General issues: Gilbert & Ellice Islands/British protectorate 1911-1916, Gilbert & Ellice Islands/British colony 1916-1976, Gilbert Islands/British colony 1976-1977, Gilbert Islands/Self government 1977-1979
Country name on general issues: Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Gilbert Islands
Special issues: Private issues Central Pacific Cocoanut Plantations Ltd. 1916-1939
Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1911-1966, 1 Dollar = 100 Cents 1966-Present
Population: 27 300 in 1911, 60 600 in 1975
Political history Gilbert & Ellice Islands
The Gilbert & Ellice Islands is an island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. The native population of the Gilbert Islands is Micronesian while that of the Ellice Islands is Polynesian. Europeans first explored the islands on sporadic visits in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century whalers and coconut traders would stop at the islands. It was not until 1892 that the British established a permanent presence on the islands, first proclaiming a protectorate over the Gilbert Islands and later the same year extending the protectorate to the Ellice Islands. The British annexed the Gilbert & Ellice Islands as a British colony in 1916.
The Gilbert & Ellice Islands gradually came to include additional island groups. First, Ocean Island was annexed in 1900. In 1916, Washington Island and Fanning Island were annexed. Christmas Island followed in 1919. The Union Islands – now Tokelau – were administered as part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands between 1916 and 1926. In 1926, the administration was transferred to New Zealand to which they were formally ceded in 1949. In 1937, the Phoenix Islands were attached and finally in 1972 the Central and Southern Line Islands – these had been annexed by the British at different times and were, until attached to the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, administered by the High Commissioner of the British Western Pacific Territories seated in Fiji. Part of the Ellice, Phoenix and Line Islands were disputed by the United States until the United Sates relinquished its claims in 1979.
During WWII, the Gilbert Islands were occupied by Japan between 1941 and 1943 and Ocean Island until 1945. Since the 1960’s, the Gilbert & Ellice Islands gradually moved towards independence. In 1974, a referendum was held in which the Ellice Islands voted for a separate administration. The outcome of the referendum was effected de jure in 1975 and de facto in 1976. Upon gaining their separate administration, the Ellice Islands were renamed Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands gained self government in 1977 and independence as the republic of Kiribati in 1979. Kiribati is a member of the British Commonwealth until today.
Economically, the native population depended on subsistence agriculture and fishing. In colonial times coconut plantations were developed for the production of copra. Furthermore, some of the islands – most notably Ocean Island – were rich in guano. Phosphate mining contributed to the economy of the colony until the deposits were depleted towards the end of the colonial period.
The vast majority of the population resides in the Gilbert Islands. The Ellice islands have a significantly smaller population. Only some of the Phoenix and Line Islands have a small population.
Postal history Gilbert & Ellice Islands
The first postal services were set up in the Gilbert & Ellice Islands in 1911. The first stamps, issued in 1911, were provisionals – stamps from Fiji overprinted ‘Gilbert & Ellice Protectorate’. Definitives were issued later in 1911 showing the pandanus palm, a tree common to the islands. Subsequent issues, in the classical period, are of designs common to the British colonies. The Gilbert & Ellice Islands joined in a number of the omnibus issues for the British colonies. In the modern era, the stamps issued were a blend of themes of local interest and themes aimed at the thematic collectors market. Since 1976, the stamps were designated Gilbert Islands, reflecting the separation of the Ellice Islands that year. In the Ellice Islands, the stamps of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands were superseded by the issues of Tuvalu in 1976 and in the Gilbert Islands by those of Kiribati in 1979.
Private issues appeared for use on Christmas Island – issued by the Central Pacific Cocoanut Plantations Ltd. The company, at the time, leased the island to exploit coconut plantations. Although resources differ somewhat on what stamps were issued when, it would seem the first stamps were issued in 1916 and reissued in 1924 in a denomination of 5 centimes. The proprietor of the company was French, hence the denomination in the French currency. Stamps of the same design were issued in a denomination of 10 centimes in 1926 and reissued in 1934. The stamps were valid only for local mail on the island and for mail carried to the nearest port by the vessels of the company. Ongoing mail had to be additionally franked – on most covers the additional franking is with stamps of French Oceania – Tahiti being the most frequented port of call. The private issues were withdrawn in 1939 when a Gilbert & Ellice post office was opened on Christmas Island.These private issues are listed only in the Michel catalog.