Colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands
Anthem: "God Save the Queen"
|Capital||Tarawa (1895-1908 & 1946-1976)|
Ocean Island (1908-1942)
|Government||Protectorate of the United Kingdom (1892-1916) Colony of the United Kingdom (1916-1979)|
|Queen Victoria (first)|
|Elizabeth II (last)|
|12 January 1916|
|1 January 1976|
|Currency||Pound sterling, Australian pound, Australian dollar (1966)|
|Today part of|| Kiribati|
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands (GEIC as a colony) were a British protectorate from 1892 and colony, from 12 January 1916 until 1 January 1976, part of the British Empire. The history of the colony was mainly characterized by phosphate mining in Ocean Island. In 1975, these islands were divided into two separated colonies which became independent nations shortly thereafter. A referendum was held in 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony ceased to exist on 1 January 1976 and the separate countries of Kiribati and Tuvalu came into existence.
The Gilbert Islands (sometimes known as Kingsmill Islands) are a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the western Pacific Ocean, which are traditionally part of the Micronesia subregion, but are part of Remote Oceania. The Gilbert Islands are the main part of what is now the Republic of Kiribati ("Kiribati" is the Gilbertese rendition of "Gilberts") The atolls of the Gilbert Islands are arranged in an approximate north-to-south line. In a geographical sense, the equator serves as the dividing line between the northern Gilbert Islands and the southern Gilbert Islands. The Ellice Islands are south of the Gilbert Islands. The Ellice Islands comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of 5° to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. The Ellice Islands are midway between Hawaii and Australia. The Ellice Islands are part of the Polynesia subregion of Oceania.
In 1568, when Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira was commanded to explore the South Pacific, he sailed between the Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands without sighting land, ultimately discovering "Isla de Jesús", probably Nui, amongst the Ellice group.
In 1606, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós sighted Butaritari and Makin, which he named the Buen Viaje (‘good trip’ in Spanish) Islands. The Gilbert Islands were named “îles Gilbert” (in French) in 1820 by a Russian Admiral, Johann von Krusenstern, after a British captain, Thomas Gilbert, who encountered the archipelago in 1788 while exploring with two ships of the First Fleet an outer passage route from Port Jackson to Canton. French captain Louis Duperrey was the first to map the whole Gilbert Islands archipelago. He commanded La Coquille on her circumnavigation of the Earth (1822–1825).
Funafuti atoll was named Ellice's Island after Edward Ellice, a British politician and merchant, by Captain Arent de Peyster, who sighted the islands in 1819 sailing on the ship Rebecca. Ellice owned the cargo of the ship. The name Ellice was applied to all nine islands, of what is now Tuvalu, after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay.
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GIEC) were formerly designated an ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code "GE" until 1977.
In the 1930s, British officials tried to choose a less cumbersome name for the GEIC. As said above, the Gilbert Islands were named after a British transporter of convicts from Australia to China, and the Ellice Islands after a British merchant and politician. Critics called the arbitrary collection of atolls scattered across the central Pacific the “Gilbert and Sullivans”, a reference to two musical comedy composers. One official offered the term Quateria, since the main inhabited archipelago extended north and south of the equator and east and west of the dateline. Indigenous names such as Tungaru and Tuvalu existed, but none of those labels encompassed the mostly uninhabited islands in the Phoenix and Line group, or Banaba (then Ocean Island), whose phosphate rocks provided half of the GEIC’s tax revenue. Even the Tokelau atolls were part of the colony for a decade (1916-1926), and a governor of Fiji, Sir J.B. Thurston, once suggested adding Rotuma in order to tidy up the administration of such a vast expanse of water. In 1969, after the issues that bring to the creation in 1965 of the Gilbertese National Party, the hybrid term Tungavalu was suggested, but it masked tensions between Tungaru and Tuvalu.
A protectorate was generally established over this area (but not over these islands) by the Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1857 and then in 1877 for the Western Pacific Territories. In 1886, an Anglo-German agreement partitioned the “unclaimed” central Pacific, leaving Nauru in the German sphere of influence, while Ocean Island and the future GEIC wound up in the British sphere of influence.
After its establishment of German New Guinea in 1884 and protectorates upon Marshall Islands (1885) and Nauru (1888), on the British side, and also to contrast the presence of the USA, the sixteen islands of the Gilbert Islands were also made a British Protectorate by Captain E.H.M. Davis R.N., of HMS Royalist between 27 May and 17 June 1892. The Ellice Islands were declared a British Protectorate by Captain Gibson R.N., of HMS Curacoa, between 9 and 16 October of the same year.
The British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT) were administered by a High Commissioner resident in Fiji and later in the British Solomon Islands. The first Resident Commissioner, Charles Richard Swayne, was appointed for the Ellice Islands in 1892 and for the Gilbert Islands in 1893. He was succeeded by W. Telfer Campbell in 1895, who established himself on Tarawa and remained in office until 1908. Telfer Campbell was criticised for his legislative, judicial and administrative management (including forced labour alleged to be exacted from islanders) and an inquiry was held by Arthur William Mahaffy, a former District Officer in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (1896–1898), resulting in a report in 1909. In 1913 an anonymous correspondent to The New Age journal described the maladministration of Telfer Campbell, linked it to criticisms of the Pacific Phosphate Company which was operating on Ocean Island, and questioned the impartiality of Mahaffy.
The headquarters of government was moved in 1908 to Ocean Island (now known as Banaba), which had been included rapidly in the protectorate in 1900, to take advantage of the improved shipping connections resulting from the Pacific Phosphate Company's activities, and the status of the islands was changed on 12 January 1916 to that of a Crown Colony. The role of the British colonial authorities emphasised the procurement of labour for the Ocean Island phosphate mining and keeping order among the workers.
During the year 1916, the Union Islands (Tokelau) are also annexed to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. On 28 November 1919, Great Britain reasserts its claim to Christmas Island and annexes it to the colony.
On July 1920, the Pacific Phosphate Company is liquidated and its assets sold to the British Phosphate Commission (BPC), a consortium established by the governments of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The mining of the phosphate on Ocean Island represents the main revenue of the colony until it ends in 1979.
On 1925, Great Britain asks New Zealand to accept responsibility for the administration of the Union Islands (Tokelau) and invites the United States to annex Swains Island. On 11 February 1926, an Order in Council transfers responsibility for administration of the Union Islands (Tokelau) to New Zealand which in turn places administration of the islands under its Western Samoan mandate.
Fanning Island and Washington Island also became included in the colony together with the Union Islands (now known as Tokelau); Christmas Island was included in 1919 but was unofficially contested by the USA under its Guano Islands Act of 1856. The Union Islands were transferred to New Zealand in 1926, but formally only in 1948.
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony continued to be administered by a Resident Commissioner. In 1930 the Resident Commissioner, Arthur Grimble, issued revised laws, Regulations for the good Order and Cleanliness of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, which replaced laws created during the BWTP.
On 31 December 1936, the population of the Crown Colony totals 34,443 inhabitants, including 32,390 Gilbert and Ellice Islanders, 262 Europeans and 923 Chinese (Mongoloids). Henry Evans Maude, the land commissionner of the colony, considered then the colony overcrowded. The Phoenix Islands were added to the colony in 1937 with the view of a Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme. On 6 August 1936, a party from HMS Leith lands on Canton Island in the Phoenix Group and plants a sign asserting British sovereignty in the name of King Edward VIII. On 18 March 1937, Great Britain annexes the uninhabited Phoenix Islands (except Howland and Baker Islands) to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
Banaba (Ocean Island) remained the headquarters of the colony until the British evacuation in 1942 during the Pacific War when Ocean Island and the Gilbert Islands were occupied by the Japanese. The United States forces landed in Funafuti on 2 October 1942 and on Nanumea and Nukufetau in August 1943 and constructed an airfield on each island and other bases. The atolls of Tuvalu acted as a staging post during the preparation for the Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Makin that commenced on 20 November 1943. Colonel Vivian Fox-Strangways, was the Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1941, who was located on Funafuti.
The Gilbertese initiated a cultural movement called Tungaru leaded by Reuben Uatioa and created the Gilbertese National Party in 1965, protesting that British rulers showed preference to Ellicean civil servants. The Elliceans (further Tuvaluans) were concerned about their minority status in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. In 1974, ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Gilbert Islands (later Kiribati). On 1 October 1975, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu, but the separation was completed on 1 January 1976.
In 1946, Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, was made the administrative capital, replacing Ocean Island. The headquarters of the Colony were transferred from Betio to Bairiki. This development included establishing the King George V Secondary School for boys and the Elaine Bernacchi Secondary School for girls.
A Colony Conference was organised at Marakei in 1956, which was attended by officials and representatives (magistrates) from each island in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, conferences were held every two years until 1962. The development of administration continued with the creation in 1963 of an Advisory Council of five officials and 12 representatives who were appointed by the Resident Commissioner. In 1964 an Executive Council was established with eight officials and eight representatives. The representative members were elected in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Advisory Council election held in 1964. The Resident Commissioner was now required to consult the Executive Council regarding the creation of laws to making decisions that affected the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
A census in 1968 counted the population of the colony at 53,517 residents. 44,206 were in the Gilbert Islands, 5,782 in the Ellice Islands, 2,192 in Ocean Island and 1,180 in the Line Islands. From this total 7,465 were “Polynesians” (mostly from Tuvalu) and 1,155 “Others” (Europeans and Mongoloids).
The Tungaru Association was created by Reuben Uatioa to “promote Gilbertese culture and interests,” and in 1965, the Gilbertese National Party, first political party of the colony, was established with the same leader, protesting about the lack of consideration that British rulers have towards Gilbertese, preferring somehow the Ellicean civil servants. A Constitution was introduced in 1967, which created a House of Representatives for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony that comprised seven appointed officials and 23 members elected by the islanders. Tuvalu elected four members of the House of Representatives. The 1967 Constitution also established the Governing Council. The House of Representatives only had the authority to recommend laws; the Governing Council had the authority to enact laws following a recommendation from the House of Representatives.
A select committee of the House of Representatives was established to consider whether the constitution should be changed to give legislative power to the House of Representatives. It became apparent that the Elliceans were concerned about their minority status on the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, and the Elliceans wanted equal representation to that of the Gilbertese. A new constitution was introduced in 1971, which provided that each of the Ellice Islands (except Niulakita) elected one representative. However, that did not end the Tuvaluan movement for separation.
The 1967 constitution created a House of Representatives (parliament), whose members were elected in the following elections:
A referendum was held from July to September 1974, using a rolling ballot, to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the 1974 Ellice Islands self-determination referendum, separation occurred in two stages. The Tuvaluan Order 1975 made by the Privy Council, which took effect on 1 October 1975, recognised Tuvalu as a separate British dependency with its own government. The second stage occurred on 1 January 1976 when two separate administrations were created out of the civil service of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. The British conducted a formal inquiry into Tuvaluan attitudes towards secession, and announced that a referendum was to be held, in which Tuvaluans could choose to remain with the Gilberts or secede. They were told that if they separated they would not receive royalties from the Ocean Island phosphate or other assets of the colony. Despite this, 3,799 Tuvaluans (92%) voted to secede, while 293 voted against separation. On 1 October 1975, legal separation from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), took place. On 1 January 1976, full administration of the new colony was transferred from South Tarawa to Funafuti. Tuvalu became an independent constitutional monarchy and the 38th member of the Commonwealth of Nations on the 1 October 1978. The Gilbert Islands attained independence on 12 July 1979 under the name Kiribati by the Kiribati Independence Order 1979, as a republic with Commonwealth membership. That day the colonial flag was lowered for the last time with a parade commemorating both the newly independent state and in memorial of the intense battles fought on Tarawa in World War II. The parade included many dignitaries from home and abroad. The name Kiribati (pronounced kʲiriˈbas) is the local writing rendition of "Gilberts".
Banaba, formerly rich in phosphates before becoming fully depleted in the latter colonial years, also sued for independence in 1979 and boycotted the Kiribati ceremonies. The Banabans wanted greater autonomy and reparations of around $250 million for revenue they had not received and for environmental destruction caused by phosphate mining practices similar to those on Nauru. The British authorities had relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji, after 1945, but by the 1970s some were returning to Banaba. The British rejected the Banaban independence proposal, and the island remained under the jurisdiction of Kiribati.
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands used their own postage stamps from 1911.