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/


1875: writer, Anthony Trollope – “Levuka has been the white man’s capital in Fiji”; merchants and the missionaries compelled colonial control

 English writer, postal commissior, Anthony Trollop gives an English view of Fiji in 1875, after visiting Consul Hector Robinson, who quotes Cakobau as he explained his tactic in ceding to Britain..

October 1874: Trollope reported the British flag was hoisted, “with the usual formalities,” by Sir Hercules Robinson, in Fiji. Anthony Trollope, in The Tireless Traveler: Twenty Letters to the Liverpool Mercury In 1875 reported on his  round the world trip  reported on events in Fiji, from Sydney, but did not visit. He had been to Fiji in 1871.  Trollope appears to have visited Sir Hercules Robinson, the governor of NSW, in Sydney.

Sir Hercules Robinson had taken control of Fiji in 1874: Trollope wrote “In October, 1874—just one year ago when this letter will reach England—Great Britain was strengthened or burdened, as the case may be, by the possession of a new colony. On the 10th of that month, the British flag was hoisted, “with the usual formalities,” by Sir Hercules Robinson, in Fiji.  Sir Hercules was and is the governor of New South Wales, and had been commissioned by the Home Government to complete the arrangement, if such completion might be possible; and this he did successfully”.

 “Levuka has been the white man’s capital in Fiji”; “In 1835 a few white traders, Englishmen and Americans, probably mixed, first came to Fiji in quest of fortune, and established themselves in a place called Levuka, in one of the smaller islands. From that time to this, Levuka has been the white man’s capital in Fiji; and two years later, missionaries settled themselves among the islands.

Joint desire to make money and to proselytise:  “Such have been the commencements of almost all modern colonisation. There has been the joint desire to make money and to proselytise—with the English as with the Spaniards. Now and again the love of freedom, and the desire to find new homes in which a man might say his prayers as he pleased, have driven wanderers forth and have created new countries; but the merchants and the missionaries have been the great discoverers of the world. It was they who by their joint action forced us to colonise New Zealand, and it is they who have now together compelled the Colonial Office to send a great governor to Fiji”.

Trollope’s view of Cakobau: “The name of Thakombau—here spelt as it is pronounced—will probably be familiar to most of your readers. He was born in 1804, and is still living, and in 1852 succeeded his father as chief of the largest of the Fijian tribes. But he was not then King of Fiji. A few years before the latter date there had appeared among the islands a stranger chief, a Tongan, named Maafu, who succeeded in establishing himself in the eastern or Windward Islands, as a rival to Thakombau.

Trollope dismisses Cak0bau as an ignorant savage: “But it is with Thakombau that we English have chiefly dealt, and whose co-operation with Englishmen has caused Fiji to be this day an English colony. Two years after his father’s death he became a Christian—as far as Christianity was possible to him—and renounced cannibalism. He and his wife were baptised, and he seems, at any rate, to have been convinced that there could be neither peace nor prosperity for his people unless they could be made secure, if not by British rule, at any rate by British protection.

 Cakobau sends warclub to Queen Victoria: “The other day, when the cession of the country was completed, he sent over, as a present to our Queen, his war-club, which had ever been to him the symbol of his authority.

Cakobau’s ‘melancholy conviction’: “There is much in the character of the man which recommends itself to us, though he was a cannibal and a heathen, and though now, in his old age, his Christianity is not very intelligible to himself. He seems ever to have trusted the honesty and power of the British nation, and to have mingled with that trust a melancholy conviction that his own people could of themselves do nothing; and yet the Englishmen he had seen had not always been good specimens of their nationality.

What Cakobau said to Robinson: “Of one thing I am certain,” he said to Sir Hercules Robinson, when they were negotiating the cession: “if we do not cede Fiji, the white stalkers on the beach, the cormorants, will open their mouths and swallow us.” And again he said, “Fijians are of unstable character. A white man who wishes to get anything from a Fijian, if he does not succeed to-day, will try again to-morrow, till the Fijian is wearied out and gives in.” He had learned that the weaker must give way to the stronger, and had perceived that it was better to abandon himself and his country at once to the justice of English rule than to be squeezed out of existence by the rapacity of individuals”.

Maafu v Cakobau: In the early days of chieftainship, various troubles came upon him. Maafu, his rival from Tonga, was strong against him, stirring up rebellion in the islands and separating the people. And then there were misfortunes with the Americans.

1849: In 1849 the house of the American consul was burned down, and compensation was claimed for that.

1853: In 1853, Levuka was burned, and, among other things, the houses and property of certain Americans were destroyed, for which further compensation was demanded.

 1855: In 1855, an American officer came to assess this property, and demanded a payment of £9000 ($45,000). This seems to have been the beginning of Thakombau’s pecuniary troubles. There was no means within his power of paying any such sum! If only England would take the islands and pay the money, things might at any rate be quiet!

1858:  In 1858, the first offer of cession was made. Fiji should belong to England, if England would pay those hard American creditors.

1859: A deed of cession was sent to England in 1859, the British consul resident at Fiji taking it to London. The British residents in the islands were of course quite as anxious for the arrangement as Thakombau could be.

1862: But at that time the British adult residents were only 166 in number, and in 1862 the offer was refused by us. The injury that 166 persons at the other side of the globe could do was not sufficient to induce us to accept the new burden” .

Trollope, Anthony. The Tireless Traveler: Twenty Letters to the Liverpool Mercury. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  [1978,c1941] 1978. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0hv/

October 1874: Chiefs sign Deed of Cession of Fiji to Great Britain

One original of the Deed of Cession was retained in Fiji, and until the late thirties of the present century was in the archives of the Colonial Government. Full text below. Continue reading