aka RICHARD MASTERS (b.1831, d.1899)

From Walcote, Leicestershire, England
to Palmerston Island, Cook Islands


Map of Palmerston Island drawn by Liam Hilyard, great (x4)-grandson of William Richard Marsters


Palmerston Island lies 270 miles north west of Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands. I visited the island’s one school in 2004 in my capacity as Distance Education Manager with the Ministry of Education. I was accompanied by my grandson Liam, my cousin Eddie Marsters, and other family members, Brent Fisher, his son Daniel and his niece, Rachelle Harvey.

We arrived in beautiful weather after two and a half days of travel on the ‘Bounty Bay’. As well as working at the school I was able to meet several members of the Marsters family who live permanently on the island. On the weekend,   Brent and Eddie decided we should take the children to Bird Islet, the habitat of the bosun bird - an island delicacy. After arriving on the islet, the guys decided to go fishing so that Rachelle, Jane and I were able to have some quality R&R time.

Brent and Eddie caught a shark in their net which caused a bit of excitement for the youngsters. Sharks are apparently quite numerous in the lagoon but not considered dangerous—not that I wanted to test their theory. Mealtimes on the island always include fish (and rice) but the different varieties and ways of preparation made up for the regular fare.

We stayed overnight and tried to sleep while landcrabs crawled around our campsite. The next day we visited the beautiful North Islet. On our way to the island Brent gathered paua off the rocky ledges in the middle of the lagoon. We had lunch under the shelters that have been built for when family visit for a change of scenery. North Islet has to be one of the most beautiful islets anywhere in the world. 

The highlight of visiting Palmerston Island for me apart from finally getting to see the island that my mother talked about with such nostalgia, was visiting the gravesite of my grandmother who died when my mother was 12 days old. Here-Jane Brell-Marsters originally came from Manihiki. Her father, French-Tahitian Louis Brell, had constructed concrete water tanks on the northern group islands in the early 1900s and one of his structures remains between the Tin House and the church.
The morning sky on the day our departure was brilliant red which indicated that we might experience a rough return to Rarotonga, and we did. It wasn’t the most comfortable trip I have ever been on but we made it back safely.

The visit to Palmerston was the trip of a lifetime and gave me a valuable insight into the stories that my mother told me of her early years when she was brought up on the island by her grandparents, William II & Marama Marsters.

Maureen Marama Hilyard

(left) With my grandson Liam at the gravesite of my grandmother Here Jane (nee Brell) of Manihiki and (right) one of the water tanks (beside the old 'Tin House') that her father, Louis Brell, built.

North Islet cookhouse and the view across the lagoon to Palmerston.

Brent diving for paua on the way to North Islet