Princess Ina Salmon, Helen of Troy of Tahiti

Princess Ina Salmon, Helen of Troy of Tahiti

July 04, 2022

In my book Utterly Immoral I explain how Robert Keable met and married, (or as we might say today – co-habited with) Princess Ina, the Helen of Troy of Tahiti. But who was Princess Ina, and what happened to her after Robert Keable died?

First things first, I need to explain why Ina Salmon was a princess. This is a little complicated so you may want to skip this bit and move on to after Ina was born!

Before Ina was born

In 1842 Ina’s great grandfather Alexander Salmon, the son of a greengrocer with a shop in Piccadilly, London, married Princess Oehau the adopted sister of Queen Pomare IV. Alexander Salmon had come to Tahiti as the queen’s secretary and the queen had temporarily retracted the law forbidding members of the Tahitian royal family from marrying a foreigner, so the wedding could go ahead.

Alexander and Princess Oehau had ten children including Marau and Tati, Ina’s grandfather. Princess Oehau was the head of the Teva clan in Tahiti who were the traditional rivals of the Pomare family. In 1875, Marau, aged 15, married the future King Pomare V which in theory bought the two rival clans together under a single monarch. However King Pomare V was the last official King of Tahiti forced to hand over Tahiti and its dependencies to France in 1880. 

Queen Marau actually divorced her husband in 1887, four years before he died,but she had made a great impression on the French when she visited Paris in 1884, and they were happy for her to hold on to the honorary title of Queen.

Tati Salmon, Ina’s grandfather, had at least eight children including Tauraatua, Ina’s father. So, Ina was a princess both directly, as great grand-daughter of Princess Oehau and, more significantly as grandniece of Queen Marau.

After Ina was born

Ina Salmon was born in Papeete on September 15th, 1900. Twelve years later she was detained at Angel Island detention facility in San Francisco whilst attempting to come to America to attend school there. In a fascinating blog, Russell Nauman ( has tracked down the story of her detention and has managed to piece together some of her early life.

Ina spent two years at school in St Paul, Minnesota, learning English, before she returned to Tahiti. In 1917 she finished school but the following year the arrival of Spanish Flu on the island meant she lost two aunts, her father and grandfather in the space of three days.

By now, certainly amongst the ex-pat English-speaking community, Ina was being recognised as a great beauty. George Biddle mentions her in his diary of the time (later published as Tahitian Journal) and she socialised with James Norman Hall and George O’Brien amongst others, usually accompanying her great aunt, Queen Marau.

In 1921 Ina made a second visit to America, staying in San Francisco for six months, which was well reported in the local papers. Soon after Ina returned from America, she met Raoul Cornette de Saint Cyr, described from a photograph by Hugh Cecil as ‘a slender handsome young man in his early 20s with dark hair, no moustache.’ Ina and Cornet lived together for a couple of years and had two children although one must have died young. The last photograph of Louis that I have seen is the one featured above with his mother and half-brother, Henry, taken in 1927.

According to Ina’s son, Henry, Raoul’s father did not allow him to marry Ina. In 1924 he left her and her children and returned to Morocco. I have not been able to find out any more about him although Henry believes he joined the army.

After Raoul left, Ina lived with her family for a while before moving in with Robert Keable. It was when with Robert Keable that she met, and was painted by, Robert Lee Eskeridge, who called her the Helen of Troy of Tahiti.   

After Robert Keable died

I have covered the story of Robert Keable’s time with Ina Salmon in chapter 16 of Utterly Immoral, (Keable and the Tahitian princess) but what happened to her after he died?

Although Ina was left quite a lot of property and money by Robert Keable she also had her son Louis and a new baby Henry to support, and no new source of income. For the first few months she continued to live in the house Robert Keable built and, according to the neighbour Star Maau, threw some grand, and noisy, all-night parties. Ina’s son Henry suggested to Hugh Cecil that her mother was very extravagant.  To fund her parties, her visits abroad and her clothes etc she sold off inherited proprieties and many of the household effects of the main house.

The following year, ten months after Robert Keable died, she married Cyril (Bill) Wainwright. Rather surprisingly Ina made her last visit to America 13 days after her wedding, but without Cyril or her children. For part of the journey, she was accompanied by Robert Eskeridge. In a photograph in the Chicago Tribune in 1928 she continues to look very glamorous.

Although they had two children together Cyril and Ina were not happily married, and the marriage ended in divorce. Local English residents on the island, friends of Cyril, blamed Ina for the breakup claiming she had tricked him into marriage in the first place, that she had affairs and that Cyril had only ended up paying alimony because Ina had discovered that he was seeing her sister.

In 1933 Ina married again, a 30-year-old Frenchman Albert Bonvallet who had been born in Amiens. They made a number of visits to France before moving there permanently with Robert and Ina’s son Henry. Just before the Second World War, Henry was formally adopted by Albert and changed his name to Henry Bonvallet.

In 1952 Ina and her son Henry, who had been renting out the house Robert Keable built, finally sold it since it was too complicated to run from 6,000 miles away.

A year later Ina’s husband Albert died, and Ina returned to Tahiti where she lived on and off for the next twenty-five years, dying in 1978. Her son Henry has no idea why her ashes were buried alongside Robert Keable. He thinks perhaps her daughter from her marriage to Cyril Wainwright made the decision.