Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati


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Caroline Island lies 596 nautical miles south of the equator. It is about 125 miles east of Vostok, 125 miles northeast of Flint, 420 miles southeast of Starbuck, 640 miles west of Hivaoa, Marquesas, and 450 miles north and a little west of Papeete, Tahiti.

It is a long, slender atoll, shaped like the bone point of a southeastern Polynesian trolling hook. It measures about five and three-quarters miles north and south, tapering from a width of a little over a mile at the southern end; about thirteen miles in circumference. Two dozen islets surround a shallow lagoon, into which there is no passage through the connecting reef which will admit more than a ship's boat.

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The islets are 15 to 20 feet high to the top of the highest land. Most of them are covered with groves of coconut palms and the remnants of low forest trees, 12 to 15 feet high, tree heliotrope, pandanus. Cordia, Morinda, with here and there a taller Calophyllum or Pisonia tree.

The reef does not dry at low water. The sea breaks heavily on the weather side. The reef is said to extend about a mile off the southwest and southeast points, although not so shown on charts. There is no anchorage. Landing can be made through a narrow break in the reef off the northwest point of the southern islet. At high water a ship's boat can reach shore; at low water one must wade 1,400 feet across the reef in knee-deep water.

The climate is warm but pleasant, with equable temperature. There may be sudden showers, especially at night. Water may be had by digging, there having been two wells on the southern islet and one on Nake Islet in 1883. The southeast trade wind blows during much of the year, varied by winds from the north and east. In 1878 a hurricane destroyed most of the coconut palms.

Sea and migratory birds are numerous. The only land mammals are reddish-brown rats. Fish are abundant both about the reef and in the lagoon. There must have been Polynesian inhabitants on Caroline Island some time prior to its discovery, for graves, containing adzes, and native temple platforms have been found, especially on the two northern islets. A drawing of the largest marae, located on the west side of Nake Islet, made by George W. Robertson, of Liverpool, was published in the National Academy of Sciences' report of the 1883 eclipse expedition.

In 1821 it was seen by Captain Thornton of the English whaler Supply, for whom it has been called Thornton Island. Other early names were Hirst's, Clark's and Independence Island. Lieutenant Hiram Paulding, who visited the island October 10, 1825, in the U.S. schooner Dolphin, gives an interesting account. Captain Stavers landed in 1828, leaving some hogs, of which there was no later trace.

One of the most extensive accounts of Caroline Island is that given by Frederick Debell Bennett, in his "Narrative of a whaling voyage around the globe," vol. 1, pages 365-378, 1840. This account has been reprinted in the Paradise of the Pacific magazine for November, 1939. Bennett landed April 23, 1835.

Between 1865 and 1872 Messrs. Brown and Brothers planted coconuts on Caroline Island. On July 9, 1868, the British flag was hoisted by Commander George Nares, of H.M.S. Reindeer. He reported 27 persons living in the settlement on the southern islet, raising stock, pigs, and poultry; salting fish; and planting coconuts and extracting coconut oil. In 1870 Lieutenant Chauviniere, of the French transport Somme, described it as a low lagoon island, similar to those in the Tuamotu group.  

In 1872, the island was leased by Queen Victoria to Houlder Brothers and Company, of London. They dug some little amount of guano. In 1881 their manager, John T. Arundel, took over the lease himself, planting numerous coconut palms. In 1883 he employed four men, one woman and two children on the island. During these years ships were moored to a buoy, anchored 120 yards off the reef in 90 fathoms of water. There was evidence of several wrecks on the reef.

On May 6, 1883, a total eclipse of the sun was visible from Caroline Island. It was observed by a party of American astronomers, headed by Edward S. Holden, and two British observers. They were transported from Callao, Peru, to the island on the U.S.S. Hartford, arriving April 21, 1883. A French expedition also observed this eclipse. A map of the island was made by Lieutenant E.F. Qualtrough, U.S.N., and natural history specimens were collected by Dr. W.S. Dixon, both of the U.S.S. Hartford. Insects were collected by Dr. Palisa of the French expedition. The position of the observation spot was determined to be almost exactly 10 degrees south and 150 degrees 14 minutes, 24 seconds west.

The island was leased to S.R. Maxwell and Company. In 1926, the inhabitants numbered 10. In 1936 there were two Tahitians and their families living on the island.  

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