“ Contact: PO Box 850 Apia, Samoa / Tel: (+685) 20798 / firstname.lastname@example.org „
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON MUSEUM
Vailima is the house that Robert Louis Stevenson and his family lived in up until his death in 1894. Robert Louis Stevenson has become synonymous with Samoa and is highly respected in Samoa, where he is known as tusitala,the teller of tales. A large celebration was held in 1994 to mark the centenary anniversary of his death and people travelled from all over the world to take part. He settled in Samoa with his wife, her daughter and the daughter's son and Stevenson's mother because he felt the climate in Samoa would help alleviate his tuberculosis.
His house which is a beautiful wooden colonial building has been beautifully restored and turned into a museum by a sponsor in the USA and maintained by the Government of Samoa. The wood for the house was all imported from the USA and is American Redwood. It took two years to build on land he bought from a local connection. Today unless you are Samoan there is no way you can buy property on the island as it is all Samoan owned, however Stevenson appears to have managed it.
The museum is surrounded by well maintained gardens, containing a wide range of indigenous and tropical plants and it is huge, rather more like a park than the garden of a private house. The house itself has had a bit of a checkered history. It was used by the Germans as a government house while they were in control. It was largely destroyed by a hurricane in 1991 and again in 1992 but was restored and opened as this museum in 1994 to celebrate the centenary of Stevenson's death.
Stevenson lived in a hotel in Apia with the family until the house was finished but sadly he only had two years in this beautiful house before the TB finally killed him but during this time he was the most prolific in his writing. He was helped by the daughter of his wife, Fanny who acted as his scribe and secretary for his book writing. The daughter of Fanny was also an artist and spent time painting and drawing when she wasn't helping Stevenson to write. It was Fanny's grandson Albert who finished the last of Stevenson's books which he died before completing.
Access to the house and museum is only available as part of a guided tour which lasts about an hour. Our guide was the loveliest gently spoken and fascinating lady called Margaret. She knew so much about Stevenson and all his family and took us from room to room enlightening us and sharing interesting snippets of information about the person who had that bedroom.
Stevenson's bedroom was where he did his writing and this is now a library full of his books in several different languages donated to the museum from people all over the world. It also had photos and original letters and other pieces of text belonging to Stevenson while he was in Samoa.
Next to this room was his wife, Fanny's room which had a really old cabin trunk from the days when they travelled to Samoa by ship. I was really interested as I can remember having a trunk like that which turned into a wardrobe and drawers from when I travelled with my parents by boat to the West Indies. There were photos of Fanny and we learned that Stevenson met her in Paris and that this was her second marriage.
The next bedroom was fanny's daughter's room which had the original patchwork quilt on the bed and on the wall were some of her paintings and drawings.
By far the largest room was for Stevenson's mother who had not been happy sleeping downstairs so when she went away one time Stevenson had the extension added to the house with this beautiful bedroom and living area which had the best view in the house out over the ocean.
A tiny room led off this room and this belonged to young Albert who was Fanny's grandson. Stevenson obviously enjoyed spending time with this young lad as there was a picture drawn by Fanny's daughter of Albert being taught History by Stevenson. It looked more exciting than any history I ever learnt as Stevenson was leaping around in a most animated fashion. On the table was a 'Just William' book and a box of dominoes as well as other personal items that were of the time.
Leading from Albert's room we came back to the large open landing which was their 'hospital' or medical area which had day bed and a medicine cabinet. Fanny it seems was a nurse and looked after Stevenson with advice from doctors until he died at home.
Downstairs was a very large wooden floored room which was the dining room and place where they entertained friends and they enjoyed dancing and music. In the corner of this room was a large safe which Stevenson wrote a book about. The local children were told that something scary lived in the safe so that they never went near it. Stevenson actually kept all his manuscripts in there and told the scary stories to stop any nosey children investigating.
This was the room that Stevenson died in. He had been outside with fanny in the separate kitchen making pickles when he told Fanny he felt dizzy so was going back inside the house. He collapsed on the floor on the dining room and never recovered consciousness.
According to Margaret, our lovely guide, the day of his funeral both sides of the drive way and all the way up the where his grave is on the top of the mountain was lined with local Samoan people. His body in the coffin was passed hand by hand all the way up through this line of devoted local people until it reached its final resting place on Mt Vaea. Today you can walk up a choice of either a steeper 30 minute trail or a longer but less steep trail that takes 45 minutes so you can imagine how many people lined this route when he was buried. I am amazed that someone who only lived in a country for four short years grew to be as popular and respected in that short time.
The trail leading to Mt Vaea,the location of Stevenson's grave is known as the "Road of the Loving Hearts" . At the time Stevenson died he owned this land but it has now reverted back to belonging to the Samoan government. On the way to the grave you pass a lovely cascade that Stevenson turned into a swimming pool. I have to admit that we didn't make it to the grave as it was hot and we had a taxi waiting for us and the walk to the top takes ½ to I hour. At the top of the mountain is Robert Louis Stevenson's grave, bearing the inscription.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse that you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
During our tour with our guide, Margaret she recited this poem and then told us that it had been translated into Samoan as well and this is sung by local people but she couldn't sing it to us in Samoan as it made her cry. She did however sing it to us in English and she had the gentlest soft singing voice and it was quite moving to listen to her sing with no accompaniment at all.
We paid about £3 entry fee and the taxi fare from Apia to the museum and for him to wait while we were in the museum came to about £12.50. It is worth getting the taxi to wait as there is nothing else near the museum and it could be a very long walk back to Apia. One person we were talking to went to the museum in a taxi and then they were walking back as they couldn't get a taxi back and a police car stopped and gave then a lift back to Apia. It was after hearing that story that we decided to ask the taxi to wait. It is possible to get a local bus which cost less than £1, it is the bus from Apia Maketi Fou to either Vaoala or Siumu but as we were pushed for time we decided to splash out on the taxi.
This was a lovely place to visit and I had obviously heard about Robert Louis Stevenson and read several of his books prior to visiting the museum but until then I had no idea how prolific a writer he was. I also hadn't actually been aware that he had lived in Samoa; I thought he was Scottish and that was the extent of my knowledge prior to going to Samoa. It was very moving to hear our guide talk in such a personal way about the family and all they went through. There are no descendants of this line as even young Albert died without having any children. I couldn't get over the fact that Stevenson's mother went back and forth to Scotland more than once and finally returned to Scotland at the age of about 70+ by ship which must have taken weeks. I thought they must have been an amazing family to have made their home so far from Scotland all those years ago and Stevenson himself must have been extra special as the Samoans certainly treat him as a real hero.
If you are ever in Samoa it is certainly worth visiting this lovely colonial style house where so many of Stevenson's books were written and here you can find out so much about this truly adventurous and talented family who have been adopted so lovingly by the Samoan people.
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