Republic of Kiribati


Marakei Island in the northern Kiribati Group has an area of 13.5 square kilometers and a population of 2,312. Most historians consider that the crew of Hernando de Grijalva's vessel San Juan probably discovered Marakei and Abaiang or alternatively either Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang or Tarawa in 1587.


Selected extracts from the Proceedings of the H.M.S. "Royalist" 1892 - Pertaining to Marakei

I returned on board and proceeded out of the lagoon at 10 o'clock stopping off the South end APIANG Island at 3 p.m. I landed, and sent a message to the King that I was coming to his Island the following day to hoist the Flag - warning him at same time of the Labour Steamer about to visit APIANG. At 4 p.m. I proceeded for MARAKEI Island, arriving and anchoring off the centre of the Island, on the West side, in 8 fms. at 8.30 p.m. that day. The best anchorage I afterwards ascertained was in 16 fms. off centre of village at NW END OF Island.

I found lying here the Nicaraguan Steamer "Montserrat" of CORINTO, recruiting labour for GUATAMALA. Having ascertained the object of her visit to the Group and having no instructions to prevent natives leaving of their own free will - I took much precautions as I deemed fit for the protection of such natives of the GILBERT Islands as might decide to emigrate in the vessel. I at once informed the Master that the Gilbert Islands had been placed under Brit8sh Protection, and requested him before leaving the Group, to let me have certain particulars concerning the natives he had recruited. (This correspondence forms subject of "Royalist" Letter No. 22 of 1892).

Kiribati Islands

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At 10 a.m. I weighed and proceeded to the north end of the island, where at 10.45 I landed and hoisted the Flag at the King's house. I asked him why the fines imposed by the Captain of the "Miranda" had not been paid - he was one of the chiefs who had signed to pay these fines by December 1886. He said he had forgotten all about them. I told him they must be paid, and, as he had kept the rightful owners so long waiting for their money, he would have to pay interest on the original fines - the total of which was $450 - he would now have to pay $625. He promised to pay this on my return in a few days. When the King heard that the other islands had given up their arms, he said he would like me to take all they had at I then returned to the ship, and at 8.30 p.m. proceeded for MARAKEI. I arrived off that Island next morning, the 13th June, and stopping off the NW end, I landed. The King paid me the fines imposed by Commander ROOKE of H.M.S. "Miranda" in 1886 - with interest, consisting of:-

$300 for PETER GRANT (now on TARAWA).

$300 for FOOK CHUNE (on account of ON-CHONG & Co.).

$ 75 for JAMES BYRNE (or BYRON) deceased.

He also handed me 144 guns and rifles of various descriptions.

Having discharged Mr. WILSON Interpreter to the shore, I proceeded at noon on the 8th July for MARAKEI Island where I arrived and anchored at 6 p.m. the following day. I landed and obtained evidence from Messrs. McCARTHY, HOLDERSEN AND SANDBERGEN - traders and others concerning the death of JAMES BYRNE, (or BYRON), British subject, which occurred in August 1888 under very suspicious circumstances. The staff surgeon of the ship was of opinion that such a lapse of time having occurred since BYRNE's death, it would be useless to disinter the body in the hopes of finding traces of poison in the remains. (This case is reported in "ROYALIST'S" letter No. 29 of 1892. The King handed me a few more guns he had collected, and I authorize Mr. SANDBERGEN a Dutch subject, and a trader, to break up for old musket he had in his possession, which had been pawned with him for trade. He had no wish to have them be redeemed, and asked me to take them but having no time to wait till he got them from his house, and as they were useless, I told him to destroy them.

Norauea Village.

Norauea village, Marakei
Marakei is a good example of an atoll almost totally enclosing its lagoon.

Complaints were made by the Traders, that the King was in the habit of trading with outside traders visiting the Island, to their disadvantage at the same time charging them for a license. I spoke to the King about this and said if he continued to do this the traders would not pay their license. He said he would not charge them any more and then he would be free to trade when he liked. This being the case, I suggested that the Island being in debt to the Traders about $2100 ( these debts having been incurred before the Protectorate was established, and he having made himself responsible for them ) no copra should be sold to outside traders until the debts were settled. The King agreed to this and I left a memo to this effect with the traders, for the information of any vessels calling at the Island (A copy of this memo is enclosed). The King said he would book his fines as I requested also that he was agreeable to contribute towards he support of a Resident should one be appointed to the Group.

During the afternoon, I obtained evidence from PETER GRANT and his wife concerning the death of BYRNE, a Trader, on MARAKEI Island in 1888.

At 5 p.m. the Chiefs brought the two men I had sent them for, also their guns. I placed them in irons in the Maneaba in charge of the King's Police. I remained the night at the mission station, leaving my boat's crew on sentry at the Maneaba in case the prisoners gave any trouble.

On arrival at the village, I ascertained that the King had that morning returned to his proper village. I then proceeded to find NERURIA, the native wife of the late JAMES BYENE, trader of MARAKEI, to obtain evidence from her concerning his suspicious death - referred to in para: 100 of this letter. After some time I found the woman and obtained her evidence (Royalist's Letter No. 29 of 1892).

It then being late I returned to the ship and unable to see the King I sent some boats ensigns to him and a passage by JACK, the Pilot saying I was sorry I had missed seeing him - that all the other Islands in the Group I had visited, had asked that a white Resident should be appointed, and were willing to contribute towards his support, and I hoped APAMAMA would do the same.


On the edge of the lagoon at Marakei

On the 9th June at Marakei Island I found the steamer "Monsterrat" under Nicaraguan colours recruiting labour for Guatamala. In spite of my warnings, the allurements of this vessel caused many natives to recruit and on 21st July (when I last saw her) 268 adults accompanied by upwards of 100 children had already shipped. The vessel hoped to obtain six hundred adults whom I think she will have no difficulty in obtaining. They are accompanied by several white traders who have accepted positions as overseers on the plantation to which these natives are going. I took such precautions as suggested themselves to me, to ensure the safe return of these islanders on completion of their engagements. This case I have specially reported in Royalist's letter No. 22 of 1892.

As stated, in the attached form the Northern Island of the Gilbert Group are under the Boston Board of Missions having their Headquarters at Kusaie in the Caroline Group. The southern islands are under the London Mission with their Headquarters at Samoa. Within the last four years a Roman Catholic Mission has been established in the Group with Nonuti as its head station.

Whilst giving the Missionaries all the credit due to them for the pioneering work in connection with these islands, I am of the opinion that the whole question of mission work now requires thorough investigation. My time was so fully occupied by the large number of cases which I found demanded by immediate attention, and occupied most of my time that I was unable to gain anything like the amount of information on various subjects in the islands, that I could have wished, but the main points that came under my notice concerning missions and which I repeat require immediate investigation and revision are these:-

MARAKEI visited 9th 10th 13th June, 9th July 1892.

Name of King or Chief. His Religion. King TENTATOON.

    Protestant. Council 12. Police 28.

  1. Name and Religion of Missionary. Does he trade

  2. Rev: KAMOA. Hawaiian American Mission - Protestant. No.

  3. Names of Whites and Traders. Nationality and for whom trading


JOHN McCARTHY American Own Accont

JOHN SANDBERGEN Dutch Jaluit Gessellschaft

No. of Native population - Religion 2000. 600 Protestants.

  1. Increase or decrease cause. Increasing tho' infanticide still exists.
  2. Marriage Laws. Betrothal.. Protestant women marry at about 15.
  3. Labour. A few in Fiji, Honolulu, and Samoa. 34 Shipped in Steamer "MONTSERRAT" for GUATAMALA on June 8th.
  4. Productions. Copra, Pandanus, Papoi.
  5. Exports Annually. About 230 tons copra.
  6. Weapons and Ammunition. About 150 guns - a little ammunition.
  7. Last visited by "Man-of-War". German "Alexandrine" 1891.
  8. Communication with other Islands
  9. British Steamer "Archer" American and German vessels occasionally.

  10. Landing. Good.
  11. Anchorage. Indifferent, on edge of reef very close to shore.
  12. 15. Laws and Customs. Adultery - loss of land or 1,000 nuts each party. Illicit connection

    1000 nuts and Stealing $50. Murder - Death - Manslaughter - 3 years on roads.

  13. Remarks. Natives very clean, healthy, and well dressed. Polygamy and Infanticide still exist to a certain degree on this Island. On arrival here I found the Nicaraguan Steamer "Montserrat" recruiting labour for Coffee plantations in QUATAMALA. A Protectorate having been established over the Group, I took such steps as I thought best, to ensure the comfort and safe return of such natives as accepted engagements to go in the steamer. The Labour Agent W.H. FERGUSON agreed to send me, at the end of his cruise, a triplicate copy of each natives engagement. He also gave us a bond of 6 pounds per head, binding himself on behalf of EUGENE de SABLA and Co. of California Street, San Francisco, to return at the expiration of their engagements 3 or 5 years each native to his own Island. The particulars of this labour vessel are reported in "Royalist's letter No. 22 of 1892. The King came on board, and said the Natives were going in the "Montserrat" of their own free will. He asked me to receive the Arms as I had done in the other Islands of the Group, which I did, leaving a few in his possession for the use of the Police. Messrs SANDBERGEN and McCARTHY - Traders, also handed me some old guns left with them in pledge for trade at various times. Some fines imposed by Commander ROOKE of H.M.S. "Miranda" in 1886, not having yet been paid (altho' due at the end of 1886) I told the King they must be paid - also interest, as he had kept the rightful owners so long out of their money. This he agreed to do and handed me the following.

$300 for PETER GRANT - now a Trader on TARAWA

$300 for FOOK CHUNE Agent of ONCHONG and Co of Sydney

$ 75 for JAMES BYRNE (OR Byron) deceased.

It appears some trouble exists here with reference to the Kings trading. I told him that if he continued to charge $50 to each Trader for his license to trade, he must, in return for this money, do as was done in other Islands viz: settle all native disputes with traders - protect them and their goods - and confine his trading to resident Traders, provided their prices were reasonable. Preferring to trade where he wished, I told the Traders, that in future it was not necessary to pay the King for permission to trade, and I informed the King that, as soon as his own and all native debts were paid to the Traders, he was free to trade where he liked. He agreed to this. With the traders I left a memo: to this effect - to be shown to the Masters of any vessels visiting MARAKEI.

The King was willing to contribute towards the support of a White Resident in the Group - and on the subject of fines, promised to enter them in a book in future. He also promised to stop polygamy in the Group in future.

In August 1888 JAMES BYRNE (or BYRON) a British Trader on this Island, died under suspicious circumstances which pointed to PETER GRANT, an American of Wm BLANCHARD also an American, administered poison to the deceased. I took evidence from the Traders and others on the Island, concerning this matter, which I have fully reported in "Royalist's" Letter No. 29 of 1892.

----------------------- Note: The original Davis Diaries used the spelling "MARAKI" however for consistency the contemporary spelling of "Marakei" has been used throughout this Web page.

(Sgd) Ed: H.M. Davis
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Jane Resture
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