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The King of Fanning Island (1) 

The King of Fanning Island (2)

In Ayrshire Notes No.18, Spring 2000, I wrote about William Greig, the Ayr-born King of Fanning Island. Enquiries about Greig and his kingdom, posted earlier this year to Kiribati, have received no reply, but serendipity has led me to the following:-

In our variety company we had a handsome young man called George Greig. He and his wife played Hawaiian melodies on ukuleles and also sang duets of life and love in the South Seas. Greig’s grandfather had been a rover in his boyhood, after running away from school in Aberdeen. Latterly he settled down on Fanning Island and became the accepted King of that lonely sea-girt spot of land. He married a full-blooded Hawaiian girl and they had six sons, on all of whom the father bestowed good Scottish Christian names. When the British Government wanted to take over Fanning Island for a cable station the Greig family sold out their rights and they all retired to New Zealand. How George came to join our company as an assisting artiste I don't know, but there he was, and speaking good "Scotch" all the time with a slight American accent.

At Shanghai we had to get our passports viséd for Manila. When Tom Vallance went up to the American Consulate for his, Lady Lauder's, and mine, he took George Greig with him. Tom had no trouble, naturally, but when the official came to deal with the copper-coloured Greig certain slight difficulties developed.

"What nationality?" snaps out the official.

"Scottish", promptly responds George.

"Guess you're the first coloured Scot I've met!" comments the Consul's clerk. "Where do you hail from?".

"Fanning Island", says Greig.

"Never heard of it! Where the hell's that?"

"South Pacific!"

"A copper-coloured Scot from Fannin' Island in the South Pacific! Wal, now, can you beat it?" But Greig gets his passport and in it his nationality is described as Scottish, much to his satisfaction!


This extract is taken, as you may have guessed, from the autobiography of Sir Harry Lauder, called Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, and published in the late 1920s. Lauder’s tour through the east took place in 1925. While he appears to have misremembered where in Scotland William Greig came from, this anecdote provides a useful postscript, revealing that the family settled in New Zealand.

Rob Close

This article was first published in Ayrshire Notes No. 19 (2000).    Back to top