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John T. Arundel

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Subject: Fred Whibley, Phosphate mining in Nauru, Manra Island, Baker Island, Howland Island
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John T. Arundel

John T. Arundel
Born John Thomas Arundel
(1841-09-01)1 September 1841
London, England
Died 30 November 1919(1919-11-30) (aged 78)
Bournemouth, England
Other names Aneru
Occupation Entrepreneur
Known for guano and copra
Religion Congregationalist
Spouse(s) Eliza Eleanor Whibley "Lillie"
Children Lillian Arundel, Sydney Dorothy Aris
Parent(s) John Arundel, merchant and shopkeeper
Relatives Paternal grandfather, Rev. John Arundel, Home Secretary of the London Missionary Society 1820–1846

John T. Arundel (1 September 1841 – 30 November 1919) was an English entrepreneur who was instrumental in the development of the mining of phosphate rock on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Banaba (Ocean Island). Williams & Macdonald (1985) described J.T. Arundel as "a remarkable example of that mid-Victorian phenomenon, the upright, pious and adventurous Christian English businessman."[1]

Early life

His father owned a gentleman's outfitter in the City of London and a warehouse business on the Thames estuary, with the family living at Gravesend.[2] The family were active in the Congregational Church, and through a church connection he joined Houlder Brothers & Co., a firm that provided ships for migration to New Zealand and Australia.[2]

Early career

In 1860, J.T. Arundel travelled on a Houlder Brothers & Co ship into the Pacific, calling at the Chincha Islands, on which guano was mined for refining into superphosphate. J.T. Arundel took an interest in the potential of the fertiliser business and in 1868 the company sent him on a second voyage into the Pacific to pursue opportunities.[2]

When J.T. Arundel set off in 1871 to develop a business in the Pacific he left his fiancée Eliza Eleanor (Lillie) Whibley in England, as he wanted to secure their financial security by achieving success with his business ventures. J .T. Arundel and Lillie Whibley were not to marry until 1881. Following their marriage Lillie Arundel would travel into the central Pacific with J.T. Arundel when he would visit the various islands on which his company has operations. Lillie Arundel gave birth in 1884 to their second daughter while on Manra, then known as Sydney Island, giving her the name of that island.[2]

In 1898 Fred Whibley, Lillie's younger brother, arrived in Sydney, after 10 years in the United States and Canada. J .T. Arundel offered Fred Whibley a position with John T. Arundel & Co. Fred Whibley declined and chose to become an island trader on Niutao in what is now Tuvalu. A harmonious working relationship would have been unlikely given the pious Christian attitudes of J.T. Arundel and Fred Whibley's reputation as the 'black sheep' of the family.[3]

John T. Arundel & Co.

In 1871 with financial support from Houlder Brothers and Co., he established John T. Arundel & Co. The initial activities were carried out by the two companies. Houlder Brothers and Co leased Flint Island from the British government and Arundel managed the guano digging in the central part of the island from 1875 to 1880.[2]

John T. Arundel & Co went on to engage in mining guano on other Pacific islands and also established coconut plantations and traded in copra and other commodities.[2] The company operated from Sydney, Australia with business interests in the Pacific that included:

Albert Ellis who worked for John T. Arundel & Co., later acknowledged that the company was not making money although the company was gaining experience in the mining and shipping of guano and phosphate rock in what were sometimes difficult conditions, with many of these islands having no safe anchorage for shipping.[4]

Pacific Islands Company Ltd

In 1897 John T. Arundel & Co., merged its business with that of the trading and plantation firm of Henderson and Macfarlane to form the Pacific Islands Company Ltd ('PIC'). The company was based in London with its trading activities in the Pacific. The Chairman of the PIC was Lord Stanmore, formerly Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Fiji and first High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. John T. Arundel was the vice-chairman.[2]

The PIC continued to expand its plantation interests and in 1899, acquired a license to develop coconut plantations on Birnie Island, which is geographically part of the Phoenix Islands and is part of Kiribati, with the PIC acquiring licenses to develop coconut plantations in the Solomon Islands.[7]

Despite this attempt to broaden the operations of the company the company remained chronically short of capital throughout its existence and was lent money from time to time by its Directors.[7]

Pacific Phosphate Company Ltd

Phosphate rock used as door stop
Phosphate rock used as door stop

In 1899 Albert Ellis made what he later described as "a good 'find'", when he had laboratory analysis carried out on a rock that was used to prop open the Sydney office door, as it appeared similar to the hard phosphate rock that he had seen on Baker Island[8] The laboratory analysis confirmed that the rock was high grade phosphate. Albert Ellis and other company employees travelled to Banaba to confirm that the soil of that island was largely phosphate rock. A. F. Ellis went on to Nauru, at that time a German territory, and confirmed it also consisted of large deposits of phosphate rock.[8]

J. T. Arundel and Lord Stanmore were responsible for financing the new opportunities and negotiating with the German company that controlled the licences to mine in Nauru.[2][4] In 1902 the interests of PIC were merged with Jaluit Gesellschaft of Hamburg, to form the Pacific Phosphate Company, ('PPC') to engage in phosphate mining in Nauru and Banaba, then known as Ocean Island.[2][4] The company's engineers had to find solutions for transferring the phosphate rock from the island to ships that had to anchor off the island. As high islands both Nauru and Banaba did not have lagoons or anchorages that protected ships from the Pacific storms.[2][4] Solutions were found and despite losing some 5 ships on the reef at Ocean Island, the PPC became a very profitable company. The profitability of the company directed attention to the original agreements made with the land owners of Nauru and Banaba.[2][4] The agreement with the Banabans was for the exclusive right to mine for 999 years for £50 a year. The terms of the licenses were changed to provide for the payment of royalties and compensation for mining damage.[2][4]

In 1913 an anonymous correspondent to the New Age journal criticised the operation of the PPC under the title "Modern buccaneers in the West Pacific".[9]

The PPC investigated phosphate deposits on Makatea in the Tuamotus in French Polynesia and formed a company, the Compagnie des Phosphates de l'Océanie, with a Tahitian syndicate that was also investigating the potential of Makatea. This gave the PPC a virtual monopoly on the sources of high grade phosphate in the Pacific.[10]

In 1919 the business of the PPC in Nauru and Banaba was acquired by Board of the British Phosphate Commission.[2][4] 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.[11]




  1. ^ Maslyn Williams & Barrie Macdonald (1985) The Phosphateers, p. 6
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r
  3. ^ S. Aris, Fred Whibley and his Family (1963)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o
  5. ^ a b Baker, Howland, and Jarvis at the Wayback Machine (archived 29 July 2009)
  6. ^ Bryan, E.H. Jr., (1942) American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain. Honolulu, Hawaii: Tongg Publishing Company
  7. ^ a b Hookey, J. F. "The Establishment Of A Plantation Economy in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate", Commission of Inquiry into the Land Dealings & Abandoned Properties on Guadalcanal; retrieved 16 May 2011
  8. ^ a b Albert F. Ellis, (1935) Ocean Island and Nauru: Their Story, Chapter IV
  9. ^
  10. ^ Maslyn Williams & Barrie Macdonald (1985) The Phosphateers, p. 80.
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^
  13. ^ " Some recent PMB Manuscripts Series Microfilms, PMB 1227 Arundel Family Papers, 1803–1935.", Pacific Manuscripts Bureau Newsletter, series 5, n°20, December 2005, page 10
  14. ^ Jane Resture, McKean Island
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Maslyn Williams & Barrie Macdonald (1985) The Phosphateers, p. 81-82.
  19. ^ Pacific Union Club
  20. ^


Personal papers and journals of J .T. Arundel and business papers and records of John T. Arundel & Co., the Pacific Islands Company Ltd and the Pacific Phosphate Company Ltd are held by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau (PAMBU), Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS), Australian National University (ANU), Canberra—23 reels of microfilm.

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