MELBOURNE to FANNING ISLAND WRAPPER
This ordinary Australian newspaper wrapper (H & G # E16), the 1d green Queen Elizabeth "Newspaper Only", with five lines of instructions was upgraded with the ½d orange kangaroo stamp, and was sent from Melbourne in 1941 to Mr. Frank MCay, Cable Station, Fanning Island. There was no indication of what newspaper was enclosed nor of the sender's name and address (Figure 1).
In 1798, Captain Edmund Fanning, captain of the 100-ton whaling vessel "Betsy", sailed through the Central Pacific Ocean on his way to China with a cargo of seal skins, obtained from the Juan Fernandez Islands. He visited first the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and then sailed west. On the 11 June 1798 he sighted breakers on a low coral atoll, which he named Fanning Island. He described the island as "a very desirable spot, for the refitting of a ship, and refreshing a crew" for it had "smooth and convenient anchoring, with an abundance of wood and water, the tropical fruits were best of fresh, and excellent turtle". The ship then sailed northerly and the next day Fanning discovered another very attractive island, which he named Washington's Island after the American President. Subsequently, Fanning narrowly escaped a shipwreck, but eventually reached China safely. Edmund Fanning's picture is shown in Figure 2.
Fanning Island now is called Tabuaeran (Polynesian for sacred footprint) and it is situated at N 3 degrees 52" and W 159 degrees 20", some 256 km northwest of Christmas Island. It is a ring-type atoll, 18 km long and 11 km wide with a total land area of 33.7 sq. km, divided by channels into 3 main islands, lying in the equatorial convergence zone, with an annual rainfall of 205 cms. There were no inhabitants on the island when Fanning arrived, but there were grave sites.
In 1846, William Greig, a Scotsman and his wife settled on the island and planted coconuts, exporting coconut oil and copra, and later guano phosphate was shipped to Honolulu. The British communications company, Cable and Wireless chose Fanning Island as a site for its central Pacific telephone relay station, which started operations in 1902 at Napari village. Because of the relatively good communications links - direct contact with Australia via Samoa and with the UK via Canada, plus regular shipping to keep the cable station supplied - the District Officer for the "Line islands" was based on Fanning until the occupation of Christmas Island by US troops during WW II. Fanning Island was not involved in WW II, but in WW I the German Cruiser Nuremberg landed a raiding party and blew up the power station and cut the cable.
Burns Philp & Co., the large Australian company with trading and plantation interests throughout the Pacific, bought Fanning Island in 1936. In 1956, Cable and Wireless rebuilt their facilities, but left Fanning in 1964. New cable routes and satellite communication rendered the station obsolete. The company had operated the repeater station continuously for 62 years (except for a short period in 1916 when the cable was cut at Napari). There are ca. 2,500 residents on the island and the economy is sustained by the tourist trade by passengers off cruise ships. In 1979, the Republic of Kiribati began to control Fanning Island. The Station Buildings, Pacific Cable Board, Fanning Island are shown in Figure 3, and the map of the region is shown in Figure 4.
The postmark used at Fanning Island on a PAID 1D envelope in 1911 is shown in Figure 5.