Research Document #12, page 1
|The Bones Files
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aid in research by individuals. No permission to reproduce it or transmit it is implied or granted.
These pages discuss known events and correspondence from April 1940 to October 1941
based upon documents of the Western Pacific High Commission (W.P.H.C.), the Gilbert & Ellice Islands
Colony (G. & E. I. C.) and Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme (P.I.S.S.). Included are:
- all of the correspondence found in KNI 11/I, File 13/9/1 “Discovery
of Human Remains on Gardner Island” at the Kiribati National Archives in Tarawa,
Republic of Kiribati, abbreviated "GBG."
- all entries from W.P.H.C. File No. M.P. 4439 – 1940 “Skeleton
Human — finding of on Gardner Island” at the Library and Archives Section of the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office at Hanslope Park, England, abbreviated WPHC (documents) and MN (minutes).
- selected entries from other W.P.H.C. files at Hanslope Park.
The documents are in straight chronological order. A notation at the end of each header indicates the source of the document.
For PDFs and transcripts, use this table of links:
“Thinnest rumours which may in the end prove unfounded
are liable to be spread.”
A brief description of the
British administrative organization in the region will make the correspondence
more clear. The central governing authority for all islands of the western
Pacific, with the exception of those territories governed by Australia,
New Zealand and the Colony of Fiji “and not being within the jurisdiction of
any other civilized power” was
the Western Pacific High Commission headquartered in Suva, Fiji.
The principal administrative units overseen by the W.P.H.C. were:
The Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony (of which the Phoenix Islands
Settlement Scheme was a part)
The British Solomon Islands Protectorate
The New Hebrides
The senior official in the W.P.H.C. was the High Commissioner who
answered directly to the Secretary of State in London and exercised sweeping powers within his jurisdiction.
His immediate lieutenant was the Secretary, and each colony had its own Resident Commissioner.
The Resident Commissioner for the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony was headquartered on Ocean
Island. The colony was subdivided into several districts, each administered by an Administrative
Officer, also known as a District Officer.
Transportation between Suva and the colonies, and within the colonies, was sporadic at best. During the
time in question, most of the travel needs of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony were met by a
refurbished, motorized sailing vessel known as the Royal Colony Ship (RCS) Nimanoa.
Inter-island communication was generally carried out by radio in Morse code and delivered in the form of telegrams.
There was no voice radio. It is important to remember that not all parties were privy to
all of the correspondence. Authorities in Suva did not see intra-colony communications that passed between
Ocean Island and Tarawa or the Phoenix Islands. Similarly, the Resident Commissioner did not
see correspondence which passed directly between the Phoenix Islands and Suva. We do not have the messages that passed between Ocean Island and district headquarters within
the colony (such as Tarawa and Beru). These were probably destroyed during the Japanese occupation.
The physical files are comprised of heavy paper folders containing
copies of all pertinent correspondence along with chronologically entered “minutes” typed
or handwritten on sheets of paper at the front of the file. Much of the most useful information
in the W.P.H.C. files is contained in these minutes. Each piece of correspondence is assigned a number (written with a circle
around it) chronologically as it comes in and is thus referred to in the minutes. Each entry
in the minutes is assigned a number chronologically (written in parenthesis) and is thus referred
to in subsequent minutes.
Jack Charles — Resident
Commissioner of G.& E.I.C.
from Oct. 18, 1933 through
his retirement on Dec. 19,
Gerald Bernard “Irish” —
Francis George Leopold —
Acting Resident Commissioner,
Ocean Island from Sept. 24,
1940 to January 4, 1941.
Dr. D. W. — Principal
of the Central Medical School,
Dr. Lindsay — Acting
Senior Medical Officer, Central
Native Magistrate, Gardner Island.
Sir Harry Charles — High
Commissioner of the Western
Pacific, Suva, Fiji.
Patrick Donald “Paddy” —
Assistant Secretary, W.P.H.C.
Dr. Duncan Campbell McEwan “Jock” —
Central Medical Authority,
Commander G. B. — F.
R. Met. Soc. (Fellow of the
Royal Meteorological Society).
Dr. Kingsley Rupert—
Senior Medical Officer, Gilbert & Ellice
Islands Colony, July ’41.
Henry Harrison — Secretary
of Western Pacific High Commission,
Suva, Fiji Born 1891.
- Wernham, David — Acting Administrative Officer, Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, Tarawa, September
Click on each small image to open a full-sized image in a separate window. The image on the left is the scanned original, cropped and straightened; the image on the right is a facsimile.
The center is a transcription of the relevant text.
|1. September 23, 1940: Telegram from Gallagher to the Acting Administrative Officer, Central Gilbert Islands District, Tarawa. GBG01.
Please obtain from Koata a certain bottle
alleged to have been found near skull discovered on
Gardner Island. Grateful you retain bottle in safe place
for present and ask Koata not to talk about skull which is
just possibly that of Amelia Earhardt.
|2. September 23, 1940: Telegram from Gallagher to Jack Barley, Resident Commissioner,
Ocean Island. GBG02.
Some months ago working party on Gardner
discovered human skull – this was buried and I only
recently heard about it. Thorough search has now
produced more bones ( including lower jaw ) part of a
shoe a bottle and a sextant box. I would appear that
(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman,
(b) Shoe was a womans and probably size 10,
(c) Sextant box has two numbers on it
3500 ( stencilled ) and 1542 – sextant
being old fashioned and probably painted
over with black enamel.
Bones look more than four years old to me
but there seems to be very slight chance that this
may be remains of Amelia Earhardt. If United States
authorities find that above evidence fits into general
description, perhaps they could supply some dental
information as many teeth are intact. Am holding latest
finds for present but have not exhumed skull.
There is no local indication that this
discovery is related to wreck of the "Norwich City".
|3. September 30, 1940: Telegram from the Administrative Officer, Central Gilbert Islands District,
Tarawa to Gallagher.
Your telegram 23rd September. Koata
has handed to me on benedictine bottle.
|4. October 1, 1940: Telegram from the Acting Resident Commissioner, Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony,
to the High Commissioner. WPHC01.
Gallagher reports from Gardner Island the
finding of a skeleton believed to be that of a
woman. Near the skeleton was a box containing an
old fashioned sextant. Box had number 3,500
stencilled on it and also bore the number 1,542. A woman’s shoe was also found.
Possibility of this being Mrs. Putnam is
naturally remote but Your Excellency will probably
wish to make enquiries concerning number of
|5. October 1, 1940: Telegram from Resident Commissioner to Gallagher. GBG04.
Your telegram No. 71. Information
has been passed on to the High Commissioner particularly with a view
to identifying number of sextant box. Information on following
points, where possible, would be of interest:
(a) How deep was skeleton
buried when found,
(b) How far from shore,
(c) In your opinion does burial appear deliberate or could it be accounted
for by encroachments of sand, etc.,
(d) Is site of an exposed one (i.e. if the body of Mrs. Putnam had lain there
is it likely that it would have been spotted by aerial searchers)?
(e) In what state of preservation is shoe,
(f) If well preserved does it appears to be of modern style or old fashioned,
(g) Is there any indication as to contents of bottle. Do you know anything
of wreck of "Norwich City" — e.g. when did it takes place,
were any lives lost and how long were survivors marooned at Gardner
|6. October 2, 1940: Opening of WPHC file and recording of first telegram. MIN01.
Telegram from R. Cm, Gr & E.I.C., No. 348 of 1.10.40. [sigil] 1. 2.10.40
|7. October 3, 1940: Notation from Vaskess. MIN02.
Office, Please attach file re search for Mrs. Putnam. Vaskess. 3-10-40.
In margin: M.P. 957137 attached. [sigil] 3.10.40.
|8. October 6, 1940: Telegram from Gallagher to RC at Ocean Island. GBG05.
||Your telegram No. 66.
(a) Skeleton was not
buried – skull was buried after discovery by natives (coconut
crabs had scattered many bones),
(b) l00 feet from high water ordinary springs,
(d) Only part of sole remains,
(f) Appears to have been stoutish walking shoe or heavy sandal,
(g) "Benedictine" bottle but no indication of contents, There
that person was alive when cast ashore – fire,
etc., "Norwich City" wrecked and caught fire 1930
or 1932. Number
of crew sailed to Fiji in lifeboat, remainder
picked up later
at Gardner by "Ralum". Think Board of Enquiry
held Suva - loss
of life not known. This information derived
from gossip only.
|9. October 10, 1940: Typed note in file 4439-40
from Vaskess to Sir Harry Luke. MIN03.
||(3) His Excellency
Submitted. A communication
might be addressed to the U.S. Consul in Sydney, but, before
doing so, I suggest that Mr. Gallagher should be asked by telegraph
for full details including, e.g., any indications of age of skeleton,
approximate height of woman, and anything that might be useful
for identification, such as condition of teeth, etc. If Your
Excellency concurs, Dr. Macpherson would no doubt advise as to
points that might be put to Mr. Gallagher. It would perhaps be
useful to know where the skeleton was found, e.g. if on the beach
if might be an indication of whether the body was washed ashore.
Mr. Gallagher should also be asked to state what has been done
with the skeleton, as it may be desired to forward it for identification
|10. October 10, 1940: Handwritten note to file 4439-40
from Luke to Vaskess. MIN04.
Pl make these enquiries
telegraphically, in the meanwhile instructing the RC and Gallagher
to keep the matter secret.
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