The Godeffroys were French Huguenots (Protestants) of La Rochelle. In 1737 they were forced to flee France to avoid religious persecution after events following the Edict of Fontainbleau in 1685. The family sought asylum in Germany and settled in the trading port of Hamburg finally founding a trading empire known as J.C. Godeffroy & Sohn. The elder Godeffroy, a personal friend of Otto von Bismarck, was to enlist his sympathies. Within the succeeding five years they had establishments in Valparaiso, Cochin China, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. It was from Valparaiso that the first Trading agents, August Unslelm and Theodore Weber, came to Polynesia.
Their first enterprises to the South Seas were about the year 1845, in the Sandwich Islands. The first Hamburg merchant ship called at Apia, Samoa, (then known as the Navigator Islands) in 1847. Ten years later this port was chosen to be the centre for the trade of the ‘Godeffroy und Sohn’ firm.
The distinguishing feature of the Godeffroy Company in the South Seas was the large scale of their activities. From Apia trading vessels radiated to the surrounding islets. The consular report of 1883 shows the preponderance of German trade and shipping over that of other countries. Shipping alone increased from eight vessels in 1859 to one hundred and sixty-one in 1883.
Tensions caused in part by the conflicting interests of the German traders, plantation owners, British business enterprises and American business interests, led to the first Samoan Civil War. The war was fought roughly between 1886 and 1894, primarily between Samoans though the German military intervened on several occasions. The United States and the United Kingdom opposed the German activity which led to a confrontation in Apia Harbor in 1887
Theodore Weber’s greatest work was his persistent acquisition, on behalf of the firm which he represented, of tracts of land which at the time of his surrendering the management at Apia in 1888 and his death the following year at Hamburg at the age of fifty-two, amounted to seventy-five thousand acres, much of it of the cream of Upolu and therefore of all the Samoas.
The Land Commission of 1891-1894 threw many land claims out and reduced most, but it found nearly all of Weber’s purchases valid and based upon good consideration. His system of imported controlled labour is the only one that has so far been found entirely satisfactory; his plantations alone offer no interference with the ordinary life of the Samoans.
Rules for traders:
In the choice of his traders he (Weber) took no account of nationality. For those seeking employment he had, it is said, but three questions, and all required affirmative answers: “Can you speak the language?” “Can you live among natives without quarreling with them?” “Can you keep your mouth shut?”
Two points of advice were given:
“Have a woman of your own, no matter what island you take her from; for a trader without a wife is in eternal hot water;” and “Give no assistance to missionaries either by word or deed, beyond what is demanded of you by common humanity” – for the missionary taught the native that cloth or coin were better payment for produce than beads and tobacco”.
1855 AD – August Unshelm and Theodor Weber arrive in Apia, Samoa, from Valparaiso, Chili, representing the great Hamburg House of Johann Cesar Godeffroy und Sohn. August Unshelm is man of great trading ability and tact, he commences trading in Matafele, Apia and in a few years he had instituted there a successful business in trade and oil.