A family, descendants of William Marsters from Walcote, Leichestershire in England, live out their lives, unassuming and simple, yet complex and intricate, on a small atoll, nearly 500 kilometres north-west of Rarotonga. Just imagine, for a moment, 65 members of your family living together for one weekend! Try one week, now think about 150 years!
Palmerston Atoll is one of the last unspoiled paradises of the Pacific. Annexed to UK in 1891, leased to William Marsters for 25 years, full ownership granted to the Marsters family in 1954 by an Act of the UK Parliament, Palmerston is now home to 60-70 members of the family living on the island and another 20-25,000 around the globe.
Until recently little was known of William Marsters’ life prior to leaving England, but in 2005, Maureen Hilyard, a descendant of William, travelled to England twice to research his life. What she found was surprising and interesting and this has been documented in her book, Richard Marsters of Walcot. (see History of Palmerston)
Earlier this year, 2013, a TV crew from the French documentary, visited William Marsters’ family in England, and interviewed Ned Marsters, the son of Joel Marsters, William’s brother. He was surprised to learn of the exploits of his uncle and the existence of Palmerston Island, after Maureen’s visit, and subsequently to find out that he was related to a large family in the South Pacific. The film crew came to Palmerston in September and interviewed many of the people on Palmerston, including Rose, an English lady who is currently working as a teacher with a special needs student, on Palmerston. Rose’s father, Commander Victor Clark*, was ship wrecked on Palmerston in the 1950’s and after spending nine months during which his boat was repaired, Commander Clarke sailed to New Zealand, taking with him several men from the Island. He returned later and then went on to England where he married and had two children. Commander Clark died in 2005. Rose returned to Palmerston in 2011, to visit the family that had looked after her father so graciously. She also brought his ashes and he is now buried in the graveyard next to the Church.
Palmerston is a place of intrigue. With its unique history, lifestyle, language, customs and traditions, Palmerston has been the focus of numerous research projects. In the early 1990, Prof Sabrina Enhart of Luxemborg University, visited Palmerston and among other discoveries, was able to research and document the results of the effect of language on a group of people with very little outside influence. Although the language is changing due to the increased importance and influence of education on the young people, the use of old English words and grammar can still be heard in the conversations of the older generation, and sometimes not so old! Further research continues to be done by Rachel Hendry from Canberra University in Australia.
The interesting detail of William Marsters with his three wives and strict imposing of religious observances, is always an intriguing matter of discussion, and one which never ceases to raise questions, particularly from visitors to the Island.
*‘On the Wind of a Dream’, by Commander Victor Clark, Reprinted by permission in ‘Stories of Palmerston’, Complied by Maureen Marama Hilyard, 2007