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 labourers, 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 Sűdsee-Inseln zu Hamburg (DHPG). It pressed for German annexation of Samoa in the hope of acquiring forced labour for its plantations. The labour 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 labour 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 Herbertshöhe (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 centre 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 Mata’afa 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 Mata’afa’s 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.

The German empire in the Pacific came to a sudden end following the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In August New Zealand troops landed on Samoa and the Germans capitulated without resistance. In German New Guinea there was fighting, but Australian troops gained control in September. They also occupied Nauru. In October Japanese forces occupied the Marshalls and Carolines and the remaining German islands north of the equator.


The 1888 proclamation of the annexation of Nauru by Germany was donated to the Library by Brigadier General Thomas Griffiths, the Administrator of Nauru, in 1921. The extracts from the Grundbuch were transferred by the Administration of the Trust Territory of Nauru in 1958. The papers of A.B. Steinberger formed part of the Ferguson Collection which was received in 1970.

The records of the German Foreign Office and the German Navy were microfilmed by the Australian Joint Copying Project in London in 1956-59. They were at the time in the custody of the Foreign Office and the Admiralty, having been removed from Berlin after World War II. The records of the German Colonial Office held in the Deutsches Zentralarchiv in Postdam were microfilmed in 1969-75 on the initiative of Professor Marjorie Jacobs of Sydney University. Sets were supplied to the National Library and the State Library of New South Wales. Other records, including the papers of Wilhelm Solf, held in the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, were filmed by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PMB).



MS 52

Papers of Arthur Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs (1901-16), containing references to German New Guinea and the Marshall Islands

MS 361

English translations of the annual reports of German New Guinea, 1900-13 (2 vols)

MS 509

Extracts from Grundbuch von Im Marshallinseln und Nauru concerning land purchases, 1910-12

MS 538

Proclamation issued by the captain of the German warship Eker announcing the annexation of Nauru, 14 April 1888

MS 3559

Correspondence and documents of A.B. Steinberger, the United States agent in Samoa, 1874-75. They include a copy of a letter from the Samoan chiefs to the Emperor of Germany and references to German warships visiting Samoa.

MS 3961

Translations by E.Gintz of records of the German administration of Nauru, including its incorporation within the Marshall Islands Protectorate in 1888, economic conditions and relations with natives, 1887-1916


The Library has a small collection of German maps of its Pacific colonies published in the period 1880-1910. They include two maps of the coast of New Guinea, a map of Samoa showing the possessions of the DHPG (1900), a map of Apia Harbour, and a map by A. Petermann of the western Pacific and Australia showing colonies and steamship routes (1891). In addition, there are several maps of German New Guinea, mostly undated, in the Chinnery Collection.


Archives of the Reichskolonialamt, 1884-1914

mfm G 8486-8624 and mfm G 18167 - 18289

The microfilm, which totals 262 reels, incorporates most of the Pacific records (class KAIII) of the Reichskolonialamt (Colonial Office), which was formed in 1907, and the earlier colonial records of the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office). They are arranged in subject categories, such as administration, military, naval, trade and shipping, agriculture, labour, missions, exploration and travel, subdivided by particular territories, and then filed chronologically. The principal geographical areas are Samoa, New Guinea and Micronesia (Karolinen), and in later years the Marshall Islands. As well as documenting in great detail the administration and development of the German colonies, the records deal with the events and negotiations that preceded the annexation of New Guinea in 1884 and the diplomatic and military events that led up to the Treaty of Berlin and the annexation of Samoa in 1899.

Other microfilm holdings relating to the German colonies include:

mfm PRO 2884-94 Great Britain. Foreign Office. Correspondence: Pacific Islands, 1899-1905

mfm PRO 5892-94 Great Britain. Admiralty. Reports from naval officers at Samoa, 1898-99

mfm PRO 6898-6910 Great Britain. Foreign Office. Correspondence: Germany, 1870-1905 (F.O. 64)

mfm M 291-320 and mfm M 320-336A Records of the German Navy in the Pacific, 1854-1944

mfm M 794-801 Records of the German Embassy in London concerning Samoa, 1886-1906

mfm G 86-94 Records of the British Consul, Apia, 1851-1914

mfm G 202-228 Despatches of the United States Consul, Apia, 1843-1906

mfm PMB 66 English translation of a report by W.H. Solf, Governor of Samoa, and sketches on Samoa by H. Neffgen, 1907

mfm PMB 581-589 Papers of W.H. Solf, Governor of Samoa (1900-1911), Secretary of the Reichskolonialamt (1911-18), and Ambassador to Japan (1920-28)

mfm PMB 593 Papers of Heinrich Schnee, a colonial official in German New Guinea and Samoa, 1898-1914

mfm PMB 967 Diary of T.H. Donaldson, an employee of the British Phosphate Company in Nauru, 1914

mfm PMB 1003 Records of Samoa, 1830-1900, collected by the historian Richard Gilson


The Library holds a large number of books published in Germany in the period 1884-1914 dealing with the ethnology, flora and fauna, economic resources, missions and administration of the German colonies in the Pacific. The following are later works on the history of the German colonies:

 Christmann, Helmut and others, Die Karolinen-Inseln in deutscher Zeit: eine kolonialgeschichtliche Fallstudie [1991]

Dawson, William H., The German Empire, 1867-1914 and the unity movement, 2 vols, 1919

Eyck, Erich, Bismarck and the German Empire [1950]

Fabricius, Wilhelm, Nauru 1888-1900, translated and edited by Dymphna Clark and Stewart Firth, 1992

Firth, Stewart, New Guinea under the Germans, 1983

Gilson, R.P., Samoa 1830 to 1900: the politics of a multi-cultural community, 1970

Hahl, Albert, Deutsch-Neuguinea, 1942

Hahl, Albert, Governor in New Guinea, edited and translated by Peter G. Sack and Dymphna Clark, 1980

Hempenstall, Peter J., Pacific islanders under German rule: a study in the meaning of colonial resistance, 1978 (new edition 2016)

Hempenstall, Peter J. and Mochida, Paula Tanaka, The lost man: Wilhelm Solf in German history, 2005

Hiery, Hermann, The neglected war: the German South Pacific and the influence of World War I, c. 1995

Kennedy, Paul M., The Samoan tangle: a study in Anglo-German-American relations 1878-1900, 1974

Liedtke, Wolfgang, Samoa 1880-1914: Bibliografie deutschsprachiger kolonialer Literatur zu Quellen der Ethnographie und Geschichte, 1999

Louis, W.R., Great Britain and Germany’s lost colonies, 1914-1919, 1967

Masterman, Sylvia, The origins of international rivalry in Samoa, 1845-1884, 1934

Moses, John A. and Kennedy, Paul M., eds, Germany in the Pacific and the Far East, 1870-1914, 1977

Pehaut, Yves, Les plantations allemandes des Mers du Sud avant 1914, 1990

Riedel, Otto, Der Kampf um Deutsch-Samoa: Erinnerungen eines Hamburger Kaufmanns, 1938

Rowley, C.D., The Australians in German New Guinea, 1914-1921, 1958

Sack, Peter, Phantom history, the rule of law and the colonial state: the case of German New Guinea, 2001

Schultz, E., Erinnerungen an Samoa, 1926

Spennemann, Dirk H.R., Aurora Australis: the German period in the Mariana Islands 1899-1914, 1999 [new ed. 2007]

Spoehr, Florence, White falcon: the House of Godeffroy and its commercial and scientific role in the Pacific [1953]

Stephenson, Charles, Germany's Asia-Pacific empire: colonialism and naval policy, 1885-1914, 2009

Townsend, Mary Evelyn, The rise and fall of Germany’s colonial empire 1884-1914, 1930

Vietsch, Eberhard von, Wilhelm Solf: Botschafter zwischen den Zeiten, 1961

Wareham, Evelyn, Race and realpolitik: the politics of colonisation in German Samoa, 2002


The manuscripts and collections of personal papers are housed in the Manuscripts Collection. They have been catalogued at the collection level and there is an online finding aid for the papers of Attlee Hunt at The microfilms are held in the Newspapers and Microform Collection. There is no reel listing for the microfilms of the Reichskolonialamt records, but they are described in detail in the two articles by Marjorie Jacobs referred to below. The microfilms with the PRO and M prefixes are listed in the Australian Joint Copying Project Handbooks published by the Library.

The maps are held in the Maps Collection. They have been catalogued individually. The publications are housed in the Australian and General Collections at various locations.


Jacobs, Marjorie, German colonial archives: New Guinea and Samoa in the Deutsches Zentralarchiv, Journal of Pacific History, vol. 6, 1971, pp. 151-63

Jacobs, Marjorie, Further archives from Potsdam, Journal of Pacific History, vol. 12, 1977, pp. 87-92

Kennedy, Paul M., A guide to archival sources relating to Germany in the Pacific and Far East, 1870-1914, in John A. Moses and Paul M. Kennedy, eds., Germany in the Pacific and Far East, 1870-1914, Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1977

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)