William R. Marsters

Palmerston Island, Cook Islands

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William Marsters
Photos of the family of William Richard Marsters of Palmerston Island.

Genealogy Chart

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Click here for the genealogical chart of the children and grandchildren of William Marsters. 

Richard Masters

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Stories of the family that William left behind in England where he was born Richard Masters. 

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Help us build a meeting house for the People of Palmerston on Rarotonga.

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By RobinJenkins  |  Posted: August 07, 2014
Read more at http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Entire-population-tiny-South-Pacific-island-speak/story-22211954-detail/story.html#eB7gy3opZJHwApRP.99

Kia orana from the South Pacific.

My letter is not to criticise Robin’s article, but merely to question the credibility of some of the information he has been given by Mr John Roberts who is not connected to our family tree and whose research about my ancestor is not correct.  I would not like your readers to believe that Mr Roberts is an expert on our family history.

Unfortunately, William Marsters did not originate from Gloucester although linguists originally classified the accent that remains on the island as from that region. The English spoken on the island is a meld of Cook Islands Maori dialects representing the different islands that the wives of William’s sons brought to the island. They were only allowed to speak their mother tongues inside their homes. Outside in public everyone had to speak English. This version of English was based on the English William Marsters used within his family circle. Over the years they have developed their own unique English accent and still retain words that they inherited from our ancestor’s own use of English vocabulary.

I am a direct descendant of William Marsters, through my mother, and have done some comprehensive research of my own which included several visits from the South Pacific to the UK specifically to research my ancestor using census documents, family history sites and records, as well as civic and church records. It was several years before I uncovered who William Marsters really was. My research even revealed some anomalies that contradicted a lot of beliefs about his life which had almost become legend among the stories told of him by my mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts. 


Most interestingly, William Marsters was actually born Richard Masters of Walcote in Leicestershire. His parents John and Ann Masters were married in 1827 at St Mary de Castro in Leicester, and set up home in Walcote before the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in 1828. John and Ann’s families had originated from the Leicestershire villages of Allenby (John’s family) and Twyford (Ann Armstone’s family). Richard was born in 1831 and his younger brother Joel was born in 1840. William Marsters died on Palmerston Island in 1899. He named one of the islets around the Palmerston Atoll, Leicester. He also named the first three grandchildren of his second son William - Joel, Elizabeth and Richard (the names of the three children of John and Ann Masters, his parents). He of course was Richard, but he never revealed this to his Palmerston family. 

In 1851 in England, he had married a local girl, Charlotte Farmer who was pregnant at the time of the wedding in St Leonard’s Church in Misterton. The marriage certificate notes the attendance of the fathers of the couple. Charlotte gave birth to a son, John, soon after, but it appears that Richard did not remain in Walcote after the wedding. He moved to an unidentified destination with his real love, Sarah, and a daughter, Ann Elizabeth, was born in 1853. I believe that Sarah died in 1856 and Richard was forced to return to Walcote to place her in the care of his parents whose 12 year old son Joel had recently died of rheumatic fever. Richard would not have been welcomed with open arms because he had deserted his legal wife and son. Recently one of our Leicester relatives, Val Howard, located a newspaper article that reported that in 1856 William was being sought by the police for theft of some money from his father. Nevertheless, his parents did take in his daughter, Ann Elizabeth, named after his mother and sister. She was much loved by her grandparents who although her birth was registered with Charlotte Farmer as her birth mother, they registered Ann Elizabeth’s baptism in the St Leonard’s Church in 1856 with her parents’ names as Richard and Sarah Masters. They also added Joel to her names to commemorate their young son, whose headstone still remains in the Misterton churchyard. Unfavourable attitudes towards the family having taken in their son’s “by-blow” while his wife and son still lived in the village of Walcote, caused Ann and John to move several miles away to the Union Inn in Great Bowden, now incorporated into Market Harborough. There they reverted from being farmers to innkeepers. The Union Inn still stands on Leicester Road, Great Bowden, today.

When William Marsters came to the Cook Islands, one of his first stops was Penrhyn Island. He married Akakaingaro, the daughter of a Penrhyn chief, whom he renamed Sarah. He travelled as a trader around the Pacific with Sarah for several years. His first two children, daughters Ann and Elizabeth died on separate islands in the Pacific before he arrived on the island of Palmerston with his two sons, Joel and William. He never named any of his sons from Sarah after his father John. This antipathy towards his father remained until he died in 1899. He was buried on the tiny Palmerston atoll in the South Pacific. He established three families on the island, whose descendants are now spread all around the world. Only about 50 people, all related to each other, live on the tiny atoll.

This is a more accurate version of William Marsters and where he was from. Having been to Gloucester, there is much to commend of its historic beauty and it would have been lovely if he had come from there and not from the tiny and very quaint village of Walcote. In between his wedding in 1851 and his return to Walcote to deliver his daughter to his parents in 1856, he may have travelled and worked in the Gloucester area but having based much of my findings on 10-year census documents, I was unable to locate his residence in between the period of 1851 and 1856. However, it is noted by a British official, that Marsters was in the South Pacific in late 1856 which fits in with the other information I was able to gather about him from Leicestershire records.

I am sure that those members of the Masters family whom I have met and who remain in the Coventry and Leicester areas would like their ancestor’s story to be told correctly to your readers. Copies of the book “Masters of Walcote” may still be available from the Lutterworth Museum bookshop. There are also two websites that provide some historical information based on my two books written about the life of William Marsters/Richard Masters. The sites are www.richardwmasters.com and www.williamrmarsters.com .


The Marsters family are currently building a meeting house on the island of Rarotonga, to hold family meetings and family events, as well as to temporarily house families waiting for shipping transport to go to Palmerston – a nearly three day journey by ship from the main island of Rarotonga. Although we have family members on Rarotonga and in New Zealand who are fundraising in whatever small way they can, they would appreciate donations from any interested individuals who would like to contribute to our effort. We need a lot more than we have in the kitty at the moment unfortunately. More about the PROJECT itself and Marsters family fundraising as well as visits to Palmerston,and stories about Palmerston can be found on the website.

The Marsters family has a Facebook page “Marsters World Family” which was started by Michael Marsters of Liverpool who is no relation to the Marsters family on Palmerston but is still proud to be associated by name to the family from this tiny island in the Pacific. We are also proud to have him in our Marsters family – one of the most courageous people we will ever know. There are over 1900 members on the Marsters World Facebook site, thanks to Michael. And of course we have a fundraising page through which anyone can make contact with  Annie Fisher who is our Treasurer - Palmerston Island Hostel Fundraising Facebook Page.


I hope this has been helpful.


Best regards

Maureen Hilyard

Rarotonga Cook Islands

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