Rudolf von Bennigsen the First German Governor of New Guinea Rudolf von BennigsenThe First German Governor of New Guinea by Rainer Buschmann Rudolf von Bennigsen (1859-1912) was the first official governor of German New Guinea (1899-1901) following the German state takeover of the colony from the New Guinea Company. He hailed from lower Saxonian nobility and studied law in Strasbourg. Following his studies, he worked in Strasbourg before joining colonial service in the 1890s. In 1893 he became financial director in German East Africa and his introduction of a controversial tax measure is frequently listed as one of the reasons behind the Maji Maji uprising against the German colonial administration. Rudolf von Bennigsen proudly displaying his decorations, courtesy of Dieter Klein. His appointment as first governor of German New Guinea came as a surprise to the small circle of colonial settlers as Bennigsen had little experience with the Pacific territory. In order to familiarize himself with the vast, and through the Micronesian possessions, greatly expanding territory, Bennigsen undertook a number of ship voyages to explore the territory. At the time this was no easy matter as the official government steamer Seestern (Starfish) did not start running until 1903--a good two years after Bennigsen had left his job. He was thus forced to make do with the diverse means of transportation available to him--the naval survey ship SMS Möve (Seagull), visiting warships from the German Navy and the occasional cutter and motor steamers of the commercial companies active in the territory. As governor Bennigsen welcomed wealthy visitors such as Bruno Mencke’s ill-fated expeditions equipped with its costly yacht and personally joined the venture. The governor cited ill health for his retirement in the summer of 1901, leaving the office to his much better-known successor Albert Hahl. Bennigsen’s approach to governance could have not been more contrastive as historian Peter Hempenstall wrote: “Von Bennigsen was an old-style Prussian army official, whose scarred face betrayed the number of duels fought in his youth. His formula for control was brutally direct and simple: expansion by pacification; and his short tenure of office is notable for several bloody campaigns against recalcitrant New Guineas… Hahl’s approach to the job was more methodological and less openly violent.” Following his departure from New Guinea and until his death in 1912, Bennigsen worked for the German Colonial Society of German Southwest Africa, assuming the society’s directorship in 1909. West New Britain Nausung mask collected by Rudolf von Bennigsen and donated to the Linden Museum Stuttgart in 1901 (020611). Photo courtesy Linden Museum. Many of Bennigsen’s journeys throughout the Bismarck Archipelago and coastal New Guinea came as the result of punitive actions. As the first governor of the territory he was a firm believer in demonstrating German might to the colonized population. It is estimated that despite his relatively brief tenure as governor, Bennigsen collected an estimated 600 artifacts. His retaliatory missions, however, cast a dark shadow over his ethnographic collection activity. Bennigsen donated his artifacts to the ethnographic collections located in Berlin and his hometown of Hannover but the majority of his collected objects, 387 to be exact, went to the ethnographic collection in Stuttgart curated by Karl von Linden. This ran afoul of the German Foreign Ministry that demanded that all artifacts collected by colonial officers had to be delivered to Berlin first. For his efforts Bennigsen obtained the Württemberg (the territory around Stuttgart) state decoration, the Cross of Honor of the Crown, in 1902. Vitu Island mask “kakaparaga” collected by Rudolf von Bennigsen and donated to the Linden Museum Stuttgart in 1901 (013527). Photo courtesy of Linden Museum. Sulka shield “Ngaile” collected by collected by Rudolf von Bennigsen and donated to the Linden Museum Stuttgart in 1901 (013598). Linden Museum.