Palmeston location map
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Although they're called the Cook Islands, Palmerston is the only one on which Captain Cook ever set foot himself.  He discovered it on his second voyage in 1774, but it wasn't until Sunday, April 13, 1777, during his third Pacific voyage, that he went ashore.  He named the tiny and remote island after Lord Palmerston who was First Lord of the British Admiralty and father of a future British Prime Minister.  The ancient name was supposedly Avarau, meaning 200 harbours. 
William was born a Masters and his name became corrupted to Marsters, possibly because of the way he pronounced it - he came from Leicestershire in England and grew up in the Midlands where the accent would have made it sound like there was an "r" in the middle.  To this day, islanders still speak with remnants of an old fashioned English twang which linguists say resembles a Gloucestershire accent.  But modern communications are gradually eroding that.  

Palmerston was annexed to the UK on 23rd May, 1891 and soon after, the British Government granted William a 21 year lease on the island, after a long war of words in the corridors of British power while a Scotsman contested William's claim.

The Marsters family were granted full ownership of Palmerston in 1954 by means of an amendment to the Cook Islands Act passed by the New Zealand Parliament.

Three branches of the family remain and each has a section of the main island for houses and crops, and parts of the other islets.   Marriage within a family branch is prohibited.  The Islanders are also fiercely loyal to Her Majesty the Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) who they say is a distant relative.

For the Marsters story in detail, click here
OFF THE MAP

The island is so remote, it wasn't even properly located on maps until 1969!   Up and till then, its position was based on Captain Cook's original charts which showed it 10 miles away from where navigation satellites have now confirmed it really is.   Around the reef are six groups of islets, the largest being Palmerston.  The others are North Island, Lee To Us, Leicester, Primrose, Toms and Cooks. 


Lifeline to the world
William Marsters built his own home on Palmerston from shipwreck timbers and driftwood found on the shores at the time of his landing.   And it's still standing after nearly 150 years...only the corrugated roof is recent and the the original is still underneath.   The photo far right shows how big and sturdy the timbers are, and still how perfect.  Today, the building is used as a storeroom and cyclone shelter.
Population 60
0.8 sq mls/2.1 sq. kms



Access: Very difficult.
Occasional boats from Rarotonga



All the islanders are descended from one Englishman, William Marsters - described by some as a labourer and others as a carpenter and barrel maker  - who arrived from Manuae on 8th July, 1863.  He was accompanied by  one or possibly two Polynesian wives.  He subsequently ended up with four wives, although he only married one.  And that was after deserting his first wife and two children in England.  Masters had 17 children by his Polynesian wives and 54 grandchildren before he died on 22nd May, 1899, aged 78.

By the time his youngest daughter, Mrs Titana Tangi died in 1973, there were over one thousand Ma(r)sters living in Rarotonga or New Zealand.   60 remain on Palmerston...but wherever they live, they all consider it their homeland. 


THE MARSTERS LEGACY
William Marsters home on Palmerston
Interior of William Marsters house
An English Legacy
310 mils/ 500 kms
North West of Rarotonga



William Marsters
Palmerston is an atoll made up from the summit of an old volcano which rises 4,000 metres  (13,123 feet) from the ocean floor.  At its highest point, it's just 4 metres (13 feet) above sea level.   The land near the reef is infertile, but there are typical atoll tree crops of coconut and pandamus.   The island is a major nesting site for the green turtle and rare seabirds.
Left ro right: Looking down the main street and across the lagoon.  Office buildings Palmerston style. The Pastor's house
Ships visit with supplies only a few times a year, so  the recently built HF telephone station (above right) provides the only permanent link with the outside world.  There are two telephones.  And now even the internet has reached this remote atoll...access is available four hours a day.   Visiting yachts help supplement the island's supply needs.

William Marsters gravestone
Side view of Marsters house
Direct descendant, Simon Marsters
Young Palmerston islanders
Palmerston girls
Left to right: A young islander next to William's grave on Palmerston. More young islanders.  A proud Simon Marsters in front of William's original house.  Islanders are experts at fishing
More about the modern day Marsters of Palmerston



THE NEXT GENERATIONS...
Inside the church
Palmerston church
Religion plays an important role in everyday life on Palmerston.  William Marsters was converted to Christianity by the 19th century English missionary, the Rev. John Williams, who persuaded him to build the first church.    This is a more recent construction.    Services are held daily and several times on Sundays.  Islanders dress up in their finest clothes.

GOSPEL DAY
Islanders also celebrate the arrival of Christianity with an annual gospel day.  Read the only published account of this holiday and holy day through the eyes of one of the young islanders
Birds abound
Palmerston is also home to thousands of sea birds
The main street
Palmerston as seen from the space  shuttle
The settlement is top right

Solid timbers
Offices
Net fishing on Palmerston
Sunday best
Continue the tour
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Palmerston from the space shuttle
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Palmerston from the air
Pastor's home
Unspoiled Palmerston
The remoteness and inaccessibilty means the island remains unspoiled
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"HOW CAN I GET TO PALMERSTON?"
Following the BBC TV, radio and on-line report about Palmerston, I've been swamped with emails asking this very question.  So hopefully, the following will help...

BBC reporter,  Thomas Martienssen went the very long (and arguably, wrong) way round.   Palmerston is, indeed around 900 miles and 8 or nine days sailing from Tahiti, but it's just 310  miles and typically two days sailing from the Cook Islands capital island of Rarotonga.   A warning though...boats are few and far between, but ask at the harbour master's office about any planned sailings.   They are much more likely from Raro than Tahiti.  Secondly, you can't (or shouldn't) just turn up at Palmerston.  You should go through one of  five designated ports of entry...Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu in the Southern Group, and Penrhyn and Pukapuka in the Northern Group (although it's highly unlikely anyone will actually know you've broken this particular law!)