The Remarkable Explorations of Admiral Sutherland

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The Remarkable Explorations of Admiral Sutherland


This light hearted article describes the journey of the USS West Virginia to Palmyra in 1912, where they found, as the subtitle says, "One Friendless, Starving Gin Bottle, Also One Large, Unidentified Toothbrush!", among other things. It mentions as well clear evidence of Japanese sailors living on Palmyra and likely hoping to claim or occupy it for Japan.

The West Virginia left Honolulu under secret orders to claim Palmyra for the US, though any legal battle would have proved that as a territory of Hawaii it was clearly the territory of the US anyway, and more or less had been since the 1850's.


Library of Congress


The Day Book




Public Domain





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Discovered - by an American Admiral on a Desolate Isle in the Pacific! One Friendless, Starving Gin Bottle, Also One Large, Unidentified Toothbrush!
The Remarkable Explorations of Admiral Sutherland, U.S.N

Special Correspondence. Washington, D.C. April 6

The United States will use Palmyra island for a coaling station for the Pacific fleet upon the completion of the Panama Canal. This information follows the receipt of Rear Admiral Sutherland's report of the exploration of Palmyra Island and 51 other small bodies of land in the Pacific by the cruiser West Virginia late in February, when he annexed the islands for the United States.

When the report reached the state department some time ago that England contemplated fortifying Fanning Island and making it a coaling station, the navy department dispatched the West Virginia to the Palmyra group to grab them up if possible so that they could be used as protection for the western end of the Panama canal and as central Pacific naval base. "When the West Virginia dropped anchor, off Palmyra island," the admiral reported, "there was no sign of human habitation. We sailed several times around the island and further examined it in small boats, finding it to be an irregularly-shaped coral island, enclosing several distinct lagoons. It was entirety surrounded by a barrier reef of coral, forming beautiful shapes in the crystal-clear water.

"There were some cocoanut trees and an undergrowth of palms and young cocoanuts, with an abundance of smaller trees, the leaves of which resembled dog wood, while its method of growth was that of the crub oak. Remarkable birds of many kinds flew about in great abundance - snipe, curlew, boatswain's birds and small jackbirds with short bills and white spots on their heads.”

"Upon landing, the admiral and his men discovered no signs of mankind or even the animals which they expected to find there. On the trunk of a fallen tree, however, was discovered the letter "M" thickly overgrown with moss and on another tree was an "A'' similarly encrusted. A gin bottle, empty, was discovered at the west end of the island. One of the exploring parties sent out from the ship of the smaller group of islands to the northward brought back several empty bottles, about 40 large oriental earthenware jars, Japanese shoes, a toothbrush, an old bed, a small tin pump, a lamp chimney, a wooden rake, a spade and, most significant of all, a number of large empty cases covered with paper on which was written, in Japanese, "This case contains ammunition." They ran against the letter "M" cut into the trees several times.

State department officials believe that the Japanese had examined the islands with a view to annexing them as a base, but were "shooed" away when informed that England and the United States objected to the yellow peril so close at hand. So, when Uncle Sam has thoroughly cleared the island of gin bottles, second hand tooth brushes and such like, Palmyra will become a mid-Pacific hotel for the Pacific fleeL This new American soil is 1,000 miles southwest of Honolulu.


“The Remarkable Explorations of Admiral Sutherland,” Palmyra Archive, accessed October 31, 2020,


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