I have an original newspaper picture from the edition of “The Graphic” (a British newspaper that ran from 1869 – 1932) that dates to the 2nd September 1888. The engraved picture depicts the annexation of Christmas Island. There are a couple of interesting things with regards to this image. Firstly, the most noticeable being an error in the title (and accompanying text). The writer mixed up their oceans! This Christmas Island is in the Indian Ocean; not Pacific.
Secondly, it was only after I read the following accompanying text to the picture that I discovered photos were taken of the annexation ceremony and that the above image and inset are taken from these. An amazing fact. So possibly in an archive, photos may be in existence documenting the formal annexation of Christmas Island.
Our illustrations are from photographs taken by a naval officer on the occasion of the formal annexation of Christmas Island by Captain William H. May, of H.M.S. Impérieuse, on the 6th of June last. Christmas Island is situated in the Pacific Ocean in latitude 10 deg. 25 min. south and 105 deg. 43 min.east longitude, and lies 200 miles south of the western end of Java, and about 65 miles between that island and the Keeling Islands, which also belong to Great Britain. The island consists largely of coral, covering a volcanic core, and since the deposit of the coral has been upheaved over 1,000 feet. It is covered with a mass of tropical growth, densely wooded, and is the undisturbed abode of thousands of birds of all descriptions, who had evidently not previously been troubled with visitors, some of them being so tame that they sat still and allowed themselves calmly to be caught, without betraying any fear.
The ceremony took place in Flying Fish Cove, practically the only part of the island boasting anything approaching to a landing-place. One of the illustrations shows the guard of honour – party of bluejackets and marines, under the command of Lieutenant Hewett in the act of saluting the Union Jack, which had just been hoisted. Captain May, accompanied by several of his officers, had just announced that Christmas Island had become a British possession, and the Impérieuse, lying off the cove, did honour to the occasion.
“Graphic” Saturday 8th September 1888
Some 39 years later, former Captain W. H. May, now Admiral of the Fleet, had the following letter published in “The Scotsman” newspaper.
POINTS OF VIEW,
Letters from Readers
Bughtrigg, Coldstream, January 25, 1927.
SIR, –In yesterday’s Scotsman I was interested in an article on Christmas Island, written by Mr Robert M. Macdonald. I think you would like to know that the island was officially annexed by me in June 1888 by order of H.M. Government. I was then on my way to China, in command of H.M.S. Impérieuse, under secret orders to annex the island. This was duly carried out; a cairn was created, and a notice in a sealed tin placed inside, while a board with a statement was fixed to a tree, and a flagstaff erected.
A guard of honour landed, and I officially announced the annexation of the island. The Union Jack was hoisted, and a Royal salute fired.
I enclose for your perusal some papers, from which you will see that the island was leased to the Christmas Island Phosphate Company from the Straits Settlement for 99 years from the 1st January 1891. This seems to refute the idea that the guano deposits were bequeathed to Edinburgh University. I expect what happened was that Dr Murray, of Challenger Expedition fame, reported and brought home some of the guano deposits and gave them to the University. This would be about ’75-’76.
You will also see from the papers I enclose that the late Commander Maitland Dougall claimed to have annexed the island, but found out his mistake.
The question of who annexed the island is of little importance, but I think you may be interested to know the facts.
There was a picture in The Graphic of September 2, 1888, showing the island being annexed. I have it in my possession.
I make no remarks about the island becoming a future Gibraltar. I should have thought it most unsuitable, as the depth of water is so great. I am, &c. W. H. MAY, Admiral of the Fleet.
“The Scotsman” newspaper – Tuesday 25 January 1927 page 5