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.)
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.