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THE KING OF THE COCOS ISLANDS.

(By EDWARD E. LONG, in the " Pall Mall Gazette.")

A statement went the round of the Press 1 a few weeks back to the effect that MiGeorge Clunies-Ross, the King of the Cocos Islands, was dead. Although the news item contained but little- information to the man in the street, whose geographical knowledge, can hardly bo expected to include those tiny islets in an unfrequented part of the Indian Ocean, known as the Cocos, or Keeling Islands its main fact was entirely erroneous, for Mr George, Clunies-Ross is very much alive at the present time, and still holds sway over his little kingdom. The mistake occurred in this wise. Another member of the Clunies-Ross family, Mr Alfred Clunies-Ross, who received a medical training in Scotland, and was afterwards resident in Borneo, recently left that country for the Cocos Islands, and shortly after his arrival there contracted an illness which had a fatal termination.

The Ross, or Clunies-Ross, dynasty is well on the way to becoming an ancient one, for it was as far back as 1826 that Captain Ross, a plucky Scotsman, cruising aoout in these waters in his own vessel, a merchantman, chanced on the Cocos Islands, and having surveyed them amd found them quite adapted for purposes of colonisation, returned to Scotland to collect his goods and chattels, embark his family, and then make his way back to his newly-discovered territory. Unfortunately for liim, however, in the meantime a Mr Hare, a man well known in the East Indian.Archipelago, and who had lived for some time at Bencoolen, collected a number of Malay slaves, men 2 women and* children, and settled on one of tho islands ■of the group. It is a curious coincidence that Hare had previously touched at the island whilst be was on board at vessel named the Melpomene, which was commanded by a brother of Captain Ross, and in\which Hare had a half share. It is more than probable that Hare learned from the Melpomene Ross of his brother's adventure, and.

DETERMINED TO THWART HIS FLANS IF POSSIBLE. ''

Ross returned in 1827, bringing with him a Mr Leisk, who had been mute with him in the vessel in which be discovered the Cocos, and found Hare in possession, and, having no legal right to the islands, he had to content himself with joint the two parties living on separate islands, however, and on very bad terms with each other. But Hare was a man of worthless character, extremely idle, and of dissolute habits, and his followers greatlly detesting him, many of them left his ranks and joined those of Ross, who soon quite out-mustered his rival. It is gratifying to learn that they never came to open conflict, as might be feared, for Hare speedily saw that his position was becoming an untenable one, and, giving up all hope of superseding Ross, ho left the island and went to Singapore, where he eventually died. Thus left to himself, Ross started to run his little colony on mod«l lines, and succeeded beyond expectations He established a prosperous trade with neighbouring ports in Java and Sumatra, and when he died, nearly thirty years later, his loss was deeply mourned by tie community he had always ruled in a kind and indulgent spirit. Charles Darwin, who visited the islands in 1836, in H.M.S. Beagle, during his famous voyage round the world, mentions that he found the natives in a state of freedom, especially as regarded their treatment, which would seem to corroborate the above. It does not speak highly for the forethought of the Colonial Office of that period, that all this time Ross, or rather the Cocos Islundsj were neglected by the British Government. When Ross settled them, although lie did so virtually as a British subject, it was really as a private individual, and at the time

NO BRITISH *'LAO WAS. lIOISTED proclaiming the group our territory. Ross does not seem to have approached the Government in any way on the matter of protection—indeed, lie may have had no opportunity, but it is surprising that Holland did not claim them, for they arc nearer to Java and Sumatra, than any other lands, and *ho vessels trading with Ross were from Dutch ports, flying the Dutch' flag. At any rate, Roes, either becoming disheartened or with a keen eye to business-, became a naturalised Dutch and thereafter it is certainly to his credit that he never endeavoured to hoist, or to get the Dutch colours hoisted over the islands.

He was succeeded! by bis e<m L Mr J;. Clunies-Ross, and some three years afterwards began the history of the islands as connected with the British Empire, for in 1857 Captain Fremuntle visited them in H.M.S. Juno, and took possession, in the name of her Britannic Majesty's Government. Not a day too soon, either, did the Juno arrive, for not long after she had been there a Russian man-of-war steamed into the 'beautiful lagoon harbour, and seeing the Union Jack fluttering from a flagstaff on the principal islet, saluted it. Needless to say, the mission of that Russian vessel was not to salute the British flag! Captain Fremantle appointed CluniesRoss superintendent of the i-slands l and after a stay there of tl)ree months left. But although the islands wer e now reckoned part of the British Empire, with CluniesRosa in charge on behalf of the Brhish Government, hia position was by no meajis that of a colonial! governor. On the contrary, he continued to administer the group as his father had done, and exercised complete autonomy, nor was another visit received from a British war vessel until 1864.. when her Majesty's ship Serpent called tier©, and thia time a complete survey of the island: was maide. Two yours previous to this the group had been devastated by a terrible cyclone, and the visitors found

ABUNDANT TRACES OF TUB DASIAUE INFLICTED. Mr J. Clunks-Ross died in 1871, ajid his eldest son, Mr Georgo Clunies-Ross, the present superintendent, succeeded him. Of late years we have been more attentive to this lonely outpost of Empire, annually sending there, from Singapore, a nui.n-of-wor, with a representative of the Govemmenti of the Straits Settlements on board, whose duty it is to thoroughly inspect the group and compile a report thereon, but the members of the Olunies-Ros* family are to-d«y, in, every sense of the ward, 'proprietors of the islands, for Mr George Clunies-Ross makes his awn laws and interprets them, polices his little domain, provides" his own coinage—by the wajf.. cards, inscribed "good for" one rupee, or ton cents, as the cais© may be, and signed "G. Clunies-Ross"—controls the entire trade, and acts as the "universal provider" to satisfy the wants of the community. The only intrusion into this Arcadia hflf been the establishment of a cable station on one of the smallest islands by the Kastern Extension Telegraph. who keep a small staff there, and the provision of a signal station on Direction Island by j

Lloydfs j but little intercourse if cd) between theise audi the larger islands. Tims is the King of tho Cocos \l*liiin>» monarch indeed realm, though small in extent and in population sparse, yet inbeauty unequalled. A ri.ng-*luiped reef of dazzling coral, over which the ocean breakers continually lush themselves into a> mist of creamy foam, surmounted by islets covered thick with the abundant vegetation of the cocoanuto pulm and othw tropical trees, and the clear water* of the lagoon painted a vivid) green in. the full glare of the eastern sun, deliriously contrasting with)' the soft, white sand 1 of the shore. To labour amid! ssuoh a. scene is in itself sufficient reward: for the toils amd perils of pioneering,

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/THD19031003.2.35.15

Bibliographic details

Timaru Herald, Timaru Herald, Volume LXXIX, Issue 12187, 3 October 1903

Word Count
1,291

THE KING OF THE COCOS ISLANDS. Timaru Herald, Volume LXXIX, Issue 12187, 3 October 1903

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