonies, which are comparatively near to it.

Acceptance of the islands became a duty, and almost a necessity: “The nest of robbers and the curse might have been endured by England, were it not that it would have been a British nest. The men who were practically declaring that they were willing enough to carry on their operations honestly, under the laws, if laws were provided for them, but that, lacking laws, they must live lawlessly, were Englishmen. No minister at home would send out a man-of-war and take every Briton out of Fiji. Thus the acceptance of the islands became a duty, and almost a necessity. After repeated offers we appointed two commissioners to inquire as to the terms of cession. The terms first offered were, of course, such as could not be accepted”.

Pensions were demanded. Money was demanded. “Stipulations as to land were demanded. It was natural enough that King Thakombau should be instigated by his white ministers to ask for much, and that Englishmen living so far away from home should think that much might be got. A great power, taking on itself the burden of ruling these islands at the other side of the world, could submit to no bargaining.

Sir Hercules Robinson and the deed: “In July, 1874, our governor at New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson, was desired to go over to the islands and take possession of them, if the chiefs and men in authority there would unite in giving them up trustfully to British dominion. He arrived at Levuka on the 23rd of September, and on the 10th October, 1874, a deed of cession was executed at Levuka by all the chiefs, and by Sir Hercules, under which, without any terms, the islands were ceded to British rule”.
Trollope, Anthony. The Tireless Traveler: Twenty Letters to the Liverpool Mercury. Berkeley: University of California Press, The articles, which bear Trollope’s signature, can be found on page five every Saturday from July 3, 1875, through November 13, 1875. [1978,c1941] 1978. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0hv/

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