William Mariner (writer)

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William Mariner in Tongan costume

William Mariner (1791–1853) was an Englishman who lived in the Tonga Islands from 29 November 1806 to (probably) 8 November 1810. He wrote an account of his experiences, Tonga Islands, that is now one of the major sources of information on pre-Christian Tonga.

Mariner's sojourn in Tonga[edit]

William Mariner was a teenage 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, and was seized by the Ha'apai chief Fīnau ʻUlukālala on 1 December 1806. Most of the crew were killed in the takeover of the ship, but Fīnau spared Mariner and several colleagues. Fīnau assumed responsibility for Mariner, taking him under his protection. Mariner lived in Tonga for four years, predominantly in the northern island group of Vavaʻu.

On his return to England he dictated a detailed account of his time in the Tonga Islands, a description of Tongan society and culture at the time, and a grammar and dictionary of the Tongan language. The resulting publication remains one of the most valuable historical documents of pre-Christian life in the Pacific Islands.

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!“

The Port-au-Prince was an English private ship of war, a vessel of 500 tons armed with 24 long nine and twelve pound guns as well as 8 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 12 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 endeavor.

After leaving Hawaii in September under the command of Mr. Brown, she intended to make port at Tahiti but missed the target and instead sailed westward for the Tonga Islands. She arrived in Ha’apai on 9 November 1806, almost two years since departing England and after numerous engagements, leaking badly and having already witnessing the death of her captain. She was laden with the spoils of war and cargo amounting to approx twelve thousand dollars plus a considerable amount of copper plus 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 barbecued hogs, yams 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 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 300 in different parts of the ship. They invited Captain Brown ashore to see the Island and assured of their friendly motives he agreed. On arrival he was clubbed to death, stripped and left lying in the sand. Simultaneously the main attack commenced on the Port-au-Prince. The sailors were outnumbered and overwhelmed easily. The massacre was brutal and swift seeing all but four of the crew members clubbed to death, their heads so badly beaten as to be unrecognizable to the survivors. For the next three days the ship was stripped of her iron, a valuable commodity, and had her guns removed before being burnt to the water line to more readily remove what iron remained.

One of the survivors was a boy by the name of William Mariner and Finau, the King of the Islands, 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. He was renamed Toki 'Ukamea (Iron Axe) and spent the next four years living amongst the islanders. 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. After rescue and his return to England Mariner related his story to John Martin, who wrote the book The Tongan Islands, William Mariner's account.

Mariner's books[edit]

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.

Other books relating to Mariner[edit]

  • Toki: A Tongan trilogy : a historical novel based on the Polynesian life of Will Mariner and Finau Ulukalala of Tonga, by Louise Lose Finau. Simmons Pub. Co., 1996. ISBN 0-9667463-0-9.

External links[edit]