Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa and Vailima

Samoa and Vailima Chronology

7 December 1889 – 4 February 1890

•  7 December 1889, the schooner Equator arrives at Apia. The Stevenson party is met by H.J. Moors (an important American trader and friend of Joe Strong, who had written from Hawaii) and they stayed at his house (Beach Road, Apia)

•  After a few days, RLS moves (with Fanny, Lloyd and Ah Fu, the cook) to a small rented house in a lane near Moors’s house (both lane and house since vanished)

•  10 January 1890, signs the deed of purchase for the Vailima estate

•  4 February leaves Apia on the steamship Lübeck bound for Sydney; meanwhile Moors built “Pineapple Cottage” a small house for accommodation during the construction of the main Vailima house

30 April – 1 May 1890

•  30 April, arrives at Samoa on the Janet Nicoll and spends the night on shore in Apia

•  1 May, inspects work on Vailima and departs for the rest of the Janet Nicoll cruise

15 September 1890 – 6 January 1891

•  15 September 1890, arrives at Samoa from Sydney, where he had been since the end of the Janet Nicoll cruise; goes to “Pineapple Cottage”

•  5 January 1891, leaves Vailima; spends the night in Apia

•  6 January, leaves for Sydney on the Lübeck

1 March 1891 – 18 February 1893

•  1 March 1891, arrives back in Samoa with his mother (who leaves two days later to visit a relative in New Zealand)

•  2-13 April, sails round the Samoan Islands on the schooner Nukunona

•  13 April, RLS, Fanny and Lloyd now move into the main house at Vailima

•  16 May, RLS’s mother returns to Vailima from New Zealand

•  13 June, visits the island of Savaii, the largest Samoan island, just to the north-west of Upolu

•  15 December, rides to central Upolu (the island where Apia is situated) and the river Vaea

•  20-26 December, at Apia

•  3 May 1892, visits King Mataafa

•  11 May, photographs taken of RLS and family on the veranda of Vailima

•  27 May, visits King Mataafa

•  18 February 1893, leaves Samoa for Sydney

30 March – 12 September 1893

•  30 March 1893, arrives back at Vailima

•  12 September, leaves for Honolulu

3 November 1893 to his death, 3 December 1894

•  3 November 1893 (circa), arrives back in Samoa from Honolulu

•  19-23 August visits Pago-Pago on the island of Tutuila (now American Samoa)

•  3 December, dies of cerebral haemorrhage

•  4 December, buried at the top of Mount Vaea

By Richard Dury

Overview of RLS, Samoa and Vailima

His observations on the culture and on his experiences on his South Seas travels are to be found in the South Sea letters, published in Magazines in 1891 (and then in book form as In the South Seas in 1896). A historical account of colonial interference and conflict in Samoa was published as A Footnote to History (1892). He also returns to Scottish history and settings with Catriona (or David Balfour) (1893) and the unfinished Weir of Hermiston (1896). Another unfinished work on which he expended much effort was St Ives (1897), a picaresque adventure with many Scottish scenes.

RLS chose Samoa because he liked the people, it was not too “civilized” and had a regular mail service (essential for his connections with agents, editors and publishers). Because of the great cost of the Vailima house and the extended family that lived there, RLS often felt under pressure to keep writing. Despite this, his work of the 1890s continued to be of great interest and variety. “The Beach of Falesá” (1892) and The Ebb-Tide (1894) confront the results of colonisation and mark a new Realistic turn in his writing. The same setting and approach can also be seen in the form of the adventure novel, The Wrecker (1892). “The Bottle Imp” (1891) presents a Pacific-wide community as the setting for a fascinating moral fable.

Photograph of Stevenson trunk courtesy of Alan Marchbank. RLS and horses image courtesy of Capital Collections. Vailima image courtesy of Capital Collections.