William Mariner, the Privateer Port-au-Prince & the Tongan Shipwreck

Divers may have found the wreck of a British privateer, Port-au-Prince, which was sunk off the island of Lifuka  in the Ha’apai island group of Tonga, in December 1806. The ship was attacked by Tongan warriors on the orders of King Finau ‘Ulukalala II. The Tongans then salvaged iron and cannons from the ship before scuttling it.  Legend has it that the ship was carrying considerable treasure when it was sunk in the form of copper, silver and gold, along with silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices.  The seizing of the Port-au-Prince was finally reported in Lloyd’s List in May 19, 1809. (Thanks to Michael Dunn for pointing it out.)

Tonga Shipwreck Could Be Legendary Pirate Ship Port-au-Prince

Most of the crew of the Port-au-Prince were killed in the attack but William Mariner, a teenage ship’s clerk, and several of his shipmates were spared.  Mariner was taken under the protection of the king and lived in Tonga for four years, taking the name Toki ‘Ukamea (Iron Axe.)  When he returned to England he dictated a book of his experiences, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, which became a major source on pre-Christian Tonga.

Mariner’s account includes Finau ‘Ulukalala’s views on European money: “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!“  

Things may not have changed so much since 1806.



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9 Responses to William Mariner, the Privateer Port-au-Prince & the Tongan Shipwreck

  1. An exciting find, and good comments about our money-lust.

  2. Taukolo Pasfikitonga says:

    ‘Ulukalala is my great great granfather, I love the History of Tonga……….

  3. Taukolo Pasifikitonga says:

    I love the History of my Great great grandfather,I want to know where can i get the history Book of my Grandfather Finau ‘Ulukalala ‘i Feletoa Fangupo II………

  4. Melenaite Fili says:

    Can you please give
    what year did Finau ‘Ulukalala II born?
    Who are his parents?
    When did he died and why?
    What year did he became chief of Vava’u?
    Why was he became chief of Vava’u?
    Why did he made war to Feletoa village?
    What is an important thing did Finau did while he represented Vava’u?

    Please give me the answer.

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    Sounds like research for a school paper. I do not have the answers to your questions though information is available online. Here is a start:


  6. Malo e le lei!
    This is great to read the History about my good friends in Tonga.
    I lived there from 1981 to 1985 while recovering from a serious auto accident which took the life of my young wife in Canada. Living amongst the Good People of Tonga in their natural Environment and Culture was deeply healing for which I am ever grateful. They are a strong, independent People, who know who they are and live a healthy lifestyle, just as in the times of Captain Cook and Will Mariner. May they forever Live in Harmony, Blessed.
    You can see some of my realistic Fine Art Studies of Tongan and African People on my Website included above.

  7. How are he People of Tonga doing since they had a civil uprising and also rebelled against the Asian Shopkeepers in Nuku Alofa?
    Does the new King keep Peace and Prosperity in Tonga?

  8. N Jamatia says:

    It was all true memorable history were I thought about this book after readed.