Thursday, May 14, 2009

William Marsters – Rules and regulations on Palmerston Island

Another significant edict that William Marsters made for his wives and children was that he would only allow English to be spoken on Palmerston Island.

It was noted by one of his grandsons that Marsters was often used as a translator between traders and the local islanders. This particular position of importance was probably one of the reasons why he was allowed to take his family on board during some of his trips. However, despite this knowledge and skill he possessed as part of his working life, when it came to his personal domain – Palmerston Island – on which he made the rules and regulations, English was to be the one ‘public’ language spoken outside the home.

William Marsters insisted that his children married spouses from other islands. The concession that he made for the native languages of their spouses if they continued to live on Palmerston was that the families could speak their own languages and dialects within the confines of their own homes.

This was probably one of the first situations in the Cook Islands where bilingualism was encouraged or at least condoned and where the children got to be fluent in their two home languages. It also meant that within the homes of each of the families, they were able to continue to learn the culture of their “alien” parent which later contributed to a range of craft goods that was heavily influenced by the cultures of the northern group islands from where many of the son’s wives originated.

This earlier generation were profuse producers of these intricately woven goods which were readily snapped up by visiting yachties and cruise vessel visitors, and their production greatly enhanced the meager incomes of the families despite selling their goods very cheaply. It seems that whatever was taught in the homes of the families was their own concern, as long as the children were also taught to understand and to speak English fluently so that they could read the Bible and understand the sermons of their grandfather’s latter years.

The English language they learned was of course his form of English. For years his brogue was described as that of a Gloucestershire farm boy. However, as has been found through the research of parish records and census documents, he was actually a Leicestershire farm boy. The Gloucestershire accent that the linguists identify is a bit of a mystery.

Linguistic experts seem to be quite sure of the accent, and there is a possibility that between the years of the 1841 census and the 1851 census when he was 20 years of age, he could very well have lived elsewhere. The 1851 census does not specifically mention an occupation for Richard. It simply describes him as the “farmer’s son”. So although he was at home, he could have been in between jobs otherwise I feel sure that his occupation would have been listed. It appears that he did remain in Walcote, and by the end of the year was a married man, although maybe not to the woman he really wanted.

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