Biography of Richard Deeken
Dr Richard Deeken,
born on 16 June 1874 in Westerstede/Oldenburg,
as son of the district court judge Leonard Deeken (died 1878); died on 28
August 1914 in Arracour/France, of
the after-effects of injury in the Battle of Serres.
Second Lieutenant with the First
Westphalian Field Artillery Regiment No 7 in Wesel, Founder of the Deutsche
Samoa Gesellschaft ( DSG) -
German Samoa Company - in Berlin and its director of
plantations on Samoa, writer, director of the Forst- und Kolonialschule (Forestry and Colonial
School) in Miltenberg/Main, publisher of the
“Weltkunde- und Weltwirtschaftsanzeiger“ (World Information and
World Economics Advertiser)
After the matriculation [Abitur] Deeken started his career as an army officer in
1893, was appointed to the new Military Technical
Academy in Berlin and, inter alia, trained there as interpreter for
English, French and Italian with stays in America and Belgium. In
collaboration with his professor, Dr Rothenbücher, he compiled the
Militärdolmetscher" ( English Military
Interpreter) for the Academy (and the Boxer Rising in China).
a life-threatening lung
disease forced him to spend nine months in Italy and Portugal (sponsored
by the regimental princess) followed by a
year’s journey in the South
Sea. To finance this he obtained commissions from German museums, in
particular the Natural History Museum in Berlin, for the collection of
specimen. He also wrote articles for German newspapers about the new
German colonies in the South Sea and was appointed by the well-known
Consul Kunst to oversee his plantations on Hawaii and Samoa. He
travelled to Samoa by way of Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and toured
the Marshall Islands and the Caroline and Palau Islands.
– Return to Germany. For health reasons retirement
from active military service to
position “à la suite” as reserve officer. Due to his asthma, among
other reasons, doctors advised him strongly as a matter of survival to
avoid the German climate. Lecture
tours throughout Germany to promote the setting up of a limited
company, the Deutsche Samoa Gesellschaft (DSG) and by this means create a
new basis of existence for himself.
Deeken founded the Deutsche Samoa
Gesellschaft (DSG) in
Berlin, a limited company with the object
of cocoa cultivation, for which he served as director on Samoa from 1902
to 1910. Another director headed the DSG
in Berlin. As the proud Samoans did not want
to work regularly on other people’s plantations, and as the Melanesian contract workers were only allowed to work on the
plantations of the Deutsche
Handels-und Plantagengesellschaft (DHPG)
German Trade and Plantation Company -,
Deeken brought in, with the consent of the Berlin government, a transport of 300 Chinese
contract workers from China
to Samoa, following the example of the British colonies and the
building of the East-West railroad across
North America. He passed on 200 workers to other planters. As
the Chinese proved to be good workers, the colonial administration in
Samoa took over the next round of recruitment
and transport from China three years later.
– Birth of his first child by his wife
Elisabeth, nee Boese, whom he had married before leaving in 1902, the
daughter of the prominent physician and Privy Medical Council
Dr Eduard Boese from Cologne. The
last king of Samoa, Mata’afa Josefo, stood
as godfather of Else Josepha Moana.
the German planters, under
Deeken’s leadership, set up a co-operative planters’
association (new at this time was also the Chinese Health Insurance Fund)
to represent the interests of the handful of small planters, who in any
case had a hard time in the young colony, against the governor Dr Solf
who favoured the large DHPG,
which in contrast to the planter families was hardly confronted with
difficulties. The Chinese workers
were valuable for the planters, not only due to the high travel cost
and fees, but also especially due to the tropical rate of growth of
weeds in the plantations which threatened rapidly to throttle all
cultivated plants. A hospital for the Chinese was built even before the one for the
Germans. Later there was also a Chinese consul on Samoa.
When an individual Chinese
proved his worth as a worker, he could extend
his contract after three
years on Samoa, marry a Samoan woman and stay
on Samoa indefinitely.
Today Samoa’s business life is almost exclusively controlled by
descendants of the Chinese contract workers. By contrast, the
descendants of the Melanesian workers, who worked, isolated from other
groups, on the plantations of the large Deutsche
Handels - und Plantagen Gesellschaft, today
still form a very impoverished lower class on Samoa.
– Conflict with governor Dr Solf over
unjust treatment of the German planters, but in addition also due to
the planters’ dissatisfaction over English as teaching language
in the English Protestant Mission Schools in what was now a German
colony. The French Catholic Marist Mission reorganized in order to
promote the training of brothers for Samoa in its newly-founded Marist
monastery in Meppen (Germany).
– Trial for defamation of the “kaiserlicher” governor Dr Solf
and a term in prison in the newly-built prison for whites on Samoa. Partial
pardon by the Kaiser, transmutation into honourable confinement in
the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein near Koblenz through the intervention of
the Grand Duke of Oldenburg (whose decoration, among others, was worn by
Deeken), with the help of Matthias Erzberger, the well-known leader of
the “Zentrum” in the Reichstag, and of Trimborn, the leader of the
Cologne Zentrumspartei, a cousin of Deeken’s wife, who fought like a
lioness for her husband. To quote from a letter dated 2
August 1905 from the Colonial Department of
the Foreign Office in Berlin, “…the transmutation by an act of grace of the prison sentence of two months pronounced in
Apia on 3 August 1904 into confinement in
a fortress for the same
period of time”.
At the same time eve
of the so-called "Hottentotten - Wahlen" (elections) to the Reichstag.
The post arrived about once a
month in Apia and was then 50 days old, as were the newspapers, too!
Radio contact with Germany was
made possible in June 1914 by a new large wireless station on a mountain
Richard Deeken’s only brother,
the later Major and doctor of law Matthias Deeken, arrived in Samoa in
November 1904 to help the desperate family.
of the case:
was the only man in the colony Samoa who was a match for Solf!” (interview
with the Australian professor Dr Peter Hempenstall, only
the second biographer of Dr
Solf after decades).In
order to force his strongest opponent, with his good contacts to the
German press and the Reichstag, to leave Samoa, Solf
organised via his Chinese cook a revolt of some of the Chinese DSG
contract workers , who gathered to threaten Deeken and his young
family in front of the management building, in the remotely-situated
plantation area, at an altitude of 800m in the forested mountains. In
this emergency Deeken used a
horse whip to drive them off.
This was treated as a serious
assault, and he was brought to trial before the high court in Apia,
which was controlled by the governor, as was the newspaper. As Deeken
gave evidence about the background role of Solf’s Chinese cook, he
was, in addition, charged with
defamation of the governor!
got his information from a particularly reliable Chinese member of his domestic staff,
who enjoyed the special trust of the family.
He looked after the children of the family,
who were particularly fond of him, as my father told me from his
childhood memories from Samoa. He never forgot that he was allowed to
ride piggy back on his shoulders, holding on to his long Chinese hair
tail. The Samoan nanny was also important, but in the Samoan fashion
only turned up from her village when she felt like it. Later a German
governess was engaged. The faithful Chinese childminder received a
special thank you present when the Deeken family took their leave in
1910, and it is on record that both sides were very sad.
Two months imprisonment in the
newly-built prison for whites, with its corrugated-iron roof under
the tropical sun (as in “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”), could
have meant the death of
Deeken, with his still weak lungs.
Among the events preceding the
trial was one where the governor ordered the English midwife, who was
attending to Deeken’s wife at the birth of her second child up in the
mountains in isolated manager’s quarters two hours’ ride from Apia,
back to Apia to sign a document. Luckily she was brave enough and could
allow herself as an Englishwoman to resist
this order, “because she wouldn’t desert a woman who had just given birth, a
newborn and a one year old child”.
Another, previous example was
the sudden great difficulties for Deeken in getting horse-drawn
carts with the daily provisions for his 100 Chinese workers up to
the plantations, as one day both
access roads were blocked due to simultaneous
road works ordered by the
governor. As telephones did not yet exist, all messages were sent
down to Apia on paper, taken out of a duplicating book. The carbon
copies remained in the book, and these have been preserved until now,
together with a second book, which provide valuable evidence. In
addition, all messages to Deeken’s manager at the DSG
store are contained therein. In this large store there was on offer foodstuffs,
tools and opium (which was legal), all
imported at great cost by ship
from China — everything that the first 300 hard-working and
reliable Chinese contract workers needed to work far from home.
Today the special cocoa which was developed by the German planters for the
local climate and soil conditions is still being grown on the
plantations that formerly belonged to the Germans and which are now
owned by the Samoan state company, WESTEC. In the late eighties I got to
know that this cocoa, together with that from Venezuela, was
regarded as the best in the
world. It was so precious that it was used only in flavouring the
most expensive chocolates.
Samoans owe to Dr Solf the
existence of the formerly
largest connected coconut palm
plantation in the southern
hemisphere , as every Samoan was obliged to plant a coconut every
year. These plantations proved profitable for the Samoans over decades,
and struck me in 1985 with their palm trees arranged in rows – they
looked very German!
The total population of Samoa in
1914 was over 32.000 Samoans.
1905 Deeken, with his wife and his two small children, who had been born
made the eight-week voyage from
Samoa to Germany so that he could serve his two-month
honourable custody sentence (the only obligation being that he had
to be present overnight in the officers’ quarters.) During this time
the family had a holiday at the grandparents Boese home near Cologne
cathedral. Immediately afterwards the family travelled back to Apia to
the plantations of the Deutsche
Samoa Gesellschaft ( DSG).
There were no problems for the German planters with the deputy governors Dr
Schnee and Dr Schultz-Ewert during Dr Solf’s absence on travels.
1908 Deeken was elected to the Governing Council of Samoa.
As a consequence of this, Dr Solf
offered his resignation to the Kaiser due to lack of confidence in
the German and English population.
response, Deeken gave up his place in the Governing Council.
– Return to Germany, taking up residence in Miltenberg/Main
where there were appropriate schools for all of the five children. Construction
of a large country house in an extensive former vineyard in a health
inducing up-wind situation overlooking the river Main. This is still
owned by the family and classified
as a historical building. Here are kept about 1000
pages of colonial files in
old aluminium trunks from Samoa. The Bundesarchiv
- (Federal German
Archives) in Koblenz has wishes to archive
these files, which are invaluable for my dissertation.
– Study of Colonial Geography, Tropical Agriculture and Colonial
Politics. Conferment of doctorate at the Maximilian University in Würzburg
(“Land use in Samoa”, with Magna cum
laude) It was Deeken’s aim to enter colonial politics.
of the “Weltkunde- und Weltwirtschaftsanzeiger“
(World Information and World Economics Advertiser)
– Deeken became co-founder and one of
the two directors of the Forst- und Kolonial- Schule (Forestry
and Colonial School)
with teaching position. The
school continued as a Forstschule (Forestry
for decades after WW I.
1913 to spring 1914 – Deeken’s fourth and final voyage around the
world to Samoa as a member of the
supervisory board of the Deutsche
Samoa Gesellschaft to inspect
the plantations there, in addition touring the Tonga and Fiji
islands, the Bismarck Archipelago and the “New Guinea Mainland”.
1914 – Handwritten note at the
end of Deeken’s dissertation: “The viva voce took place on 25 June
– Outbreak of the WW I and Deeken`s early death on 28 August 1914 on
the Western Front. His wife Elisabeth (Else) Deeken brought up her six
children by herself through the war and hunger years. The property on
Samoa was lost. She carried on with her husband’s extensive writing
activities. Despite the immense demands of
practical work, especially on Samoa, he had managed to produce six books
and 135 papers, essays and articles, dealing in particular with colonial
geography, tropical agriculture and colonial politics. In addition he
was invited throughout Germany to lecture tours with his extraordinary
photographs from the new German South Sea colonies.