PO Box 156, Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Hero? Part 2

What constitutes a hero? The first of Google’s several definitions for a hero is that he is “a man distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility and strength”. Now our ancestor certainly fits that definition or at least parts of it.

William Marsters was definitely a man of exceptional courage and strength. Once he had arrived in the Pacific around about 1856, it appears he settled for a while on Penrhyn, the most northern island in the Cook Islands. There he married the daughter of one of the chiefs on the island (there are two villages in Penrhyn, each on separate islets lying opposite each other around one of the largest lagoons in the world).

He took his wife and children on the trading boats on which he worked. Being able to do this implies that he could have had some status within the set up of the trading company with whom he worked. He left his wife and daughter Ann on Samoa at one stage. She may have been sick when his family was dropped off on the island as he continued with his work. When he returned however, he was to find that little Ann had drowned while at play near a local river. Their second daughter Elizabeth was to suffer some illness that caused her death while they all worked on the island of Manuae, trying to establish a copra plantation for his employer.

Despite these setbacks, William and Sarah established themselves on the island of Palmerston where they were to again produce copra and gather and dry the beche de mer which were highly prized on the Asian market. The courage and strength that Google’s definition includes of a hero, is highlighted by the way in which he organized himself and others on the island on which he was to live out the rest of his life.

He arrived on the island in 1863 and died on the island in 1899. He designed and helped to construct the buildings within defined areas on the small islet on which he established the homes for his family and the others who made up the island’s population. In this respect, he was very much a leader. He was a hero in the eyes of his family.

(from maureenhilyard.blogspot 2007)

Hero? Part 1

From an early age, my interest was captured by the mystery surrounding the origins of our esteemed ancestor – a Englishman who had originally travelled around the Pacific as a trader and general seaman until he was eventually dropped off on an isolated little atoll in the Pacific specifically to gather copra and beche de mer for a Tahitian trader, John Brander.

The record of William Marsters and his adventures in the Pacific were related mainly by word of mouth among the family and to researchers who travelled to the island to seek out information about this man who eventually established a dynasty on a tiny island in the Cook Islands.

Depending on the informant and from what has been revealed of him in my family history research, the stories that were told of him were somewhat embellished to make him a little larger than life. Ironically, the one photograph we have of the old gentleman was of him seated on the beach with a background of island palms. He appears to have been small in stature.

If we were looking for a hero in the family, you have to admit that his origins took on a heroic bent when we learned from the old people that he had left England and travelled to the South Pacific via the California goldfields. He married the daughter of a chief and took her and their children on his travels around the Pacific. Sadly his eldest daughters died during these travels. One daughter, Ann, died in Samoa and the other, Elizabeth, on a copra development venture on another isolated island – Manuae in the Cook Islands.

He is supposed to have arrived in the Pacific with gold in his possession but this does not seem probable because he ended up being rescued from Manuae, impoverished and needing work which is apparently how he ended up on Palmerston Island.

(From maureenhilyard.blogspot, 2007)