Treasure Ship Port Au Prince Found
By James Donahue
The burned-out remains of a 200-year-old tall ship of war, last believed used by the British as a
privateer on the high seas, have been believed found by sport divers off the coast of Lefooga, in the Tonga Nation of the
If they are right, local diver Tevita Moala, the man who found the wreck, believes he may have found
the legendary Port Au Prince, which was captured, burned and sunk by King Finau Ulukalala II and his people after the ship,
commanded by a Captain Duck, dropped anchor off Lefooga on November 29, 1806.
The Tonga chief ordered all but four members of the ship’s crew murdered, then stripped the
ship of its 32 iron guns before setting fire to the doomed vessel and sinking it with its cargo, believed to contain a fortune
in gold, silver and other treasures looted from vessels at sea. King Ulukalala saw the iron guns as valuable cargo, but apparently
had no interest in the cargo.
As the story was told, the Port Au Prince was also in search of whales at the time it reached Tonga.
Whether there was treasure in the hold remains to be learned. The wreck was destroyed by fire and then was pounded into pieces
by the surf during the 200 years it remained at its resting place. Thus if treasure is to be found, divers will have to search
for it on the sea bottom.
The treasure is believed to include copper, silver and gold, plus silver candlesticks, incense pans,
crucifixes and chalices.
The wreck has been tentatively identified as the Port Au Prince because it had copper plating on the
hull, dating the ship to a period between 1780 and 1850. It is also the only known ship of any size ever known to have sunk
in that part of the Pacific.
The ship originally sailed under the French flag until its capture by the British Navy off Port-au-Prince,
Haiti. It eventually became the property of Robert Bent of London. Bent said the ship off as a privateer, capturing treasure
from Spanish ships on the Atlantic, and also search for whales in the Pacific.
The story of the Port-au-Prince became internationally known because of William Mariner, a young deck
hand who survived the massacre at Tonga. It seems that King Ulukalala took the boy in and raised him as his own son. After
living in Tonga for several years, Mariner returned to England on a passing ship, where he wrote a book about his adventures.