|Flint Island (part of the Line Group)|
Flint Island is located 685 nautical miles south of
the equator. It is about 86 miles SSE from Vostok Island, 125 miles SW of
Caroline Island. It is a narrow coral island, two
and a half miles long, NNW and SSE, tapering toward both ends from a
greatest width of half a mile. Its greatest land height is 22 feet. When
visited by the brig 'Porpoise' of the US Exploring Expedition, February 5,
1841, it was reported to be thickly wooded. Since then, most of the forest
has been replaced by coconut palms.
The island is surrounded by a narrow fringing reef, which extends nearly half a mile off the northern point. The surf breaks heavily on the east side, and also to some extent on the lee side. There is no safe anchorage. Landing is not easy, even at a spot on the northwest side where a break has been blasted through the fringing reef.
No information is available as to the first discovery
of Flint Island, except that it was about 1801. It is said to have been
named by Capt Keen in 1835. Various voyagers sighted the island during the
first half of the 19th century, but not even the US Exploring Expedition
The island was claimed by American guano diggers under the US Guano Act of 1856,but apparently it was not occupied by them.
Some time in the 1870s Flint Island was leased by Great Britain to Houlder Brothers and Co., of London, for whom John T Arundel was field manager. Extensive guano digging was carried on, especially between 1875 and 1880. Communication was chiefly with Papeete (Tahiti), but an occasional vessel arriving at Honolulu (Hawaii) from Flint Island, or leaving Honolulu for that island, gives us information concerning activities.
Some idea of the difficulties encountered may be had from the following report of Captain RB Chave of the Hawaiian brig 'WH Allen' in The Friend (Honolulu) in 1876. "Left Papeete harbor August 2nd at 5 pm in tow of the steam tug 'Scotia.' Struck fresh breeze from ESE which continued to Flint's Island, where we arrived on the 4th at 6:30 pm and brought up at the moorings under the west side of the island. On the 5th landed passengers and freight; on Monday, the 7th, a heavy sea set in on the reef, which continued until the 8th, rendering it impossible to communicate with the shore. Slipped from the moorings at 5 pm on the 10th with fresh breeze from the E varying to ESE."
The moorings referred to consisted of a buoy anchored in 95 fathoms off the landing. Here guano was shipped. The guano was dug in the central part of the island and carried on a tramline to the landing. Traces still remain of the roadbed as suggested on the chart. The excavations have filled with brackish water and form two or three small lagoons. There is no fresh water other than that caught from rain.
In 1881, Mr Arundel commenced to plant numbers of coconut palms on Flint, as an independent venture of his own. His ware-house for copra and hoses for the overseer and workmen were just southeast of the landing, where the guano diggers' camp had been. Arundel and Company withdrew from this region before 1890.
An outstanding event in the history of Flint Island was a total eclipse of the sun, visible there January 3, 1908. The eclipse was observed by an expedition from Lick Observatory (California), financed by WH Crocker, Professor and Mrs WW Campbell headed a group of observers, including Aitken, Albrecht and Perrine from Lick, Lewis from Berkeley and Abbot from the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC). They were transported from Tahiti to Flint Island on the USS 'Annapolis' arriving December 9, 1907. A private expedition, organized by FK McClean, brought astronomers from Sydney (Australia). Rain threatened to spoil the eclipse, but it cleared in time to allow valuable observations to be made. The eclipse was 27 seconds ahead of calculated schedule. The sky above Flint Island was found to be four times as bright as over Mount Wilson, California. The position of the observation spot was determined to be 11 degrees, 25 minutes, 27 seconds South longitude, 151 degrees, 48 minutes, 15 seconds West latitude. Mr Mortimer was resident on the island at the time.
In 1911 the island was leased to SR Maxwell and Col, Ltd. About thirty native workmen, under a white manager, cared for the harvesting of copra from about 30,000 coconut palms. The latest report is that the island has been abandoned. This has not been verified.
On October 16, 1934, the Bishop Museum's (Honolulu) Mangarevan Expedition stopped at Flint Island, and botanical collections were made by Dr H St John and FR Fosberg. In Bishop Museum Occasional Papers vol XII no 24, they list 36 species of plants and discuss the vegetation. They say: "The original vegetation of this island has been practically destroyed, and the island is now an intensively cultivated copra plantation. Introduced weeds are abundant around the houses and in the plantation under the coconut palms. Carica papaya grows, apparently spontaneously, here and there in the plantation. Around the houses several edible and ornamental plants are cultivated." Only traces of the original flora exist.