Friday, August 24, 2018

The perils of over-excitement

In 1840 Taufa'ahau, the founder of modern Tonga, had problems. The king had converted to Wesleyanism, but many of his people refused to abandon their old gods or, worse still, chose to embrace Catholicism, a religion associated with the Wesleyan missionaries' French rivals. Taufa'ahau was holed up in the hill fort called Sia ko Veiongo, beside Nuku'alofa harbour, which had been renamed Mount Zion after a chapel was raised on its summit.

A few miles away, the pagan warriors of the village of Pea had built their own redoubt, complete with a deep ditch, palisades, massive walls, & cannons. The big guns were operated by a man nicknamed Jimmy the Devil, who was one of at least two Europeans who had jumped from passing ships, settled in Pea, and joined the village's army.

In an attempt to stop Tonga's Civil War, the British Empire despatched a ship filled with marines to Nuku'alofa. The troops were led by Captain Walter Croker, who soon decided that Tonga's Christians were fighting a Holy War, & that Mount Zion was a sacred place. After asking to be buried on the hill, Croker marched his men to Pea, drew his sword, & charged at the village's high walls. He was shot dead after taking a few paces; another dozen British troops were killed or wounded, before the force retreated to the safety of the sacred hill.

Kaloka, as the Tongans call him, got his wish, & when we climbed Mount Zion Sio, Aneirin & I stopped for a minute or so beside the martyr's grave. Sio and I told Aneirin the strange story of Croker's death, & Aneirin ruminated. 'I think' he said eventually, 'that Captain Croker might have gotten a bit overexcited'.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


History rhymes. At the end of last month a boat exploded off Herald Island, lighting the sky & waking locals. In the same week 75 years earlier, an American plane on a secret mission crashed just off the island. The plane was flying Japanese & Thai women from NZ internment to freedom.

When they took off from Whenuapai airport, the pilot & crew of the Liberator Express were suffering that most serious mechanical problem, fatigue. They forgot to check their altimeter, & the wartime blackout & a storm meant they could steer by neither stars nor city lights.

Some of the Japanese civilians died in the wreck of the Liberator; others waded through the Waitemata, towards Herald Island. Islanders saw fire, & heard shouting in the enemy's language, & decided that the invasion must have begun. They hid from the bleeding & burnt women.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Technical problems

My laptop melted as soon as I'd returned from Tonga, and has been doing strange things to my account and to the homepage of this blog. I'll sort it all out early next week, when I have a new machine and a childless study, but I wanted to mention that I've continued to tweet during my absence from blogland.