The Solomon Islands archipelago is a collection of Melanesian Islands in the western South Pacific Ocean, located northeast of Australia. They are in the Melanesia subregion and bioregion of Oceania. The islands have been inhabited for at least 30,000 years and were first visited by Europeans in 1568 by the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña who named them the Islas Salomón. Germany proclaimed the more northernly group of islands as a protectorate in 1885. Britain defined its area of interest in the Solomon Islands archipelago in 1893, declaring the southern group of islands as the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. Germany transferred several of their islands to British control in 1900. The largest of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, continued under German administration until the first world war when it fell to Australia, During World War II, the region saw fierce fighting between the United States and the Empire of Japan, such as in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Today, the original North Solomon Islands are split between the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and the successor state of the British Solomon Islands which was officially renamed Solomon Islands in 1975 prior to becoming an independent, sovereign state in 1976.
The human history of Solomon Islands begins with the first Papuan settlement at least 30,000 years ago from New Guinea. They represented the furthest expansion of humans into the Pacific until the expansion of Austronesian-language speakers through the area around 4000 BC, bringing new agricultural and maritime technology. Most of the languages spoken today in Solomon Islands derive from this era, but some thirty languages of the pre-Austronesian settlers survive. There are preserved numerous pre-European cultural monuments throughout the Solomon Islands, The people of Solomon Islands were notorious for headhunting and cannibalism before the arrival of the Europeans.
Ships of the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira first sighted Santa Isabel island on February 6, 1568, arriving from his explorations of Peru. Finding signs of alluvial gold on Guadalcanal, Mendaña believed he had found the source of King Solomon’s wealth, and consequently named the islands “The Islands of Solomon”. In 1595 and 1605, Spain again sent several expeditions to find the islands and establish a colony These, however, were unsuccessful. In 1767, Captain Philip Carteret rediscovered the Santa Cruz Islands and Malaita. Later, Dutch, French and British navigators visited the islands; their reception was often hostile.
Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-nineteenth century. They made little progress at first, because “blackbirding”, the often brutal recruitment and relocation of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji, led to a series of reprisals and massacres. Sikaiana, then known as the Stewart Islands, was annexed to the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1856. Hawai’i did not formalize the annexation, and the United States refused to recognize Hawaiian sovereignty over Sikaiana when the United States annexed Hawai’i in 1898.
Missionary activity and European colonial ambitions led to the establishment of a German protectorate (Schutzgebiet) over the northern Solomon Islands in April 1885, Initially, the German Solomon Islands Protectorate included Bougainvile, Buka, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, the Shortlands and Ontong Java Islands,
The evils of the labour trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in June 1893 which was formally done by Captain Gibson R.N., of HMS Curacoa, The southern Solomon Islands of New Georgia, Guadalcanal, Malaita and San Cristobal became known as the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. The formalities in its establishment were carried out by officers of the Royal Navy, who hoisted the British flag and read Proclamations on twenty-one islands. By similar means, Bellona and Rennell Islands and the Stewart Islands were added in 1897, and the Santa Cruz group, the Reef Islands, Anuda (Cherry), Fataka (Mitre) and Trevannion Islands and Duff (Wilson) group in 1898. On August 18, 1898 and October 1, 1898, the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific issued proclamations which declared that all those islands should “henceforth” form part of the Protectorate. The two proclamations of 1898 were superseded by one dated January 28, 1899, which was apparently intended not to consolidate them but also to correct geographical errors: it lists “the Reef Islands, Swallow Group” and a different group of islands referred to collectively as “the Swallow Group” and a different group of islands referred to as “the Swallow Group,” and it includes Trevannion in the Santa Cruz group.
The first mails from the British Solomon Islands are believed to be those sent by the British Resident Commissioner, Charles Woodford, who was appointed in 1896 and established an administrative center at Tulagi. Letters were sent in a sealed bag to Sydney where New South Wales stamps were affixed. Later, a stock of New South Wales stamps was kept at Tulagi and were cancelled in Sydney. From April 1906, Woodford used a handstamp reading BRITISH / SOLOMON / ISLANDS / PAID which was applied to letters in Tulagi, along with the Tulagi postmark and Woodford’s personal check sent in each sealed bag to cover the postage cost for the letters contained within. In Sydney, New South Wales stamps were affixed adjacent to, or on top of, the handstamp. The reason for this was that the British Solomon Islands was not a member of the Universal Postal Union until September 2, 1907.
In 1900, Germany — under the Treaty of Berlin signed on November 14, 1899 — transferred the Choiseul, Santa Isabel, the Shortlands and Ontong-Java Islands to the British Solomon Islands Protectorate in exchange for the British giving up all claims to Samoa. Buka and Bougainville remained under German administration as part of German New Guinea, until they fell to Australia early in World War I. After the war, the League of Nations formally mandated those islands to Australia along with the rest of German New Guinea, becoming Australian New Guinea. Traditional trade and social intercourse between the western Solomon Islands of Mono and Alu (the Shortlands) and the traditional societies in the south of Bougainville, however, continued without hindrance.
Missionaries settled in the Solomons under the protectorate, converting most of the population to Christianity. In the early twentieth century several British and Australian firms began large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the islanders benefited little. Journalist Joe Melvin visited in 1892, as part of his undercover investigation into blackbirding. In 1908 the islands were visited by Jack London, who was cruising the Pacific on his boat, the Snark.
The first stamps of the protectorate were issued on February 14, 1907, a set of seven inscribed BRITISH SOLOMON ISLANDS PROTECTORATE and portraying a war canoe (Scott #1-7). These are commonly referred to in collecting circles as the “Large Canoe” issue. In 1903, the Protectorate had made a request to the High Commissioner for the Pacific to be supplied with stamps of Fiji overprinted for use in the Solomon Islands. When nothing had been heard by November 1906, Resident Commissioner Woodford decided to produce stamps himself. The wholesale stationer W,E. Smith, located on Bridge Street in Sydney, was selected to print the stamps. They subsequently provided three designs to Woodford for approval; these were rejected and Woodford prepared a design of his own. He made a drawing of a tomoko, or war canoe, with an island landscape in the background. The finished design was printed by lithography on thick wove paper without a watermark. The gum selected by the printers was not appropriate for stamps to be stored and used in the tropics and many sheets became so stuck together that they had to be destroyed before sale. The printer supplied 60,000 each of the ½ penny, 1 penny, 2 pence, and 2½ pence values, and 30,000 each of the 5 pence, 6 pence and 1 shilling values. They were withdrawn from use on November 1, 1908.
The Large Canoe issue proved successful enough that the Colonial Office agreed to supply a new set of stamps printed by Thomas De La Rue & Company of London. These were a reduced-size version of the 1907 issue and are known to collectors as the Small Canoe issue. Seven denominations were delivered to the post office in Tulagi on October 26, 1908, and placed on sale on November 1, Three high values were released on March 7, 1910, and a 4 pence denomination (for the reduction of the combined fee for postage and registration from 5 pence to 4 pence) was issued on March 6, 1911.
From 1913, stamps were inscribed just BRITISH SOLOMON ISLANDS, the initial release of which consisted of cheaper-to-produce surface-printed stamps bearing a portrait of King George V. This De La Rue keyplate design by Sir Bertram Mackennal was the same used for other colonies including British Honduras, Grenada, Malta, and St. Lucia. This basic design went through three issues and served the islands from 1913 until 1939. The first commemorative issue was the 1935 Silver Jubilee omnibus issue (Scott #60-63).
The coronation of King George VI was marked by a set of three stamps released on May 13, 1937 (Scott #64-66) and a set of 13 pictorial stamps were released beginning on February 1, 1939 (Scott #67-79).
With the outbreak of the Second World War, most planters and traders were evacuated to Australia and most cultivation ceased. Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands in January 1942. The most significant of the Allied Forces’ operations against the Japanese Imperial Forces was launched on August 7, 1942, with simultaneous naval bombardments and amphibious landings on the Florida Islands at Tulagi and Red Beach on Guadalcanal by the 1st Division of the US Marine Corps. Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II took place on the islands for almost three years. Tulagi, the seat of the British administration on the island of Nggela Sule in Central Province was destroyed in the heavy fighting following landings by the US Marines. The tough battle for Guadalcanal, which was centered on the capture of the airfield, Henderson Field, led to the development of the adjacent town of Honiara as the United States logistics center.
Of strategic importance during the war were the coastwatchers operating in remote locations, often on Japanese held islands, providing early warning and intelligence of Japanese naval, army and aircraft movements during the campaign. Sergeant-Major Jacob Vouza was a notable coastwatcher who, after capture, refused to divulge Allied information in spite of interrogation and torture by Japanese Imperial forces. He was awarded a Silver Star Medal by the Americans, which is the United States’ third-highest decoration for valor in combat
Islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were Allied scouts during the war, the first to find the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and the crew of his patrol boat, PT-109. They suggested using a coconut to write a rescue message for delivery by dugout canoe, which was later kept on Kennedy’s desk when he became President of the United States. Their names had not been credited in most movie and historical accounts, and they were turned back before they could visit President Kennedy’s inauguration, though the Australian coastwatcher would also meet the president. They were visited by a member of the Kennedy family in 2002, where they lived in traditional huts without electricity.
The Solomon Islands was one of the major staging areas of the South Pacific and was home to the famous VMF-214 “Black Sheep” Squadron commanded by Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington. “The Slot” was a name for New Georgia Sound, when it was used by the Tokyo Express to supply the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal. Of more than 36,000 Japanese on Guadalcanal, about 26,000 were killed or missing, 9,000 died of disease, and 1,000 were captured.
The impact of the war on islanders was profound. The destruction caused by the fighting and the longer-term consequences of the introduction of modern materials, machinery and Western cultural artifacts, transformed traditional isolated island ways of life. The reconstruction was slow in the absence of war reparations and with the destruction of the pre-war plantations, formerly the mainstay of the economy. Significantly, the Solomon Islanders’ experience as laborers with the Allies led some to a new appreciation of the importance of economic organisation and trade as the basis for material advancement. Some of these ideas were put into practice in the early post-war political movement “Maasina Ruru” — often corrupted to “Marching Rule”.
Stability was restored during the 1950s, as the British colonial administration built a network of official local councils. On this platform Solomon Islanders with experience on the local councils started participation in central government, initially through the bureaucracy and then, from 1960, through the newly established Legislative and Executive Councils. Positions on both Councils were initially appointed by the High Commissioner of the British Protectorate but progressively more of the positions were directly elected or appointed by electoral colleges formed by the local councils. The first national election was held in 1964 for the seat of Honiara, and by 1967 the first general election was held for all but one of the 15 representative seats on the Legislative Council (the one exception was the seat for the Eastern Outer Islands, which was again appointed by electoral college).
Elections were held again in 1970 and a new constitution was introduced. The 1970 constitution replaced the Legislative and Executive Councils with a single Governing Council. It also established a ‘committee system of government’ where all members of the Council sat on one or more of five committees. The aims of this system was to reduce divisions between elected representatives and the colonial bureaucracy, and to provide opportunities for training new representatives in managing the responsibilities of government. It was also claimed that this system was more consistent with the Melanesian style of government, however this was quickly undermined by opposition to the 1970 constitution and the committee system by elected members of the council. As a result, a new constitution was introduced in 1974 which established a standard Westminster form of government and gave the Islanders both Chief Ministerial and Cabinet responsibilities. Solomon Mamaloni became the country’s first Chief Minister in July 1974 and the Governing Council was transformed into the Legislative Assembly.
As late as 1970, the British Protectorate did not envisage independence for Solomon Islands in the foreseeable future. Shortly thereafter, the financial costs of supporting the Protectorate became more trying, as the world economy was hit by the first oil price shock of 1973. The imminent independence of Papua New Guinea (in 1975) was also thought to have influenced the Protectorate’s administrators. Outside of a very small educated elite in Honiara, there was little in the way of an indigenous independence movement in the Solomons. Self-government was granted in January 1976 and after July 1976, Sir Peter Kenilorea became the Chief Minister who would lead the country to independence.
Independence was granted on July 7, 1978. Peter Kenilorea automatically became the country’s first Prime Minister and the Solomon Islands retained the Monarchy.
Scott #68 was released on February 1, 1939, one of a set of thirteen pictorial definitives. Recess printed by Waterlow & Company, the 1 penny deep purple and chocolate stamp features a multi-script CA watermark and portrays a native police constable and chief. The first police in the Protectorate were eight men from Fiji who arrived in late June 1897 as an Armed Constabulary. Native administration, with District Headmen, Village Headmen and Village Constables, began in 1922, once all of the districts were operating. In each district, two or three European officers operated alongside a team of Solomon Islanders holding these positions, forming an inexpensive web of government public servants who were middlemen, interpreting and enforcing Protectorate regulations.
District Headmen were paid £12 per year, the same as a plantation laborer’s wages from 1923-1934. Village Headmen received £3, and constables £1 10s. The initial outlay during the 1920s was less than £1,000 a year for an administrative system that radiated out into the villages and gathered information for the district headquarters. The difficulty was that European officers did not always choose the best men for these positions and some local officials abused their powers. The system worked best in the Shortlands and Western District, where many Government Headmen and Constables were also traditional chiefs.
Police patrols were sometimes attacked and ambushed, particularly when collecting taxes or attempting to capture notorious warriors. Malaita District Officer William Bell and most of his party were murdered while collecting taxes in 1927, and that same year members of a police patrol were killed on Guadalcanal. By the late 1930s, a great deal had been done to understand indigenous cultures, and native arbitration courts began to operate. The first were in 1939 on Isabel and in To’aba’ita on Malaita, others followed the next year on South Malaita, and in 1941 in Baelelea and Baegu, all on Malaita. During the Second World War most of the police joined the Solomon Islands Defence Force and many became scouts and coastwatchers. The Police Force was reconstituted after the war.