14 June 2007

Book review: Shirley Baker and the King of Tonga (1971), by Noel Rutherford, *****

Old print of Tonga, click to view in larger size


Of all the Pacific island nations only Tonga has retained a degree of lasting political independence. It was Tupou I, the first king of Tonga, who established an internationally recognized nation. A shrewd and determined politician, he enlisted the aid of a rebellious Weslyan missionary. Noel Rutherford's book is an account of the life and times of this gruff, bewhiskered minister from London's East End, the Reverend Shirley Baker.  A curious character ofter at odds with hs peers, Baker's achievements, whether motivated by altruism or self-preservation, contributed greatly to the Tonga as we know it today. With an introduction by 'Eseta Fusitu'a. (from the book's back cover)


A passionate account of the life and work of a very atypical English missionary who arrived in Tonga in 1876 and spent years as trusted advisor to its first king. He identified with the country and learned the language. He also did more than most for the preservation of its independence and dignity. This was no easy task in the face of English and German interference in the last two decades of the XIX century. He ruffled many feathers and an assasination attempt nearly sent him to his grave. When he died in 1903 no one wanted to bury him, not even his own church, but the King flew his flag at half mast. Today, many Tongans believe they owe more for the preservation of their culture to this man than to any other.

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