31/12/1918 Pestilence in Samoa

The armistice has paused the fighting on the Western Front, but the struggle of mankind against the influenza pandemic continues. The second, extremely virulent strain of the epidemic is cutting a swathe across the world, bringing death and destruction to places that the war barely touched. One of these is German Samoa, which has been occupied by New Zealand since 1914. Unlike in nearby American Samoa, the New Zealanders failed to institute an effective quarantine, so when a ship landed in November, its infected passengers were able to spread the contagion throughout the colony.

The Samoans prove to be exceptionally vulnerable to the influenza. By now nearly 90% of them have been infected and a fifth of the islanders (7,542 people) have died. In American Samoa however the governor’s quarantine has meant that there have been no flu cases. As the shock of the last two months of horror begin to pass, the German Samoans begin to compare their situation with that of their neighbours, seeing their calamity as the product of New Zealand’s maladministration. Some begin to argue that if they cannot be entirely free of imperialist shackles they would be better off under US rule.

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New Zealand news paper report (New Zealand History: Reporting Samoa’s influenza pandemic)

Samoan obituaries (New Zealand History: Samoan influenza obituaries)

7/11/1918 The ship of death arrives in German Samoa #1918Live

The influenza pandemic is spreading across the world, its tentacles reaching even communities that the war has largely passed by. The most vulnerable to this pestilence are those living in isolated communities, whose lack of exposure to common ailments leaves them with weakened immune systems. Recognising this, the authorities in some of these places institute quarantine regimes to prevent ill persons arriving and infecting the local inhabitants. In American Samoa the governor, John Martin Poyer, does just that, keeping sick arrivals onboard their ships to prevent the flu’s spread to his islands.

The situation is different in nearby German Samoa. This cluster of islands has been under New Zealand occupation for almost the whole of the war. Robert Logan is the governor here but unlike his American counterpart he is not overly concerned about the threat of influenza. No serious quarantine is instituted.

Today the Talune arrives in German Samoa, carrying cargo and passengers from New Zealand. The ship is also carrying the Spanish Flu, as several of its passengers are seriously ill with the influenza. They disembark and make their way into the local community, carrying death with them.

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The SS Talune in 1908 (New Zealand History: Influenza hits Samoa)