|Earhart Project Research Bulletin
July 15, 2003
by Martin X. Moleski, Ph.D., SJ
On May 15, TIGHAR
sent two of its members to Suva, Fiji, to continue the search for the
remains of a human skeleton, a sextant box, parts of a man’s shoe, parts
of a woman’s shoe, and corks on brass chains that had been collected by
Gerald B. Gallagher on Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro) in 1940
and then sent to Suva for analysis in 1941. I am a Jesuit priest who teaches
Religious Studies at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York; Roger Kelley
is a retired Sergeant, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and
a former Marine Corps Staff Sergeant. The search for the material collected
from Gardner was initiated by Tom King, Karen Burns, Kris Tague and Barb
Norris in the summer of 1999. Fiji suffered a coup in 2000, so TIGHAR
postponed sending another team until the political situation seemed more
stable. The current government is facing a major court challenge based
on its failure to adhere to the 1997 constitution, which could spark another
crisis, but the U.S. State Department has not issued any recent warnings
against visiting Fiji.
|The British records
that TIGHAR found in 1997 trace the finding and analysis of the skeletal
remains and other material from the spring of 1940 through August of 1941.
The woman's shoe parts found with the bones on Gardner suggested to Gallagher
that the castaway who died there may have been Amelia Earhart. The Western
Pacific High Commission (WPHC), headed by Sir Harry Luke, who was also the
Governor of Fiji, ordered the examination of the skeletal remains by Dr.
D.W. Hoodless and the other materials by various authorities. Mr. Harold
Gatty, world-renowned aviator and navigator, examined the sextant box and
apparently concluded that the box was “English” and was not used
in modern trans-Pacific aviation (1937-1941). Sir Harry concluded that various
materials did not come from the fatal flight. However, a re-analysis by
modern forensic experts of the recorded bone measurements taken in 1941
suggests that the dismissal may have been in error. Since forensic science
has advanced so much in the last sixty years, TIGHAR would like to test
DNA from the skeleton and determine to a high degree of certitude whether
or not the bones are those of Amelia Earhart. The problem we face now is
that there is no mention in the file at all of what was done with the evidence
after the examiners closed the case in August of 1941. In the absence of
evidence, we can only guess what might have happened:
There are many variations
on each of these hypotheses. At every meal and in every report that we made
to TIGHAR, Roger and I toyed with the range of possibilities of what might
have happened. We think we made some progress in ruling out some lines of
inquiry, but in the final analysis, we remain perplexed and frustrated at
our inability to close the question. In the next four sections, we will
discuss each family of hypotheses.
- Someone may have destroyed the evidence surreptitiously.
- Someone may have kept some or all of the evidence as a curiosity.
- The material may have been given to another institution for safekeeping.
- The material may still be in government custody.
|1. The Evidence Has Been Destroyed
This is the most
worrisome possibility. At any time in the last 62 years, someone may
have decided that the box of bones and the box with the shoe parts and
corks were just junk and trashed them without making any record of doing
so. If this is what happened in fact, we will never be able to prove
that the evidence is gone. We are reluctant to embrace this hypothesis
because we feel that no civilized person would treat a human skeleton
as trash, but there is a great deal of evidence in every daily newspaper
that humans are capable of extremely uncivilized and irrational behavior.
For the box of bones and the sextant box to fall into the hands of careless
people, we would have to imagine that the bureaucrats who served in
the Western Pacific High Commission failed to do their duty both in
preserving material collected by the Commission and in recording its
final disposition. None of these things are impossible. People do make
mistakes. We cannot be certain that the bones are not lost forever.
One possible way
of disposing of the bones in a respectful fashion would be to cremate
them or bury them. Roger did a very thorough search of the burial and
cremation records, all of which are maintained by the Bureau of Prisons.
Each record has sixteen fields:
- Hour of burial.
- Number of grave.
- Number of interment for year.
- Witness or Minister.
- Name (person buried or cremated).
- Place of death.
- Section of Cemetery in which interred.
- Person in charge of funeral.
- Description of grave.
If someone had
used these ordinary channels for burial, the records should show an
unnamed person of unknown gender who died on Gardner Island. Because
people might have given the bones a name, Roger also looked carefully
for any combination of Amelia, Earhart, Putnam and Gardner. He did find
an Amelia who was buried in 1939, but no matter how hard we tried to
imagine a scenario, we could not bring ourselves to believe that the
Bureau of Prisons would have entered a burial date more than a year
before the bones were brought to Suva. The way the records are kept
pretty much precludes that kind of back-dating. Roger even toured four
cemeteries, but there were hundreds of graves with virtually illegible
stone markers and hundreds of unmarked depressions in the grounds as
well, probably representing older grave sites. We decided that we were
not likely to find a headstone that says, “Skeleton, Human, Remains
of, Found on Gardner Island.”
It may well be
that the medical school could dispose of the bones without obtaining
a death certificate or without submitting them to the jurisdiction of
the Bureau of Prisons. We presume that hospitals have methods of incinerating
or otherwise disposing of cadavers, body parts and other medical waste.
Based on our interviews with the Librarian at FSM, we doubt that there
would be a complete set of records of such disposals dating back to
|2. Someone May Have Kept the Boxes as Souvenirs
found the bones on Gardner, he had a kanawa box constructed to hold
them. Emily Sikuli, whose father built the box, told us that it was
rectangular and had a handle at each end to lift it. She wasn’t certain
whether the cover had hinges, but the way she described the lid opening
would be consistent with a hinged top. When the bones were en route
to Suva, Dr. Walter Lindsay Isaac Verrier tried to gain control of them
in his capacity as the Medical Officer for that part of the Pacific.
Gallagher seems to have contemplated offering him a box or some other
piece of furniture made out of kanawa wood, which was being cut to waste
as land on Gardner was cleared for planting coconuts, in order to persuade
Verrier to let the box of bones reach the High Commission in Suva. One
of our main tasks in Fiji, then, was to learn more about Verrier and
to test the hypothesis that he might later have gained control of the
2A. Dr. Walter Lindsay Isaac Verrier
We were told by
many people that Verrier was “odd in every way.” When Fiji passed a
law requiring the use of helmets on motorcycles and scooters, Verrier
complied with the letter of the law – but refused to fasten the straps.
He founded the Liberal Party, which was said to have a membership of
one. Later in life, when Fiji was suffering a drought, he posed nude
with a government official’s wife with the caption, “Share a shower
with your neighbor.” He was somewhat overweight in his old age and would
perhaps drink too much at a restaurant on top of a hill; two waiters
would get him settled on his motorcycle and run along with him as far
as they could to get him started on the downhill run to his house. At
first glance, then, it seems as though Verrier was the kind of character
who might help himself to government property or who might be able to
talk someone into giving it to him for his collection.
In 1941, when
Verrier intercepted the kanawa coffin en route to Suva, he had been
in the Colonial Service only two years, and only on a temporary appointment.
Although he was Medical Officer for the Central Medical Authority in
the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, he was not a high-ranking official then
or at any later time in his career. If he or his associates in Tarawa
kept any records of the bones, they may have been lost when the Japanese
captured the island in 1942; some records were preserved by being buried
in the sand, but others were lost. Verrier fled to Suva from Tarawa,
but was forced to leave behind most of his possessions, including three
quite valuable cameras. He formally changed his last name from “Isaac”
to “Verrier” on March 24, 1942; some people speculate that he did so
to disguise his Jewish background, but we could not confirm that rumor.
Dr. Victor William Tighe McGusty, the Director of the Central Medical
Authority brought Verrier to Fiji in 1944 so that he could evaluate
his application to join the Central Medical School and work in its laboratory.
McGusty said that a paper Verrier wrote on “Statistics and Vital Statistics”
was “breezily written and is very interesting,” but Verrier’s next post
was to Teveuni, the “Garden Island” of Fiji, in May of 1944.
Verrier was recognized
as an intelligent man and a good doctor. The people of the Gilbert and
Ellice Islands petitioned the WPHC in 1941 to have him stationed there
permanently. Those who worked for him found him somewhat dictatorial,
but others thought he was interesting and amusing. He became an authority
on the history of the native tribes in Fiji and had &lquo;an attic full of
native stuff.” Verrier died from cancer on April 19, 1981. His primary
heir was his godson (or adopted son), Trevor Whippy, a member of a very
large part-European family and a member of the Fijian police force.
Much to the dismay of the old guard, Whippy auctioned off Verrier’s
collections of native material and forced the executor of the will to
sell Verrier’s house, which has subsequently been torn down to make
way for a new development. So far as we know, Whippy then left Fiji
for Australia. We have not yet made an effort to trace him to see if
he remembers either the kanawa box or the sextant box as part of Verrier’s
collection. The extensive materials that Verrier had collected on tribal
history were apparently donated to the Native Land Commission, though
we were not able to get an inventory of those materials while we were
in Suva; in all likelihood, they deal with the history of various tribes
and communities and not with Verrier’s own personal history in the WPHC
because the sole concern of the Native Land Commission is to preserve
the records of the ethnic Fijian communities.
One of Verrier’s
best friends was Dr. Gerard Denis Murphy, a doctor who came to Fiji
in 1952. He served in the TB hospital in Tamavua for 26 years and turned
it from a “house of death” into a “house of life.” Verrier was Murphy’s
best man at his wedding to the head of the Tamavua nursing staff. Doc
Murphy still lives in the little bungalow he and his wife built for
their retirement just across the road from Loloma Beach in Teuba, but
he has lost his ability to speak coherently. This is just one of dozens
of instances which caused us to regret that the search for the bones
has been so long delayed – in 2002, Doc was in full possession of his
faculties and probably would have loved the chance to talk about all
the people he knew at the end of the colonial period.
We thought it
might be possible that Verrier had given Murphy the sextant box found
on Gardner, but as far as we can tell, that is not the case. F.I. Fleming,
a patient who had died of TB under Murphy’s care at Tamavua, had left
him a fascinating treasure chest containing, among other things, a clipping
memorializing the construction of the Amelia Earhart light on Howland
by the British and five short manuscripts by Noel Coward; Roger and
I were fascinated by the materials in this box, some of which dated
to 1916, but none of them were helpful in answering our questions about
the things collected on Gardner in 1940.
2B. Dr. David Winn Hoodless
On the face of
it, Dr. Hoodless, founding Principal of the Central Medical School (CSM),
now known as the Fiji School of Medicine, is the person most likely
to have made off with the box of bones because he is the last person
known to have had them in his possession. His measurements and observations
suggested to him that the bones were from a male who might have been
European or part-European, but definitely not from Amelia Earhart. In
April of 1941, he told Sir Harry that he would keep the bones “until
you tell me what to do with them.” There is no further mention of the
bones in the file. The other substantive entries deal with the examination
of the sextant box, the shoe parts and the corks, all of which were
evaluated after Hoodless recorded his view on the sex, height and possible
ethnicity of the bones.
Hoodless is much
respected and loved for his long and successful labors in Fiji, first
as a mathematics teacher and later as the “one man responsible for most
of the teaching and all of the administration and discipline” at CMS.
By developing a program to produce Native Medical Practitioners, Hoodless
elevated the health care throughout the Western Pacific. The practitioners
were even taught to do some surgery. Hoodless began his medical training
late in life and fit his schooling into two extended leaves from the
Colonial Service, nearly ruining his health by striving to accelerate
the process. He was due to retire in May of 1942, but stayed on for
almost another five years due to the difficulties of finding a replacement
during and shortly after the war. In his retirement, he enjoyed functioning
as a “locum tenens,” taking the place of other doctors so that they
could have a vacation. He died in 1956 while on a very joyful visit
home to Britain, where he was buried. His wife struggled with the legal
entanglements caused by him dying away from Fiji; she died eight months
later. Their only child, Margaret W. Guthrie, told the story of their
lives in Misi Utu: Dr. D.W. Hoodless and the Development of Medical
Education in the South Pacific (Institute for Pacific Studies, Suva:
Roger and I hoped
that we would be able to locate Hoodless’ own notes and correspondence
about the bones. We imagine that it would be standard operating procedure
for him to have kept a copy of his work in his own files for future
reference and hoped that there might be a clue in his files about what
happened to the kanawa box and the bones. His daughter has been interviewed,
and she says that there is no mention of the story of the Gardner skeleton
in any of the materials that she has in her possession nor did her father
leave the box or the bones in his estate. When we went to Fiji, we were
under the mistaken impression that the Fiji School of Medicine (FSM – formerly
the CMS) had boxes of files from Dr. Hoodless. Mrs. Imeri Waibuca, the
librarian for FSM, initiated a process of gathering files for archives,
but their search of the materials they have in their possession showed
nothing relevant to our questions.
The Civil Lists
for 1942 show that Dr. Hoodless and Sir Harry sat on the same legislative
committee. There were plenty of opportunities for them to have made
an oral agreement about what to do with the bones. It is possible that
Hoodless may have brought the casket to Sir Harry directly at one of
their meetings. If Hoodless kept it at CMS, it may have passed into
the custody of his successor, Dr. A.S. Frater, who had been a prisoner
of war and who died unexpectedly seven or eight years after taking over
as Principal. After the visit of the TIGHAR team in 1999, Foua Tofiga
and his nephew searched a club in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church,
where Dr. Frater had served as a minister, just in case he might have
brought the bones there for display. (Tofiga had worked in the WPHC
in various capacities from 1939 until 1978, and he has been most gracious
and generous in helping us to understand its history.)
daughter wrote that her father was an active member of the Masons. It
is conceivable that he may have donated the bones to a Masonic Lodge
for use in ritual ceremonies. Dr. Karen Burns (a forensic anthropologist)
and the 1999 TIGHAR team examined one such set of bones kept by the
Lodge in Suva. Since the Masons are a private organization, their records
are not open to public inspection. We cannot exclude the possibility
that the Gardner skeleton may have gone into the custody of some other
Masonic lodge or that they were disposed of in some other fashion by
a fellow-member of Hoodless’ lodge.
in the abstract, is that Hoodless gave the box and bones to someone
else who wanted them simply for the novelty value. If so, the remaining
members of the old guard didn’t give us any hints about someone with
an item like that in their possession. There were times when we were
tempted to think that there was a conspiracy of silence on the part
of the survivors of the colonial era. One person told us that the 1999
team was perceived as acting on behalf of the CIA and that information
was therefore withheld from them. But I am convinced that people were
silent because they truly do not know what happened to the things brought
to Suva from Gardner. Hanlon’s Razor counsels that we should not attribute
to malice what is sufficiently explained by ignorance. Everyone we spoke
with was unfailingly courteous and generous with their time; they seemed
as baffled as we are that the British bureaucracy lost the materials
that were in their custody.
Even if Hoodless
gave the bones away to some collector, he probably couldn’t have secured
the sextant box, shoe parts and corks to go with the kanawa box; or,
more accurately, he probably couldn’t have gained control of those things
without a record being made of it in the WPHC file. Using Hoodless’
behavior to explain the disappearance of the bones does not explain
the disappearance of the other materials.
Roger and I read
six years of outgoing correspondence (1941-1946) from the office of
the Central Medical Authority (CMA), hoping that the topic of the bones
might come up. No further correspondence is available in the National
Archives in Suva; nor is it listed in the holdings of the archives of
the WPHC in Auckland. We do not know enough about the history of the
CMA to determine why the records are incomplete. Dr. D.C.M. “Jock” MacPherson
made several entries in the bones file in his capacity as Acting Director
of the CMA in 1941; it is not inconceivable that a later High Commissioner
let a later Director of the CMA make a final decision about the Gardner
The war correspondence
of the CMA shows no interruption and no trace of panic. Tunnels were
dug in the soapstone ridge under the Colonial War Memorial Hospital
(CWMH) to be used as air-raid shelters, and they were improved and equipped
for emergency use as the war progressed. Tofiga told us that some WPHC
materials went into similar soapstone tunnels in two locations. We cannot
be certain that all the material that went into the tunnels came out
again after the war, but nothing in the material we found in the National
Archives or in the WPHC Archives suggests anything like a panic-stricken
emptying of offices during the war or a haphazard restoration of stored
materials after the war. The bureaucrats foresaw the war in the Pacific
and prepared for it; during the war, they foresaw the coming of peace
and prepared for that, too. The 1999 team searched some of the tunnels
under CWMH and encouraged the Public Works Department to be on the lookout
for the Gardner material; if that is where the bones lie hidden, we
will need a stroke of good luck to uncover them.
The 1999 team
also made sure that the bones are not currently in the possession of
the FSM. Dr. Burns measured all of the bones in their collection and
found that none of them resemble any of the bones described by Dr. Hoodless.
We cannot be certain that the school never possessed the bones after
Hoodless retired, but we are as sure as we can be that they are not
One of the suggestions
that Hoodless made in his report was to send the bones to a Professor
Elkins in Australia for further examination. The notes in the file are
not perfectly clear, but TIGHAR has determined that Elkins’ records
contain no mention of such a request. Mrs. Stan Brown, who entered the
Colonial Service around 1945 and who still acts as a personal secretary
for Ratu Mara, a prominent chieftain and former Prime Minister of Fiji,
said that she thought the sextant box had gone to Australia and been
identified as a German product, but we have not yet been able to find
any confirmation of her story.
The people we
interviewed had conflicting views of what Hoodless would have done with
the bones. One person thought that he would have kept them in his custody
because Suva was the center of the Western Pacific world; another was
equally certain that Hoodless would not have kept the bones at CMS because
he would have known that the school was ill-prepared to keep custody
of the skeleton – “It would not have been prudent to leave them here.”
Looking at the poor state of records-keeping at CMS/FSM with the benefit
of hindsight, that is a statement we can make with some confidence today;
it is anybody’s guess whether Hoodless himself would have been as critical
as we are of the institution that he founded.
2C. Henry Harrison Vaskess
Vaskess was Colonial
Secretary under Sir Harry Luke. In a sense, he was the number one civil
servant in the hierarchy – in all likelihood, Sir Harry and the other
High Commissioners did not work their way up the colonial ladder the
way that Vaskess did. The 1999 team learned that some people called
Vaskess “the prince of bureaucrats.” He was fifty years old in 1941
and probably at the peak of his career. He remained in Fiji after retiring
from the colonial service on May 1, 1948, becoming for at least a time
the proprietor of Fairview House, and dying on July 7, 1969. During
the war, his wife and sons lived in Sydney. His room in government quarters
was sparsely furnished – he was definitely not the kind of man who would
take things home from the office to decorate his residence. Every morning
he would walk uphill to work, smoking a cigarette and carrying a bag
of sandwiches for lunch; he would quit work around 5:30 PM and walk
back to his room again. In 1946, he used his skills and standing to
secure the purchase of Kioa, an island in Fiji, on behalf of Foua Tofiga’s
community from Vaitupu in the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu). Without Vaskess’
help, Tofiga’s group would almost certainly have been outbid in the
Vaskess was a
major player in the assessment of the material collected from Gardner
Island. Tofiga told the 1999 team that he believed Vaskess had the sextant
box in his office. The bones file suggests that the shoe parts and corks
never left his office. Every person we spoke with about Vaskess agreed
that he was not the kind of man to be careless or corrupt in his work
for the High Commission. As an example of the level of detail kept in
the files, consider 3082/1941: “Typewriter of Officer-in-Charge, Phoenix
Islands Settlement Scheme:– Repairs to. 1941.”
We are convinced
that if Vaskess had disposed of the Gardner material, there would be
a note in the original bones file or – if the file was unavailable for
some reason – a new file would have been opened. If this is true, then
it seems reasonable to suppose that no final disposition was made during
Vaskess’ career as High Secretary, which ended in 1948.
If one makes an
alternative evaluation of the character of Sir Harry and Vaskess, then
it is conceivable that they came to some kind of agreement orally and
made a conscious decision not to record what they did with the material.
If they took that route, then it is doubtful that TIGHAR will ever be
able to find out what was done with it.
2D. Dr. Kenneth James Gilchrist
Dr. Gilchrist was
one of our chief suspects when we went to Suva for two reasons: some
members of the “old guard” remember him talking about Earhart’s bones
and TIGHAR knew that he had donated some kind of collection to the University
of the South Pacific (USP). He had been Principal of FSM from 1965 until
1970, so it seemed conceivable that he might have inherited the bones
from his predecessors and passed them on to USP. When we asked people
who knew him, some agreed that he was “eccentric enough” to have taken
the bones, but the majority of his friends and associates did not remember
him talking about Earhart and none of them ever saw the bones in his
collection. People generally remembered him with respect and affection.
One woman who had helped him collect shells told how Gilchrist had polished
them for her – “he was a delightful man.”
the story of his life in his obituary, which he prepared and left in
the hands of his executor:
Born in London,
graduated in medicine Guy’s hospital, London, 1932. After a number
of house appointments he joined the Colonial Medical Service in 1936
as Surgeon and remained in this until his retirement in 1970. He was
Civil Surgeon to Gibraltar for ten years through the Spanish Civil
War and the 2nd World War (liaison with R.A.M.C., status of Lieutenant
Colonel). In 1946 was appointed Fiji’s first Surgeon Specialist; in
1949 Surgeon Specialist to Northern Nigeria; returned to Fiji in 1952.
In 1956 he opted out of Practical Surgery for full-time work in the
Fiji School of Medicine (then Central Medical School of the South
Pacific), at which he continued (the last six years as Principal)
until his retirement in 1970 at age of 60.
he lived quietly in Lami. Many young Fijians of Lami, Suvavou and
Suva will remember him as “Professor.” He built up a well-known extensive
collection of seashells, and in recent years personally collected
a great number of fossil seashells of old Fiji (Pliocene [sic] and
Miocene, back to 7,000,000 years old) which he fully catalogued. He
never took Fiji Citizenship, preferring to retain his British Nationality.
He was cremated at his wish very privately at Vatuwaqa on Tuesday
the 27th day of October 1992.
Before we left
the mainland, we thought it would be an easy matter to locate the material
that Gilchrist left to USP, but no one that we contacted in the library,
the faculty or the administration had any recollection of the bequest.
One professor categorically denied that Gilchrist had given anything
to the university. We had to obtain a copy of Gilchrist’s will and persuade
his executor to give us a copy of the receipt from USP for the bequest.
The professor who had signed the receipt and taken custody of the collection
had retired from USP and left Fiji. It still took the Vice Chancellor’s
secretary several phone calls to determine that a lab technician in
the Biology Department knew where the fossils were located.
The catalogs prepared
by Dr. Gilchrist show that he made three substantial donations of fossil
shells: to the Australian Museum in 1988, to the Smithsonian in 1989
(7000 shells representing nearly 2000 species), and to the USP in 1993
(5300 specimens representing 1050 species). Although he was not trained
as a paleontologist, Gilchrist was clearly a very organized and methodical
person. The collection is held in very shallow drawers that are too
small and too short to hide the skull and bones collected from Gardner.
Since Gilchrist’s focus was on the scientific value of the fossil record,
it seems inconceivable to me that he would have mixed human remains
in with the shells he had so assiduously collected, identified and catalogued.
Apart from the
fossil collection, Gilchrist left various amounts of money to people
who had served him. As far as we can tell, they are all deceased. Dr.
Gilchrist’s remaining personal property and real estate was sold at
public auction. No inventories of those items is available. There was
a nephew who received F$35,000, but we have not yet contacted him to
see if he has any recollection of his uncle talking about Earhart or
the bones from Gardner Island.
|3. The Material May Have Been Given to Another Institution.
The easiest interpretation
of the bones file – and the one most consistent with our evaluation of
the quality of colonial record-keeping – is that Sir Harry just decided
to hold on to the things collected from Gardner for the time being.
There are many turning points in the history of the WPHC and the colonies
when a later High Commissioner or Colonial Secretary may have decided
to place everything in the hands of some other institution. Perhaps
this later generation of civil servants did not have access to the bones
file or did not know themselves how to find it in their archives; perhaps
the material was judged to be of no particular value or interest to
the WPHC and therefore did not win the full attention of the staff.
The longer the time lag after 1941, the easier it is to imagine that
something like this might have happened.
3A. July 20, 1942: Departure of Sir Harry Luke
The analysis of
the skeleton and other items brought from Gardner took place during
the run-up to war in the Pacific. The last observations on the sextant
box and shoe parts were recorded in August of 1941. Gallagher died at
the end of September. A reorganization of the WPHC filing system was
begun in November (from a system indexed annually to a topical index).
Pearl Harbor was attacked in December. During the next six months, Sir
Harry decided to resign. On June 12, 1942, he wrote: “I have now held
office here for nearly four years, without a break other than the relief
of change of work afforded by inspections of the territories of the
High Commission. The tempo and strain are not diminishing, and leave
is in present circumstances out of the question. So I am making way
for a younger man, and have to-day announced my resignation.” Major-General
Sir Philip Even Mitchell, KCMG, MC, was appointed Governor of Fiji July
22, 1942. According to Tofiga, Mitchell said “I have come not to govern
but to wage war.” When it was clear that the Japanese were in retreat
in the Pacific theater, Mitchell was replaced by Sir Alexander William
George Herder Grantham, who took over on January 1, 1945.
Since Dr. Hoodless
had said the bones could not possibly belong to Earhart, it is possible
that any of these three men may have said in effect, “Oh, just get rid
of that stuff. I can’t be bothered with it.” It was unquestionably a
difficult time and it is not hard to imagine the case slipping into
obscurity or being handed off to some other institution.
3B. 1944: Return to Tarawa
The Japanese occupied
the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1942. The U.S. Marine Corps took Tarawa
away from the Japanese in November of 1943. Once the islands were secure
and the battle moved toward Japan, the British would eventually have
sent bureaucrats back to the island to get things returned to normal.
Since the Phoenix Islands were governed through Tarawa, it is possible
that Major-General Mitchell or one of the subsequent High Commissioners
decided to return the material collected from Gardner to their custody.
3C. 1945: Peace in the Pacific
TIGHAR has discovered
that the WPHC wrote W.R. Carpenter Shipping on August 7, 1945, to ask
them to pick up four trunks containing Gallagher’s belongings and ship
them to his mother in England. This fact shows that the WPHC was capable
of putting work on the back burner for four years and then addressing
it when the time was ripe. It also demonstrates that the WPHC had some
method of storing bulky items and retrieving them as needed. We do not
know the inner workings of this system. It is at least conceivable that
the Gardner material was put into the same storage system and that it
was retrieved and dealt with at the same time as the four trunks.
3C. 1952: WPHC Moved to Honiara
A major event in
the history of the WPHC was splitting the role of Governor of Fiji from
that of the Western Pacific High Commissioner; Sir Leslie Brian Freeston,
KCMG, OBE, was the last to hold the two offices simultaneously, from
November 22, 1947 until Jan 29, 1952. Several things happened as a result
of this split: the WPHC moved from Suva, Fiji, to Honiara on Guadalcanal
in the Solomon Islands. The offices of the WPHC were closed in Fiji
and Central Archives were founded under Dorothy Crozier in Suva to hold
pre-1920 material; she selected materials from the collection for the
Kingdom of Tonga, the Pitcairn Islands Colony, and the Consul-General
for the Western Pacific.
The first minute
in F.10/49/1, “WPHC Arrangements for the move to Honiara – General Considerations”
is from the new Western Pacific High Commissioner, R.C.S. Stanley, on
July 19, 1952: “The documentary accumulation of years in these offices
is very considerable and it may well be that some part of it could be
destroyed and some left in Fiji for safe custody at least until such
time as it is convenient to move it across. We do not want to clutter
ourselves up with anything that is not essential to the smooth working
of the combined Secretariat.” Two people we interviewed expressed the
opinion that the Gardner material would not have been taken to Honiara.
It is an “outpost of nothing.” In all likelihood, the material would
have been left in Fiji, discarded or sent to Tarawa. TIGHAR researchers
have done a pretty thorough reading of all material relevant to the
history of the colony on Gardner Island, and it seems unlikely that
the bones were returned there for safekeeping or burial; furthermore,
Harry E. Maude, OBE, who served as administrative officer of the Gilbert
and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC) from 1935 to 1947 and as the Resident
Officer from 1947 to 1971 has been interviewed by TIGHAR and does not
recall taking custody of the Gardner material; in fact, neither Sir
Harry nor Gallagher informed Maude about the collection and analysis
of the material – he knew nothing of the bones story until TIGHAR researchers
told him about it in 1998.
of material shipped to Honiara is fairly detailed (one list is 18 pages
long). The WPHC sent 150 tons of official and personal belongings late
in 1952, including the strong room door from Suva (½ ton), a camphor
wood box labeled “High Commissioner’s Office, Personal and Urgent,”
17.5 tons of office records, two or three motor cars, two bullocks,
six bales of hay, 1 crate of hens, household items, furniture of various
sorts, etc. The bills of lading are included in the file, but contents
are listed very generically: household items, furniture, bullocks, etc.
There is also a “List of Residual Files” to be left in Suva, one of
which is Foua Tofiga’s Confidential Personal File. Lastly there are
entries dealing with the physical transfer to the Fiji government of
all the remaining WPHC property in Suva: “You should also arrange for
the sale by public auction, or by tender, whichever appears to be likely
to produce the best prices, all the equipment left in the WPHC buildings
which is not to be taken over by Fiji Government, e.g., obsolete refrigerators,
mirrors, etc.” (7 March, 1953). Correspondence follows approving the
sale of paving blocks, bedding, and other furniture. The “List of office
furniture left in WPHC Offices” (March 20, 1953) does not include a
kanawa box or an old sextant box. The Residual Office was closed on
May 26,1953; there were two keys to the WPHC archives and strongroom.
The last thing to be sold is Marquand’s refrigerator after he leaves
of the records of the move depends entirely on one’s assumptions about
“what a British bureaucrat would do.” As Carl Sagan observed, absence
of evidence is not evidence of absence. The failure to mention the Gardner
material may mean that it has already been eliminated from WPHC custody
or it may mean that it was so trivial that it was not worth listing
explicitly either in the list of things shipped to Honiara or left in
Suva. My own guess as I write this is that the material was disposed
of some time prior to the move to Honiara in 1952, though I have no
reason to prefer a short or a long time previously. It is conceivable
that the bones file was packed for shipment to Honiara as a “live file”
when the Gardner material was disposed of; that would certainly be a
reasonable explanation of why no note was placed in the file, though
it would not account for the failure to open a new file to record the
3D. 1970-1978: Decline and Death of the WPHC
The territory governed
by the WPHC contracted over these nine years until there was nothing
left for the Commission to do. Fiji and Tonga became independent in
1970; that same year, the Central Archives were dissolved and Pitcairn
was placed under the jurisdiction of the High Commissioner in Wellington.
In 1972, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were removed from WPHC jurisdiction.
In 1973, the Commission ceased to govern the New Hebrides. The Solomon
Islands became autonomous in 1976 and gained independence in 1978. The
WPHC Archives were closed on November 20, 1978; GEIC records were shipped
to Tarawa in Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) and to Funafuti in
Tuvalu (formerly the Ellis Islands). Tuvalu gained independence in 1978
and Kiribati in 1979. The sorting, winnowing and packing of records
was done from 1976 to 1978, under the leadership of Patrick Donald (“Paddy”)
Macdonald, who had was the last Colonial Secretary for the WPHC and
who acted as archivist after the resignation of Bruce T. Burne. Macdonald
had been Assistant Secretary in 1941 and delivered the bones to Dr.
Hoodless on April 4 of that year. If anyone is likely to have known
the entire history of the bones, it is he – but he died in the last five
years or so.
Some WPHC files
that originated in or dealt with the GEIC went to Tarawa. The remainder
of the WPHC Archives were shipped by Macdonald to Hanslope Park in England
in 1978; they were then moved to Auckland in 2003. A complete survey
of all of the file headings in possession of the Archives failed to
turn up any file on the Gardner material other than the original bones
file, 4439/1940. The Archives do not possess all of the files created
by the WPHC. A few files of continuing sensitivity have been retained
in Hanslope Park, some have been sent to other archives, and some are
known to have been destroyed (e.g., “Aircraft accidents, civil, in Colonial
territories,” “United States plane crashed on Sydney Island: – Salvage
of materials from,” “Police: Persons Whereabouts in the Western Pacific
Territories: – Information Regarding”). I have examined most of the general
indexes for the topical filing system that was instituted in 1942 and
used until the WPHC closed (the card index for general correspondence,
1942-1954, as well as the corresponding Secretariat Index to Files of
General Correspondence for the 1-100 series). I did a very close reading
of the “Correspondence Register” for 1941 and the “Inward Index” for
1942, hoping that something might turn up about the end of Sir Harry’s
term as High Commissioner. I believe that similar indexes exist for
each year, but I did not have enough time to read each one. There are
also bound volumes of general outgoing correspondence for each year;
again, I read only the two volumes for the end of 1941 and the beginning
of 1942. I believe that there may also be bound volumes for telegrams
and dispatches, but I was not able to examine any of these during my
stay in Auckland.
This kind of brute-force
search is like looking for a needle in a haystack, except that we’re
not sure that the needle was ever there and the haystack has been divided
up and shipped several times. If there is any record of the disposition
of the Gardner material, it may be on a single piece of paper in the
WPHC Archives, the Solomon Island National Archives, or the Kiribati
|4. The Material May Still Be in Government Custody.
The net results
of TIGHAR’s research in 1999 and 2003 may be summarized in a series
of negations. As far as we can tell, the bones are not in a graveyard
in Suva, not in the custody of the Fiji Museum, not in the Fiji National
Archives, not at the University of the South Pacific, not at Government
House, not in the hospitals in Suva, not in the police evidence locker,
and not on Gardner Island. The likelihood of them being in Honiara or
Tarawa seems slight, but not negligible. If some private individual
has gained possession of either or both boxes, we have not been able
to locate that person.
It is possible
that at some point between 1941 and 1978, the kanawa box and the sextant
box were packed together in a larger box, footlocker or trunk, and have
gone into storage with the Fiji government, the court system in Fiji
or Tarawa, the Colonial Office, the British High Commission in Fiji
or Kiribati or some other part of the government. I imagine that these
institutions, like the wartime WPHC, have storage facilities of some
kind at their disposal. As with our experience at the University of
the South Pacific, we may not be able to persuade the custodians to
do a thorough search of their storage facilities until we find some
document that demonstrates that the material was given to them. Of course,
even with such documentation in hand, we might find that the institution
may have cleared out its trunk rooms long ago.
It is difficult
to decide whether there is any hope of finding the things collected
on Gardner and shipped to Suva so long ago. It is not hard to imagine
that someone somewhere destroyed or stole some or all of the material.
Such things happen every day. It is harder to believe that the bones,
sextant box, shoe parts and corks still exist in official custody, needing
only the right “Open Sesame!” to be revealed. But we have
not exhausted the work that could be done in Auckland, Tarawa or Honiara.
It might even be valuable to go over the ground once again in Fiji,
concentrating on the court system, government records and the history
of the Central Medical Authority, whose records are bafflingly incomplete
in Suva and (apparently) non-existent in Auckland. The key to unlock
the mystery may still be hidden in the Western Pacific.
X. Moleski, Ph.D., SJ