From missue 33 📖

Islands have long held a deep, abiding fascination. Everyone who has grappled with getting along with their fellow human being understands the phrase “can’t live with them, can’t live without them”. Everyone has at some time mused on what life would be like on a remote deserted island, alone with only the sound of the gentle wash against the sunbleached sands.

Perhaps it’s because so few have dared make this daydream a reality that such men as Robert Dean Frisbie (“The Book of Pukapuka”, “The Island of Desire”) and Tom Neale (“An Island to Oneself”) take on an almost mythical role in our collective consciousness, as though they carry upon their shoulders all our yearnings for a simple, solitary life in tune with the tides of nature.


An American, Robert Dean Frisbie became captivated by the Northern Cook Islands, sailing to view the black pearl beds in Penryhn, to Manihiki and to the now legendary Suwarrow (Suvarov), where he was later to tie his 4 small children to the trunks of island mahogany trees to save their lives from violent hurricane winds.

A New Zealander, Tom Neale became frustrated after four years in the New Zealand Navy, visiting many South Pacific island ports but feeling as though he’d never really experienced island life. Buying himself out of the Navy, Neale started wandering from island to island, taking odd jobs as the need arose.


As well as many of the Cook Islands he also visited the Pago Pago of Somerset Maugham, the Apia of James Michener, and the Tahiti of Paul Gauguin. He came to deeply love the islands which he described as “pearls across the South Pacific” and most of all, he longed to truly experience island solitude.

It was 1943 when Tom Neale came to meet Robert Dean Frisbie, a profound event which was to change his life. The two were introduced by Captain Andy Thomson, a respected man of the sea and character in his own right, a bluff, hearty man with steady blue eyes, a natural command, and the accent of a Brooklyn cab driver.


Tom Neale had served as engineer on Captain Andy’s 100 ton island schooner ‘Tiare Taporo’ (‘Lime Blossom’), which traded copra and other goods between Tahiti, the Cook Islands and New Zealand during the 1940s and ‘50s.

Captain Andy then offered Neale a job as an outer island general storekeeper, and invited him over to his hand-built coral home which now stands, restored and expanded, opposite The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium.*


Andy’s renowned talents as a ready host and raconteur with a racy vocabulary won him many friends, among them fellow blown-away American Robert Dean Frisbie. It is perhaps no accident that all three men – Frisbie, Thomson and later also Neale – became such firm friends. All three shared a deep love of islands, and of adventure.

Born in New York in 1887, Andy Thomson grew up on Long Island which in his day was crowded with square-riggers and big steamers.  His wanderlust led him to ‘ride the (railway) rods’ as a hobo all over the United States before serving his sailing apprenticeship on square-riggers going down the east coast of the Americas and round the demonic Horn, as well as voyages to Alaska (where he also worked constructing railways) and as a quartermaster within the Great Lakes.


He first saw Rarotonga from the deck of a Boston barque when he was just 15. Seduced by the South Seas, he returned a few years later, marrying a local girl and making their home on the island’s southwest coast.


Within two days of arriving in the Cook Islands to take up his storekeeping job, Neale was invited over to Andy Thomson’s house, and there, on the broad verandah, over glasses of excellent rum muddled with the juice of squeezed limes and sugar, Neale met the man who was to inspire him like no other. The two men immediately connected, and during the long, intense conversations which followed in which Frisbie would extol the beauty of Suwarrow in his deep, captivating voice, Neale became intent on finding any way possible to live on this most remote of islands in the very navel of the South Pacific.


When Neale eventually cast eyes upon Suwarrow for the first time, it was aboard Captain Andy’s ‘Tiare Taporo’, edging towards Anchorage on a calm sea as though “floating on vast pieces of coloured satin”.


He later recalled in his famed account of his hermetic life on Suwarrow, “An Island To Oneself”, that when he looked down into the water that morning “I thought I had never seen so many colours in my life as the vivid blues, greens and even pinks … no painter could have imitated those colours.”


“An Island to Oneself” was to further fire the imaginations of all those who have dreamt of a simple life of solitude on a remote deserted island. It may be true that no man is an island, but it is also true that many a man has desperately wished they were one.


* Captain Andy’s final resting place lies across the Circle Island Road from The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium, beside his original home which the Resort has restored as a heritage building and where guests can book to stay, 3-Bedroom Private Pool & Spa Villa Tiare Taporo (Lime Blossom).  The Resort’s Captain Andy’s Beach Bar & Grill is named in his honour, and a new extension to Captain Andy’s with direct views onto his beloved sea has recently been opened.




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