British Phosphate Commission

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The British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) was a board of Australian, British, and New Zealand representatives who managed extraction of phosphate from Christmas Island, Nauru, and Ocean Island from 1920 until 1981.[1]

Nauru and the B.P.C.[edit]

Nauru Island Agreement[edit]

Following its defeat in World War I, Germany was forced to relinquish all of its territorial assets around the world, including the island of Nauru. Nauru then came under joint trusteeship of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

In 1919, the three trustees signed the Nauru Island Agreement, which entitled them to the phosphate of Nauru through the British Phosphate Commissioners. They bought back all the assets of the Pacific Phosphate Company for more than 3.5 million pounds on 1 July 1920, and started to manage it directly on 1 January 1921, after a six-month transition period of PPC management. Most of PPC's former employees were retained by the BPC.[2]

From 1919 the responsibility for the welfare of the people of Nauru and Banaba, the restoring of land and water resources lost by mining operations and compensation for environmental damage to the islands was under the control of the governments of United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.[3]

B.P.C. Payments to Nauruans[edit]

Under a policy established under the German administration, royalty payments were given to landowners. In 1921, the British Phosphate Commissioners (under pressure from the Nauruan people) increased royalty payments from one-half pence to one and one-half pence per ton of phosphate extracted.

In 1927, a new agreement was reached, giving the Nauruans seven and one-half pence per ton.

By 1939, Nauruans were receiving 9% of the phosphate revenues. This amount is still somewhat insignificant because at this time, Nauruan phosphate was selling far below world market prices.


Throughout B.P.C. control, significant profits were made. In 1948, revenues from the island's phosphate reached $745,000.

Transfer of Ownership[edit]

In 1967 the Nauruans purchased the assets of the B.P.C. and, in 1970, the newly independent Republic of Nauru established the Nauru Phosphate Corporation.

Banaba and the B.P.C.[edit]


In 1965, the Banaban islanders, after decades of land disputes, royalty fees, and "exploitation," started legal litigation against the British Phosphate Commissioners in British court. After more than a decade, the case finally came to an end, with the Banabans only being awarded £1 and were still made to pay their own legal fees of more than ₤300,000.

The Australian government through the B.P.C. offered £780,000 in reparations.

Christmas Island and the B.P.C.[edit]

Christmas Island Phosphate Company[edit]

The first European to recommend mining of phosphate for commercial exploitation was Sir John Murray, a British naturalist, during the 1872–76 Challenger expedition. His discovery led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on 6 June 1888.[4] Under the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, LTD (CIPC), mining commenced in 1897.

Christmas Island and the B.P.C.[edit]

Under the CIPC, mining was carried out continuously from 1897 through 1981, whence mining was carried out under agreement with the British Phosphate Commissioners, which was also associated with the governments of Australia and New Zealand.

Post B.P.C. Mining[edit]

In 1981, the Phosphate Mining Company of Christmas Island (PMCI), a government company, took over mining operations. This arrangement lasted until December 1987 when the company was disbanded. The mining operation was then taken over by the Union of Christmas Island Workers.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature. McDaniel and Gowdy.
  • "Christmas Island". Fact sheet 157. National Archives of Australia. 2013. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  • Weeramantry C. Nauru: environmental damage under international trusteeship. Melbourne: Oxford University Press; 1992.
  • Williams M, Macdonald BK. The phosphateers: a history of the British Phosphate Commissioners and the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press; 1985.
  • Albert Fuller Ellis 1935. Ocean Island and Nauru - their story. Angus and Robertson Limited


  1. ^ Maslyn Williams & Barrie Macdonald (1985). The Phosphateers. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-84302-6. 
  2. ^ Ellis, Albert F. (1935). Ocean Island and Nauru; Their Story. Sydney, Australia: Angus and Robertson, limited. OCLC 3444055. 
  3. ^ ICJ Pleadings, Oral Arguments, Documents, Case Concerning Certain Phosphate Lands in Nauru (Nauru v. Australia) Application: Memorial of Nauru (January 2004) ISBN 978-92-1-070936-1 (United Nations, International Court of Justice)
  4. ^ "History". Christmas Island Tourism Association. Retrieved January 2014.