Books on the Kingdom of Tonga

Tonga Islands:

William Mariner's Account
John Martin M.D.


William Mariner's story is a classic true adventure of the South Seas.

The boy Mariner was a clerk aboard the English private ship of war, the Port au Prince that ventured into the South Pacific nearly two centuries ago. He survived the massacre of the crew at Tonga's Ha'apai Islands in 1806 and became the adopted son of the warrior king Finau 'Ulukalala II, who gave Mariner a new name 'Toki 'Ukamea' or Iron Axe.

Mariner spent four years in Tonga before his escape to England. His remarkable story as told to Dr. Martin gives a detailed account of an important time in Tongan history. The power of the divine representative of the gods, the Tu'i Tonga was declining, and the Pacific Island Kingdom was in the turmoil of a civil war to which Finau 'Ulukalala was about to introduce the terror of his newly-acquired canons.


William Mariner, after John Martin 1818 Pencil drawing by George Bennet, Nuku'alofa, 1989. Pencil drawing of Mr. Mariner in the costume of the Tonga Islands from John Martin An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands ... compiled and arranged from the extensive communications of Mr. William Mariner ... 2nd edn, London, 1818.

ISBN 982-213-002-3
5th Edition
Copyright: Vava'u Press Limited 1991

Vava'u Press Limited
PO Box 427
Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu
Kingdom of Tonga


I was enthralled by this story.

The story of William Mariner and the Warrior King, Finau (Finow) 'Ulukalala, is an exciting a tale for all romantics. William Mariner takes the reader through an adventure emersed in an unbelievably different world which he brings to life with the many recountings of what the people do in their daily lives. The tour is interspersed with the overwhelming character (Finau) in a world where he is supreme, but faced with an influx of changes enforced by the encroaching other world, while local and regional conflicts abounds.

William Mariner and John Martin provide readers with a wonderful tale interwoven with enthralling graphical descriptions of politics, social norms (abnormals), matters of concern to the major and minor characters. The ship clerk marooned with a people/culture who have just killed most of shipmates, burned and sunk his vessel, is a great adventure tale. The story is told through the eyes of an observant youth, not obsessed with correctness of his British upbringing but with the sharing and understanding of the required behaviors for this new society where he finds himself.

Follow the warrior/commando squads as they make their raids and strategic strikes on enemy battlements. Watch with their eyes the inclusion and rejection of new weaponry into war, and the treachery commonplace to a victorious end. Observe the conscripts change allegiances as readily as they take on a new set of clothing.

Be part of the games only available to the elite, their pretentions and the pretentious nature of their attendants. See the feudal society on a road of decay and how Finau 'Ulukalala pushes a means for change rejuvenation.

When you finally put the book down you'll wonder why Tongan's have not dramatised nor made a movie out of their Finau 'Ulukalala. The man is unscrupulous, ingenious, far sighted, dangerous, a real scoundrel, and kind. Possibly that is the reason for not making a hero of a man with great qualities but all too many human faults.

Not a historian, but a closet adventurer, I would say that Mariner's Tonga Islands could be as exotic and beautiful a setting for Hollywood as Shaka Zulu.


No doubt written to go along with this commentary (a little pretentious here,) but the Friendly Islands Bookshop have just put on the shelves a new revision of the story told by Mariner, except where in the above edition it is a story written in the third person, the new title is written in the first person. I have not yet read the new book.

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