Pacific Islands Company and its Progeny (1900-1981)

A mining millennium project well ahead of schedule.

Wooden Box E10021G

Wooden Box E10021G
Photographer: Fionton mahony © Australian Museum

In 1900 Albert Ellis (1869-1951), analyst and prospector for the Pacific Islands Company, confirmed a large deposit of phosphate (guano) on Banaba (Ocean Island). Under some dubious arrangements with Banabans he ‘secured’ mining rights for his company, which was granted an imperial mining license, topped up with British annexation of Banaba! The company obtained exclusive mining rights for 999 years for an annual payment of £50 to the Banaban community. Soon, the company’s annual profit reached £125,000 per annum. This shameful exploitation provoked outrage, forcing the company to modify the license agreement. As a result, a trust fund was established to provide money for compensation and repair of environmental damage. These commitments were never fulfilled.

The mining on Banaba brought so much profit that the company sold all of its other non-phosphate interests in the Pacific, changing in 1902 into the Pacific Phosphate Company Limited. Following World War I the company morphed into the British Phosphate Commission, with many former executives, including Ellis rolling over to new managerial positions and becoming commissioners. The British Phosphate Commission was dissolved in 1981, by which time Banaba was mined out and almost completely depopulated. In 1979 Banaba was incorporated into a new independent state, the Republic of Kiribati. A few hundred people returned to their island but the phosphate mining compensation was never paid to the Banabans, who were, in essence, environmental and mining refugees.

Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
Last Updated: