Rt. Hon. Lord Byron, of H.M.S. Blonde. In 1824 the King and Queen of the Sandwich Islands had died while on a visit to England, and Lord Bryon had been commissioned to return their remains to Honolulu for burial. This he had done, and was on his way home when he sighted
Malden Island, named thus in honour of his surveying officer.
According to the narrative of Lord Byron's voyage, birds, a species of small field rat, copper-coloured lizards and dragonflies were the only inhabitants. "Yet there are traces of human occupation, if not
habitation. Large square areas, raised to the height of 3 feet above the ordinary surface, are here and there to be seen, supported by blocks of wrought coral, and each having in the centre what we may call an altar or table tomb." Andrew Bloxham, the naturalist of Blonde, also noted a "parallelogram of coral stones with a stone 7 feet high", and was informed by Lieutenant Malden "that he had met with about 40 such buildings, but in a more perfect state and extending along the shore in a regular line".
To explain the significance of these ruins it has been suggested that the island was formerly colonized from Manihiki (near N. Cook Island), the former population being probably between one and two hundred.
An American, Captain George E. Nichter, is said to have landed there next, in 1842, and in 1858
Malden was included in an unofficial list of American guano islands. However, it seems never to have been effectively occupied or worked by these American interests, and in March, 1864, Mr. Benjamin B. Nicholson, a British subject of Melbourne, took possession of
Malden, and on the 16th May of that year he "formally proclaimed Her Majesty's right of sovereignty thereto". During the next two years he is said to have spent upwards of £12,000 in the construction of works, etc., on the island and was granted a licence to remove the guano. In 1867 he transferred his licence to Messrs. Grice, Summer & Co.
of Melbourne who put on there a working staff of eight Europeans and 47 natives-the latter being paid £2 a month. A mooring buoy for ships was laid down and a wooden wharf constructed for loading. Water was obtained by condensation.
For the first 30 years of its occupation by British interests MaIden was the richest and one of the most prosperous of the guano islands, exporting between 12,000 and 14,000 tons of guano annually during the peak period.
For many years it was managed by a Mr. Abraham McCullough, whose grave is still to be found in the cemetery on the south side of the island, along with those of his son, two other Europeans and many natives.
Although at first the guano was being sold for £4 to £5 per ton on the North German market, by 1890 the company began to feel the competition of other 'minerals and they had to rely upon the smaller markets of Australia and New Zealand where they could only sell at half the price. Conditions gradually deteriorated; provisions were inadequate owing to the company failing to send supply vessels on time, and in 1913 one native killed another and was subsequently tried and sentenced for manslaughter. Eventually, in 1914, Mr. Grice converted the firm into a limited company, but lack of shipping due to the war caused the 'working of the deposits to be suspended. Trade revived somewhat after the war, but the old markets could not be recaptured as only a low-grade guano