Thursday, May 14, 2009

William Marsters, Palmerston Island, Cook Islands - a family 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.

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