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Recollections Of An Early Visitor

From An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands ... Compiled and Arranged from the Extensive Communications of Mr William Mariner, third edition (Edinburgh, Constable & Co., 1827).

(This extract from an account written by Dr John Martin, first appeared in 1816. Dr Martin met Will Mariner soon after his return to England from Tonga.

The story of this young man of twenty was a fantastic tale of adventure. At the age of thirteen, he had been signed on as a captain's clerk on a privateer, a kind of authorized pirate-ship, which was bound for the South Seas, to loot Spanish towns or seize cargo, and if the war against Napoleon should come to an end, to do some quiet whaling.

The ship was captured in the Tongan islands and it was in Tonga that William Mariner was adopted by a Tongan chief.)

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On Saturday the 29th of November, 1806, at 4 p.m., the Port-au-Prince brought to, for the last time, in seven fathoms water at the NW point of one of the Hapai Islands, called Lefooga, in the same place where Captain Cook had formerly anchored; and in the evening, a number of Indian chiefs came on board with a large barbecued hog, and a quantity of ready dressed yams, as a present to the ship's company. With them came a native of Owhyee, who spoke a little English, which he had formerly learned on board an American ship that had taken him from the Sandwich Islands to Manila, and thence had brought him to the Tonga Islands.
This man, whose name was Tooi Tooi, and of whom we shall hereafter have occasion to speak, endeavoured in every possible way to convince the ship's company that the natives were friendly disposed towards them; but the Sandwich Islanders, whom the Port-au-Prince had brought along with her from Anahooroo Bay, declared their opinion that the Indians had hostile intentions, and advised Mr Brown to keep a watchful eye over them. Mr Brown, however, disregarded this sage admonition, otherwise the Port-au-Prince might again have reached England in safety, and he might have preserved his own life and the lives of many others.

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Next morning the men were ordered to careen the vessel, at which they all demurred, and some absolutely refused, being desirous of going on shore, as they had been accustomed to do on Sundays at whatever place they had touched during the voyage; and to this they were further encouraged by the pernicious invitations of the natives. Irritated by these symptoms of discontent, the fault of which was in no small degree his own, Mr Brown seemed to have less use of his judgment at a time when he required it most. The men came aft to request permission to go on shore, which he peremptorily refused, telling them that they might go to h--l if they pleased, but that they should not go on shore till the work was done on board, and ordered them immediately to quit the quarterdeck. Shortly after, James Kelly jumped up on the gangway with a Spanish stiletto in his hand, and swore by G-- he would run the first -- through the body who attempted to stop him. He then hailed a canoe, and his example was instantly followed by three others, George Wood, the carpenter's mate, William Baker, and James Hoay, taking with them all their clothes, and not long after, fifteen others took the same step.

In the afternoon the remainder of the crew came aft, with a complaint that a considerable number of the natives had assembled between decks, armed with clubs and spears, whose behaviour gave ample grounds to suspect that they intended to take the vessel. This was indeed their object, having already digested their plan, which Mr Mariner afterwards learned from a young chief named Vaca-ta-Bola and it will be well to relate it here in its proper place, although they did not at this time succeed.

During this period, Vaca-ta-Bola and another chief were sitting in the cabin with Mr Brown, Mr Dixon, and Mr Mariner. While there, a canoe was to come under the stern, and Vaca-ta-Bola was to rise up suddenly and call out with seeming earnestness to the people in the canoe; on which it may be supposed that Mr Brown and Mr Dixon would naturally turn their heads out of curiosity to see what was going forward in the canoe, and at this moment the two chiefs were to knock them down with short ironwood clubs, concealed under their dress. Before the canoe arrived, however, Mr Mariner happening to go into the steerage met the men coming, as before stated, to inform Mr Brown of the threatening appearance of the natives. Mr Brown seemed at first not inclined to pay attention even to this new warning of danger; but when Mr Mariner assured him that what the men stated was correct, and that at all events it would be but common prudence to inquire into it and satisfy their apprehensions, he went upon deck, leading Vaca-ta-Bola by the hand. Mr Dixon and the other chief followed. During this time, Mr Mariner could not help observing that the two chiefs turned pale, evidently much agitated; which he attributed to fear occasioned by the bustle which appeared, without their understanding the cause, but imagining their plot discovered and their fare inevitable. When they arrived upon deck and were given to understand that Mr Brown did not like to have so many men on board armed with clubs and spears, they pretended to interest themselves very much in throwing their arms overboard and in ordering the natives out of the ship. With a view of wearing also a pacific appearance, Mr Brown, on his part ordered the tomahawks, boarding pikes, and other arms to be removed below.

In the evening, after the natives had gone on shore, the carpenter and sailmaker represented to Mr Brown the propriety of having the muskets up and placing sentinels on deck to keep the natives off, as their number prevented them from working; but, unfortunately, too self-willed and obstinate, he treated every wholesome admonition with indifference, and no such measures were taken.

The following fatal morning, Monday, the 1st December, 1806, at eight o'clock, the natives began to assemble on board, and soon increased to three hundred in different parts of the ship. About nine o'clock, Tooi Tooi, the Sandwich Islander before mentioned, came on board and invited Mr Brown to go on shore and view the country; who immediately compiled, and went unarmed.

About half an hour after he had left the ship, Mr Mariner, who was in the steerage, went to the hatch for the sake of the light to mend a pen, when looking up he saw Mr Dixon standing on a gun, endeavouring by his signs to prevent more of the natives coming on board. At this moment he heard a loud shout from the Indians, and saw one of them knock Mr Dixon down with his club. Too surely convinced what now was the matter, he ran towards the gun room, when an Indian caught hold of him by the hand, but, escaping from his grasp, ran down the scuttle, where he found the cooper.

Considering the magazine the safest place, they ran immediately there, and having consulted what was best to be done, they came to the resolution of blowing up the vessel, and, like Samson of old, to sacrifice themselves and their enemies together. Bent upon this desperate enterprise, Mr Mariner repaired to the gun room to procure flint and steel, but was not able to get at the muskets without making too much noise, for the arm chest lay beneath the boarding pikes, which had carelessly been occasioned by clearing them away, as the uproar above began to ease, would undoubtedly have attracted the notice of the Indians.

He therefore returned to the magazine, where he found the cooper in great distress from the apprehension of his impending fate. Mr Mariner next proposed that they should go at once upon deck and meet their fate, while their enemies were hot with slaughter, rather than by greater delay subject themselves to the cruelties of cooler barbarity, and, after some hesitation, the cooper consented to follow if Mr Mariner would lead the way.

The latter thereupon went to the gun room, and lifting up the hatch a little, saw Tooi Tooi and Vaca-ta-Bola examining Captain Duck's sword and other arms that were in his bed-place. Their backs being turned, he lifted off the hatch entirely and jumped up into the cabin. Tooi Tooi instantly turning round, Mr Mariner presented his hands open, to signify that he was unarmed and at their mercy; then uttering "Aroghah!" (a word of friendly salutation among the Sandwich Islanders) he asked him, partly in English and partly in his own language, whether he meant to kill him, as he was ready to meet his fate. Tooi Tooi replied in broken English that he should not be hurt, as the chiefs were already in possession of the ship, but that he wished to be informed how many persons there were below. To this Mr Mariner answered that there was only one; and called up the cooper, who had slowly followed him. Tooi Tooi then led them upon deck towards one of the chiefs, who had the direction of the conspiracy.

The first object that struck Mr Mariner's sight, on coming upon deck, was enough to thrill the stoutest heart. Upon the companion a short squat naked figure, about fifty years of age, was seated with a seaman's jacket soaked in blood thrown over one shoulder, on the other rested his ironwood club, spattered with blood and brains: while the frightfulness of his appearance was increased by a constant blinking with one of his eyes and a horrible convulsive motion on one side of his mouth. On another part of the deck there lay twenty-two bodies perfectly naked, and arranged side by side in regular order, but no dreadfully bruised and battered about the head that only two or three of them could be recognized. At this time a man had just counted them and was reporting the number to the chief, immediately after which they began to throw them overboard, he looked at them awhile and smiled, probably on account of their dirty appearance. Mr Mariner was then given in charge to a petty chief to be taken on shore, but the cooper was detained on board.

In his way to the shore the chief stripped him of his shirt. The circumstance of his having just escaped death was by no means a consolation to him. Reserved he knew not for what hardships, he felt his mind hardened by a sort of careless indifference as to what might happen; and if he had any consoling hope at all, it was that he might be going on shore to fall by the club of some sanguinary chief not sated with that day's slaughter.    

In a little while he was landed and led to the most northern part of the island, to a place called Co-oolo, where he saw, without being much affected at the sight, the cause of all that day's disasters, Mr Brown, the whaling-master, lying dead upon the beach: his body naked, and much bruised about the head and chest. They asked Mr Mariner, by words and signs, if they had done right in killing him; and as he returned them no answer, one of them lifted up his club to knock out his brains, but was prevented by a superior chief, who ordered them to take their prisoner on board a large sailing canoe.

Whilst here, he observed upon the beach an old man, whose countenance did not speak much in his favour, parading up and down with a club in his hand. At the same time a boy, who had just come into the canoe, pointed to a fire at a little distance, and, addressing himself to Mr Mariner, pronounced the word mate (meaning to kill), and made such signs as gave him to understand nothing less than that he was to be killed and roasted. This idea roused him from his state of mental torpor and gave him much alarm, which was not lessened by the sight of the old man just mentioned, who appeared in no other light than that of an executioner waiting for his victim.

About half an hour afterwards, a number of people came to the canoe, landed him, and led him towards the fire, near which he saw, lying dead, James Kelly, William Baker, and James Hoay, three of those who had first mutinied. Some hogs were now brought to be cooked; and Mr Mariner was undeceived respecting what he had understood from the gestures of the boy in the canoe, who, it was now evident, merely meant to imply that some of Mr Mariner's countrymen lay dead where he pointed, and that there they were going to roast or bake some hogs.

From this place he was led towards the island of Foa. On the way, they stopped at a hut, where they stripped him of his trousers, notwithstanding his earnest solicitations to retain them; for he already felt the effect of the sun upon his back and dreaded a total exposure to its heat. He was then led about barefooted and without anything to cover him, the heat blistering his skin in a most painful manner. Every now and then some of the natives came up to him from motives of curiosity, felt his skin to compare it with their own, or likened it rather (as he afterwards understood) to the skin of a scraped hog, from its whiteness, while from malice, or rather wantonness, others spat upon him, pushed him about, and threw sticks and coconut shells at him, so that his head was cut in several places. After having thus tantalized and led him about for a considerable length of time, as fast as the soreness of his feet would permit him to walk, a woman happening to pass, from motives of compassion gave him an apron made of the leaves  of the chee tree, with which he was permitted to cover himself. At length they entered a hut and sat down to drink kava, putting him in a corner and desiring him by signs to sit down, it being considered very disrespectful to stand up before a superior.

Whilst his persecutors were thus regaling themselves, a man entered the hut in great haste; and having said something to the company, took Mr Mariner away with him. As they were going along, they met one of the Sandwich Islanders, whom the Port-au-Prince had brought from Anahooroo Bay, who gave Mr Mariner to understand that Finow, the king of the islands, had sent for him.

On his arrival, the king beckoned to him and made signs that he should sit near him, and as he entered the place, the women, who sat at the other end of the room, beholding his deplorable condition, with one voice uttered a cry and pity, beating their breasts, and exclaiming, "O yaoo! chiodofa!" (Alas! poor young man!) Fortunately for Mr Mariner, Finow had taken an extraordinary liking to him from the first moment he had seen him on board. He thought he was the captain's son, or at least a young chief of some consequence in his own country; and had given orders that if they found it necessary to kill the white men, they should at any rate preserve Mr Mariner's life. The king now put his nose to his forehead (a mark of friendly salutation); and soon after observing that he was very dirty and much wounded, he desired one of his women attendants to take him to a pond within the fencing of the house, where he might wash himself.

On his return to the presence of the king, he was sent to the other end of the house, where he was oiled over with sandalwood oil, which felt very agreeable, alleviating the smart of his wounds and greatly refreshing him. He now received a mat to lie down on, where, overcome by fatigue both of mind and body, he soon fell fast asleep. During the night he was awakened by one of the women, who brought him some baked pork and some yam; but being somehow prejudiced against the pork, lest it should be human flesh, he did not taste it, but ate heartily of the yam, not having tasted anything since breakfast the preceding day.

On getting up the next morning, he was much surprised at perceiving everybody with their heads shaved - a practice which is always adopted at the burial of a great personage, whose funeral was performed that day. In the course of the morning, Finow took him on board the ship, where he was much gratified in meeting several of the crew, who had been ordered on board to bring it close in shore. The king's orders being understood, they cut the cables and worked her through a very narrow passage, so full of rocks and shoals as to appear almost unnavigable. Through the medium of Tooi Tooi, the king was now informed that unless his men (nearly four hundred in number) were to sit down and remain perfectly quiet, momently given and implicitly obeyed, she was brought within half a cable's length of the shore and run aground by Finow's direction.

After the ship was run aground, the following two or three days were employed in striking the masts and conveying on shore two of the carronades and eight barrels of gunpowder, being all that remained fit for use. Many of the natives, in the meanwhile, were busily engaged in stripping the iron from the upper works and knocking the hoops off the casks in the hold - iron being a most valuable commodity to them; and during these operations the ground tier of oil burst out, and suffocated eight of the natives. Three other men were at the same time severely wounded by some butts bursting out on them while they were in the act of knocking off the hoops. In consequence of this great discharge of oil, the water in the hold was covered with it to the depth of several feet. Two men, who had struggled out of it, strongly expressed their amazement afterwards, to Mr Mariner, at the difficulty they experienced in rising through the oil.  They could swim in the water below easily enough; but as soon as they emerged from the water into the stratum of oil above, the less specific gravity of the latter rendered the their ascent difficult. They comprehended the reason, however, very well, as soon as he had learned the language sufficiently to explain it to them.

In the meantime, Finow, observing one of the natives busily employed cutting out the iron fid from the main-top gallant mast, and as he was a low fellow, whom he did not choose should take such a liberty, he was resolved to put a stop to his work. Calling to a Sandwich Islander, who was amusing himself on deck by firing off his musket, he ordered him to bring that man down from aloft. Without the least hesitation, the Sandwicher levelled his piece and instantly brought him down dead; upon which Finow laughed heartily and seemed mightily pleased at the facility with which his order had been obeyed. The shot entered his body, and the fall broke both thighs and fractured his skull. Afterwards, when Mr Mariner understood the language, he asked the king how he could be so cruel as to kill the poor man for so trifling a fault. His majesty replied that he was only a low, vulgar fellow (a cook); and that neither his life nor death was of any consequence to society.

On Tuesday, the  9th December, it being spring tides, the ship floated and was warped in to low-water mark; and in the evening they set fire to her, in order to get more easily at the iron work. All the great guns on board were loaded, and as they began to be heated by the general conflagration, they went off one after another, producing a terrible panic among the natives. Mr Mariner was at this time asleep at a house near the shore; being soon, however, awakened by the noise of the guns, he saw several of the natives running into the house in a great fright. They, no doubt, thought everything was going to wrack and ruin. Seeing their distress, he gave them to understand by signs that nothing was to be feared and that they might go to sleep in safety.

After the guns had ceased firing, he went down to the beach and found the ship burnt to the water's edge. He walked to the house again, filled with melancholy reflections, and retiring to his mat, sleep at length brought a temporary relief to his afflictions.

As soon as it was daylight, the natives flocked to the beach and, by the direction and assistance of Mr Mariner and some of the crew, got five of the carronades on shore by tying a rope round them and dragging them with the main strength of two or three hundred men. A few days afterwards, three more carronades were brought on shore in like manner, and also four long guns, but which, on account of their weight, were never afterwards used.

About a week now elapsed without any material circumstance occurring, during which time Mr Mariner for the most part kept within doors, by the advice of Finow, less he should be injured by the wantonness or malice of the lower orders, who took every opportunity of insulting him. On the 16th of December, Finow, having a mind to go to the island of Wiha for the recreation of shooting rats, invited Mr Mariner to accompany him. The inhabitants of this island made great rejoicings on account of Finow's arrival. He remained there three or four days.

One morning, during Finow's stay at this island, some of the natives brought Mr Mariner's watch, which they had procured from his chest, and, with looks of curiosity, inquired what it was. He took it from them, wound it up, put it to the ear of one of them, and returned it. Every hand was now outstretched with eagerness to take hold of it; - it was applied in turns to their ears; - they were astonished at the noise it made; - they listened again to it, turned it on every side, and exclaimed, "Mo-ooi!" (It is alive!) They looked at each other with wonder, laughed aloud, and snapped their fingers. One brought a sharp stone for Mr Mariner to force it open with. He opened it in the proper way and showed them the works. Several endeavoured to seize hold of it at once, but one ran off with it, and all the rest after him.

About an hour afterwards, they returned with the watch completely broken to pieces; and, giving him the fragments, made signs to him to make it do as it did before. Upon his making them understand that they had killed it, and that it was his property, exclaiming "Mow-mow!" (spoiled) and making a hissing noise expressive of disappointment, accused the rest of using violence, and they in return accused him and each other.

While they were in high dispute, another native approached, who had seen and learned the use of a watch on board a French ship. Understanding the cause of their dispute, he called them all cow vale (a pack of fools), and explained, in the following manner, the use of the watch: - Making a circle in the sand, with sundry marks about its circumference, and turning a stick about the centre of the circle, to represent an index, he informed them that the use of the watch was to tell where the sun was: That when the sun was in the east, the watch would point to such a mark, and when the sun was highest it would point here, watch would do, although it was in a house, and could not see the sun; adding that, in the night time, it would tell what portion of a day's length it would be before the sun would rise again.

It would be difficult to convey an adequate idea of their astonishment. One said it was an animal, another said it was a plant; but when he told them it was manufactured, they all exclaimed, "Fonnooa boto!" (What an ingenious people!) All this Mr Mariner collected partly by their gestures, and afterwards more fully when he understood their language and conversed with this man, who always prided himself upon his knowledge of the use of a watch, calling himself Papalangi (An European).  

About the 20th of December, Mr Mariner returned to Lefooga along with Finow. His life was still not only uncomfortable, but often exposed to many dangers, or, at best, he suffered many insults from the wantonness and malevolence of the lower orders. Tooi Tooi he discovered was by no means his friend; on the contrary, he endeavoured to persuade Finow to kill both him and the other Englishmen, lest a ship should arrive, and learning from them the fate of the Port-au-Prince, take an ample revenge for the injury done their countrymen. But Finow, fortunately, was not of this opinion, he conceived that while people were of too generous and forgiving a temper to take revenge, and therefore declined doing them any farther mischief.

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