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Gardner is the most south-western Island of the Phoenix Group. It is a triangular wedge-shaped coral atoll approximately four miles long by a mile wide at its greatest width. The rim is broken at two places by narrow entrances, one on the west and one near the middle of the south side; both are blocked on the ocean side by a narrow reef, one hundred to three hundred yards wide which surrounds the island. The inner hundred yards of this reef dries at low water. Off the reef the water is deep. The only anchorage is off the west end, opposite the village, and is safe only with the prevailing southeast trade winds. Landing is difficult, and is best a little south of the anchorage.

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Most of the rim is covered by a low scrub forest. The trees are highest at the northwest end some reaching a height of 90 feet above sea level. Two small clumps of coconut palms had been planted one on each side of the western lagoon entrance. Sea birds are numerous on the island, and small Polynesian rats. There are the usual land, hermit and coconut crabs. Fish and other marine life are abundant about the reef and in the lagoon.

Gardner Island is thought to have been discovered about 1828, by Captain Joshua Coffin of the ship Ganges of Nantucket, and to have been named for Gideon Gardner who was either owner of or agent for the vessel. It was visited, August 19, 1840, by the U.S.S. Vincennes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Commander Charles Wilkes says in his "narrative":

"On the 19th, we made an island in the neighbourhood of the position assigned to Gardner's Island....This is a low coral island, having a shallow lagoon in the centre, into which there is no navigable passage; but the reef on the western side is so low that the tide can flow into the lagoon.

"When near enough to the island, the boats were lowered, and a number of officers and men landed, after passing for a considerable distance through a dangerous surf, breaking with violence over that part of the reef through which the tide flows into the shallow lagoon. The remainder of the reef, which forms the island, is white coral sand, about 300 feet wide, on which there is a vegetation that, unlike that of other low islands of Polynesia, is devoid of low shrubbery.

'Birds were numerous on the island and very tame; the tropic-birds so much so that some of the sailors amused themselves by collecting their beautiful tail feathers, which they twitched from the bird while it sat on its nest-an operation which the bird often bore without being disturbed.

"Besides birds, a large rat was found on this island.

"The flood here sets strong to the northwards, and the rise and fall of the tide was four and half feet. No coral blocks were seen on this island, and it is less elevated above the water than those further to the eastward. The soil, however, appeared to be better than upon those, the coral sand being finer, and mixed with a greater quantity of vegetable mould. To this may be ascribed the larger growth of the trees upon it, which, although of the same kinds of those which have been already mentioned as found growing on the coral islands, are forty or fifty feet in height. The island may be seen on a clear day at the distance of fifteen miles.

"Believing this to be the island discovered by Captain Gardner, I have retained his name".   

Coconuts were planted on Gardner Island by John T. Arundel and Company in the 1880s and the British flag was raised and a protectorate was established on Gardner Island on May 28, 1892. In 1916, it was leased to Captain Allen for 87 years but remained uninhabited until 1938.

In October, 1937, a visit was paid on H.M.C.S. Nimanoa, by the administrative officer of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, under which the island had been placed.

This island, like Sydney and Hull, had been colonized from the Gilbert (now Kiribati) and Ellice Islands. There were about 80 natives, but no white person, living on the island in 1939. Their village is on the broadened part of the rim, just south of the western lagoon entrance. The Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) name for this island is Nikumaroro.


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Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 8th June 2012)