THE little burghs in the East Neuk of Fife are packed with a history so often missed by those in the neighbouring urban sprawls of Levenmouth and St Andrews.
As tight fishing communities there are myths, tales and legends a-plenty.
While the villages have long enticed artists to set up their easels, there is also a treasure trove to keep many a keyboard clicking.
Take this for example...
In the graveyard of St. Adrian’s Church in Anstruther, a pink granite gravestone is attached to the kirk’s exterior wall.
It is surrounded by other stones that bear names that have been borne by the natives of the town for centuries – Rodger, Watson, Anderson, Bruce, Murray.
In contrast, this particular gravestone bears a name that comes from another world entirely.
In Loving Memory of Tetuanui reiaiteraiatea,
Princess Titaua Marama, Chiefess of Haapiti.
Below this stone lie the remains of Anstruther’s Polynesian Princess.
Born in the lush tropics of the South Seas, she married a Fifer and came 10,000 miles across the world and ended her days in Anstruther, on the shores of the cold and stormy North Sea.’
So begins the new book, From the South Seas to the North Seas: The Story of Princess Titaua of Tahiti, by Fiona J. Mackintosh, an American-based author who grew up in Anstruther.
Published by the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection, the book presents a vivid picture of a woman who lived a life full of incident and drama in two separate continents half a world away from each other.
Princess Titaua was the eldest child of the marriage between an English father and the sister of Queen Pomare IV.
Queen Pomare adopted Titaua in accordance with an ancient Tahitian custom and gave her the royal name of Tetuanui-reia-ite-raiatea – which means The Great God whose Power extends to the Heavens.
At the age of only 14, Titaua was married to John Brander from Elgin, who was 24 years older than her and owned the biggest trading house in the South Pacific.
As the foremost hostess in Tahiti, Princess Titaua played an important part in the life of the island, sometimes to the dismay of the French colonial authorities.
She left an abiding impression on many international visitors to Tahiti, including Robert Louis Stevenson and the Scottish painter Constance Gordon Cumming.
None was more enthusiastic than Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, who presented Titaua with a turquoise and diamond pendant and ring as a token of his admiration.
But this was only part of her tale – her East Neuk connection was yet to come.
After Brander’s death, she married the firm’s manager, George Darsie, who was from a prominent Anstruther family.
She and five of her 12 children came with him to Scotland to live at his family home, Johnston Lodge, for the last years of her life.
And so Anster finally recieved its very own princess.
The book chronicling this intgriguing tale is officially launched tomorrow (Thursday) when the author, Ms Mackintosh, will recount her decade-long quest to unearth the fascinating details of the Princess’s life, including a difficult but rewarding research trip to Tahiti itself.
On Friday, she travels to Edinburgh for the reopening of the National Museum of Scotland whose Oceanic Galleries contain many items donated by Princess Titaua and George Darsie.
“Fiona’s book casts a fascinating new light on part of the history of Anstruther,” said Burgh Collection chairman Glenn Jones.
“The Burgh Collection is delighted to have been chosen to publish her new book in her home town. We are a charity, and all the proceeds of the book will go to help preserve our resource of local history.”
It is expected there will be considerable interest in the book around the world, particularly in Tahiti and the US.
•The book is on sale worldwide through the Burgh Collection website www.anstrutherburghcollection.org and from East Neuk Books.