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Gilbert and Ellice Islands



To February 1966, British (sterling).
14 February 1966, Australian (dollar).

These groups of islands cover an area of 2 million square miles and straddle both the Equator and the International Date Line. Spanish explorers in the 16th century first sighted some of the islands, but they were not fully explored until early in the 19th century. First rediscovered by Captain Byron in the Dolphin; Captain Cook also visited the area in 1777 when he discovered Christmas Island. In the 1790s the Americans discovered Washington and Fanning Islands and the Phoenix Group. Ocean Island was named after the ship that called there in 1804. The groups were annexed by the British in 1822.

The Pacific Islands Protection Act of 1857 established them as a British protectorate and a High Commissioner was appointed in 1893. The status of the groups was changed in 1916 when they became a Crown Colony. Christmas Island joined the group in 1919. Early in World War II the northern part of the groups was captured by the Japanese (Tarawa on 10 December 1941). The European population was withdrawn but some control was maintained at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands until Tarawa was recaptured by the Americans in November 1943. Ocean Island was held by the Japanese until August 1945.

Postal History
Before 1911 all mail services were of a limited nature and depended on the ships that called at the islands. As a result, almost any stamps that were available were used. A New South Wales PA was established on Ocean Island in 1901, but no postmarks were issued to this office. At Fanning Island, a New Zealand PO was opened and the stamps of that dominion were used there until the island was incorporated in the colony in February 1939. No PO was opened on Christmas Island until 14 February 1939.

Washington Island relied on its contacts with Fanning Island, some 80 miles away, but as the authorities insisted that mail was returned to Fanning, considerable delays resulted. As a result the New Zealand PO opened an agency on Washington Island on 1 February 1921. This was short-lived as the slump in prices for copra caused the island to be evacuated in 1922. It was resettled in 1925 but finally evacuated in March 1934.

The United States maintains an air base on Canton Island and American stamps are used by the troops there.

During World War II Field POs of both the Australian and American forces were in use on the island. The political changes since 1976 have been reflected in the stamps and postmarks of these groups.

Gilbert Island



1976, as Australia.

The Gilbert Islands became a separate Crown Colony on 1 January 1976.

South-West Pacific to 1920
Click map for larger view

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