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The Man Who Would Be King: Carl Petterson's Journey to Tabar Island And Its Throne

Updated: Apr 21

Throughout history, there exist tales of improbable destinies and unexpected turns of fate. One such story unfolds in the remote reaches of Papua New Guinea, where a Swedish sailor named Carl Petterson found himself thrust into the role of king on Tabar Island.

Born in Sweden in 1877, Petterson led a life defined by wanderlust and adventure long before his fateful encounter with the islanders of Tabar. From a young age, Petterson felt drawn to the sea, and at the age of 16, he embarked on a seafaring career that would take him to the far corners of the globe. His travels led him to distant shores, where he navigated treacherous waters and weathered storms both literal and metaphorical. Petterson's experiences as a sailor honed his survival skills and instilled in him a deep respect for the natural world.

Pettersson with Singdo and their children

It was during one such voyage in the early 20th century that Petterson's life took an unexpected turn. Shipwrecked off the coast of Tabar Island, Petterson found himself stranded among the indigenous Melanesian people who called the island home. With no means of escape and unable to communicate with the islanders, Petterson faced an uncertain future on the remote island.

The islanders, known for their cannibalistic practices, perceived Petterson's arrival as a gift from the sea. As he emerged from the hibiscus hedge he'd washed up in, the curious natives encircled him. Though initially they may have planned to kill or eat him, their intentions softened upon seeing his striking blue eyes, unlike any they had ever encountered.

Upon sparing Petterson's life, the Islanders were struck by his robust physique, charismatic demeanour, and handsome appearance. Consequently, the daughter of the reigning monarch, Princess Singdo, became enamoured with him. In 1907, Petterson and Princess Singdo married, cementing his ties to the royal family. Subsequently, he immersed himself in the copra trade and eventually founded his own coconut plantation, christened Teripax.

After the death of King Lamy, Petterson was unanimously elected by the islanders to succeed him as king. In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, Petterson reflected on his unexpected ascent to royalty, stating: "I never imagined that my life would take such a turn, but I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people of Tabar Island."

King Carl E Pettersson in 1907

Petterson achieved prosperity in both his commercial ventures and marital life. His union with Singdo bore fruit in the form of eight children, while he diligently expanded his plantations and maintained amicable relations with his labour force. Revered by the island's inhabitants, Petterson's influence was widespread. Tragically, the demise of his wife Singdo in 1921 due to puerperal fever marked the onset of his gradual decline, exacerbated by a series of ill-fated decisions.

In 1922, Petterson journeyed back to Sweden, where he met a lady called Jessie Louisa Simpson. Upon their return to Tabar Island, they exchanged vows in 1923. However, during Petterson's absence, his plantation faced a decline, pushing him perilously close to bankruptcy. Additionally, both he and his wife endured bouts of malaria, compounding their challenges. Despite the adversity, Petterson persevered and stumbled upon a gold deposit on Simberi Island, offering a glimmer of hope. Sadly, his wife's health deteriorated, prompting futile attempts at treatment in Australia and Sweden before her passing from malaria and cancer in Stockholm in 1935. In the same year, Petterson bid farewell to Tabar, but fate dealt him a final blow when he succumbed to a heart attack in Sydney two years later.

And here ends the tale of a life so fascinating it couldn't have been dreamt up,



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