During the nineteenth century Christmas was visited infrequently. In 1888 Captain Sir W. Wiseman of H.M.S. Caroline formally took possession of the island on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.
Other enterprises were attempted on the island but with little success.
For instance, in 1902, a British lease was granted to Lever's Pacific Plantations Ltd., who planted some 70,000 coconut trees before deciding to abandon the island in order to concentrate upon their other plantations in the Solomon Islands. In 1908 the master of a British steamship which was wrecked there reported the island "uninhabited apparently abandoned", but a few years later Japanese bird poachers are said to have taken over.
A French priest, Father Rougier, was next on the scene when he bought the lease from Lever's in 1913. He operated under a London firm, Central Coconut Plantation Limited, who continued working there until 1939 when a slump in the price of copra forced them to withdraw.
During the war Christmas Island became one of the outposts against the Japanese advance. American troops landed in 1942 and at one time there were as many as 10,000 of them on the island. During their stay they constructed airstrips and installations where bomber and fighter aircraft were stationed. They also dredged the channel to. the north of Cook Island to enable small tankers and supply ships to enter the lagoon. After the war the
U.S. Government at first appeared to be undecided about their base, but in 1948 they left it.
The Government of the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony managed the plantation during the war years. Monsieur Rougier (nephew of Father Rougier) returned at the end of the war to claim the island. He was not welcomed, however, as he had thrown in his lot with the Vichy Government during the German Occupation of France, and the Colony Government bought out his claim for £50,000. Their intention was to regain this price by exploiting the island as a copra plantation by bringing labour from the Gilbert Islands. The management of the plantation is now one of the tasks of the District Officer for the Northern Line Islands who is stationed on Christmas Island.
Malden Island, some 400 miles to the south of Christmas, is a flat, triangular coral island about. 5 miles in length from east to west, and about 4t miles at its greatest breadth. The land area entirely surrounds a salt lagoon into which the sea enters through subterranean fissures in the coral rock, causing the level of the lagoon to rise and fall with the tide.
The shore of the island, except for an open beach about 200 feet long, is bounded on all sides by a narrow fringing reef, intersected in places by small channels. Fresh water is scarce, although semi-wild pigs and cats, left during the last century, manage to subsist there. In fact, some of these pigs have been captured by our party on the island and are being used to good effect! As at Christmas, rainfall is variable, and prolonged droughts occur at intervals. Vegetation is sparse, consisting mainly of grasses, herbs and bush, together with some coconut palms planted by the guano company.
Malden Island was discovered on the 29th July, 1825, by Captain the