In September 1900, after briefly holding the position as Fourth Magistrate at Singapore, Lewis Hare Clayton was sent, on what was to be a 5 day trip, to report on the fledgling community and mining operations on Christmas Island.
Clayton had entered the Straits Settlements Civil service in 1895 as a cadet and by 1897 was the Acting Assistant Protector of Chinese at Singapore and Acting Second Assistant Protector of Chinese in Penang.
He would later return to the Island in 1901 to the unfolding tragedy of the beri-beri epidemic that would wipe out half the Chinese workforce. Because of that ongoing horror, his second report was scathing in its assessment and he become an advocate for the Chinese workers. I hope to be able to publish that 1901 report on this website soon.
In the meantime, his first Colonial Report No. 319, is published below. I have taken the liberty of adding sub-titles within the report (in bold text) to summarise the different topic areas.
Clayton reports on all aspects of life on Christmas Island. His observations open a door to those earliest days of phosphate mining. The report was encouraging and there was confidence that the mining venture could be a success. However, he had some concerns and early signs of trouble were starting to appear. And, unbeknown to Clayton, the Grim Reaper had arrived. The nightmare of the beri-beri epidemic was just beginning.
REPORT BY MR. L. H. CLAYTON ON HIS VISIT TO CHRISTMAS ISLAND.
Singapore, October 16th, 1900.
I have the honour to report that, in accordance with your instructions, I embarked on board s.s. “Sea Belle” in the evening of September 25th. We left Singapore Harbour at 6 a.m. the following morning, and arrived at Christmas Island at noon on September 29th.
- Captain Vincent, the Manager of the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, Limited, came off to meet us, and, after considerable delay, caused by the dragging of our anchor at the first attempt, we anchored in Flying Fish Cove.
- The s.s. “Ayr,” belonging to the Mercantile Steam Ship Company, Limited, London, which had arrived at the Island one day before us, was moored in the Cove, and loading up with phosphate for Japan.
Description of inhabited areas
- In the afternoon I landed, and, in company with Captain Vincent, walked all over the inhabited portions of the Cove. With the exception of the new coolie lines, which I will describe later, the houses of all the inhabitants, European, Chinese, and Malay, are built on a flat strip of land between the shore and the limestone cliff. This strip is about half a mile long and about 300 yards wide, and has been partially, although not completely, cleared of trees.
- On the left-hand side, as one enters the boat channel, are the quarters of the Malay, Javanese, and Indian employés of the Company. Next in order come the food stores and the house now occupied by Captain Vincent and the two European Engineers, with their boys’ quarters, kitchens, &c. Two new one storied houses for Europeans-one for Mr. Meek, the Chief Engineer, and one for a doctor who is expected shortly—are approaching completion close by, and a little further along is the house built by Mr. Ross, and now in the occupation of Mr. Ferrier, the Analytical Chemist, employed by the Company. Walking for about one hundred yards parallel to the shore one arrives at the old coolie lines. The narrow strip of land between limestone cliff has been turned by the Chinese into a vegetable garden.
- Immediately beyond the old coolie lines the ground rises abruptly some 30 feet, and on a small plateau is the coffee plantation referred to in previous reports. From here, crossing the truck line used for bringing phosphate to the beach, and following a path for about 300 yards, one reaches the new coolie lines, still in process of erection, while some 200 yards farther on still are two small atap hospitals. The ground here is only cleared just where it is proposed to build, but there is a rough path for about a quarter of a mile further to the burial ground, the distance of which from the present Malay quarters would be, I should say, about 1¾ miles.
Transportation and loading of phosphate on the Island
- The phosphate is at present only being worked at and near the summit of Phosphate Hill. The coolies pick it up from the ground, where it lies in blocks, and throw it into iron trucks running down a slight incline to the head of a double line of rails, which descend for a distance of about 500 yards at a gradient of one in four. The full trucks are connected by a wire rope with the empty ones at the bottom of the incline. This rope passes round a drum, to which a hand-brake is attached. At the bottom of this rail the trucks, each one with a coolie in charge, run down a slight incline for about 300 yards to the head of the main rail, which is worked similarly to the smaller one above. This has only a single line of rails, with about 100 yards of double line at the middle for the trucks to pass one another. The length of the line is about 1¼ miles and the gradient about 1 in 10. An extremely powerful hand-brake acts upon the drum, and the trucks can be brought to a standstill in a very short distance.
- The loaded trucks run right on to a wooden platform, and the phosphate is then tipped out of them down the shoot referred to in previous reports. Coolies at the bottom again pick the stones up and place them in wooden trucks running to the water’s edge, which are emptied down a metal-lined shoot into boats.
- By the system now in use as much as 330 tons can be loaded into a steamer in a day.
- I understand that plant is on its way out for converting the single line on the principal rail into a double line, and also for starting a system of aerial haulage, by which the phosphate can be taken in buckets from the wooden platform at the foot of the principal rail direct to the loading-point, and, if possible, right on to the ship’s deck.
- A crane has been brought out, and a base is now being prepared for it. This crane will swing buckets 75 feet clear of the cliff, but I think it is doubtful whether masters of steamers will be willing to bring their boats in sufficiently close for this to be used. At present they will not come nearer than about 250 feet from the cliff (which is here about 25 feet high), and they seem to require some persuasion to venture even so near.
- Captain Vincent wishes to construct a small wharf at the loading point. He says that this could be done at a reasonable cost, as there is a narrow reef on which it could be built, and the steamers could then be brought alongside. Another suggestion is to cut a small dock in the limestone rock to accommodate one vessel. I am not qualified to judge how far the adoption of any of these projects would decrease the danger to vessels which undoubtedly does exist.
- Captain Murphy, of the “Sea Belle,” is of opinion that the safest plan for vessels will always be to anchor with their bows towards the sea and their sterns attached to a buoy. In this way, by slipping the cables, a steamer could get completely clear of the island in a few minutes if the weather should appear threatening.
Potential dangers and accidents
- It appears to me that the present method of bringing down the phosphate is attended with some considerable risk to the coolies. A telephone is attached to the upper rail, and notice is given at the bottom whenever trucks are about to start. The men at the lower end should therefore have good notice if any accident were to occur, and there are no coolies at work anywhere on the line. On the principal rail, however, notice is given by waving flags at all the corners, as the telephone is not yet in working order. It is a common occurrence for trucks to upset, and I am told that the wire rope has snapped several times. In such cases I understand that the weight of the trucks is such that they swing right off the rails before they can get up any great speed. This must involve risk to those employed at the flag-stations and at the crossing place half way down.
- Again, it seemed to me that accidents might easily occur to the coolies who pick up the phosphate at the bottom of the shoot. When a batch of loaded trucks arrives at the wooden platform the coolies there wave a flag and shout to those below, who then retire a short distance before the stuff is tipped down. The blocks of phosphate come flying down at a great speed, and I myself saw many of them go some considerable distance beyond the point where the coolies work, and, in some cases, even as far as the place to which they had retired. It is true that the men go to the left, so as to be out of the direct course of the stones, but it is impossible to tell how an irregularly-shaped stone will turn when it strikes against an obstacle; and, moreover, a Chinese coolie is just the kind of man to go back at the very last moment to pick up something. I am told that one man has already been killed by a stone at this place.
- As I was watching, one of the trucks at the top was accidentally tipped over, but its shape prevented its coming any further than the bottom of the shoot. It occurred to me that if the wire rope broke when the loaded trucks were, say, 100 yards above the platform, there would be every chance of a disaster. The coolies on the platform would be in the greatest danger themselves, and would certainly not have time to warn those below, while the eight trucks, each of which with its load weighs something like a ton, would come crashing right down the shoot on to the men, and I do not think that they would be able to get away quickly enough.
- It is only fair to point out that no serious accident has occurred so far, and it is possible that I have taken somewhat too serious a view of the possibilities. There can be no doubt, how ever, that the danger to the coolies will be much less when all the proposed fresh plant has been installed. With a double line of rails and a telephone signal, no coolies need be employed on the line while the trucks are running. The substitution of aerial haulage for the present shoot will also be a distinct gain, and I would suggest that a stronger wire rope that the one now in use be employed. It is to be hoped that the proposed alterations will be carried out as soon as possible.
The coolie lines, kitchens and latrines
- I inspected the old coolie lines on several occasions, both during the day and after the coolies had gone to bed. They consist of seven or eight plank buildings with atap roofs, accommodating from 15 to 50 coolies each. They are all raised about 14 feet from the ground, and the air can pass freely underneath. Except in one or two cases the beds are not raised from the floor. Hardly any of the coolies use mosquito curtains, and I was told 1900. that they were unnecessary. The available space is portioned off by upright planks about 4 inches high, and as a rule 2 coolies sleep in each division. I think that the space allotted to each coolie is slightly less than is usual, but the ventilation is extremely good. I only saw one shed that seemed to be overcrowded at all, and that was owing, I was informed, to several men having moved in for one night only. The absence of mosquito curtains undoubtedly helps to keep the air fresh. On the whole, I consider that the sleeping accommodation at the old coolie lines is satisfactory, and I heard no complaints from the coolies them selves on the subject.
- Instructions have been received by the Manager to burn down all the old coolie lines as soon as the men can be housed in the new lines. As beri-beri has broken out, this will no doubt be advisable, but I do not think that any blame attaches to the Company in respect of these quarters.
- The kitchens are close to the lines and are under cover. They seemed adequate and satisfactory, but the supply of rice bowls, &c., was insufficient.
- There are no latrines. The coolies make use of a portion of the sea-beach for this purpose.
- The new coolie lines consist of a number of plank and atap sheds. They are well built and raised on piles quite five feet clear of the ground. Three of these sheds are complete, with beds raised from the floor about two feet. They are weather proof and each holds 18 men, who appear to be extremely comfortable in them. Five more sheds are complete except for the raised beds, and are now occupied by coolies sleeping on the floor. One shed is half finished and unoccupied, and two more have just been begun. It is proposed to build a double line of these sheds. There is plenty of room for as many as may be found necessary. At present the coolies living in the new lines obtain their food from the old kitchens.
- Here, again, there are no latrines, the coolies making use of the jungle between the sheds and the edge of the cliff. The manager proposes to erect wooden latrines projecting over the face of the cliff. I think this plan should answer very well. The cliff is about 30 feet high, and there are 3 fathoms of water at the foot.
Water and wells
- The water for the settlement is at present obtained from two wells–one not far from the Manager’s house and one about 100 yards nearer to the old coolie lines. I am informed that these two wells give an ample supply for the whole community throughout the year. Samples of the water of each have been already forwarded, that from the former being labelled “B” and that from the latter “A.” The well supplying “B” is used for drinking purposes, and that supplying “A” for bathing by the Chinese. The water of both, however, is considered to be equally good, although containing a large percentage of lime.
- Water will, I think, be a difficulty in the case of the new coolie lines. A well is now being sunk near the white beach and about 100 yards from the coolie sheds, but no water has been found as yet. All water has, therefore, to be carried from the two lower wells, a distance of over one third of a mile. This is very unsatisfactory, and the coolies complained about it. I spoke to the Manager on the subject, and he hopes to drive water up to the sheds through pipes by steam. It is proposed to start a steam saw-mill close by here, and the power could be utilized for the water. If good water in sufficient quantity can be obtained from the new well now being sunk, the difficulty will be solved, but otherwise the question will require serious attention.
Deaths and accidents
- I examined the Register of Deaths, which has been kept since the beginning of the year. I was informed that there had been no death between the visit of the last Commissioner and the beginning of the present year. The total number of deaths this year up to the end of September was 57, of which number 19 were registered as owing to “Natural Causes,” 2 to accidents, and the rest to beri-beri. “Natural Causes,” I understand, means that the cause of death could not be accurately ascertained owing to the fact that there is no qualified medical officer on the island. Of the deaths 2 occurred in January, 5 in February, 16 in March, 2 in April, 12 in May, 3 in June, 2 in July, 8 in August, and 7 in September. The causes of 4 of the deaths in March were certified as beri-beri by Dr. Jamieson, of Singapore, who visited the island during that month. The average duration of illness before death was about 30 days. It appeared from the register that fresh arrivals were most liable to illness. No doubt in this manner the weaker coolies are weeded out. I was informed that there had been no fever nor infectious disease of any kind.
- The two accidents occurred, one from a blow from a stone at the bottom of the shoot, and one from injuries received in being run over by a truck.
Medical care, treatment and needs
- The two hospitals are plank and atap sheds, each capable of accommodating about 20 patients. They have no floor, but the beds are raised some two feet from the ground. An intelligent Chinaman, who, however, has no knowledge of nursing, is in charge. There were twelve patients in hospital at the time of my visit, all suffering from beri-beri, and one man who had broken his back falling from a tree, and whose death was, of course, only a matter of time. Captain Vincent treats beri-beri by giving as far as possible a complete change of diet, and feeding them on eggs, brandy, lime juice, pigeons, &c. All the patients were cheerful, and seemed to believe thoroughly in the treatment, under which they said they improved every day.
- Captain Vincent also attends at a small dispensary at certain times of the day and treats sores, to which the Chinese here, as everywhere, are very liable. They have a remarkable sequence, the coolies are usually free from serious sores, a fact of which Captain Vincent is justifiably proud, and which is entirely due to his personal influence.
- It is, however, greatly to be regretted that no properly qualified medical man has as yet been sent out by the Company. Mr. Baxendale, in the report for last year, recommended the engagement of a doctor, and if one had been sent out immediately I do not think there can be much doubt that the death-rate would have been lower. Captain Vincent does as much for the sick coolies as he possibly can, but he has neither the necessary know ledge nor the leisure time required. The coolies understand this perfectly well, and some of them asked for a doctor, as the Captain, ” although very good at external complaints, was not much good at internal ones.”
- There is what appears to be a sufficient stock of medicine on the Island, but only two or three of the most well-known drugs are used, as nobody knows what the others are or for what they should be used.
- A Chinese dresser was engaged for a short time, but was discharged as he did his work very badly, and used never to take the trouble to wash the sores and wounds he had to dress.
- I understand that a doctor is expected very shortly. It is to be hoped that on his arrival he will be given a free hand as to construction of proper hospital accommodation, as the present arrangements can hardly be considered satisfactory.
Births and burial ground
- There have been no births on the island.
- The situation of the burial ground was explained in para graph 6 above. It is well away from the sources of the water supply and from the coolie lines. Coffins are provided, and I was informed that the depth of burial was about 4½ feet.
Food, stores and opium
- Many of the coolies complained that not enough vegetables were provided, and also asked that more fat should be used in the cooking. A good deal has been already done in the way of growing fresh vegetables, but I think that the gardens might be extended with advantage. The quality of the salt fish supplied seemed to me to be very inferior. The food for the Cantonese carpenters and sawyers was satisfactory both in quantity and quality, but I think that for the ordinary coolies should be improved.
- Stores are brought from Singapore once a month. A corrugated iron shed for storing rice has been erected, and a large supply is kept in stock. All stores have to be protected from rats, which infest the island. The large fruit-pigeons of the island are much in demand, and the frigate birds, boobys, and land crabs are also eaten by the Chinese. In the plantation started by Mr. Ross I found orange trees, coffee, limes, custard apples, &c., all growing indiscriminately and luxuriantly, in spite of the fact that no attention is now bestowed upon them. Fish are caught, but only with lines. I think that a net might be, used with advantage, as, owing probably to the clearness of the water, the fish, although they can be seen in large numbers, do not bite readily.
- The Cantonese carpenters frequently send on their own account for extra delicacies from Singapore. On one occasion, I am told, they ordered Champagne, when a liquid so labelled was duly supplied to them.
- Clothes and various miscellaneous articles can be obtained from the labour contractor’s agent at high prices. Opium is sold at the same price as at Singapore, and, as there is no duty, the profit to the labour contractor must be considerable. The opium is prepared on the island, and I was informed that only Indian opium was used.
- At the time of my visit the inhabitants of the island consisted of the following: –
Besides Mrs. Woodford, there are two other women, one a Cocos born woman, married to the agent of the labour contractor, and one Javanese, the wife of a boatman. The total number of in habitants is 558, and, with the single exception of the Cocos-born woman, they have all arrived since April, 1899.
- I would draw particular attention to the disproportion in the sexes, there being only three women on the island.
Contracts and wages
- The blacksmiths, carpenters, and sawyers are mostly still under six months’ contracts made in Singapore. They receive a wage of $20 to $25, and an allowance of $4.50 per month towards their food. A fair number, however, have worked out their contracts, and are staying on of their own accord. Several of them said that they wished to leave, but would like to make a little more money first.
- The unskilled labour is all supplied by Ong Sam Liong, of Singapore, who contracts to supply any number of coolies that may be required for a commission on each ton of phosphate shipped. With the exception of 20, the coolies are all “sinkhehs”, and are engaged through the Chinese Protectorate at Singapore; 114 of these men are working on of their own free will after the expiration of their contracts.
- The men are under the control of 12 mandores, each receiving $12 a month. About one half of the mandores are coolies pho have been specially promoted. Several of the coolies are Employed as barbers, cooks, clerks, bird-catchers, &e. It appeared to me that an intelligent and healthy “sinkheh” had excellent opportunities of doing well if he chose to avail himself of them.
- On the second day of my stay I called a meeting of all the Chinese employés. About 300 turned up, and I told them that the law of the Straits Settlements was now in force, and asked for complaints. I also offered to go into wages account of anyone who asked me to do so. There were a number of small com plaints, but nothing of any importance. I, on more than one occasion, visited every place at which the men worked, conversed with them, and heard complaints.
- I found that when on duty most of the mandores carried canes. Some of the coolies had slight rattan marks, and they cheerfully announced, “When we are lazy we get caned.” I think this practice should be stopped. There was no instance of anything worse than a very slight caning, but it was always a weak or sickly coolie who had been punished, and a small fine would be just as effective in checking malingering.
- I carefully examined the Chinese accounts books and records of work done by the coolies, and I found that in every case the coolies had more work to their credit in the books than they could have claimed under their contracts. This is very satisfactory, and is, I think, creditable to the labour contractor.
- A number of coolies who had worked off their contracts were intending to leave by the next steamer for Singapore.
Law and order
- In January last, during Captain Vincent’s absence, trouble arose among the coolies. An attempt was made to form a society, and some of the men tried to damage the plant of the rail by continually allowing loose trucks to run down. The four coolies principally concerned were sent back to Singapore, and after their departure no further trouble was experienced.
- In April a Cantonese carpenter assaulted one of the Sikh constables, and was fined $5 by the Manager. The other carpenters struck work, and threatened to assault the Manager. After a few days of argument, however, matters were settled, and the men returned to work. I was informed that on this occasion the coolies, who have no particular sympathy with the skilled labourers, announced their intention of helping the Manager if there was to be any fighting
- Almost immediately after I had informed them that offences would be punished by the law of the Straits Settlements some Cantonese carpenters committed an unprovoked assault on their Hokkien cook. I arrested them, and on the following day sentenced one man to one month’s hard labour and a fine of $40, and two others to 10 days hard labour each. The Manager undertook to see that the sentences were properly enforced, and I left the men under his charge.
- Armed Sikhs patrol the Settlement after dark, but on no occasion as yet has it been necessary to fire on anybody.
- There is a good deal of gambling among the more highly paid of the men, and I discovered that a commission of 20 cents per day on each mat was collected by the head mandore. The money is supposed to be devoted to celebrating Chinese festivals. As the amount collected is between $40 and $50 a month, I suggested that the monthly totals should be notified to the Manager, who could then see that some value was obtained for the money.
- The Manager informed me that he had at one time for bidden gambling, but there was nothing else for the men to do, and they had quarrelled and fought so much that he thought it better to allow the gambling, which, at any rate, keeps the men quiet. I agree with this view, and I do not think any good purpose would be served by attempting to put a stop to it. All gambling is stopped at 9 p.m., and the men are sent to their quarters. No lotteries are carried on. Gambling disputes are brought to the Manager, and his decision is always accepted.
- The Manager informed me that one of the Cantonese head carpenters had been giving a great deal of trouble recently by persuading the men not to work. I had an interview with the man, and, as he seemed likely to exercise a bad influence over the others and was also a notorious gambler, I, with his own consent, brought him back to Singapore in the “Sea Belle”.
- On the day before I left the Island I interviewed all the Malays, Javanese, and Sikh employés of the Company. With the exception of one man they had no complaints of any kind. A number of the Malays were returning to Singapore by the next steamer, their contracts having expired. One man, however, wished to leave. He said he had not signed the contract at all, but had come as a substitute instead of the man who had done so. He admitted, however, receiving the advance mentioned in the contract, and I told him that in any case he could not leave without a month’s notice.
- A steamer from Singapore calls regularly once a month, but the return steamers call only at irregular intervals when asked to do so by the Company. Some of the employés complained about this, and said that, although when a steamer for Singapore did call, anyone whose contract had expired was allowed to return, yet such men had usually to wait two or three months before they had an opportunity of leaving. The rates for passages to and from Singapore are excessive, so that the Company is certainly tempted to postpone sending time-expired men back as long as possible. It would be an advantage if it could be arranged that steamers bound for Singapore and carrying passengers at reasonable rates should call at regular intervals. The Company pays the passage back to Singapore of all time-expired men.
- I found no case of a man being illegally detained on the Island against his will. The coolies appeared to understand the terms of their contracts, and most of them had carefully preserved the Chinese duplicates given them at the time of signing.
- I am of opinion that on the whole the Company deal fairly by their employés, but that, in view of the numbers now on the Island, a Resident Magistrate should be appointed as soon as possible. The official duties of such an officer will probably not be heavy, but in the execution of them considerable tact will be necessary. In an isolated community such as this a rigid and unsympathetic administration is very likely to lead to combination on the part of the Chinese to evade or even resist the law. In such a case the very troubles might arise which the Company have so far succeeded in avoiding.
- No ground has been cleared by the Company beyond that necessary for their dwellings, vegetable gardens, and rail lines. The proposed clearing of five hundred acres mentioned in last year’s report would seem to have been an error. I was informed that no such instructions had ever been received, and certainly no such clearing has been undertaken. Timber is being cut, but only in and close to the Settlement, and only for building purposes. No timber has been exported since the departure of Mr. Ross, who used, I believe, to send a small quantity to the Cocos Islands. Most of the planks used in constructing the coolie lines were imported from Singapore so as to save time.
- Until the output of phosphate is considerably increased I am of opinion that the Company will find it more profitable to develop their workings than to export their timber. This is the view held by the Manager. Later on, however, and especially if the proposed steam saw-mill is established, the question of forest reservation may arise. At present the trees are not cut, even on the ground from which phosphate is being taken.
Hunting for food
- The well-known fruit pigeon of the Island still exists in large numbers. Many of the men working at the top of the hill bring down one or two at the end of the day’s work. These birds, however, are now certainly not so plentiful near the Settlement as formerly. They are still caught by the Chinese with a noose at the end of a long pole, but the price per bird has gone up during the last year from 8 cents to about 20 cents each. One Chinaman who did a good deal of bird-catching informed me that in the jungle away from the Settlement any number can still be caught, and that at certain times of the day the birds come to a small waterfall at the further end of the island, “like ants to the water, and one has only to put one’s hand out to catch them.” I succeeded in bringing four of these birds back alive to Singapore. They are now at the Botanical Gardens.
- I saw a fair number of frigate birds flying in the cove, but hardly so many as I had expected.
- The Chinese are practically dependent for fresh meat upon the birds they can catch, and the numbers will no doubt in time suffer a considerable diminution. It would be, in my opinion, quite impossible to enforce the observance of a close season. The Company’s directors have, however, requested the Manager to do what he can in the way of preserving the rarer fauna of the Island from slaughter.
- No records of meteorological observations have been kept, but I was informed that the barometer varies from 29.87 to 29.96, and that the average temperature is by day 83° and by night 77°. On the third afternoon of my stay the thermometer stood at 87°, and I was told it was the hottest day remembered.
Proposed living quarters
- In conjunction with the Manager I selected a site for the proposed quarters for a resident Government Officer, and I wrote a letter to him, a copy of which I enclose, asking him to reserve the site for the purpose.
- It is intended to move the quarters for the Malays and Indians from the position they now occupy to a site between the truck line leading to the loading point and the new coolie lines. I arranged that a portion of this new site should be reserved for quarters for the proposed Police Force. The Police quarters will then be about 250 yards from the house of the Government Officer.
- I would point out that, as all timber for building purposes has either to be sawn by hand or else brought from Singapore, it will be necessary to notify the Company some months before quarters for Government Officials are required. There are at present no buildings of more than one storey on the Island.
- Practically no exploration has been attempted so far, but it is hoped that next year a road may be cut right through the Island, with branch tracks running cut on each side. The Manager is thinking of engaging the services of a young native or Eurasian surveyor to assist in this work.
Phosphate and shipping
- Two kinds of phosphate are found on the Island—lump phosphate and granulated phosphate, and I understand that the latter is slightly the more valuable of the two. Granulated phosphate has the appearance of coarse white sand, and so far none has been shipped, as it cannot be handled with the plant now in use.
- In company with Mr. Meek I walked over all that part of Phosphate Hill which has as yet been prospected for phosphate. A large number of narrow pits have been dug and the quantity of phosphate discovered is enormous. In some cases at a depth of 40 feet the bottom of the deposits has not yet been reached.
- To give some idea of the amount of phosphate, I append details of seven pits sunk in a row across the summit of the hill at intervals of 60 yards:
- To a depth of three feet the lump phosphate can be picked out and will not need washing. For the next 7 feet washing will probably be advisable, although not necessary. Below that depth washing will be necessary until the granular phosphate is reached. This will never require washing and can be exported in bulk in its present condition.
- Mr. Meek, to whom I am indebted for the above information, entirely declined to be responsible for any figures, but I understand that the latest estimate of the amount of phosphate on Phosphate Hill is 12,000,000 tons, and from what I saw I am not prepared to say that this figure, large though it is, is excessive.
- No prospecting has been done in other parts of the Island, but it is known that phosphate exists at Murray Hill, as it was from there that the original samples were taken. Even in the unlikely event of phosphate in paying quantities not being found in other parts of the Island, it is evident that sufficient has already been discovered to give employment to the Company for a very considerable period.
- The jungle is nowhere thick on the Island, and so far it has not been necessary to clear the ground from which the surface phosphate has been taken. Clearing will, however, probably be commenced shortly, and in time the summit of Phosphate Hill will be denuded of trees. The Manager proposes to plant gutta there after the removal of the phosphate. I think it is very doubtful if this plan will answer.
- No shipping book is kept at present, but I obtained the following extracts from the Engineer’s diary, giving the amount of phosphate already shipped:
- I presume that in future a regular shipping book will be kept.
- The phosphate is not weighed at the time of loading, but no doubt a correct estimate can be obtained from the number of truck loads shipped and also from the displacement.
- Large shipments to San Francisco and Australia will be made next year, and 16,000 tons has already been sold to Japan, to be delivered between June 1900 and June 1901.
- I was informed that during last year the weather would have made loading impossible on 19 days only, 2 days being in November and 17 in February.
- It is proposed to erect large covered sheds for storing phosphate close to the loading point. This, together with the new plant, will undoubtedly considerably accelerate the rate of loading
- I estimate that 37,000 tons will be shipped in 1900 and 175,000 tons in 1901. The latter figure is lower than the estimate of the Manager, who states most positively that he intends shipping 200,000 tons next year.
- I was assured that the demand for phosphate was very elastic, and that only a very slight fall in price would result from the increased supply.
- I could obtain very little information as to the price for which the phosphate is sold. This is the business of the London staff, and the Manager has simply to deliver the amounts sold.
- I heard, however, that the price in London varies from 8½d to 9d. per unit, a unit being 1 per cent of phosphate in the stones delivered. The average percentage in stone sent to Europe is 87, while Japan is willing to accept a slightly inferior quality.
- The royalty on exported phosphate may, I think, reason ably be calculated at $1 per ton.
The island manager – Captain Vincent
- In concluding my report I should like to observe that the Company are fortunate in their Manager. Captain Vincent, in addition to his other qualifications, has had considerable experience in the management of Chinese, and he is popular among them. I do not wish that anything in this report should be taken as implying that he is in any way careless of the welfare or safety of those under him. In a recently-started Settlement such as this there are naturally directions in which improvement is desirable, but, taking into consideration the smallness of the European staff and the extra work that has in consequence devolved upon him.
- I consider that he has done everything in his power to secure proper treatment for the men under his care.I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks both to Captain Vincent and Mr. Meek for the help and information that they were kind enough to give me, as well as for the hospitality extended to me during my stay at the Island.
- We left Christmas Island at 8 p.m. on Wednesday the 3rd, and arrived at Singapore about 8.30 p m. on Saturday, the 6th October
I have, &c.,
L. H. CLAYTON.
The Honourable the Colonial Secretary,
MR. CLAYTON to CAPTAIN VINCENT.
October 3rd, 1900.
DEAR CAPTAIN VINCENT,
With regard to the site for the Magistrate’s house, after talking with you, I think that the best site will be in the coffee garden on the right-hand side of the big rock in the centre of the ground, provided that water is found near.
For the proposed Police Station the site would be in the small site facing the white beach on the right-hand side of the tramway line leading to loading point.
I should be obliged if you could reserve these two sites for the purposes indicated.
L. H. CLAYTON,