Niku I (1989)

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"The Earhart Project Expedition."

The content of this article is from Tom King. It has been turned into a wiki article and polished for the wiki by sundry wiki editors.

The initial field survey on Nikumaroro turned out to be a general reconnaissance, though we had rather more grandiose plans for it. Having no first-hand knowledge of the island, and perhaps a rather inflated notion of how apparent the remains of an Electra might be, we half-expected to come home with some certainty about whether Earhart and Noonan had or had not landed on the island. This, of course, was not to be.


Background research prior to departure had been limited to study of published sources and consultation with a few people who had been on Nikumaroro (such as the Smithsonian ornithologist Roger Clapp). We set out to expand our background knowledge of the island during a week spent in Suva, Fiji while making logistic arrangements. We quickly learned that the records of the Western Pacific High Commission (WPHC), which had overseen the Phoenix Islands in colonial times, had been sent back to London and/or distributed to the former colonies, but the library at the University of the South Pacific yielded a number of useful secondary sources. Notable among these was Sir Harry Luke’s From a South Seas Diary, which includes Sir Harry’s account of his visit to Nikumaroro shortly after Gallagher’s death, and provided a photo of the “Rest House” where Gallagher lived.

We sailed for Nikumaroro on September 12 aboard Pacific Nomad, an erstwhile trawler re-outfitted as a dive tour vessel. Transit to the island, via Pago Pago in American Samoa, took five days; we arrived off Nikumaroro on September 17th.

Survey work in 1989 generally comprised two sets of activities: a land search and a reef search, carried out simultaneously by separate teams under Ric Gillespie's overall direction. Dr. King headed the land team and advised on archeological methods for the dive team; Mr. Joe Latvis was in charge of the dive team. Each team member was responsible for keeping a daily log, using standard forms, and team leaders kept more elaborate daily and situational notes. Expedition photographers Pat Thrasher and Mary DeWitt and videographer Russ Matthews worked opportunistically with both teams, and the dive team maintained its own photographic and videographic record. The land team also undertook work in the lagoon.

Land Search

Naively, we had thought that we could inspect a twelve square kilometer island pretty thoroughly in three weeks with sixteen people. As we circumnavigated the island before landing, we began to realize how wrong we had been. Not only was twelve square kilometers a good deal larger "on the ground" than it seemed in looking at a map; the vegetation was much denser than we had anticipated. As it turned out, the formerly populated parts of the island were densely wooded in coconut and pandanus, while much of the rest was covered with mao (Scaevola frutescens).

Nevertheless, we set out to make as detailed an inspection as we could. Immediately upon coming ashore, and beginning to work our way across from the landing site to the lagoon, we began to encounter traces of the colonial village--a standing structure with a sign identifying it as the "Gardner Co-Op Store, 1940" just inland from the landing, and a scatter of artifacts and structural remains extending most of the way to the lagoon shore. Reasoning that the last place to look for an unreported airplane would be in a known habitation site, we noted these items only in passing and made no plans for a systematic inspection of the village site.

The first order of business, having gotten a boat into the lagoon and equipment moved to "Club Fred," a field station on the lagoon shore, was to inspect a long open area that extends up into the heart of the land unit called Nutiran. The southern portion of this area comprises a sandbar along the lagoon shore; the northern a mud flat replete with land crab burrows. Since it is open and flat, we speculated that it might have been a tempting landing area even though it runs across the prevailing wind. Since Nutiran was never entirely cleared for planting, we speculated that there might be places along the fringe of the flat where an airplane, or its remnants, might have become hidden and stayed that way. Though the fringes seemed the most likely places to look for evidence, we checked the entire flat for anything that might have fallen off an airplane making a rough landing. Over several days, the survey party members walked transects across the open area and cut transects back into the surrounding bush at approximate 15 meter intervals. Our intent in the latter enterprise was to inspect the fringe back to wherever the land rose sufficiently to have arrested the momentum of an airplane, or where evidence of planting began to appear.

We quickly learned several things. First, the mudflat would not have been a particularly good place to land an airplane. The soil is extremely soft, the salt water table is only about 20 to 30 cm. deep, and the whole area is riddled with crab holes. This makes walking hazardous; one falls through the crust with discouraging and rather dangerous frequency, plunging through into knee deep slime. It would have made landing an airplane hazardous, too, and although Earhart and Noonan probably wouldn't have known this, it surely would have arrested the aircraft's forward motion in short order, leaving a quite apparent wreck for the Colorado pilots to see.

Second, we learned that mao is extremely difficult to cut through -- or indeed even to see through. Having cut 3 or 4 meters into the wall of mao that lined the eastern side of the mudflat/sandbar -- with considerable effort, since the wall was made up primarily of hard, dry, intertwined stalks that tend to turn a blade -- one found that one literally could not see anything much more than a meter to either side. To make matters worse, even with continual compass checks, it was very difficult to keep a steady bearing.

While the level of visibility we experienced, and the level of accuracy we were able to maintain, were doubtless sufficient for locating an intact aircraft, they were not at all encouraging with respect to locating pieces of one -- to say nothing of the human remains, ephemeral campsites, and artifact scatters that could also evidence the one-time presence of lost aviators. On the other hand, we quickly found that the east side of the mudflat/sandbar was lined with a coral shelf that would certainly have kept an airplane from running very far into the bush, so we inspected this area as well as we could, as far in as the shelf, and shifted our attention to the west side. Here the mao was somewhat less dense, and gave way to palm forest where the problem was not so much getting through the bush as it was seeing the ground and keeping one's footing in the dense litter of fronds and coconuts. We inspected this area enough to satisfy ourselves that there were no airplanes or large parts lying around, but without extensive ground clearing we could easily have missed small parts and other artifacts.

The only evidence of human activity we found on or around the mudflat/sandbar comprised a few iron barrel fragments, coconut trees with footholds cut into them, the remains of two very small structures identified by Kaitara Kotuna, our Kiribati government representative, as probable field shacks used by coconut toddy collectors, and a number of standing coral slabs placed at more or less regular 25 meter intervals near the edges (discussed below). We were initially puzzled by these, and spent a good deal of time recording them. Upon finding another in the bush on the low ridge east of the mudflat/sandbar, however, and finding it to be aligned with one on the flat itself, we concluded that they were property boundaries, placed when Nutiran was divided for clearing and planting in the late 1940s.

We made further tries at organized transect survey, but invariably found that visibility was far from satisfactory. At the same time, the extreme density of the mao, combined with extreme heat (recorded at 120 f. on the beach) nearly resulted in heatstroke and exhaustion casualties on a couple of occasions. This persuaded us that a somewhat less formal approach to survey was in order. Eventually we evolved the following categories of survey method:

1. Intensive visual survey: Systematic walk-through on controlled transects, 5-15 meter spacing depending on visibility, with cutting as needed. Should be adequate for large object identification except that visibility is extremely limited in dense mao.

2. Cursory visual survey: Systematic walk-through with explicit search mission, but no effort made to walk controlled transects, and with only as much cutting as absolutely necessary. May involve crawling around, looking under, climbing over mao. Should be adequate for large object identification except where heavy mao obscures.

3. Unsystematic stroll: Walk-through for planning purposes, in transit to other area, recreation. No explicit search plan.

4. Intensive metal detector survey: Systematic metal detector sweeps covering all accessible ground surfaces.

5. Cursory metal detector survey: Spot-checks with metal detector; no effort to cover entire ground.

In this manner, we "covered" the island at varying levels of intensity, as shown in Figure N-4. In some areas the ground was quite open -- consisting of nothing but sun-blackened coral shelves and rubble that we came to call "moonscape." In such areas, obviously, we had no trouble inspecting the ground, though distinguishing one small sun-baked object from another -- in a field of sun-blackened coral fragments -- might well be another matter. Along the beach margins the visibility was also excellent, but here of course there was a great chance of buried material, so metal detectors were employed to sweep the area as intensively as possible. Most of the island was vegetated to some degree -- in buka toward the northwest end, in coconut and pandanus through most of the once-occupied areas, and in mao in altogether too many places -- and the density of the vegetation was the major determinant of survey intensity. Shovel-and-trowel pits and small area exposures were excavated where metal detecting or visual inspection suggested the presence of something worth looking at in detail.

In the waning days of the search, targeted cursory inspections were made on Kanawa Point and along the west shore of Nutiran.

Reef Search

The dive team, under the direction of Joe Latvis, attempted -- and generally accomplished -- a systematic inspection of the reef face from its edge at about 3 meters down to approximately 50 meters depth. In selected areas on both windward and leeward sides, dives were carried out to depths of 55 to 65 meters, and in one case to 68 meters. Divers typically swam approximately 15 meters apart, deployed down the face of the reef, marking progress with buoys. Visibility ranged from around 30 to around 60 meters, but the ability to see objects on the reef face was affected by very active coral growth. Metal detectors were used as systematically as possible, but time did not permit a complete metal detector sweep of the entire reef face. Metal detecting was not attempted, and indeed visual search was minimal, in the area southwest of the Norwich City wreck, where there is a very substantial ferrous debris field.

The reef flat at the mouth of Tatiman Passage was inspected on foot, with metal detectors swept over cavities and coral chunks that might hide metal within them.

Lagoon Search

Visibility in the lagoon was generally poor; in fact, the water is often so milky that visibility does not extend more than a meter or so from the diver. As a result, little diving was attempted in the lagoon. A towed magnetometer was deployed, but was not very effective. Visible coral heads were swept with metal detectors in the event they had grown over metal objects.

Exploring the Village

As noted above, we reasoned that the village was the least likely place for airplane wreckage or associated objects to go unnoticed and unreported, so we assigned it a very low priority for inspection. Its poignant history, however, coupled with its status as the most obvious archeological site on the island, gave it a certain fascination, and we also felt obligated to gather at least a cursory record of its existence and character. So village features were recorded as we encountered them either in organized search sweeps or in casual walking around, and the village also became an interesting focus for "recreational" exploration during slack periods in the main work of the land team. Two things quickly became apparent. First, the village was far more organized than we had anticipated, and it contained far more impressive building ruins. Second, the village contained fragments of aluminum, including fragments that were clearly from an airplane or airplanes. Accordingly, toward the end of the 1989 survey, attention shifted partly to the village and a fairly organized, if cursory, inspection was made. The "Government Station" constructed in 1940 under the supervision of Jack Kimo Petro and Gerald Gallagher was examined fairly closely and sketch-mapped; the shoreline was swept with metal detectors, a series of controlled transects were walked through the "new village" area north and south of the landing, and other parts of the Ritiati/Noriti village area were inspected casually.


Possible Prehistoric Occupation

Kenneth Emory, in his 1939 report on the archeology of the Phoenix Islands, reports prehistoric occupation on Nikumaroro, but does not describe the evidence of such occupation. Extensive prehistoric ruins are found on Manra and Orona.

A basalt adze bit and an andesite core from which flakes have clearly been struck were found in the vicinity of the colonial village, the former near the lagoon shore in an area heavily disturbed by land crabs, the latter near the landing monument. The soil of the area where the adze bit was found is a rich, black sandy loam whose color and texture suggests the presence of organic midden typical of a long-established residential site, but no other prehistoric artifacts were found there. The area around the landing monument has been heavily used in colonial and recent times, but shows no evidence of prehistoric human occupation. Both stone objects are clearly not native to a coral island like Nikumaroro, but both could easily have been brought to the island by a colonial era resident or visitor.

In the buka forest on northeastern Nutiran, "Buka Feature 1" was a cluster of coral slabs, most lying flat but some upright, tightly enough packed together to resemble a constructed platform or other structure. This feature most likely represents uplifted and weathered ledges of cemented coral, but it is marginally possible that it represents a prehistoric structure or structures. No artifacts were noted in the area. Visibility in the dense forest was very limited, and we did not invest the time necessary to clear and map this feature.

On the lagoon shore in Tekibeia, east of Kanawa Point, approximately 300 small giant clam (Tridacna sp.) valves lie on a coral ledge, many of them cemented to the ledge by calcareous precipitate. A living clam bed is immediately adjacent, in the shallow embayment that forms the east side of Kanawa Point. Further inspection of this site in 1999 revealed that the the shell "midden" extends for a considerable distance along the shore. This site could represent prehistoric occupation, but material can become cemented to coral in a matter of decades, so it could just as easily represent the subsistence activities of colonial residents -- or marooned aviators. No artifacts were observed among the shells.

Colonial Period Sites on Nutiran

On the north and east sides of the Nutiran mudflat, and along the beach curving to the east toward Taraea, we mapped the 14 stone features shown schematically in Figure N-5. Some of the mudflat features are single irregularly shaped coral slabs, 30 to 50 cm. across and 10 to 20 cm. thick, standing on edge. Their long axes are aligned at 60° to 70°, that is, perpendicular to the coral shelf that forms the east side of the mudflat. Others are cairns of coral rocks, while others are combinations of standing slabs and cairns. In one case (Feature 7) there are three aligned upright slabs; another feature (Feature 10) consists of a single slab lying on its face. Features 2 through 5 form a line running down the long axis of the mudflat, about 30 to 50 meters out from the coral shelf. Feature 9 continues the line onto the shelf at the northwest end of the mudflat, while Feature 10 extends it (after an interval of some 200 meters) to the northeast edge at the beach. Features 6, 7. And 8 intersect this line at Feature 5, forming a perpendicular, while Features 11 through 14 extend at an oblique angle from it along the beach. The long axes of the upright stones on the beach bear 270°-290°, perpendicular to the shoreline. Spacing between the features is fairly consistent at 25 meters, but for the gap between Features 5 and 10 and the closer spacing of Features 12 and 13.

Metal detector hits (H-1 and H-2) were excavated near Feature 1, and proved to be highly corroded ferrous metal spikes, one with its proximal end bent over into a ring. A third hit (H-3) near Feature 8 and the northeastern coral shelf, was a cluster of fragments from a heavy, cast iron ring with rivets set 12.5 cm. apart, probably the remains of a reinforcing hoop from a large cast iron barrel or tank. Tiny fragments of heavily rusted ferrous metal were noted among the rocks making up Features 5, 6, and 7.

There is no reason to think that this complex of features has anything to do with Earhart and Noonan. They could represent markers erected by the New Zealand aerodrome survey party in 1938, but we think it more likely that they were property boundary markers put up in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Figure N-6 is a sketch-map of property divisions on Nutiran made by Paul Laxton in 1949. It is impossible to make a close comparison using his unscaled sketch, but it appears that the northern edge of the area he had parcelized is close to the line formed by Features 5, 6, 7, and 8. The widths of his parcels, too, appear similar to the 25-meter spacing between each pair of Features 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9. Perhaps these features represent divisions made after Laxton filed his 1949 report with its sketch-map.

In 1939, Henry W. Bigelow, Jr., of the U.S.S. Bushnell, commented that on Manra (Sydney Island): "The coconut trees on the island have been divided into lots of twenty-five trees, and the corners of these lots marked by coral slabs on edge, not in cement, or by cairns."

On the last day on the island in 1989, John Clauss, Veryl Finlayson and LeRoy Knoll reconnoitered the west side of Nutiran, an area separated from the mudflat by a thick belt of buka and mao. They encountered a number of large, carefully excavated babae pits and the remains of several houses. These were examined in more detail in 1999, and will be discussed later.

Colonial Period Sites on Aukaraime South

On Aukaraime South, closer to the lagoon than the ocean shore and toward Baureke Passage, we noted occasional evidence of colonial period occupation or use in the form of scattered 55-gallon drum fragments, pipes, and badly rusted ferrous metal. The area had been cleared and planted to coconuts, as described by Gallagher and as documented by airphotos from 19xxx (See Chapter on airphoto imagery?]x). Some coconuts survive, in some cases forming dense clumps, while others have died; the latter are represented by stumps, fallen trees, and depressions where trees have been uprooted and then rotted away. Rusted fragments of 55-gallon drums, a standing water pipe, a galvanized washbasin, and several bottles were noted, scattered over an area of several hectares. A single, isolated grave was the only cultural feature (other than the coconut trees) recorded at Aukaraime South in 1989; it was smaller than the graves that are common in the colonial village proper (see below), with prominent head and foot stones. This grave was closely studied during Niku II (1991), and will be discussed in detail later.


We spent little time inspecting the old LORAN station at Ameriki, since it seemed quite unlikely that evidence of an airplane or its crew would have escaped the attention of the Coast Guardsmen who built the station and served there. A cursory inspection showed that the landscape had been considerably rearranged by bulldozing, with an occasional antenna site marked by guy wires and cement anchors, and a light scatter of detritus in the form of decayed planks, wire, insulators, and pieces of nondescript metal. A cluster of some 60 rusted fuel drums, a pile of anchor chain, and what appears to have been a bulldozed sewage lagoon remain as visible evidence of the LORAN station. An aluminum pole about 15 meters high stands on the ocean shore near the extreme southeastern end of the island, with a shield-shaped sign identifying it as associated with the “Space and Missile Test Center” -- a U.S. Air Force program based at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which in the 1970s used the Phoenix Islands area as a target for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Another indicator of recent activity at this end of the island is a coral stone cairn with a survey marker bearing the words: Royal Australian Survey Corps 1985: Gardner AZ (Azimuth). A refuse pit nearby containing the remains of Australian food containers probably represents the leavings of the survey party responsible for the marker.

The Windward Beach

The windward beach contained a considerable amount of modern debris, notably fishnet floats and rubber flip-flops. A large steel tank lay on the reef flat, doubtless flotsam off a passing ship. Metal detecting along the beach and beach margin resulted in two hits, both of which were excavated. One was a piece of lead pipe, while the other was a 5-meter driftwood log. The log turned out to be partly hollow, with evidence of charring. Several fragments of plastic, part of a plastic bottle, and a blue plastic hair comb were found in association, but nothing that explained the fairly strong reading given by the metal detector. The northern end of the log showed a reddish stain that might have resulted from the complete oxidation of a piece of iron. We interpret this feature as the result of a fairly recent campfire.

The Reef

For the most part, the dive team found only pieces of fishing longline and the ends of fuel drums. At one location off the mouth of Tatiman Passage they came upon and recorded a scatter of metal objects and a battery, as described below.

The debris field from the Norwich City, inspected only cursorily, dropped quickly down the face of the reef, which is very steep at the point the ship struck, exhibiting little lateral extent. On the reef and beach, fragments of the ship's hull plates and equipment are scattered mostly to the southeast, and as noted below, pieces are found in the lagoon, where they must have floated.

Perhaps the most useful piece of information to emerge from the dive team's work was the understanding we gained of the reef's character. On the lee side, the reef typically descends rather gently to a depth of about 12 meters, then becomes increasingly steep to about 40 meters, and then drops precipitously into the depths. Particularly off the northwest side of the island around Tatiman Passage there are arroyo-like features three or four meters deep and a meter or two wide, which the divers thought could easily catch and hold aircraft parts falling down from the reef flat, though none were noted. A shelf was noted at about 10-12 meters deep along the lee side, extending for some distance to the northwest from the vicinity of the Norwich City wreck. On the windward side the pitch of the reef is somewhat less precipitous and the reef is cut by "spur and groove" features -- high energy channels radiating out from the island, generally quite straight, and one to two meters wide. The windward side also features a number of crater-like features that trap sand and could easily trap airplane wreckage were there any to be trapped. The reef on this side is also undercut at some points.

Objects found by the dive team included many barrel rings, fragments of Norwich City hull, a length of copper pipe (which looked like aluminum underwater, generating considerable interest), and a three-cell automobile battery. The pipe -- probably from a ship -- is certainly not from a Lockheed Electra. The Electra did carry batteries, of course, but there were also many batteries identical to the one found by the divers, piled in the vicinity of the village wireless station. Members of the Nomad's crew said that dead batteries are often used as boat anchors. The battery was found not far from the village, near the mouth of Tatiman Passage.

The Lagoon

The lagoon search revealed occasional 55-gallon drums, usually standing upright in shallow water, most of them near Ameriki. We subsequently learned that the LORAN station had had a dock lined with such drums. The New Zealand survey party also used such drums as markers.

Karaka Village/Government Station, Ritiati


The original colonial village on Nikumaroro was at the point shown on Figure N-7; it existed from about the time of the work party's arrival in late 1938 until 1940. Its site today is a swampy lowland which was not inspected in 1989. The second village was the one that after his death was named after Gerald Gallagher ("Karaka"), built around the "Government Station" constructed in 1940 under the direction of Jack Kimo Petro and Gerald Gallagher. The third village, which following Laxton we will refer to as the "new village" was more diffuse than the old Government Station village, extending far southeast of the old village through Ritiati. This is the village that developed after World War II, initially under the direction of Paul Laxton. We will discuss the "old," Karaka Village and Government Station first.

Sir Harry Luke Avenue

In his 1951 article on the Nikumaroro colony, Paul Laxton describes a walk to and around the Government Station; it may be most enlightening to follow him. We can also draw on the account left by Sir Harry Luke of his visit in 1941, only months after Gallagher's death.

"[[Gerald Gallagher[[ had made Gardner the model island of the Phoenix, and we walked the best part of a mile along the broad and well-laid-out 'Sir Harry Luke Avenue' to the station on the lagoon side of the island."

"We turned away from the landing, which lies perhaps a mile by track from the visiting officer's house near the Tatiman passage. Running back at right angles from the beach is a traverse track straight through the lagoon... (W)e turned, as we progressed coming into the well-tended village plantation, and then to the village. This had been beautifully laid out by Gallagher and cleanly kept. A half-mile avenue, lined with coral stones, passed the neat houses along the lagoon shore on our right, the whole area planted with fine flourishing young coconuts in straight lines plantation fashion."

Today, the straight transverse track to the lagoon cannot be seen for vegetation and deadfall, though we identified traces of it in 1997 when we mapped our own "Gallagher Highway" from the landing to the lagoon. Exactly where Sir Harry Luke Avenue branches off is not clear, but once one is on it it is easy to follow -- seven meters wide and curving gently to the north along the center of the island. Its edges are marked with neatly built curbs of coral -- small slabs placed end-to-end. The neat houses and thriving young coconuts to the right (east) of the avenue have become a tangled coconut forest, while mao intrudes from the left, ocean-side.

Border Wall, Parade Ground, Gallagher's Grave

"At the end of the avenue an archway emblazoned with the Union Jack greeted us with "Welcome to Gardner" in red, white and blue paint."

The avenue ends by passing through a low, dry-laid coral wall that marks the Government Station's southerly boundary, extending to the southeast most of the way across to the lagoon. At least three deep babae pits flank the avenue just outside the wall.

Perhaps because it was commonplace to them, neither Sir Harry nor Laxton explicitly describes the aspect that made the Government Station so striking to our American eyes (once we realized what we were seeing) -- the large parade ground that is its centerpiece. This appears to have entirely open to the sky and paved with crushed white coral. It is bordered in the same manner as the avenue, and is circumscribed by similarly constructed roads (Figure N-8).

"In the middle (of the parade ground) is Gallagher's grave, lovingly constructed by the natives to MacPherson's design."

Designed by Dr. Macpherson, Gallagher's grave monument resembles that of Robert Lewis Stevenson in Samoa. A house-shaped structure of concrete, probably over a coral core, it sits on a low rectangular platform lined with small slabs (Fig. N-9). The files of the Western Pacific High Commission indicate that shortly after its construction a bronze plaque was affixed to its end, paid for with subscriptions collected by Harry Maude, that read:

In affectionate Memory
Of the Colonial Administrative Service.
Officer in charge of the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme
Who died on Gardner Island, where he would have wished to die, on the
27th September, 1941, aged 29 years
His selfless devotion to duty and unsparing work on behalf of
The natives of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands
Were an inspiration to all who knew him, and to his labours is largely
Due the successful colonization of the

Erected by his friends and brother officers.

This plaque has since disappeared. [Note: The plaque was moved to Gallagher's gravesite on Tarawa when his body was exhumed and transferred there after the Niku colony was abandoned.] At the east (head) end of the grave, in traditional I Kiribati fashion, a young coconut was planted. It is now quite large, and a coconut crab (Birgus latro) had made its home at its foot, burrowing under the grave structure. The crab was caught and eaten by Pacific Nomad's crew.

Aram Tamia, in his letter of condolence to Gallagher's mother, said:

"Mr. Gallagher is laid to rest at the foot of the flag-mast, and the flag he taught us to love and respect waves over him every day."

The flagstaff has fallen, of course, and is rapidly deteriorating. It stood over 15 meters high, was set in concrete, and had two cross-members with a short extension above them, rather like the topmast on a square-rigged ship (Fig. N-10).

The Rest House

"…and beyond it his (Gallagher's) house, built entirely of native materials, like Holland's and Steenson's at Tarawa, airy, spacious, and far and away the best type of house for Europeans in this part of the world."

"Beyond it the house already showed glimmering lights, and we found our baggage sprawled around…"

Gallagher himself provides more detail about this house:

This house is considerably more ambitious than that constructed at Sydney Island and, although smaller, is modeled after the Native Lands Commissioner's house on Beru Island…. It is hoped to furnish the main living room of the Rest House with furniture constructed entirely from locally grown "kanawa" -- a beautifully marked wood which abounds on the island and is being cut to waste as planting proceeds.

And Laxton says…

"The house had been built by Jack Kima (Petro) in the early days of the settlement. It has a concrete floor throughout, and is perhaps atwenty-five by sixty feet, the whole under a tall thatched roof carried on te non and pandanus poles. The centre space is divided into three rooms of approximately equal size by partitions eight feet high made of the centre ribs of coconut leaves, called te ba, leaving a four foot veranda all round. An office stood off the west side on the north end, and a balancing structure on the southern end housed the bathroom, lavatory, and washroom. An American lady who had visited with us earlier when the house had been unoccupied for some time, had proceeded to the lavatory, which is of the 'thunder-box' variety and found it full of dynamite, having been allocated by the island government as an explosive store. This adjusted, she later washed in the neat and impressive handbasin, with tap, plug and all, mentally apologising for reproaching the British with lack of push-pull sanitation; on removing the plug the water gurgled happily away, emerging immediately around her feet. A bucket should stand below to receive the waste. These and similar details had been squared away before our arrival, and the kitchen, too, a corrugated iron roof outhouse, was ready for action."

Figure N-11 shows the "Rest House" as Sir Harry's party photographed it in 1941. Figure N-12 is a 1989 view from the same angle, and Figure N-13 is a sketch-plan. The corrugated iron cookhouse remains intact, but the wood and thatch superstructure of the house proper is gone, apparently burned to judge from the charred beams and posts lying on the concrete floor.

What remains is a U-shaped concrete slab with the charred remains of eleven support posts set in its edges. The south corner lacks a post, being supported by the building's most remarkable feature -- the "thunderbox lavatory" referred to by Laxton. The lavatory is a rectangular concrete structure, about two by three meters with walls about 30 cm. thick, containing a claw-footed bathtub and perhaps other facilities, obscured by a fetid mass of decaying coconuts and fronds. A box-based portable toilet, still referred to as a "thunderbox" in parts of Australia and elsewhere, must have been among the facilities that the room held in Gallagher's time.

Foua Tofiga attributes the invention of this type of lavatory to Jack Kima Petro, who all sources agree oversaw construction of the Rest House and most if not all other major government construction in the Phoenix Island colony. As Mr. Tofiga explained it, the walls were built strongly to support a tank, into which water was pumped by hand so as to flow by gravity to the taps below. The tank has disappeared (though three galvanized iron tanks lie next to the cookhouse), but pipes and parts of a handpump still lean against the southeast wall of the room. The Rest House's thatch or mat walls must have covered the concrete walls of the lavatory, which are quite invisible in the 1941 photograph.

The Rest House is the only government structure on the square that is not aligned parallel to the peripheral streets. In fact it is on a diagonal, with a short walkway running out to the road. The main entrance to the house was apparently in the inside center of the "U." Around the northeast and south sides, and probably once extending around the north side, a slab-lined pathway may be the remains of the veranda that Laxton refers to. Beyond this to the northeast is a perfectly rectangular depression, perhaps a formal sort of babae pit. From the house, the view across this landscape feature to the lagoon beyond must have been stunningly beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Sights and Sites on Laxton's Walk

Having settled into the Rest House, Laxton had a tour of the station under the guidance of Aram Tamia:

"A hundred yards from the house to the north was the radio station, under charge of Teng Tekautu, a skillful, English-speaking, Gilbertese wireless operator. (Note for Ric: what do you suppose the "Met. Log" is?). His equipment, old and needing replacement, was well and intelligently maintained."

The wireless station (Site 20 in Figure N-8) was still standing in 1989, a simple frame structure with a few radio parts still lying on shelves along its walls. Nearby, a concrete pad showed where the antenna had stood, and a pile of old batteries indicated the source of power. Finding these batteries, and noting that they were identical to the one found by the dive team at the mouth of Tatiman Passage, eliminated the urge to view the latter as an Earhart-related artifact. A large pit (Site 21), presumably for babae, lies near the shore just northeast of the wireless station.

"Nearby stood the carpenter's shop of old Teng Kirata, a man of some fifty-five years of age. He was an early settler, but was one of those dissatisfied; he claimed that in spite of hard work on his piece of land, it remained infertile, and he and his wife Kinaai wished to return to their home island of Onotoa with their four young children."

Site 17 in Figure N-8 may represent the carpenter's shop. In 1989 it was represented by a standing wood wall with several collapsed wood shelves laden with machine parts and tools, a large tank, engine parts, standing house posts, and a dense concentration of tools, containers, machine parts, a collapsed cart, a roll of wire rope, and other material (Fig. N-14). A pile of solidified cement bags (Site 16) lies nearby, probably from the LORAN station.

"Beyond stands the boatshed which houses the whale boat, 'Nei Manganibuka'; on a sandy steep beach of the Tatiman Passage it faces north toward the wide expanse of Nutiran."

A rather ephemeral structure and its associations at Site 15 may represent the boatshed. Only scattered houseposts were noted in this relatively clear area in 1989. The main factor arguing for its association with the boatshed -- other than being "beyond" Site 17 when moving counterclockwise around the Government Station from the Rest House--is that as of 1989 there was a gentle slope from the site down to the shore of Tatiman Passage.

"Continuing toward the west we arrived next at the mission school and compound, presided over by Ten Rereia of the London Missionary Society. ... Of the forty-seven children on the island, most of the younger were at school ... The mission compound was well marked out, the straight lines of the boundaries having been made with regularly spaced posts of the non tree, which had taken root and grown bushy tops with fresh green leaves."

If the non tree markers still stand, we failed to distinguish them from the rest of the vegetation. Site 14, just southwest of Site 15, is a structure that has collapsed in on itself, with three posts on either side and a central ridge-beam. This building was apparently about five meters wide and six long, and may have been part of the mission compound.

"Beyond the mission is the dispensary and hospital, served by Medical Dresser Totanga, trained at Tarawa. The dispensary is clean and neat, and carries the list of drugs specified by the Senior Medical Officer. ... The hospital is an adjacent native-type house designed to accommodate patients whom the Dresser deems should be in-patients."

Since the hospital is described as a "native-type house," it seems reasonable to conclude that the dispensary was not. Site 11 (Fig. N-15) is a two-tiered concrete structure that may represent the dispensary. Seven by eight meters on a side, the higher part of this structure (5.5x8 meters) has holes for four large corner posts, while the lower part, 1.5x8 meters, has three holes for smaller posts, and suggests a porch facing the street. Heavy 1 cm. mesh screen, lumber, a brass wall-hook, and a brass trough-like object lay on the surface of the higher piece of the structure in 1989.

Site 12, just north of the concrete structure, is the remains of a traditional building that may represent the hospital. There are four standing coral slabs here, together with two fallen slabs, forming two parallel rows that were most likely supports for an elevated wooden structure. Nearby, Site 13 consists of three standing houseposts representing a structure about 2.5 meters wide and 4 meters long, with a few scattered timbers and pieces of brown bottle glass.

In addition to the sites described above, which more or less correspond with buildings identified by Laxton, Sites 18 and 19 -- each a rough rectangle of standing or collapsed houseposts, may represent houses that had not been constructed at the time Laxton took his walk. Describing changes that took place some time later, after the decision had been made to reorganize the colony, he reports that: "within a week the move was complete, the old village area now inhabited only by those who would return, the new by the majority who were to remain."

It is not clear whether by "old village" Laxton means only the old residential area, apparently south of the border wall (see below), or the larger area including the Government Station. If the latter was what he intended, it may be that sites 18 and 19 represent more or less temporary in-fill residences built by colonists awaiting repatriation to their home islands.

"We have described a semicircle in reaching the dispensary and are now facing south, with the village houses a hundred yards away on our left. Between is the temporary maneaba used also as a court house. We cross, and walk through the village, greeting the smiling women and talking to the old men ..."

At the point where they begin to "cross," Laxton and Aram appear to have been standing near the west end of the low stone wall bordering the south side of the Government Station, near Babae Pit Site 10. The village houses and temporary maneaba must then have been in the area to the southeast of this pit, southwest of the wall. We did not systematically inspect this area in 1989, and indeed have not really done so at this writing.

From here Laxton's walk, takes him and Aram down through Ritiati to Noriti, to the Norwich City, and elsewhere; we will have occasion to rejoin him later.

East Side of the Parade Ground

Laxton never describes what are now two of the Government Station's more impressive ruined buildings, which we labeled Sites 4 and 5. Site 4 (Fig. N-16)comprises a 25 cm. high concrete foundation platform seven meters long by 4.3 meters wide, with a two by three meter extension to the northeast, connecting with a stone-lined path leading to the Rest House. In 1989 a steel safe stood at the north corner of this platform, atop four short, stout posts impregnated with creosote; as a result the building came to be called the Safe House. The building had apparently been constructed at least in part of composition siding, with green wood shutters or window covers; the remains of the front wall, collapsed inward, lay on the surface of the platform. Two black-slipped clay bottles, square in cross section with pour-spouts, lay in the corner opposite the safe.

Eleven meters southwest along the road, Site 5 consists of a square coral and concrete platform about 30 cm high and seven meters on a side. Several creosote-soaked posts and the remains of 1 cm-mesh screens in wood frames lay on its surface, grown through by coconuts that were taking root in cracks in the cement. On the ground next to the northeast side of this structure was a fragment of a flat concrete slab -- noted and photographed again in 1997 -- with a date and name inscribed in it. The date is clearly 10/2/39 (10 February 1939 in the British system of date notation). The name, obscured by cracks, was initially recorded in the field as being something like "Arana Jama/ia," but could well be "Aram Tamia," Gallagher's assistant and later Island Magistrate.

In February of 1939, the site of the Government Station had apparently not even been selected, so it is unlikely that this date represents the time when the building on Site 5 was constructed. We have no record of anything happening on Nikumaroro in February of 1939, other than continuing clearing of buka forest and planting of coconuts.

The Safe House (Site 4) may represent the colony's cooperative store; certainly the safe would suggest that financial transactions took place here. However, when recorded in 1989 the safe stood on short lengths of creosote treated post about 40 cm. in diameter. Similar posts, often five and more meters long, are common in the "new" village, and are most likely antenna masts from the Loran Station. If they are, then their presence under the safe suggests that the safe was installed in the Safe House, or at least put on its posts, sometime after 1946.

The store building near the landing (described below) was identified as such by the sign on its façade, announcing it to be "Gardner Co-Op Store, 1940." However, it seems that the 1940 date is that of the store's founding, not that of the building's construction. Laxton tells us that in 1949 "the cooperative store was allotted a site near the landing place, but still convenient to the village."

Earlier, he notes that after the decision to reorganize the colony, "much time… was spent on the cooperative Society which, strictly speaking, did not exist, for the vacuum left by Gallagher's death stunted development of the workmen's ration store which existed in his time."

But if the store was originally in the Safe House, and moved to the landing around 1949, why was the safe left sitting in the old building on posts which could not have been retrieved from the Loran Station until after 1946?

Another possibility is that the Safe House represents an administrative building where the business of the colony was conducted, including disbursement of the wages paid to the workers. Its proximity to the Rest House, to which it is connected by a short, neat path lined in coral slabs, supports this possibility. The bottom line, however, is that we do not know what sort of building either the Safe House or the Site 5 house represents.

Sites 6 and 7 are rectangular clusters of creosote-soaked upright posts, apparently representing houses constructed after abandonment of the LORAN Station.

The Cistern

Southwest of the Government Station along Sir Harry Luke Avenue, the 20,000 gallon cistern built under Jack Kimo Petro's supervision still stands, and as of 1999 was still full of water (Fib. N-17). This concrete structure, about five by seven meters on a side, has a peaked corrugated metal roof from which water collects in gutters and is channeled into the interior.

"Noonan's Tavern"

Exploring the village shoreline west-southwest of the Government Station, we encountered a house site with a rather dense concentration of debris, notably including many bottles. Reflecting the popular if unsubstantiated myth about Fred Noonan's bibitory propensities, we called this site "Noonan's Tavern" (Fig. N-18). The site had four standing and two fallen houseposts whose distribution suggested a rectangular building about four meters wide and five meters long. A number of beams and poles apparently represented the remains of the roof. The density of material on this site, and the fact that some of it was aluminum, led us to record it in some detail, as shown in Figure N-18 and Table N-1.


1. Fallen post, notched, 2 meters long, eroded end toward shore, 20 cm diameter
2. Beam, natural (not milled), narrowed at ends, 8 meters long, 10 cm diameter.
3. Curved beam, ends cut at angle, with round head galvanized nails.  About 6 cm diameter, 2 meters long.
4. Standing post 2 meters high, 25 cm diameter, notched parallel with shore.
5. Straight beam, natural (not milled), 15 cm diameter, heavy ferrous spikes in ends.
6. Standing post 2 meters high, 25 cm diameter, similar to #4, with several 16-penny common nails.
7. Curved beam similar to #3, ends cut at angle.  East end rests in small Tournefortia tree.
8. Small eroded beam.
9. Standing post ith natural "Y" oriented parallel to shore.  Leans east.
10. Badly rotted milled plank ca. 25x5 cm x 3 meters.
11. Badly eroded beam with galvanized finishing nails
12. Curved beam 3 meters long, 20 cm. diameter, ends notched, with various nails.  Lies on #11.
13. Badly eroded beam, lies on #12.
14. Several badly eroded short beams.
15. Standing post similar to #s 4, 6.
16. Fallen post, dimensions same as #s 4, 6, 15.
17. Artifact 2-1-V-18 (aluminum dado, collected).
18. Aluminum corona suppression ring from antenna (Loran station)
19. Clear bottle, fluted shoulders and base-sides.  Embossed on base with "C" and "M" within flared, open-bottomed rectangle, symbols "1S 288"
20. Brown bottle, bottom embossed "Duncan Harwood & Co, Ltd., Vancouver, Canada; Bottle Made in USA, 101 49 7A."
21. Enamel pan.
22. Brown bottle, bottom embossed with "C" and "M" within flared, open-bottomed rectangle, symbols "I 5M-1 32."
23. Brown bottle, oval cross-section, bottom embossed with "C" and "M" within flared, open-bottomed rectangle, symbols "I 5M-430."
24. Several badly eroded small planks.
25. Fragments of green glass fishing float.
26. Heavy brown bottle, bottom embossed "S 559, WX4, UGB."  Was sealed with a cork.
27.Four bottles:
• Clear, shouldered, 1 liter, pry-off top, embossed circular logo on base: overlapping "G" and "M," and date "1945.  Legend embossed on side: "Grey & Menzies, New Zealand."
• Clear, 1 liter, screw top, fluted shoulders, plain "2" embossed on base.
• Clear, perhaps 1/2 liter, screw top, "ABC" embossed on base.
• Green, pry-off top, "AGW and "1" embossed on base.
28. Four bottles
• Brown, pry-off top, same as #22 except "86" rather than "32."
• Brown, pry-off top.  Same as above except "67" rather than "86."
• Screw top, oval cross-section, "OXFORD" embossed on shoulder, "The Property of Nugget Polis Ply Ltd." embossed around base.
• Corked bottle, pronounced kick-up base.

Attempts to relocate Noonan's Tavern in 1991, 1997, and 1999 have been unsuccessful; it was probably destroyed by the heavy storm surges that apparently struck the island in 1990.

New Village, Ritiati/Noriti


Paul Laxton, referring to himself in the third person, says:

"A Lands Commissioner from Mr. Cartland's staff arrived on 1 January, 1949, and flatly presented this hard, realistic, Gideon-like policy. The weaker members should pack up and go: if they proved to be a great proportion of the island community then the whole settlement would be given up and a copra plantation formed. Otherwise, new blood would come in on a system of leaseholds, receiving a block of planted land in return for which they should clear and plant specified areas for government. After three years the future of the pioneer settlement would be reviewed."

The decision having been made that most of the colonists would remain and try to make a go of the colony, Laxton describes the clearing of the land from the vicinity of the landing southeast through Noriti, and the assignment there of kainga land. This would lead to a wholesale shift of the village south from the immediate area of the Government Station to the southern part of Ritiati and the northern part of Noriti.

"Laxton Lane"

The first step was to construct a road extending south from the landing vicinity:

"To the south, the land Noriti was still dense bush jungle. Through this we cut our way, choosing a line some forty feet from the lagoon... At the end of the day we had cut a mile of rough track, reaching the nearer baneawa flat on the north of the peninsula of Nei Manganibuka's ghost maneaba. Next day we returned, rectifying our trace here and there to give a smoothly curving alignment... By the end of the day the road was pegged and the gang started in to widen it to eighteen feet, digging up roots, transplanting young coconut trees, smoothing the surface."

To judge from a sketch-map appended by Laxton to a memorandum describing his work, this road was not an extension of Sir Harry Luke Avenue, but was offset to the northeast. Sir Harry Luke Avenue began near the Cooperative Store and ran north-northwest, while the new road began near the lagoon shore and ran east-southeast. Both had their beginnings at a road that ran from the landing to the lagoon; we have been unable to trace this road, but it must more or less parallel the natural route of march across Ritiati, which we have come to call the "Gallagher Highway." This "highway" is not the original cross-Ritiati road, however; it crosses a number of walls and house sites.

Laxton's road--which for want of a more "official" name we called Laxton Lane, runs rather close to the lagoon shore, and parallel to it. Wherever we were able to find it, it was about six meters wide, and like Sir Harry Luke Avenue was lined with small standing coral slablets. Although Laxton says it was "smoothly curving," wherever we encountered it and could trace it for any distance (seldom more than 30 or 40 meters) it appeared to be dead straight. Its southeastern end was entirely lost in mao.

An airphoto dated xxxxx (Fig. N-19) shows another road that is an extension of Sir Harry Luke Avenue, running more or less parallel with Laxton Lane near the center of Ritiati. We found no more than fragments of this road; it may not have been as formally marked as Laxton Lane, though it appears to have been the road to which many of the houses of the new village were oriented.

House Sites and Public Facilities

With the road in place, the land of the new village could be allotted to the various kaingas for their use and residence:

"There was long talk among the people to determine the measurement to be adopted for their kainga lands here, and after much discussion all agreed that they should be one hundred feet in width and run in strips from lagoon to sea. These were then carefully measured out and pegged, all being present at the driving of each peg to minimize the chance of later dispute. ... Next day commenced the erection of the boundary marks. We allotted some spoilt cement and damaged piping and old paint from the U.S. radio site stores, title in which had been passed to the British Government. Old Kirata and assistants cut the pipe into four-foot lengths; the cement was mixed, pits dug under each peg, part filled with clean rubble, the length of pipe driven in erect and its foot bound with cement. A number was given to each plot and engraved in the wet cement. Later they returned and filled the engraved numbers with pitch, painted the projecting pipes, topping them with scarlet for gay effect... Each landowner, sure of his lines, then threw himself and his family into the work of clearing."


"They waited on us, asking that the house plots be demarcated. This was done by the Magistrate Aram and the old men while we watched. The houses stood back a uniform distance from the road, each a uniform size and in the centre of its plot. The area in which the houses stood was to be bare-clean, even of grass; the strip between road and lagoon to be equally clean and kept for canoe houses. Behind the dwellings, the eating and cook-houses, to leeward in the prevailing trade winds, were also to be uniform."

The house sites were quickly developed:

"The planning complete, the erection of houses commenced with the same speed and drive as had characterized the clearing. Some built new houses, driving the four corner posts of stout pandanus or of te non tree, prefabricating the roof and calling on friends to raise it on to the corner posts. Returning one evening we met a house walking along from the old village, chanting, while forty bare feet below its skirting indicated its means of propulsion. Next day a small regatta of houses came saling down the lagoon, brought from the week-end cottages on the Aukaraime land; after beaching themselves opposite the new village they too walked, centipedally, up the beach to the site. Within a week the move was complete, the old village area now inhabited only by those who would return, the new by the majority who were to remain."

The new village was also to have public facilities:

"They showed me a deep well, dug by Gallagher and Jack Kima with dynamite, twenty and more feet deep, giving always pure water. Near it was the site of the permanent maneaba in the approximate centre of the village. At the northern end of the village would be the Protestant mission school, at the southern end the Catholic, under Ten Teibi, a fine man in high regard of the community. The cooperative store was allotted a site near the landing place, but still convenient to the village."

The presence of a large aluminum box near the cooperative store led us to record its provenience, including the store itself (Figure 20) and three nearby house sites (Figure N-21). In 1989 the store was substantially erect. Like other public buildings on the island it was a five by seven meter rectangle, standing on a low coral rubble platform lined with standing coral slabs on at least three sides (The fourth side was substantially buried by sand and coconut debris). The lower meter or so of the walls was clad in corrugated metal, with milled planks above. A door opening to the northeast let onto a small porch with a sloping shed roof of corrugated metal, above which was a sign: "1940: Gardner Co-Op Store." There were two windows on one side wall, one window and a door on the other; the end wall opposite the main door was blank. One of the windows on the three-window side was wide and held a counter -- typical of stores in the Pacific. The smaller windows that flanked it, and the one opposite, had hinged flap covers (referred to as "typhoon windows" elsewhere in the Pacific because they can be closed tight in the event of a storm). The roof was steeply pitched and covered with corrugated metal. Inside were a steel single bed frame and a dead cat. The store collapsed between our 1989 and 1991 visits.

The house sites immediately north of the store were similar to those at the Government Station. House site A had no standing structural elements left, but apparently had been a typical five by seven meter structure with corner posts; two of these remained, fallen. In one corner was a scrap of 1 cm mesh screen and a 55-gallon drum, probably a water container that received rainwater from the roof. Near the southeast side was a concentration of artifacts, the components of which are listed in Table N-2


1. Galvanized bucket
2. Galvanized sheet with large punched holes
3. Clear jar, ca. 1/2 gallon, with "Bushell's xxx49 P 1535" embossed on the base (Bushell's jars on House Site C bear the numerals "11049").
4. Brown bottle with "C" and "M" in a flared, open-bottomed rectangle embossed on the base, together with "F1278," "M," and "17."
5. Fallen post
6. 1 gallon paint can
7. Ferrous machine parts.
8. Artifact 2-2-V-1, the navigator's bookcase.
9. Clear bottle with "9 1 6 6" embossed on base

House Site B apparently represented a house about the same size as that at Site A, again with no standing elements. Fallen beams lay at the northwest corner, and a ferrous bed frame occupied the southwest corner. A 55-gallon drum lay on its side near the northwest corner. The only artifact noted was an aluminum eating plate.

House Site C was similar to A and B in size, again with no standing elements. Decayed parallel planking suggested a raised wooden floor, but could have represented a fallen wall. Bottles, jars, the remains of a wooden table, and fallen beams were noted but not recorded in detail.

Knudson says that:

"A Gilbertese village has three buildings to each bata or household. The sleeping and living quarter fronts the village street. Behind it is the eating room, about twelve feet away, and behind again the cookhouse."

The three house sites in the Cooperative Store neighborhood may represent the living quarters of three batas, but it is equally possible that they were all associated with a single bata, or divided between two families.

To get a general feel for the organization and content of the new village, a 250-meter swath from ocean to lagoon was inspected, just southeast of the landing place. Ten team members walked five-meter transects across this area, noting, sketch-mapping, and photographing houses, graves, artifact concentrations, and other things of interest.

Virtually everything found was to the southwest of Laxton Lane, toward the ocean shore. House sites were set up to 100 meters back from Laxton Lane, but apparently strung out along the extension of Sir Harry Luke Avenue that shows in the xxxxx airphoto. Graves and artifact concentrations, many of the latter obviously derived from the LORAN station, tended to lie between the houses and the road. Northeast of Laxton Lane the land was heavily grown over with mao, and the distance to the lagoon shore was not great.

Figure N-22 is a sketch-map of the area inspected, and Table N-3 briefly describes observations. Sites noted -- i.e., structures, concentrations of artifacts, and other evidence of human occupation -- break down into the following categories:

• House sites:  Eight noted, typically represented by standing or fallen corner posts, sometimes standing coral slabs, sometimes low creosote-impregnated posts, forming rectangles about four by five meters, oriented perpendicular to Laxton Lane.  Often associated with 55-gallon drums, which probably represent water catching and storage facilities, and with artifact scatters.  One structure (Site 20) is represented by a massive, continuous coral stone foundation.  The house sites are distributed at fairly regular intervals of 30 to 50 meters -- the approximate width of the mwenga parcels laid out under Laxton's supervision.

• Cookhouse sites:  Less clearly rectilinear than house sites, with abundant charcoal and scattered artifacts.  Only one noted (Site 6), probably associated with housesite 5.

• Pig pens(?):  These two structures are softly rectangular to circular, two to three meters wide, with off-set openings (Figure N-23).  Walls are one to 1.5 meters high, made of dry-laid coral.  Kaitara Kotuna opined that they represented pigsties, but was not certain.  

• Graves:  Graves are typically low platforms of coral rubble lined with slablets, oriented northeast-southwest.  Sometimes broken glass is found on the platform surface, and sometimes higher slabs are placed at the ends.  Of the eight gravesites noted, one was a single unusually broad platform, apparently covering two bodies, one comprised three graves side by side, and three were quite small, almost surely the graves of children.

• Walls:  We noted a number of low stone walls running perpendicular to Laxton Lane, but could never trace any of them very far in the dense vegetation.  The clearest pair are associated with House Site 8 (Fig. N-24).  About 40 meters apart, they probably bound the parcel assigned to the Site 8 mwenga.  

• Pond and well:  A pond about ten meters in diameter (Site 3), near house sites 4 and 5, may represent a babae pit.  A stone-lined hole about a meter across, on the lagoon side of Laxton Lane (Site 15) may be a well.

• Artifact clusters:  Concentrations of artifacts sometimes occur in association with structures, sometimes by themselves.  Their contents suggest that they represent material salvaged from the Loran station  


1. Probable house site with child's grave, two adult graves.
2. "Pig pen"
3. Pond/babae pit
4. Probable house site with elaborate adult grave
5. Probable house site with pigpen
6. Cookhouse site, possibly associated with site 5
7. House site with foundation
8. House site with rectangle of standing coral slabs (probable foundation), border walls, "pig pen," corrugated metal sheets and 55-gallon drum that may represent the cookhouse, concentration of enamel pans (Figure xxxx).
9. Probable house site: 55-gallon drums, ferrous pipes, four standing corner posts, enamel pan, rusted ferrous metal.
10. Two "pig pens"
11. Piece of sheet brass, isolated
12. Four 55-gallon drums, aluminum distillery unit, ferrous metal, pots, pans, etc.
13. Large institutional sink, 55 gallon drums, aluminum distillery unit case, apparently fits unit at site 12.
14. Child's grave
15. Stone-lined well
16. Four creosote-soaked poles
17. House foundation
18. Two adult graves
19. House site
20. House site with massive stone foundation
21. Aluminum tray, 55-gallon drum, coca-cola bottles, Bryl Cream bottle, ferrous rust, aluminum mess kit
22. Structure ruin with ferrous roof members, radio parts, paint cans, bottles, etc.  Triple grave.
23. Two large galvanized water heater tanks
24. Two creosote soaked poles
25. Two graves: one adult, one child.
The Well and Maneaba
Maneaba and well
The New Village

At the east end of the inspected area -- though close to the center of the new village as shown on aerial photos -- we discovered what we take to be the well that Laxton mentions, dug by Gallagher and Jack Kimo Petro with dynamite. The well is a large pit, about eight meters across and now two meters deep, in the coral shelf and rubble near the lagoon shore northeast of Laxton Lane and a short distance beyond Site 25.

As noted above, Laxton said that the permanent maneaba was to be built near the well. Elsewhere he reports:

"Recently the islanders built and dedicated their permanent maneaba, that combination of assembly hall and shrine of tradition which is the centre of Gilbertese community, and named it 'Uen Maungan I Karaka,' an idiomatic phrase which may be equally translated 'Flower to the Memory of Gallagher' and 'The Flowering of Gallagher's Achievement.' Thus they commemorate the English gentleman whose devotion and leadership made their new home possible."

About twenty meters northwest of the well, we found the remains of what must have been Uen Maungan I Karaka (Fig. N-25). The maneaba itself was eighteen meters long and ten meters wide, oriented NW-SE parallel to the shore. It sat on a typical low coral rubble platform lined with slablets, 24 meters long and 22 meters wide. The open platform was wider to the northeast of the building (nine meters) than to the southwest (three meters). "Porches" on the ends were three meters wide.

The structure itself had completely collapsed, but for two standing posts. Corners of the building were marked with small upright slabs. The building had apparently had a peaked roof that collapsed to the northwest, and a number of curving roof members. A badly deteriorated piece of sheet metal near the center of the structure suggested that it had been at least partly tin-roofed. A single steel adze bit was collected from inside the structure (Artifact 2-1-V-20).

The most interesting feature of the maneaba, besides its size and unique curved roof members, was the fact that it was painted. The standing posts were painted in alternating bands of red, blue, and white, and at least some of the roof members were blue with white stars and spots. The "Flower to the Memory of Gallagher," appropriately, was painted in the colors of the Union Jack.

The Landing and Channel

Early landings on the island (e.g., those of the New Zealand survey party, of Maude and Bevington's 1937 party, and of the first working party in 1938), were across or around the wreck of the Norwich City. During Gallagher's time at least some landings must have been made on the northwest shore of Ritiati, where the whaleboat Nei Manganibuka was based.

When we arrived in 1989, the channel monument was standing though completely obscured by mao. When cleared it was a visually dramatic feature of the shorescape, about five meters high and two meters on a side, on a stone base (Fig. N-26). Apparently the core was made of coral blocks or rubble, within a framework made of steel reinforcing bars (rebar). The rebars were bent to flare at the top, forming a sort of basket that was filled with coral, the whole then being plastered with cement. Though cracked and spalling in some places, the monument in 1989 looked like the solidest, most likely to be permanent, piece of human work on the island. As noted below, in 1991 it was gone.

The Beach

Metal detector survey along the village shoreline southward from the landing yielded eleven "hits," ten of which proved to be fragments of heavily oxidized ferrous metal, probably bits of Norwich City wreckage. Hit #9 was a cigarette lighter that proved to be of 1930s vintage, assigned artifact #2-2-V-7.

Team Members

  • Michael J. Bowman #0758, underwater team
  • William Decker #0010
  • Mary DeWitt #0704
  • Veryl Fenlason #0053
  • Thomas F. Gannon, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.) #0539
  • Jessica Krakow, Ph.D. #0299 Physical Sciences
  • Kautuna Kaitara, Observer, Republic of Kiribati
  • LeRoy Knoll #0750, underwater team
  • H. J. “Dutch” Kluge #0174, underwater team
  • Joseph M. Latvis #0185, underwater team
  • Dr. Tommy L. Love, D.O. #0457, Medicine
  • Richard A. Schreiber, Ph.D. #0491, Team Forging
  • C. Bart Whitehouse, Ph. D. #0657, Communications
  • Diane Whitehouse #0657
  • Julie Williams, R.N. #0763