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Apia Harbour and the Samoa Hurricane of 1889.

Politics in Samoa

Apia

In March, 1889, the political ill-feeling between the United States and Germany had inexorably drawn these two rival powers to the brink of war in the Samoan Islands formerly known as the Navigator Group.

The small port of Apia on the northern coast of Upolu was the setting in which 3 German and 3 American warships, the pride of their respective Pacific Fleets, glared at each other across its tiny, reef-encircled bay. Crowded into the basin in the treacherous coral formed by the freshwater outflow of the Vaisigano (River), they shared the anchorage with numerous small craft and a number of modestly sized merchant vessels.

Amongst this melange was a seventh warship, HMS Calliope of the British Royal Navy Australian Squadron. At his own berth in the harbour, Captain Henry Coey Kane surveyed the scene with his practised eye and declared that the anchorage, in his opinion hardly deserving of the name, could only comfortably accommodate half the warships to which it presently played host. It seems certain that under normal circumstances, none of the captains present would have spent any more time in the bay than they could possibly avoid. With two of the nations apparently unable to avoid a full-scale confrontation, the situation was anything but normal.

But to remind the protagonists that no matter how powerful their weapons or advanced their technology, there is a force greater than anything that human hands can fabricate or minds conceive, the barometer fell to the lowest value ever recorded in the islands - and, I believe, as yet still unmatched - to usher in the fiercest storm the Navigators had ever experienced, at least in human living history. Politics may have called the tournament, but Nature now entered the lists.