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MAY - AUGUST, 1892

The "Royalist" is a major work. The papers collected here give a rare and vivid picture of the islands in the 1890's when there was little law and even less order. Captain Davis of H.M.S."Royalist" a ship of the Royal Navy's Australian Squadron was sent to the Gilberts to declare a British Protectorate. It was one of the last acts of what has been termed 'British Imperialism'. Davis did more than bring 'The Flag'. He settled disputes amongst traders of various nationalities then operating in the Gilberts and between traders and islanders. He ended a civil war on Tarawa. He met and talked with all manner of people. What he saw and heard he recorded, and his observations are detailed and shrewd. This publication should provide invaluable source of material for anyone engaged in a study of Gilbertese history. It is also to be hoped that it will stimulate more people in the Gilberts to take an interest in their own history.






The story of European rivalry in the Pacific began even before it was first sighted by Balboa in 1513 and since then Pacific History has been dominated by the European powers ascendant in Europe at any particular time. Portuguese discoveries of the offshore Atlantic islands, the rounding of Southern Africa in 1487 and Columbus's voyage to the Bahamas on behalf of Spain in 1492 caused conflict between Portugal and Spain over the possessions of new lands which the Pope tried to settle by a Bill issued in 1493 awarding all of those lands being newly discovered east of a line one hundred leagues west of the Azores to Portugal and those lands to the west to Spain.

By the treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the dividing line was moved to a line running north and south three hundred and seventy leagues west the Cape Verde Islands. The amended line awarded Brazil to Portugal, but most of the Americas and the Pacific to Spain. Portugal claimed the East Indies but Spain took the Philippines in 1564. However, as the determination of accurate longitude was impossible at this period and remained an inexact science until Captain Cook's time and the introduction of the marine chronometer disputes continue as each country tended to fix longitudes favourable to its own claims.

During the sixteenth century the history of European voyaging and discovery in the Pacific remained predominantly Spanish with the Portuguese acquiring the East Indies at the Pacific's western edge until superseded by the Dutch at the end of the century. There were a growing number of voyages, the most of which were those of Magellan in 1520 to 1522 (the first voyage around the world); Mendana's discovery of the Solomon Islands in 1576; Drake's round the world voyage in 1577 to 1580 and Mendana's second voyage in which he discovered the Marquesis and the islands of Santa Cruz.

By the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch had taken over much of the Portuguese East Indies and thereafter continued the Portuguese policy of voyaging and discovery. It is possible that undocumented Portuguese or other voyages to part of Australia had provided the basis for some early maps of about the middle of the 16th century but the documented history of the discovery of Australia was begun in 1605 - 1606 by the Dutch although this was followed immediately by the passage of the strait between New Guinea and Australia by the Portuguese Torres. Tasman discovered Tasmania, New Zealand, Fiji and other groups between 1642 - 1643. Piecemeal and incomplete discoveries continued until the improvement in European ships and navigation in the 18th century allowed the great discoveries and charting of the Pacific of that period.

The ending of the Seven Year's War in 1763 left Britain predominant in the colonial and maritime spheres, nevertheless the French were determined to take an equal share of any European expansion in the Pacific and throughout the second part of the 18th century British and French rivalry increased. Although this period is replete with famous names of voyagers - Byron, Wallace, Cook, Bouganville, Perouse, d'Entrecasteaux - and prolamations of sovereignty on behalf of the various European powers were made by ships' commanders from time to time, no actual settlements or acquisitions were made until the British settlements in Australia at Port Jackson Sydney in 1788. By the beginning of the 19th century, the main island groups of the Pacific had been discovered and chartered by Europeans. It remained to fill in the gaps and develop trade.

Disregarding the early European conquest on the edge of the Pacific - the American coast, the East Indies and the Philippines - acquisition only began with the British in Australia in 1788, followed in New Zealand in 1840; these in turn influenced Britain in later acquisitions as the colonialists in Australia and New Zealand were anxious to monopolize Pacific Island trade for themselves and pressed Britain to acquire islands and island groups to keep out the commerce of rival European powers.

European traders and missionaries of many nationalities were establishing plantation, trade and religious interests throughout the Pacific which often led to conflict which led in turn to request for help to the European countries from their nationals. Crimes committed by or against Europeans led to actions by warships of their parent countries. Attempts were made to control the recruitment of Pacific Islanders or labour and to restrict the sale of guns. These factors among others built up pressure for the acquisition and control of the various island groups by the European powers and after the American Civil War by the United States of America. The French, disappointed at being forestalled by Britain in New Zealand in l840, counted by acquiring the Society Islands and the Marquesas in 1842 and New Caledonia in 1853.

Germany became very active especially in Samoa, in the groups to the north of New Guinea and in the Marshall Islands. In 1874 Britain annexed Fiji; in 1884 Germany acquired New Britain, New Ireland and the Northeast Coast of New Guinea; in the same year Britain under pressure from the Queensland colonialists declared a protectorate over southeast New Guinea. In 1893 Britain declared a protectorate over part of the Solomon Islands and acquired more of them by agreement with Germany in 1900. After a war with Spain in 1898 the USA acquired Guam and the Philippines and after troubled in the Republic of Hawaii the USA annexed Hawaii also. In 1899 the remaining Spanish possessions in the Pacific - the Caroline, Palau and the Marianna Islands - were sold to Germany which also annexed Western Samoa the same year leaving the USA to take over the Eastern Samoan Islands.

After the annexation of Fiji in 1874 Britain was still faced by the problem of the control of British subjects in the other island groups of the Pacific. To accomplish this, the Western Pacific Order in Council was enacted in 1877. This applied to all islands in the Western Pacific not within the jurisdiction of any civilized power and created the officers of High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, Chief Judicial Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners. It established the High Commissioner's Court. The Governor of Fiji was appointed High Commissioner; the Chief Justice of Fiji was appointed the Chief Judicial Commissioner and various persons, in the early years mainly officers of the Royal Navy, were appointed Deputy Commissioners. This attempt to control British subjects was not very successful and left unsolved the problem of the control of non-British subjects for their punishment for crime against British subjects.

In 1886 the British and German Governments agreed to a division of the Western Pacific into two spheres of influence - the Marshall Islands and Nauru came within the German's sphere - the Gilberts, Ocean Island and the Ellice within the British. Germany immediately took over the Marshall Islands but Britain took no action in the Gilberts which had by this time become an area of intense rivalry between German, American and some Australian based trading interests.

In 1890 the British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific based in Fiji recommended the acquisition of the Gilberts by Britain, not only to forestall possible action by Germany which in 1891 itself urge Britain to declare a Protectorate to forestall the USA, but also to control the recruitment of labour, the sale of guns and liquor and to end the growing turbulence within the group. In 1892 the British Government, realizing by now that failure to declare a Protectorate would probably lead to acquisition by Germany, despite the 1886 agreement, or by America which was not a party to the agreement, ordered the Commander-in-Chief, H. M. Ships, Australia, to send a warship to the Gilberts to declare a Protectorate. Captain Davis, R. N. of H.M.S. 'Royalist' was sent to carry out this task.

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H.M.S. Royalist, 1892.

In accordance with his instructions, Captain Davis talked with the old men of each island to obtain their agreement to the declaration of the protectorate and to explain what it would mean. After talks with the old men, he declared the Protectorate on all islands except on Aranuka and Kuria which were included with Abemama and on Makin which was included with Butaritari.

Captain Davis had been ordered to visit the Ellice Islands but not to declare a Protectorate there. He reported that the 'Kings' of each island had asked for a Protectorate to be declared and Captain Gibson R.N. of H.M.S. 'Curacao' was thereupon ordered to the Ellice Islands on each of which he declared a Protectorate between the 9th and the 16th October.


ANDREW SHARP and H.E. MAUDE have each researched the History of the Discovery of the Islands of the Gilbert Group; while their researchers have led each of them to the same conclusions about the discovery of five of the Islands, they did not agree about all of them and their separate conclusions are therefore set out below:-

1537 - Sharp considers that the crew of Hernando de Grijalva's vessel 'San Juan' probably discovered Marakei and Abaiang or alternatively either Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang or Tarawa.
Maude however considers that Grijalva discovered Nonouti only.

1606 - According to Sharp, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in the vessel 'San Pablo' discovered 'Makin whereas Maude believes he sighted Butaritari.

1765 - Commodore John Byron R.N. of H.M.Ships 'Dolphin' and 'Tamar' discovered either Tabiteuea or Beru or Nikunau according to Sharp, whereas Maude considers that he certainly discovered Nikunau.

1788 - Both Sharp and Maude agree that Captains Gilbert and Marshall of the British vessels 'Charlotte' and 'Scarborough' discovered Aranuka, Kuria, Tarawa, Abaiang and Butaritari. However Sharp considers they also discovered Abemama and Maiana although Maude believes that they saw neither of these two islands. Sharp adds the reservation that Grijalva in 1537 may have been the first discoverer of either Abaiang or Tarawa or Butaritari, and Maude reserves the discovery of Butaritari to Quiros in 1606.

1799 - Once again both Sharp and Maude agree that Captain Bishop of the British vessel 'Nautilus' discovered Nonouti, although Maude notes that it may have been first discovered by Grijalva in 1537; however whereas Maude awards the discovery of Tabiteuea to Captain Bishop, Sharp reserves the possibility of its discovery to Commodore Byron in 1765; Maude also considers that Bishop discovered Abemama.

1804 - Captain James Cary of the American whaling vessel 'Rose' discovered Tamana according to both Sharp and Maude.

1809 - Both Sharp and Maude award the discovery of Arorae to Captain Patterson of the British vessel 'Elizabeth'; Maude concludes also that he discovered Maiana.

1824 - While Sharp grants the rediscovery of Marakei, possibly first sighted by Grijalva's ship in 1537, to Luis Duperrey, Commander of the French naval vessel 'Coquille', Maude considers him as the first discoverer

1826 -  Sharp and Maude agree that Captain Clerk of the British whaling vessel 'John Palmer' discovered Onotoa; Maude adds that Onotoa was sighted the same year by Captain Chase of the American vessel 'Japan'. Maude considers that Captain Clerk discovered Beru but while Sharp agrees that he sighted Beru and Nikunau, he considers one or other of them had been discovered by Byron in 1765.


1. Sharp: 'The Discovery of the Pacific Islands' by Andrew Sharp, Oxford University Press, 1960.

2. Maude: 'Spanish Discoveries in the Central Pacific'; 'Post-Spanish Discoveries in the Central Pacific'; first published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, and thereafter in the book 'Of Islands and Men' by H.E. Maude, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1968.

MAKIN: 1606 Quiros         (Sharp)
BUTARITARI: 1537 Grijalva       (Sharp) - doubtful
1606 Quiros         (Maude)
1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp and Maude)
MARAKEI: 1537 Grijalva        (Sharp)
1824 Duperrey     (Maude)
ABAIANG: 1537 Grijalva        (Sharp)
1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp and Maude)
TARAWA: 1537 Grijalva       (Sharp) - doubtful
1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp and Maude)
MAIANA: 1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp)
1804 Patterson    (Maude)
KURIA 1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp and Maude)
ARANUKA 1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp and Maude)
ABEMAMA 1788 Gilbert and Marshall         (Sharp)
1799 Bishop        (Maude)
NONOUTI 1537 Grijalva       (Maude)
1799 Bishop        (Sharp and Maude)
TABITEUEA 1765 Byron         (Sharp)
1799 Bishop        (Maude)
ONOTOA 1826 Clark          (Sharp and Maude)
1826 Chase         (Maude)
BERU 1765 Byron         (Sharp) - doubtful
1826 Clark          (Sharp and Maude)
NIKUNAU 1765 Byron         (Maude); (Sharp) - doubtful
1826 Clark          (Sharp)
TAMANA 1804 Cary            (Sharp and Maude)
ARORAE 1809 Patterson    (Sharp and Maude)

(The above sixteen Islands are referred to as they are known now whereas in the following Proclamation, the Islands are referred to using the spelling of the 27th May, 1892).

The sixteen islands of the Gilberts, declared a Protectorate by Captain Davis, R.N. of H.M.S. "Royalist" between 27th May and 17th June 1892 were  discovered intermittently from perhaps as early as l537 up to l826.

The Ellice Islands were declared a Protectorate by Captain Gibson R.N. of H.M.S. 'Curacao' between 9th and 16th October of the same year; Banaba (or Ocean Island) was included within the Protectorate in 1900. In 1916 the Protectorate became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and in the same year Fanning and Washington were included in it together with the islands of the Tokelau or Union Group; Christmas Island was included in 1919.

The Tokelaus were detached in 1925; the Phoenix were added in 1937 and the five islands of the Central and Southern Line Islands in l972. The Ellice Islands were detached to become a separate colony in 1976.

The 'Proceedings of H.M.S. "Royalist''', reproduced here, described one of the closing acts of the acquisitive phase of British Imperialism in the Pacific.


sent by Captain E.H.M. Davis
H.M.S."Royalist" from Jaluit, Marshall Group to
Britannia, Sydney, New South Wales per schooner
(German) 'Tlink', which left on 1st July.
H.M.S. "Royalist"
At Jaluit Marshall Group

25th June 1892

No. 20        My Lord,

I have the honour to report that I arrived here on the 23rd instant.

2. In compliance with orders, I hoisted the British flag at Apamama Island, on 27th May, and assumed a protectorate over the Gilbert Group. Having visited the other islands in the group, I proceeded for this port.

3. There are but 50 tons of coal of an inferior quality procurable here - the German barque 'Speculant' with some 400 tons on board having being wrecked on this island on the 15th instant.

4. I was fortunate enough to obtain 100 tons of coal, whilst in the Gilbert Group, from the Nicaraguan steamer 'Montserrat', engaged in the collecting labour for Guatamala.

5. Want of coal, will I fear necessitate a very short visit to the Marshall Group, having many islands yet to visit.

6. As in all probability, I shall meet the flag, before the schooner I am sending this by, can arrive at Sydney, I reserve particulars of my cruise.

7. The health of the ship's company is good.

I have the honour to be
        My Lord
Your obedient servant
(Sd) Ed. H.M. Davis

The Commander-in-Chief,
         H.M. Ships,

        P R O C L A M A T I O N

In the name of Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom

of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India

By Edward Henry Meggs Davis
Esquire Captain in Her Majesty's
Fleet and Deputy Commissioner
for the Western Pacific -
Commander Her Majesty's Ship

WHEREAS I have it in my command from Her Majesty
Queen Victoria through Her Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies
to declare that Her Majesty has this day assumed a Protectorate over the Group
of Islands known as the Gilbert Islands situated between 4 degrees north and
three degrees south latitude and l70 degrees east and 177 degrees longitude
and that the following islands and all small islands or islets depending upon
them are included in such protectorate viz.: -



I Edward Henry Meggs Davis Captain in Her Majesty's fleet and Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific commanding Her Majesty's Ship "Royalist" do hereby proclaim and declare to all men that from and after the date of these presents the above mentioned islands have been placed under British Protection.

Given under my hand at APAMAMA this 27th day of May,
One thousand eight hundred and ninety two
   (Signed) Ed. H.M. Davis

      (Signed) F. St. L. Luscombe Lieut.
        (Signed) R. D. Corrie Trader.
Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India having this day assumed a Protectorate over the Gilbert Islands I would remind all residents in the Group other than natives that it is contrary to Law to supply firearms, ammunition, explosive substances or intoxicated liquors to any natives of the Pacific Islands.

This is hereby made known for general information.

Given under my hand at APAMAMA
This 27th day of May one thousand eight hundred and ninety two.
(Signed) Ed. H.M. Davis

Captain H.M.S. "Royalist"
And Deputy Commissioner.

   (Commander-in-Chief )
(6th September 1892)
at Fiji

No. 36 My Lord                                                                                    9th August 1892

        In compliance with your 'Secret' memo of 22nd April 1892 ordering me to proceed to
the Gilbert Islands and to place them under British Protection, I have the honour to report that I left Sydney on 27th April arriving at Fiji on the morning of 11th May. Having completed with coal and taken a cargo on deck, I proceeded on 13th May for the Gilbert Group.

2. Previous to sailing from Fiji, I endeavoured to obtain a competent interpreter for the group but was unable to do so. The High Commissioner recommended Mr. CORRIE, a British subject trader on MAIANA Island as the most competent and trustworthy interpreter if his services could be procured.

3. I arrived at TAPUTEWEA one of the islands of the Gilbert Group on 24th May and making enquiries of the traders there ascertained that no foreign power laid claim to that island or any other in the Group as far as they knew. Being Her Majesty's Birthday the ship was dressed and a Royal salute fired at noon.

4. The same day I proceeded to APAMAMA Island and stopped off ENTRANCE Island the following day. I landed, and from 'JACK' the pilot who is one of the King's advisers ascertained that no foreign power laid any claim to APAMAMA. By him I send word to the King that I would return about 27th May as it was to propose to hoist the British flag at APAMAMA.

5. I then proceeded to MAIANA Island arriving on the 26th May having obtained the services of Mr. CORRIE as Interpreter I sailed the same night to APAMAMA and anchored off ENTRANCE Island at 9 a.m. on the 27th.

27th May 1892

6. Mr. CORRIE informed me that no foreign power laid claim to the Group as far as he knew, but that several of the traders on the various islands had some time ago applied to the Imperial Commissioner at Jaluit, Marshall Group to obtain for them German Protection as the British Government appeared to have forgotten them - no British man-of-war having visited the Group since 1886 - whereas German man-of-war were constantly cruising in the Group and affording protection to traders irrespective of their nationality. The white men preferred British protection but there being no regular communication with Fiji, they looked for Jaluit for German help. His own deeds, for instance, for purchase of land in the Gilbert Group MR. CORRIE had registered in the Imperial Commissioner's officer at Jaluit.

27th May 1892

7. At noon on the 27th May, I proceeded to the King's village at APAMAMA across the lagoon some seven miles from where the ship anchored taking with me a guard composed of Bluejackets and marines. On landing I was received by the King and his council, and in the maneaba or public meeting house - I in their presence - and that of about half the inhabitants on the island (having previously satisfied myself that no foreign power laid any claim to the Group) explained to them the nature of the step I was about to take. I pointed out, in accordance to the instructions from the colonial office the advantages to be gained by their accepting British Protection. Also that no taxes would be levied on them without their consent - or their laws and the customs (relating to natives only) be interfered with.

I informed them that if they wished a white man to reside in the Group for their better
protection and to whom they could refer question, they themselves were unable to decide - the Queen would send one, but they would be expected to contribute towards his support, which considering the number of islands in the group, and the large population would not be very heavy for them, and their contribution could be paid in either cash or native produce. This subject they were to talk over amongst themselves.

With reference to labour I explained that any natives accepting engagements in Her
Majesty's possession would be looked after by her, but that if they emigrated to Mexico or countries out of the Pacific or when in ships other than British, the Queen would be unable to afford them protection.

8. They all expressed their willingness to have the British flag hoisted and thoroughly understood all I had said to them. The question of the residents they would consider.

Enclosures Nos.1 and 2

9. After reading the Proclamation, I hoisted the Union Jack on the King's flagstaff with the usual honours. I then handed the proclamation to the King - a copy of which I beg to enclose. I also enclosed copy of a notice left with the missionary concerning the sale of arms, etc. and intoxicating liquors for the information of traders.

10. The King's village being out of sight from the anchorage, I suggested to the King that the flag should be left in charge of 'Jack' the pilot at ENTRANCE Island who could hoist it on the approach of any vessel. He agreed to this and on my return to the ship I hoisted the flag there. The 'Royalist' saluting it with 21 guns.

11. The perculiar constitution of this group of sixteen islands, having 13 separate governments each with its own King or Council of "old men" rendered it expedient in my opinion, to avoid any chance of ill-feeling which might arise against any individual island, that the same ceremony should be gone through in each island having its own government. I therefore visited the islands of the Group, on the dates named and having as at APAMAMA thoroughly explained my mission performed the same ceremony - leaving a flag and copy of Proclamation and arms and spirituous liqour notice at each island.

12. It appeared to me the unanimous wish of the inhabitants of every island I visited in this Group that the British flag should be hoisted. Their knowledge of, and reverence for "KAPITORIA" (Queen Victoria) was to me most surprising considering how remote these islanders are from the outer world. I encourage them to visit the ship, and the greatest object to them on board was a photograph of Her Majesty.

Enclosure No.3.

13. To this letter I attach a form containing such particulars of each island of the group as I was able to collect.

Types of Natives

14. The natives of the Gilbert Islands are, on the whole a peaceable and law abiding people. They somewhat resemble the Malay type and are not at all unlike Coreans. They have straight hair in many cases aquiline features, and in one or two of the northern islands faces almost Egyptian may be seen, some of them quite handsome. The children are as a rule, clean, bright and happy and very fond of bathing.


15. Articles of European clothing are occasionally worn. The reedi or grass petticoat being the general dress, many of the young girls still wearing the ti.ti. a very short grass petticoat from four to eight inches in depth. In some of the islands mats are used as the only dress by the men.


16. The staple food was coconut and taro of a coarse description. Pandanus and fish of which a large variety is to be found in the lagoons; a few being being poisonous - these however seldom take the bait. The fruit of the pandanus is also dried and pressed, the result being a substance resembling dried dates. Molasses is obtained from the coconut tree, also toddy a sweet liquor obtained from the stem of the flower. This if allowed to ferment becomes very intoxicating. On most of the islands, a heavy fine is inflicted on "sour toddy" drinkers.


17. The standard of morality of these islanders is decidedly high. Polygamy and infanticide are almost extinct although in some of the islands of the group a certain amount of immorality exists, on the whole they compare most favourably with other islands in the Pacific. Married women are jealously guarded. Eight months before my visit to ONOTOA, a man was hanged, or rather allowed to hang himself for killing a man who, in church, had put his tongue out at his "the murderer's" wife.

Girls marry at from ten to seventeen years of age. In some cases, children are betrothed at, and even before birth. As a rule, the families are not large. In some islands, they are restricted to three.

Treatment of Women

Women in the Gilbert Group are well treated by the men. In one or two islands for adultery and illicit connection, they were subjected to flogging. At my intercession, this had been discontinued.


18. It is common custom to adopt one another's children. This is often done at, or before the birth of a child such an offer being considered an honour, it is seldom refused and not infrequently, a child is received by its foster mother a few hours after its birth. Adopted children are considered of more important in a family than the others.

At ONOTOA I found it was the custom when a child died for the foster father to sleep nightly for a certain period, in the grave.

19. The ornaments are few - necklets made of small shells, porpoise, sharks, and occasionally human teeth are worn. The necklet most in use by both men and women consists of girls hair plaited very finely. The young men of fashion used, to keep their mats in position, a girdle of girls hair plaited into a rope some times an inch or more in circumference. Plaiting this hair from short lengths of about eight to twelve inches long and mat making formed the chief part of the industry of the women. Hats, baskets, and fans are also made but not of a very fine description.


20. The houses are spacious, consisting of one apartment only, a thick gabled roof is raised about four feet from the ground, supported on slabs of coral, the sides being open, mosquito bars are an absolute necessity and are
found in nearly every house.

Arms and Armour

21. On some of the islands the natives are more turbulent than on others and these may be found a few of the old native weapons sharks teeths spears and swords, also complete suits of armour made of rope from the coconut fibre. Occasionally, fighting belts are worn over these made from the skin of the stinging ray.

A number of arms of every description from the old tower musket to the latest repeating rifles have been supplied at various times by the traders. Of these, some 600 were voluntarily handed to me by the Kings and "old men" on the assumption of the Protectorate and it was with the greatest pleasure I received them and in cases where the natives failed to obey the King's mandate to give them up I was glad to enforce his orders. I think it unlikely that any more of these wars such as that which was in progress at TARAWA on my arrival there, and which are disastrous to the islands will again take place. I think it also unlikely that any traders British or foreign will after my visit risk selling arms to the natives.


22. Card playing having been introduced into these islands to the detriment of the natives, I took such steps (after I became aware of this fact) in the islands I subsequently visited to check this growing evil.


23. The Gilbert Islanders are expert boatmen. Their outrigger canoes are built of planks, cut from the coconut tree sewn together with twine made of coconut fibre. The seams being corked with pandanus leaves. In some of the islands whale boats are being built - imported lumber being used instead of the heavy coconut planks. They are fastened together in the same way as the canoes. The canoes have large matting sails and lie very close to the wind.


24. Tattooing, for both men and women of which each island had its separate pattern is dying out.


25. The export of copra might be greatly increased, if spare land were cultivated and trees were uniformly planted.


26. The islands, of coral formation, and having no soil whatever on them, are subjected to occasional drought. Hurricanes are unknown, the water supply is bad, the average height of the island being about eight feet above high water mark and the width varying from fifty to five hundred yards, the water is necessarily brackish.


The climate is very dry and equable. The chief diseases being of a cutaneos description are, no doubt caused by want of vegetables and brackish water. Venereal
disease is almost unknown in this group.

I append remarks from the staff surgeon of the ship concerning diseases which came under his observation in the Group.

27. As mentioned in the attached form, in several of the islands' traders pay a tax to the King for a license to trade. This custom I did not feel justified in interfering with as I was not aware to what extent protection would be afforded in the future.

28. On many of the islands, debts have been incurred by the natives to the traders, which, to some extent, have been guaranteed by the King. I recommended that these should be immediately paid off and no further credit given. I also warned the traders that in future debt contracted must be at their own risk. This applied more particularly to BUTARITARI.

29. It is the custom in these islands with a view to increase the value of copra for the ruling power to place a tabu on traders until they pay a higher price for the copra. This bears hardly on the poorer classes, who having but few nuts cannot afford to delay their sales. (a tabu often lasting some months during which time all trade is at a standstill). Knowing the trouble arising from natives selling surreptitiously to the traders I recommend free trade to both sides, which in every case was agreed to after a little persuasion.

30. On the 9th June at Maraki Island I found the steamer "Monsterrat" under Nicaraguan colours recruiting labour for Guatamala. In spite of my warnings, the allurements of this vessel caused many natives to recruit and on 21st July (when I last saw her) 268 adults accompanied by upwards of 100 children had already shipped. The vessel hoped to obtain six hundred adults whom I think she will have no difficulty in obtaining. They are accompanied by several white traders who have accepted positions as overseers on the plantation to which these natives are going. I took such precautions as suggested themselves to me, to ensure the safe return of these islanders on completion of their engagements. This case I have specially reported in Royalist's Letter No.22 of 1892.

31. As stated, in the attached form the Northern Island of the Gilbert Group are under the Boston Board of Missions having their Headquarters at Kusaie in the Caroline Group. The southern islands are under the London Mission with their Headquarters at Samoa. Within the last four years a Roman Catholic Mission has been established in the Group with Nonuti as its Head Station.

Whilst giving the Missionaries all the credit due to them for the pioneering work in connection with these islands, I am of the opinion that the whole question of mission work now requires thorough investigation. My time was so fully occupied by the large number of cases which I found demanded by immediate attention, and occupied most of my time that I was unable to gain anything like the amount of information on various subjects in the islands, that I could have wished, but the main points that came under my notice concerning missions and which I repeat require immediate investigation and revision are these:-

On most of the islands complaints were made that the Missionaries traded. This they denied. (At Butaritari two deeds for the sale of land by a missionary came under my notice, one for one thousand the other seventy-five dollars).

The pay and cost of maintenance of native missionaries, and the subscription are a very heavy drain on the natives.

The charge for books I consider too high. All dancing and singing (except hymns) have been forbidden. At nearly every island I was asked if the Queen would let them dance and sing. I said that when a white man came to reside in the Group he would probably see about it, but I was sure the "Ti" dance would not be permitted. (This is danced by young girls in the scantiest of clothing and generally ended in quarrels among the men).

The fines levied at the Missionaries' instigation, for trivial breaches of church discipline should be abolished.
32. There are many smaller points which require looking into in individual islands. The cause I believe of most of these irregularities is the want of proper supervision by white missionaries.

33. I have asked many of the Roman Catholic converts why they prefer the Roman Catholic religion. They invariably answer "Oh! that Roman Catholic Missionary man he no trade, he no fine, he give "um book no makee pay - oh! he belong good man". This mission has, as far as I could ascertain about 2180 converts, yet it has no less than five European residents in the Group to administer their wants, whereas the English and American mission have but one each, who I believe visit the islands not oftner than once a year.

If matters are not placed on a better footing in the English and American missions it would not surprise me if in a few years the whole population become Roman Catholic.

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     34. On my return to Fiji hearing that a Protectorate was about to be established over the ELLICE Islands to this letter I attach some particulars concerning the islands of that Group visited by me, which may prove of interest to the colonial office.

 Enclosure No. 5.

35. The general remarks in this letter concerning the Gilbert Group apply more or less to these islands.

Types of Natives

The natives here somewhat resemble Samoans.


Enclosure No. 6.

I also attached remarks by the staff surgeon on such diseases as came under his notice in the Ellice Group.


36. As regards mission here I will give an instance of what I think a hardship. At one island in the Group with about 250 inhabitants and whose exports of copra brings them in 150 pounds annually the natives have to pay the following.

Subscription to native Missionary         - $100     =  20 pounds
Food for two. And family
    About 20 young nuts )
        10 old nuts ) 20 cents per diem      -  $ 73    = 14 pounds
        Taro etc. )
20 mats (These can be sold to
    missionary ship at $1 each                  -  $ 20    =  4 pounds
Subscription for white missionary
               (has been $100 at times              -  $70   = 14 pounds 

                                                    Total      =  52 pounds 

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Leaving out the children, the adults have to pay about 8/- per annum for the privilege of being a Protestant.

    Bibles are charged for at        $2 or 8/-
    Smaller Bibles                      $l.50 or 6/-
    Hymn Books                         $0.50 or 2/-

Each person must have a Bible and Hymn Book. All these books are too extravagantly got up for poor people.

Hurricane In 1891
37. The Ellice Group in Februay 1891 was almost devastated by a severe hurricane, during the lifetime of the oldest inhabitant this is the only one that has occurred.
Enclosures 7 and 8  9 and l0 ll (a to d).

38. I append list of residence in Gilbert and Ellice Groups - statement of copra exported from Gilberts in 1891 and a petition presented by residents at Butaritari with my reply enclosing suggestions to the King of Butaritari for the better Government of that island. I also attach list of residents in, and statistics of, the Marshall Group which may prove interesting.

39. I regret that this report is not as complete as I could wish it to be. The number of cases which demanded my attention left me but little time to prosecute inquiries, which, had time allowed I should have done.

40. I trust that at no distant period a resident may be appointed to these Groups to promote the welfare of the inhabitants. His establishment with very little taxation might be self-supporting. Up to the present, ten islands of the Gilbert Group
representing over 20,000 inhabitants have signified their willingness to contribute towards his maintenance. Answers from other islands of this group representing some 5,000 inhabitants I have had no opportunity of receiving as yet.
41. A schedule of enclosures is attached.

I have the honour to be
    My Lord,
Your obedient servant
(Signed) Ed. H.M. Davis


Visited 30th June 1892

1. Name of chief or King. His religion. Uta, King, Protestant, One judge, ten Kaupuli and police.

2. Name and religion of missionary. Does he trade. Lolando - Samoan London Mission Protestant - No.

3. Names of whites. Nationality For whom trading.

ALFRED RESTIEAUX - English - Doing nothing.
    EMILE FENISOT - German.

4. Number of native population. Religion 270 Protestant.

5. Increase or decrease. Cause. Normal.

6. Marriage Laws. Girls marry at l6 or 17.

7. Labour None.

8. Productions. Copra, taro, babai, pandanus, a little sugar cane, a few bananas, a few fowls.

9. Export annually. About twenty tons copra.

10. Weapons and ammunition. None.

11. Last visited by man of war. H.M.S. "Miranda" 1886.

12. Communication with other islands. Steamer "Archer" every three or four months. Occasionally a Samoan schooner.

13. Landing. Good in canoes.

14. Anchorage. Reported good anchorage outside lagoon opposite village. Also inside lagoon, off the village.

15. Laws and customs. Money fines, adultery stealing, $5 or 300 nuts.

16. Remarks. Natives appear poor and half starved. The King in appearance was no better than anyone else on the island. The village is large and not well kept. The Missionary appears tired of his work, and, I was told very very prone to take offence, and neglected his work, leaving it to anyone to perform. This may be exaggerated but I think a change might benefit the island. I here met Zachia, referred to under "Oaitupu" and told him that he had nothing whatever to do in governing Oaitupu. In future he was not to interfere with the King or Kaipuli, if he persisted he probably would be punished, and I told him that the next man of war visiting Oaitupu would enquire as to his behaviour during my absence. The King asked me to hoist the English flag on the Island.

(The complete Davis Diaries (Parts 1 and 2) is also available, the
Link for which is on Jane's Oceania Home Page. You are welcome
to examine this very important and unique historical document in full).

(From a photo by Captain Davis, H.M.S. Royalist)
Jane's Oceania Home Page   Aspects of Oceania
Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 1st June 2003)