Gerald Bernard Gallagher
Gerald Bernard Gallagher
6 July 1912
|Died||29 September 1941 (aged 29)|
|Cause of death||tropical sprue|
|Employer||Colonial Administrative Service of the United Kingdom|
|Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme|
|Parent(s)||Gerald Hugh Gallagher, Edith Gallagher|
Gerald Bernard Gallagher (6 July 1912 – 27 September 1941, Nikumaroro) is noted as the first officer-in-charge of the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, the last colonial expansion of the British Empire.
Background and early life
Gallagher was the son of Gerald and Edith Gallagher. His father, Gerald Hugh Gallagher, was born in Ireland about 1882 and attended the Catholic University in Dublin, becoming a doctor in 1905. From 1905–1909 Dr. Gallagher worked at Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Townsend Street, Dublin, from where he went on to serve with the colonial medical service in British West Africa from 1909–1939, returning again to service during World War II. He married Edith Annie Clancy on 8 August 1911 in Chelsea, London, England; they had two sons: Gerald Bernard Gallagher in 1912, and Terence Hugh Gallagher, in 1916/1917.
Gerald Bernard Gallagher attended Stonyhurst College, the University of Cambridge (Downing College) and St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School. While in college he was also active in gymnastics and rowing. After studying practical agriculture with George Butler (the father of the writer Hubert Butler) at Maiden Hall in Bennetsbridge, County Kilkenny, Ireland, he joined the Colonial Administrative Service in 1936.
The Phoenix Islands
After arriving at Ocean Island on 21 September 1937, Gallagher received additional training before being appointed deputy commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony on 3 June 1938. Sent to Tuvalu to learn Tuvaluan he became popular with the residents, who wanted him to stay. Nevertheless, after a bout with tropical ulcers he was assigned to the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, as second-in-command to Harry Maude. In December 1938 they sailed with the first Gilbertese colonists to Manra in the Phoenix Islands, where Gallagher remained to supervise development of that island. When Maude fell ill in late 1939 and was assigned to Pitcairn Island, Gallagher was appointed officer in charge of the three atolls selected for development. He was assisted by Jack Kimo Petro, later characterized by archaeologist and historian Tom King as "a half-Tuvaluan/half Portuguese engineer and artisan of considerable skill and energy."
Gallagher's supervising role in the colony's local government was shared with leaders chosen from among the colonists. The young British official skillfully settled an early, hotly disputed debate among them by suggesting that instead of using the traditional Gilbertese boti system, each household be given a place in the maneaba, or local meeting house. The Phoenix Islands maneaba was subsequently named tabuki ni Karaka, or Gallagher's accomplishment.
Success at Manra and Orona
Gallagher's pioneering efforts were praised by his superiors. Of the results on Manra, Maude wrote:
Where before we had to cut our way through thick brush, two prosperous villages were now situated, with neat and attractive homes fronting both sides of the broad road. To the south of the villages had been built a large school, where the children received daily instruction from a full-time master; to the north lay the island government station, with its offices, storehouses, homes for the resident officials, and two small gaols, which happily still remained untenanted. Close to the government station was the hospital with its Native Dresser, facing the sea, and the new transit quarters for the visiting European officers. In the centre was a large cistern, which provided water for the hospital and an emergency supply for the whole island... All around were evidences of peaceful progress... general contented well being.
By late 1940 there were roughly 672 settlers on Manra and Orona, with coconuts being harvested and processed into copra. On Nikumaroro an area on the southwest side of the island had been cleared and planted, a 20,000 gallon water cistern had been installed and water wells were finally productive. Gallagher, who by now had been affectionately nicknamed "Irish" by some of the settlers, chose Nikumaroro as the colony's government centre and moved there in late September 1940.
A model island
Gallagher wished to establish Gardner Island, (later renamed Nikumaroro) as "the model island of the Phoenix." Although the gathering war interfered with shipping Gallagher and the settlers were persistent, starting work on the government station and an official rest house by manually clearing away many rocks and tree roots. The end of 1940 saw severe north-westerly gales which damaged newly built houses, coconut plantings and other facilities.
The government station was later called Karaka, after Gallagher. It featured a large, expertly levelled parade ground with a crushed white coral surface and flanked on three sides by wide roads with coral slab curbs. At the eastern side two buildings were constructed on concrete platforms with others along the north and west, including a school, village carpenter's shop, boat house, concrete dispensary and a wireless station nearby to the north (with line of sight to Ocean Island). The village was to the south, with typical homes made up of sleeping quarters and a cookhouse under thatched roofs, sometimes raised on coral blocks.
The most memorable building is said to have been the rest house, with its sweeping thatched roof and wide veranda, complete with a modern RCA console radio in a wooden cabinet (powered by large batteries). This was both Gallagher's residence and quarters for visiting officials along with other invited guests. According to archaeologist Tom King:
From the house, the view across this landscape... to the lagoon beyond must have been stunningly beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset.
However, even in the rest house, life had its challenges. Colonial official Paul Laxton wrote:
An American lady who had visited with us earlier when the house had been unoccupied for some time, had proceeded to the lavatory, which is of the 'thunder-box' variety and found it full of dynamite, having been allocated by the island government as an explosive store. This adjusted, she later washed in the neat and impressive handbasin, with tap, plug and all, mentally apologising for reproaching the British with lack of push-pull sanitation; on removing the plug the water gurgled happily away, emerging immediately around her feet. A bucket should stand below... These and similar details had been squared away before our arrival, and the kitchen, too, a corrugated iron roof outhouse, was ready for action.
Death on Nikumaroro
By early 1941 the Battle of Britain had distracted London's attention far from the tiny colony. Shipping was a constant challenge and Gallagher, now certified as fluent in the colonists' I Kiribati language, travelled on the few available ships, working day and night, personally loading and unloading supplies along with distributing coast-watching personnel and equipment throughout the colony, often in secret.
On 20 September 1941, Sir Harry Luke, High Commissioner of the western Pacific, sent Gallagher a coded telegram with word he was about to be promoted as secretary to government and reposted to Ocean Island, but Gallagher didn't reply to the polite query asking for his thoughts on this. That day he had fallen seriously ill at sea with tropical sprue, an infection sometimes aggravated by poor nutrition which interferes with the small intestine's ability to absorb nutrients, resulting in symptoms related to malnutrition.
He arrived at Nikumaroro on the 24th. Gallagher's first night back on the atoll and in the rest house seemed to bring an improvement. However, according to a witness, when Gallagher learned of his promotion the news put him at "the end of his tether." He had come to consider the Gilbertese colonists his own native people. Meanwhile, with Gallagher's permission a British doctor opened his abdomen and was shocked by the advanced state of damage he found. Gallagher's condition deteriorated rapidly and he died in his sleep at 12:06AM on 27 September 1941 at the age of twenty-nine.
The outpouring of grief, including dozens of condolence telegrams to his parents, was remarkable. Gallagher's former boss Harry Maude wrote to Sir Harry:
We were both terribly upset to hear the news about Gallagher - what a blow it is to the Gilbert and Ellice, as he was by far the best man we had. It was some time before we could realize that he was no more. He was the only officer of the pioneering type in the Colony and now that he has gone it is difficult to see who can ultimately take over...
He was buried on the parade ground in a grave resembling Robert Louis Stevenson's in Samoa, a house-like rectangle of concrete beneath a fluttering Union Flag on the 69-foot (21 m) flagstaff he had helped to build. A plaque installed soon after on the monument bore text reading,
In affectionate memory of Gerald Bernard Gallagher M.A. of the Colonial Administrative Service, officer in charge of the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme who died on Gardner Island, where he would have wished to die, on the 27th September, 1941, aged 29 years. His selfless devotion to duty and unsparing work on behalf of the natives of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were an inspiration to all who knew him and to his labours is largely due the successful colonization of the Phoenix Islands. R.I.P.
His younger brother, Terence Gallagher, had died the previous March in Malta during an air-raid.
Nikumaroro, Manra and Orona were evacuated by Her Majesty's Government in 1963. At his mother's request, Gallagher's remains were moved to Tarawa for reburial and the memorial plaque was retrieved. Although reasons cited for giving up on the struggling colony included unstable water lenses and uncertain copra markets, observers familiar with the colony's history remarked that after Gallagher's death a will or nerve to succeed seemed to vanish from the settlements. In 2001 an American archaeological team put a replica of the plaque on his grave, quite unaware it had been empty for 38 years. They were on the island because during the height of the Battle of Britain in October 1940, Gallagher, a licensed pilot, had radioed his superiors in Fiji to inform them he believed a work party of Gilbertese colonists on Nikumaroro had found a sextant box along with the skeletal remains possibly belonging to Amelia Earhart, an aviator who disappeared in 1937. In 2007 Gallagher's long-empty 1941 grave was still visible in the overgrown ruins of the colonial government station on Nikumaroro.
- Phoenix Islands
- Gilbert Islands
- Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme
- Amelia Earhart
- Fred Noonan
- King, Thomas, Gallagher of Nikumaroro - The Last Expansion of the British Empire, tighar.org, 1 August 2000, retrieved 14 October 2008. This source is itself supported by over a dozen citations, many of which are primary sources.
- "Gallagher of Nikumaroro" by Thomas F. King, Ph.D. Tighar.org website
- "The Colonization of the Phoenix Islands" by H. E. Maude Tighar.org website