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Palmerston, Cook Islands




Palmerston, Cook Islands





Palmerston is an atoll that lies about 200 miles northwest of Aitutaki. It is one of the strangest communities on the planet and dates only from 1863 when South Seas trader William Marsters arrived to set up a coconut plantation. He brought with him his Cook Islands wife and her two sisters and eventually he married all three, fathering many children. The population today on Palmerston is about 50 and all of them are descendants of Marsters and bear his name. The community lacks both an airstrip and a proper harbour, so life on the atoll is extremely tenuous and wholly dependent on subsidies from the Cook Islands and New Zealand governments. The welcome the community gave the 80 passengers on our expedition cruise ship was wonderfully warm and welcoming. Young children would ‘adopt’ a tourist with a show of over-affection, hanging on to an arm or a leg as if their lives depended on it. Physical contact with the outside world is relatively rare here and we saw a couple of cases of obvious autism. Very few places like this are left - it reminded me of Pitcairn - and one leaves wondering how much longer it can survive.

Palmerston also plays a part in the story of Mutiny on the Bounty. In June 1791, Captain Edwards and the Pandora, charged with discovering the refuge of the Bounty mutineers, calls in at Palmerston and begins a rudimentary search of the lagoon. A part of a ship’s rigging - a spar - is found on a beach, complete with an Admiralty stamp and the word ‘Bounty.’ Although Edwards must have assumed this to be only a coincidence, with the spar an obvious piece of jetsam, he orders a more thorough search and sends five men in a longboat. They never returned and it is never discovered what became of them.











Palmerston, Cook Islands




Palmerston, Cook Islands





Palmerston is an atoll that lies about 200 miles northwest of Aitutaki. It is one of the strangest communities on the planet and dates only from 1863 when South Seas trader William Marsters arrived to set up a coconut plantation. He brought with him his Cook Islands wife and her two sisters and eventually he married all three, fathering many children. The population today on Palmerston is about 50 and all of them are descendants of Marsters and bear his name. The community lacks both an airstrip and a proper harbour, so life on the atoll is extremely tenuous and wholly dependent on subsidies from the Cook Islands and New Zealand governments. The welcome the community gave the 80 passengers on our expedition cruise ship was wonderfully warm. Young children would ‘adopt’ a tourist with a show of over-affection, hanging on to an arm or a leg as if their lives depended on it. Physical contact with the outside world is relatively rare here and we saw a couple of cases of obvious autism. Very few places like this are left - it reminded me of Pitcairn - and one leaves wondering how much longer it can survive.

Palmerston also plays a part in the story of Mutiny on the Bounty. In June 1791, Captain Edwards and the Pandora, charged with discovering the refuge of the Bounty mutineers, calls in at Palmerston and begins a rudimentary search of the lagoon. A part of a ship’s rigging - a spar - is found on a beach, complete with an Admiralty stamp and the word ‘Bounty.’ Although Edwards must have assumed this to be only a coincidence, with the spar an obvious piece of jetsam, he orders a more thorough search and sends five men in a longboat. They never returned and it is never discovered what became of them.









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