During my hunt for information about Christmas Island I have come across a number of documents with interesting information. I bring them here together. Just click on the red pdf icon to read them.
© William MacDougall. University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Medical School thesis and dissertation collection. With permission. CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0
Beriberi is a disease caused by a severe thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1). It results in, amongst other symptoms, wasting, paralysis and eventually death when untreated. During the very early years of mining on Christmas Island a great human tragedy unfolded; the deaths of hundreds of Chinese coolies from this deficiency. According to Dr MacDougall’s thesis, in 1901 alone, there were 229 deaths from beriberi out of a coolie population of 500 men; nearly half the workforce! Unfortunately the cause of beriberi was not definitively known during that time though diet was thought to play a role in the disease. Dr William MacDougall arrived on Christmas Island in 1904 and set about improving the conditions of the coolies. Those men showing signs of beriberi were admitted to the hospital straight away and their diet changed and improved. As a result the death toll dropped. Dr MacDougall’s thesis provides an interesting look into his observations and theories of this disease.
© Alan William Stuart Sichel. University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Medical School thesis and dissertation collection. With permission. CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0
Apart from beriberi, the Chinese coolies on Christmas Island also suffered from the eye afflictions of conjunctivitis and trachoma. Sichel’s thesis provides an interesting background to the conditions on Christmas Island and he writes of the eye diseases, isolation hospital and treatments being given. Also included are the living and hygienic practices of the coolies. The text is supported by maps, wonderful photos and informative charts.
From the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 1941.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Christmas Island canoe (kolek) including the wood used, measurements, longevity etc. The two builders mentioned are Hassan Bin Ali (1920s) and Salleh Bin Omadin. Also very interesting historically, for all the mad keen CI fishermen out there, with descriptions of fish species, bait used, where to fish etc etc.
From the collection of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: MP1174/1, 1129
This is a most interesting 61 page file spanning the years 1945-1946. In it you can read the reports of the re-occupying forces. It’s a first hand description of the island after the Japanese left towards the end of the WWII. It’s a wonderful snapshot and reading it brings some of the people involved back to life. This is their story in their words. The documents include, surveys of the equipment and sites, health of the islanders, population breakdown, food supplies, labour, education, petitions and complaints, law and order, medical and more.
From the collection of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: N1, DOXI6/1946
James Kwang (1905-1947) was a collaborator on the island during the Japanese occupation. His actions were reported to the re-occuping forces in 1945. You can read these in the “Re-occupation of Christmas Island – reports” above. In 1946 James Kwang plead guilty to all charges.
Who was Jimmy Kwang?
Jimmy Kang Tian Kwang was probably one of the most intelligent and most unscrupulous employees that the CIP Co. ever had. He was born in Malacca in 1905 and first came to Christmas Island in November 1925. He was a skilled engineer. In the 1930s he was accused of the seduction of a woman, found guilty and fined $100. He was fluent in Malay, eloquent, charming when he needed to be, and wrote near-perfect English.
His motivation for offering his services to the Japanese was simple; he wanted revenge. Early in 1941, Jimmy’s daughter fell ill. He asked the newly arrived CIP Co Medical Officer, Dr J Scott-Clark, to come to his home and examine her. Scott-Clarke allegedly refused, saying, ‘I don’t treat Asians.’ The girl died.
“Suffering through strength: The men who made Christmas Island” by John Hunt, page 188
© Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) 2018 – GA17229
In 1998 the Shire of Christmas Island engaged Godden Mackay Logan, an Australia heritage consultancy. For those who are interested in the architectural history of Christmas Island these volumes are a fascinating read. There are also many photos of the buildings and houses.
© Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) 2018 – GA17230
Following on from the previous Volume 2, you can read about Christmas Island’s Heritage Inventory including Heritage List, Heritage Inventory Forms and Recommended Entries in the Register of National Estate.
National Trust Western Australia
In 2013, the then Island Administrator, Jon Stanhope, invited the National Trust of Western Australia to Christmas Island. They developed a number of strategies and policies and these were printed into various documents. One of the documents I found particularly interesting is titled “Temples and Shrines of Christmas Island”. 19 temples and shrines are recorded each showing diagrams, their individual histories and other details such as conservation and management. It is such an interesting read because I had come across several of these temples / shrines but had no idea what they represented exactly. Why? Because there was no signage at these sites explaining their history and significance. Originally this document was found on the National Trust’s “Christmas Island Heritage” website but the actual page which is being linked to on their website appears to have been taken down (perhaps for an upgrade) as of January 2022.
Jan Tent (2016): The Ghosts of Christmas (Island) Past: An Examination of its Early Charting and Naming, Terrae Incognitae, DOI: 10.1080/00822884.2016.1211355
This is a very in depth article about the charting and early naming of Christmas Island. In his introduction to the article, Jan Tent says:
“For some three centuries confusion existed among Europeans over the location and name of the Indian Ocean island now referred to as Christmas Island. Maps appeared charting the island with no name, with one of three names, with two names simultaneously, or as two or three adjacent islands. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that it was consistently charted as Christmas Island. The origin and meaning of its other appellations, Moni and Selam, is the subject of this article.”
I would also like to add here that I was having a discussion about this topic on a forum with some Christmas Islander friends. One said that, and I quote, “According to an old storyteller, Christmas Island was known as Pulau Moni. It is an island where ancient spell of witchcraft were expelled and cast out to. This happened during the coming of the Islam religion in Java, during the the end of the 15th century”. “An old Nahoda (sea captain) on their Bahtera (vessel) used to sailed these waters passing Christmas and Cocos Keeling islands claimed that the disciples of witchery and other ancient religions was cast out of the mainland to reside elsewhere, whom made these island theirs long before the discovery of the Europeans and the British. “Another comment was “I think they do get expel and some might have been to Christmas island during the rise of Islam. The story goes during that time, they were given the choice to stay and accept Islam or move to other land, such as Bali or further east … “. And yet another comment “Some of the Javanese thought that this island was home to Ratul Kidul, Queen of the South Sea, which is why they never came … kept away”.
This is indeed a fascinating topic and I have to wonder what oral histories can be found in Indonesia about the pre-European history of Christmas / Moni Island.
© Helena van der Riet. With permission.
19 Japanese World War II sites have been located on Christmas Island and featured in this thesis by archaeologist Helena van der Riet. It was completed in late 2018 and is a vitally important document for the island. Included in the thesis is a description of each site in great detail along with images and GPS co-ordinates. Helena states, “No systematic survey has been made of the archaeological remains of the Japanese occupation of Christmas Island, and no systematic record or inventory of sites exists … The thesis endeavours to bring together the oral and written histories of the Christmas Island war ordeal and to create an inventory of extant physical remains, this [thesis] sits at the intersection of archaeology and heritage studies.”.