Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Sun Rises at Six on Nikumaroro, Every Day

By Joe Cerniglia

[TFK's Preface: Another contribution by Joe, whose careful analyses of artifacts from the Nikumaroro village and Seven Site contribute importantly to our work, Thanks, Joe!]

On July 5, 2017, during the second “In Search of Amelia Earhart” trip to Nikumaroro, organized by Betchart Expeditions, archaeologist Dr. Richard Pettigrew spotted the square movement of a small alarm clock on the surface of the ground among other artifacts near the old village dispensary.[1] 

 Image 1: The clock movement in situ, close-up

 Image 2: The clock movement in situ, from observer's eye-level

 Image 3: Clock movement, rear

Image 4: Clock movement, front

The clock movement, measuring 2 15/32” X 2 5/32” X 15/16”, appears to have been resting within the perimeter of one of the village households. The outer casing is entirely missing. The movement itself is warped, bent and corroded as well as oxidized in spots with a rust-like coating.

Image 5: Measured sketch map of artifact cluster location relative to village features

Image 6: 2017 sketch-map of artifact cluster
superimposed on 1989 village sketch-map

Based on the distinctive design of the plates, as well as the dimensions and layout of the movement, clock expert Bill Stoddard, owner of Bill's Clockworks in Flora, Indiana (, has identified the artifact as an example of a Westclox movement #66.[2]  This movement, according to Mr. Stoddard, "was used in many of the less expensive windup alarm clocks such as Bingo, Spur and Bantam (to name a few) from the early 1930s through the 1960s."

The clock movement is inscribed "3 54" on the northwest quadrant of the exterior of the rear-facing plate, indicating it was manufactured in March of 1954, 17 years after the 1937 world flight of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. No other letters or numbers are visible on the movement.

Image 7: Manufacture date of March, 1954. 

Mr. Stoddard, working with Gary Biolchini, author of Westclox: An Identification and Price Guide (, determined that Westclox clocks manufactured in Scotland have the most features in common with the Nikumaroro clock. This determination was made primarily on the basis of the location and orientation of the date stamp. The artifact has the date stamp on the exterior of the rear plate. Only clock movements from two of the Westclox factories' clocks were found to have this configuration. One of these movements was from Canada, but all Canadian Westclox clocks located so far have the inscription upside-down, relative to the clock face, and say “MADE IN CANADA” on their movements. Some, but not all Scottish Westclox clocks, say “MADE IN SCOTLAND” on their movements. The only one thus far identified that does not display this inscription has “UK” inscribed to the right of the date stamp. The Nikumaroro clock movement has no inscription other than the date, yet it still shares more attributes with the movements from Scotland than with those from other countries.[3]

Image 8: Inscription of the Scottish Westclox clock movement is on left; inscription of the Nikumaroro clock is on the right.

The material composition of the clock movement is unknown but may be a combination of aluminum and steel. Westclox movements from the 1950s, as the artifact is, sometimes were made of steel gears and aluminum plates.[4]

It would seem incredible that the island of Nikumaroro was at one time in the market for American clocks made in Scotland, but research of the circumstances and needs of the island coconut plantation, active from 1939 to 1963, and of the supply routes of Westclox, amply support the existence of this market.

In September 1953, the only clock factory in all Australia, Westclox Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne, closed its doors due to rising labor costs. A news story about the closure reported optimistically that imported clocks would be cheaper than those that had been made in the shuttered factory.[5]

Even before Westclox of Melbourne ceased operations, imported Westclox clocks from Scotland appear to have been common and desirable in the Pacific region. In June 1949, Pacific Islands Monthly, the premier and perhaps only news outlet for islands such as Nikumaroro, announced exchange rates were favorable when buying imported Westclox clocks from the newly opened clock factory in Strathleven, Dumbarton, Scotland. Details could be obtained by writing to the Pacific Islands Trading Co. address in San Francisco.

Image 9: 6/49 Pacific Islands Monthly article about new Westclox clock factory in Scotland

In March 1950, the same Pacific Islands Trading Co. that was a wholesaler of Scottish Westclox clocks purchased a half-page Westclox advertisement in Pacific Islands Monthly.

Image 10: 3/50 Pacific Islands Monthly advertisement for Westclox.

Clocks were selling in the Pacific, and there is evidence that timekeeping was important to the Nikumaroro colony as well. Lands Commissioner Paul Laxton visited Nikumaroro in 1951 and wrote a detailed report of the island and its inhabitants for the Journal of the Polynesian Society.[6] In his article, he tells of the role that clocks played in the life of the colony, and how these clocks were adapted to the island's purposes:

"The sun rises at precisely six every morning at Nikumaroro, year in and year out. We could not understand this at first for the island is appreciably south of the equator, until we found that at sunrise the island clocks are set at six. Our own watches, at zone time, did not correlate very well with this, while the radio shack meanly observed Greenwich time. After a few weeks Nikumaroro won and we lived by the sun."

We lack the detailed records to substantiate that the island colony specifically purchased a 1954 Westclox clock made in Scotland, but based on Laxton's account and on what has been documented in advertisements and news articles, it seems entirely possible and even likely.

A clock on the island in 1954 makes perfect sense from the standpoint of Nikumaroro's history. The clock was made only three years after Paul Laxton had resolved that a steely discipline instilled in the villagers would be needed for the colony to survive after years of British distraction with World War II and the village’s extended mourning over the death of Gerald Gallagher, the island's first commissioner. The clock, if not Amelia Earhart’s, is still an artifact with its own fascinating history, symbolizing Nikumaroro's last attempt at righting itself and becoming a going concern. Time really was of the essence, but it was running out. Nine years after this clock was made, the colony would falter, this time for all time. Nikumaroro's residents would repair to the Solomon Islands for what they hoped would be a new and better life, leaving behind a remnant of their efforts to be industrious, and on time every morning at “six o’clock.”

Image 11: Team of Nikumaroro expeditionaries after mapping and collecting the clock and other artifacts in the old village on Nikumaroro. Standing, left to right, Julie Oakley-Jagger, Leonie Todhunter, Joe Cerniglia, Capt. Rick Saber. Seated, left to right, Karla Borde, Dr. Rick Pettigrew. Photo by team member Mike Silvert.

[1] Here is a list of artifacts found near the dispensary in 2017, in addition to the clock:
3 folded circular foils (thick but pliable aluminum)
1 heliarc-welded aluminum tray with i-beam support slats
1 bullet flashlight with “PAT. DEC. 20, 1921” inscribed on the switch
Squarish bottle fragments, clear and green
1 small tea plate with dividers and fleur-de-lis design
1 aluminum belt buckle
1 boot with 16 brass eyelets (some missing)
1 cosmetic cap for a Bourjois (Paris) jar
Assorted corrugated iron debris and wooden posts
1 Tri-Sure fuel drum plug

[2] For photos of what the clock may have looked like when new and in use, see Bill Stoddard's clock history website at

[3] For a database of the taxonomy of Westclox clocks from various countries, see
[4] See Note the similarity in the coloration of the artifact to these 1950s examples.

[6]“Laxton, P.B., 1951. “Nikumaroro.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 60(2+3):149

Bringing “Amelia Earhart UNRESCUED” to the Silver Screen

Now that my novel, Amelia Earhart UNRESCUED, is in bookstores everywhere, it’s obviously time to think seriously about a screen adaptation.  Here’s why:

1.       It’s widely known that Hollywood (maybe not Bollywood) is hard up for new stories – hence the constant reworks, reboots, retreads of old movies and TV series. UNRESCUED is a new story – albeit derived from an old and famous one.

2.       UNRESCUED is highly cinematic – beautiful island, beautiful star (auditions, anyone?), an elegant, doomed airplane, a shipwreck, a massive storm, the vast Pacific, challenging animal characters.

3.       Speaking of the last, imagine the potential for computer-generated imagery (CGI) as applied to the wisecracking crab, the psychotherapist booby, and the ghost.  And what stars can provide their voices?

4.       And ultimately UNRESCUED is a story about accepting and transcending one’s fate, which may provide the inspiration we all need in these strange, strange times.

Studios, producers and agents – I’m happy to discuss possibilities., 01-240-475-0595