A shipwreck that was discovered by divers in Tonga could be the infamous Port-au-Prince, a British privateering vessel that sank in the 19th century with a hold full of treasure, according to a statement by officials in the Pacific nation.
The vessel, a British privateer (aka legal pirate ship), was attacked in 1806 by Tongan warriors who slaughtered most of its crew on the orders of King Finau ‘Ulukalala II. The Tongans then salvaged iron and cannons from the ship before scuttling it, despite all of the treasure on board, reports the AFP.
The Port-au-Prince was thought to be lost until a diver in the Ha0apai islands found wreckage that bears resemblance to the historic privateer, according to tourism ministry spokeswoman Sandra Fifita. Fifita said in a statement that:
“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.”
Darren Rice, a resort owner and one of two divers to visit the site, told AFP that the shipwreck is located on a reef just off of Ha’ano in an area of rough seas. Rice stated:
“There’s very little left of the ship, it’s been pounded by 4-5 metre (13-16.5 foot) swells for 200 years, so there’s wreckage scattered all over the sea floor.”
According to The Daily Mail, Rice did not want to release much information about the wreck, fearing that it could bring an influx of treasure hunters, adding that, “If it’s the Port-au-Prince then it’s the most significant wreck in Tonga’s history.”
When asked if he believed there was buried treasure in the rough seas, Rice responded, “If it’s the Port-au-Prince, it’s there. It will be well and truly buried by now and it’ll take a lot of work to get to it.” He added that, should the wreck be the famed British privateer, then:
“That’s the most exciting thing to me, not the treasure. Only one ship of that era has ever gone missing in Ha’apai, so if it’s not the Port-au-Prince, what is it?”
The Port-au-Prince was originally built by the French but was captured by the British and set sail in 1805 as a privateer ship, meaning they had permission to attack and plunder vessels and possessions of Spain and France, Britain’s rivals. It spent almsot two years at sea, raiding Madrid’s settlements in Peru and plundering Spanish ships before meeting its end in Tonga.
William Mariner, a teenage boy, was one of the crew members to survive the Tongan massacre, becoming a favorite of the king and taking the name Toki Ukamea (Iron Axe). He stayed in the island nation for four years before traveling back to Britain. He recounted his adventures to an anthropologist, John Martin, in a book, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands.
Should the shipwreck discovered in the waters off of Tonga be the Port-au-Prince, then the treasure sunk with the fated pirate vessel is most likely still there.