Forum artHighlights From the Forum

April 8 through 18, 1999

Subject: Finding Gerald Gallagher
Date: 4/8/99
From: Dennis McGee, Jon Watson, Phil Tanner

The letter referred to is the Document of the Week for April 8, A Letter to Gallagher.

From Dennis:

Just a few of random thoughts on the Gallagher letter . . .

1. The letter is obviously from a very close friend; mentions others' names as if Gallagher would have no problem in knowing who's who. She has obviously kept up to date on who is doing what. Could be Ruby, Gerald, Harry, Jim, Jack, Ted, Mary and Molly Hill are all school chums from Malvern schools or college. Do these first names correspond to any first names of kids in Gerald's class at the local schools. Yearbooks? Local Malvern public school rosters? Class pictures?

2. References to return to ( "Just pray we can go back to Malvern . . .") and familiarity with Malvern ("Mary has a bungalow on Malvern Common near the golfhouse . . .") may suggest Ruby, and perhaps the others, could be from Malvern.

3. One woman is named Molly Hill and works with the Woman's Air Force in Worcester. ("Molly is busy with Women's Air Force and goes to Worcester daily -- Mary goes also. I forget if you know that Mary's father died just before last Xmas -- and Mr. Hill about Easter, so both these girls are on their own."). WAF records available on a Molly Hill? From Malvern?

4. Was there a riding school or fox hunting club in Malvern? Ruby apparently loves horses and she mentions them several times, then at the end of the letter laments the loss of ?business/fun?, stating, "Hunting was going to so good this season -- plenty of new horses. Some new customers. It does seem too bad."

Lots of small clues here for our members in England. I'd check out Gerald's classmates in Malvern, if possible, and then see if a Molly Hill was in the WAF and assigned to the Worcester area. We need to know more of the WAF, was it a bone fide military organization or just volunteers, like an auxiliary etc. that ran the U.S.O., handed out coffee and doughnuts etc.

The first draft of history is never easy, is it?

LTM, who is appalled to think others may read her mail
Dennis McGee

From Jon Watson:

After reading the letter to Gallagher, I started surfing around on the 'net and found that Malvern has a pretty nice website, including links to both colleges. Although the men's college site is under construction, the women's college has a complete website. I sent a letter to Mrs. J. Hardy, webmaster at the women's college. Hopefully she might be able to point us in the right direction.


From Phil Tanner:

The surname looks to me like it might be "Morpeth" and I think the address is not "Harrington House" but "Horsington House" - I have found a reference to Horsington in a list of tourist accommodation in Templecombe.

During the war the government took over some large schools for essential projects - I work for a branch of the BBC which was installed in a mansion between London and Oxford vacated by a boys' public school on just this basis. Ruby is connected, maybe as a teacher, to Malvern Girls' College, a leading English public boarding (i.e. private, live-in) school. Very much an establishment for the elite then and now. Her role there is important enough for her to be evacuated along with the pupils, but back in Malvern she has her own bungalow, which suggests she wasn't a matron. I wonder if the college keeps a staff list going back that far?

I think the piece in the margin reads "the boys' college IS at Blenheim Palace PER tem", i.e. for the time being. Malvern College,the boys' equivalent of the girls' establishment (I don't know if they are independent of each other), was indeed relocated to Blenheim Palace. The following is from a web site outlining the the history of the Royal Radar Establishment,

"On 27th February 1942, following some keen intelligence work, a Commando raid had been made ... near Le Havre in France with the object of seizing the critical parts of a newly identified German radar... Fear of reprisals was taken very seriously and the order went out from high places that the Establishment be moved. Malvern College, located in premises at Great Malvern in Worcestershire, had been evacuated early in the War in anticipation of its occupation by Admiralty staff from London, but in the absence of attacks on London, this requirement had lapsed and the boys had returned to Malvern from Blenheim Palace near Oxford..."

Her friends Mary and Molly have their own homes, Molly's grand enough to have its own name. (Well, it might not be grand, but it's not 997 Coal Street). These two have lost parents recently and she makes no mention of her own at this logical place to do so, which suggests she may already be in middle age.

The numerous references to horses and hunting place her very much in the social elite. I'm sure there were plenty of horses in rural Somerset, so when she says she misses "the horses" the suggestion is she means her own.

And I wonder who the "we" who know Gallagher who may be with her in Somerset are? Plainly people who know him via a link to Malvern. This suggests that he has met Ruby through his aunt to whom his effects were sent, and maybe links her to the school as well - someone he is close enough to to report an attack of tropical boils knows Ruby well enough to pass this news on to her.

Phil Tanner

From Ric:

Lots of good info and observations in all of the above. Ruby is an unusual enough first name and Malvern is small enough, and the horse connection is specific enough that we should be able to find out who she is. I'd say there's a better than even chance that Ruby is still with us, or Mary, or Molly, or Jack, or Ted. If we can find these people we'll know a lot more about our man Gerald and we may be able to track down his things.

Subject: More on the letter to Gallagher
Date: 4/9/99
From: Phil Tanner

More thoughts from England in response to others' comments:

[The letter is obviously from a very close friend]

At very least someone who takes an interest in our Gerald, but maybe not a very close friend. A friend of the whole family or a former teacher who has kept in touch? She is writing in November, but reporting at least one piece of news from before the previous Christmas without knowing if he is aware of it, and one from Easter. So she hasn't written for at least seven months, and admits she hasn't "for some time". And she's not a lover - there's absolutely no "remember when we..." slant.

[Was there a riding school or fox hunting club in Malvern?]

My guess is that riding schools would have been very much less common 60 years ago than they are today, because the landed classes would have learned to ride at home as soon as they could walk and only a tiny proportion of the population would have had the necessary income and leisure time to indulge, compared with 1999 (writes a bitter man whose wife and daughter spend every waking hour with their horse.)

A hunt would be based outside the town and would be an institution with a strong social pecking order and a tradition of family membership, rather than a club you subscribe to like a golf club. For fox hunting to be central to a young woman's life, she would need to fit in socially and the stronger her roots in the area, the quicker she would achieve that status - you wouldn't just fetch up in town and sign up. All the more so 60 years ago.

[The name is not a last name judging by the character of the letter...Why start out the letter with My Dear Gerald then sign it first name, last name...]

I think "My Dear Gerald" and a signature with first and surnames would be quite plausible for a letter from an English middle-class woman to an English middle-class male friend almost 60 years ago.

[Ruby is an unusual enough first name]

Very rare today, but maybe not in that generation - e.g. my grandmother-in-law, born 1910. I think it was probably quite common in that era.

Re-reading the letter, I think the crucial bit is "we talk and think of you so often" and the fact that Ruby sees no need to explain who the "we" are. This implies she knows that the other person/s is/are in the habit of writing to GG more often than she does, so they are closer friends of his, or relatives. My guess is it could be his aunt from the house "Clanmere". And as "talk" is in the present tense, this places the other/s thinking about Gallagher with her in Somerset - i.e. evacuated with the girls' school - because phone conversations even across 100 miles or so would have needed manual connection by operator at that time, and using the phone socially would certainly have been heavily frowned on in wartime.


From Ric

Phil's description of hunting fits with what still happens here in Southeastern Pennsylvania/Delaware. A hunt is very much a social institution and, for the devotee, a way of life. What really struck me about Ruby's letter is her attitude toward the war "we are indulging in." This is England in November of 1941, for crying out loud, and the war sounds like more of an annoyance than a catastrophe.

I'm no expert on class (Lord knows), but this to me does not sound like correspondence between middle-class people.

Subject: New Magnetometer
Date 4/14/99
From: Chuck Jackson

May '99 Popular Science tells of an NMR imaging magnetometer as much as 2000 X as sensitive as magnetometers normally used to locate objects on the ocean floor, in use by Franek Goddio, French archaeologist, to puruse Cleopatra's Palace. Says he has exclusive archaeological rights to this technology developed for U. S. Navy. Now THAT'S technology! Let's locate the mfgr. for a start, I have an email inquiry in to the article author. Does our resident archaeologist know Goddio?

From Ric

I going to pass on that one. An aluminum airplane is a lousy magnetic target. If I was going to look for better technology to use in our search I'd be looking for foliage-penetrating radar or something that could detect and image aluminum from a considerable distance. But I'm not looking for better technology right now. We have excellent historical data which suggest several places on the island where we might concentrate our search. We now need to get some "ground truth" about those areas so that we can better define what kind of technology might be most useful, or whether we already have adequate technology to conduct a thorough search. Experience (often of the bitter variety), has taught us to keep our operations at Niku as low-tech as possible and still get the job done. It's an environment that eats electronics, and it's a long way to Radio Shack.


Subject: New magnetometer
Date: 4/15/99
From: Bob Perry

NMR refers to nuclear magnetic resonance. The preferred term for the instrument is nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer (not magnetometer). Certain nuclei in atoms in molecules possess spin and so will interact with an applied magnetic field in unique, measurable ways. Typically, protons (hydrogen nuclei), and other atomic nuclei such as O17, C13, F19 and P31-containing molecules can be measured, and much meaningful info about the structure of the substances can be determined. Everyone has heard of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) by now, which reveals certain structural features of organisms. Iron is not the component determined. Organic substances (visualize vegetation) can be characterized. Whether or not these devices can be useful in Niku searches is conjectural, but it's an interesting idea. It might be useful, for example, in distinguishing one kind of organic substance (living or dead) from another. Metal detectors would locate metal airplane parts. NMR would look at non-metallic parts and aid in characterizing them. It can be a powerful tool.


From Ric--I don't see an immediate and obvious application but it's good to know what it is and what it does. Thanks.

Subject: NMR
Date: 4/15/99
From: Hugh Graham

Q: If NMR doesn't detect iron, what does it detect?

A. Any element.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, AS I UNDERSTAND IT was discovered in the 1940's and is the precursor to modern Magnetic Resonance Imaging. A strong constant magnetic field is applied to the target material which lines up all the atoms in north to south fashion.(all atoms with orbital electrons have a magnetic field). Then an oscillating electro- magnetic field(radio wave) of a frequency exclusive to a given element is applied at right angles and focused such that it excites the orbital electrons out one energy level of orbit(the "resonant frequency" of the element) This radio frequency is then turned off and an antenna and amplifier picks up the orbital electrons collapsing into their normal orbit. Thus a given element can be detected.

MRI uses the hydrogen atom exclusively and since water is pervasive in all matter, a picture(still and moving) can be taken of most matter. Through focusing, bone can be made invisible to MRI. Greatest thing since sliced bread.

How this could assist a magnetometer is a mystery to me too.

All corrections and omissions will be cheerfully entertained.


From Ric--- Doesn't sound like these things will coming free in a box of Cheerios right away either.

Subject: Gallagher in Ireland
Date: 4/15/99
From: Bill Moffett

Recall that 'Irish' in Sept. 1935 began "studying agriculture on farm with Mr. G. Butler, Maiden Hall, Bennets Bridge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland". Map shows Bennetsbridge (1 word) 4 miles SE of Kilkenny City on the River Nore. Visit and learn that Kilkenny Castle is at the SE end of the City and "from the 14th Century was the main seat of the BUTLER's (my caps), the Earls and Dukes of Ormonde". Visit, the National Archives of Ireland, then click Uasal, then Irish Nobility, then Non-Gaelic Irish Families, then Butler of Ormonde (Pedigree) and Wow!, a 16-page text from Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 103rd Ed., 1962 which begins with descent from the Domesday Book (1086 AD) and ends with the 6th Marquesse of Ormonde, (James)Arthur Norman Butler.

But of more interest to TIGHAR is the 5th Marquesse and 29th Hereditary Chief Butler of Ireland, James GEORGE Anson BUTLER (1890-1948). I wonder if this man was Gallagher's host in 1935-6? Could he have sponsored an agricultural school? Or did 'Irish' study with G. (as in Gomer) Butler, who had a 5-acre plot of potatoes in Co. Kilkenny? I wonder if he was looking into Colonial Service and learned that some knowledge of agriculture would be a necessity. Perhaps the W.P.H.C. foresaw the need for people to oversee clearing land and planting "crops"?

How to proceed? The Butlers may well have a family historian, but how to reach him/her? And then how to explain we're trying to locate a living relative of Gallagher? Would that be important enough? The Butlers have a seat in Kilkenny but resided in England--and perhaps elsewhere. Perhaps a better tack would be the Local Studies Dept., Kilkenny Co. Library, where a librarian could probably advise who inhabited "Maiden Hall" in 1935-6 and what was going on there then. If it was a school, perhaps there are student records.

How about running this by Simon Ellwood , Phil Tanner and John Thompson for their ideas? This may well be a wild-goose chase in any event and unnecessary if the Malvern search proves fruitful.

LTM who loved the auld sod
Bill Moffet #2156

From Ric

Verrry interesting. Whether or not we find relatives in Malvern, I'm curious to know the nature of Gerald's sojourn in Ireland. I think the approach of finding out just what was going on at Maiden Hall in 1935-6 is good one.

Subject: Skeletonization
Date: 4/15/99
From: Ric Gillespie

I'd like to bring the forum in on a discussion Tom King and I have been having about skeltonization of human bodies.

Due to the graphic nature of this posting, reader discretion is advised.

When you think about it, it does seem like we have something unusual going on at Niku. Let's back up for a moment and ask ourselves, "What is the NORMAL progression of events (assuming there is such a thing) if a body is left out to rot in a tropical enviroinment." My perception is:

1. The flesh rots and the clothing breaks down somewhat from the UVs and the whole mess gets pretty stuck together and gross.

2. Whatever critters are indigenous to the area feed on the carcass - bugs, birds, crabs, etc. In the process, clothing already weakened by deterioration gets further broken down.

3. At some point, there is nothing left to eat and all that remains are the bones, still joined together by cartilage. Eventually, the cartilage breaks down and the bones disarticulate. What's left is a bleached white skeleton surrounded by whatever bits of clothing are the most durable - belts, shoes, jewelry, watches, coins, etc.

4. Over time, the bones may be further reduced by rodents which chew on them for the minerals.

Whether or not scattering occurs depends entirely upon the presence of creatures which:

A. Eat carrion.
B. Tend to want to carry food off and eat it elsewhere.
C. Have sufficient body mass and strength to disarticulate and carry off portions of the body.

In the case of the remains found on Niku, it seems clear that significant scattering occurred and it would seem to make sense that the most likely time for the intervention of scavengers would be during Phase 2 (above). Available information suggests that in a tropical environment that phase lasts no more than a few months at best. In other words, we can reasonably speculate that within a few months of the death of the Castaway of Gardner Island (who was most likley a woman of northern European descent who stood around 5 ft 7 in. tall) the corpse was beset by animals of sufficient size to disarticulate and carry off the body parts that were not found at the site in 1940. These include:

The head, minus the jaw. (found some distance away)
The entire torso with the exception of one cervical vertabra (neck bone), part of one uppermost rib, and half of the pelvis.
The left arm and hand from the elbow down.
The entire right arm and hand except for the large bone of the forearm.
The left leg and foot from the knee down.
The right foot.

That the missing pieces are not random but constitute specific body portions reinforces the notion that they were carried off during Phase 2 (above). The fact that the pelvis came apart suggests that it was perhaps toward the latter part of Phase 2.

By far, the biggest scavenger indigenous to Niku is Birgus latro, the robber or coconut crab. So far we have not been able to document that he carries off food, rather than eating it wherever he finds it, but assuming that he does remove food to a remote location, is he capable of going off with these missing body parts? How much weight can a big coconut crab drag? I'm guessing, but I'd say 30 pounds is being generous. How much do our missing body parts weigh? Well let's see (guessing again). A 5'7" woman might weigh ballpark 120 pounds. That might break down something like:

Head (1 ea.) - 10 lbs.
Arm (2 ea.) - 10 lbs.
Leg (2 ea.) - 25 lbs
Torso (1 ea.) - 40 lbs.

Reduce those weights by at least a third due to dehydration and selective dining and it seems like it is at least theoretically possible that the scattering was the work of coconut crabs (as Gallagher thought) IF that is something that coconut crabs do.

However, if Birgus latro is not the scatterer our only other candidate is Man's Best Friend. The earliest reasonable arrival date for dogs on the island is April of 1939 when the families of the first work party arrive. That means that, if dogs did the deed, the Castaway of Gardner Island probably didn't die until sometime the previous fall. If that hapless individual was Ms. Earhart, it means that she survived for well over a year after her arrival and was alive and well and living on Gardner when Maude and Bevington visited the island in October 1937. That might explain why they saw "signs of previous habitation " ... "like somone had bivouaced for the night" but saw no bones.

And this is why we're interested in the dining habits of coconut crabs.


Subject: Niku's bones
Date: 4/15/99
From: Dennis McGee

Am I in the ballpark when I interpret Ric's remarks in his "Skeletonization" posting of April 15 when I say:

Using Gallagher's description of when and where he found "the skeleton" we should consider that the castaway died shortly before april 1939 when dogs were first introduced to Niku. The dogs found the castaway's corpse shortly (8-10 weeks?) after death, "disarticulated" portions of the corpse and dragged off several large (up to 40 pounds) chunks? The bones were then found by Gallagher in 1940.

Well, gang, yes and no.

So far I have been under the impression that Gallagher found the skeleton relatively intact. By that, I mean the bones were in general relationship to each other regarding where they fit on the body, most (70 percent-plus?) of the bones were present, and the bones were spread over a small (10-foot diameter?) area. In short, clearly recognizable as human remains but not simply a bunch of unidentified bones scattered about.

I think it is important to go back to Gallagher's exact words. Did he report a "skeleton," or did he report "human remains," or "bones of a human being" etc. Each of those phrases, to me, conjures up a different picture because they mean different things.

Second, it has been my experience when one or more dogs find carrion they often take what pieces they can far from the others simply to enjoy it in peace. (This would be especially true if there were a large number of dogs, i.e. competition for what little meat there was available.) If one or more dogs repeatedly visited the death site, which would be necessary to devour a 80-100 pound carcass, the bones would have been scattered. The scattering would result from the initial meal and subsequent meals as each canine would with each visit investigate the site for fresh carrion (is that an oxymoron?) and then chew on what ever scraps were available. With competition (how many dogs were there?) and less meat available, the dogs would tend to transport their scraps farther and farther from the original death site so as to gnaw away in peace and quiet.

For now, I vote "No" on Ric's theory.

LTM, who is about to blow chow
Dennis McGee

From Ric

Allow me to clarify:

IF, that is IF, coconut crabs do not habitually carry off pieces of discovered carrion to eat it elsewhere, then we have to find some other source for the removal of significant portions of the corpse. Having noted the scarcity of bears on the island, the only alternative source I can think of is dogs. The late (ca April '39) arrival of dogs suggests to me that the demise of the castaway was recent enough at that time that the corpse was still ripe enough to be of interest to pooches.

Your impression that Gallagher found the skeleton relatively intact is not necessarily borne out by what he says.

On Sept. 23, 1940 in a telegram to the Resident Commissioner, Gallagher says:

"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. It would appear that

(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman, ...."

On October 17, 1940 in a telegram to the Secretary of the WPHC Gallagher elaborates:

"Complete skeleton not found only skull, lower jaw, one thoracic vertebra, half pelvis, part scapula, humerus, radius, two femurs, tibia and fibula. Skull discovered by working party six months ago - report reached me early September. Working party buried skull but made no further search.

Bones were found on South East corner of island about 100 feet above ordinary high water springs. Body had obviously been lying under a "ren" tree and remains of fire, turtle and dead birds appear to indicate life. All small bones have been removed by giant coconut crabs which have also damaged larger ones."

Gallagher found a total of 13 bones, roughly ten percent of the total number in a human skeleton. We really have no specific information about how large an area was searched to find the bones that he did find. Something caused him to conclude that the "body" had been lying under a tree, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the bones were all found there.

The absence of most of the skeleton, the poor condition of the bones that were found, the absence of the leather uppers of the shoes, and the absence of other items that one would normally expect to be present at a castaway's campsite (clothing, belts, tools, shelter of some sort, etc.) create, for me, the impression of a site that has been greatly altered since the death of the resident. Gallagher attributes the removal of the small bones to "giant coconut crabs", but there are more than small bones missing. The moved bones include the largest bones in the body (skull, femur, half pelvis, etc.). Something has played absolute havoc with this site and I have a hard time laying it all to Birgus latro.


Subject: Re: Skeletonization
Date: 4/16/99
From: Christian W.

Concerning #1 and #2, I think one should not overlook the hermit crabs! In late 1996 I also spent 3 weeks on Palmyra, which has a similar climate to Niku -only a bit wetter still.

Fishing there was great, and it was common to find HUNDREDS of these small hermit crabs covering fish skeletons and food scraps. They would even be scrambling all over the outdoor kitchen counters and cooking ustensils -after the kitchen had been cleaned!

Unless someone knows of a reason why these small crabs wouldn't touch a human corpse, I feel that within a very few weeks of death, only a clean skeleton would be left.

As for the coconut crabs, as Niku had no population for years before 1937, these crabs (which are very good food) would have been plentiful! My understanding is that they live on the flesh of coconuts: their claws are extremely powerful. I have no idea whether they'd be interested in bones or if they like to bring trophies to their nest like magpies.

Skill is needed to deal with these BIG crabs, and once they retreat deep into their holes (under fallen dead trees, etc) I think it is impossible to get them out. These holes are not that easy to locate. I also have no idea if nests used 60 years ago would still be used today??? Even if one would crawl in there today, 60years old trophies would be buried under decaying vegetal matter?

As for dogs, is it known if any were brought to Niku by the settlers? Gilbertese do not seem too fond of dogs -as seen on Tarawa, and few dogs and cats can be seen nowadays on Kanton and Xmas. Could the British Administration have forbidden the import of dogs and cats to the Phoenix in the 30's? I don't know...

Hope this helps.


From Ric

I've seen the same kind of assaults by hermit crabs on Niku. No doubt about it. The little buggers are voracious, but they're not going to go off with bones. Their small size also lets them get into small places, like for example the interior of bones to get at the marrow. The more I think about it the more I think that the scattering of the bones occurred while the corpse was till a rotting body rather than a picked-over skeleton.

We have quite a bit of data on coconut crabs and the surprising thing is how little is really known about them. Traditon holds that they climb coconut trees, snip down the nuts, climb back down, husk the nut and open it with their claws, and eat the meat. That they climb trees is not in doubt. We've watched them do it. That they eat coconut meat is also a given. But apparently there is no documented observation of a crab harvesting a nut from a tree or ripping one open with its claws. We do know, however, that they eat meat. In 1997 we watched one devour a rat high in the branches of a tree. (Pretty wierd to watch a crab act just like a leopard.)

Land crabs (different critter altogether) do drag stuff down into their burrows. (Never leave your socks out to dry on a low bush on Niku.) But again, there don't seem to be documented instances of this behavior among coconut crabs.

We know that there were dogs on the island in 1944 because we have a photo of two dogs that were kept as pets by the guys who manned the Coast Guard Loran station. I know of no British prohibition against dogs. In fact, I can't imagine a British prohibition against dogs. It's my impression that every subject of Her Majesty is issued at least two dogs at birth. We saw dogs, but not a lot of dogs, on Kanton last year. Let's have some input from others who were out there - Dick Evans was a member of the Coast Guard unit on Niku during the war. Dick, talk to us about dogs on the island. Chuck Boyle was on Atafu, which is in the Tokelaus and is a slightly different ethnic group from the gilbertese on Niku, but did they have dogs?


Subject: Niku Bones
Date: 4/17/99
From: Bill Moffett

1. If your 'time line' is reasonably accurate, isn't it ironic - to say the least - that Maude's party which spent 3 days on Gardner in Oct. 1937 didn't find the castaway(s), or vice versa.

From Ric
Ironic, but not hard to believe if you've spent much time on Niku.

2. I think it's quite clear the 1940 working party found not a corpse, but a skeleton or parts of one.

From Ric
Agreed. The question is how and when did it get that way?

3. Aside from considering turtles as a meal, how about the reverse? I note that most turtles are omniverous, eating both plant and animal matter, living or dead. Also aquatic turtles are scavengers in lakes, but don't know if they also patrol sea shores. Green sea turtles only come onto land to lay eggs and my Groliers is silent on whether they look for food while there.

From Ric
I'm not a turtologist but I kinda doubt it.

4. Do any marine mammals stop off at Niku for R&R or whatever?

From Ric
Like seals, sea lions, walruses, sea otters, and surfer girls? No.

5. Maybe more to the point, Gallagher's telegram of Sept. 23, 1940 said, "Some months ago working party discovered human skull - this was buried and I only recently heard about it..." I don't know much about the customs, behavior of Gilbertese men. Think I recall a story about a man who kept, dug up or ?? his father's skull and talked to it upon occasion. I believe he thought the spirit/soul resided in the skull. Apparently the proper thing to do when you find a strange human skeleton is to bury the head and disregard the other bones. Might the natives have scattered them? Would they keep any for some purpose like a ceremonial object, tool or artifact?

From Ric

Absolutely not. Your assumption about burying only the head is not correct. When you envision the Gilbertese work party on Gardner, don't think of guys who look and act like the island folk in King Kong. These were poor, largely uneducated people whose beliefs were an amalgam of the old Tungaru traditions of their grandfathers with a heavy overlay of Christianity. Being from the Southern Gilberts, they had been raised under the strict - some would say oppressive - hand of the Protestant London Missionary Society. (For a better understanding of this context I suggest Tungaru Traditions - Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands by Arthur Francis Grimble, edited by H.E. Maude. U. of Hawaii Press, 1989.)

Just how this mix of influences manifested itself in these laborers is hard to say, but both the Tungaru and Christian traditions call for the burial of human remains and the concept of "ans" (ghosts of the dead and other unseen spirits) remained prevalent in Gilbertese culture. The unburied bones of people who died without the benefit of certain rituals were seen as especially dangerous. I think we can be quite sure that the workers buried only the skull because that's all they found at the time, and it's not a big leap to suggest that they didn't find more bones because they beat feet away from that spot. Gallagher probably had more than a little difficulty convincing them to go back and search that haunted area for more bones and there is some indication that he didn't dig up the skull until he was ready to ship the bones off to Fiji. There seems to be little doubt that the discovery of these bones on the island was of great concern to the settlers. Any doubts that the bones were bad news were almost certainly put to rest by the tragic death of Gallagher soon afterward.

6. It's been suggested that birds, rats and ?? like shiny objects, but it occurs to me that watches, belt buckles, pocket knives, jewelry, etc., may have gone the way of the sextant's inverting eyepiece.

From Ric
A case can be made that objects were not seen to carry the same stigma as bones. We know that the island's Native Magistrate, Teng Koata, carried a Benedictine bottle that had been found with the skull with him to Tarawa. As you mention, the putative inverting eyepiece was supposedly thrown away or lost by the finder (but may have been kept as a souvenir). According to our informant on Funafuti, the children who played on the airplane wreck and brought pieces home to the village were admonished to stay away from the plane, not because the wreckage itself carried bad spirits, but because "There are ghosts there. When our people first came to the island the skeletons of a man and woman were found and we think they were the people from the plane."

Subject: MacPherson's Report and Gallagher
Date: 4/18/99
From: William Webster-Garman

The narrative referred to is the Document of the Week for April 11, 1999, MacPherson's Report.

1) Macpherson's tragic narrative underscores the remarkable remoteness and difficulties of Gardner Island.

I believe that his description of the young OIC only adds credibility to Gallagher's general character. When we remember that Gallagher initially suspected that he might have found Earhart, we can take his impression a little more seriously now, I think.

2) Regarding any shoes associated with skeletal remains, there is no apparent reason to believe that they were actually being worn at the moment the owner(s) died, especially if the unfortunate castaway had already settled into a prone position.

3) Mid twentieth century Pacific Islanders, with their cultural mix of missionary Christianity layered over ancient spiritual beliefs, were often what we might call "superstitious" and wary of "ghosts" or "spirits".

From the anecdotal accounts, it appears to me that the first settlers saw skeletons that were clearly recognizeable as those of a "white man and woman", that the site was generally avoided, and that over time the remains were gradually scattered by natural forces (and possibly, before and after their first discovery by the Gilbertese, by wandering dogs from the settlement). Even so, by the time he saw (part of) them over 2 years later, Gallagher for some reason believed he had found the remains of a western woman, possibly those of Earhart.

Leaving aside for the moment the reports that some of the Gilbertese believed that the bones were somehow connected with airplane wreckage on the island, I wonder how many western women were castaways in the vicinity of Gardner in the late 30s? 1? 5? 100? Forgive me, but I suspect that the number is less than 5, and probably closer to 1, which again leads to a real possibility, obviously begging continued investigation, that the first Settlement Scheme workers ran across the remains of Amelia Earhart shortly after their arrival on Gardner in late 1938, and because of their own cultural isolation simply didn't know anything about her vanished flight a year earlier.


From Ric

The records of the Western Pacific High Commission include all instances in which inquiries were made of British authorities concerning persons presumed to be missing in the vast area of the central Pacific under British administration. In reviewing the records for the pre-war years, we found the following:

In March 1938 word was received of a canoe containing two male islanders from Wallis Island (a French possession about 450 nm northwest of Fiji) which was missing enroute southeastward to Futuna Island (another French possession about 350 nm northwest of Fiji). Nikumaroro is 1,000 nm northwest of Fiji. The District Officer in the British Ellice Islands (600 nm north of Fiji) was advised to keep an eye out, but nothing further was reported.

In February 1939, two canoes with a total of 18 Wallis Islanders were reported missing. It was believed that the canoes were headed southeastward or south southeastward towards Niafouu Island or Tonga. Again, the D.O. in the Ellice Group was advised, but nothing further was reported. (Incidentally, the British prohibited inter-island canoe travel within their possessions.)

In April 1938 the WPHC recived an inquiry from a French woman who said that her husband, Albert Culas, had been reported missing from the French ship S.S. Eider in 1934. It is not at all clear where the Eider was when Culas disappeared or whether he is thought to have fallen overboard or perhaps just jumped ship at some port of call. Mrs. Culas had read that during the U.S. Navy's search for Amelia Earhart in 1937, white people had been seen on Hull Island in the Phoenix Group and she wondered if one of them could be her missing Albert. She was advised that there had been, in one fact, only one white person on Hull and he was John W. Jones, the manager of a coconut planting operation. (On July 9, 1937 Johnny Lambrecht landed his Corsair in the lagoon at Hull and Jonesy came out in a canoe. They chatted briefly, then Lambrecht took off again.)

These are the ONLY instances we could find of people missing in the central Pacific region for the years in question, except of course for the American man and woman whose airplane went missing in July 1937.


Subject: Gallagher's Life
Date: 4/18/99
From: Vern Klein

Gerald Bernard Gallagher – What is known (April 1999), and a hypothesis

His father and mother:

Gerald Hugh Gallagher was born in Ireland about 1882. His father was a solicitor in Ireland. By 1906 he was practicing medicine in Dublin. Six years later (1912) the medical register shows him in the West African Medical service.

Edith Annie Clancy was born in Kentish Town, London, England in 1879. She was the oldest of five children born to Cornelius Bernard Clancy and his wife Alice. After 1895 Edith's father was Lieutenant Quartermaster in the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Her sisters were Elizabeth Rachel, born 1881; and Mary A., born 1886. Her brothers were Francis, born 1888; and Hugh, born 1890. Elizabeth was born at St. Pancras, Middlesex, England. Edith and all the others were born in Kentish Town, London, England.

Also identified, is a Louisa Clancy who appears not to be Edith Clancy's sister. Her relationship has not yet been discovered.

Gerald Hugh Gallagher and Edith Annie Clancy were married on the 8th of August 1911, in Chelsea. She gave her age as 25 which does not agree with her birth record. They had two sons, Gerald Bernard, born 6 July 1912, and Terrance Hugh, born at some later date.

QUESTION: In view of the above, would the Gallaghers have been able to send their children to the better schools in the 1920s? The kind of schools that would later gain acceptance at Stonyhurst, Cambridge and in the British Colonial Service for young Gerald?

HYPOTHESIS: At this point, nothing is known of young Gerald Gallagher's life prior to 1924. However it seems very possible that he was enrolled at Malvern College, Malvern, Worcester, England at about the age of six, or even younger. (See The Malvern Connection following) Gerald would have been 6 years old in the summer of 1917. That would allow for 7 years of primary schooling prior to his enrollment at Stonyhurst College.

Today, Malvern College is Co-educational Boarding and Day school taking children from 3 to 18 years of age. Hillstone, the Junior School, is a separate unit for those 3-13 on an adjoining site, sharing many of the Senior Schools facilities. There are 385 boys and 188 girls in the senior school. Hillstone has 111 boys and 69 girls.

Gerald attended Stonyhurst College from July 1924 (12 years old) to July 1930. From there he went to Cambridge University (Downing College) from October 1930 to June 1934. Gerald then went to St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School from January to June 1935. He apparently dropped out abruptly.

Stonyhurst College is a Roman Catholic Boarding and Day School. It is located in Clitheroe, Lancashire, England. Founded in 1593, Stonyhurst is one of the oldest Jesuit Colleges in the world and is a leading Catholic school offering boarding and day education for boys from 13 to 18 and for girls in the sixth form. Boarding and day pupils from 7 to 13 attend an adjacent Preparatory School, St. Mary's Hall, which is presently co-educational.

In September 1935, after the very brief time at the medical school, Gerald began studying agriculture on a farm with Mr. G. Butler, Malden Hall, Bennet's Bridge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.

The following summer Gerald was accepted by the Colonial Service and went back to Cambridge for three semesters of special training for posting to the Western Pacific High Commission. He sailed for the Pacific on June of 1937.

In the fall of 1940, Gerald had recently been made Officer-in-Charge of the new Pheonix Island Settlement Scheme to move some people from the overcrowded and impoverished Gilbert Islands to some of the uninhabited islands in the Phoenix group. A village had been established on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) and Gerald had a house there.

During clearing for planting coconut groves, a partial human skeleton, an empty sextant box, a "benedictine" bottle, some shoe parts and the remains of a campfire were found. Gerald immediately suspected the bones might be those of Amelia Earhart who had gone missing in that part of the Pacific three years before. Medical doctors who were by no means forensic experts concluded that this was not the case and the matter was pretty much forgotten.

Gerald Gallagher died, in September 1941, of peritonitis from a burst appendix. He was buried on the island beneath a cement monument which can be seen today. A few personal effects were returned to England shortly after the end of WWII. These included a photo album and possibly some letters.

Gerald's mother asked that his personal effects be returned to a Miss. Clancy who was her sister and lived at Clanmere, Graham Road, Malvern, Worcester, England. No first name was stated so we don't know which sister this was. Edith Gallagher had been engaged in war work in London and apparently considered the Malvern address to be more permanent than her own. Thus begins the puzzle of Gallagher/Clancy family in Malvern.

THE MALVERN CONNECTION: The Gallagher/Clancy presence in Malvern bacame more evident with the discovery of a personal letter in Gerald Gallagher's official file in England. The letter had been written in November of 1940 but had not arrived in the Pacific until after Garald had died in September 1941.

The letter is from a young woman named Ruby. As of this writing, we have not determined what the surname is, or if it may be a middle name. Ruby is in some way associated with the Malvern Girls College. The letter makes it evident that Gerald Gallagher is well acquainted with a number of people in Malvern. Ruby speaks of them by first name only being sure that Gerald will know exactly who they are. None of the names can be associated with people we have identified at this point -- members of the Gallagher and Clancy families.

Something about the tone of the letter makes me feel that Ruby is not just a friend. I think she's Gerald Gallagher's cousin, the daughter of one of Edith Clancy-Gallagher's sisters. As of the end of WWII, the sister living at Clanmere in Malvern was "Miss." Clancy. If Ruby is a cousin, on the Clancy side, then she's the daughter of one of the other sisters. At this point, we can't tell one from another!

In any case, it's clear that there is much more to the Gallagher/Clancy/Malvern connection than the presence of Miss. Clancy at Clanmere. Gerald Gallagher is well acquainted with the place and may have attended Malvern College during his early years.

From Ric

An excellent summation and some reasonable speculation, but there are a couple of corrections needed.

>He sailed for the Pacific in June of 1937.

Gerald's ship sailed on July 17, 1937. It's an important point because it means that he was still in England and exposed to the news media when Earhart disappeared on July 2nd. Being a pilot himself and about to take ship for that part of the world, it seems reasonable to think that the story might have been of special interest to him.

>Gerald Gallagher died, in September 1941, of peritonitis from a burst appendix.

Nope. That's the simplified version that became widely accepted, but it's not true. Gerald had had his appendix removed years before. Dr. Macpherson's report clearly states the Gerald died from complications of a tropical disease known a "sprue."

>The letter had been written in November of 1940 but had not arrived in the Pacific until after Garald had died in September 1941.

No year appears on the letter, but I'm reasonably certain that it was not written until November 1941. Its chronological position in the official file suggests that it was received sometime between April 1942 and June 1942. An earlier letter from Gerald's mother to Sir Harry Luke was dated December 20, 1941 was was received in Fiji on April 8, 1942 - suggesting a roughly four month transit time.

This does, however, bring up an interesting point. Edith, in London, is informed of Gerald's death by cable sometime in early October 1941 (the exact date is not clear). Ruby, in Somerset, doesn't yet know about it when she writes her letter on November 15th. Whoever Ruby is, she is not close enough to the family to be immediately notified by Edith.


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