Malden Island lies 241 nautical miles south of the equator. It is located 108 miles N.N.E. of Starbuck, 460 miles N.W. of Caroline, 365 miles S.S.E. of Christmas, and 373 miles S.E. of Jarvis Island.
It is a triangular, flat coral island, about 5 miles long (east and west) by 4.1/2 miles wide. Its east-central portion is occupied by a very salty lagoon, the outline of which changes with the tide. The map indicates the high and low water outline as observed by a Bishop Museum party in 1924. The land area is given by the guano company as 10,700 acres, with an additional 9,000 acres of lagoon.
There is evidence that at some time in the past the sea broke through the east rim and flooded a much larger area of the central basin. This is indicated by the dotted line on the map. It is also claimed that the island has risen several feet with reference to sea level. This also would have accounted for a former larger lagoon.
The enclosing ridge is nowhere more than 25 or 30 feet high. Most of the island cannot be seen at a distance of over 7 or 8 miles. There are numerous small, reddish fish in the lagoon which evidently pass through some underground channel to and from the sea.
Malden was discovered July 30, 1825, by Captain Lord Byron, in H.M.S. Blonde. He had just taken to Hawaii the bodies of Kamehameha II and his wife, who had died in England. It was named for Charles Robert Malden, Lieutenant, R. N., who landed and made observations on shore. Andrew Bloxam, naturalist of the Blonde, also landed, and his diary, published in 1925 by Bishop Museum, gives more complete observations than the official narrative of the voyage.
The island was called Independence by Brayton in 1836. The story is told that the extensive guano deposits were discovered by an American whaling master in 1828, but that he decided to finish his cruise before exploiting any of it. Soon after, another whaler came along and noted the layers of guano. Her captain immediately sailed for Sydney, where he sold his discovery for a considerable sum.
Thus was started a series of guano enterprises, which worked the island, with considerable profit, for nearly seventy years. In 1876 there were 79 persons on the island. Just prior to 1889, Messrs. Grice, Drummer and Co., of Victoria, employed 8 Europeans and 150 Polynesians on Malden. Natives of Niue dug and transported the guano, and Cook Islanders from Aitutaki handled the boats. Water had to be distilled by means of condensers in dry years. Coconuts, planted by the guano diggers, grew for a few years and then died.
Malden was claimed by Americans under the Guano Act of 1856, but by then the Australian firm already was established there. On January 1, 1922, Malden was leased to Malden Island Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne, for 21 years, but they did not stay out their lease, and the island has been abandoned during the past few years.