On the basis of a background in local government, but with no field experience or knowledge of indigenous people, Robert Logan was called on to run the military administration of German Samoa on behalf of Britain during the First World War.
Conscientious and well-meaning, he was also inflexible, unimaginative and somewhat authoritarian. His mismanagement of an incoming vessel carrying influenza victims had tragic consequences for the Samoan population, and marred his reputation.
Born in Scotland in 1863, Logan emigrated to New Zealand in 1881 and eventually set himself up on a sheep run in Central Otago. Elected to the Maniototo County Council, he was active in the region’s mounted rifle volunteer units. In 1912 Logan was made a temporary colonel in the regular army, and appointed officer commanding the Auckland Military District.
At the outbreak of the First World War Logan was appointed to command the 1383-strong expeditionary force sent to capture German Samoa as ‘a great and urgent Imperial Service’. The Germans were in no position to resist and on 29 August 1914 Logan assumed responsibility as military administrator. He held this position throughout the war, by 1918 governing some 38,000 Samoans and 1500 Europeans, more than a third of them Germans.
Although he lacked his German predecessors’ knowledge of local custom and remained somewhat aloof in his relations with Samoan chiefs, native affairs were kept on an even keel until November 1918, when the pneumonic influenza pandemic was brought to Samoa from Auckland by the steamship Talune. Though the Talune carried obviously infected passengers, the vessel was not quarantined. Within three weeks 7542 Samoans, a staggering 20% of the population, had died. A commission of inquiry from New Zealand the following year found that Logan had been negligent and the weight of opinion ever since has concurred.