1°43' South
142°50' East
The Wuvulu Research Center for Wuvulu Island and the Other Western Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, Bismarck Sea, South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Manus Province.
History of the Western Islands
A brief overview of the "discovery" of the Western Islands by Europeans

Early History
The period of earliest visit by man to the Western Islands is unknown, however, it is believed that Wuvulu and the other Western Islands (map) of the Bismarck Archipelago have been inhabited for several centuries.  The Wuvulu people had little contact with the rest of the world until fairly recently, except with their closest neighbors, the Aua Islanders to the north east and occasional visits from time to time by the fast sailing canoes of the Ninigo Islanders to the east.

Chronology of European "discovery"

Vasco de Gamma circumnavigates the Cape of Good Hope and opens a new era in maritime discovery.  Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English navigators take to sea to discover new and faraway lands.

In May, Philip II of Spain sends his war ship "San Juan" under command of Ynigo Ortiz de Retes with Gaspar Rico as first pilot to sail from Tidor to "New Spain."  His orders are to sail the calmer waters to the south and not to use the west monsoons.  The journey is delayed by weather and the San Juan eventually sights an unknown country which Ortiz de Retes names "Nueva Guinea."  After following the coastline he makes route north and "discovers" Wuvulu and Aua islands on August 19, 1545.  Ortiz de Retes names Wuvulu and Aua "Islas de Hombres blancos" because of the light complexion of their inhabitants.  It will take more than two centuries for the next European to sight Wuvulu Island.

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Following the English South Sea expedition of Captain Byron in 1764-65, the English Government sends out an expedition under Captain Wallis who commands two ships, the frigate Dolphin and the smaller Swallow, a thirty years old, slow-sailing and poorly fitted sloop under the command of Lt. Philip Carteret who had served under Byron in a previous expedition.  After passing through the straights of Magellan on April 11, 1767, the Dolphin looses sight of the Swallow but the courageous Lt. Carteret decides to continue the voyage alone.  Carteret makes a number of sightings in the (Bismarck Archipelago) and on September 19, 1767 two small islands come in view, the first one, Durour (Aua), is seen only from the masthead and the second one is passed during the night when a number of islanders are seen along the shore with torches.  He names this island Maty Island (Wuvulu) after Mathew Maty of the Royal Society in London.  The three voyages of Captain Cook have not yet begun.

By French King Louis XV's command, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, sails from St. Malo in December, 1766 with two ships, "La Boudeuse" and "l'Étoile".  He will "rediscover" a number of islands previously sighted by Carteret and will make the first sightings of Iles des Anachorettes (Kaniet) and the Chequer Islands (Ninigo).

Captain Maurelle aboard the Spanish war ship "Princessa" discovers the Hermit Islands.

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Comte de la Pérouse leaves France in 1785 to resolve disputed French/English claims on the far away lands.  He arrives in Australia in September 1787 and sets out for the second part of his voyage to the north but nothing more is heard from him after 1788.  By order of French King Louis XVI, two more ships "La Recherche" and "l'Espérance", under the command of Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni, Chevalier d'Entrecasteaux, are sent to look for him.  D'Entrecasteaux sights the Anchorite (Kaniet) Islands on July 18, 1793 and then calls at the Hermit Islands to question the islanders on the fate of La Pérouse.  D'Entrecasteaux dies soon thereafter, on July 21, from scurvy.

On May 25, after sighting Wuvulu Island, Austin Forrest, Captain of the E.I.C.'s Marine Service reports:  "The men were tall and well made, wearing their hair platted and raised above the head.  They had no appearance of Malays, or of Caffrees; and excepting their colour, which was of light copper, they had the features of the natives of Europe; they were entirely naked."

Captain Abraham Bristow aboard the "Sir Andrews Hammond" names Wuvulu "Tiger Island" because of the ferociousness of its inhabitants.

Russian explorer, naturalist and ethnographer Nikolai Nikolajewitsch Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) visits the Western Islands.

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Captain A.F.V. Andersen aboard the "Welcome" calls at Wuvulu and makes a good description of its inhabitants.  He brings a trader, named Schielkoff, on a mission for the German firm Hernsheim & Co. of Matupi.  Schielkoff is to stay and live on the island, establish a trade station and buy copra.  A few months later, the Wuvulu islanders burn down the station and spear Schielkoff to death.

The Steamer "Ysabel" calls at Wuvulu and Aua islands in May of that year and makes an unsuccesful attempt to recruit workers for the German New Guinea Company.  The German botanist Kärnbach who is of the ship party collects a number of spears and other ethonographic objects which eventually end up at the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin-Dahlem (Museum of Ethnology, formerly the Völkerkundemuseum Berlin and Berliner Museum für Völkerkunde).

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On August 14, the German ship S.M.S. "Möwe" calls at Wuvulu and draws one of the first map of the island.
The German New Guinea Company purchases 4 ha. of land on Matty (Wuvulu) and establishes the first trading station.  The trader stationed on the island is killed shortly thereafter (it is assumed that he "courted" his fate).

The German New Guinea Company site is transferred to the German trading company Hernsheim & Co.

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In the summer, a new attempt to establish a trading station on Wuvulu fails when the islanders discourage retpeated landing attempts by a white trader.
Danish anthropologist Richard Parkinson, author of Dreissig Jähre in der Südsee (Thirty Years in the South Seas), visits Wuvulu and Aua for a few days.

Swedish Consul Heinrich Rudolf Wahlen who owns the Hermit Islands builds a very large and beautiful mansion (photo) atop Maron Island in the center of the lagoon. That house was reputed to have been the first house with electricity in Papua New Guinea.  It was burned down and demolished in the 1960’s.

The Danish trader Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft settles on Wuvulu after a few short stays on the island.  Ørtoft, works first for the New Guinea Company, then for the firm of the Swedish Consul Heinrich Rudolf Wahlen, H.R. Wahlen Co. of Gunantambu in Rabaul.  Ørtoft changes his name to William Peder Leonard and is eventually made "King Faiu" by the islanders.  William Leonard has three children by Wuvulu women, Dorothea, Margrete and Karl.  He builds a large Plantation House, at Malona Bay on the south side of Wuvulu, from materials shipped from Shanghai.  The Plantation House, then the oldest building in the islands was dismantled in the late 1980's and its original timber used by the islanders.

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The German firm Hernsheim & Co. sells its holdings to H.R. Wahlen.  The rest of the island is purchased in 1906 by the German Government who cedes 817 ha. to H.R. Wahlen in 1907 and retains 547 ha. as three native reserves, with 147 ha. for Onne and 150 ha. for Auna on the west coast and 250 ha. for Ruvurae on the east coast.  H.R. Wahlen develops two adjoining copra plantations, Agita and Tumuvali, planting 83,000 coconut palms in addition to the existing 36,000 native plants.  Eventually, the plantation grows to 175,000 coconut palms.  In May 1912, the German Government cedes the 250 ha. of Ruvurae to H.R. Wahlen.

The Swedish Count Birger Mörner visits Wuvulu in July and stays with William P. Leonard until October at the large plantation house.  Mörner will subsequently write Arafis Tropiska År (The Tropical Years of Arafis) (Stockholm 1914.  P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag) about the island.

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The Custodian of Expropriated Property sells the property for £60,000 to L.F. Howard who is acting as dummy for the trading firm W.R. Carpenter & Co.

The Allied Air Forces propose the establishment of land-based fighters on Wuvulu Island. The plan is given up as little was known about terrain conditions on Wuvulu, the island was much closer to Japanese bases than to Allied, and its seizure would disclose the direction of the main attack. Furthermore, the Wuvulu operation would absorb ground forces, amphibious shipping, and engineering equipment sorely needed for the Hollandia campaign.

Land Title History
The early land title history of Wuvulu Island is contained in the German Groundbook entries (Admiralty Islands, vol. 1, folios 1, 15 and 15) held by the Land Title Commission in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft a.k.a. William Peder Leonard, King Faiu of Wuvulu
For a short biography, see the page Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft

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