Tusitala part two


In 1926 Aggie married Charles Grey

When one reads the history of Samoa, particularly through the 1800s to the mid-1900s the list of characters that flowed in and around Apia, the capital of Samoa, would keep a Hollywood producer in work for years.

Aggie grew up across the road from the International Hotel and one day, when she was a child, she saw carpenters dismantling the wooden building very carefully. This strange happening was mentioned to her father who told Aggie and her sisters that a Mr Hetherington had bought the building and planned to rebuild it on the bank of the Vaisigano river.

The International Hotel was rebuilt exactly as it was originally in 1870.

There was a character known locally as ‘Obliging Bob’ for his good manners and how he managed the International Hotel.

Robert Easthope (aka Obliging Bob) was born in England (Cumberland) in 1848.
At an early age he picked life at sea as his career and ended up in Samoa in 1894. By February 1896 he was managing a hotel called Club Hotel followed by The Tivoli and then the International, which was the most popular at that time.


His nick name came about because he was well mannered, and nothing was too much trouble. He would use his own boats to ferry his guests to their ship, which would be moored in the harbour before sailing.

When he died in 1932 at 84 years old, he was the oldest British resident in Samoa.
Billy Hughes, the slave trader used to drink in the International Hotel before it moved to its present location. When I visited this hotel Billy Hughes would have recognised the outside, nothing had changed.


AG 1989

On my second trip to Apia, I stayed at Aggie Grey’s again and it had changed somewhat. This time I was not shown to the fale as I expected, but taken upstairs to the ‘new’ extension, which was airconditioned and overlooked the sea. It was a pleasant hotel room, but not as ‘Samoan’ as the fale. The above picture is the ‘new’ hotel.

A little bit more about Aggie Grey – when she was a child she watched the International Hotel be rebuilt, but little did she know of her future connection with this hotel. 

Charlie and Aggie were great entertainers, but there was a problem, Charlie was a gambler, and they had three children, plus Aggie’s four children from her first marriage. Her entrepreneur skills showed early because when she was in her early twenties, she opened the Cosmopolitan Club. 

Later in 1933 she borrowed £200 to buy the old British Club, which was renamed ‘Aggies’ through which she sold illegal alcohol because the New Zealand Government, who controlled Western Samoa, declared the island to be ‘dry’.  The ‘dryness’ included Europeans as well as the local islanders. The Europeans were not happy.

The British Club had been the old International Hotel. 

To get around the problem of ‘dryness’ the NZ Government authorised the medical officer in Samoa to issue ‘points’ to the Europeans and depending on your position in society and rank, you were allocated ‘points’ on a monthly basis. Technically the points were for the use of alcohol for medical purposes. This system went on until after 1960!


Today Samoa has its own brewery bought from Germany.

In 1942 the Americans arrived due to the war in the Pacific and Maggie opened a snack bar selling coffee and burgers from a location next to the current hotel, and she also operated a sandwich cart around the streets. Things were picking up – but in 1943 her husband Charlie, died. She was now on her own with children to feed, so had to come up with an income.
She moved the business in to the old British Club, which was now called Aggies, and Aggie Grey’s was born.

From this location besides the food, they also sold ‘bush gin’ which was a palm toddy at $2 a bottle.
The toddy was created from the coconut palm tree and a local would climb thirty feet (nine meters) up the palm tree to tap into the sap, and allow it to drip in to a glass jar.


The tree sap looked like barley water.   

The liquid had a fizzy tang to it . . . 


There was an unfortunate incident due to ‘bush gin.’ The Admiral Wiley Pictured above) was anchored in the harbour and unloading stores. The Captain went ashore for a few glasses of bush gin, which caused him to become unsteady.
It was dark and the only way the captain could return to his ship was via a native boat, but the instructions were that native boats were not allowed near military ships. The watch keeping sailor on the ship could not believe that the person in the native craft was his captain.
After a long argument the sailor allowed the captain to board and the Captain went to his cabin.
The captain still full of bush gin, was as mad as anything at the idea of being refused to board his own ship, so he left his cabin and started firing his pistols at the sailor. The sailor had no choice but to return fire and killed his Captain.

The First Mate was told to take command and to be prepare for sailing. The problem was that the First Mate worked in haberdashery before he had joined the navy and had taken a six week crash course in commanding a merchant ship – he was incapable of taking the ship to sea, so the ship had to wait for a competent merchant seaman officer to arrive and take the ship to sea.

During the time that the Americans were located in Samoa they had to place military police outside Aggie Grey’s premises because officers would arrive in jeeps but when they wished to drive back to their ship or barracks, they would find that the jeep had been stacked on rocks because the wheels were missing, the petrol had been syphoned and parts of the engine were missing.
The local Samoan society believed that everything that they owned was available for anyone to use, so it was not theft but a cultural problem for the Americans.   

The war was over and James A Mitchener a naval historical officer wrote

Tales of the south pacific

This edition was published in 1947

Michener became friendly with Aggie, and I believe that she contributed her ideas during the editing process.
I must admit that reading his book while wandering around the South Pacific added to the experience for me.
One might say that James A. Mitchener became the Tusitala of the 20th Century Pacific Islands.


   James A. Mitchener 1907 -1997

In 1952 ‘Return to Paradise’ a Mitchener story was turned in to a film and Gary Cooper played the lead role. The American crew stayed at Aggies and at the Casino run by Aggie’s sister, there were a total of fifty Americans, but in every other aspect the US film company used local Samoans and the dancing girls (Samoan dancing) were trained under Aggie. 


Roberta Haynes 1927 – 2019

Aggie also directed and trained Roberta Haynes in her dance sequences. 

Roberta Haynes’ ashes were taken back to Samoa by her son and interred at a chapel at the Return to Paradise resort in 2019.

If you wish to see a short piece of the film click below.

Return to Paradise

In addition to Gary Cooper 1901-1961 gary-cooper-2  who was awarded three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe and a number of other awards,

  Aggie Grey’s hotel has been visited by

Dorothy Lamour 1914 – 1996,  dorothy-lamour-6 She received a citation from the US Government for selling $300 million worth of War Bonds during WW2. She was known as the ‘Bond Bombshell’. 


Marlon Brando 1925-2004,  marlon-brando Two Academy Awards, Three BAFTAs, Two Golden Globes.


Raymond Burr 1917-1993, raymond-burrTwo Emmy awards & and a stamp issue by Canadian Postthumb_raymond-burr-canada-stamp


Robert Morley 1908-1992, Robert Morley  CBE, but he declined a Knighthood


William Holden 1918-1981  WILLIAMHolden Academy award winner

to name a few.

The above were film actors, who became famous due to their ability to entertain, even though they did not have Facebook, Tick Tock, , Instagram, Linkedin, Youtube nor did they Twitter on & on . . . but they were good at their job and entertained us.

When Gary Cooper was seriously ill and close to death amongst the huge number of well-wisher’s cards & letters there was a telegrams from Queen Elizabeth and the Pope, and a phone call from President John F. Kennedy, Gary Cooper was famous, they even used his name in this song. 

Putting on the Ritz

In 1971 Aggie was ‘stamped’ with success (please excuse the pun)



Aggie died in 1988 at 91 years of age.

Her son took over the running of the company and in 2013 Aggie Grey’s hotel was sold to Chinese investors for US$50 million and is now operated by the Sheraton Hotel Group. Aggie Grey’s Hotel is now known as the Sheraton Samoa with a subtitle ‘Aggie Grey’. 

Hotel sold

The hotel was rebuilt after major damage during the cyclone in 2012 when the Vaisigano River (which I have mentioned earlier) flooded the hotel up to the third floor (American) or second floor if you are British.


The hotel re-opened for business in July 2016

Tusitala part one


My next stop was to visit our agent in Apia, Western Samoa.

Western Samoa consists of two main islands and several smaller islands.
The island called Upolu is the main island where the capital Apia is located and Faleolo airport and the airline code for this airport is APW, if you plan to visit.

map_of_samoa (2)

The distance from Faleolo airport to Apia is about 40 km (25 miles) and the trip took about 40 minutes.

Our agent was the Union Maritime Services and the agency generated about six or more courier shipments a day, which for a trading company on a small island was a lot – our agent was also the agent for cruise companies, bus tours and other shipping agencies, so generating outbound courier traffic was not a problem.

Our agent booked me in to Aggie Grey’s Hotel, which was a joy for me having read about this lady.

1986The entrance to Aggie Grey’s Hotel when I arrived.

I was allocated a fale and I knew what a fale was, and wondered how private it would be  . . 


The above is a fale – or house without walls – but I need not have worried because I was shown to a fale near the pool at Aggie Grey’s.


The fale that I was allocated looked something like this, it had a bed that was on a raised area, like a stage, above the rest of the floor and I looked down on the sitting area.


I later found out that because the hotel was located alongside the Vaisigano River, which had a tendance to flood in heavy rain – hence the raised bedded area.

My fale had an air-conditioning unit above the sitting area, a little noisy, but I soon got used to the sound, which was preferable to the humidity at night.   

When I stepped out of my fale I had this to look forward to . . 


The dining room was tropical with a difference compared to other Pacific Islands that I’d visited – in Aggies a huge amount of tropical fruit was available.
Large ceiling fans kept the dining area cool, and I was never bothered with flies or insects.

As I walked along the pathway to the dining room bananas hanging from the support poles were available – I could help myself as I walked – the bananas were not very large just over a mouthful, but they had a very pleasant taste.


From memory they were called apple bananas.

The above picture is how the walkway looks today, but not all that different than in 1987. 

In the evening being a lone travel, I always have a book with me but instead of being shown to a single table I was ushered to a table with four or five others and introduced by the head waiter.
It turned out that we were all lone travellers wondering around the Pacific Islands on behalf of our companies, and later in my trip I did meet some of my dining companions in other locations.

At the end of the meal a bottle of port was placed in the middle of the table with the compliments of Aggie’s Hotel, a nice gesture that helped the chat amongst strangers.

A little about Aggie – her father was an English man, William J. Swann, who was born in England in 1859 and while he was a boy his family moved to New Zealand. At seventeen he was sent back to England to study medicine. He was home sick but bright, and passed his exams to become a chemist, like his father.

The Swann family moved to Fiji in 1867 where William concentrated on tropical diseases and later became a ship’s apothecary that traded around the Pacific islands. After some years he gave up the sea and decided to settle in Apia in Samoa and opened a business as a chemist. 

In 1891 Swann courted and married Pele the daughter of a local chief. The wedding was a great time for feasting and celebration. 

At the wedding was an honoured guest of the bridegroom, Robert Louis Stevenson, who had arrived in Apia in December 1889 and loved the place so much that he bought land just outside Apia, which became Vailima estate.

R L Stev

Robert Louis Stevenson 

R.L Stevenson became known in Samoa as Tusitala, which means ‘writer of stories’ in Samoan. 

Robert Louis Stevenson’s house Vailima in 1890 – he died 3rd December 1894.

Swann and Stevenson became very good friends, and they would often dine at a particular Chinese ‘shanty’ restaurant near the water’s edge. This place was owned by Kai Sue who used to talk about his time with Bully Hayes who was a well-known ‘black birder’ and shady character.
Bully Hayes had Shanghaied Kai Sue because he needed a cook aboard his schooner. Hayes kept Kai Sue on his ship for over two years.   


The above picture is of “Bully” Hayes aka William Henry Hayes and is dated 1863 – it is believed that another ship’s cook in 1877, after being threatened by Bully Hayes, shot him and threw him overboard. Nobody was concerned about his death.
If anyone is interested in ‘Blackbirding’& ‘Bully’ check out a book called ‘Cannibal Cargoes’ by Hector Holthouse.

Back to the Swann’s children – their first child was Maggie, who was born in 1893, their second child was Agnes Genevieve born in October 1897, and their third child, Mary was born 1899. 


In 1917 Aggie married Gordon Hay-Mackenzie, a New Zealander who was the manager for the Union Steam Ship Company in Samoa.

They had three services on their wedding day – a church service at the Protestant church, a service so that they were married under New Zealand law, and finally a service so as to be married under Samoan law.

As you see the church is quite famous and has adorned a stamp for 50 sene, which means 50 cents.
A Samoan Tala (ST) or dollar at today’s rate of ST 1 = about $0.50 AUD 0r $0.36 USD.
In 1918, during the global flu epidemic, Aggie boarded the Talune for the voyage back to Apia after visiting New Zealand.

eight_col_Talune S.S Talune

The passengers onboard feared the disease as did Aggie, but she became ill during the voyage and nearly died.
Once the passengers left the ship in Apia the flu spread far and wide. The Samoans did not have resistance to this disease and thousands died. Fortunately, Aggie survived. 

To put it in perspective, during the flu epidemic in 1918, Europe lost 1.1 % of their population, but in Samoa 90% of the population were affected and 30% of adult men, 22% of adult women, and 10% of children died.


Colonel Robert Logan

Colonel Robert Logan was the New Zealand Administrator for Samoa having held the position since the outbreak of war in 1914.
He did not have enough people to help bury the dead from the epidemic.
Many were cremated, but the Samoan Islanders were not keen on this so the Colonel gathered Solomon Islanders and Germans who were still in Samoa after WWI to dig a large pit to bury the dead.
The Solomon Islanders were then told to find the dead and to place the bodies in the pit.
To sweeten the unpleasantness for the Solomon islanders the Colonel gave each worker two ‘nobblers’ of whisky, which is about 10 fluid ounces or just under a half of today’s standard bottle of whisky!  

They had just about filled one pit and had found a Chinese man in a fale stretched out, so they picked him up and placed him in the pit.
The Solomon Islanders began to scatter lime across the bodies when the Chinese man came back to life (he had been asleep) and ran off.
The islanders chased the man shouting that the doctor had said he was dead, so he must be dead, so stop running so that we can bury you properly.

Thankfully due to the ‘nobblers’ they soon tired of chasing the ‘dead’ Chinese man.   

In 1925 Aggie’s husband Gordon Hay-Mackenzie became ill with tuberculosis and went to New Zealand in the hope of a cure, unfortunately he died soon after arriving in New Zealand.

Age 12 cropAggie in 1912 

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