Spontoon Island
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Update 20 April 2007

History & Timeline of the Settlement

A History of the Settlement of the Spontoon Atoll
(and Spontoon Island Timeline)

The Spontoon Archipelago is formed by intesecting chains of volcanic islands. Many of the volcanos become inactive hundreds of thousands (or millions) of years ago, and erosion of the central volcanos and growth of fringing coral reefs form the standard low-lying coral atolls surrounding a lagoon. Other volcanos remained active until relatively more recent times, forming the familiar islands with  mountainous reminants of dormant volcanos-- sharply eroded peaks, ringed by coral reefs. There are no active volcanos close to Spontoon Island in the islands of the Spontoon Archipelago.

The Spontoon Archepelago is noteable for the reefs and shallow waters surrounding most of the islands. There are few safe anchorages for deep-draft ships close to most islands, and few steamship-accessable deep-water bays. The Spontoon Island Atoll has one of the few deep water ports in the region.

Spontoon Island (like one or two others in its chain of islands) was originally a huge volcano that had a catastrophic eruption (kind of like Krakatoa).  A caldera was formed by the collapse and eruption of the top of the main volcano. The sea rushed in, forming the central lagoon. Volcanic activity did continue, forming some landscape features, like Crater Lake (on Main Island) and some of the smaller islands in the atoll lagoon. The volcanos eventually became dormant hundreds of thousands of years ago, and are unlikely to be active in the future. There may be a few hot springs as reminants of volcanic activity..

Plants and animals eventually migrated through the island chains over the course of millions of years, not unlike in the Real World Pacific Ocean. In this alternate history, the increased number of island chains might allow the passage of more mammal species from the main continents.

Oral History
The Spontoon Islands may have been visited by sea-farers from Asia and North America as early as 4000 years ago.  Archeological evidence is uncertain. There were two waves of settlement and colonization by Melanesians and Polynesians. The first colonists, about 1500 years ago, while socially sophisticated, had stone-age tools. (They are represented as amphibian and reptile funny animals in this zine). The next wave, about 700 years ago had more sophisticated tools including metalworking and more advanced sailboats. (They are represented as a mix of mammals and reptile funny animals in this zine). Relations between the two groups are still unclear, as 500 years ago there was some sort of natural (?) disaster that depopulated Spontoon Island and some of the other islands in the archipelago. 

The Spontoon Island archipelago is believed to be the furthest extent of Polynesian settlement in this area of the Pacific. Islands in the chains to the west, north and east were settled from Asia and North America, when settled at all.

Written History
At the time of the European exploration of the Pacific, starting about 300 years ago, Spontoon Island had been unoccupied for 200 or so years. It was discovered, claimed and abandoned several times by several European powers, and by one or two Pacific Rim nations. Since there were no natives to exploit, colonies tended to be unprofitable and failed.  Pirates liked the area, but even they got bored with the lack of ship traffic for booty.

In 1859, the British set up a small naval base at Spontoon Island, drove out the pirates from the islands in the immediate vicinity, and surveyed for a trans-Pacific telegraph cable station. (In later years, ocean cables did come through Spontoon Island, but they were a secondary, back-up, cable route.)  In 1863 British colonists began importing families of plantation workers, recruiting them for contract labor. Polynesians, NorthAmerican Indians from British Columbia, Formosans, Kuo Han (New Chinese), Philipinos, and a large batch of  Icelandic fisherfolk families were recruited. Many of these plantation workers were self-educated, or otherwise became aware of cultural and political events in the Pacific. Most of the British plantation owners and colonial officers did not care to know this at the time.

1870 through 1880
British plantations for cash crops were scattered through the Spontoon Island Archepelago, and colonists organized additional harvesting of natural resources using the imported workers. Some plantation housing was built for European overseers and owners, ranging from medium sized houses to large and ostentatious mansions. Workers' barracks gradually became more like communal longhouses or were replaced by huts and small garden plots. Workers brought families or start families. At the beginning of this colonization, there was some short-term success for the colony. However, unusual crop failures, uncertanties of shipping and marketing, and other world political and economic events lead to a slow collapse of plantation agriculture. People thrive here, but there is no profit for the British investors and plantation owners. Plantations are abandoned and British colonial export trade becomes nearly non-existant.
The local British patrol fleet is relocated out of the Spontoon Archipelago, and the naval base is closed in 1882 during a budget cut. The Colonial Office retains an island Governor and his staff.

1890 through 1910
Most of the British and Europeans are gone by 1892, with European financial and political crises speeding them away. With the exception of a few eccentric hold-out colonist families, the plantation houses become vacant. By 1893 the Mansion of the Island Governor is abandoned, with the staff moved to more important locations in the Empire. The British Colonial office does continue to appoint token Consuls from the remaining colonist families. In London, the Spontoon Island colonies are considered an isolated failure.
There is no money for, and no interest in returning the plantation workers and their descendants to their original homelands. They are left on the Spontoon Islands. Most of these families prefer to stay. They have been starting to refer to themselves as Spontoon Island "natives". English has become the language of communication and the native tongue of the 3rd generation. These 'natives' have been forming villages over the previous decade. They have become locally self-governing, are more than 95% of the population, and have started their own trade networks within the Archipelago and with other trading centers in the Pacific.

This is the time of the beginning of intense political discussion between the various ethnic groups left on the islands. The British colonial administration had been relatively enlightened. The "natives" are aware of World politics and Pacific Ocean politics. They expect that the British may come back, or that they may be re-colonized by some other European or Pacific Rim nation. (It has become clear that there will be some sort of  war for spheres of influence among the small Pacific States.) The 'natives' form a basic government and declare independence in 1895. This change of government is successful and bloodless, for the most part. The former Governor's House does burn down. There are frantic attempts by the Spontoon Islanders to find protective alliances, and set up workable political and economic structures. There is some attempt at buying weapons and setting up basic civil defense. Raising cash is a major difficulty.

Even before the British presence, there have been trader's stores set up on what was called "Accounting Island". (It is later called "Casino Island".) These stores have European or Chinese managers. An understanding is hammered out by the islanders. "Euros" cannot be kept out completely, but perhaps their influence can be moderated.  The former colonists and traders are to be restricted to leased property on Accounting Island. (Non-"natives" are "Euros"--which include a large number of  Asians and Polynesians!)
Some European settlers are "grandfathered" into leases or restricted land-rights on the other Spontoon Islands. These include loveable eccentrics that stuck around and a "Euro" returnee or two who came back with a conciliatory attitude. (Or, for example, the Euro who came to run the first electric generator and on his own gave classes in electricity to those interested.) Some of these Euros are given Spontoon citizenship. Most of the former plantations revert to the "Althing" (the Spontoon Island assembly) "for failure to pay taxes." Co-operative plantations are started.

The fishing fleets (run by Coast Indian and Icelandic families) are slowly refitted & modernized. Outside canning operations are contracted--they are on barges and hulks at "Casino Island" or occasionally allowed to be moored near the villages on the Main Island.
The brokerage trade in imported logs and lumber begins about 1895. Lumber Schooners from the West Coast of  North America bring logs and cut lumber to floating booms in the main lagoon. The wood is re-sold and re-distributed to the Spontoon Archipelago (and other customers in the Polynesian island chains) by ships sailed by Spontoon families and co-operatives..

A branch of the trans-Pacific telegraph cable passes through Spontoon Island in 1899. The royalties provide more cash for the Althing to build island infrastructure.
Abandoned European structures are appropriated, rebuilt and copied. Some civic buildings are "ordered by mail", prefabricated and shipped for assembly on the Spontoon Islands. There is the start of outside contracted civil engineering. Wooden docks and piers are constructed by the Althing. Abandoned sugar cane plantation narrow-gauge railways are moved to the big Main Island and connected into a rickety route the length of the island. Trails are improved to the point where bicyles are practical. The major resort hotels date from this time, most starting as converted plantation homes.

Many Spontoon Island cultural intitutions start at this time (allowing that there are plenty of false-starts and mistakes made). The agreements for the shared mythological history (back-dated of course) were set up. The Spontoonie language was constructed to re-inforce a cultural unity, and to provide some cultural isolation for those who needed it. There are restrictions on outside missionary activity. (In the Pacific, missionary activity had become associated with cultural subversion and colonization by major powers.) New missions and missionaries were restricted to "Casino Island".  The espionage and "special sacrifice" schools were started by 1899. (You are all pledged to secrecy, you understand. Only a few of the other nations even suspect.)

1910 through 1915
"Europeans" do come back to this region of the Pacific: Nosing-around, sniffing out places for economic colonies and outposts for the coming European wars. They are directed to the village on Casino Island--a place to keep outsiders isolated and involved with each other. Lessons have been learned (from Hawaii, for example) and the Althing puts much thought into the legal and political long-term. 

Co-op plantations do OK, fishing and canning thrives, lumber brokerage becomes major business. A sawmill is set up at Eastern Island to process imported logs.

The Gunboat Wars come to Spontoon Island in 1912. These were a series of shifting alliances and powderkeg wars among the small states of the Pacific from 1905 through 1914. These clashes were sometimes nasty and sometimes farces, and were encouraged by the larger world powers. By 1912, mutual protection treaties (and an understanding that the large colonial powers may be the real threats) were starting to change how the small Pacific states looked at using warfare.

In 1912, naval battles occur in the Spontoon Archepelago, most notably the cruiser battle with the "Pirate Fleet" at what becomes known as Gunboat Island. Spontoon Island is the site of two sharp, small naval engagements and a troop landing. The civil defense is engaged, and one of the fights at Spontoon Island becomes one of the first demonstrations of naval air power.  The incidents surrounding the landings were very unpleasant and only reluctantly talked about later. Only lucky breaks, a fortunate alliance, and skilled diplomacy afterward, kept Spontoon Island as an semi-independent political entity. The political relationship with the Rain Island Commonwealth (formerly Vancouver Island, B.C.) begins at this "Pirate Invasion" and the Gunboat Island fight.

1915 through 1920
The Great European War.  There were Pacific Ocean naval battles and major shifts in Pacific states alliances and political outlooks. The major powers came to be more untrusted (if that were possible). Several Pacific Ocean mega-alliances are made, and there is some understanding among the Pacific states as to who are the major threats. Rain Island  comes out of the Gunboat Wars with a respectable reputation, and some good alliances with other Pacific Rim states. Its naval syndicates are well known as hired-out convoy protection, even working in the Atlantic.

The alliance with Rain Island is formalized. Spontoon Islanders consider it an insurance policy in a hostile world of power politics--an alliance mostly benign, with the drawbacks accepted. The Rain Island Naval Syndicate officially leases naval and air bases on Moon Island and Eastern Island in 1915. The airfield on Eastern Island is opened at this time. These bases are carefully publicized, especially the blimp patrols. The money for leases pays for public works on the islands, with Rain Island contruction syndicates bidding for the civil engineering. Trade is enhanced due to harbor improvements and the perception of Rain Island as a protector.

1920 through 1925
The main features of the Rain Island Naval Syndicate base on Moon Island are built up by 1921, as is the airstrip and permanant hangers on Eastern Island. A road net is built on the islands, in some locations replacing the narrow-gauge railway. Most of the large public buildings are built at this time (the schools on Meeting Island, for example).

Spontoon Islands are put on the scheduled stops of some trans-Pacific passenger and freight ships. The first commercial airplane flights begin in 1922 for airmail. Zeppelin airships stop by (though Spontoon Island is not on any major scheduled routes.) The Althing leases space to more Euro warehouses and businesses on "Casino" and "Eastern" Islands, and there is a boom of frame houses built for the growing Euro population.  The first resorts start out as transient hotels and guest houses adopted by daring upper-class world travellers. Air races begin, with Spontoon Island being a location or destination. Public dance competions begin, at first only between dance schools and villages. Later, outsiders from other islands and Europeans are invited to compete and do workshops.

1925 through 1930
Scheduled Zeppelin flights stop at Spontoon Island  in this period. Regular competing commercial seaplane flights begin. Spontoon Island becomes a link and hub for some of the secondary Pacific air routes. Superior Engineering becomes world-famous. This leads to other airplane repair and development facilities coming to Spontoon Island. (It helps that the Rain Island Naval Syndicate leases space at the naval bases to start-up companies, and that an apprentice mechanics program is in place.) Spontoon Island becomes a Pacific Ocean regional maintenance and repair base. Tour ships begin scheduled stops at Spontoon Island. A resort hotel is built for middle-class tourists.Spontoon Island is featured in European and Asian silent movies as a tropical paradise setting, or in romantic stories from the Gunboat Wars. A few times, there is actual filming on the island!

1930 through 1935
The big Casino is built in 1930, and its Accounting Island location is re-named "Casino Island" to the disgust of many of the Euros living there. Working-class tours from Rain Island, the United States and Japan start arriving by boat. A "worker's resort" is built on Casino Island by the Rain Island Union of Credit Unions. ("Spontoon Island--as bad as Hawaii, but nicer!") Sport fishing becomes a tourist attraction. The fish canning industry is in a slump, though the local fleet is active for local consumption.  Smuggling becomes a growth industry, with most transactions and transfers taking place on other islands in the archepelago or at sea on ships. Spontoon does become a fashionable place for smugglers to spend money. Warehousing and distribution become popular start-up businesses. Salvage and construction companies thrive. Casino Island is re-discovered by Hollywood as a setting for musicals.

1935 through 1940
Casino Island is becoming built up and less "tropical suburban". The tourist boom and general prosperity continues. There is tourist and resort development on the other islands in the archipelago. Some magazine articles and books are done de-bunking Spontoon Island "tourist customs". A second European Great War seems to be looming. Spontoon Island becomes more of a center of intrigue and espionage, though this is not evident to the tourists. Smuggling takes on a political edge. There are rumors and tales of "black ships" and "black seaplanes" on sinister missions from secret bases in the Spontoon Archipelago. But that is also happening in other parts of the Pacific.

2nd draft--October 1998--Ken Fletcher  (Minor edits & revisions April 2007)
This article & information is released & granted to the public domain.
Originally published in Spontoon Island Guidebook 2 in 1998.
With thanks to: David L. Arneson, Richard Bartrop, Steve Gallacci, Roy G. Pounds II,
Stu Shiffman, Taral Wayne, Ken Pick & others for nudges and other help.


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