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A proud

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, February 11, 2018

F PARTICULAR interest while travelling along the Macuata coast was the discovery of many part-European families there. These families have been there for generations since their ancestors settled along these coasts in the 1800s. From the coast of Naividamu right up to Naduri, these families have forged close links with their iTaukei relatives and part-European side. The families include the Dyer, Laestro, Dunn, Whippy, Dunbar, Miller, Gibson, Mae, Bradburgh and Scott families.

These families have a close connection with each other including their iTaukei relatives.

They have long histories, but none as long as the Steiner family whose ancestor, Jacob Steiner, developed a close relationship with the Tui Macuata at the time. His descendants still live along the Macuata coast on land given to them by the paramount chief.

One of the families we came across recently was the Corvet family from Raviravi, about an hour's sail from Nukubati where the Steiner family reside. We met Murray Corvet at his family estate, known as Motuatoga. Located in the interior of Macuata, where access by road is nearly non-existent, and transport is mostly by fibreglass boat, the Corvet family and their neighbouring village, Raviravi, have lived beside each other for many generations.

Mr Corvet's granduncle, Dan Corvet, had owned the property since the 1880s and had been home to the family throughout the years.

It spans 200 acres across beautiful and scenic green and almost untouched with cows, goats and sheep being the main livestock.

Chatting with the snowy-haired farmer, you get the impression he loves the place deeply.

"I've been to Australia twice and that's enough for me," described Murray.

"I'd rather be here all my life. I am content."

Their cosy cottage is located near the foreshore, and as we conversed, the cool breeze floated in made us almost fall asleep.

The house has a well-kept lawn with many flowers growing around. Murray and his elder sister Elizabeth looked after the property.

"We have a close relationship with the villagers of Raviravi. In fact, the current chief of the village is counted as my nephew. One of Corvet girls married into the chiefly family there," he said.

Pu Murray (as he is affectionately called) is the second eldest of eight siblings. It was because of a family circumstance he had to grow up quickly.

"My elder sister Elisabeth and I had to look after the others after dad passed away from cancer. Our youngest sibling was only 18 months. I had no option. I had to be the man of the house," he said.

At just 17, the young Murray was heaped with extra responsibilities.

At the time there was no road. The only road reached up to Naduri, more than 10km away. Murray would walk for three to four hours to Dreketi in order to catch the nearest bus or transport to go to Labasa for work or shopping.

"I would leave at 4.30am in the morning, reach there around 7am. Then when I returned I would get off the bus at 5pm and walk back, and reach home around 9pm."

It was a life he accepted which paid off after his younger siblings went on to complete their university studies and work. Most of them today hold degrees and postgraduate honours.

Like all part-European settlers, the Corvets have an interesting family history.

According to Murray, their ancestor, William Dennis Corvet was a whaler who came to Fiji in the 1800s. He was born in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, US in 1819.

An earlier article on The Fiji Times covering the family reunion in 2014, stated William left Nantucket in 1850 on the Paragon for the whaling grounds in the South Pacific but in 1853, they were shipwrecked on a reef in Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia.

He remained on Kosrae to oversee the salvage of the ship and decided to settle on the island and later married a Kosraean woman and had children.

After a dispute with the local chief in 1857, he left the island on the Roscoe with his wife and children and later settled on Raoul Island in the Kermadecs, north of New Zealand.

While staying in the Kermadecs, he traded fresh produce from his garden with the whaling ships that called in.

The family story goes that in 1863, he was forced to leave the island after his wife and children died of a disease that was brought in by a black-birding ship from South America with 250 sick and dying Tokelau slaves.

William Corvet and his eldest daughter Mary were the only survivors among their family. They managed to sail to Samoa in 1864 where he later married his second wife, a young Samoan woman named Fa'asala.

It was from his marriage to Fa'asala that the Fiji line of Coverts came in.

"They had three sons and one daughter," explained Murray. "Their eldest son Harvey married a Bryson — they had a son who is my dad.

"The second son, Byron, married an iTaukei lady named Losalini and they had many children. Some of their descendants now reside at Waikava on Taveuni. While the third son, Dan, did not marry or have any children. One of the descendants of Byron married into the chiefly family of Raviravi."

William Corvet and his wife Fa'asala spent their last years at Motuatoga estate.

According to Murray, Fa'asala was buried at another estate called Vunirara and in 1899 when he passed away, he was buried in the family cemetery in Motuatoga, overlooking the sea.

"We just held our second family reunion here last year and it was just great to see many of the descendants," Murray said.

The proud kai Macuata adds a perculiar interesting fact about their family. He said while the women in the family marry and have large families, some of the men do not marry.

"In our family, there's always a male line that doesn't marry or have children. It's probably the genes. One of my sisters traced the family tree and they traced it to the 1500s and found there were some male lines that died out. But we don't know the reason."

For now, Murray enjoys taking out his boat (which he built) for fishing or to visit other neighbouring family estates.

"The place has changed a lot. The seawater keeps rising and has eaten part of the beach. Most of the coconut trees on the beach have disappeared… this is the second home that we've built. I had to build a sea wall to delay the rise of the waters. Our first house had the tide moving under the veranda."

With all their siblings married and working in other parts of Fiji and overseas, Murray says, he is content watching the world go by from their scenic property. He and Elizabeth still live on the property today.

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