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Savage Island: An Account of a Sojourn in Niue and Tonga

Chapter XV — Farewell

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Chapter XV

We had now been in Tonga for six weeks, and still the chiefs tarried. But the arrival of the monthly steamer from New Zealand met the difficulty. Through the kindly offices of my friend Captain Crawshaw, who had frequently done good service for the British Government in similar emergencies, the whole of the rank and fashion of the Friendly Islands was landed on Nukualofa wharf within the week, and on May 17th we rode to the palace to meet the House of Lords assembled in council. I found them sitting in the dining-room on rows of chairs as at a charity meeting. The king presided, seated on his throne at a table, and I was provided with a chair on his left. Some of the nobles arrived heated and late; they explained to me afterwards that they had been turned back by the sentry at the doors, and told to go home and don black coats, which accounted for page 212the funereal aspect of the meeting. The only absentees were bed-ridden; even poor old blind Tungi had been wheeled to the palace in his bath-chair. Among the new arrivals by the steamer was Mateialona, the most intelligent and enlightened of all the chiefs. The son of an elder brother of the king's mother, he would have had an earlier claim to the throne but for the bar sinister: the influence that he would have derived from his birth and character has been somewhat neutralised by his loyalty to the Wesleyan Church, which made him choose exile to Fiji rather than bow the knee to the Free Church which Mr. Baker had set up. He is now Governor of Haapai, and whatever hope there may be of the regeneration of King George's Cabinet is centred in him. With his portrait before the reader it is scarcely necessary to say that he is a man of great purpose and strength of character. The proceedings were conducted with the old-world courtesy and decorum which is fast dying out in Tonga, except among the men of high degree. This is not the place to describe the intricacies of our long, but friendly contest; it is enough to say that after nightfall on the second day of debate all the main difficulties had been overcome. As it was so late, page break
J. MateialonaCousin of The King and Governor of Haapai

J. Mateialona
Cousin of The King and Governor of Haapai

page 213the king of his own motion proposed that we should adjourn for dinner to Dr. Maclennan's house, and sign the treaty before we separated for the night. We made a singular procession. The night was very dark, and the king's guards hastily procured lanterns to light their master, who, I believe, had not left the compound of his palace to pay such a visit since his marriage. We overtook Tungi's bath-chair in the darkness; I believe that the king would have avoided the meeting if he had been alone, for his relations with the blind chief were anything but cordial; but the stately manners of Tongan chiefs came to his aid, and their complimentary speeches would have been thought unsparing for a friendship of many years' standing. "Farewell, Wiliame," cooed the king at parting; "I will come and drink a bowl of kava with you." His Majesty must have been thinking of another and a better world.

I trembled when I thought of our kind host, who had been waiting dinner for more than an hour, and was now to have two royal, hungry, and uninvited guests sprung upon him. But he bore the invasion with his usual good-nature, and set his cook to work, while Webber played the part of David to our Saul with the piano.

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As soon as the cloth was drawn we got to work. Guards crowded the verandahs; native secretaries sat on the floor drafting amendments, which the king produced from under the table like cards from a conjurer's hat, only to have them gently but firmly put aside. At one in the morning we were agreed on the main points, and the king, who had long been yawning, drove off in his carriage, leaving the negotiation of the minor points to Fatafehi, his father, whom he had appointed his plenipotentiary. This cleared the air, and at half-past two, the oil in the last lamp having given out, the treaty was signed by the light of a guttering candle. Then, and not till then, was it discovered that the privy seal had been left at the palace, and we had to wait until a messenger had galloped for it on horse-back. Then Fatafehi and I exchanged presents, and we were free to go to bed. The thing that had astonished the king most was Webber's extraordinary power of writing correctly from dictation Tongan, of which he did not understand a word, the secret being that Tongan is written phonetically with the Italian vowels, and that, so long as the speaker indicates the divisions between the words, the task is not so difficult as it sounds.

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Next day we said good-bye to our kind hosts and went on board the Porpoise to prepare for our departure. Having duly appointed ten o'clock on the morning of May 19th, 1900, for taking leave of the king, we landed with a guard of honour of fifty men, and visited the palace for the last time. Our reception was the same as on the occasion of our arrival. In the presence of his ministers I gave the king some wholesome advice, and he asked me to be the bearer of a letter of thanks to the Queen. On leaving the palace we took our way to the middle of the public square, where a large crowd was assembled. The guard of honour fell in behind us and the proclamation of a Protectorate was read in English and Tongan.

As the guard presented arms, the signalman on board, who was watching our proceedings through a glass, gave the word, and at the pull of a string the ship was dressed with flags from stem to stern, and the first of twenty-one guns was fired. Then we returned on board, leaving a sergeant of marines to serve copies of the proclamation upon the king, the premier, the foreign consuls, and the heads of missions. While we were getting up steam we saw flags hoisted on every flagstaff, and a number of page 216people came on board to take leave of us. From the king came a note enclosing his letter to the Queen and thanking me for all that had been done. Of the numerous native presents the most interesting was that from my fellow-plenipotentiary, Fatafehi, who sent a curious stone celt.*

As the sun set Tonga was a mere cloud upon the horizon, and the Porpoise was plunging in a heavy westerly swell. I had seen the little kingdom in three phases—under the dictatorship of Mr. Baker in 1886, under old King George in 1891, when I was one of his ministers, and as a British Protectorate. May the Protectorate remain purely nominal for many years to come! That rests with the Tongans. If they will abstain from squabbling among themselves, keep free from debt, and govern themselves decently, page 217there is no reason that their status should change, though the history of little states is not reassuring. The scattered group has been under one king as long as tradition runs; its people have played a notable part in the history of the Pacific as navigators, conquerors, and colonists; and I for one should be grieved if the last native state in the Pacific should pass away.

* This celt measures 9 1/2 inches long by 3 3/8 inches wide in the broadest part, made of an olive-green stone with grey longitudinal veins, and beautifully polished. It was clear that it had come from another part of the Pacific, for the Tongan celts are wedge-shaped, angular, and roughly made. Sir William Macgregor, who saw it on my return to England, at once pronounced it to be from New Guinea, and identified the stone as belonging to the quarry that he had discovered in Woodlark Island. All that Fatafehi could say was that it had been for generations in his family, and if this was true, the celt might be used as evidence of a Tongan migration from the west, for there were no whalers or sandal-wooders before 1790; but there have been Tongan teachers working in New Guinea, and he may have been mistaken about its age.