Cook Islands

John Tay

John Tay, from the USA, was the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary to visit the Cook Islands. He arrived on one of five journeys made by the Pitcairn to the South Pacific. On its third journey, five Adventist missionaries were disembarked at Rarotonga. The group consisted of Dr Joseph and Julia Caldwell; Dudley and Sarah Owen; and Maude Young, a Pitcairner who was also a nurse. The Caldwells stayed due to their desperate need for a medical doctor. Sadly, within nine months of their arrival, in 1895, Sarah Owen died and was buried within the grounds of the London Missionary Society church.

They were followed by five more American families: Pastor Jesse and Cora Rice; their adopted daughter Lillian White; and George and Ada Wellman. The Wellmans stayed only a short time due to poor health, while the Rice and Caldwell families, through hard work, gradually increased the Adventist presence on the island. Maude Young married a local English resident, then a new Adventist convert. Frances Nicholas, whose father was English and mother Moari, accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message. One Rata and his family, were the first fully indigenous Cook Islanders to accept the message.

Frances Nicholas

Frances Nicholas had received the Adventist message via the Caldwells. She resigned her position as a government translator and went to Australia to attend the Church’s Australasian Missionary College (now Avondale University), so as to improve her English. Frances married Alex Waugh and together they continued translation work into the Polynesian languages. She was instrumental in translating hymns, an abridged Thoughts on Daniel and Christ Our Saviour. The printed material was sold throughout Rarotonga, creating an awareness of the church. A four-page journal, the Tuatua Mou, was printed locally and distributed throughout the islands, further raising awareness of the church’s beliefs, with many Bible studies and baptisms the result.


Litster, W.G. (1997). “Avondale’s Pioneer Women Missionaries,” in B.D. Oliver, A.S. Currie & D.E. Robertson (Eds.) Avondale and the South Pacific: 100 Years of Mission. Cooranbong, NSW: Avondale Academic Press, pp. 51–53.

Tonga the Titikavekan Deacon

During the first 16 years of concentrated mission effort, the Church made minimal progress. Over this time, Tonga, the deacon at Titikaveka, sold subscriptions to Tuatua Mou and various other Adventist publication on numerous islands in the Cooks. It was his leadership and diligence that drove expansion. He visited villages throughout the group selling or distributing the Church’s literature. But he also visited islands where the people lived with leprosy. Unafraid and undaunted by the possible consequences, he faithfully went ahead with his work, finally succumbing and dying of the disease in 1924.

First church in Australia

On May 10, 1885, 11 Americans set sail on the Australia from San Francisco, USA, with plans to establish the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia. The pioneer workers included Pastor Stephen Haskell; Pastor Mendel Israel, accompanied by his wife and two daughters; Pastor John Corliss, accompanied by his wife and two children; Henry Scott, a printer from Pacific Press; and William Arnold, a colporteur.

They arrived in Sydney on June 6, 1885. While Pastors Haskell and Israel stayed in Sydney, the others continued aboard a coastal steamer to Melbourne, which had been selected to be the base for the Church’s Australian activities as there were rumours of Sabbath-keepers living there. They formed the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Australia in Melbourne on January 10, 1886, with 29 members.

First church in New Zealand

Pastor Haskell, who was keen to spread the message in New Zealand where the pioneers had called on their initial voyage to Australia, returned to Auckland and began distributing the Church’s outreach publication The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times. Reports of Haskell’s successes in New Zealand caused the leaders of the Church in America to delegate A.G. Daniels, an evangelist, to travel to New Zealand to develop the work further. Daniels, an enthusiastic preacher, had great success and in 1887 opened the first Seventh-day Adventist church in New Zealand at Ponsonby. Daniels would eventually go on to become the world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

First Adventist contact in the Pacific Islands

In 1886, John I Tay, an American layman, reached Pitcairn Island aboard a vessel of the Royal Navy. He stayed on the island until another ship arrived. Tay’s simple teaching fascinated the islanders as the message matched with the message of literature—Signs of the Times—sent years previously from America by James White and John Loughborough. Within weeks, the islanders accepted the suite of Adventist truths. When Tay left, he promised to send someone to baptise the group.

Upon his return to America, Tay’s accounts inspired other Adventists to visit Pitcairn. One, Pastor Andrew J. Cudney, found an old schooner, the Phoebe Chapman, and he and a crew sailed for Tahiti where they planned to pick up John Tay before sailing to Pitcairn Island. Sadly, they never arrived, as the ship was lost at sea.

Tay was anxious to return to Pitcairn Island and a boat was required. Funds from Sabbath Schools across America raised money for one, the aptly named Pitcairn, which under Captain Joseph Melville Marsh, was ready to sail in October 1890. Tay was joined by two other enthusiastic missionary couples, Edward Gates and the Albert J. Read, who were greeted enthusiastically by the islanders on Pitcairn. Eighty-six people were baptised and a church formally organised.

When the Pitcairn departed the island three weeks later, on board were three Pitcairn islanders who wished to spread the Adventist faith. As the ship travelled westward from island to island, literature was distributed, evangelical meetings held and medical treatments dispensed. After visiting Papeete, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Norfolk Island, it arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. There they heard the news of Tay’s death in Fiji. The Pitcairn returned to California, carrying missionaries on five more Pacific voyages.

Australian and New Zealand missionaries to the Pacific

From those voyages into Polynesia missions were established in Pitcairn, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Most of the next wave of missionaries had their origins in Australia and New Zealand. But the work was difficult and met with resistance, with the London Missionary Society and Roman Catholic Church having made the initial impact on the islands.

The Foreign Mission Board in America had agreed to a plea by Dr Kellogg for a doctor to be sent to Rarotonga, to which Dr Joseph Caldwell, with his wife Julie and two sons responded. They travelled on the third voyage of the Pitcairn, in October 1894. The doctor was well received, addressing tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, alcoholism and the poor hygiene that prevailed. He was assisted by Maud Young, the Pitcairn Islander student nurse. The problem was financial support for his ongoing presence. Although several Europeans had agreed to support the Caldwells, that soon fell considerably. Mrs Caldwell commenced a small school on the veranda of their temporary accommodation in Avarua. Then Dudley and Sarah Owen and their son and daughter arrived on the Pitcairn and moved into a residence in Natipa.

The island group straddles the International Date Line, and the missionaries struggled to address the issue of the correct day of Sabbath keeping, the day of the week being dependent upon the direction you arrived on the island—from the east or the west— and which side of the Date Line you lived. Caldwell attempted to address the issue with some print readings in the local language.

The fourth cruise of the Pitcairn, in 1895, brought missionaries Jesse and Cora Rice from California, and George and Ada Wellman and Lillian White from Tahiti. But by 1898 the group had dispersed for a variety of reasons. When Sarah Owen suddenly died, Dudley Owen joined their daughter Mina and her husband Dr Fredrick Braucht and moved to Samoa. Only the Caldwells remained. Eventually having gained the people’s confidence, he worked with great success, becoming affectionately known as “Doctor Vai Vera,” meaning “Dr Hot Water,” a reflection of a favoured method of treatment.

Frederick Moss, a British resident on Rarotonga, praised Caldwell to the government, suggesting that Caldwell be appointed Medical Officer of a new hospital at Avarua.

This was agreed, and Maude Young was appointed as Resident Nurse. Their work bought them into contact with the local people as well as Europeans. Not all agreed on the doctor’s methods, however, and when two doctors arrived from Edinburgh in Scotland, Caldwell’s contract was not renewed.

The issue of the correct day of worship was still causing tension. Caldwell tried not to be distracted and continued with this medical work, learning the local language and having the Church’s doctrines translated. The mission work prospered. In 1898, Rata and his wife, along with W H Petch, the Englishman who had married Maude Young, were baptised by Caldwell.

But Caldwell was under extreme pressure due to his methods, especially by Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Edward Gudgeon, the Cook Island Resident Commissioner. Caldwell was accused of using holistic physical therapies consisting of moderation, sunshine, a balanced diet and remedial water therapy, resorting to drugs and surgery only as a last resort.

By the last voyage of the Pitcairn in 1899, Edward Gates, Supervisor of the island work, was pleased with the progress in the Cook Islands. But the Sunday worship issue again came into prominence with the Christmas Day Act. This meant the country would henceforth follow the New Zealand calendar, shifting the designated day of worship. Not all agreed to this decision. Some Adventists in the village of Titikaveka resisted, so were forced to do hard labour, which included upgrading the island’s roads, the remnants of which—a stone bridge in the village of Ngatangiia— remain to the present.

The arrival of Edward Gates was timely. He advised Gudgeon of the church’s Sabbath doctrine and the need for religious freedom. As a result, church members met in August 1900 for a baptism. Caldwell reported the formation of the first church on Rorotonga, at Titilaveka, with 20 members.

Soon thereafter, the Caldwells transferred to New Zealand, continuing their work among the Maoris. Their replacements were Albert and Hettie Piper, who arrived from Australia in 1990, heralding a new era.

The Pipers arrived in Rarotonga soon after the Americans had left. They were briefly joined by Griffiths Frances Jones and his wife Marion. At the beginning of 1905, Piper reported that there three Sabbath Schools in operation and that the church building was full each Sabbath. Piper sold books, placing translated Adventist literature in every home in Raratonga, creating a greater awareness of the church. In 1907, William and Olive Pascoe, with her sister Lucy Bee, arrived and together produced a four-page magazine called Tuatua Mou. They were followed by a series of short-term missionaries. Slow growth continued, but that changed with the arrival of George Sterling, a capable Cook Islands national, in 1910.

In 1915, Harold and Madeleine Wicks arrived in Aitutaki, enabling Sterling to travel to unentered islands. As a result, five new areas had been entered by 1920. Significantly, national missionaries began to play increasingly indispensable roles. Frances Waugh was instrumental in the translation work, Tonga the Titikavekan Deacon took literature around the islands, the Koteka family made significant contributions to growth, George Sterling travelled the islands, and Tuaine Solomona attended Avondale and became a missionary to Papua.

It is important to learn more about Pastor A.H. Piper, a missionary and administrator for almost 60 years. Albert Henry Piper was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1875. Graduating from school, he entered the civil service, but decided to become a Commandment-keeper after hearing a message by Pastor E.W. Farnsworth. With his wife Hester Elizabeth Newcombe, he headed to Rarotonga in 1901. They are considered the first Australian workers to go to the “cannibal field,” although due to the work of John Williams of the London Missionary Society, much of the heathen idolatry had long gone. He oversaw the building of a church in Titikaveka and establishment of a school on a property in Arorangi. They returned to Australia, but Hester’s health failed, and she died, leaving Albert with their two sons.

During the next few years, he attended the General Conference along with Pastor Fulton; was appointed president of the Western Australian Conference, where he founded the Darling Range School (Carmel College) and where he was later to be principal; he served for two years as Secretary of the then Australian Union Conference (now South Pacific Division) and later again held the office for 10 years; he spent two years as vice president of the New South Wales and Victorian Conferences; was Bible teacher and then president at the Australasian Missionary College (Avondale University); and served as vice president of the Australasian Union Conference for island missions for two years, retiring in 1950.

Post WW2

At the end of World War 2, there were some 500 Sabbath keepers in the Cook Islands Mission. The president of the Mission was James Cormack. He decided to conduct a series of meetings on Adventist beliefs in his home in Rarotonga. So great was the interest that the attenders filled the house to overflowing. One of those attending was a notorious drunk, but his life was so changed by what he heard that people were impressed, with the power of God confirmed.

Pastor Donald Watson continued to manage the boarding school at Paparoa. Among the teaching staff were Henry Moala of Tonga, Pastor Vati, the first Cook Islander to be ordained, and Pastor John Cernik from Australia, who conducted the ministerial and teacher training courses.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Cook Islands continued to expand over the next half century and is today a respected and influential religious group in the islands.

Tuaine Solomana

Tuaine Solomana of the Cook Islands, or Solomon as he was called in Papua, studied at Avondale College then went to Papua as a mission teacher in 1910. Solomon worked with Beni Tavodi at Bisiatabu bringing the land under cultivation. In 1912, Solomon left the mission and spent a number of years making money, which he eventually lost. While on a copra buying voyage down the coast Solomon, he almost drowned, an incident that led to his reconversion and re-entering mission work in 1934. His Catholic wife, although at first reluctant, finally accompanied Solomon to Mirigeda.

Having gained a certificate in internal combustion engines, Solomon proved invaluable to the maintenance of the mission boat Diari. He also assisted C.J. Howell in the Mirigeda school. In 1936, Solomon and his wife were teaching with Mrs Wiles and five Papuan teachers at the Aroma school. Eventually Solomana developed mouth cancer and died in Papua.


Anderson, J.R. (1991). Seventh-day Adventist Fijian, Cook Island, Australian Aboriginal, and Solomon Islands Missionaries in Papua: 1908–1942. In A. J. Ferch, (Ed). Journey of Hope. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 137.

“Solomon of the Cook Islands: National Expatriate to New Guinea” (2008). Journal of Pacific History, 8(1), pp. 39.

Teine Taivairanga

In 1951 Teine Taivairanga enrolled in the Papaaroa training school on Rarotonga, which enrolled both married and single students from the Cook Islands at the time. He was influenced by teacher Henry Moala to attend Fulton Missionary College in Fiji, where he spent four years from 1954.

His first appointment was to the Lalovea school in Samoa, where he integrated a strong witnessing program with a strong academic program. The Samoan community—both Adventist and non-Adventist—was interested in providing a good education for their children, in which he was a great influence on the young people for more than 20 years. He believed that the ultimate purpose of education was to enhance academic success and to channel every student toward making a decision to serve God. He eventually left Lalovea school to teach at the Satala school in Pago Pago, American Samoa.


Anderson, J.R. (1991). “Seventh-day Adventist Fijian, Cook Island, Australian Aboriginal, and Solomon Islands Missionaries in Papua: 1908–1942.” In A.J. Ferch, (Ed). Journey of Hope. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Hay, D.E. (2008). “A struggle for acceptance” Adventism in the 1890s and the early 1900s in the Cook Islands.” Journal of Pacific History, 8(1), pp. 4–14.9.

Hook, M. Tuatua Mou: Early Adventism in the Cook Islands: Booklet 20: Seventh- day Adventist Heritage Series. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division Department of Education.

Litster, W.G. (1997). “Avondale’s Pioneer Women Missionaries.” In B.D. Oliver, A.S. Currie & D.E. Robertson (Eds.). Avondale and the South Pacific: 100 Years of Mission. Cooranbong, NSW: Avondale Academic Press, pp 51–53.

“Solomon of the Cook Islands—National Expatriate to New Guinea.” (2008). Journal of Pacific History, 8(1), pp. 39.

Taivairanga, T. (2004). “A National expatriate reflects on teaching Primary School in Samoa: some success in spite of difficulties.” Journal of Pacific Adventist History. 4(1), pp. 22–26.

Further Reading

Evelyn Gooding: Litster, W.G. (1997). “Avondale’s Pioneer Women Missionaries.” In B.D. Oliver, A.S. Currie & D.E. Robertson (Eds.). Avondale and the South Pacific: 100 Years of Mission. Cooranbong, NSW: Avondale Academic Press, pp. 58–61.

Timeline of Cook Islands People and Events

1894Third journey of the Pitcairn—five missionaries stay on Rorotonga: Dr Joseph & Julia Caldwell, Dudley & Sarah Owen, Maude Young, a nurse from Pitcairn Island
1895Sarah Owen dies, her husband and his two children to SamoaFive more American families on the Pitcairn: Pastor Jesse & Cora Rice, George & Ada Wellman, Lillian White
1899Rata and family first Cook Islanders baptised
Chiefs decree Sunday to be the Island’s “Sabbath”
1901Frances Nicholas & husband Alex Waugh return from Avondale to continue translation work in the Polynesian languages
1902William & Olive Pascoe, and her sister Lucy Bee, leave Rarotonga due to poor health; replaced by Frank & Almeda Lyndon
1908George & Maybeile Sterling, Reg Piper (brother of Albert Piper) & wife Emily, Ephraim & Agnes Gilbert arrive to assist Pipers
1912Harold and Madeleine Wicks arrived in Aitutaki enabling Sterling to travel to unentered islands
1915National missionaries begin to play an increasingly indispensable role tbody tr:nth-child(odd) { background-color: #e4e4e4; } .wp-block-table td { vertical-align: top; padding: 1em;}