In 1806 a British privateer limped into the Tongan archipelago. This is the story of the fifteen year-old ship’s clerk who, in four years, rose from being a naked and derided castaway to a member of the Tongan aristocracy.
Eight years after he was rescued, William Mariner’s account of his years in Tonga became a best-seller not because of its status as the world’s first ethnography but due to the extraordinary adventure story he told.
Surviving a massacre aboard the ship, Mariner was adopted by its perpetrator, King Finau, and groomed to be his lieutenant. With the ship’s canons and muskets in the hands of the sixteen other crewmembers he had spared for the task, Finau plunged the islands into civil war. Mariner’s graphic account of the impact of western arms upon a stone-age population is matched by his descriptions of the chaotic scenes that followed as Finau’s army resorted to cannibalism and headhunting.
But by placing himself at the centre of the action and airbrushing out the other crewmembers Mariner constructed a gripping but deeply deceptive narrative. From sources unavailable at the time of the publication of his account this book uncovers the extraordinary reasons for his deception.