Nauru - History

Nauru had little contact with Europeans until whaling ships and other traders began to visit in the 1830s. The introduction of firearms and alcohol destroyed the peaceful coexistence of the 12 tribes living on the island. A 10-year internal war began in 1878 and resulted in a reduction of the population from 1,400 (1843) to around 900 (1888).

The island was allocated to Germany under the 1886 Anglo-German Convention. Phosphate was discovered a decade later and the Pacific Phosphate Company started to exploit the reserves in 1906, by agreement with Germany. Following the outbreak of World War I, Australian forces captured the island in 1914.

While the decision of the Supreme Allied Council granted the mandates for the German Pacific Islands, Samoa, and South-West Africa to the Dominions, it conferred upon the British Empire the mandate for Nauru Island, which the Australian forces had occupied during the war, after it had capitulated to a naval attack. After the war, the League of Nations assigned a joint trustee mandate over the island to Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The three governments established the British Phosphate Commissioners, who exercised the rights to phosphate mining.

At the time of occupation the importance of the island lay in its enormous phosphate deposits, estimated at 80,000,000 tons, which were being worked under a German concession by the Pacific Phosphate Company, a British company in which there was a large German holding. Australia, which was wont to draw large supplies of phosphate from this source, laid claim to the mandate, but this was refused, and it was eventually agreed to apportion it between the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and New Zealand. The Company was to be expropriated, the sum of 3,500,000 eventually being fixed, while the German holdings were disposed of under the terms of the Treaty of Peace.

In December 1940 German raiders shelled the phosphate plant and sank several British and allied merchant vessels owned by or under charter to the BPC. There was no further German action and phosphate continued to be shipped though in a reduced amount. In August 1942 Nauru was invaded by Japan. The Australian Administrator and remaining officials were executed. During World War II Japan occupied Nauru from August 1942 until the end of the war and deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Caroline Islands, where 463 died. The survivors returned to Nauru in January 1946.

After the war the island became a UN Trust Territory under Australia, in line with the previous League of Nations mandate, and it remained one until it became an independent republic in 1968. A plan by the partner governments to resettle the Nauruans (due to dwindling phosphate reserves and damage to the island from extensive mining) on Curtis Island off the north coast of Queensland, Australia, was abandoned in 1964 when the islanders decided not to move. In 1967, the Nauruans purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970 control passed to the Nauru Phosphate Corporation.

In 1989 Nauru filed suit against Australia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague for damages caused by mining while the island was under Australian jurisdiction. Australia settled the case out of court in 1993, agreeing to pay a lump sum settlement of A$107 million (U.S. $85.6 million) and an annual stipend of the equivalent of A$2.5 million in 1993 dollars toward environmental rehabilitation.

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