William Mariner (1791–1853) was an Englishman who lived in the Tonga Islands from the 29th of November 1806 to (probably) the 8th of November 1810. He dictated an account of his experiences, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, that is now one of the major sources of information on pre-Christian Tonga – a masterpiece of Pacific literature. William Mariner was a fifteen year old ship's clerk aboard the British privateer Port-au-Prince. The ship anchored off the Tongan island of Lifuka, in the Ha'apai island group. Initially the captain and crew were welcomed with barbecued pork and yams.
The Port-au-Prince was an English private ship of war, a vessel of five hundred tons armed with twenty four long nine- and twelve-pound guns as well as eight twelve-pound carronades on the quarter deck. She carried a “letter of marque” and this document permitted her Captain and crew to become pirates against the enemies of England, primarily France and Spain. In payment for their pirate raids any plunder they seized was to be their own. Commanded by Captain Duck she sailed for the New World on the 12th of February 1805 having been given a twofold commission by her owner, a Mr. Robert Bent of London. Their primary goal was to attack the Spanish ships of the New World capturing gold and valuables but if she failed in that task her secondary objective was to sail into the Pacific in search of whales to be rendered for their oil.
The Atlantic crossing was rough but uneventful and she lay off the coast of Brazil by April and then rounded Cape Horn in July before proceeding north in search of Spanish Galleons laden with treasure. They captured a number of ships but most yielded little in the way of valuables and at times the men began to get disgruntled by capturing what they contemptuously referred to as dung barges. The Port-au-Prince was now also on the lookout for whales as well but, although catching a few, experienced little success in this endeavour.
After leaving Hawaii in September under the command of Mr. Brown, she intended to make port at Tahiti but missed the port and sailed westward for the islands of Tonga instead. She arrived in Ha’apai on the 9th of November 1806, almost two years after leaving England and numerous engagements later, leaking badly and having witnessed the death of her captain. She was laden with the spoils of war and cargo amounting to approximately twelve thousand dollars, plus a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold ore. A large quantity of silver candlesticks, chalices, incense pans, crucifixes and images complemented the treasure. She weighed anchor for what was destined to be the last time in seven fathoms water off the North West Point of Lifuka Island. A number of chiefs visited the ship on the evening of her arrival and brought with them food gifts and a native of Hawaii who spoke some English informing Captain Brown that the Tongans had only friendly intentions. The Port-au-Prince also had some Hawaiian crew who did not trust the situation and expressed concern to the captain that the Tongans were feigning friendliness while planning attack. Captain Brown chose to ignore the warnings, therein signing his own death warrant and that of many of his crew.
The next day the natives began to swarm the boat until there were around three hundred aboard in different parts of the ship. They invited Captain Brown ashore to see the Island and assured of their friendly motives he agreed. Setting foot ashore, he was clubbed to death, stripped and left lying in the sand. Simultaneously, the main attack commenced on the Port-au-Prince. The crew set fire to their ship, rather than have her taken but were outnumbered and overwhelmed easily. The massacre was brutal and swift seeing all but four of the crew members meeting the same end as the captain, their heads so badly beaten as to be unrecognisable to the survivors. Some of the cannons got so hot in the fire they began to fire causing great panic amongst the Tongans. For the next three days the ship was stripped of her iron, a valuable commodity, and her guns were removed before being burnt to the water line to more readily remove what iron remained.
Mariner's sojourn in Tonga: One of the survivors was William Mariner, Chief Finau had taken a shining to the lad when they first met aboard the Port-au-Prince. William reminded the King of his son who had died of illness and when the attack on the ship was being planned Finau had given instructions that the life of Mariner should be spared if at all possible. William later pantomimed the an explanation of why the cannons had gone off and through this, established a good with the locals. He was renamed Toki 'Ukamea (Iron Axe) and Finau appointed one of his royal wives, Mafi Hape, to be his adoptive mother. He spent the next four years living amongst the islanders, learned the language well and traveled with the chief, observing and absorbing the finer points of Tongan ceremony and protocol. During this time he would witness the attempted unification of the Kingdom by Finau using the very guns seized from the Port-au-Prince. One long nine still lies on Ha’anno Island.
He also gave a lively description of his lord and protector Fīnau Fangupō (ʻUlukālala II). One quote from Mariner, giving Fīnau's opinion of the Western innovation of money, can be found in paʻanga.
"If money were made of iron and could be converted into knives, axes and chisels there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork. [...] Certainly money is much handier and more convenient but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up instead of sharing it out as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish. [...] I understand now very well what it is that makes the papālangi [white men] so selfish — it is this money!“
Chief Finau, the king’s son gave permission for William to leave on a passing English vessel. After rescue and his return to England Mariner had a chance meeting with an amateur anthropologist called John Martin, to whom he told his story. Martin wrote the book The Tongan Islands, William Mariner's Account.
Mariner's books: There are three major versions of Mariner's account. The original version was first published in 1817 by John Murray II, with the help of Dr. John Martin, who assumed authorship. Later editions appeared in England in 1818 and 1827 and in Germany in 1819 and the United States in 1820. The Vava'u Press of Tonga issued a new edition in 1981 that includes a biographical essay about Mariner, written by Denis Joroyal McCulloch, one of Mariner's great-great grandsons, but leaves out the grammar and dictionary. Two modern editions with modern Tongan spelling and other additions have been published, the first by Boyle Townshend Somerville in 1936 and the second by Paul W. Dale in 1996.
Tonga Islands: William Mariner's account : an account of the natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with an original grammar and vocabulary of their language. Vava'u Press; 4th ed., 1981. ASIN B0006EB4WI.
Will Mariner: A True Record of Adventure by Boyle Townshend Somerville. London: Faber and Faber, 1936.
The Tonga Book by Paul W Dale. London: Minerva Press, 1996. ISBN 1-85863-797-X.
ALL IN ALL A FASCINATING STORY
VERY PROPHETIC COMMENT ABOUT MONEY