Christmas Island is a place of unique stories. Some may be exagerated or “coloured” depending on the teller. But the following one goes far beyond slight exageration and into the realms of fiction.
An American newspaper article, dating back to 1906, claimed that two adventuring Americans and their Australian ship captain landed on the Island on Christmas Day 1861 and thus gave the place its name. ( History shows Captain William Mynors had that honour in 1643 after sighting the Island on Christmas Day.)
Is this a mischevious article made up from the imaginings of a journalist using a technique of weaving fantasy with some fact to make a story seem authentic and believable? Did these men really visit the Island? Maybe they thought they had indeed named the Island “Christmas” though one would have thought that the Captain of the ship would have known better.
Whatever the truth, partial as it seems, or total lack thereof, the following excerpts would have been an interesting read to an American audience at that time; just as the author intended.
… Way back in 1861 two Americans, William Donnley from Oregon and Frank Costan from Texas, both fortune seekers in Australia in that year, left the island and set out upon an ocean voyage in search of fame and riches. They traveled in the good ship “Faithful” and their captain was John Welsh, of Sydney. The old pages of the log of the Faithful, which are now in the hands of the grandson of Captain Welsh, tell how it fared with two friends and also give the earliest history of Christmas Island to be found.
Although this strange bit of land off the Indian Ocean is now flying the British flag, its shores were first trod by two Americans and one Australian, who landed there on Christmas Day, 1861.
Because the day was December 25th, Donnley, Costan and Welsh decided to change the name of their isle from Moni, as given on the ancient maps, to Christmas, and the log tells that they cast anchor in a pretty little cove, forced their way through a peculiar forest the edges of which were leafless trees, and finally came to a beautiful plateau on which swarmed millions of birds “so unused to man that they could be lifted bodily from the ground with affright”.
On this plateau the three made a fire and cooked some of the crabs which they captured and these crabs, some oranges from the Faithful, a little brandy and some fresh spring water and some sago gathered from the island formed their Christmas dinner. In the embers of the fire they planted a smooth surface stone on which one of the men had roughly carved “Christmas Island”. “As the sun closed Christmas Day,” so the log states, “the island in the Indian Ocean of which there is no record of man ever having visited before and which was hitherto known as Moni, was christened with due ceremony Christmas Island U.S.A.” Not a soul was encountered nor a beast met on the isle and it seems that the sailors spent rather a stupid day thereon, although they were glad to be off the boat to stretch their legs a bit.
On the following day they tramped across the island from tip to tip, examing the soil, keeping a sharp lookout for natives and possible riches.
They found neither man nor gold and the log of the Faithful says that they left Christmas Island on December 27th “charmed with its solitude, but disheartened by its dearth of treasure.”
From December 27, 1861, until 1881, although these three men spread the news of the peculiar soil and the delightful climate, the freedom from savage beast and from reptiles existing on the island, no nation took the trouble to send a vessel thither to explore. Even the Dutch, so greedy for island possessions, listened with stolid indifference to the tales of possbilities of Christmas Island. Somehow the name which the two Americans and the Australian captain had given the island stuck and Moni became Christmas.
… Mr [Andrew] Ross is preparing to hold an elaborate celebration of Christmas on the island. A drinking fountain will be erected in honor of the two Americans who first landed on the island and gave the place its present name. Services will be held in church and a minister from London will go over to officiate.
… The contrast between the first Christmas spent by man on Christmas Island before its discovery, when in 1861 three fortuneseekers landed there, and the Christmas spent on the isle this year, several years after its seizure by England, by several hundred healthy, happy Englishmen and coolies, is one which foretells the future of the island. Present conditions spell prosperity, and before many more Christmases roll around the holiday will be held on this little Indian Ocean isle no doubt with a spice of Americanism, for some of that valuable Iime phosphate is coming to California, and that means that American buyers will seek the Island. Also, as the fountain of health seems to be hidden on its shores, it will not be long before Christmas Island becomes a popular resort for people from our land.
Sacramento Daily Union 23rd December 1906