“Where is the bottle? … you will find it by the Engineer’s Thumb!”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2623.]

To Arthur Conan Doyle [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 237-8]

Vailima, August 23rd, 1893

My dear Dr. Conan Doyle,

I am reposing after a somewhat severe experience upon which I think it my duty to report to you. Immediately after dinner this evening it occurred to me to re-narrate to my native overseer Simelé your story of The Engineer’s Thumb.

Doyle’s short story, “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” had been first published in the UK in The Strand Magazine in March 1892, and in the United States in the US edition of the Strand in April 1892.

And, sir, I have done it. It was necessary, I need hardly say, to go somewhat farther afield than you have done. To explain (for instance) what a railway is, what a steam hammer, what a coach and horse, what coining, what a criminal, and what the police.

I pass over other and no less necessary explanations. But I did actually succeed; and if you could have seen the drawn, anxious features, and the bright, feverish eyes of Simelé, you would have (for the moment at least) tasted glory. You might perhaps think that, were you to come to Samoa, you might be introduced as the Author of The Engineer’s Thumb. Disabuse yourself. They do not know what it is to make up a story. The Engineer’s Thumb (God forgive me) was narrated as a piece of actual and factual history. Nay, and more, I who write to you have had the indiscretion to perpetrate a trifling piece of fiction entitled The Bottle Imp.

RLS’s story, The Bottle Imp, had been serialised in The New York Herald, february-March 1891. It was later included in Island Nights’ Entertainments, 1893.

Parties who come up to visit my unpretentious mansion, after having admired the ceilings by Vanderputty and the tapestry by Gobbling, manifest towards the end a certain uneasiness which proves them to be fellows of an infinite delicacy. They may be seen to shrug a brown shoulder, to roll up a speaking eye, and at last secret burst from them: ‘Where is the bottle?’ Alas, my friends (I feel tempted to say), you will find it by the Engineer’s Thumb!


Oa’u, o lau no moni, O Tusitala

More commonly known as

R.L. Stevenson

Have read the Refugees;

Condé and old P. Murat very good;

Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1621-86), onee of Louis XIV’s pre-eminent generals [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

Louis XIV and Louvois with the letter bag very rich.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) [www.biography.com]
François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (1641-91) was the French Secretary of State for War during a significant part of the reign of Louis XIV [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

You have reached a trifle wide perhaps; too many celebrities? Though I was delighted to re-encounter my old friend Du Chaylu. Old Murat is perhaps your high-water mark; ’tis excellently human, cheerful and real. Do it again. Madame de Maintenon struck me as quite good.

Françoise d’Aubigné (1635-1719), known first as Madame Scarron and subsequently as Madame de Maintenon, secretly married King Louis XIV. Although she was never considered queen of France, she was one of the King’s closest advisers and the royal children’s governess [https://it.wikipedia.org/]

Have you any document for the decapitation? It sounds steepish. The devil of all that first part is that you see old Dumas; yet your Louis XIV is distinctly good. I am much interested with this book, which fulfils a good deal, and promises more. Question, How far a Historical Novel should be wholly episodic? I incline to that view, with trembling. I shake hands with you on old Murat.


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“Blows the wind on the moors today and now”

Samuel Rutherford Crockett had dedicated to RLS the first edition of The Stickit Minister and Some Common Men.

In the second edition, which he had sent to RLS on 23 June, he had added a long dedicatory letter.

The following poem, in RLS’s letter of thanks, was later published in the Pall Mall Gazette on 12 December 1894 as ‘Home Thoughts from Samoa’ and in Songs of Travel XLV as ‘To S.R. Crockett (On receiving a Dedication)’.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2622.]

To S.R. Crockett [Crockett, The Stickit Minister]

[Vailima, c. 15 August 1893]


Blows the wind today, and the sun and the rain are flying –

Blows the wind on the moors today and now,

Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying,

My heart remembers how!

Gray, recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,

Wigtown Martyrs’ Grave, one of the several Scottish Covenanters’ graves, Dumfries & Galloway: on 11 May 1685 two women, Margaret Wilson (aged 18) and Margaret McLachlan (aged 63), were tied to stakes in the rising waters of the River Bladnoch, near Wigtown, and left to drown. The women were executed for their refusal to take the Oath of Abjuration and acknowledge James VII as head of the Scottish church [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

Standing Stones on the vacant wine-red moor,

Linns Tomb, Craigmoddie Fell, Kirkcowan, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. In the spring of 1685. A shepherd from Derry Farm tended his flock on the moor on Craigmoddie Fell. While the sheep grazed quietly about him, he sat near the crest of the hill and read his pocket Bible. Lieutenant-General William Drummond, whose brutal, relentless pursuit of Covenanters had earned him the nickname “Herod” Drummond, was leading his men across southern Ayrshire. As they advanced toward Wigtownshire, a number of lapwings flying in the distance suggested that some danger threatened their nests. Suspecting the cause of their distress might be human, Drummond led his men across the border. Approaching Craigmoddie Fell, they saw someone near the top of the hill and circled around to take him by surprise. When they found him in possession of a pocket Bible, Drummond decided that was cause enough to condemn the man. And so, Alexander Linn, a simple shepherd, was ambushed, shot, and killed for his faith. Later, when Linn’s lifeless body was found, it was buried where he had died. The place, described by Rev. William Mackenzie as a bleak, romantic spot, was marked by a memorial stone [www.findagrave.org]

Hills of sheep, and the howes of the silent vanished races,

George Wright, A Galloway Moor [www.artuk.org]

And winds, austere and pure!

Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,

Hills of home! and to hear again the call –

West Kip summit looking down to Eastside, Pentland Hills, Edinburgh [www.eastsidecottages.co.uk]

Hear about the graves of the martyrs the pee-wees crying

And hear no more at all.

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“Nobody has done justice to rain in literature yet: surely a subject for a Scot”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2621.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 231-2]

[Vailima, c. 15 August 1893]

My dear Henry James,

Yes. Les Trophées is, on the whole, a book.

Henry James had sent RLS this volume of sonnets.

It is excellent; but is it a life’s work? I always suspect you of a volume of sonnets up your sleeve; when is it coming down?

Henry James, 1890 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

I am in one of my moods of wholesale impatience with all fiction and all verging on it, reading instead, with rapture, Fountainhall’s Decisions.

You never read it: well, it hasn’t much form, and is inexpressibly dreary, I should suppose, to others and even to me for pages. It’s like walking in a mine underground, and with a damned bad lantern, and picking out pieces of ore.

This, and war, will be my excuse for not having read your (doubtless) charming work of fiction.

“The Real Thing”, a short story by Henry James, was first syndicated by S. S. McClure in multiple American newspapers, then published in the British Black and White in April 1892 and the following year as the title story in the collection, The Real Thing and Other Stories published by Macmillan.This story, often read as a parable, plays with the reality-illusion dichotomy that fascinated James, especially in the later stages of his career. For the illustrator who narrates the story, the genuine article proves all too useless for his commercial purposes. The story portrays the unfortunate victims of a society in which reality and representation are closely intertwined in ways that make art a difficult project to disentangle the two [https://en.wikipedia.org]

The revolving year will bring me round to it; and I know, when fiction shall begin to feel a little solid to me again, that I shall love it, because it’s James. Do you know, when I am in this mood, I would rather try to read a bad book? It’s not so disappointing, anyway. And Fountainhall is prime, two big folio volumes, and all dreary, and all true, and all as terse as an obituary; and about one interesting fact on an average in twenty pages, and ten of them unintelligible for technicalities. There’s literature, if you like! It feeds; it falls about you genuine like rain. Rain: nobody has done justice to rain in literature yet: surely a subject for a Scot.

But then you can’t do rain in that ledger-book style that I am trying for – or between a ledger-book and an old ballad. How to get over, how to escape from, the besotting particularity of fiction. ‘Roland approached the house; it had green doors and window blinds; and there was a scraper on the upper step.’ To hell with Roland and the scraper! Yours ever,



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“Please do not forget about my will: I am very anxious to revise it”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2618.]

To Charles Baxter [Baxter Letters, p. 337; http://www.hathitrust.com]

[Dictated to Belle]

Vailima 14 August 1893

My dear Charles,

Yours of 7th July to hand. All quite satisfactory. Will you kindly hand over the enclosed to Mr Macphail, for whose notes I was very much obliged.

James Calder Macphail (1821-1908), a Scottish Free Church minister in Pilrig, best remembered as a pioneer photographer and one of the first to photograph the Holy Land. Charles Baxter had written to RLS about Revd. Macphail’s son, James Robert Nicolson Macphail (1858-1933, unfortunately no picture of him): ‘I send some notes about the Stevenson names which appear in Scotch historical documents. They have been compiled by Mr J.R.N. Macphail, who is one of our best juniors at the Bar and son of the F.C. minister of Pilrig’. James Robert Nicolson Macphail 1858-1933 became an advocate in 1886 and Sheriff of Stirling in 1917 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

No doubt D.B. has been financially a tremendous success. Please do not forget about my will: I am very anxious to revise it. Sorry the visit cannot come off. Please excuse scrawl.

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“As if I had my ancestors’ souls in my charge, and might miscarry with them”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2614.]

To Sidney Colvin [Vailima Letters, pp. 225-6]

[5] August, 1893

My dear Colvin,

Quite impossible to write. Your letter is due today; a nasty, rainy-like morning with huge clouds, and a huge indigo shadow on the sea,


and my lamp still burning at near 7. Let me humbly give you news. Fanny seems on the whole the most, or the only, powerful member of the family; for some days she has been the Flower of the Flock.

Belle is begging for quinine.


Lloyd and Graham have both been down with “belly belong him” (Black Boy speech). As for me, I have to lay aside my lawn tennis, having (as was to be expected) had a smart but eminently brief hemorrhage. I am also on the quinine flask. I have been re-casting the beginning of the Hanging Judge or Weir of Hermiston;

RLS’s incomplete novel, The Weir of Hermiston, was to be posthoumosly serialised in Cosmopolis, January-April 1896.

then I have been cobbling on my grandfather, whose last chapter (there are only to be four) is in the form of pieces of paper, a huge welter of inconsequence, and that glimmer of faith (or hope) which one learns at this trade, that somehow and some time, by perpetual staring and glowering and rewriting, order will emerge.

The work about his grandfather’s life remained unfinished at RLS’s death. The first 3 chapters were published by Colvin as Records of a Family of Engineers. Chapters 4-6 survive in MS in incomplete and unrevised form. They were privately printed in part by J. Christian Bay in 1929.

It is indeed a queer hope; there is one piece for instance that I want in – I cannot put it one place for a good reason – I cannot put it another for a better – and every time I look at it, I turn sick and put the MS away.

Well, your letter hasn’t come, and a number of others are missing. It looks as if a mail-bag had gone on, so I’ll blame nobody, and proceed to business.

It looks as if I was going to send you the first three chapters of my Grandfather […].

[…] If they were set up, it would be that much anxiety off my mind. I have a strange feeling of responsibility, as if I had my ancestors’ souls in my charge, and might miscarry with them.


There’s a lot of work gone into it, and a lot more is needed. Still Chapter I seems about right to me, and much of Chapter II. Chapter III I know nothing of, as I told you. And Chapter IV is at present all ends and beginnings; but it can be pulled together.

Contents of ‘Records of a Family of Engineers’, 1897, with the four chapters left by RLS.


[The rest dictated to Belle]

[? 14 or 15 August 1893]

This is all I have been able to screw up to you for this month, and I may add that it is not only more than you deserve, but just about more than I was equal to. I have been and am entirely useless; just able to tinker at my Grandfather. The three chapters – perhaps also a little of the fourth – will come home to you next mail by the hand of my cousin Graham Balfour,

Graham Balfour (1858-1929), the son of Surgeon General Thomas Graham Balfour and RLS’s cousin, lived at Vailima RLS during the final years of RLS’s life, and went on to write a biography of him. During the early 1900s, he became general director of education for Staffordshire while the entire education system was being remodelled at central government. The system he put in place was used as an example for to the rest of the country. He was knighted in 1917, and served in a few government posts encouraging education [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

a very nice fellow whom I recommend to you warmly – and whom I think you will like. This will give you time to consider my various and distracted schemes. […]

All our wars are over in the meantime, to begin again as soon as the war-ships leave. Adieu.


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“No man is a master of the influenza”

[For correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2609.]

To Clement K. Shorter [Shorter, Letters to an Editor, p. 4]

Vailima, 18 July 1893

Clement Shorter, Esq.

Clement Shorter, by “Spy”, Vanity Fair, 1894. Clement King Shorter (1857-1926), journalist and author, was editor of the Illustrated London News 1891-1900, in which RLS’s novel, ‘The Beach of Falesà’, had been serially published in July-Aug 1892 [https://en.wikipedia.org/]

Dear Mr Shorter,

Herewith I send you a short paper on the recent events in Samoa, accompanied by five sketches.

RLS’s article ‘War in Samoa’ was eventually published in the in the Pall Mall Gazette, 4 September 1893 and reprinted ‘With Illustrations by a Relative of the Author’ in the Pall Mall Budget, 7 September 1893 [https://it.m.wikipedia.org]
RLS’s article was reprinted in vol XXV of the Edinburgh Edition, 1894.

The article cannot be used without the sketches; and in case you have no use for them I would ask you to send them on to Mr. Colvin at the British Museum.

Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), RLS’s friend, was keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum. Baxter paid on RLS’s behalf an annual premium on Colvin’s life assurance policy, to provide financial support for his mother in the event of his death [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

The cheque for the artist had perhaps better be made payable to Mrs. Strong, and sent to my care here.

RLS with his step-daughter Isobel (Belle) Osbourne Strong, Sydney, March 1893.

I fear you have been troubled by delays about the story. I can only say no man is a master of the influenza.

Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

For my article you will, of course, account to Mr. Baxter.

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“We were a large party, with nothing to do”

This letter refers back to this previous letter: https://lettersofrobertlouisstevenson.wordpress.com/2022/07/24/whenever-you-wish-to-enjoy-any-cosmic-or-epochal-emotion-write-to-the-hermit-of-samoa/

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2607.]

To Henry Rider Haggard

[H.R. Haggard, The Days of My Life, I, pp. 239-40]

Tivoli Hotel, Apia [17 July 1893]

Tivoli Hotel, Apia, Upolu, Samoa, c. 1895.

Dear Rider Haggard,

 Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925), English writer of adventure fiction romances set in exotic locations, predominantly Africa, and a pioneer of the lost world literary genre. His brother Bazett Michael Haggard (1847-99), barrister, was the British representative on the Samoan Land Commission, which had began its activities in 1891 [www.londonremembers.com]

I send you herewith a couple of small (and, so to speak, indecent) volumes in which your brother and I have been indulging in the juvenile sport of Shying bricks at each other.

RLS was sending a copy of An Object of Pity or The Man Haggard. A Romance By Many Component Hands. Lady Jersey had this ‘Ouida Romance’ privately printed at Sydney in a very small number of copies. It contains: Lady Jersey’s account of her visit to the rebel king; Dedication, by RLS; Samoa, by Captain Leigh (Lady Jersey’s brother); The mulled mystery of Malle, by Lady Jersey; the extract from the Samoid, by RLS; There was a sound of revelry by night, by Mrs RLS; Late, ever later, by RLS; Extract from the diary of a woman child, by Mrs Strong; Epilogos, by G. Balfour; Vale-Samoa, by Captain Leigh.
RLS was also sending Bazett Michael Haggard’s reply, Objects of Pity [www.pbagalleries.com]

Honi soit qui mal y pense, say I.

Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense is the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter, founded by King Edward III in 1348. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).

And I hope you will say the same. We were a large party, with nothing to do – Lady Jersey,

Margaret Elizabeth Villiers (1849-1945), Lady Jersey, had married in in 1872 Victor Albert George Child-Villiers (1845-1915), the 7th earl of Jersey, who was Governor of New South Wales 1890-93.  Bazett Michael Haggard (1847-99), the British representative on the Samoan Land Commission, had met her in Sydney and invited her to visit Samoa. Known for much of her life as a society hostess, Lady Jersey took an active interest in children’s welfare. She was also one of the founders and president of the Victoria League, an organization that promoted international relations between countries in the British Empire. Fanny described her as ‘tall and leggy and awkward, with bold black eyes and sensual mouth; very selfish and greedy of admiration, a touch of vulgarity, courageous as a man, and reckless as a woman’. In a letter to Frances Sitwell, Fanny wrote: ‘She is [Kipling’s] Mrs Hauksbee exactly, and didn’t like me’ (Cf. Mehew 7, p. 364 n. 8) [https://it.findagrave.com/]

my wife,

Fanny Stevenson, Sydney, March 1893.

Captain Leigh,

Rupert Leigh (1856-1919), Lady Jersey’s brother, was at this time a Captain in the 15th Hussars and one of Lord Jersey’s ADCs. He is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, England [www.findagrave.com]

your brother and I, and Mrs. Strong, my daughter-in-law –

RLS with his step-daughter Belle Strong, Sydney, March 1893.

and that which we wrote was not according to wisdom. I have heard some of yours called in question for steepness; here is your revenge.

Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“I have a great talent for compliment, accompanied by a hateful, even a diabolic frankness”

[For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2601.]

To Arthur Conan Doyle [Colvin 1911, 4, p. 233]

Vailima, July 12, 1893

My dear Dr. Conan Doyle,

The White Company has not yet turned up;

The White Company is a historical adventure set during the Hundred Years’ War. The story is set in England, France and Spain, in the years 1366 and 1367, against the background of the campaign of Edward the Black Prince, to restore Peter of Castile to the throne of the Kingdom of Castile. After extensive research, The White Company was published in serialised form in 1891 in The Cornhill Magazine. Doyle himself regarded this and his other historical novels more highly than the Sherlock Holmes adventures for which he is mainly remembered. The “White Company” of the title is a free company of archers, led by one of the main characters. The name is taken from a real-life 14th-century Italian mercenary company, led by John Hawkwood [https://en.wikipedia.org]

but when it does – which I suppose will be next mail – you shall hear news of me. I have a great talent for compliment, accompanied by a hateful, even a diabolic frankness.

Delighted to hear I have a chance of seeing you and Mrs. Doyle;

Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle () and his first wife Louisa Hawkins (1857-1906) [www.arthur-conan-doyle.com]

Mrs. Stevenson bids me say (what is too true) that our rations are often spare. Are you Great Eaters? Please reply.

As to ways and means, here is what you will have to do. Leave San Francisco by the down mail, get off at Samoa, and twelve days or a fortnight later, you can continue your journey to Auckland per Upolu, which will give you a look at Tonga and possibly Fiji by the way. Make this a first part of your plans. A fortnight, even of Vailima diet, could kill nobody.

Mrs Arthur Conan Doyle in 1895, with their two children, Mary Louise (1889-1976) and Arthur Alleyne Kinsley (1892-1918). The project of a visit to Vailima had to be abandoned because of Mrs Doyle’s illness (in august 1893 she was to be diagnosed with tuberculosis) [www.arthur-conan-doyle.com]

We are in the midst of war here; rather a nasty business, with the head-taking; and there seems signs of other trouble. But I believe you need make no change in your design to visit us. All should be well over; and if it were not, why! you need not leave the steamer. – Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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“Well, the war has at last begun”

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 8, 2595.]

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1911, 4, pp. 217-30]

[Vailima,] Saturday, 24th (?) June [1893]

My dear Colvin,

Yesterday morning, after a day of absolute temperance, I awoke to the worst headache I had had yet. Accordingly, temperance was said farewell to, quinine instituted, and I believe my pains are soon to be over.


We wait, with a kind of sighing impatience, for war to be declared, or to blow finally off, living in the meanwhile in a kind of children’s hour of firelight and shadow and preposterous tales; the king seen at night galloping up our road upon unknown errands and covering his face as he passes our cook;

Susuga Malietoa Laupepa (1841-1898), King of Samoa 1875–87 and 1889–98 [https://en.wikipedia.org]

Mataafa daily surrounded (when he awakes) with fresh ‘white man’s boxes’ (query, ammunition?) and professing to be quite ignorant of where they come from;

Mataafa (1832-1912), a Catholic, was one of the three rival candidates for the kingship of Samoa during colonialism. He was also referred to as Tupua Malietoa To’oa Mata’afa Iosefo. Over the previous few months the political situation in Samoa had steadily deteriorated. From late January 1893 the three Consuls had recommended firm military action against Mataafa, but the three Powers had vacillated. Mataafa’s own actions had become increasingly provocative. And Malietoa Laupepa (whose own support among Samoan chiefs was by now greater than Mataafa’s) was determined to overthrow the rebellion. Early in May, the three Consuls, still unaware of their Governments’ intentions, could give him no promises of support and on 20 May he informed them of his Government’s decision ‘to take immediate steps to put down the Chief Mataafa and his followers.’ As RLS himself put it in the opening sentence of his article ‘War in Samoa’, Pall Mall Gazette 4 September 1893: “In June it became clear that the King’s Government was weary of waiting upon Europe, as it had been clear long before that Europe would do nothing.” During June Laupepa’s agents canvassed throughout Samoa for support, and what RLS called the ‘cumbrous and dilatory’ process of gathering a royal army began; in early July contingents of Laupepa’s troops began to assemble (Cf. Mehew 8, p. 120 n.1) [www.istockphoto.com]

marches of bodies of men across the island; concealment of ditto in the bush; the coming on and off of different chiefs; and such a mass of ravelment and rag-tag as the devil himself could not unwind.

Wednesday, 28th June.

Yesterday it rained with but little intermission, but I was jealous of news. Graham and I got into the saddle about 1 o’clock and off down to town.

Graham Balfour Jr. (1858-1929), RLS’s cousin [https://en.wikipedia.org]

In town, there was nothing but rumours going; in the night drums had been beat,

the men had run to arms on Mulinuu from as far as Vaiala, and the alarm proved false.

Mulinnu, Upolu, was the traditional seat of the Samoan Government. The small village had become the site of the colonial administration in Samoa in the 1870s, and continues to be the site for the Parliament of Samoa. It is located on the central north coast of the island and is part of the urban area comprising Apia, the country’s capital.
Vaiala, east of Apia Harbor.

There were no signs of any gathering in Apia proper, and the Secretary of State had no news to give. I believed him, too, for we are brither Scots. Then the temptation came upon me strong to go on to the ford and see the Mataafa villages, where we heard there was more afoot.

Malie is a village onthe north coast of the island of Upolu, Samoa. The outbreak of hostilities was at this date imminent between Mulinuu (the party of Malietoa Laupepa, recognised and supported by the Three Powers), and Malie (the party of Mataafa) [https://samoaselect.wordpress.com]

Off we rode. When we came to Vaimusu, the houses were very full of men, but all seemingly unarmed.

Conference of Samoan chiefs at Vaimoso, 1930 [https://natlib.govt.nz/]

Immediately beyond is that river over which we passed in our scamper with Lady Jersey; it was all solitary. Three hundred yards beyond is a second ford; and there – I came face to face with war. Under the trees on the further bank sat a picket of seven men with Winchesters; their faces bright, their eyes ardent.

Mata’afa Iosefo (seated, center) with other Samoan chiefs and Samoan correspondent for the New York World, John C. Klein [www.loc.gov]

As we came up, they did not speak or move; only their eyes followed us. The horses drank, and we passed the ford. ‘Talofa!’ I said, and the commandant of the picket said ‘Talofa ‘; and then, when we were almost by, remembered himself and asked where we were going. ‘To Faamuiná,’ I said, and we rode on. Every house by the wayside was crowded with armed men. There was the European house of a Chinaman on the right-hand side: a flag of truce flying over the gate –


indeed we saw three of these in what little way we penetrated into Mataafa’s lines – all the foreigners trying to protect their goods; and the Chinaman’s verandah overflowed with men and girls and Winchesters. By the way we met a party of about ten or a dozen marching with their guns and cartridge-belts, and the cheerful alacrity and brightness of their looks set my head turning with envy and sympathy. Arrived at Vaiusu,

the houses about the malae (village green) were thronged with men, all armed. On the outside of the council-house (which was all full within) there stood an orator; he had his back turned to his audience, and seemed to address the world at large; all the time we were there his strong voice continued unabated, and I heard snatches of political wisdom rising and falling.

The house of Faamuiná stands on a knoll in the malae. Thither we mounted, a boy ran out and took our horses, and we went in. Faamuiná was there himself, his wife Pelepa,

Faumuina, an important Chief of the Faleata district near Apia, and his wife, photographed in the 1890s by Alfred John Tattersall [https://commons.wikimedia.org]

three other chiefs, and some attendants; and here again was this exulting spectacle as of people on their marriage day. Faamuiná (when I last saw him) was an elderly, limping gentleman, with much of the debility of age; it was a bright-eyed boy that greeted me; the lady was no less excited; all had cartridge-belts. We stayed but a little while to smoke a selui; I would not have kava made, as I thought my escapade was already dangerous (perhaps even blameworthy) enough. On the way back, we were much greeted, and on coming to the ford, the commandant came and asked me if there were many on the other side. ‘Very many,’ said I; not that I knew, but I would not lead them on the ice. ‘That is well!’ said he, and the little picket laughed aloud as we splashed into the river. We returned to Apia, through Apia, and out to windward as far as Vaiala, where the word went that the men of the Vaimauga had assembled.

We met two boys carrying pigs, and saw six young men busy cooking in a cook-house; but no sign of an assembly; no arms, no blackened faces. (I forgot! As we turned to leave Faamuiná’s, there ran forward a man with his face blackened, and the back of his lava-lava girded up so as to show his tattooed hips naked;

Samoan pe’a tattooing, ca. 1900 [www.larskrutak.com]

he leaped before us, cut a wonderful caper, and flung his knife high in the air, and caught it. It was strangely savage and fantastic and high-spirited. I have seen a child doing the same antics long before in a dance, so that it is plainly an accepted solemnity. I should say that for weeks the children have been playing with spears.) Up by the plantation I took a short cut, which shall never be repeated, through grass and weeds over the horses’ heads and among rolling stones; I thought we should have left a horse there, but fortune favoured us. So home, a little before six, in a dashing squall of rain, to a bowl of kava and dinner. But the impression on our minds was extraordinary; the sight of that picket at the ford, and those ardent, happy faces whirls in my head; the old aboriginal awoke in both of us and knickered like a stallion […]. It is dreadful to think that I must sit apart here and do nothing; I do not know if I can stand it out. But you see, I may be of use to these poor people, if I keep quiet, and if I threw myself in, I should have a bad job of it to save myself. There; I have written this to you; and it is still but 7.30 in the day, and the sun only about one hour up; can I go back to my old grandpapa, and men sitting with Winchesters in my mind’s eye? No; war is a huge entraînement; there is no other temptation to be compared to it, not one. We were all wet, we had been about five hours in the saddle, mostly riding hard; and we came home like schoolboys, with such a lightness of spirits, and I am sure such a brightness of eye, as you could have lit a candle at!

Do you appreciate the height and depth of my temptation? that I have about nine miles to ride, and I can become a general officer? and to-night I might seize Mulinuu and have the C. J. under arrest?

Otto Conrad Waldemar Cedarcrantz (1854-1932), the Chief Justice, Samoa. The king of Sweden, Oscar II, had been asked by the governments of Germany, Britain and the US to appoint a Chief Justice in the Samoa Islands. Cedarcrantz was appointed on October 3, 1890. He is said to have worked to protect the Samoans from abuse, but neglected to pay customs, was absent from Samoa during the crisis, and he resigned after only three years [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

And yet I stay here! It seems incredible, so huge is the empire of prudence and the second thought.

Thursday 29th.

I had two […] priests to luncheon yesterday: the Bishop and Père Rémy. They were very pleasant, and quite clean too, which has been known sometimes not to be – even with bishops. Monseigneur is not unimposing; with his white beard and his violet girdle he looks splendidly episcopal, and when our three waiting lads came up one after another and kneeled before him in the big hall, and kissed his ring, it did me good for a piece of pageantry.

RLS and Fanny in the great hall, Vailima, 1892.

Rémy is very engaging; he is a little, nervous, eager man, like a governess, and brimful of laughter and small jokes. So is the bishop indeed, and our luncheon party went off merrily – far more merrily than many a German spread, though with so much less liquor. One trait was delicious. With a complete ignorance of the Protestant that I would scarce have imagined, he related to us (as news) little stories from the gospels, and got the names all wrong! His comments were delicious, and to our ears a thought irreverent. ‘Ah! il connaissait son monde, allez!’ ‘Il était fin, noire Seigneur!’ etc.

Friday [30 June].

Down with Fanny and Belle, to lunch at the International. Heard there about the huge folly of the hour, all the Mulinuu ammunition having been yesterday marched openly to [Grevsmühl’s] vaults in Matafele;

The German firm E.A. Grevsmühl & Co., Samoa [www.akpool.de]

and this morning, on a cry of protest from the whites, openly and humiliatingly disinterred and marched back again. People spoke of it with a kind of shrill note that did not quite satisfy me. They seemed not quite well at ease. Luncheon over, we rode out on the Malie road. All was quiet in Vaiusu, and when we got to the second ford, alas! there was no picket – which was just what Belle had come to sketch. On through quite empty roads; the houses deserted, never a gun to be seen; and at last a drum and a penny whistle playing in Vaiusu, and a cricket match on the malae!

Samoan cricket match, 1928 [https://digitalnz.org]

Went up to Faamuiná’s; he is a trifle uneasy, though he gives us kava. I cannot see what ails him, then it appears that he has an engagement with the Chief-Justice at half-past two to sell a piece of land. Is this the reason why war has disappeared? We ride back, stopping to sketch here and there the fords, a flag of truce, etc. […] I ride on to Public Hall Committee and pass an hour with my committees very heavily. To the hotel to dinner, then to the ball, and home by eleven, very tired. At the ball I heard some news of how the chief of Letonu said that I was the source of all this trouble, and should be punished, and my family as well. This, and the rudeness of the man at the ford of the Gase-gase, looks but ill; I should have said that Faamuiná, as he approached the first ford, was spoken to by a girl, and immediately said good-bye and plunged into the bush; the girl had told him there was a war party out from Mulinuu; and a little further on, as we stopped to sketch a flag of truce, the beating of drums

and the sound of a bugle from that direction startled us.

But we saw nothing, and I believe Mulinuu is (at least at present) incapable of any act of offence. One good job, these threats to my home and family take away all my childish temptation to go out and fight. Our force must be here, to protect ourselves. I see panic rising among the whites; I hear the shrill note of it in their voices, and they talk already about a refuge on the war ships. There are two here, both German;

German warship in Apia Harbour, ca 1894-1898 [https://digitalnz.org]

and the Orlando is expected presently.

The Royal Navy’s armoured cruiser HMS ‘Orlando’, on Sydney Harbour, 1893-1897 [https://collection.maas.museum]

Sunday, 9th July.

Well, the war has at last begun. For four or five days, Apia has been filled by these poor children with their faces blacked, and the red handkerchief about their brows, that makes the Malietoa uniform,

Traditional guards with machetes, Samoa [www.nzherald.co.nz]

and the boats have been coming in from the windward, some of them 50 strong, with a drum and a bugle on board – the bugle always ill-played – and a sort of jester leaping and capering on the sparred nose of the boat, and the whole crew uttering from time to time a kind of menacing ulluation. Friday they marched out to the bush; and yesterday morning we heard that some had returned to their houses for the night, as they found it ‘so uncomfortable.’ After dinner a messenger came up to me with a note, that the wounded were arriving at the Mission House.

Te London Mission House, Apia, Samoa [https://i.pinimg.com]

Fanny, Lloyd and I saddled and rode off with a lantern; it was a fine starry night, though pretty cold. We left the lantern at Tanugamanono,

[…] and then down in the starlight.


I found Apia, and myself, in a strange state of flusteration; my own excitement was gloomy (I may say) truculent; others appeared imbecile; some sullen. The best place in the whole town was the hospital.

Exterior view of the Government Hospital, Apia, Samoa. Photographed by Alfred John Tattersall in about 1923 [https://natlib.govt.nz]

A longish frame-house it was, with a big table in the middle for operations, and ten Samoans, each with an average of four sympathisers, stretched along the walls. Clarke was there, steady as a die; Miss Large, little spectacled angel, showed herself a real trump;

Illustration by Gordon Browne for “The Beach of Falesá”, Island Nights’ Entertainments, Cassell & Company, London, Paris & Melbourne 1893. The Rev. William Edward Clarke of the London Missionary Society in Apia said that RLS told him that Tarleton the missionary in the story was drawn from him. We don’t have any photograph of him yet.
Agnes Eunice Large (1854-1917) was an L.M.S. missionary who arrived in Apia in April 1892 to work at the School for the Children of Foreigners. She had privately printed a few copies of RLS’s prayer ‘Sunday’ (read at his funeral) – ‘because I love both the Prayer and its Author.’ She proudly quoted RLS’s description of her (Colvin had tactfully omitted the word ‘ugly’) ( Cf. Mehew 8, p. 124 n. 9) [https://illustratingstevenson.wordpress.com/]

the nice, clean, German orderlies in their white uniforms looked and meant business. (I hear a fine story of Miss Large a cast-iron teetotaller going to the public-house for a bottle of brandy.)

The doctors were not there when I arrived; but presently it was observed that one of the men was going cold. He was a magnificent Samoan, very dark, with a noble aquiline countenance, like an Arab, I suppose, and was surrounded by seven people, fondling his limbs as he lay: he was shot through both lungs. And an orderly was sent to the town for the (German naval) doctors, who were dining there. Meantime I found an errand of my own. Both Clarke and Miss Large expressed a wish to have the public hall, of which I am chairman, and I set off down town, and woke people out of their beds, and got a committee together, and (with a great deal of difficulty from one man, whom we finally overwhelmed) got the public hall for them. Bar the one man, the committee was splendid, and agreed in a moment to share the expense if the shareholders object. Back to the hospital about 11.30; found the German doctors there […]. Two men were going now, one that was shot in the bowels – he was dying rather hard, in a gloomy stupor of pain and laudanum, silent, with contorted face. The chief, shot through the lungs, was lying on one side, awaiting the last angel; his family held his hands and legs: they were all speechless, only one woman suddenly clasped his knee, and ‘keened’ for the inside of five seconds, and fell silent again. Went home, and to bed about two A.M. What actually passed seems undiscoverable; but the Mataafas were surely driven back out of Vaitele; that is a blow to them, and the resistance was far greater than had been anticipated which is a blow to the Laupepas. All seems to indicate a long and bloody war […]. Frank’s house in Mulinuu was likewise filled with wounded; many dead bodies were brought in; I hear with certainty of five, wrapped in mats; and a pastor goes to-morrow to the field to bring others. The Laupepas brought in eleven heads to Mulinuu, and to the great horror and consternation of the native mind, one proved to be a girl, and was identified as that of a Taupou – or Maid of the Village – from Savaii.

Samoan taupou girl, 1896. A taupou was a ceremonial hostess selected by the village chief to elevate the formal reception of visitors to a village or place [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I hear this morning, with great relief, that it has been returned to Malie, wrapped in the most costly silk handkerchiefs, and with an apologetic embassy. This could easily happen. The girl was of course attending on her father with ammunition, and got shot; her hair was cut short to make her father’s war head-dress – even as our own Sina’s is at this moment; and the decollator was probably, in his red flurry of fight, wholly unconscious of her sex. I am sorry for him in the future; he must make up his mind to many bitter jests – perhaps to vengeance. But what an end to one chosen for her beauty and, in the time of peace, watched over by trusty crones and hunchbacks!


Can I write or not? I played lawn tennis in the morning, and after lunch down with Graham to Apia. Ulu, he that was shot in the lungs, still lives; he that was shot in the bowels is gone to his fathers, poor, fierce child! I was able to be of some very small help, and in the way of helping myself to information, to prove myself a mere gazer at meteors. But there seems no doubt the Mataafas for the time are scattered; the most of our friends are involved in this disaster, and Mataafa himself – who might have swept the islands a few months ago – for him to fall so poorly, doubles my regret. They say the Taupou had a gun and fired; probably an excuse manufactured ex post facto. I go down to-morrow at 12, to stay the afternoon, and help Miss Large. In the hospital to-day, when I first entered it, there were no attendants; only the wounded and their friends, all equally sleeping and their heads poised upon the wooden pillows.


There is a pretty enough boy there, slightly wounded, whose fate is to be envied: two girls, and one of the most beautiful, with beaming eyes, tend him and sleep upon his pillow. In the other corner, another young man, very patient and brave, lies wholly deserted. Yet he seems to me far the better of the two; but not so pretty! Heavens, what a difference that makes; in our not very well proportioned bodies and our finely hideous faces, the 1-32nd – rather the 1-64th – this way or that! Sixteen heads in all at Mulinuu. I am so stiff I can scarce move without a howl.

Monday, 10th.

Some news that Mataafa is gone to Savaii by way of Manono:


this may mean a great deal more warfaring, and no great issue. (When Sosimo came in this morning with my breakfast he had to lift me up. It is no joke to play lawn tennis after carrying your right arm in a sling so many years.) What a hard, unjust business this is! On the 28th, if Mataafa had moved, he could have still swept Mulinuu. He waited, and I fear he is now only the stick of a rocket.

Wednesday, 12th.

No more political news; but many rumours. The government troops are off to Manono; no word of Mataafa. O, there is a passage in my mother’s letter which puzzles me as to a date.

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson (1829-1997) [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

Is it next Christmas you are coming? or the Christmas after? This is most important, and must be understood at once. If it is next Christmas, I could not go to Ceylon, for lack of gold, and you would have to adopt one of the following alternatives: 1st, either come straight on here and pass a month with us; ’tis the rainy season, but we have often lovely weather. Or (2nd) come to Hawaii and I will meet you there. Hawaii is only a week’s sail from S. Francisco, making only about sixteen days on the heaving ocean; and the steamers run once a fortnight, so that you could turn round; and you could thus pass a day or two in the States – a fortnight even – and still see me. But I have sworn to take no further excursions till I have money saved to pay for them; and to go to Ceylon and back would be torture unless I had a lot.

A panoramic view of Kandy, Ceylon. British School, 19th century [www.mutualart.com]

You must answer this at once, please; so that I may know what to do. We would dearly like you to come on here. I’ll tell you how it can be done; I can come up and meet you at Hawaii, and if you had at all got over your sea-sickness, I could just come on board and we could return together to Samoa, and you could have a month of our life here, which I believe you could not help liking. Our horses are the devil, of course, miserable screws, and some of them a little vicious. I had a dreadful fright – the passage in my mother’s letter is recrossed and I see it says the end of ’94: so much the better, then;

RLS died on 3 December 1894 [https://en.wikipedia.org]

but I would like to submit to you my alternative plan. I could meet you at Hawaii, and reconduct you to Hawaii, so that we could have a full six weeks together and I believe a little over, and you would see this place of mine, and have a sniff of native life, native foods, native houses – and perhaps be in time to see the German flag raised, who knows? – and we could generally yarn for all we were worth. I should like you to see Vailima; and I should be curious to know how the climate affected you. It is quite hit or miss; it suits me, it suits Graham, it suits all our family; others it does not suit at all. It is either gold or poison. I rise at six, the rest at seven; lunch is at 12; at five we go to lawn tennis till dinner at six; and to roost early.

A man brought in a head to Mulinuu in great glory; they washed the black paint off, and behold! it was his brother. When I last heard he was sitting in his house, with the head upon his lap, and weeping. Barbarous war is an ugly business; but I believe the civilised is fully uglier; but Lord! what fun!

I should say we now have definite news that there are three women’s heads; it was difficult to get it out of the natives, who are all ashamed, and the women all in terror of reprisals. Nothing has been done to punish or disgrace these hateful innovators. It was a false report that the head had been returned.

Thursday, 13th.

Maatafa driven away from Savaii. I cannot write about this, and do not know what should be the end of it.

Monday, 17th.

Haggard and Ahrens (a German clerk) to lunch yesterday. […] There is no real certain news yet: I must say, no man could swear to any result; but the sky looks horribly black for Mataafa and so many of our friends along with him. The thing has an abominable, a beastly, nightmare interest. But it’s wonderful generally how little one cares about the wounded; hospital sights, etc.; things that used to murder me. I was far more struck with the excellent way in which things were managed; as if it had been a peep-show;

I held some of the things at an operation, and did not care a dump.

Tuesday, 18th.

Sunday came the Katoomba, Captain Bickford, C.M.G.

HMS Katoomba was a Pearl-class cruiser built for the Royal Navy, originally named HMS Pandora, built by Amstrong Whitworth, Elswick, Tyne and Wear and launched on 27 August 1889. Renamed on 2 April 1890 as Katoomba as the flagship of the Auxiliary Squadron of the Australia Station. She arrived in Sydney with the squadron on 5 September 1891. The British Government had been reluctant to send a warship and the commanders of the two German ships already at Apia had been unwilling to act until joined by vessels from the other two Treaty Powers. It was not until Laupepa informed the three Consuls on 14 July 1893 that he intended to pursue Mataafa to Manono that they, on behalf of their Governments, agreed to help. Two days later the Katoomba reached Apia and on 18 July the three warships (with the Consuls abroad) escorted Laupepa’s forces in canoes to Manono. Mataafa was presented with an ultimatum and surrendered to the captain of the Katoomba (Cf. Mehew 8, p. 127 n. 11) [www.history.navy.mil]
Andrew Kennedy Bickford (1844-1927) joined the Navy in 1858 and had a distinguished career, ending up as an Admiral. As the captain of the Katoomba, his report on the operations against Mataafa shows him to have been a compassionate man; he made a special plea that the chiefs should be allowed to take their wives into exile with them (Cf. Mehew 8, p. 128 n. 11) [http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org]

Yesterday, Graham and I went down to call, and find he has orders to suppress Mataafa at once, and has to go down to-day before daybreak to Manono. He is a very capable, energetic man; if he had only come ten days ago, all this would have gone by; but now the questions are thick and difficult. (1) Will Mataafa surrender? (2) Will his people allow themselves to be disarmed? (3) What will happen to them if they do? (4) What will any of them believe after former deceptions? The three consuls were scampering on horseback to Leulumoega to the king;

no Cusack-Smith, without whose accession I could not send a letter to Mataafa.

The British Consul in Samoa, Thomas Berry Cusack-Smith (1859-1929), was also deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific at Samoa from May 1890 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I rode up here, wrote my letter in the sweat of the concordance and with the able-bodied help of Lloyd […] – and dined. Then down in continual showers and pitchy darkness, and to Cusack-Smith’s; not returned. […] Back to the inn for my horse, and to C.-S.’s, when I find him just returned and he accepts my letter. Thence home, by 12.30, jolly tired and wet. And to-day have been in a crispation of energy and ill-temper, raking my wretched mail together. It is a hateful business, waiting for the news; it may come to a fearful massacre yet. – Yours ever,


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