Earhart Project Research Bulletin
July 15, 2003

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:
  1. Someone may have destroyed the evidence surreptitiously.
  2. Someone may have kept some or all of the evidence as a curiosity.
  3. The material may have been given to another institution for safekeeping.
  4. The material may still be in government custody.
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.

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:

  1. Date.
  2. Hour of burial.
  3. Number of grave.
  4. Number of interment for year.
  5. Witness or Minister.
  6. Name (person buried or cremated).
  7. Sex.
  8. Age.
  9. Nationality.
  10. Place of death.
  11. Section of Cemetery in which interred.
  12. Person in charge of funeral.
  13. Description of grave.
  14. Memorials.
  15. Maintenance.
  16. Remarks.

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 1941.

2. Someone May Have Kept the Boxes as Souvenirs

When Gallagher 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 bones.

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: 1979).

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.)

Dr. Hoodless’ 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.

Another possibility, 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 skeleton.

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 there now.

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 auction.

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.”

Gilchrist told 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.

Since retirement 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.

The inventory 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 town.

The evaluation 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 decision.

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 National Archives.

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.

Martin X. Moleski, Ph.D., SJ

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