PO Box 156, Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands


An interesting story is told of William Marsters by Thomas Trood who was at one time the British Vice Consul at Apia, Samoa. Thomas Trood died in 1916 but in 1912, published an article entitled “Island Reminiscences – a graphic detailed romance of a life spent in the South Sea Islands”.

My book, “The Masters of Walcote” includes his chapter on “A Pearl Shelling Enterprise” which tells of an adventure that Marsters had BEFORE he started working for Brander and eventually ended up on Palmerston Island. It also took place not too long after Marsters arrived in the Pacific. 

I added this article into the Walcote book because it came to light after the publication of my first book “Stories of Palmerston”. It was Gerald McCormick, a scientist working in the Cook Islands and an avid William Marsters historian, who located the article. It is a rare glimpse into William Marsters and his adventures not long after his arrival in the Pacific. It was by someone of authority who had had direct contact with him and who was in a position to have recorded the event. 

William Marsters came to Trood’s attention around about 1858. He had heard that Marsters had mentioned that on his way to the Pacific by way of Honolulu, he had come across an island with an abundance of pearl-shell. The island was located to the north-east of Penrhyn and inhabited by cannibals, but the potential value of the pearl-shell could be worth the risk.

In the mid-1800s pearl shell was a highly valued commodity for buttons in Europe. It was selling for £120 a ton (around about £50,000 in today’s money so it was worth considering the investment). Trood and other potential investors persuaded Marsters and investigate the possibility of retrieving some of this bounty.

To tell the story briefly, quite a lot of money was invested. Marsters was sure he could locate the island again, and that he’d be able to employ divers from among his wife’s family in Penrhyn. However, several unusual incidents occurred on the journey to Penrhyn and when they arrived on Penrhyn, Sarah’s father, the chief refused to provide divers for the venture. The island they were seeking was tapu (taboo). The venture had to be called off.

Trood reminisced about what could have been, and at one stage later on in his South Pacific career he considered going in search of the island again with divers offered by Brander who later employed Marsters in the Cook Islands. But Trood reconsidered…”Divers or no divers, the venture stood think with dangers.” 

Trood left Marsters on Manihiki and never saw him again although he obviously kept track of his whereabouts for several years after as he knew when Marsters had arrived on Palmerston Island, and that he eventually died there.

(from maureenhilyard.blogspot 2009)