History of Nikumaroro

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Niku: History

Nikumaroro was known by sundry names during the early 19th century: Kemins' Island, Kemis Island, Motu Oonga, Motu Oona and Mary Letitia's Island. The first record of a European sighting was made by Capt. C. Kemiss (or Kemin, Kemish) from the British whaling ship Eliza Ann in 1824. On 19 August 1840 the USS Vincennes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition confirmed its position and recorded the atoll's name as "Gardner Island", originally given in 1825 by Joshua Coffin of the Nantucket whaler Ganges. Some sources say the island was named after U.S. Congressman Gideon Gardner, who owned the Ganges.[1] Since other sources say that family member Joshua Gardner was captain of the Ganges at this time, there is either some confusion in the historical record or both Gardner and Coffin were on board when the island was sighted in 1825.[2]

In 1856 Nikumaroro was claimed as "Kemins Island" by CA Williams & Co. of New London under the American Guano Islands Act. There is no record of guano deposits ever being exploited, however.[1] On 28 May 1892 the island was claimed by the United Kingdom during a call by HMS Curacoa. Almost immediately a license was granted to Pacific entrepreneur John T. Arundel for planting coconuts. Twenty-nine islanders were settled there and some structures with corrugated iron roofs constructed, but a severe drought resulted in the prompt failure of this project within a year. In 1916 it was leased to a Captain Allen, but remained uninhabited until 1938.

Chronological Synopsis

Draft--lots more dates to add to this collection.

29 November 1929 Wreck of SS Norwich City.
15 February 1937 HMS Leith visited to erect a flagpole and placard proclaiming the island property of His Majesty the King.
2 July 1937 Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan may have landed on the reef (Niku Hypothesis).
13 October 1937 Maude, Bevington, and 19 Gilbertese “delegates” explored the island.
30 November 1938 New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey Expedition team of 15 men arrived.
21 December 1938 Maude and Gallagher dropped off a work party of 10 Gilbertese settlers.
November-December 1939 USS Bushnell Survey.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bryan 1942, p. 71.
  2. Dunmore 1992, p. 115.