Forum artHighlights From the Forum

November 26 through December 1, 1998

Subject: Corks
Date: 11/27/98
From: Vern Klein

From Vern... quoting Ric:

>Polynesian? Nobody said the bones were Polynesian except that screwball
>Isaac. Hoodless says they're European or possibly mixed-race. Macpherson agrees.
>Our eminent modern forensic anthropologists say they're most likely female, white and of Nordic
>extraction. A woman's shoe and man's shoe at the site rather strongly suggests that a man and
> a woman were there. If the sextant was indeed Fred Noonan's I think that it is most likely that
> the guy who had it was Fred Noonan.

I'm very much inclined to agree. But we're dealing with probabilities based on measurements made on bones that were in pretty bad condition. How good are the measurements? We should not get so locked-in on a particular scenario that we might not notice a red flag saying: Hey, it ain't the way you think it is! Better think it out again! Those corks with little brass chains... I wonder if those went with benedictine bottles? Did they come with the cork chained to the bottle? In the 30s... Now? Incidentally, if Fred did have a couple of bottles of benedictine with him, that by no means makes him a drunk! A real boozer doesn't usually go for the fancy kinds of booze. They tend to go for more basic stuff.

From Ric

Yeah, no mention of empty Ripple bottles. Kenton Spading and I fought over those corks and chains until about midnight one night. The actual sentence (which is the sole reference we have) goes like this: "Those corks on brass chains would appear to have belonged to a small cask." No mention of size except the speculation that they may have come from a small cask, and no specific number except that there was apparently more than one.

Kenton and I also wondered if Benedictine bottles once featured corks with brass chains and made the mistake of conducting an informal survey at the bar in The Globe pub. The result was a great long description of various bottle closure technology as exhibited in private collections of old booze bottles held by sundry denizens of that worthy establishment ("Well I have this one old jug what has this spider-like wire arrangement as fits over the cork..." etc., etc.) Nobody had seen a cork affixed to a bottle with a brass chain, but nobody had an old Benedictine bottle either. It seems like this might be an avenue of research worth pursuing in a less alcohol-saturated environment.

I can think of another possibility checking out. A photograph taken on May 20, 1937 at Burbank Airport shows AE and Fred loading the airplane for the second world flight attempt. On the ground in front of the cabin door are various suitcases, briefcases, chart cases (no, no sextant boxes), and what appear to be four Thermos bottles. If memory serves me, my recollection is that Thermos bottles in my 1950s childhood had cork stoppers. It doesn't seem unreasonable that a Thermos bottle, especially one to be used in an airplane, might have the cork secured with a little chain. "Thermos" is a brand name and is probably now owned by Microsoft or somebody, but they might just have a collection of old products which could be matched to the photo. Like the famous canned bananas (hey, it was worth a shot) this may be an opportunity to connect a specific artifact found on Niku with a specific object known to have been on the airplane. Not exactly an engine with a serial number, but we'll take what we can get.

Love to mother,

Subject: England Trip
Date: 11/28/98
From: Bill Moffet

Terrific job you guys did in England. Congratulations!

Q.: Was "Dr. Duncan Campbell McEwan MacPherson" the same Jock MacPherson who accompanied Irish back to Gardner/Niku? Did you learn why he made that trip? Wonder if he did any anthropological searching and did he leave any notes or report on his visit?

Also, my old brain is getting addled trying to think why the present Med School/Hospital chief in Suva evades questions about the whereabouts of the bones. I note Fiji gained independence from the Brits 10/10/1970 and can't figure why 1941 WPHC orders of "strictly secret" and "retain the bones until further notice" would still carry weight today. Could Hoodless have carried them off into his sunset? Doubtful, I think, in view of his analysis of them. Maybe he liked the box!

Just reviewed your exchange, "U.S. claims to islands" 11/4/98 9:42 AM with Randy Jacobson & Gene Bialek. Wonder if the animosity between us and the Brits in 1935-38 is still with us in that part of the world? Also are the govts of Kiribati and Fiji friendly? I'll stay tuned.

LTM Bill Moffet #2156

From Ric

Excellent questions Bill. I'll try to answer them.

"Was Dr. Duncan Campbell McEwan MacPherson the same Jock MacPherson who accompanied Irish back to Gardner?"


"Did you learn why he made that trip?"

No, but the answer may be buried in material that we copied but haven't had time to fully digest. My suspicion is that, as the Central Medical Authority for the Western Pacific High Commisssion, he was using the voyage of the "Viti" as an opportunity to do a general medical inspection of the colony and recruit new candidates for Native Medical Practioner training.

"Wonder if he did any anthropological searching and did he leave any notes or report on his visit?"

This is something we had speculated about but the files make it rather clear that nothing of the sort happened. From the time he arrived at Gardner at about noon on September 24, 1941 until his departure late on the 28th, MacPherson was totally absorbed in the illness, death and burial of Gallagher. This was a major trauma for everyone involved and it shook the Western Pacific High Commission to its foundations. They were not in the habit of losing officers, and Gallagher was widley regarded as the best and the brightest. He did NOT die of peretonitis following a burst appendix as has often been reported. (Gallagher had already had an appendectomy years before.) He died of an upper intestinal blockage due to "kinking of the gut" which was, in MacPherson's opinion, a direct consequence of poor diet and poorer health care. After his return to Fiji, MacPherson wrote a long and detailed account of the whole tragic affair. He said that, essentially, Gallagher had died of malnutrition and he laid his death squarely on the doorstep of the colonial adminstration.

"Also, my old brain is getting addled trying to think why the present Med School/Hospital chief in Suva evades questions about the whereabouts of the bones."

I'm sure that there's nothing sneaky going on there. The medical school got rid of their bone collection in 1991. That's always a problem for medical schools and no matter how you do it, somebody is likely to be pissed. He's just avoiding a ticklish subject.

"Could Hoodless have carried them off into his sunset? Doubtful, I think, in view of his analysis of them. Maybe he liked the box!"

We talked to Hoodless's daughter some time ago. She had never seen any reference to the bones in her father's papers nor heard him talk about the matter. Having gotten some feel for the bureaucracy in Fiji at that time, I feel quite certain that nobody would do anything with that box of bones without specific instructions from higher up.

"Wonder if the animosity between us and the Brits in 1935-38 is still with us in that part of the world?"

Not at all.

"Also are the govts of Kiribati and Fiji friendly?"

Absolutely, although the U.S. has very little to do with either. We have a rather sleepy little embassy in Suva but we have no official presence in Tarawa, nor does Kiribati have a legation in the U.S. or at the U.N for that matter. I once asked the State Department for an introduction to the present government in Tarawa. The reply was, "Don't look at us. You guys have closer relations with Kiribati than we do."

Love to mother,

Subject: Canton Island Takeover
Date: 11/29/98
From: Gene Bialek

The March 7, 1938 takeover of Canton by Richard Black under orders of Ernest Gruening, Director of Territories and Island Possessions, Dept of Interior, was very peaceful (except for one minor incident). Black and his landing party were met by the Deputy Administrator of Canton. He reported his reception as being very cool but ended by having a friendly drink in the Administrator's tent.

The incident occured when the Deputy Administrator's dog "Blotto", bit one of Black's men; that was the extent of British resistance. There was a protest by the British Foreign Office. After an exchange of notes the two governments agreed to occupy the islands (Canton and Enderbury) jointly, waiving the matter of actual sovereignty for fifty years. Under the terms of the agreement the Dept. of Interior granted a revocable licence to Pan American Airways and a sea-plane base of that company was established on Canton.

Gene Bialek, Wash. DC

Subject: Corks
Date: 11/30/98
From: Tom King

The fact that, as Ric says, "whatever container(s) the corks stoppered somehow went away" seems like a clue. Why would one hold onto a cork but lose what it corked? And if the corkee was left on-site, why didn't Gallagher & Co. find it? A thermos jug would still be around (I know, I'm speculating, but...), and surely so would at least the carcass of a canteen, though probably pretty well reduced to rust. A wooden cask (more likely to be a Norwich City artifact than an Electra item, presumably) might have contained something sufficiently tasty that the crabs would eat it. Or what about a skin bag of some kind?

Leads to another thought: apparently there were no surviving items of clothing on or around the body in 1940, except the shoe(s). This could mean that the deceased wasn't wearing much or anything at the time of death (a reasonable possibility; WE don't wear much on Niku if we can get away with it), and/or it could mean that whatever the deceased was wearing had had time to decay completely. We know from observing, in 1997, the gloves left by Ric on Aukaraime in 1991 that leather items of clothing don't necessarily disappear completely in six years. Of course, what was IN the clothing, or a leather or fabric container, might enhance its decay rate... I dont know where, if anyplace, I'm going with this; just speculating.


Tom King

From Ric

This brings up the general issue that there is simply not as much stuff there as should be there, no matter whose bones they are. Just taking at face value the objects which were reported found, we're missing:

  • about 90% of the bones of one body
  • 100% of the bones of another body
  • another man's shoe
  • another woman's shoe
  • a man's clothing and accessories (belt buckle, watch, rings, pen, etc.)
  • a woman's clothing an accessories (belt buckle, watch, rings, jewlry, etc.)
  • a sextant
  • a container or containers for the stoppers
  • some kind of knife to dress out a turtle with (Could you kill and eat a turtle with your bare hands?

Sounds like we need to do an experiment.) I have a hard time attributing all the missing stuff to coconut crabs. I have a pretty good hunch where the two missing shoes went. I've got 'em right here. I think that it's possible that some souvenirs in addition to the Benedictine bottle were picked up before Gallagher got involved. It may also be that there is still stuff laying around yet to be found.


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