Albert Royle Henry (11 June 1907 - 1 January 1981) was the first Premier of the Cook Islands and a colourful and charismatic figure in Cook Islands politics for many years.
In 1924 the legendary New Zealand All Blacks Team , the 'Invincibles' of Cliff Porter (Captain) - George Nepia (Full-back) and others, called at Rarotonga en-route to tour the UK and France. Wanting a local team to train against, Albert Henry, 17 years old and just returned from NZ, was asked to get some boys together. A scratch team was put together and the game was played on the Takamoa Grounds. The score was Rarotonga 0 and the All Blacks 0. Albert Henry was very active in forming Rugby Clubs, first with Tupapa, later with Arorangi where he was a teacher. When he married Elizabeth Connal who was then living in Ruatonga, she said to him : "Albert you must now play for, and help OUR club- "Avatiu-Ruatonga"".
Henry was a pioneer in Cook Islands politics, and a driving force behind Cook Islands self-government, which it obtained on 4 August 1965. Henry founded the Cook Islands Party after returning from living in New Zealand for 22 years from 1942-1964. Shortly after his return he was elected Premier in 1965 in the first national elections, and then re-elected consistently in 1968, 1972, 1974 and again controversially in March 1978.
Upon becoming elected Premier, the New Zealand government offered the Cook Islands three options concerning independence and/or self rule. They were (a) complete independence (b) assimilation with New Zealand, or (c) moves towards an eventual Polynesian Federation with a degree of self-rule with associated New Zealand nationality. The third option was chosen by the people of the Cook Islands who to this day are also New Zealand citizens.
Henry was a prime mover in the push for self-rule and did much to unify the Cook Islands and to promote its cause of independence. He was a charismatic orator in both Maori and in English.
In 1973 Henry introduced a new national flag for the Cook Islands, being green in colour (as the colour of life and everlasting growth) with fifteen stars (in the culture of the Cook Islands the stars represent faith in God and fifteen represents the number of islands) in yellow (yellow represents the people, their friendliness, their hope, faith, dedication, love, and happiness) in a circle symbolizing the unity of the fifteen islands and the union between the land and the people. The flag was replaced in 1979.
He was also the prime initiator behind the creation of the House of Ariki.
Albert Henry's achievements include enlarging Rarotonga's airport (Queen Elizabeth II officiated at the grand opening), building the Rarotongan Resort (now the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa) and helping to turn the Cook Islands into a significant international tourist destination.
But his most passionate achievement was to introduce a Universal Old Age Pension Scheme in 1966 in which every person 65 years and over, received a small government sponsored pension at that time being 2 pounds NZ per month. The Cook Islands is still the only South Pacific nation that has such a scheme.
For his achievements, Henry was knighted in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II, shortly after the opening of Rarotonga International Airport.
During the 1978 elections, Henry had become embroiled in a massive scandal involving overseas voters. The Cook Islands Party flew hundreds of supporters back to the Cook Islands in exchange for a vote in the election, bankrolling the tickets with revenue from the sale of postage stamps by the Cook Islands Philatelic Bureau. After the fraud was discovered, the 1978 election was handed to the opposition party, the Cook Islands Democratic Party, and later that year Henry was found guilty of electoral fraud and his knighthood was revoked.
Over the past few years, there have been discussions in the Cook Island Cabinet of introducing legislation to pardon Albert Henry.
On 16 August 1979, Albert Henry pleaded guilty at Rarotonga, Cook Islands, to a number of criminal charges relating to the fraudulent misuse of Cook Islands Government money totaling more than $355,000.00.
His health having taken a turn for the worse since the electoral scandal that had cost him his job, his knighthood, and much of his reputation, Henry died soon afterwards, on 1 January 1981.
When Henry died, his body was taken around Rarotonga on the back of a pickup truck, and the road was lined with mourners. The entire island had turned out to pay their respects to their former leader.
His grave can be found at Avarua CICC Church: there is a bust of him on his gravestone.
- ^ BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Country profiles | Timeline: Cook Islands
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Prime Ministers of the Cook Islands
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