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Nukulau Island is a small islet belonging to Fiji. It is 2 Nukulau prison
close to Suva, Fiji’s capital, which lies about ten kilometers to the west. It is an island rich in history, which has In 2000, a prison was opened on Nukulau, to house
played a pivotal role in Fiji’s demographic and political George Speight and other perpetrators of the 2000 coup
development over the past 160 years.
that deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s government. On 18 December 2006, Fiji’s military ruler,
Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced his decision to close the prison and convert the island into a public park, as it was before 2000. The prison was costing
too much money, Bainimarama claimed. Prisoners, in1 History
cluding Speight - who is now serving a life-sentence for
treason - would be transferred to other prisons, Bainimarama said. The prison was closed on 20 December and
Nukulau played a role in the ceding of Fiji to the British
its occupants moved to jails on the Viti Levu mainland.
Crown in 1874. In 1846, John Brown Williams, the
On December 26, the first people were able to visit the isAmerican consul, had purchased the island for a mere
land. Visitors are charged a fee of $2 per person to help
thirty dollars. He subsequently lived there, in the wooden
with the upkeep of the island. Barbecues are available
two-story house he built, until 1849. On 4 July of that
and camping is possible - a permit must first be obtained.
year, during American Independence Day celebrations,
a store belonging to Williams was destroyed in a fire
which started from a cannon burst, and his belongings
that he had salvaged from the fire were subsequently 3 References
looted by Fiji natives. A second fire in 1855 destroyed
Williams’ house. Williams held Cakobau, the Vunivalu
4 External links
(Paramount Chief) of Bau and self-proclaimed Tui Viti
(King of Fiji) responsible for the looting, and, supported
by the United States Navy in the First Fiji Expedition, de- Coordinates: 18°10′S 178°31′E / 18.167°S 178.517°E
manded US$43,531 in compensation, to cover Williams’
losses, valued at US$5000, and claims by other settlers.
• “The island which played a role when Fiji was ceded
This was followed up by a second American expedition in
to Britain”, Geraldine Panapasa, Fiji Times, March
1858, in which hostages were seized. Cakobau’s inabil30, 2008: a fairly lengthy article about the island’s
ity to pay the debt, coupled with fear of a U.S. invasion
past, present and future
and annexation, led to a series of negotiations with the
United Kingdom. After a failed attempt to establish a
stable constitutional monarchy under the effective tutelage of the Australian Polynesia Company, the negotiations culminated in a decision to cede the islands to the
United Kingdom in 1874, ushering in almost a century of
British rule.
Historians now believe that the U.S. compensation claim
was greatly exaggerated and largely fabricated (see Robson, A.E, Prelude to Empire, 2004, p. 84 (citing Calvert
1856 and Freemantle 1856)).
The colourful history of Nukulau Island did not end with
the advent of British rule. From 1879 to 1916, the island served as a quarantine centre for thousands of Indian
indentured labourers brought in by the British colonial
rulers. After health checks, they were subsequently employed on Fiji’s sugar plantations, or else repatriated to
the Indian subcontinent.

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