Comic Opera Monarchies

A common feature of early trade contacts was an intensification of tribal warfare. Many chiefs were quick to realize the possibilities that firearms offered for strengthening their power. Warfare became more bloody and more decisive. Kamehameha in the Hawaiian Islands, Cakobau in the Fiji Islands, Pomare in Tahiti, Taufa'ahau in the Tonga Islands, Hongi Ika in New Zealand, and many other chiefs attempted, with varying success, to extend their rule and establish kingdoms on European models. The more successful ones introduced European court ceremonies, even though the crown might be made of pasteboard. These monarchies were expensive, and the debts of the kings led to intrigue that resulted in increased foreign control.


By the time of the great eighteenth-century voyages in the Pacific, Spain had ceased to be a major power. She secured the Carolines and Marshalls and made a few efforts to secure Tahiti but did not offer much competition in the rivalry for Pacific islands that developed in the nineteenth century. Britain and France, the two most powerful European nations, had led in the exploration of the Pacific and acquired, during the nineteenth century, most of the more desirable islands. The explorers of both nations had made conflicting claims to their discoveries. The traders and others who followed continued to make claims. Missionaries and planters were loud in their cries for assistance from their home governments in their troubles with natives and nationals of other countries. This rivalry long delayed annexation, as neither of the home governments in Paris or London considered the Pacific islands worth a war. French attention to New Zealand in the 1820's and the 1830's brought British colonists and annexation in 1840. France took advantage of local troubles to establish a protectorate over Tahiti in 1842 although she did not annex the Society Islands outright until 1874.

The French barely nosed out the British in New Caledonia. The island was discovered by Cook in 1774, but he did not leave a very impressive account of it. The next visitor was the French navigator D'Entrecasteaux, who gave a more favorable description. In due time the French government began to take an interest in this part of the Pacific. In 1843 some missionaries were sent on a warship and the French flag was raised. The missionaries proved too anxious in securing land and were mistreated by the natives. When word of this reached France there was agitation for annexation. The French heard a well-founded rumor that the British were about to annex the island in 1853 and sent an order to their Pacific squadron to annex the island if the British had not already done so. The British captain was slow and, as a result, the French secured the island and its great mineral resources.


France and Britain had secured title to most of the important Pacific islands when the Germans appeared on the scene. German interest in the Pacific was first represented by commercial companies located in Bremen and Hamburg. During the 1840's German vessels began to appear in the Pacific with increasing frequency. The Hamburg firm of Godeffroy, the most aggressive of these, had branches in Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, and New Guinea. After the unification of the German Empire in Europe, Bismarck was finally won over to the policy of securing colonies. In 1884 Germany annexed northeastern New Guinea and the New Britannia (now Bismarck) Islands over the bitter protests of Australia. She managed to secure a few additional islands in the part of the Pacific that Britain and France had not already effectively occupied. German interest in the Carolines and Marshalls brought Spanish colonies to those islands during the 1880's. However, Spain lost the Philippines and Guam in the Spanish American War and had no interest in such poor and remote islands. In 1899 Germany was able to buy them for $4,000,000 and to divide the Samoan Islands with the United States.

Japan appears to have had some contact with the Carolines and Marianas through fishermen before Magellan crossed the Pacific. However, her first real action came in 1890 when she forced a chief on one of the Marshall atolls to apologize for the murder of shipwrecked Japanese fishermen. In the same year the first of some small Japanese trading firms was established in the Carolines. By 1912 Japanese traders were established in Palau, Truk, Ponape, and the Marianas. In 1914 Japan, with the agreement of Great Britain, seized the German islands north of the equator. After the war these were given to her as a mandate from the League of Nations. Australia received the German possessions south of the equator with the exception of western Samoa, which went to New Zealand.

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