William Mariner (writer)

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William Charles Mariner
William Mariner (1791-1853), 1818 edition.jpg
An 1816 engraving depicting William Mariner in Tongan costume
Born(1791-09-10)10 September 1791
Died20 October 1853(1853-10-20) (aged 62)
Other namesToki 'Ukamea (Tongan)
Occupation Privateer, writer
Known forHis account of living as a captive in Tonga for four years
Notable work
The Tongan Islands, William Mariner's account

William Charles Mariner (10 September 1791 – 20 October 1853) was an Englishman who lived in Tonga from 29 November 1806 to (probably) 8 November 1810. [1] He published a memoir, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, which is one of the major sources of information about Tonga before it was influenced significantly by European cultures and Christianity.


At age 14, Mariner was a ship's clerk aboard the British privateer Port au Prince . [2] In 1806, while it was anchored off the Tongan island of Lifuka, in the Ha'apai island group, Port au Prince was seized by a chief named Fīnau ʻUlukālala. [2] Of the 26 crew members, 22 were killed, while the chief spared Mariner and three others. [3] Mariner lived in Tonga for four years, and during this time he became known as Toki 'Ukamea ("Iron Axe"). After returning to England, he dictated a detailed account of his experiences, a description of Tongan society and culture, and a grammar and dictionary of the Tongan language. [4]

Background and passage

The Port au Prince was an English private ship of war of 500 tons, armed with 24 long nine and twelve-pound guns, and eight 12-pound carronades on the quarter deck. [5] She carried a "letter of marque" which permitted her captain and crew to become pirates against the enemies of England, primarily France and Spain. In return for their pirate raids, any plunder was to be their own. [6]

Commanded by Captain Duck, she sailed for the New World on 12 February 1805, [7] having been given a twofold commission by her owner, a Mr Robert Bent of London: to attack the Spanish ships of the New World and capture 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 oil. [8] [9]

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, leading the disgruntled crew to contemptuously refer to their catches as "dung barges". The Port-au-Prince was also on the lookout for whales but, although catching a few, experienced little success. [10]

Arrival in Tonga

After leaving Hawaii in September under the command of Mr. Brown, she intended to make port at Tahiti but missed it and instead sailed westward for the Tonga Islands. She arrived in Ha'apai on 9 November 1806, almost two years since departing England and following numerous engagements, episodes of leaking badly, and the death of her captain. She was laden with the spoils of war and cargo amounting to approximately twelve thousand dollars, including a considerable amount of copper, silver, and gold ore. A large number of silver candlesticks, chalices, incense pans, crucifixes, and images was included in the treasure.

The ship anchored in seven fathoms' water off the North West Point of Lifuka Island. A number of chiefs visited it on the evening of her arrival and brought barbecued hogs, yams, and a native of Hawaii who spoke some English and informed Captain Brown that the Tongans had friendly intentions. Finau, the chief of the Ha'apai, apparently took a liking to William Mariner, who reminded him of a son of his who had died of illness. However, the ship's Hawaiian crew members were uneasy and expressed their concerns to the captain that the Tongans were feigning friendliness while planning an attack. Captain Brown chose to ignore them.

The next day, Tongans began to board until there were around 300 in different parts of the ship. [2] They invited Captain Brown ashore to see the island and, assured of their friendly motives, he agreed. Upon reaching land, he was clubbed to death, stripped, and left lying in the sand. Simultaneously, the main attack commenced on the ship. The outnumbered sailors were easily overwhelmed.

Finau had given instructions that the life of Mariner should be spared if at all possible. All but four of the crew members were clubbed to death, their heads so badly beaten as to be unrecognisable. 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 any remaining iron.

Sojourn in Tonga

Fīnau assumed responsibility for Mariner, taking him under his protection. Mariner became known as Toki 'Ukamea ("Iron Axe") and spent the next four years living amongst the islanders, mostly in the northern island group of Vavaʻu. [11] During his sojourn, he learned the Tongan language and had significant contact with chief leaders in the Vavaʻu island group. [11] He witnessed Fīnau's attempts to unify the islands using the seized cannons.


In 1810, Mariner was rescued [12] and returned to England. He related his story to John Martin, who authored the book An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

Mariner gave a lively description of Fīnau Fangupō (ʻUlukālala II), in particular. In one passage, Mariner quoted Fīnau's opinion of the Western innovation of 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!

There are three major versions of Mariner's account. The original version was 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, in Germany in 1819, and in the United States in 1820. The Vava'u Press of Tonga issued a new edition in 1981 [13] 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 [14] and the second by Paul W. Dale in 1996. [15]


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  2. 1 2 3 Kaeppler, A.L. (1999). From the Stone Age to the Space Age in 200 Years: Tongan Art and Society on the Eve of the Millenium. Tongan National Museum. pp. 13–. ISBN   978-982-9005-01-4 . Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  3. Düring, K. (1990). Pathways to the Tongan Present. Government Print Department. p. 11. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  4. Howgego, R.J. (2004). Encyclopedia of exploration, 1800 to 1850: a comprehensive reference guide to the history and literature of exploration, travel and colonization between the years 1800 and 1850. Hordern House. p. 388. ISBN   978-1-875567-44-7 . Retrieved 4 July 2020. ... Mariner's account also includes a grammar and a Tongan-English dictionary. ...
  5. The Cambridge Review. Cambridge Review Committee, St. John's College. 1907. p. 184. Retrieved 4 July 2020. On Tuesday, February 12, 1805, at 11 o'clock a.m., the Port au Prince weighed anchor at Gravesend, made sail, and worked down the river. She was a private ship of war of nearly 500 tons, 96 men, and mounting 24 long nine- and twelve-pounders, besides 8 ...
  6. Kingston, W.H.G. (1875). Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea. G. Routledge. p. 69. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  7. Quadrant. H.R. Krygier. 1989. p. 55. Retrieved 4 July 2020. He had left England on February 12th, 1805 as the thirteen-year-old secretary to Captain Isaac Duck of the 500 tonne Port au Prince (formerly Le General Dumourier, taken off Port-au-Prince, Haiti by a British man o' war).
  8. Constable's Miscellany of Original and Selected Publications in the Various Departments of Literature, Science, & the Arts. 1827. p. 25. Retrieved 4 July 2020. Captain Duck, who had formerly served his apprenticeship to William's father, was about to sail in the Port au Prince, private ship of war, belonging to Mr Robert Bent of London. This vessel had a twofold commission. If not successful in ...
  9. Snow, E. (1986). Adventures at Sea in the Great Age of Sail: Five Firsthand Narratives. Dover books on travel and adventure. Dover Publications. p. 208. ISBN   978-0-486-25177-6 . Retrieved 4 July 2020. On Tuesday, February 12, 1805, at eleven o'clock A. M. the privateer Port au Prince, Captain Duck, weighed anchor at Gravesend, made sail, and worked down the river. She was a ship of five hundred tons burthen, carrying ninety-six men ...
  10. Winkler, L. (2016). Stories of the Southern Sea. Lawrence Winkler. p. 296. ISBN   978-0-9916941-6-7 . Retrieved 4 July 2020. They sailed on February 12, 1805, in a rough Atlantic crossing that brought them off the coast of Brazil by April, and ...
  11. 1 2 Makihara, A.P.A.M.; Makihara, M.; Schieffelin, B.B.; Oxford University Press (2007). Consequences of Contact: Language Ideologies and Sociocultural Transformations in Pacific Societies. Oxford University Press. p. 195–199. ISBN   978-0-19-532497-6 . Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  12. Rhodes, Frederick Cecil (1937). Pageant of the Pacific: Being the Maritime History of Australasia. Pageant of the Pacific: Being the Maritime History of Australasia. F. J. Thwaites (pty.) Limited. p. 156. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  13. Mariner, W.; Martin, J. (1981). 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. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  14. Somerville, H. B. T., & Somerville, E. Œ. (1936). Will Mariner: A true record of adventure. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
  15. Dale, P.W. (1996). The Tonga Book. London: Minerva Press. ISBN   978-1-60002-071-1. ISBN   1-85863-797-X