Today’s blog is another addition from our popular E-Blast that we send out each month, you can sign up to receive it on our home page. Each E-Blast newsletter contains a column on a piece from our collection and we have now started giving you more information on that item here on our blog. Today’s pieces are festively appropriate maps of Christmas Island – just two of the many many maps in the RSGS archives.
A Christmas Cracker – A Topical, Tropical Island
Captain James Cook FRS (1728 – 1779), the celebrated English explorer and navigator, joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and visited Christmas Island during his 3rd (last) voyage to the Pacific in HMS Resolution on Christmas Eve 1777 – hence its appellation. He anchored off the island to look for turtles and commented thus:
“On the 24th about half an hour after day breake [sic], land was discovered bearing NEBE½E; which upon a nearer approach was found to be one of those low islands so common in this sea; that is a narrow bank of land enclosing the sea within”
Now officially known as KIRITIMATI, a translation of ‘Christmas’ into the local Gilbertese tongue, the island is located in the Pacific Ocean at Latitude 2°N and Longitude 157°30´W and is one of two islands with the same name. The other is located in the Indian Ocean.
Kiritimati is the largest coral atoll in the Pacific being some 93 miles in perimeter. Its relative isolation is indicated by its being some 4000 miles from Sydney, Australia, and over 3000 miles from San Francisco, USA.
It was annexed by Britain in 1888 as part of the Gilbert Islands which were later given British Protectorate status. They gained self-rule in 1971 and together with the neighbouring Ellice Islands were given their independence from Great Britain in 1979 as the Republic of Kiribati.
Kiritimati, given its key strategic position in the Pacific, was occupied during WW2 by Allied forces and was the main base from the 1950s to the early 1960s for UK / US nuclear testing in the Pacific. Its economy is now dominantly based on coconut palms and with some tourism.
Amusingly, the Grocery Store owner on the island in 2013 was a Scot!