Says Palmyra of No Use As a Naval Base

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Says Palmyra of No Use As a Naval Base


The article is essentially a review of Eben Low's visit to Palmyra 2 years prior. He was interviewed as part of a larger story on the atoll's possible use as a Naval base. There are some interesting anecdotes, the most noteworthy being that no one thought of Palmyra as being suitable for a military post, but 25 years later formal plans would be drawn up for exactly that purpose.



Hawaii Evening Bulletin




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Palmyra group of Islands, but forty two in number, offers almost impossible obstacles for the erection of buildings or the installation of a coaling station, suitable for the United States Government or a foreign power.

Such is the emphatic statement made by Eben P. Low, Supervisor, and undoubtedly one of the best-versed men in the island on the possibilities of Palmyra Islands as a naval base.

Supervisor Low has visited Palmyra within the past eighteen months.  He forced his way through the dense growth of cocoanut and fern forests and other tropical plants which fairly overrun the majority of the little dots which comprise the group.

Mr. Low spent two or three days on the islands.  He possesses a knowledge of the islets gained from actual experience and hard tramping over the little collection of coral reefs and islands.

“I visited Palmyra two years ago this coming April in the schooner Concord.  I was sent there at the instance of a local hui of business men to look into the possibilities of extensive copra cultivation and exportation.  It was then the purpose of the Honolulu company to purchase the group and institute development of the many little islands capable of growing the cocoanut tree in paying quantities.

Some Island Inaccessible

“We had a very close call from being marooned at Palmyra,” so stated Supervisor Low this morning in relating his interesting experience at that time.  “The Concord ran very close and finally into the reef, and for a time was hard and fast.  It really looked as if the well-known Hawaiian island schooner was destined to leave her bones on those inhospitable reefs.  We succeeded however, in hauling a ship’s boat into the lagoon, but the feat could only be attempted at high tide.  It was no easy task and required the combined efforts of Captain Emily Piltz, the veteran skipper, once with the Inter-Island Company, myself and son.  We composted the party that tramped through the jungle for that is what it really amounts to in many places on some of the larger islets in the group.

“In my opinion no buildings can be erected on any accessible spot on Palmyra, owing to the fact that the islands are very low, the highest spot that we found being barely six feet above high water.

No Habitation Found There

“No habitation graces the islands in that group,” says Low.  “We met with signs that indicated at one time the presence of several parties of poachers, but in my opinion they must have been natives from some of the neighboring islands, as they had in some instances carved their names on the trunks of cocoanut trees.  There was nothing on the island that indicated that Japanese bird-poachers had visited there, at least for a  number of years.

The place is simply overrun with sea-birds of almost every description in going about the islands we were continually obliged to exercise care that we did not step upon them as they sat about the ground.  The ground in places appeared to be littered with the husks of cocoanuts, these presumably gathered by the visiting parties of south sea islanders.

“The fern trees and the so-called bird’s-nest ferns to be found in the interior of the larger islets were large and well developed.  Many of the trees were much finer specimens that we find here.

Cocoanuts Galore

“In my trip through the islands I counted three thousand bearing cocoanut trees.  Other trees of the same nature but not bearing numbered over five thousand, and under this classification were ranged trees from eighteen months to four years old.  I believe that the latter should in most instances be listed as full bearing by this time.

There is one solitary islet which affords lodgment for but a single cocoanut tree.”

Mr. Low tells of a string of islands to the south of the group upon which he estimated that between twenty and thirty thousand cocoanut trees were growing.

A Paradise for Birds

Birds find on Palmyra an undisturbed haven for rest and refreshment.  They literally cover the ground and the well-known “love bird” was found in such numbers that the Low party were continually employing sticks to move them out of the way of the pedestrians.  Eggs by the thousand littered the sand piles and some of the more protected reefs.

It is believed that some of the southern islands are at times visited by storms or hurricanes which cause high seas to completely sweep over them, carrying away nearly all vegetation and bird life.

Mr. Low offers the statement that abundant rainfall can be relied upon throughout Palmyra.

No Monuments Found There

“No monuments of any description were discovered by our party during the three days’ tramp over all the islands.  I am convinced that none such ever existed saved in the imagination of some people inclined to sensationalism.  Had there been anything like a sign, flagstaff or other mark set up by a landing party this would have been found by us.

Finest Fish Ever Eaten There

“The finest fish that ever tempted a palate are to be found in abundance off the shores of Palmyra.  From the Concord we dropped lines and the fish were brought to the surface in varieties to satisfy the most fastidious.”

Young Low, who was left to his own resources on the island for a part of the time, dipped a net in the waters of the lagoon and soon had large sacks filled with a wide range of specimens of finny beauties which abound there.  Sharks there were too, in large numbers.  The smaller man-eaters were encountered by the boarding party as they towed their boat into the inner lagoons and waterways.  The party used stout clubs to frighten them away when curiosity prompted a close investigation on the part of the sharks.

Land Crabs a Menace

Huge land crabs, the size of a well-developed rooster, were met with as the party pursued their investigation of the islands.  These crustaceans were armed with large and powerful nippers, which were capable of crushing sticks and presumably would have done considerable damage to fingers or toes had they been permitted to gain intimate acquaintance with the masculine intruders.  Young Mr. Low is said to have succeeded in roping several of the specimens and preserved them for shipment to Honolulu.

Judging from the remarks of the Supervisor this morning, Palmyra offers but little hope as a promising naval base.  The islands, however, are undoubtedly of much value for the cultivation of cocoanuts and a source of copra, as the trees are declared to thrive luxuriantly there. 

Original Format



“Says Palmyra of No Use As a Naval Base,” Palmyra Archive, accessed July 14, 2020,