Research Document #13
Gallagher’s Ninth Progress Report
October – December, 1940
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As Officer-in-Charge of the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, Gerald Gallagher filed quarterly progress reports. This report, his ninth, covers the period during which bones of the castaway found in September were being investigated. (See Bones Chronology.) Because the issue of the castaway was “strictly secret” there is no mention of the bones in the Progress Report, but it does provide valuable background and context. This is a transcription of the report.

 

Enclosure No. I. in Western Pacific despatch
Confidential of 23rd October, 1941.

Colonial Development Fund Scheme No. 531

PHOENIX ISLANDS SETTLEMENT SCHEME

NINTH QUARTERLY PROGRESS REPORT

October - December, 1940.

The quarter ended on the 31st. December, 1940, was, unfortunately, not marked by any very great progress in the actual settlement of the Phoenix Islands. To complete this settlement, it is now necessary to arrange for the transport of some eighty new settlers and their families, as well as about ten thousand cubic feet of cargo. Arrangements were originally made for the m.v. "John Bolton" to do the major part of this work during December, 1940, but the vessel was unable to obtain the necessary supplies of fuel oil and had to lie idle at her home port. The charter was, at first, postponed until late in January, 1941, but, at the time of writing, has now had to be postponed indefinitely. The vessel in question as left the Colony and no decision has yet been reached by the owners as to whether it will be possible for the ship to return.

2. The second half of he quarter was marked by severe and almost continuous North-westerly gales, which did considerable damage to houses, coconut trees and newly planted lands. Portions of the low-lying areas of Hull and Gardner Islands were also flooded by high spring tides, backed by the gales, and, it is feared that many young trees have been killed.

3. No communication was available, during the quarter, with any of the islands of the District and the rather meagre information given in this report has been collected by wireless or during the course of a few hours spent on Hull, Sydney, and Canton islands early in January, 1941, when the R.C.S. "Nimanoa" paid a very hurried visit to the District to distribute essential stores. Communication between Canton, Hawaii, San Francisco, Noumea and New Zealand is, of course, now afforded by the weekly flying boat service of Pan American Airways but, although the Company's officials are anxious to assist in every way they can, the service is, at present, of very little use to the Phoenix Islands since there is no intra-district communication.

Difficulties of communication were by no means alleviated by a failure of the wireless telegraph installation at Gardner Island in the middle of December and the Officer-in-Charge was completely cut off from headquarters for some five weeks until communication could be restored on the 11th, January, 1941.

Gardner Island.

4. When labourers were first landed on Gardner Island in December, 1938, the site selected for their houses was the only one which, at that time, was even partially clear of the huge "Buka" (pisonia grandis) trees and the dense scrub which covers the island. Since this area was found to be waterlogged at high spring tides, however, it had long been realised that the village would have to be removed to a better site. Work on the clearing and levelling of the site for the Government Station, which was begun in September, was well advanced at the beginning of the quarter and it was decided to remove the village to this new site before the onset of the high December tides. Accordingly, some forty houses were taken down and re-erected in such a manner as to accord with the eventual requirements of the Government Station. Each house was re-roofed with coconut thatch brought from Hull and Sydney Islands by the m.v. "John Bolton" and although the houses, for lack of material, are very small, the labourers are now considerably better housed in a more healthy situation.


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5. Coincidentally with the work on the transfer of the village, the erection of the Rest House was continued. This building was in a sufficiently advanced state of construction to be occupied in the middle of November and, soon after that, work had to be abandoned until further supplies of materials could be transported from the Gilbert Islands.

6. A new flagstaff, 59 feet high, was completed and erected at the beginning of November and a section of the old temporary flagstaff was very suitably incorporated in the little church which the more devout or, at all events, less indolent, labourers were then erecting in their spare time.

7. It had been planned to make a start on the demarcation and clearing of new lands as soon as work on the removal of the village had been completed. Unfortunately, very soon after the last house had been erected, the wind swung round to the North-West and it was soon obvious that the wet season had begun. With very little protection from the newly planted coconut trees and bereft of the windbreak formerly afforded by the "buka" trees, the gales managed to play havoc with the village in the first few days. When it was realised, however, that the gales had come to stay, houses were shored up, thatch tied down and everything made as secure as possible. The unfinished Rest House was slightly damaged, the boat house was partially wrecked by a whirlwind and a clean sweep was made of such structures as latrine wharves and bathing houses. The greater part of the damage on Gardner Island, however, was caused by the exceptional tides which were swept into the lagoon by the high winds and flooded conside- rable areas of newly planted coconut land. Many of the coconut trees were damaged and nearly all of the newly planted pandanus bushes were killed. A small area of land was washed away and the course of the Southern lagoon passage altered. Due to the very heavy rain during this period, properly organized work at any distance from the village was impossible and advantage was taken of the opportunity to build roads and paths and to clean up one or two small areas of land on or near the Government Station.

Hull Island.

8. A great deal of very useful work has been accomplished on Hull Island during the quarter. New roads and paths have been constructed, part of the village area improved, the Court House has been completed, work started on the construc- tion of a really good dwelling house for the native Magistrate and a new office for the Native Government. The Acting Adminis- trative Officer reports that he has found a new spirit of co-operation amongst the natives on the island who have, at last, realised that it is very little more trouble, and a great deal more satisfying, to try to make their island as neat and orderly as possible instead of being content with mediocrity. Work on the clearing and planting of new lands has gone forward steadily, if a little slowly. The damage done by the gales has been made good and everybody on the island appears to be settling down in a contented manner.

9. The Acting Administrative Officer has started singing, sports and morse clubs for the younger people of the island. If their standards of morse and football is as high as their singing, this Officer's efforts have been attended with very considerable success. Mr. Cookson has, in fact, done a great deal for the younger people on the island, in an effort to help them to keep happy and well in the midst of the very great deal of work and hardship which is necessary to get established on the island.

10. The writer was only ashore at Hull Island for a few hours, most of which had, of necessity, to be spent discussing official matters and accounts with the Acting Administrative Officer, but sufficient was seen of the island


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to be able to report that all is well on Hull Island and the settlement of the island is progressing in a satisfactory manner. A tremendous spirit of rivalry is now apparent between the three islands (Sydney, Hull and Gardner) to see who can produce the best results. The unfortunate Officer-in-Charge is bombarded with questions at each island as to whether a particular community has surpassed the efforts of its rivals. Needless to say, considerable tact is necessary in answering these queries, since it would be fatal to any further progress to indicate that one island was a great deal more advanced or less progressive than another - either answer leading inevitably to a cessation of work from either despair of complacency! The Officer-in-Charge, as well as his staff, have, therefore, become excellent prevaricators and seek to indicate at each island that, although, in general, the particular island is much farther advanced than its rivals, there are certain details which have been better attended to elsewhere! In this connection, it is perhaps amusing to record that better staff work will have to be attained, as two sections of the party were recently found to have been spinning different yarns on Hull Island, to the marked amusement of the Native Magistrate who obviously saw through the subterfuge!

Sydney Island.

11. Very little is known of the activities of the settlers on Sydney Island during the quarter. There is no wireless on the Island and there was insufficient time to go up to the main settlement when we visited the island in January, 1941. The Native Magistrate reported that all was well on the island and that the inhabitants had been going ahead steadily with their planting and clearing and had set out many hundreds of young trees. The people of the island were keenly dissapointed [sic] because, on our last visit to them, we had said that there was a a possibility that His Honour the Resident Commissioner would visit them. When the R.C.S. "Nimanoa" came into sight, instead of the m.v. "John Bolton," as had been expected, everybody assumed that His Honour was on board and rapid preparations were made for a suitable reception. It was explained that His Honour and, in fact, His Excellency the High Commissioner, had every intention of visiting the island at any early opportunity, but that it was not possible to say when this could be accomplished, in present circumstances.

 
Signed, Gerald B. Gallagher

Officer-in-Charge,
Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme.

 
Gardner Island,

4th March, 1941.

 

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