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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.

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   (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.

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.

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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 Copyright 2000 by Jane Resture-Gray ( -- Rev. 6th March 2000)    

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