1870: Cotton boom ends, chaos rises: government needed: planters of Lau, German with business interests in Tonga, wanted Ma’afu; the men of Western Fiji preferred Cakobau

On June 5th, 1871, Cakobau was proclaimed King of Fiji at a ceremony in Levuka. This event followed a period of chaos created by the sudden fall in the value of cotton. Derrick, in his “History of Fiji” (p.196), says, “With the rapid increase of the foreign population the need for government became more urgent. A leading article in the ‘Fiji Times’ of 15th January, 1870, compared the creditable manner in which the natives governed themselves with the lack of control among the Europeans; ‘It is not the natives we want the Government for, but ourselves,’ the article affirmed; and it went on to urge the need of protection for homes and families.

Government plan: In its next issue the paper suggested that a committee be set up to recommend a suitable form of government. A meeting was held as arranged, and was largely attended. Though the meeting agreed that some form of Government was necessary, there was a difference of opinion about who should be the native head of the administration.

Planters backed Ma’afu: The planters of Lau, who were principally German, with business interests in Tonga, wanted Ma’afu; the men of Western Fiji preferred Cakobau. On this question, and on the manner in which revenue should be handled, no agreement was reached; and after appointing a committee to draft a constitution, to be submitted to delegates, the meeting broke up.”

Fall in cotton values spread dismay among the settlers: That meeting was on the 14th April, 1870, when everything from the planters’ angle seemed happy enough, but the sudden fall of France and the subsequent fall in cotton values spread dismay among the settlers generally.

Bankrupt in the midst of chaos: Many of the planters were men of education, some from the Forces, men of character, faced with bankruptcy in the midst of chaos. Concern for so many from Australia prompted politicians in Australia to urge the United Kingdom to annex the Group, but it was certain that the United Kingdom had no interest in the matter.

coup d’etat was launched: With dramatic suddenness a coup d’etat was launched, led by ex-Lieutenant George Austin Woods, the newly arrived marine surveyor.


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