Palmerston – Going Back in Time 150 Years

We were ready for a break after being on the water for a few days. Since our route passed within a few miles of the island of Palmerston in the Cook Islands we decided that it would be the perfect place to tuck ourselves away for a few days. It also sounded like the perfect little adventure getaway. It was the first island we could easily visit that had no airport and the only way one can get to the island is by sailboat or four times a year when a cargo ship makes a stop here. It is truly in the middle of nowhere.

Also the appeal of a little island that has 60 residents, most of which are all related, peaked our curiosity. Each of the long time residents can trace their ancestry back to William Masters who was originally from Gloucester, England and was a ship’s carpenter. He came here with two Penrhyn Island wives before adding a third wife. For 36 years he created a kingdom of his own in Palmerston and had 26 children. He also divided one of the mile long islands into three sections for each of the descendants of his three wives. While the residents changed their last name to Marsters, the language spoken on the island is English. The original Masters home made out of massive beams from salvaged shipwrecks is still located in the centre of the village.

Little did we know there was a hidden opening in the reef wide enough for the little boat but not much else. There were rocks and what looked like sticks in the water. When we asked what they were, we were advised that they were now used as markers but are the remains of a previous shipwreck. We looked more closely and sure enough, the sticks were thick pieces of corroded iron sticking out of the water. The safe passage to shore wound around coral heads that were everywhere. It’s no wonder that the residents don’t want anyone bringing even a dinghy into the waters of this lagoon.

As we approached shore we were presented with the most incredible view of the island. Just on shore we saw half of an overturned hull of a large ship that had been drug about 150 feet into the treeline area beyond the beach. The side was ripped open to form a large doorway. Inside there were various items being stored. This was the remains of the same ship that had run aground a number of years ago on the reef and was now being used as a storage area..

aug2-DSC05113 (Custom)We stepped out into the foot deep water and walked ashore as Simon took his boat back into deeper water to tie it to his anchor. As we walked past the crystal blue water of the lagoon and the white sand beach toward the overturned hull we were treated to the most incredible Swiss Family Robinson like experience. In the trees were hung old buoys, large ropes and other items from salvaged shipwrecks. There was a narrow pathway that wove through the dense jungle like brush along the shore until we reached the centre section of the narrow island reef.

Simon, our host caught up to meet us and walked us to his home which he advised us would be our home for the duration of our stay on the island. We had been adopted by him and his family as was still the custom for over a hundred years on this little island. A tradition that perhaps was more common around the world over a hundred years ago has been preserved in this little island paradise.


At 02/08/2013 6:00 AM (utc) our position was 18°02.80’S 163°11.55’W

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This sounds so fascinating. I’d love to hear lots more detail. How do they decide who the host is going to be? How did Simon know to come and lead you into the lagoon? Did the islanders want to trade for any of the things you have on board? Tell us more about the different families and how well they get along. What do they do for law enforcement. Is that even a problem? If someone wants to leave the island, are they free to? Can they come back if they find they don’t like the wide world? Do they seem educated or pretty insular? How did they treat you guys? Do they have internet and other me
    dia service there?

  2. Kir and Norm as I read your post a hundred questions came to mind. Then as i read Lori’s comments I see that she had the exact same thoughts. Please please give us a pile more info on these interesting people. You guys should stay there awhile and write an article/book on them i am sure lots and lots of people in this world would love to read about them. Dad

  3. do the descendants have a Gloucestershire accent? i am curious

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