The Wayback Machine -


The Davis Diaries

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)

Captain Davis of H.M.S. Royalist a ship of the Royal Navy's Australian Squadron was sent to the Gilberts (Kiribati) in 1892 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. 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


Copy of Proclamation.

Copy of Notice relating to sale of arms and intoxicating liquors.
Tabular report on Gilbert Islands.
Remarks on diseases etc. noticed on Gilbert Islands by staff surgeon Twigg.
Tabular Report on Ellice Islands.
Remarks on diseases, etc. noticed on Ellice Islands by staff surgeon Twigg.
Residents and nationality of whites in Gilbert Group.
"                  "           "            "      "      " Ellice        "
Copra exported from Gilbert Islands in 1891.
Petition from residents at Butaritari to Captain Davis - enclosing his reply and list of suggestions for King's guidance.
List of residents in and statistics of the Marshall Group.
Ed. H.M. Davis captain


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. -




NOW THEREFORE 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.

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)

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.

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)

G I L B E R T   I S L A N D S

Traders and natives emigrating in steamer Montserrat are not deducted from the number shown herein.

MAIANA - Visited 26th May, 17th & 18th June and 15th July
Name of King or chief his religion - King ITAKA MOANEBA (ISAAC) Protestant 20 police.
Name and religion of missionary. Does he trade? Rev. W. N. LONO. American mission. Prot. No.
Names of whites and traders. Nationality and for whom trading.
ROBERT. D. CORRIE British. Own account.
GEO. Mc. MURDOCK,  Jaluit Gesellschaft
MICHAEL SHEA, American Crawford & Co.
M.B. MAHOE, Hawaiian Own account
Number of native population. Religion. 1,760 between 400 and 500 protestants.
Increase or decrease. Cause. Decreasing. Sickness and infanticide.
Marriage Laws. Betrothal at or after birth. Polygamy abolished one year.
Labour. None.
Production. Copra, taro, breadfruit
Exports Annually. Average 180 tons copra,1 ton sharks' fins
Weapons and ammunition. About 18 guns in Kings' possession.
Last visited by Man-of-War. Sperber (German) Dec 1891.
Wolf, Alexandrine, Eber (German) about yearly since H.M.S. Miranda's visit in 1886.
Communication with other Islands etc.
Steamer Archer, two American vessels and Loongana (British)
Every three or four months.
Landing. Good at half-tide. Much wading at low at entrance N of Island.
Boat passage into lagoon 7 miles south of north point of Island. Least water 6 feet.
Anchorage. Good in from 7 to 15 fms. Sand and choral off north end of Island.
Laws and Customs. No arms or liquor traffic. $30 fine for drunkenness. Murder, adultery, etc. punished by forfeiture of land.
Remarks. Natives peaceable, clean, and free from disease. Fish plentyful both in and out of the lagoon, none poisonous. Well water brackish. A few curlew and sand-snipe. Very little work os Sundays. After Hoisting the Flag at the Maniaba which is by far the cleanest and neatest in the group the King asked me to take all the guns away from the Island; Which I did leaving 14 guns in his charge for the use of the police. The King and a large number of natives visited the ship. Mr. CORRIE Trader on this Island was employed as interpreter on board this ship whilst a Protectorate was being established in the group. During the latter part of my cruise I had for interpreter TEKIATON the chief of Police at this Island, who is an excellent native interpreter.
On my return to this Island 15th July finding the native debts to Traders had not been reduced as he promised they should be I sent a message to the King about it advising him to see it done. I handed to Mr. CORRIE $17.50 from the Jaluit Gesellschaft being the half passage money of some natives who had paid for a passage in a vessel belonging to that company and had not taken it.
From Mr. CORRIE I learnt that the King was desirous a white Resident should be appointed to the Group whose support he was willing to contribute to.
I ascertained that Mr. MURDOCK a Trader and some seventy natives had left in the steamer MONTSERRAT having accepted engagements on coffee plantations in GUATEMALA.

APAMAMA (now called Abemama) - Visited 25 & 27 May 16 July

Name of the King or Chief. His Religion. King Paul (aged 10) assisted by eight councillors. Religion not known.
Name and Religion of Missionary. Does he trade? Moses. Native of Butaritari. American mission Protestant. No.
Names of whites and traders. Nationality and for whom trading.
John Johnson, American Own account (doubtful if trading).
? Johnny, American (Formerly TEM BINOKO'S COOK).
Fred Ohlsen German (Waiting for German ship)
Number of native population. Religion. 700 about 150 protestants.
Increase or decrease. Cause. Decreasing. Infanticide.
Marriage Laws. Betrothal.
Labour. None.
Production. Copra, pandanus, taro, breadfruit.
Exports annually. About 150 tons copra.
Weapons and ammunitions. About 100 guns in King's possession.
Last visited by man of war. Alexandrine (German) unknown. H.M.S. Miranda 1886.
Communication with other islands, etc. American and German vessel. The King does all the trading.
Landing. Good at Entrance Island and in the lagoon at high water, otherwise long waiting.
Anchorage. Good at Entrance Island just south of tide rips.
Laws and customs. Not known.
Remarks: Natives of fine physigue, clean and healthy looking nearly all well clothed.

Tem Binoko, the "Old King" died at the end of l891 and was succeeded by his brother Simon who after ruling for four and half months died of drink. He was succeeded by Paul, who, on my arrival had only been King ten days. They evidently do not wish for traders to reside on the island. The King has a number of European built boat. His house is clean and partially furnished with European furniture. He has some forty wives left him by his predecessors. Everything on the island belongs to the King. The village is very clean and has good coral paths. Maneaba large and very neat and suspended to the roof of the building was the massive platform on which Tem Binoko - who weighed 20 stones - was carried. It is the custom on this island that the King shall always be carried.

On my second visit on 16th July, I did not see the King but sent a message to him telling him the other islands in the Group were willing to support a resident and hope he would do the same.

Whilst here, I found the native wife of the late JAMES BURNE of MARIKI Island and from her obtained evidence concerning BURNE'S suspicious death. JACK the pilot at Entrance Island can at any time find this woman (NEKURIA) should she be required. British Protectorate established 27th May 1892 over the Gilbert Islands. Flag hoisted at Apamama. Copy of Proclamation and notice re supply of intoxicated liquors, arms, etc. to natives enclosed.

ARANUKA - Visited 6th June 1892

Name of King or Chief. His religion. No King. Dependency of Apamama.

Name and religion of Missionary. Does he trade? None.
Names of whites and traders nationality. For whom trading? None.
Number of native population. Religion. About 100. A few protestants.
Increase or decrease. Cause.
Marriage Laws. Betrothal.
Labour. None.
Production. Copra, pandanus, taro.
Exports annually. 40 tons of copra.
Weapons and ammunition. None.
Last visited by man of war. H.M.S. Dart 1884.
Communication with other islands.
Landing. Appeared bad.
Anchorage. None.
Laws and Customs. Same as Apamama.
Remarks. Too much sea on to land here. No canoe came off. Everything here belongs to the King of Apamama.

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)


The Gilbert Islands are remarkably free from endemic disease. The climate at the season of our visit was extremely dry and equable. A great want is a pure water supply. The wells are mere holes in the sandy soil and are manifestly dirty in many cases. On the island of Nonoati where I spent a whole day on shore, the wells were brackish and the water from them had a disagreeable odour. White traders have in more than once instance complained to me that they were affected with swelling of the lower limbs and prostration which they put down to the bad water.
White residents suffer much from Dyspepsia owing to a monotony of food and a want of due proportion of fresh vegetables.Vegetable foods grown in the island are:

Popoi an inferior kind of taro which has a large bulbous root; it only grows in swampy soil consequently its cultivation is limited as the natives have to sink pits of considerable depth to gain the requisite moisture for its growth.

The fruit of the pandanus or screw pine is used, it is eaten more as a fruit from which the juice is sucked.
The jack fruit grows in some of the islands. The coconut of course is the main stay of the people in every sense. The milk from it takes the place of drinking water though it is much more relish by new comers than by residents. The young soft "meat" is eaten at all times with relish and is most nourishing from the amount of oil it contains. Toddy is got from the flower stem of the coconut tree, before the stem has burst completely into blossom. It is bound around tightly with cord the end of the stem is now cut off and from it the toddy flows into a vessel tied underneath to catch it. A good tree will give a quart of toddy each day. Toddy forms a pleasant sweet tasting drink when fresh. In about three days from the time it is collected it ferments and becomes alcoholic and consequently highly intoxicating.
Notwithstanding the above conditions Europeans lived to old age frequently in these islands. In Nonoati one old gentleman who had been recently stricken with paralysis was reputed to be over eighty and another on the same island was hale though over seventy. There are no malarial fevers here as the narrow strips of land have no swamps nor is there any decaying vegetation. There is no venereal disease as far as I could ascertain. I saw one case of elephantiasis in the person of a white trader. In some islands ringworm is moderately prevalent. This disease is susceptible of speedy cure. Epidemic catarrh seems to come periodically; this the traders say is due to change of wind i.e. when it becomes somewhat colder. The natives sleep on a shingle floor of their houses on a mat. The houses have no side walls merely a sloping roof to within about three feet off the ground all round so that at night they are exposed in a marked degree to every change of temperature.
The natives are a healthy looking, well nourished race. On all the islands there is a good supply of the younger generation coming on.
(Signed) Geo. D. Twigg
Staff Surgn, R.N.

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)

                            Butaritari 7th July 1892

Captain Davis,
H.M.S. Royalist

My dear sir,

We the undersigned respectfully petitioned you now that the Gilbert Islands are under the protection of the British Government to further promote the welfare of this and other islands by using your influence with the proper authorities to have appointed here a resident to take charge of the necessary alterations for the better government for these Islands.

We have all reasons to believe that after your departure the King may prove himself quite unfit to act in accordance with your instructions and to correct and to carry out the many changes that are necessary.

We therefore beg you if possible to leave with us one with some authority to whom we may refer. If that cannot be done we take the liberty of asking you to kindly further our wishes by doing what you can to have matters kept in better order. We might venture to suggest that as we pay so high a tax to the King for which we receive little or no benefit it would not be inconsistent with such a state of things to pay at least half of the tax to anyone resident here representing H.M.S. Government.

Hoping that we have not presume too much in asking those favours,
We have the honour
To remain
Dear Sir,
Yours very respectfully,
(signed) A. Wilson
(Sd,) G.Tucktfeldt
(Sd.) A. J. Kustel
(Sd.) C. Wan San
(Sd.) Ben X his mark
(Sd.) Wm. McMillen
(Sd.) Ch. Baer
(Sd.) O. Thomsen
(Sd.) J. F. Luttrell
(Sd.) E.H.M. Davis
H.M.S. Royalist
At sea.
8th July, 1892


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of 7th July 1892. I shall have much pleasure in forwarding your petition to the proper authorities. I regret I am unable to accede to your request viz:- to leave behind me anyone from my ship in authority, to whom you might refer.

Before leaving Butaritari, I impressed on the King as strongly as possible my wishes on the subject of reforms, and the carrying out of the same. At the same time, telling him that in my absence, he was the only authority on the island now that the protectorate had been established and that he was to protect the interest of all traders on the island, alike.

I note your suggestion as to the payment of half your present license towards the support of a resident, appointed by Her Majesty's Government.

I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant
(Signed) Ed. H.M. Davis
A.Wilson Esq.,
And Gentleman,

sub-enclosure No 2. To Enclosure No. 10.

Suggestions made to the King of Butaritari by me before leaving the island on 8th July 1892.

All just debts to date to be paid to traders before King claims license from natives.
All debts incurred after date to be at traders risk.
All traders to be charged the same license.
King in consideration of license - (l) not to trade with traders except those resident on the island. (2) to settle all native disputes with traders
No fines to be levied except by the King.
Fines to be greatly reduced, and made more commensurate with offence committed.
All fines to be entered in the book with full particulars from 12th July 1892.
Fines not to be considered King's property, the greater portion to be expended on public works, particulars being noted in a book.
Nuts trees to be planted on spare lands.

10.* No card playing permitted * omitted to be mentioned to the King by me before sailing.

For 1st offence $5 or 1 month's on public works )
For 2nd offence $10 or 2 month's on public works ) and so on
$15 or 3 " " " " )

On receipt please have the above interpreted to the King and inform him that any departure from these rules, which he promised me to carry out, will be reported by you to me.

Captain E.M.S. Royalist
(Signed) Ed: H. M. Davis.

worldCLR.gif (1879 bytes)

click here Jane's Kiribati Home Page  
click here Jane's Oceania Home Page
Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 1st June 2003)