1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bonin Islands

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BONIN ISLANDS, called by the Japanese Ogasawara-Jima, a chain of small islands belonging to Japan, stretching nearly due north and south, a little east of 142 E., and from 26° 35′ to 27° 45′ N., about 500 m. from the mainland of Japan. They number twenty, according to Japanese investigations, and have a coast-line of 174.65 m. and a superficies of 28.82 sq. m. Only ten of them have any appreciable size, and these are named—commencing from the north—Muko-shima (Bridegroom Island), Nakadachi-shima (Go-between Island[1]), Yome-shima (Bride Island), Ototo-jima (Younger-brother Island), Ani-shima (Elder-brother Island), Chichi-jima (Father Island), Haha-jima (Mother Island), Mei-jima (Niece Island), Ani-jima (Elder-sister Island) and Imoto-jima (Younger-sister Island). European geographers have been accustomed to divide the islands into three groups for purposes of nomenclature, calling the northern group the Parry Islands, the central the Beechey Islands and the southern the Coffin or Bailey Islands. The second largest of all, Chichi-jima, in Japanese cartography was called Peel Island in 1827 by Captain Beechey, and the same officer gave the name of Stapleton Island to the Ototo-jima of the Japanese, and that of Buckland Island to their Ani-jima. To complete this account of Captain Beechey’s nomenclature, it may be added that he called a large bay on the south of Peel Island Fitton Bay, and a bay on the south-west of Buckland Island Walker Bay.[2] Port Lloyd, the chief anchorage (situated on Peel Island), is considered by Commodore Perry—who visited the islands in 1853 and strongly urged the establishment of a United States coaling station there—to have been formerly the crater of a volcano from which the surrounding hills were thrown up, the entrance to the harbour being a fissure through which lava used to pour into the sea. The islands are, indeed, plainly volcanic in their nature.

History.—The diversity of nomenclature indicated above suggests that the ownership of the islands was for some time doubtful. According to Japanese annals they were discovered towards the close of the 16th century, and added to the fief of a Daimyo, Ogasawa Sadayori, whence the name Ogasawara-jima. They were also called Bunin-jima (corrupted by foreigners into Bonin) because of their being without (bu) inhabitants (nin). Effective occupation did not take place, however, and communications with the islands ceased altogether in 1635, as was a natural consequence of the Japanese government’s veto against the construction of sea-going vessels. In 1728 fitful communication was restored by the then representative of the Ogasawara family, only to be again interrupted until 1861, when an unsuccessful attempt was made to establish a Japanese colony at Port Lloyd. Meanwhile, Captain Beechey visited the islands in the “Blossom,” assigned names to some of them, and published a description of their features. Next a small party consisting of two British subjects, two American citizens, and a Dane, sailed from the Sandwich Islands for Port Lloyd in 1830, taking with them some Hawaiian natives. These colonists hoisted the British flag on Peel Island (Chichi-jima), and settled there. When Commodore Perry arrived in 1853, there were on Peel Island thirty-one inhabitants, four being English, four American, one Portuguese and the rest natives of the Sandwich Islands, the Ladrones, &c.; and when Mr Russell Robertson visited the place in 1875, the colony had grown to sixty-nine, of whom only five were pure whites. Mr Robertson found them without education, without religion, without laws and without any system of government, but living comfortably on clearings of cultivated land. English was the language of the settlers, and they regarded themselves as a British colony. But in 1861 the British government renounced all claim to the islands in recognition of Japan’s right of possession. There is now regular steam communication; the affairs of the islands are duly administered, and the population has grown to about 4500. There are no mountains of any considerable height in the Ogasawara Islands, but the scenery is hilly with occasional bold crags. The vegetation is almost tropically luxuriant—palms, wild pineapples, and ferns growing profusely, and the valleys being filled with wild beans and patches of taro. Mr Robertson catalogues a number of valuable timbers that are obtained there, among them being Tremana, cedar, rose-wood, iron-wood (red and white), box-wood, sandal and white oak. The kekop tree, the orange, the laurel, the juniper, the wild cactus, the curry plant, wild sage and celery flourish. No minerals have been discovered. The shores are covered with coral; earthquakes and tidal waves are frequent, the latter not taking the form of bores, but of a sudden steady rise and equally sudden fall in the level of the sea; the climate is rather tropical than temperate, but sickness is almost unknown among the residents.  (F. By.) 

  1. Referring to the Japanese custom of employing a go-between to arrange a marriage.
  2. These details are taken from The Bonin Islands by Russell Robertson, formerly H.B.M. consul in Yokohama, who visited the islands in 1875.