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Author Topic: Bushnell Sextant Box  (Read 5722 times)

Ric Gillespie

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Bushnell Sextant Box
« on: October 28, 2018, 01:19:26 PM »

Last night, Andrew McKenna called my attention to a report recently posted by a TIGHAR critic that provides what appears to be solid documentation that the sextant box found with the castaway bones in 1940 came from the November, 1939 USS Bushnell survey.  The Naval Observatory Number on the box Gallagher found was 1542.  That N.O. number is recorded as being among Bushnell sextants sent to the Naval Observatory for "general overhaul" in late 1938.  The Bushnell survey of Gardner Island was in November 1939.
We’ve lost what always appeared to be a strong link between the castaway and Earhart, but this is nonetheless a positive development. Documented fact is always welcome, and this does not effect the other evidence that says the castaway was Earhart. 

The owner of the blog The Ghost of Gardner Island doesn’t give his name but apparently at one time he was on the TIGHAR Forum.

I’ve sent him this email:

I just read your “Origin of the Nikumaroro Sextant Box.”  It’s a terrific piece of research and I agree you with you that the box found near the castaway’s remains was from USS Bushnell. 
As you say, when you first proposed that the box came from USS Bushnell I thought the suggestion was “thoroughly bizarre.”  Whether bizarre or not, you have shown that your hypothesis is correct.  I should not have been so dismissive.  I’m sorry. Please accept my apology.

I could not imagine how a valuable piece of equipment could have been left behind by the Bushnell surveyors and then end up in the immediate vicinity of the partial skeleton looking like it had been "used latterly merely as a receptacle.” (August 8, 1941 note to file by High Commissioner Sir Harry Luke ; https://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Documents/Bones_Chronology7.html) without the surveyors also noticing the bones.  That still seems “bizarre”, but it happened.  Your suggestion that "a Bushnell surveyor happened to lose it in the vicinity of the remains of the castaway’s final campsite” doesn't explain its described appearance, which I take to mean that the internal structures in the box had been removed to make more useful as simply a way to carry stuff.  Why would a surveyor do that?

Here’s one possible sequence of events:
• November 1939 - The box, probably containing the sextant, gets left behind when USS Bushnell departs.
• At that time there were a couple dozen Gilbertese laborers living on the island, clearing land and planting coconuts. (Not speculation) One of them finds the box.  The sextant is of no use but the nice wooden box with a handle is good for carrying stuff if you tear out the internal fixtures. (Speculation)
• April 1940 - A work party goes to the southeast end of the island to cut hardwood (Kanawa) for the construction of furniture for the Government Rest House then under construction. (Not speculation) One of the laborers has the box with him.(Speculation)
• While cutting wood, the work party comes upon a human skull and buries it. (Not speculation)  Someone, probably the Island Magistrate Buakee Koata, also finds and collects a Benedictine bottle. (Not Speculation)
• When the work party leaves the site, the box is left behind near where the skull is buried. (Speculation)
• September 1940 - Gallagher arrives on the island, hears about the skull, and goes to investigate. Gallagher finds the partial skeleton, part of a woman’s shoe, part of a man’s shoe, some small corks with dress chains, and the box. He naturally, but incorrectly, associates the box with the castaway. (Not speculation)

Of course, none of this offers an alternative explanation for the castaway, the shoe parts, the corks, and all of the signs of a castaway campsite.

Loose ends:
•  Why would the laborer leave his box behind? 
•  Gallagher associates the box with the castaway. Nobody tells him “that's my box.
•  Gallagher reported that “part of the lens of an inverting eyepiece” was also found but was “thrown away by finder.”  Apparently Gallagher never saw it and seems to be basing his identification of the object on a description. Who is describing it?  The finder?  When was it found and thrown away?  I can’t make it make sense.
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2018, 01:49:25 PM »

I guess one way the box could have been left behind is if the person using the sextant dropped and broke it or lost it overboard into the lagoon while using it.  Empty box would have done no good back on ship and might have raised questions about competence of user.  Just report the sextant lost and the box 'gifted' to the workers.

Wonder if whomever broke/lost it had to pay for it?  Understand Navy/CG had procedure for this called a "report of survey", survey in this sense meaning lost/stolen/broken.  Could that report be in a file somewhere?
Bill Mangus
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2018, 02:48:24 PM »

I guess one way the box could have been left behind is if the person using the sextant dropped and broke it or lost it overboard into the lagoon while using it.  Empty box would have done no good back on ship and might have raised questions about competence of user.  Just report the sextant lost and the box 'gifted' to the workers.

Sounds reasonable.

Wonder if whomever broke/lost it had to pay for it?  Understand Navy/CG had procedure for this called a "report of survey", survey in this sense meaning lost/stolen/broken.  Could that report be in a file somewhere?

Seems like there must have been some kind of accounting.  Disciplinary actions are often recorded in the ship's deck log.  Having a record of who broke/lost/forgot it would be good to have, but it wouldn't alter the fact that the box remained on the island.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2018, 04:54:12 PM »

The owner of the blog The Ghost of Gardner Island doesn’t give his name but apparently at one time he was on the TIGHAR Forum.

His name is John Kada. His first posting about the sextant box was in August 2012.
(Thanks Bruce Thomas.)
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2018, 06:06:29 AM »

With the association of the sextant box with the USS Bushnell, perhaps we should think about the other items found.  I'm thinking of the Benedictine bottle in particular.  If AE had a Benedictine bottle, why did she use the small vials/bottles whose broken remains were found in/near the fire features as receptacles when trying to boil water to drink.  Why not use that fine, large bottle first?  If she had it, perhaps she didn't think it was strong enough to withstand the heat of the fire.   

If the Benedictine bottle was something our unknown worker found elsewhere (Norwich City campsite?) and was carrying it around in the box in the course of his travels (in place of a canteen maybe -- although no mention is made as to whether the bottle retained its cap/cork --) that  might be how it ended up at the 7-Site.  Gallagher doesn't say where the various items were found in relation to each other but I can speculate the items were found closer to the sextant box than to the skull and other bones.

From Ric:
"• When the work party leaves the site, the box is left behind near where the skull is buried. (Speculation)"

 . . .and being superstitious no one was willing to return to the site and retrieve their box and other items.

Just random thoughts. . . .


Bill Mangus
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2018, 10:28:48 AM »

In light of this new development we should take a look at everything that was reportedly found in 1940 with an eye to whether there are rational alternative explanations. Of course, we've been doing that right along but any time there is new information it changes the equation and we should re-calculate to make sure we're not missing something.

To keep the discussion organized, we should have a separate topic for each "thing" that was reportedly found in 1940.  We'll start with the Benedictine bottle.
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Don White

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2018, 08:03:47 PM »

I can think of several scenarios in which the box was inadvertently left on the island, with or without a sextant inside, and then not retrieved after its loss was discovered. As this isn't really important now that it is known to be a non-Earhart (and post-Earhart) artifact, I won't go into details.

LTM,
Don White
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2018, 06:56:54 AM »

If the sextant box is Post AE, and the bones were found and associated with the sextant box, wouldn't occam's razor apply here??
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2018, 07:46:56 AM »

If the sextant box is Post AE, and the bones were found and associated with the sextant box, wouldn't occam's razor apply here??

Meaning that the bones were, in fact, associated with the sextant box and therefore also post-AE?  If the sextant box was from USS Bushnell (which seems to be the case) then it was on the island not earlier than November 1939. If the bones were associated with the sextant box, then the person whose skull and partial skeleton were found in 1940 was also not on the island earlier than November 1939.  How could that be?  None of the Bushnell crew was reported missing.  Events on the island between November 1939 and April 1940 are well documented. None of the Gilbertese laborers who were on the island between those dates died.  Who took the Bushnell sextant box to the campsite and died there? How did their body get reduced to a skull and a few bones in the space of, at most, five months?

Occam's Razor is widely misunderstood. The Sun sets in the west and rises in the east. The simplest explanation is that the Sun revolves around the Earth. But Occam's Razor does not mean "the simplest explanation is most likely correct." Occam's Razor says, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” (assumptions must not be multiplied beyond necessity)   It means the simplest explanation THAT ACCOUNTS FOR ALL OF THE KNOWN FACTS is most likely correct.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2018, 07:50:29 AM by Ric Gillespie »
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Don White

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2018, 07:44:11 PM »

The only connection between the bones and the box is that both were reported by Gallagher as being found in the same general area. This is an important issue in archaeology, determining whether objects found in proximity are contemporary, especially in disturbed areas where something may be buried or abandoned near something older.

Now we know when the box arrived on Niku -- exactly how it happened to be left there is probably not relevant (my theory is the person using the sextant set the box down and either forgot to pick it up again until they were too far away to do so, or was unable to find it in the undergrowth, and thus there was no sextant with it when found later) -- the question is whether the bones predate the box, or the box predates the bones.

If, as we hypothesize, the bones are Earhart's, they were already there before the box arrived. This requires that the parties visiting the island failed to notice them.  That question has already been dealt with in this forum. It requires merely that no one happened to be looking where the body was, until the work parties clearing the land for planting. I know research of and discussion on how overgrown the island was at that time, and thus how easily objects on the ground might be seen, has already happened. I think that the people there before the land-clearers simply weren't looking in that place (and certainly not looking for remains or artifacts) or seeing as much of what was on the ground as someone clearing the land would necessarily have seen.

If the bones -- the castaway -- arrived after the box was left, and he/she was using it as a receptacle, this requires the arrival, survival (for a while)  and eventual death of someone in a fairly narrow time window, and that someone to be a person otherwise unknown, unmissed and unrecorded -- or at least, for which no record has yet been found. Research has so far not found any report of a missing person in that area in that time frame. This leaves the farther-fetched possibility of an islander traveling solo in a boat and coming to grief on Niku, which I gather was more or less what the British concluded they had found. And this still doesn't explain some of the artifacts they found, notably the shoe parts. As Ric said once, if it isn't Earhart, there's still a mystery of what happened on Niku.

The castaway arrived and died before anyone else arrived -- this still seems the most likely -- or some geezer in a boat got lost in 1939, but no report of a missing person got into any surviving official records -- far less likely.

Isn't this a great discussion for Halloween?

LTM (who says don't take any unwrapped candy),

Don White
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Kevin Weeks

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2018, 09:16:04 AM »


Meaning that the bones were, in fact, associated with the sextant box and therefore also post-AE?  If the sextant box was from USS Bushnell (which seems to be the case) then it was on the island not earlier than November 1939. If the bones were associated with the sextant box, then the person whose skull and partial skeleton were found in 1940 was also not on the island earlier than November 1939.  How could that be?  None of the Bushnell crew was reported missing.  Events on the island between November 1939 and April 1940 are well documented. None of the Gilbertese laborers who were on the island between those dates died.  Who took the Bushnell sextant box to the campsite and died there? How did their body get reduced to a skull and a few bones in the space of, at most, five months?

Occam's Razor is widely misunderstood. The Sun sets in the west and rises in the east. The simplest explanation is that the Sun revolves around the Earth. But Occam's Razor does not mean "the simplest explanation is most likely correct." Occam's Razor says, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” (assumptions must not be multiplied beyond necessity)   It means the simplest explanation THAT ACCOUNTS FOR ALL OF THE KNOWN FACTS is most likely correct.

lets break this down a bit.

the bones associated with the box does not imply the PERSON arrived there at the same time as the box. just that they were in possession of it when they died.

it takes 3-4 months for a human body to be skeletonized in a tropical environment in the shade. crabs, bugs, rats, and birds all make this a quick process. also of note it is mentioned that there is still connective tissue.

We do know gardner has fairly good records, but not perfect. the dates, names and qty of people in and out of the island do show discrepancy at times.


from a purely technical standpoint there is no reason it could not be. the only point to my mind that would 100% refute any of that is the gilbertese themselves. I'm sure they would have acted differently had this been a recent event. anyone lost since the colonization started would be a fresh memory to all.


Don: do we KNOW they were clearing land at the time?? I know the messages say they were a work party but not specifying what they were doing. in one of the messages sent it states further investigation would happen when the land was cleared for planting but we don't know if that was ever accomplished.
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Leon R White

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2018, 02:59:00 PM »

In looking at the current TIGHAR inventory list of sextants, it seems as if a number of them seem to be stored in another box then their original.  Are any of those listed part of the navy inventory?  Is there any theory how boxes and sextants get mixed up amongst the general usage of such equipment?

Thnks
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Don White

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2018, 03:15:36 PM »

Actually my point was that there is no evidence that the castaway ever had possession of the sextant box. They are only connected by Gallagher's report of finding them near each other.

LTM,
Don White

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2018, 04:15:16 PM »

In looking at the current TIGHAR inventory list of sextants, it seems as if a number of them seem to be stored in another box then their original.  Are any of those listed part of the navy inventory?

Marty recently did a rough inventory and found that somewhere between 18% and 23% of the sextants and boxes we've recorded are mismatched.  We haven't checked to see if any of the N.O. numbers on the Bushnell list match an N.O number we have on a sextant or box, but I don't see how it would prove anything if they did.
For the box found with the bones to be Fred’s, the navy would have to put sextant 3500/1542 in the box labeled for a different sextant, put some other sextant in the box labeled for 3500/1542 and then release that sextant and box as surplus.  Fred would then have to buy that sextant and box which would then end up on Gardner Island, the same island later surveyed with the sextant that belonged in Fred’s box.

  Is there any theory how boxes and sextants get mixed up amongst the general usage of such equipment?

When the Naval Observatory calibrated a sextant, they pasted a paper certificate to the inside of the box lid.  The certificate listed both the maker's number and the N.O. number of the sextant serviced.  I don't think we have a case where the N.O. certificate doesn't match the numbers stenciled and stamped on the box.  I think any swapping around of boxes happened after the sextant left the navy inventory.

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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Bushnell Sextant Box
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2018, 04:34:14 PM »

do we KNOW they were clearing land at the time?? I know the messages say they were a work party but not specifying what they were doing. in one of the messages sent it states further investigation would happen when the land was cleared for planting but we don't know if that was ever accomplished.

I can dig out chapter and verse if necessary but - briefly - in the spring of 1940, Gallagher was on Beru in the Gilberts preparing to take up residence on Gardner. On Gardner, the laborers under the supervision of Jack Petro were building the Government Rest House that would be Gallagher's headquarters.  Gallagher thought it would be a nice touch to have the furniture in the Rest House made from Kanawa wood, an attractive but rather scarce hardwood.  He wired Petro asking if there were forty Kanawa trees on Gardner that could be cut and sent to the sawmill at Rongorongo for cutting into boards. Petro replied that there were so many Kanawa trees on Garden that they were "cutting them to waste."  The work party that found the bones was cutting Kanawa.  In his Dec. 27, 1940 transmittal letter when he sent the bones to Tarawa, Gallagher mentioned the the coffin the bones were in had been fashioned from wood from a Kanawa tree near where they were found.
After searching the site for bones and anything the might provide a clue to the castaway's identify, Gallagher decided to annex the part of the island as government land for an experimental coconut plantation to see if the part of the island could be developed. The clearing of the parcel of land was under way when Gallagher left the island in June 1941.  He returned in September but died within a few days.  The experimental planting was eventually completed but it failed.
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