TUSITALA IN SAMOA

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Tusitala came to Samoa by design, but not until he had become the most widely travelled foreigner to visit the South Pacific area. An adventurer at heart with a strong affinity for the sea, he convinced Fanny to join him in a life-changing search for better health. Together, they had subjected him to cold, damp, snowy climates. The time was right for them to try the tropics. They secured a sea-worthy vessel, gathered their supplies and departed for the first of many side trips to enhance their own lives and grace the lives of others. His influence was felt at every stop along the way.

After an extended stopover in Hawaii to visit Isobel and her family, they departed for additional destinations arriving in Apia on 7 December 1889. As in virtually all other stopovers, the presence of the Stevenson’s was profound. They were a novelty but were befriended and accepted by influential locals, like W.E. Clarke, Harry Moors and others.

After successive journeys to Sydney with intermediate stops, they decided to settle permanently in Samoa. Moors secured land and their lives in Samoa began.

 

The ‘Stevenson’ family residents

Fanny – wife of Tusitala. A very strong, assertive woman, who supported and protected Louis from the equivalent of ‘groupies’ because of his popularity. She won over Louis’s parents even though she was 10 years older than their son and had married him without their blessing. She was the true matriarch, Their Samoan staff respected her but feared her wrath when they did not, or could not deliver to her satisfaction. They called her Tama’ita’i, which is the high chief word for the wife of a respected chief. She, also, was her husband’s most severe critic. She was a very possessive and jealous person, which affected her relationships, however, she was very loyal to Louis throughout his life. She survived him by many years and her ashes are entombed next to Tusitala on Mt. Vaea above their plantation home.

Isobel – Fanny’s daughter and wife of Joe Strong and mother of Austin. It took years for Isobel to forge a relationship with her stepfather. She moved to Samoa and became Louis’s scribe. Her duties were to help Tusitala with his writing by taking dictation and make certain that his mail was answered. Their relationship was very threatening to Fanny who suffered from extreme depression and paranoia. Isobel was named Teuila by the Samoan because she was always trying to make things look better. Her swarthy complexion often allowed her to pass for a ‘half-caste local girl’ which made her even more popular with Samoans. After Tusitala passed away and the ‘family’ returned to America, Teuila wrote her memoirs which continue to give insight into life at Vailima today. After the death of her mother, Teuila returned to Samoa to place the ashes next to Tusitala, whom she later called, “the finest man I ever knew.”

Lloyd – ‘Loia’ as he was known among the Samoan, was the arms and legs of the family. When someone needed to go to Scotland to retrieve the furniture from the family home in Edinburgh, they sent Lloyd. His presence at Vailima was extremely important even though he did not occupy a room in the main home. Lloyd took over the original residence called ‘Pineapple Cottage’ by Louis and Fanny. Lloyd renamed the little plantation quarters ‘Batchelor Hall.’ He was a young man and took very kindly to the Samoan culture. He became fluent in the language and directed many of the activities with the staff and locals who were frequent visitors. He was in charge of photography and was skilled at capturing the early images of life at Vailima on film. Lloyd left with his mother to return to America after the death of Louis, but returned one year later with his wife although they could not recreate the magic of Vailima without Tusitala. It became a failed experiment and the family returned to America. Lloyd lived the remainder of his life in the shadow of R.L.S.

Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson – also known in the family as Aunt Maggie. She clung to her only child after the death of her husband, Thomas. She joined in the traveling adventures and had a very powerful influence on the affairs at Vailima. Tusitala doted on her. He added to the home to accommodate her comfort. She travelled about between Sydney and Samoa and was present at the untimely death of her beloved son. She returned to live out her years in Scotland with her sister. Interestingly, she outlived all of the extended family members. Tusitala honored her throughout her life with many very personal and tender letters which warmed her heart and gave her comfort in her declining years, She honored her husband after his death by never appearing in public without a ‘widow’s cap.’

Austin Strong – was an eleven year old boy when he came to spend time with his mother Isobel and become acquainted with his grandparents. He had been attending boarding school in San Francisco but his mother transferred him to a school in New Zealand to have him closer to them. Little is known about his relationship with his father, Joe Strong, who remarried and settled in California. Austin had the rare privilege of being tutored by Tusitala in French, Latin and World History. He had many a bedtime story told to him as well as numerous adventures and games played on the vast Vailima property. His favorite was cowboys and Indians. Austin was revered by the Samoan staff and was looked after by his grandmother Stevenson, whose bedroom suite was adjacent to his. He became a minor playwright and lived his days on Martha’s Vineyard in New England.