BY MAX UECHTRITZ
THEY CAME ON A whaling boat from Samoa with a piano, a parrot and a baby. Even for the adventurous place and time - the Bismarck Archipelago in 1882 – the arrival of Richard and Phebe Parkinson must have been a fascinating sight.
The tall, bearded, distinguished-looking Dane and his exotically beautiful half-American, half-Samoan teenage wife clearly were no ordinary additions to the small, ragtag settlers’ group in the new colonial frontier. And the Parkinsons would go on to play an extraordinary role in one of the most colourful and formative eras of Papua New Guinea’s modern history.
Their legacy endures to this day in both the soil and soul of the land they came to love. Theirs is also a poignant love story – one with an unexpected spiritual reunion nearly a century after they were separated by Richard’s death.
Richard - botanist, scientist, ethnologist and author - established the country’s first coconut plantations for his fabled sister-in-law Queen Emma. He also introduced cocoa and coffee among many other plant and animal species. His classic 1907 book Thirty Years in the South Seas is regarded as the most important anthropological record of the region and his scientific writings and natural history collections reside in some of the world’s great museums.
Richard helped establish both Kokopo (Herbertshohe) and Rabaul which between them served variously as capitals of German New Guinea, Australian-mandated New Guinea, and New Britain Rabaul recently celebrated the 100 years anniversary of its foundation under the Germans and the Parkinsons’ contribution was highlighted.
Little wonder Queen Emma author R W Robson described Richard as “beyond question, New Guinea’s most distinguished pioneer” and that he was tagged “the father of our commercial agriculture” by former PNG Prime Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu.
You can read the full Parkinson Legacy article here. It brings the family's story up to the present day and includes some wonderful period photos from the heyday of the Parkinsons in the Gazelle Peninsula