Little Bits of History

Jarvis Island

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 21, 2012

Jarvis Island

August 21, 1821: Jarvis Island is discovered. Previously known as Bunker Island, it is a 1.75 square mile uninhabited coral island. It lies about half way between Hawaii and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. It is owned today by the US and is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It is one of the Line Islands – an island chain stretching for 1,460 miles, making it one of the longest island chains in the world. There are twelve islands in the chain with a total of 200 square miles of land with almost 9,000 people living there, most of them on Kiritimati.

Jarvis Island has a dry lagoon and there are no ports or harbors. There are swift currents but landing can take place on the western shore or at the southwest corner of the island. The dry lagoon was filled with deep guano deposits. These were mined for twenty years in the 1800s when guano was sought after as a fertilizer. The island itself has a dry desert climate. Days are hot, windy, and sunny while nights are cool. The highest point on the island reaches 23 feet elevation. There is a ringing reef which makes the island difficult to sight from ships.

On this day, the island was sighted by those aboard Eliza Francis, a British ship owned by Edward, Thomas, and William Jarvis. The ship was commanded by Captain Brown. In 1857, the island was claimed by the US under the Guano Islands Act and mining of the guano began in 1858. The island was suddenly abandoned in 1879 leaving ~ 8,000 tons of mined guano and several buildings behind. Others tried to continue the guano trade but were unsuccessful.

Ownership of the island went to Britain and then back to the US again. The International Geophysical Year from July 1957 to November 1958 began the study of the birds of the region. During that time, all buildings left from the guano mining days and subsequent attempts to mine the guano, were blown away in a huge storm. After the year’s study, the island was once again abandoned. During the 1960s to 1980s feral cats were removed from the island. Today, the island is a bird sanctuary and is visited by scientists or educators and only with special permission. It is also visited occasionally by the United States Coast Guard.

I felt alone out there, like I was on a desert island. I felt like Gilligan. – Mickey Rivers

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne

Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of nonknowledge. – Isaac Bashevis Singer

The general knowledge of time on the island depends, curiously enough, on the direction of the wind. – John Millington Synge

Also on this day:

USA = 50 States – In 1959, Hawaii is admitted to the United States of America as the 50th state.
The Prophet – In 1931, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion.
Stolen Smile – In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on August 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    The animals on Jarvis Island, cats and others, were killed to extinction by the Nature Conservancy, leaving Jarvis Island to be cost-free upkeep by the Nature Conservancy. Now the Nature Conservancy seeks and receive donations for their expenses(zero) of this island and many other locales where the Nature Conservancy has killed an estimated over one billion life forms, many species to extinction. Are YOU next to be exterminated by the Nature Conservancy to put vast wealth in the top positions in the Nature Conservancy organization? There are two men being held in Brazil for the extermination of two native villages,reported by AOL to be for fullfilling a contract with The Disney Company. A planeful of other Nature Conservancy employees were shackled and chained and then flown back to Canada, without their passports so they could not roam the Earth committing genocide.


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