Palmerston Island

Palmerston is administered by the Cook Islands government, through the Palmerston Island Administration, in association with New Zealand. The Island's Council consists of six members, the three heads of each family and three other members appointed by each family. The Mayor is Bob Marsters.

A true atoll, Palmerston Island consists of a number of sandy islets on a continuous ring of coral reef enclosing a lagoon. The largest of the islets include Palmerston, North Island, Lee To Us, Leicester, Primrose, Toms, and Cooks. The total land area of the islets is approximately 1 square mile. The lagoon is some 7 miles across. There are several small passages through the reef for boats, though there is no safe entry for large ships. At a latitude of 18 degrees south, Palmerston enjoys a tropical climate but is exposed to severe tropical cyclones. A particularly destructive series of storms occurred during the 1920s and 1930s.

All the islets are wooded with coconut palms, pandanus, and native trees. There is some natural ground water on Palmerston but water captured from rainfall is preferred for drinking. Shellfish inhabit the reef, and fish are abundant although there are concerns about overfishing. The population consists of 62 inhabitants, all but three are described as being descended from an Englishman named William Marsters, thouh this is not true as if an islander marrys anyone from outside Palmerston , the partner becomes an "honarary Marster" when living on the island, giving the impression that they are all Marsters. A recently built telephone station provides the only permanent link to the outside world. The island has no airport or regular air service, and cargo ships only visit a few times a year.

Palmerston was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774, but he did not land on the island until 13 April 1777. He found it uninhabited, though some ancient graves were discovered. Cook named the island after Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston, then Lord of the Admiralty. The ancient name of the island was supposedly Avarau, meaning "two hundred harbour entrances".

William Marsters, a ship's carpenter and barrel maker, lived in the Cook Islands from the 1850s and in the early 1860s. He was appointed caretaker of Palmerston by its then owner, a British merchant, John Brander. He moved there in 1863 accompanied by his wife, a Polynesian woman, and two of her cousins. He covered the island with palm trees and for the first few years Brander's ships stopped by every six months or so to collect the coconut oil he produced. But then the visits slowed - six months between visits became three years and eventually they stopped altogether. John Brander had died. Marsters was granted possession of Palmerston by Queen Victoria. His wife's cousins became his wives too, and together the three couples had 23 children. Before his death in 1899 he split the island into three parts, one for each of his wives. Thus, Palmerston Island is the only island in the Cook Islands for which English is the native language. William Marsters died of malnutrition in 1899 after his coconut trees were destroyed by blight

William Marsters

Before William Marsters died, he organized the island so that each of the three wives and their descendants had a share of the main island and each of the atolls. This arrangement still stands. Today the Island has its own council, representing the local government, which consists of six members, the Head of each Family – Matavia family, Akakaingaro family and the Te Pou family, and one other member appointed from and by each of the three families. This appointment is carried out every four years, and the Mayor of the Island is appointed from one of the three Heads, in a rotational manner.

Nobody really knows where Marsters came from. Each family has their own version of oral history of the island, and they can differ enormously. William Masters, was thought to have come from Leicestershire, England, but may have come from Gloucestershire, which might explain why his descendants now spell the name "Marsters" due to the Gloucestershire accent. By the time his youngest daughter Titana Tangi died in 1973, there were over a thousand of Marsters' descendants living in Rarotonga and New Zealand. Though only some 50 family members remain on Palmerston.

In November 1954 Commander Victor Clark and his sole crewman Stanly Mathurin were marooned on Palmerston for 9 months when their yacht, the 33 foot ketch Solace, was shipwrecked. On their last night of a short stay anchored off the coral reef of Palmerston, the wind unexpectedly changed direction throwing Solace onto the reef, and incurring great damage. The adventure is covered in his life story ‘On the Wind of a Dream’. Commander Clarke sailed on to New Zealand when his boat was repaired to New Zealand, taking with him several men from the Island. He returned later and then went on to England where he married and had two children. Commander Clark died in 2005. His daughter Rose returned to Palmerston in 2011, bringing his ashes and he is now buried in the graveyard next to the Church. Rose Clark, is currently (2014) working on Palmerston as a teacher with a special needs student.

In the early 1990, Prof Sabrina Enhart of Luxemborg University, visited Palmerston and among other discoveries, was able to research and document the results of the effect of language on a group of people with very little outside influence. Although the language is changing due to the increased importance and influence of education on the young people, the use of old English words and grammar can still be heard in the conversations of the older generation. Further research continues to be done by Rachel Hendry from Canberra University in Australia.

Little was known of William Marsters’ life prior to leaving England, but in 2005, Maureen Hilyard, a descendant of William, travelled to England twice to research his life. What she found has been documented in her book, Richard Marsters of Walcot. She believes that he ws born William Richard Marsters in Leicestershire. He had passed on snippets of his former life to his family and friends yet it appeared that he told different versions depending on whom he was telling. So there are many stories and versions of stories that have been passed down by word of mouth from people who grew up on Palmerston. She believes that the left clues about his past (in the names he used for his family, and the name of Leicester as one of his islets). Her book the "Masters of Walcote" contains information that has been accessed from UK government records and parish records from the Leicestershire area where his parents grew up and where he and his family grew up. The little village of Walcote still exists, as does the church in which he was baptised, and in which he later married.

In 2013, a French TV crew making a documentary, visited William Marsters’ family in England, and interviewed Ned Marsters, the son of Joel Marsters, William’s brother. He was surprised to learn of the exploits of his uncle and the existence of Palmerston Island, after Maureen’s visit, and subsequently to find out that he was related to a large family in the South Pacific. The film crew came to Palmerston in September 2013 and interviewed many of the people on Palmerston

Stanley Mathurin as a young man

On 24 Oct 2014, we arrived on the Silver Explorer to visit Palmerston. On board was Stanley Mathurin, the same man who had been shipwrecked on Palmerston almost 60 years ago in November 1954 on board Commander Victor Clark’s 33-foot ketch Solace . Stanley was welcomed by all the islanders, including a handful of men and women who remembered Stanley from his shipwreck. Lead by Papa Orometua Ina Moetaua and his band, the children of Palmerston Lucky School to welcome the cruise ship passengers whilst Stanley was received into the home of the same family who hosted him 60-years ago, and once again tasted local delights amongst which was bosun bird, parrot fish, and a breadfruit from the very tree which he planted himself when liiving on the island. After his brief half day stay, Stanley returned to Silver Explorer and sailed away once more. And the rest of us with him!

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On to Aitutaki in Cook Islands

South Seas Holiday