Once upon a time I proposed a radio drama about the true adventures of the British youth Will Mariner. Thought this would make a terrific tale for radio… or any medium, actually.
In 1806, Mariner, serving aboard the British Privateer Port-au-Prince as a cabin boy, became one of the few survivors when his ship was ambushed by Ha’apai natives of the Tonga islands in the South Pacific. Mariner spent four adventurous years stranded amongst these natives. His story is a fascinating glimpse into eighteenth century Ha’apai culture.
Mariner’s story could be adapted from either Doctor John Martin’s Will Mariner’s Account of the Natives of the Tonga Isles, published in 1817, or James Michener’s contemporary account in his Rascals in Paradise. The tale is episodic in nature and, if one wanted to explore the subject matter in detail, could easily provide three or four hours of meaty programming detailing Mariner’s harrowing escapades.
The actual story begins shortly before the massacre of the sailors on board the Port-au-Prince when a young woman prophesizes dire consequences for Will for serving aboard a privateer. It segues into the tale of Will’s rise to power as the Tonga Chief’s first lieutenant in a series of deadly island wars.
The tale of Mariner’s initial survival, and how he came to win the confidence of the Ha’apai chief, becoming in a remarkably short period of time a land-holding Ha’apai prince and the best friend of the chief’s son, is a stirring narrative much in the vein of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. Tension is generated throughout the tale as Will struggles to end his exile by conspiring to get off the island and return home to Britain, which he only manages after four years.
A curious footnote is Mariner’s fate following his return to Britain. His thirst for adventure thoroughly satiated after countless narrow escapes on the Tonga isles, Mariner lives out his life as an accountant, eventually dying a rather prosaic death by falling out of his rowboat on the Thames and drowning.