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Aylmer Robinson, legendary owner of the ‘Forbidden Island’

Aylmer Robinson (1888-1967) was born at Makaweli into a family that had owned the island of Ni‘ihau since 1864, when his great-grandmother, Scottish-born Eliza Sinclair, had purchased it from King Kamehameha V for $10,000.

When Aylmer’s father, Aubrey Robinson, passed away in 1936, Aubrey and his brother, Lester, inherited Ni‘ihau from him.

Although Aylmer and Lester thereafter jointly owned the island, the management of Ni‘ihau was left to Aylmer Robinson, while Lester managed family properties on Kaua‘i.

It was during Aylmer’s tenure as Ni‘ihau’s manager that the island acquired its nickname, “The Forbidden Island.”

The nickname originated as a consequence of a deadly measles epidemic that had swept through Ni‘ihau during the 1920s or 1930s, killing 11 Hawaiian children out of a total population of only about 200.

Prior to the epidemic, access to Ni‘ihau had been fairly open, but from the time of the epidemic onward, access was “forbidden” by Aylmer Robinson to all persons not passing a medical doctor’s health examination on Kaua‘i.

The Robinsons later credited the medical restriction Aylmer imposed with preventing the spread of a national polio epidemic to Ni‘ihau in the early 1950s.

Aylmer’s quarantine remained in effect until about 1978.

Today, the Robinsons allow access only to Ni‘ihau residents and nonresidents with legitimate business.

This policy maintains the residents’ freedom to carry on their traditional way of life without undue outside influence.

Aylmer Robinson was an authority on Hawaiian language, handicraft, geography, history and culture.

He spoke the Hawaiian language beautifully, and his business records pertaining to Ni‘ihau were written by him in the Hawaiian language.

He was also thoroughly acquainted with Ni‘ihau’s historic traditions, including stories of visits by strangers to Ni‘ihau in earlier times.

This knowledge led him to suspect that Spanish and Chinese or Japanese seafarers had reached Hawai‘i prior to Captain James Cook’s discovery in 1778 and had integrated themselves with Hawaiians.

He never married, and willed his ownership in Ni‘ihau to his brother, Lester, and Lester’s wife for their lifetimes, and to Lester’s sons, Keith and Bruce Robinson, Ni‘ihau’s present owners, upon the deaths of their parents.
Source: The Garden Island

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