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Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names They Gave

8. Nassau

page 29

8. Nassau

A black and white sketch of the island Nassau.

A flat oval sand-cay on a coral reef foundation with a few ridges and dunes, rising to 9 m, and surrounded by a narrow reef flat: 90 to 130 m wide on the east, west, and south sides, but narrower on the north side.

Area: 1.2 km2 (estimate) Diameter: 1.6 × 0.8 km Position: 11°33′20″S 165°25′W

Population: 1966: 167, 1971: 168. Nassau to Pukapuka: 88 km, to Rarotonga: 1246 km 1975: 124.


This small island belonged to the Pukapukans from the very beginning, for Mataliki himself put a Pukapukan in charge of it. The name of the caretaker was Ngalewu, hence the island was named Te Nuku-O-Ngalewu, that is: The Land of Ngalewu (1).

After contacts between the two islands came to an end, because a conflict between the gods made sea travel dangerous, the island became known as Te Motu-Ngaongao, that is: Deserted Island (2). This name was also spelt as Te Motu-Nono (3). It is said that this name was given by Manihikians who drifted to the island and found it uninhabited.


The first discoverer of the island might be Captain Louis Coutance of the ship “Adele” in 1803. He did not make a landing, but named it Adele Island (4). Captain George Rule of the ship “Fanny” discovered the island either on June 7, 1823 (5) or in 1827 (6), and named it Lydra Island. A London whale ship “Ranger” sighted the island on a date unknown, but before 1835. Hence the name Ranger Island. Captain Elihu Coffin of the American whaler “May Mitchell” of Nantucket called it Mitchell Island in 1834. Captain John D. Sampson of the American whaler “Nassau” discovered the island in March 1835, and named it Nassau, which is still its present-day name. The whale ship “Audley Clark” of Newport, Rhode Island, sighted the island on Dec. 28, 1836, and its captain, Joseph Paddack called it New-Port Island (7).


At about 1860 a party of Manihikians, six men, and one woman, drifted to the island, and built a hut and a chapel, the traces of which were found by W.W. Gill, when he landed in 1862. He planted several coconut palms (8). The missionary ship “John Williams” called at the island on April 18, 1836, and again in 1875 (9).

In 1876 an American occupied the island and planted 14,000 coconuts, bananas and other plants, and employed natives from Pukapuka (10). W.W. Gill visited the island again in 1881 (11).


A sketch survey of the island was made in 1880 by a British ship (12). Captain H.W.M. Gibson of H.M.S. “Curacao” proclaimed it a British protectorate on June 3, 1892 (13). Nassau was added to the list of islands to be annexed by New Zealand in October 1900 (14), and de facto included in New Zealand's boundaries in 1901.


The Samoa Shipping and Trading Company leased the island at about 1916, and worked it as a copra plantation till 1926. F.L. McFall was manager from 1921 to 1926. He had 22 natives from the Ellice, Gilbert and Samoa Islands working for him. With him were his Samoan wife and three children (15).

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In 1933 the island was occupied by a European planter and labourers form Pukapuka and the Ellice Islands (16). Some time before 1943 it was re-occupied by a European, Captain Williams, with about thirty natives from the Tokelaus (17).


The Cook Islands Administration bought the island in 1945 for £2,000. The Island Councillors and Chiefs of Pukapuka bought it from the Administration for the same amount, and on June 2, 1951 the first Pukapukan party went to Nassau. It has since been occupied by transient groups from that island for the production of copra (18).




299:385; 301:199; 17:109–110










299:5; 68:560; 17:110




196:31 17:110


66:287; 68:560; 17:110










17:110–111; 68:560




68:560; 17:111


280:256–257; 116:125

A Mangaian ceremonial adze, symbol of Tane-mata-ariki, the god of the craftsmen (246:132-133). (After drawing in Williams' Narrative p. 264).

A Mangaian ceremonial adze, symbol of Tane-mata-ariki, the god of the craftsmen (246:132-133).
(After drawing in Williams' Narrative p. 264).