Written by DIVE Magazine Thursday, 09 August 2012 14:31
A diver with the anchor of the Port au Prince
The Port-au-Prince, a British privateer, was attacked by local warriors in 1806 after arriving in Tonga and most of its crew were massacred on the orders of King Finau 'Ulukalala II. Local folklore says the Tongans salvaged iron and cannon from the ship, before the king ordered it to be scuttled with its treasure still on board.
Tourism ministry spokeswoman Sandra Fifita said a local diver recently found a wreck off the island of Foa that has features similar to the historic privateer. If the wreck proved to be the Port-au-Prince, the treasure was likely to still be aboard, she added.
'It is believed that a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold is resting with the wreck, along with a number of silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices,' she said in a statement.
She added that the wreck had copper cladding on its hull, which Britain's National Maritime Museum in Greenwich said meant it dated from 1780 to 1850, when such cladding was used to protect against shipworm and marine weeds.
Resort owner Darren Rice, one of only two divers to have visited the site, said it was located on a reef just off the island of Ha'ano in an area renowned for its rough seas.
'There's very little left of the ship, it's been pounded by 4-5 metre swells for 200 years, so there's wreckage scattered all over the sea floor,' he said. 'We want to make sure the area's properly mapped and everything that's found is photographed and documented.'
Mr Rice said conditions would be too rough for further dives until November or December and the first priority would be trying the verify that the wreckage is from the Port-au-Prince. A few years ago the Port au Prince's anchor was found in the vicinity.
The Port-au-Prince was originally built in France but was captured by the British and set sail from London in 1805 as a privateer, a ship with permission to attack and plunder the vessels and possessions of Britain's rivals Spain and France.
After almost two years at sea, during which it raided Spanish settlements in Peru and plundered treasure ships, it planned to hunt whales migrating through the Pacific and made its way to Tonga, where it met its end.
A teenaged boy named William Mariner was part of the crew and survived the massacre, eventually becoming a favourite of the king and adopting the name Toki Ukamea, or Iron Axe.
He stayed in Tonga for about four years before travelling back to Britain on a passing ship, recounting his adventures to amateur anthropologist John Martin in An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands.
Check out a video of finding the anchor...