Find a Security Clearance Job!


Scramble for Oceania - Germany

During the later part of the 19th Century, the "Scramble for Africa" engaged the Great Powers of Europe to accumulate territories in Africa, which looked good on a color-coded map [pink for Britain, etc], but which for the most part proved to be more trouble than they were worth. There was also a less noticed "Scramble for Oceania", in which Germany and Japan, and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union, vied against the Anglo-American hegemony in the Pacific.

In the new government proclaimed at Versailles at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, the use of the term "empire" was in part braggadocio and in other part an attempt to establish a continuity of system with the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. That government was at the beginning, as at the end, a government of the more civilized Germanic states by Prussia. It was Bismarck and Prussia, the agrarian interest which could find its only active outlet in war, as opposed to the industrial and Kterary culture of the Rhine valley.

The Iron Chancellor himself swore that Germany not only needed no colonies but could not tolerate them. Yet, there was another Germany which not even Bismarck could grind down. The interests of the states of the Hanseatic League were overseas; their profit lay in procuring the raw material upon which German craft and industry might exercise its constructive skill; their interest was none the less in finding a market for the product of German industry. Prussia, on the other hand, had no industry save that of farming agriculture upon a great and feudal scale. Intimately as the Hanseatic League and Prussia found it necessary to associate themselves for purposes of government, their interests and objects were irreconcilable.

Germans first became active as traders in the Pacific in the mid-nineteenth century. The Hamburg firm of J.C. Godeffroy & Sohn established a trading base in Samoa in 1857 and ten years later it laid out its first copra plantation. By 1879 their cotton and copra plantations covered an area of 4337 acres and employed 1210 laborers, mostly Gilbertese and New Hebrideans.

In the 1870s Eduard and Franz Hernsheim established trading bases in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. Goddefroy went bankrupt in 1879, but its interests survived in the Deutsche Handels- und Plantagen-Gesellschaft der Sudsee-Inseln zu Hamburg (DHPG). It pressed for German annexation of Samoa in the hope of acquiring forced labor for its plantations. The labor trade was a likely cause of conflict, as Queensland and Fijian trading vessels began to move northwards from the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides to more northerly islands where Hernsheim had its stations and DHPG was recruiting its labor force.

Intent on protecting German trading interests and taking advantage of British diplomatic weaknesses, the German Government annexed Kaiser Wilhelmsland (north eastern New Guinea) and the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain and New Ireland) in 1884. The Marshall Islands and the northern Solomon Islands (Buka, Bougainville and other islands) were annexed in 1885. From 1885 to 1899 German New Guinea was a protectorate ruled by the Neuguinea Kompagnie. The costs of administering the Marshall Islands, including Nauru, were borne by the DHPG. In 1898 the German Government agreed to take over the administration of New Guinea and a governor was appointed, based at Herbertshhe (Kokopo) in New Britain. In 1906 the Marshall Islands became an administrative district of New Guinea. In 1910 the capital of the colony was moved to Rabaul.

Samoa was always the center of German commerce in the Pacific. In 1877, for instance, Germans had 87 per cent of the export trade from Samoa. In 1888 a native uprising under Mataafa and the ambush of a German naval party led the German consul in Apia to proclaim annexation. Bismarck was aware of British and American treaty rights and from 1889 onwards a tridominium administered Samoa. In 1899 civil war broke out and Mataafas forces gained control of the islands.

Germany put pressure on Britain, which was facing problems in South Africa, and the Treaty of Berlin divided Samoa between Germany (the western islands) and the United States, with Britain gaining exclusive rights in Tonga. Wilhelm Solf was appointed the first Governor of Samoa. At the same time, Spain, having lost the Philippines, ceded the Carolines, Palaus and Marianas to Germany in return for a payment. They were made administrative districts of German New Guinea.

Thus, with the end of the 19th century an equilibrium was struck in the tropical Pacific. France was in possession of the Society Islands, the Marquesas, and the Paumotus in the extreme east and of New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands in the west, together with the insignificant missionary property of Uea and Fotuna in the center between Fiji and Samoa, and a joint administration of the New Hebrides shared with Great Britain. The British Empire held, either as protectorates or by direct annexation, the greater part of the Solomon Islands in the west, Fiji and Tonga in the center, and north of Samoa toward the equator the Tokelau (Union) and Gilbert groups, together with an abundance of scattered and less important islands.

Germany held Samoa in the center and along the equator extensive possessions in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Pelews, the Marianas, the Carolines, and the Marshalls. The United States had Tutuila in Samoa to the south, Hawaii to the north. Midway and Wake Islands in the open sea, Guam in the Marianas, and the PhiUppines.

The interests of these great powers fell into two distinct groups. Great Britain, France, and Germany exploited their possessions in the Pacific in the interest of commerce and productive agriculture ; the United States was interested solely in the maintenance of unimpeded communication between its great outpost of Hawaii and the Philippines. These great powers differ in their holdings in another and most important regard. Great Britain, France, and the United States were in a position to control the passage through the East Indian archipelago. Germany had been unable to obtain a foothold in the Malay East.

The German empire in the Pacific came to a sudden end following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. New Zealand on its way to the Mediterranean took German Samoa without resistance. The forces of the Commonwealth of Australia gathered the German Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago and were occupied for several months in quelling German opposition in New Guinea. Neglecting for the time the strong fortification Kiaochow, the Japanese picked up the equatorial possessions of Germany from the Pelews to the Marshalls. Under the unusual designation of mandataries, the possession of these several members of the former German empire of the Pacific remits to New Zealand, to Australia, and to Japan.

No Atlantic power can afford to fight for the possession of any Pacific holdings; that no Pacific power can afford to let them go. The German empire of the Pacific had been wiped out, and new states of control have been established. A new balance has been struck. The future alone coulc disclose whether a state of stable equilibrium had been reached.


  • 1883 Annexation by Queensland of New Guinea east of the Dutch boundary at 141 E.
  • 1883 Annexation annulled by Great Britain.
  • 1884 October to December. Germany annexes Kaiser-Wilhelmsland (the northern shore of New Guinea east of 141 and inland to the central ranges) for the Deutsche Neuguinea-Gesellschaft, the New Britannia Archipelago (changing its name to the Bismarck Archipelago), and the Solomon Islands as far south as the strait between Ysabel and Malaita.
  • 1884 November. Great Britain proclaims protectorate over British New Guinea (the southern shore east of 141 and inland to the central ranges), turning over administration to Australia, and over the southern Solomon Islands and the Santa Cruz group.
  • 1885 August 25. German flag hoisted over Yap in the Caroline Islands. Spain protests the annexation, the matter being referred to the Holy See for arbitration.
  • 1885 October 15. German flag hoisted at Jaluit in annexation of the Marshall Islands in the name of the Jaluit-Gesellschaft.
  • 1885 Queensland re-annexes southeastern New Guinea.
  • 1899 Germany buys from Spain the Carolines, Pelews, and Marianas.
  • 1899 November 14. Germany completes the partition of Samoa on the dissolution of the Berlin General Act of 1889.
  • 1914 September to December. Capture of Samoa by New Zealand, of New Guinea by Australia, of the equatorial islands by Japan.

Join the mailing list