Saturday, February 19, 2011

Episode 13 - The Rise and Fall of a Family

Queen Marau in her later years

Ariitaimai never recovered from Pri’s death and followed her to the grave in 1897. With the matriarch gone, the family promptly fell apart. The brothers and sisters – once so close and loyal to each other – became embroiled in a bitter quarrel over their mother’s lands and possessions.
Tati, the new chief, explained the situation in a letter to Henry Adams. “Shortly before her death, Mother wanted to share out all her assets amongst the children and personally decide what each share should include. The plots in town [Papeete] were distributed with no problems... Then came the district lands. When all the shares were allotted and the documents ready for signature, Marau contested the division so strongly, objecting that my share was more valuable than her own, that the affair was brought to a halt and no conclusion has been reached.”
The dispute dragged on, becoming nastier over time. Marau was able to hold out because she had her pension from the French government to live on. But the other siblings, especially Tati and Narii, suffered because the land and property involved in the dispute was frozen by the court until a settlement could be reached. As Tati explained to Adams in despair, “Our quarrels prevent us from doing much because until each heir receives his allotted share, there is no point in undertaking any improvements... Huge sums of money have been spent needlessly [on lawyers]... A while ago the land was very valuable and, if there had been no court case, we could have sold a part of it for a big profit, but no one would buy now.”
In August 1904, seven years after the dispute began, there was a week-long celebration marking the inauguration of a new Teva family mausoleum at Papara. Tati extended an olive branch to Marau by asking her to attend the ceremony. In the mood of goodwill engendered by the occasion, Marau finally agreed to drop her lawsuit against her siblings. However, she did not offer to contribute any money towards the celebrations, and the rift between the ex-Queen and the rest of her family was never completely healed. And by this time the lawyers had feasted on the carcass of the family’s fortunes. 
Meanwhile, the Branders had been engaged in similar legal battles for many years. After the death of John Brander in 1877, Titaua married George Darsie, another Scot, who proceeded to mismanage the House of Brander and drive it into the ground. In 14 years, he reduced his wife’s personal inheritance from her first husband from $500,000 to no more than $150,000. The older Brander children sued their mother and her husband several times but were unable to prevent the hemorrhage of money from the family firm. By 1891, Darsie cut his losses. He sold the few remaining assets of his business and moved with Titaua, their three children and the two youngest Brander girls to his home town of Anstruther on the east coast of Scotland. Titaua died there six years later at the age of 58, thousands of miles from Tahiti.
The five Brander boys, left behind in Tahiti, had not been raised to have to work for a living. As Henry Adams reported, “The boys, who were educated on the scale of a million apiece, were reduced to practically nothing, or just enough for a modest bachelor’s establishment in Papeete.” In just one generation, the ambition of John Brander, a self-made man, to turn his sons into landed gentlemen had come to nothing.
Thus, in the space of less than a century, the Salmon/Brander family had its rise and then its fall. Narii and his son went down with their schooner in a terrible cyclone in 1906. Paea died in 1914 followed by Tati and Manihinihi in the Spanish flu epidemic in December 1918. Only two of the eight Salmon siblings survived after the war and the flu - Queen Marau and Moetia Atwater. Their long alienation from each other was finally over as their shared memories became more important than the quarrels that had driven them apart. They lived on into venerable old age, dying within months of each other in 1935.
Marau was the only Salmon to retain any social and political influence into her old age. Visitors to the island paid court to her and, while she was always welcoming, she seemed to grow more regal with age. In 1924, the French government awarded her the Legion of Honor “for services rendered to the French cause,” the award which had been promised but never delivered to her parents 77 years earlier.
Not long before she died, she wrote a book detailing all of the pre-Christian legends, traditions and historical stories of Tahiti that she had been able to glean throughout her lifetime, and this manuscript was published posthumously in 1971. To this day, Queen Marau is considered a legendary figure in Tahitian history for her assiduous work in preserving its culture.


  1. This is a truly fascinating story - I could hardly wait to read each episode as it arrived...
    Here in London there's recently been an excellent exhibition of the work of a famous visitor to Tahiti - Paul Gauguin. When he arrived there in the 1890s he was disappointed to find that most of the Polynesian traditions he expected to find had disappeared. Women no longer wandered around bare-chested but were primly buttoned up in the European style.

  2. Thanks Martin! Gauguin will appear in Children of Eden - albeit briefly - because he met Marau and attended her ex-husband's funeral. That exhibition is due to open here in DC any day now and I can't wait to see it.

  3. Who are the two women other than Marau and Arii Taimai in this picture?,_ca._1880s.jpg

  4. The other two women are Marau's older sister Moetia (who is holding her mother's hand) and youngest sister Manihinihi. Fiona

  5. What year was the above picture of Queen Marau taken?

  6. Kavebear, I don't know the exact date. I would guess she was in her 50s here as she lost a lot of weight as she got older. She was born in 1860 so I'd guess maybe this was taken just before or after WWI. Fiona

  7. I think it was 1938.

  8. No, it can't have been 1938 because she died in 1935 aged 74. And she's only middle aged here. My caption is probably misleading!

  9. Thank you so much for this site Fiona, I am descended from Solomon Polack's family. Not sure which daughter, but William JONES states on his convict arrival ie: indent, that his Uncle Abraham POLACK was already in the colony. I suspect the POLACK daughter was born in Ireland which is why we have yet to find her records, though, reading that Solomon was living with 3 daughters in 1858 I will go and find the cenus info to see their names.... Thanks again


    BTW the website data I have is incorrect, I have been slack in not updating it - but initially I was told Catherine was William's mother.