Monthly Archives: July, 2016

Harry Maude’s classic 1990 letter to Ric Gillespie: “Nobody saw anything worth reporting”

Henry “Harry” Evans Maude, an anthropologist and British Colonial Service officer, is well known to many with even a passing knowledge of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. In October 1937, Maude visited Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, and other islands in the Phoenix Group with associate Eric Bevington, and saw nothing related to Earhart, Noonan or Electra NR 16020 only 100 days after their loss. Maude and Bevington’s non-findings have always flown directly in the face of the phony claims of Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, as we all know.  

Maude, whose 1968 book, Of Islands and Men: Studies in Pacific History recounts his three visits to Gardner between 1937 and 1939, and several others in subsequent years, wrote to Gillespie in 1990 to express his wonder at all the Earhart-at-Nikumaroro noise Gillespie was making in the international media. In his letter, below, Maude respectfully questioned Gillespie’s theory that the fliers must have died of starvation or dehydration shortly after crash-landing on a reef.  I think it’s appropriate to remind readers about the early days of the Nikumaroro farce, so that they can better understand just how badly they’ve been misled by Gillespie, and by our dependably dishonest media, who have been protecting the Earhart myth for nearly 80 years.

Henry Maude's 1968 study of

Henry Maude’s 1968 classic recounts his many visits to Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro Atoll, including his first, just 100 days after Amelia Earhart and  Fred Noonan went missing.

42/11 Namatjira drive,
Weston, A.C.T. 2611,
Australia,
4 May, 1990

Dr [sic] Richard E. Gillespie,
Executive Director, TIGHAR,
1121 Arundel Drive,
WILMINGTON,
Delaware 19808,
U.S.A.

Dr. Dr Gillespie,

Sorry about the delay in replying to your letter of 15 March. Blindness is not helping me to cope with the correspondence, as it means that I cannot see what I am typing so I must ask you to excuse the numerous errors. Things will be, I hope, a lot better when my new gadgets arrive from the Royal Blind Society, who are truly marvelous people. At 83 one cannot afford to give up, or one dies very rapidly, so I have a book just published, one at the publisher and one on the eve of completion.

I must admit that the sensational reports in the press on your recent expedition to Nikumaroro were greeted with a good deal of incredulity and mirth: an Irish magistrate working for New Zealand embarking on a rowing boat from the Phoenix Islands for Fiji and clutching a sacking bag full of bones. “Such stuff as dreams are made on [sic].”

Our opinion was not changed by the arrival a bit later of an article called “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps” in a Journal entitled This World.  To comment on some of the statements in this gem of journalese would take pages.

I am bound to say, however, that my strictures do not apply to your own article entitled “Bones” for here you have detailed the earlier versions of the Nikumaroro story, which appeared in the newspapers, but end with a critical appraisal which I find unexceptional except for one or two minor points.

Dr D.C.M. Macpherson was our best friend (I speak for my wife, Honor, as well as myself). We came out from England together in 1929 and our close friendship continued until he died. I visited him frequently when we were both lonely in Suva during the war: his wife lived in Scotland and mine was evacuated to Rotorua when the Japanese were expected. I find it difficult to underestimate therefore, why he never once, in our interminable reminiscences, spoke of [Gerald B.] Gallagher’s “Bones.” Incidentally, Mac was the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the Colony of Fiji and not Chief Pathologist for the Western Pacific High Commission.

Gallagher was presumably an Irishman by descent. as you are, but he was English to his fingertips. I doubt if he had ever been to Ireland; his mother lived in England and his brother was a Clergyman in the Church of England.

I took a prospecting group of Gilbertese to Gardner Atoll, where we stayed from 13-16 October 1937, our task being to explore the island thoroughly, dig wells and evaluate its potential for colonization. It seems curious that nobody saw anything worth reporting when going round the island so recently after Earhart’s landing, or on my subsequent visits to land the first settlers, and later still to see how they were getting on and arrange with them to return to the Gilberts and bring back their wives and children.

Henry Evans "Harry" Maude, a former British colonial administrator, head of the Social Development section of the South Pacific Commission, and Professor of Pacific History at the Australian National University, and of his wife, fellow researcher and string figure expert, Honor Maude.

Undated photo of Henry Evans “Harry” Maude, former British colonial administrator, head of the Social Development section of the South Pacific Commission, and Professor of Pacific History at the Australian National University. Maude visited Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, in October 1937, 100 days after Earhart’s last flight, and saw no trace of the Electra or the fliers.

You might think it advisable before embarking on your second expedition to send someone reliable to interview any ex-Nikumaroro settlers now resident in the Solomon Islands. With any luck he ought to obtain some information of value; and it is possible that he might even find someone who remembered where the bones were buried. For a reasonable recompense he might even be induced to accompany the expedition and point out where to dig.

What baffles me is why Amelia Earhart or her companion should have died. There was plenty of food on the atoll, any amount of fish on the reef and in the lagoon, and coconuts to drink or eat on the ground or on the trees. The succulent leaves of the boi (Portulaca) makes a very nutritious vegetable salad and can be sucked for moisture.  The mtea [sic], the ruku and the wao are also, I believe, growing wild on the atoll. The water is brackish, but drinkable for a period in an emergency.  The climate of Nikumaroro is excellent, despite Linda Puig [author of “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps”]; not hot like Enderbury and indeed cooler than some of the Gilberts, where I lived for some 20 years and found the temperature delightful.

One wonders too why, as she apparently sent radio messages for three days, she did not say where she was. Presumably she had a chart.  Taking all factors into account it would seem that if Earhart and companion crash-landed on the Nikumaroro reef one was killed on landing and the other too injured to do more than send a few messages before dying.

I enclose a copy of some historical notes on Nikumaroro which I wrote in the late 1930s or early 1940s. You will see from these that the skeleton found on the atoll if pre-1937 was almost certainly that of a Polynesian man, as Goerner states, for the islanders known to have resided there were Polynesian workers from Niue Island. I also send a list of documentation of the early days of the Settlement Scheme, including a number of letters from Gallagher, in case you want to check everything for a mention of a skeleton (or bones). The only correspondence we went to the Resident Commissioner on Ocean Island, for transmission to the W.P.H.C.  [Western Pacific High Commission] and eventually to London were formal Progress Reports, thus what you were looking for would not be among the material in the Colonial Officer archives, but might quite possibly be contained in one of Gallagher’s chatty letters — which were anything but formal.

Nikumaroro, or Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a remote, elongated, triangular coral atoll with profuse vegetation and a large central marine lagoon. It's approximately 4.7 miles long by 1.6 miles wide and has gained international notoriety as the "most probable" landing place of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. No real evidence has ever been presented to support this false idea.

Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a remote, elongated, triangular coral atoll with profuse vegetation and a large central marine lagoon. It’s approximately 4.7 miles long by 1.6 miles wide and has gained international notoriety as the “most probable” landing place of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Not a shred of evidence and not a single witness has ever been presented to support this false idea.

This Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme material is in the archives of the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 5001, and the archivist in charge is Susan Woodburn. Access is restricted.

Yours sincerely,

H.E. Maude.

Writing to Fred Goerner more than a year later, Maude was a bit less reserved in appraising Gillespie’s claims. “You ask what I think of all the TIGHAR razzmatazz: I regard it as bull, to use an Australian term,” Maude told Goerner. “Gardner is such a small atoll and was inhabited for so long that every inch of the place must have been walked over many times; anything out of the ordinary would have been reported and be on record.”

Educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, Harry Maude spent the years 1929-1948 working as a civil servant and administrator in various Pacific Islands, in particular the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, and as Resident Commissioner from 1946 to 1949. His many years spent on Pacific islands in various stages of development apparently were of great benefit to Maude, who died at age 100, on Nov. 4, 2006.

Another credible account puts Amelia in Marshalls

We’ve seen the account of Ted Burris, a federal employee on Kwajalein in 1965, who was told by an old Marshallese man of the nearly certain presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan near Ebeye Island in 1937. In today’s post we return to the vaults of the Amelia Earhart Society to examine more evidence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Marshall Islands landfall. 

Reverend Joseph C. Wright, a Presbyterian minister from Gulfport, Mississippi, was an Air Force major on temporary duty at Guam in the spring of 1967. Writing to Fred Goerner in July 1967, Wright recalled that while visiting his brother-in-law on Majuro Atoll, he and a Majuro-based missionary made a “field trip” to Mili Atoll, 80 miles away.

The inset paragraphs, edited slightly for clarity, are taken from Wright’s letter to Goerner, and appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, Majuro Atoll. Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen clearly had seen some rough seas since since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll's Enajet Island in 1967.

The 228-ton cargo ship, Mieco Queen, at Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, in May 1980. Built in 1956, the Mieco Queen had seen some rough seas since the days when she carried Joseph Wright to Mili Atoll’s Enajet Island in 1967.

I am a member of the Air Force, S.A.C., in a B-52 Unit that just recently returned from a six months TDY [temporary duty] in Guam. While there I had the great fortune to wrangle myself a 10 day leave to visit Majuro in the Marshalls. My brother-in-law is principal of the High Schools there, and in addition I knew an Assembly of God Missionary, Sam Sasser, who, with his family have been living there for over five years. It was an act of God (or Providence) that allowed me to make the contacts that we were able to, which was part of a Grecian Odyssey in itself.

Our Trust Territory aircraft arrived in Majuro on a Wednesday morning, 26 April 1967, a few hours after the klunker [sic] vessel, the Mieco Queen, had departed for a supposedly five-day field trip to Mili Atoll. Sasser, a native sailor, and myself elected to take a 14 ft, 40 hp motor boat across 15 miles of stormy ocean late in the afternoon to try to catch the “Queen” at Arno Atoll that evening. After 3 tries at “jumping the reef,” we successfully got into the rolling ocean swells and after four tough hours (no life vests) caught the vessel at 8:00 P.M. that night.

With rough weather and a breakdown aboard the ship, we extended to almost three weeks. The trip to Mili was tremendous, and the discoveries were even more exciting. They hadn’t seen half a dozen white people in over 25 years! The missionary effort was tremendous, and on Mili Island itself, which had been completely bombed out in WWII, we explored war wreckage that had been completely untouched since the War.

All kinds of Betty bombers, fighters, and the most exciting – a wrecked American P-38. I identified it, and recovered his little brass radio call sign dash panel plate — the guy turned out to be quite a hero, which is another story, and which I intend to follow through and identify.

During the voyage, Wright met Captain Leonard deBrum, “master of the vessel, Mieco Queen,” who told him of three people on a Mili island who might have information about the Earhart mystery. Wright’s letter to Goerner continues: 

Leonard deBrum, at this Majuro home in 2003.

Leonard deBrum, then 87, at his Majuro home in 2003. (Photo courtesy Sue Rosoff.)

But the most thrilling discovery was to locate the specific island that Amelia Earhart crashed on. Yes, it is circumstantial evidence, but here is the story: I became good friends with Capt. Leonard de Brum, the master of the vessel, Mieco Queen, and himself [sic] is quite an exciting legend in the Marshalls. We discussed the Earhart mystery, and I let him read the concluding chapters of your book. Yes, he had heard rumors of the lady American flyer, but didn’t pay much attention, or put much stock in them. It had been so many years ago. So he referred Sasser and myself to three aged people on a particular island in the Mili Atoll.

On Enajet Island, Wright asked an old man if he remembered an American airplane landing in the area many years ago.

Thru the interpreter I asked him if “many years ago do you remember an American airplane being in this part of the world.” Keep in mind that this old guy hasn’t even seen white people in many years. He puzzled and remembered by “so and so dying, somebody else getting married, having babies, etc. – then went on, “yes, it was thirty years ago, and I remember very well now, because the person from the airplane was not a man, but a lady with man’s clothes and man’s haircut.

“Also she had a man with her with white cloth around his head,” he continued. . . . . “But we could not be curious. It was in Japan times and they were very hard people. One woman would not cooperate and they cut off her head . . . but the story was that these people had papers and hid them in a hollow hole of a May tree. In a couple of days the Japs came and took the two people away, and also the wreckage.” 

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

During his 1989 visit to Mili Atoll, Bill Prymak took this photo of a village on Enajet Island.

Several months later, Wright sent Goerner two photos of the old man, and with the help of Dirk Ballendorf, a Peace Corps official on Saipan, the native was identified as Lammorro, then living on Mili Island. No further contact with Lammorro was ever reported. Wright’s story was published in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald on July 3, 1992.

Joseph Wright’s report enhances the likelihood that the American fliers were taken to Kwajalein Atoll soon after their July 2 disappearance. In their 2001 essay, Next Stop Kwajalein,” published only on the AES Website, Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais speculated that some Marshall Islands reports of a plane landing on the water were not, as most assumed, sightings of Earhart’s Electra, but of a Japanese seaplane with the American fliers aboard. The authors’ analysis focused on Burris’ account, and “Next Stop Kwajalein” will be the subject of a future post.

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