British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by C.D.A. Cochran (Administrative Service, BSIP, 1967 - 1982)
Saint Barnabas Anglican Cathedral
Saint Barnabas Anglican Cathedral
Rose Cochran (nee Kakai) is from Sulufou artificial island in the Lau Lagoon of North East Malaita, described in Walter G. Ivens book The Island Builders of the Pacific (1928) and in Nigel Randell's book, The White Headhunter (2003) (about Jack Renton who lived there as an Islander for seven years in the mid-1800s when shipwrecked. Also known from two royal visits by the Duke of Edinburgh. I am from the UK.

We first met in 1968 when Rose returned home after completing four years overseas secondary education at Diocesan High School for Girls, Auckland, New Zealand. I was supervisor of overseas students in the Government Education Department. She was twenty, I was twenty-seven. At that time, mid to late 60s, few girls received secondary education in a male-dominated education system in the Solomons. Twenty clever girls were selected and sent instead to overseas secondary schools, mostly church run, in Australia and New Zealand. This proved immensely successful, opening up a new dawn for the role of women in the Solomons as pioneers of emancipation.

It helped that Rose was a granddaughter of Tome Wate, the legendary wartime and anti-Marching Rule Chief of Sulufou in Lau, fiercely loyal to British rule and its ways, especially education for all and health services, using the best of the new with the old.

After a short courtship we got engaged in 1969. We had to be careful we complied with Malaita Lau Kastem to avoid and deflect criticism and hostility, eased by the 'Renton Factor' which gave them experience of the 'white man's' ways.

Our engagement caused a flurry of interest and excitement by family, the Anglican Bishop (Chisholm), colleagues, friends and expatriate wives, which was unexpected and had to be dealt with, especially replying to all the letters! We received support and got criticism, warnings and hostility too from both islanders and expatriates. Lau was warmly welcoming, the 'Renton Factor' again. Some from other areas of Malaita and Guadalcanal were verbally hostile and critical in public However, the big majority of other Islanders were not. Some expatriate advice and warnings proved groundless and unhelpful. Others were nasty racists. We carried on regardless. Love overcoming all!

We got married on 7th March 1970, requiring a special dispensation as it was Lent, at 4pm in St Barnabas Anglican Cathedral (Prince William and Kate attended a Jubilee Celebration Service there recently), witnessed by two hundred family, friends, colleagues and distinguished guests including Sir Michael Gass, the High Commissioner; Tom Russell, the Chief Secretary, well known and universally respected on Malaita, and the future first Governor-General, Sir Baddeley Devesi. Rose's two sisters, Vicky and Hilda, and two cousins, Rosalind Wickham and Rose Natai, were bridesmaids.

The service was conducted by the Cathedral Dean, Desmond Probets, formerly Headmaster of the famous Pawa Anglican Boys' Secondary School which educated so many future leaders. He was assisted by the Reverends Leslie Fugui, a relative, and Walter Lini, later the first Prime Minister of Vanuatu, formerly the unique Condominium of New Hebrides, jointly ruled by Britain and France.

Rose's wedding dress, the four bridesmaids' dresses, Rose's mother's dress, suits for me and father-in-law, and Rose's going away suits were all made by the Chinese tailor in New China Town paid for by both of us.

Afterwards we honeymooned for a week on the tiny island of Tavinipupu off Marau on Guadalcanal, of World War II fame, alone on the island in a small open-plan modern bungalow open at all sides, giving cool breezes and lovely views of the surrounding sea, reef and waving coconut palm trees.

We fished, swam and slept in a Pacific Island paradise. Prince William and Kate recently experienced exactly the same on their Royal Visit in September 2012. Such a contrast with the past conflicts there from World War (1942), 'Marching Rule' rebellion (1944-53), and the recent 'Troubles' (1998-2003).

On our return to Honiara on Guadalcanal, a Kastem feast was hosted by Rose's family at the Masonic Hall to complete the marriage celebrations, attended again by friends, family, colleagues and distinguished guests. Pigs were roasted with sweet potatoes, yams and taro in a covered earth oven. 'Bride Price' was exchanged between me and Rose's family which paid for hear sealing our marriage according to Kastem. The price paid included shell money, cash and assorted cargo of calico, bags of rice and potatoes, and a pig.

Forty-two years later, having successfully parented four children, a girl and three boys, we live in rural Lincolnshire, after leaving the Solomons in 1982 after fifteen years in public service there. Still happily married and enjoying our fond happy memories of our life together in the Pacific Island and here in Britain.

Solomons Map
Solomon Islands Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal: October 2014


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