Steve Higley posted this document to the Jarvis Island website he operates. All credit belongs to him. I have re-posted it here to make it more accessible to other Jarvis Island enthusiasts.

Our Equatorial Islands James D. Hague
(from THE CENTURY MAGAZINE - Vol. LXIV No. 5 - September, 1902)

(Taken from

It has not; come to be generally known that about forty-five years ago the United States acquired formal and actual possession of certain islands in the mid-Pacific, lying within and along the equatorial belt, and reaching westward nearly to the Eastern Hemisphere.

In 1856 it had already come to pass that certain voyagers in those regions, mostly American whalemen cruising along the line, had occasionally visited several small, low, and desolate coral reefs and islands, on some of which they had found valuable deposits of phosphates, or so-called phosphatic guano; and in August of that year Congress passed an act authorizing American citizens, under prescribed conditions, to claim, acquire, and enter into possession of such islands, in the name of the United States. Under the operation of this act a number of islands were so claimed and entered upon by Ameri-can citizens, who there and then acquired lawful possession, and for many years there-after enjoyed exclusive rights of ownership and exploitation under the authority and jurisdiction of the United States government and the protection of the American flag.

Two of these islands, Jarvis and Baker (New Nantucket), about that time became unquestionably American possessions, not only under the congressional act, but also by the official act of the commander of the United States ship St. Mary's, Captain Davis, U. S. N., who, under instructions from his government, in 1858, visited both and "took formal possession of the islands in the name of the United States, and deposited in the earth a declaration to that effect, executed on parchment and well protected," all of which he duly reported to the Secretary of the Navy (Executive Document No. 11, Senate, Thirty-fifth Congress, First Session, 1858).

The flag of the United States was there-fore floating over American insular posses-sions in the Pacific as long ago as 1858 and as far west as 176° 32' from Greenwich, at Baker Island, thirteen miles north of the equator, and only about three hundred miles from the anti-prime meridian dividing the two hemispheres.

If these facts are new or in any way sur-prising to some good American citizens who, in these latter days, have become urgent advocates of the policy of territorial extension in the Pacific, and who, perhaps, especially maintain that the flag, once raised, must never be hauled down, it may be still more surprising to such readers to learn that, somehow, in the course of human events, after many years of possession and active operation by American citizens, and notwith-standing the provision of the original con-gressional act that no guano should be taken from such islands except for the benefit of American citizens and for the purpose of being used within the United States, all these islands have been delivered or aban-doned to other claimants and, by hook or crook, have passed into British possession, under the British flag.

This is true not only of islands that were once acquired and held under the act of 1856 alone, but also of Jarvis and Baker, for which special claims were made in 1858 by the United States government through its agent Captain Davis, in the St. Mary's: both of these islands have since passed, either by sale or license or abandonment of the Ameri-can claimants and occupants, into the pos-session of an English trading firm, and thus to an English corporation formed for the purpose of taking over the business of said firm about January 1, 1897. That the de-posits were not then entirely exhausted is at least indicated by the prospectus of the English company, which states that the islands referred to then contained about one hundred and twenty thousand tons of guano.

It was some years before the date just named that one or more of her British Majesty's ships appeared in the mid-Pacific, cruising with a sharp lookout for any unoccupied islands that could be had for the picking up; and in 1889, more than thirty years after the visit of the St. Mary's, when Captain Davis took possession of Jarvis Island in the name of the United States, H. M. S. Cormorant (funny name!) came sailing over the equatorial ocean, seeking what she might devour in that line, and finding Jarvis presumably with nobody at home to set the Stars and Stripes, naturally gobbled up the little island and sailed away, not only with-out provoking any protests, but, apparently, with such acquiescent assent on the part of the United States that a naval chart of the Pacific, published in 1896 by the Hydro-graphic Office of the United States Navy Department for the purpose of showing the insular possessions of various nations, ex-pressly indicates Jarvis as a British island. Christmas, Fanning, and Palmyra islands, lying several degrees farther north and, generally, between Jarvis and Hawaii, were taken up by the Cormorant about the same time. Since then almost every island in that part of the Pacific has been claimed as a British possession; and on the naval chart just referred to the only islands in that re-gion which are not distinctly indicated as British are Baker and its single near neigh-bor, Howland, and both of these are now actually occupied by the above-mentioned English company, which is, or recently was, actively engaged in the shipment of guano therefrom, under lease or license of the Co-lonial Office of the British government and under the protection of the British flag.

These scattered islands, unrelated to other groups, are generally known as the "Line Islands." What importance they may still have for their guano deposits is perhaps questionable; but their possible value as cable stations has recently come into view and may some day demand serious consid-eration. This possibility seems now all the more important since the United States government, in 1899, seeking to acquire an eligible cable station, made an offer of one million dollars, which the German govern-ment declined, for Ualan, or Kusaie, some-times known as Strong's Island, situated fifteen hundred miles or more west and northerly from Baker. Fanning's Island, an inhabited coral lagoon, a few degrees north of Jarvis, was some time since made a per-manent cable station for a British five-thou-sand-mile cable now in process of construc-tion between Vancouver and Australia. As will be seen by the accompanying chart, Jarvis and Baker are both conveniently situated on lines connecting the Pacific coast of the United States with Australia or New Zealand, touching Hawaii and Samoa; and the claim of ownership by the United States, based on the act of possession taken by Captain Davis, may sooner or later give rise to an international question.

Jarvis Island, nearly due south from Hawaii, lies hundreds of miles from any high land and many miles from any land whatever. In latitude it is twenty-two miles south of the equator and in longitude 1590 58' west from Greenwich. It is a small speck of coral reef in mid-ocean, between one and two miles long from east to west, and less than a mile wide from north to south, with an area of perhaps a thousand acres. On the flat surface of the coral-built platform-reef, just level with the sea at low tide, the waves, breaking on its outer edge, have swept to-gether a mass of coral debris and sand, piling up a snow-white beach between twenty and thirty feet high, which is an encircling rim of a saucer-shaped surface, the central part of which is eight or ten feet lower than the crest. The island, once a lagoon, is now filled with coral debris. The evaporation of sea-water in the centralbasin left there, long ago, a bed of gypsum (sulphate of lime), on which the guano was subsequently deposited, with resulting phos-phates.

The interior surface of Jarvis is almost as completely white as the beach and the sur-rounding ring of surf, shaded only slightly here and there by a thin and scanty growth of dark-green vegetation, a sort of creeping purslane and a little, long, coarse brownish grass. Seen from a ship several miles away, in a dazzling sunlight, the white island can hardly be distinguished from the sea break-ing in shining surf upon the encircling reef or rippling with whitecaps in the distant view. It was a tradition of early days that a vessel once approached the island, known to be very near, hut not yet made out by any of the lookouts aloft, when one of these suddenly sang out, not "Land ho!" but that he could see a flag on the water, then a house, then a man riding on a mule, and, finally, the island under the mule! The rider thus distinguished was the late Dr. Judd of Hono-lulu, celebrated in the history of Hawaiian affairs, who was just then visiting the island as agent for the American Guano Company of New York, the newly established occu-pant in actual possession.

Baker Island is about one thousand miles west of Jarvis, resembling it in general character, but smaller, containing only about four hundred acres, and being darker in color and somewhat more thickly covered with purslane and grass. It also is very remote from any high land, and has only one near neighbor, Howland Island, about fifty miles away to the northwest.

As sources of phosphatic guano Jarvis and Baker were unquestionably the most important of all the Pacific equatorial islands which were acquired by American citizens under the congressional act of 1856. The above-named company of New York capitalists engaged actively in the enterprise of equipping these two islands with all required facilities for the exploitation of the deposits and the loading of vessels. Supplies, materials, and laborers were sent there from Honohulu. Vessels were chartered at San Francisco to load at the islands and to sail for Hampton Roads. A ship was dispatched from New York to Jarvis and Baker, loaded with materials for the construction of houses and working plant on the islands, and with cables, chains, anchors, buoys, and other needed outfit for deep-water moorings.

It was to examine these phoaphatic deposits and to search for others like them that the writer visited and explored a large number of coral islands lying along the Pacific equatorial belt in 1859-61.

The most serious difficulties of the new enterprise were met in the mooring of vessels and the transport of guano from shore to ship. There was no safe anchorage. The shores of coral reefs and islands in the Pacific are generally very bold, descending at a precipitous angle from the surface to submarine depths, which, in this part of the ocean, average probably more than fifteen thousand feet. At Jarvis and Baker and similarly situated islands the water deepens boldly from the outer edge of the reef, and at hardly a ship's length from the shore a hundred-fathom line could not reach bottom. Ships were usually moored off the western shore of the island, where they were made fast to mooring-buoys, which were held in place by heavy anchors and connected chain cables, two anchors for each mooring, one on the outer edge of the reef and one off-shore in deep water. Thus moored, there was hardly room for a ship to swing between the buoy and the reef, a safe enough posi-tion with wind and current both steadily offshore, but very dangerous under other conditions. The prevailing winds were east-erly trades, which, with the equatorial current running almost always strongly to the westward, usually kept the ships tailing off-shore.

This strong westerly current was thus an important factor in the safety of vessels lying at the islands; but it sometimes slacked, and sometimes turned eastward, probably because the belt of current and counter-current, somewhat like a double-track road-way, shifted now and then north or south. The westerly current also greatly increased the difficulty of bringing ships safely to the moorings. The experiences of shipmasters engaged in that service in those days were often trying and occasionally disastrous. The captain of a ship found himself confronted with the difficult task of bringing his vessel to the mooring under sail, and virtually in the open sea, with just way enough to reach and get hold of the cable, already made fast by one end to the mooring-buoy and coiled in a boat, ready to be put aboard ship at the moment of her coming within reaching distance. Too much way meant forging ahead to fatal disaster on the reef, a ship's length beyond the buoy. Too little way meant failure to make fast, with all the unhappy consequences of drifting swiftly to leeward in the strong westerly current, and beating to windward, sometimes many days, before returning for another attempt. In some instances this was many times repeated, and one ship was unlucky enough to lose more than a month's time in trying to get fast to the island. Sometimes it came to pass that a ship-cap-tain, having in mind an overmastering fear of missing his mooring and thus falling helplessly to leeward, gave his vessel too much way, and went straight to wreck and ruin on the reef before him. Such was the fate that the good ship Silver Star met at Jarvis Island, November 10, 1860, in which unhappy event the writer participated as passenger.

Once securely moored under the lee of the western shore, a ship might lie for days and weeks as quietly as in a well-protected harbor and almost as free from any considerable danger. The vessels usually lay within a cable's length of the platform-reef, on the outer edge of which the sea broke in a gentle surf, which offered no hindrance to the passage to and fro of the whaleboats carrying the guano in canvas bags from shore to ship. These conditions prevailed generally during summer months. At other seasons, especially between October and March, there would come occasional periods of very high surf, several days in duration, when all traffic between the shore and the ships became impossible. Then the sea, rolling in from the vast expanse of ocean, moving in long, swelling billows with smooth, near neighbor, Howland Island, about fifty miles away to the northwest.

As sources of phosphatic guano Jarvis and Baker were unquestionably the most important of all the Pacific equatorial islands which were acquired by American citizens under the congressional act of 1856. The above-named company of New York capitalists engaged actively in the enterprise of equipping these two islands with all required facilities for the exploitation of the deposits and the loading of vessels. Supplies, materials, and laborers were sent there from Honohulu. Vessels were chartered at San Francisco to load at the islands and to sail for Hampton Roads. A ship was dispatched from New York to Jarvis and Baker, loaded with materials for the con-struction of houses and working plant on the islands, and with cables, chains, an-chors, buoys, and other needed outfit for deep-water moorings.

The business of loading ships was, of course, much interrupted by these periods of surf. No wharf or pier built on the plat-form-reef could be made to withstand such destructive force. All the traffic of the islands between ship and shore was carried on in whale-boats manned by Hawaiian Kanakas, amphibious fellows, very skillful in their work, apt in choosing the favorable moment for passing the breakers, and, in an unlucky capsize, as much at home in the water as fishes. Sometimes, when high surf made the reef quite impassable for boats, it was an easy task and good sport for one of these Kanakas to swim from the shore to a ship at the mooring and return, carrying messages in a bottle tied about him.

It was during one of these high surf periods, when the sea was breaking on the reef with such extreme violence that neither boat nor swimmer could live in it, that the writer devised and successfully employed a method of communication between shore and ship by means of a large kite, which was made of a light wooden frame covered with thin cotton sheeting, and provided with a strong kite line. When the kite was well up in the air, trailing out seaward across the reef, and had mounted high enough to sustain a little extra weight, a small ring was securely fastened to the kite line. Through this ring a lighter cord was passed, and a bottle, containing a letter for the ship, was tied to the outer end. The kite was then allowed to rise, taking out both lines and carrying aloft the bottle, swinging high in air. When the bottle was evidently out beyond the surf, the kite line was made fast on shore, and the lighter line, passing through the ring, was paid out, allowing the bottle to descend to the water. The ship-captain, seeing what was intended, sent a boat to fetch the letter; a reply was presently placed within the bottle, which was then pulled up to the ring on the kite line, and soon brought ashore by hauling in the kite.

Jarvis and Baker were known and located on the charts long before they were supposed to contain anything valuable. They were rarely visited or seen except by whale-men, who, cruising along the equator, might find occasion to land in search of eggs or to call at the solitary post-office, which, at Baker, during many years prior to perma-nent occupation, consisted of a covered box fastened to a post set upright in the sand, where passing whalemen might both find letters for themselves and leave letters for others, it being a custom for all whale-ships bound homeward or to the Arctic to take along all letters going their way. Occa-sionally such an island has become the burial-place of some poor mariner whom death has overtaken in its neighborhood, and whose body, instead of being committed to the deep, has been left to repose in a sandy grave upon this remote speck of ter-restrial isolation, high up on the far crest of the beach, beyond the sweep, but always within the sound, of the breakers on the reef.

Such were two unfortunate whalemen, my contemporary voyagers, whose bodies lie buried on one of the Caroline Islands, and whose epitaph, printed some time since in the New York "Tribune," reads as follows:

Sacred to Wilm. Collis
Boat Steerer of the SHIP
SaiNT george of New BED

ford who By the Will of Almitey god
was siviriliery injured by a
off this Iland on
18 March 1860
also to
Pedro Sabbanas of Guam
4th MaTE drouwned on
the SAME Date his
Back broken by WhALE

It was doubtless due to observations made by visitors on such errands that the guano deposits on these islands first attracted the attention that led to the discovery of their value. The material of the deposits, both in appearance and composition, was generally quite unlike guano of the Peruvian islands, much of it, especially of Jarvis, being as white as snow, as hard as rock, and almost wholy without ammonia. It was, in fact, bird-guano from which almost everything soluble had been leached by water, leaving a highly concentrated calcareous phosphate, then worth, in the United States, about thirty dollars a ton.

These deposits varied in thickness from a few inches to a few feet. The islands had been for ages the breeding-places of millions of birds of many kinds, large and small, subsisting mainly on the fish of the sea and partly on the products of the reef. The birds rest mostly on the bare surface of the island, flocking together in solid masses of thousands, each different kind grouping al)art and not mingling with other sorts. Where vegetation affords the material, some kinds build roosts of twigs and stems two or three feet high. Many burrow, and nest in holes beneath the sandy surface.

In the course of ages these countless mil-lions of birds produced a vast deposit of material containing the concentrated phos-phates most desirable as food for plants and for the enrichment of the earth's soil; and it is interesting to note how, by processes partly natural and partly artificial, these mineral phosphates of the Pacific Ocean in their various states of being, illustrate what may be called the transmigration of atoms.

From a state of solution in sea-water these atoms of calcareous phosphate, de-rived originally from primitive rocks, were converted into various forms of fish food, both animal and plant, and, thus assimilated, were subsequently transformed into the bones and bodies of the fish, which, in turn, as food for birds, came, by and by, to form part of the phosphatic deposits on these islands, whence they have been conveyed in ships to the opposite side of the planet for the fertilization of the fields of America and Europe, there to be again transformed into food, both plant and animal, for millions of people in both hemispheres, to become bone of our bone and, through human embodiment, to be made partakers in all that mortal man is heir to. Some such atoms may rest in Westminster Abbey or in the tomb of roy-alty; and countless thousands may thus await the final mystery, at the last trump, when this mortal must put on immortality.

Among the birds of these islands an orni-thologist might perhaps find many varieties, all of which are known to ordinary observers by a few common names. The most numerous kinds found there by the early occupants were the gannets or boobies, the frigate-birds or man-o'-war hawks, the tropic-birds or "bo's'ns," the gulls, tern, mutton-birds, noddies, petrels or Mother Carey's chickens, and, during their breeding-seasons, some game-birds, notably curlew, snipe, and plover.

The gannets are comparatively large birds and great diving fishers, pouncing from high in the air upon fish deep in the water. They go out from the island for a day's fishing early in the morning, and return at evening, heavily laden with fish, many of them large, which they disgorge for home consumption, usually after first satisfying the demands of the tax-gatherers to whom they are com-pelled to pay tribute. These are the man-o'-war hawks, the tyrants and pirates of the feathered community, depending largely on the toiling fishers for their food. They pa-trol the coast, a little way offshore, usually about sunset, like a line of guards or revenue officers, and waylay the returning fishing-birds, preventing their landing until they have surrendered a portion of their day's catch.

The man-o'-war hawk is also a some-what large bird and an expert fisher, but he does most of his fishing in the air. When the booby-bird comes home from abroad he finds the man-o'-war hawk "layin' for him "; and however persistently he may seek to escape by dashing flight, with much screech-ing and screaming, he finds that before he can safely set foot on the land he must dis-gorge a fish or two, which the swift pursuer adroitly catches in the air. It seemed, how-ever, to be generally understood, as a modus vivendi, between the fisher and the pirate-birds that their contentions were only on the wing and that, once on land, they should dwell peacefully in their separate camping grounds.

The boobies are awkward and unwieldy on land, and may be easily captured. They rarely seek to escape when a man approaches, but, accustomed to meet the demands of their familiar enemy, the man-o'-war hawk, by disgorging a fish in the air, they fre-quently resort to the same process and lay at the feet of the intruding stranger what stock of fish they have available. The man-o'-war hawks turned this practice to their own advantage by following after any man who might appear among the nesting birds, circling in the air just overhead, ready to pick up the fish which the frightened boobies might give up as a peace-offering. The man-o'-war hawks were generally eager for anything, and would hover closely, ready to take from the hand of a man whatever he might toss in the air. On one occasion one of these birds swiftly snatched a notebook, which lay for a moment on the ground, and sailed away; dropping it, however, on finding it to be neither fish nor rat. All the game-birds, the curlew, snipe, and plover, were as shy and hard to get at as they are in populated countries. The gulls and the smaller tern, when disturbed by man, would rise from the ground in innumerable hocks, fly-ing, curving, and circling in the sunlight an(d casting a perceptible shadow, like a cloud, on the land beneath.

There was one beautiful little white bird, rarely to be seen except on the weather shore of the island, hovering there over the reef and the foaming breakers, flying slowly with a gently wafting movement, circling overhead almost within reach, and peering inquisitively into one's eyes, as if seeking some spiritual intercourse. Almost every visitor who saw these birds was impressed by their remarkable beauty and curious behavior.

Even sailors who came ashore for a Sunday's liberty, sometimes rough fellows whose path across the island could too often be traced by the dead bodies of the booby-birds wantonly slain, were strangely affected.

"What kind of a bird is that little white one over there to windward?" one of these men asked, returning from his tramp.

"Don't know any special name for it. Why?"

"Danged if I don't believe it 's a spirit of some kind," he replied.

It was interesting to read, some time after, in Darwin's "Journal of Researches" during the voyage of the Beagle, the following note, referring to the birds on Keeling Island:

The gannets, sitting on their rude nests, gaze at one with a stupid yet angry air. The noddies, as their name expresses, are silly little creatures. But there is one charming birth; it is a small snow-white tern, which smoothly hovers at the dis-tance of a few feet above one's head, its large black eye scanning, with quiet curiosity, your expression. Little imagination is required to fancy that so light and delicate a body must be tenanted by some wandering fairy spirit.

The tropic-bird, or "bo's'n," is about as large as a gannet and, although generally white, has two very long, delicate, and usu-ally bright red tail-feathers, which sailors call the "marlinespike," whence comes the name after the boatswain. It is a pluckier bird than the gannet, more self-respecting and self-contained. When ap-proached by man, it neither waddles away in a flurry nor disgorges a peace-offering of fish, hut defends its eggs or young against intruders.

Some interesting experiments were made with these birds as messengers, especially between Baker and Howland islands, about fifty miles apart. On several occasions a bird was taken from her eggs at Howland Island and placed on board a vessel going to sea or to Baker, whence she returned to her nest directly after being liberated, bearing a message, written on a bit of canvas, tied to her foot. Thus the schooner Ortolan sailed from Howland one morning at eight o'clock, carrying a bos'n which Was set free the following day and was found on her nest next morning at daylight with message reporting the latitude and longitude of the vessel, sixty-eight miles away, at the time of the bird's de-parture.

This may recall to readers of "Foul Play" an interesting incident of that well-known story by Charles Read&130; and Dion Boucicault, in which the hero and heroine, being castaways together on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Pacific, are led to study the problem "how to diffuse intelligence from a fixed island over a hundred leagues of ocean."

The idea of tying messages to the feet of birds and so communicating with ships sail-ing in that part of the world was derived by the authors of the story from the actual experiences of an Australian ship-captain on whose vessel a bird once alighted, bearing a message from stranded castaways seeking rescue; but the plan of weighting the bird's foot, not heavily enough to prevent flight, but sufficiently to induce the bird to alight on a vessel if occasion should offer, was an invention which the author puts into his hero's mind by causing him to observe a duck seeking rest on a boat after flying with obvious difficulty, due to an unnatural impediment attached to one foot, which proved to be a crab that had fastened itself there some time before.

By a curious coincidence, this ideal con-ception of the self-attachment of the over-weighting crab was actually realized at Jarvis Island in the case of a gannet which was seen by the writer to move with difficulty, by reason of a heavy lump attached to one foot, which, on examination, plainly told its own story. The bird, at some time long before, had evidently been on the reef at low tide, where a bivalve as large as a fullsized clam had closed upon its foot, never to open again. The bird had flown away, and in time the mollusk inside the shell had died without relaxing the grip. Gradually the interior had been compactly filled with fine sand, which, with alternate wetting and dry-ing, had become a solid petrifaction. The under side of the shell was worn away by long contact with other surfaces; but the upper side still showed the scallops and flutings of the original form. It evidently caused the bird much distress, which was mercifully ended there and then, and the foot, with its extraordinary attachment, found a place, long ago, in the museum of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale.

There are but few, if any, islands in the Pacific where rats may not be found, and they are sometimes present in large num-bers. In many cases they are the survivors of shipwreck. On Howland Island especially they had increased and multiplied almost beyond belief. They must have been on the island for years, as there seemed to be no remaining sign of any shipwreck that might have brought them. They were very small, and had probably degenerated under changed conditions of food. They lived on eggs and the bodies of birds too small to defend themselves. A struggle for existence seemed to be in progress between the rats and the smaller kinds of birds, on the eggs of which the little rats depended chiefly for their support, and these birds appeared to be at the verge of extermination. The larger birds were in no danger of this sort, as they could not only easily defend their eggs, but some were eager hunters for the rats, which they greedily sought as food. The man-o'-war hawks especially were as ravenous for rats as for fish, and it seemed marvelous that the rats could ever come to be so numerous in the presence of such an enemy. The rats probably managed to survive and increase by keeping out of sight during the day, hid-ing themselves away in holes or beneath the stones or slabs of beach-rock, beyond the reach of watchful hawks. Under cover of night they emerged from their hiding-places and swarmed over the surface of the island, seeking their food among the smaller birds. They had no fear of man, entering and overrunning his premises with great freedom, seeking food and fresh water. A little bait, attracting the rats together, made it easy to kill a score or more at a single fire of a shot-gun. One day a gang of less than thirty Kanaka laborers went out in the morning to hunt rats, and returned before noon with a catch of more than thirty-three hundred.

It became an amusing diversion to over-turn the large flat stones beneath which the rats were hiding in solid masses, and watch them as they scampered in all directions, pursued and quickly snatched up by the man-o'-war hawks. These crafty birds were apt to learn that the appearance of a man walking on the island, especially with a dog, meant rats for them, and any one thus going forth was usually followed by a hovering flock, ready and impatient for the sport they had learned to expect. A rat brought to hand by the dog was quickly tossed in air, where the birds were ready to snatch it, sometimes with a contest on the wing for disputed possession. One form of this sport, a sort of aerial polo, which seemed to be as good fun for the birds as for the observers, consisted in tossing two rats into the air at the same moment, not singly and apart, but tied together with about six feet of strong twine.

Instantly the birds made a dash for the rats, and the successful winner of the first prize went sailing off with one rat in his bill and the other swinging in the air be-neath until snatched by the second winner, when, after a quick, sharp struggle and a taut strain on the cord, the bird with the weaker hold was compelled to let go, which again opened the game to all pursuers. This then went on as a continuous performance, with somewhat Jonah-like but rapidly re-peated disappearances and reappearances of the little rats, swallowed and reluctantly disgorged by the birds in quick succession, until the flock, thoroughly exhausted by their impetuous flight and extraordinary exercise, alighted on the ground for a short truce, when the two temporary stake-holders would be found sitting face to face, keenly eyeing each other from opposite ends of the string still connecting them, each anxiously on the sharp lookout for sudden jerks and unpleas-ant surprises, while all the other pursuers gathered around in a ring, waiting for the two prize-birds to fly. The general aspect of all participants seemed to verify the familiar adage that the pleasure is not in the game, but in the chase.

Sports and amusing or interesting diversions, although somewhat rare. at these islands, were not wholly lacking. The game-birds afforded some shooting, while the reef and the sea were more or less attractive for a fisherman. Students of natural history found many engaging pursuits. At low tide the reef is almost bare. Along the outer edge it is frequently gullied with short and narrow inlets from the sea, forming pools with white sandy bottoms, into the depths of which one may look down, through quiet and beautiful green sunlit water, and see, as in a great natural aquarium, innumerable kinds of marine life-growing corals, fishes of vivid colors flashing in the sunlight, mol-lusks, sea-urchins, and sea-shells in countless varieties of form, size, and color. In such a pool a lady, wife of the resident manager, nearly lost her life while seeking shells on the reef at low tide, when, having stepped into the water and stooped deep down to reach a shell, her arm was suddenly seized by a monstrous squid or cuttlefish, which held her there with such irresistible force that she would have been quickly overcome and drowned if help had not been close at hand.

Sharks, large and small, abound in the neighboring waters, and sometimes, when the sea is smooth, come within the outer edge of the reef. Flying-fish are always in sight. Pursued by their enemies in the water, they take to air, where the fishing-birds await them. The flying-fish are ex-cellent food. It was easy to catch them, during the night, by hanging a lantern in a boat moored offshore. The fish, attracted by the light, fell into the boat, from which they could not escape.

At high tide the reef was often beautiful, covered then by about five or six feet of water.. The Kanakas are fond of frolicking in the water, and find as much fun playing with their surf-boards on the reef as New England boys do in coasting. It was very amusing to watch a company of natives in the surf, perhaps fifty or a hundred of them, strung out in a line along the outer edge of the reef, just where the water begins to break, each with a light board six or eight feet long, all ready and waiting for the breaker as it gathered and rose to a combing crest, each launching his board just in front of the advancing wave, climbing on to it, standing up, balancing himself adroitly, keeping the board "end on" as it shot in with the foaming breaker, all shouting and singing as they came darting toward the shore, or making fun of companions who lost their balance and tumbled into the sea again, and then up quickly and out, ready for another shoot.

Sometimes the surf offered other diverting scenes, more amusing to the observers on the beach than to the active participants on the reef. Occasionally a boat-load of sailors, coming ashore for half a day's liberty, might he seen risking the passage of high surf on the reef in an ordinary boat, steered with rudder and tiller-ropes, capsized by the first breaker, tossed about in the water, the sport of the waves and the amusement of the Kanakas, and lucky to reach the beach alive, and, if remaining in their boat at all, crawling out of it at last through a hole in its bottom.

Nor were unpleasant experiences of this sort strictly limited to strangers and greenhorns, as the resident nautical expert or pilot-captain at Baker Island had good reason to know.

The captain was going off one day to board a ship, the Flying Dragon, then lying at the mooring, intending to take with him as a present to the ship's captain and com-pany a very large basket of fresh eggs which he had caused to be gathered that morning among the nesting-places of the tern. These eggs, though small, were very good to eat, and the captain in his generous way provided enough to fill a laundry hamper of the largest size, one in which Falstaff might easily have been concealed. It must have contained thousands of eggs. As the captain of the ship was accompanied by his wife, an accomplished and agreeable young lady from Boston, the shore-captain had ar-rayed himself in his best linen and spotless white duck suit, with the purpose of paying a visit of ceremony in the cabin. The hamper filled with eggs, uncovered at the top, was placed in the bow of the whale-boat, while the portly captain stood proudly in front of it, like a commanding figurehead. Thinking the moment favorable, lie gave the order to shove off, but, unhappily, before the boat could reach smooth water, a heavy sea fell upon the reef in an unusually vicious breaker, lifting the bow of the boat suddenly upward, taking the captain off his feet, and tumbling him backward into the hamper, where, in the confusion which followed while the boat was tossing in the breakers, he was left to struggle helplessly in a mass of crushed eggs, from which he was quite un-able to extricate himself. When, after some assistance, he finally scrambled out of the hamper, there was not an egg in it left un-broken. The ludicrous effect of this albu-minous spectacle in white and yellow, varied in tone by adhering masses of brown-speckled eggshell, may be left to the imagination of the reader.

When these equatorial islands first became American possessions, the birds were their chief occupants. Other inhabitants were few, both in kind and number, although' ants and flies appeared in swarms when peo-ple came to dwell there. Sheep and rabbits were introduced about that time, as a con-tingent food resource, and they thrived fairly well on the scanty vegetation without fresh water.

These islands are in an almost rainless region, and, having no source of fresh water in the ground, are, for that reason, naturally uninhabitable for mankind. Living there required hardly less provision of water and food-supplies than is needed for shipboard. The native food resources of the islands were amply abundant in fish, birds, and eggs; hut the rainfall was found to be too uncer-tain and unreliable for the needed water-supply.

Distilling apparatus was sometimes provided, so that potable water could be produced from the sea in the event of short supply from ships; but, lacking this in one or more instances, a precautionary measure consisted in laying out on the ground in long rows and wide areas, like strawberry patches, a great number of shells, halves of large bivalves, each of which, during a shower, caught a little water, which was then gathered in buckets and poured into a cask. Heavy showers fell occasionally, usu-ally in the night; but in the daytime it often happened that a rain-squall, approach-ing the island from the windward, would part in two, apparently divided by the up-ward column of heated air rising from the land, and so pass by, partly to the north and partly to the south, leaving the central por-tion of the island dry.

The climate was very equable and the weather almost always perfect. The tem-perature varied slightly between extremes ranging from 75° to 85° Fahrenheit. The prevailing winds were easterly trades, vary-ing in their direction with the changing sea-sons, coming from the northeast during the northern winter, when the sun's declination is south, and from the southeast during the northern summer, when the sun's declination is north.

The apparent flow and set of the sea showed similar variations, running from northeast to southwest during the months of northern winter, bringing more frequent periods of rough water and higher surf; and from southeast to northwest during the months of northern summer, with smoother seas and fewer surf-days.

These variable conditions of sea and wind produced a notable effect on the leeward beaches of the islands, especially remarkable at Baker, where a large area of beach, covering perhaps ten or fifteen acres, about ten feet deep, and containing hundreds of thousands of tons of sand, was shifted twice every year, by the changing trend of these sweeping seas, from the west t6 the south shore of the island and back again, to and fro, between the summer and winter seasons. Strangely enough, whatever floating material was washed by these very high seas from the western or lee beach, instead of being carried off to sea as might have been ex-pected, was almost always kept within the outer line of breakers, swept partly around the island and washed up on the weather side. A large lot of valuable spars which were lying on the crest of the beach on the lee side of Jarvis Island, and which, during one night of high surf, were washed away and supposed, at first, to have been carried off to sea, were all found, a day or two later, stranded high and dry on the weather beach at the opposite or eastern end of the island. During my stay among these islands I saw two shipwrecks, the Silver Star on Jarvis, and the British ship Virginia on Baker, both on the western shore, and in both in-stances the stranded hulks were lifted, some time after, by the winter surf and car-ried around to the south side of the island.

Another noteworthy effect of changing seasons at the equator is in the perceptible movement of the sun from north to south and back again between winters and sum-mers of the temperate zones. At about the time of the equinoxes in March and Sep-tember the sun is in the zenith, exactly overhead, at noon, over the equatorial islands, and his rays would then fall down the chim-neys if there were any, while the midday shadow of the house, the only thing there to give any shade, fell to the south during the northern summer and to the north during the southern summer. The days and nights are practically of equal length all the year round. The sun rises and sets at six o'clock, its greatest variation being about two minutes. After the sunset there comes no twilight. The daylight quickly fades away, and within a quarter of an hour the brighter stars appear. Sometimes the most exciting event of the day was the keen search of competing observers to see who might first discern the evening star or locate Sirius in the darkening sky. Under occasional conditions the atmosphere was wonderfully clear, with a per-fectly cloudless sky and the horizon wholly free from mist or cloud-bank. On several such occasions I have seen stars of second magnitude, at the time of their setting, plainly visible near and at the horizon, hid-den for a moment by a rolling billow and again visible at the instant preceding final disappearance below the line where sea and sky join. Such stars often seemed like lights of ships, and I well remember one evening at Jarvis, in December, 1860, when we were anxiously looking for an expected vessel, our island tender, the cry of "Sail ho!" was raised, about nine o'clock, upon the discovery on the eastern horizon of a bright light which was supposed to be that of the com-ing Josephine. A light was set in the cupola on the house-top, and preparations were in-stantly made to show signal-fires on the weather beach, as a warning to the ap-proaching vessel, possibly a little out of her reckoning; hut the steady rising of the light above the horizon soon made it evident that we were looking at Jupiter.

It was under such circumstances that I had the very unusual experience of seeing the North Star from the southern hemisphere. Looking to the north about seven o'clock in the evening, January 6, 1861, I saw the North Star about one degree high. It was then about the tune of its upper meridian transit, when it should have been a little less than a degree and a half above the pole. As my point of observation on Jarvis Island was about twenty-two minutes of latitude south of the equator, the star duly appeared at the time of its upper meridian passage about one degree above our horizon. It re-mained clearly visible during the evening's observation, which was again repeated in similar manner four days later, January 10.

On these little equatorial islands, lonely shocks of desolate coral reef and sand, sur-rounded by sea and sky, life is reduced to its simplest terms, and, unless excited by a casual shipwreck, an unusually animating disaster, or by some other diverting event, is as equable as the climate and as monoto-nous as the ocean breaking on the shore. Jarvis and Baker, at the beginning of operation, were both provided with ample equipment for comfortable dwelling and sub-sistence. The official residence was a com-modious building, constructed in New York and sent out around the Horn, ready to be put together on arrival at the island. It was a square, two-story house, with broad verandas on each floor, many windows, a pyramidal roof surmounted by a cupola serving as a lighthouse and, above all, a flagstaff, from which the star-spangled banner waved without ceasing during the period of American occupation, twenty-five or thirty years, and until the Cormorant came along to raise the British flag. It had the appearance of a sportsman's seaside club-house, and was as completely furnished as the celebrated mid-ocean cottage which Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine discovered in the course of their romantic voyage. Indeed, for some time I thought that Mr. Stockton must have somehow heard of the Jarvis Island house and made it part of his story; but he assured me, when I ques-tioned him, not long before his lamented death, that although several others had made similar inquiries, the house he wrote of was one wholly of his own invention; and he added the observation that, as a matter of fact, he often found it most difficult in writing fiction to steer clear of the truth.

The working crews of the islands were quartered in suitable camps near their field of labor. They were native Hawaiians, good fellows, willing workers, admirably adapted to the duty required of them, which was largely in boats and in the water. I well remember one who excelled in diving. On a certain occasion, when the placing of a deep-water mooring had just been accomplished, it became necessary to detach under water the end of a hawser which had been made fast to the submerged part of a spar-buoy, about forty or fifty feet below the surface of the sea. The man was told to take his sheath-knife down with him and cut the hawser as near its end as he could, so as to lose as little as possible of the valuable cable. Taking his knife in his teeth, he disappeared beneath the water, and remained out of sight so long that he was almost given up for lost, when he suddenly reappeared, and, on being asked if ho had cut the hawser as he had been told to, reported that he had unbent it without cutting off any part of it whatever.

If the rainfall had been sufficient, these barren, desolate islands would long ago have been covered with vegetation, including coconut-trees, which would have given abundant support to a population of native islanders such as may be found now inhabiting small coral islands of the Pacific, depending wholly on the coconut for their food and drink, having but little use and no need whatever for fresh water.

Nature's processes of distribution by the great ocean currents bring to all these Paific islands, sooner or later, not only the seed of life-supporting vegetation, hut also the drifting waifs of humanity, carried by the winds and waves from the over-popu-lated to the uninhabited islands. Many of these, known fifty or more years ago to he without population, have since been peopled in such ways. Howland Island, although naturally uninhabitable, gave various indi-cations of early visitors, probably natives drifting from windward islands, whose traces were still visible in the remains of a canoe, a blue head, pieces of bamboo, and other distinctly characteristic belongings. A modern instance was also observed at Baker Island in 1863, when a Japanese junk was discovered drifting by, which, on being overhauled, was found to contain the dead bodies of four Jap-anese men.

Had the equatorial islands been thus cov-ered with trees and thick vegetation, with or without population, the birds could not have nested there in dense masses on the ground, and the guano deposits which have resulted under existing conditions would never have been formed.