The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Thakombau

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Thakombau, the first and last King of Fiji, was originally only chief of Mbau, in that island. He was born about 1817. In 1832 his father, Tanoa, was driven from his chieftainship of Mbau, and most of his family murdered. Thakombau was thought harmless on account of his youth, and was allowed to live, but plotted revenge in secret. When his time came he acted with great vigour, restoring his father after about five years' exile and punishing the enemies of his family with horrible barbarities. Up to this time he was known as Thikinoru, the "Centipede," but he was thenceforth known as Thakombau ("Evil to Mbau"). His father died in 1852, and in July of the following year Thakombau was formally installed Vunivalu, or War King, of Mbau. He was now involved in internal and external troubles of a most trying character, on one occasion being only saved by the intervention of the King of the Friendly Islands and on another having to hand over 200,000 acres of land to the Polynesian Company, to enable him to pay a fine of £9000 levied on him by the Government of the United States as compensation for losses incurred by American citizens. Cannibalism was rife in Fiji till 1854, but at length on April 30th of that year the Wesleyan missionaries induced Thakombau to embrace Christianity and to proclaim the abolition of cannibalism. What his former ferocity had been may be gathered from the fact that, after defeating his father's enemies, he had one of the prisoners brought before him, ordered his tongue to be cut out, and ate it before the victim's face, "cracking jokes the while," as Mr. Julian Thomas records in his "Cannibals and Convicts." In 1857 Thakombau abandoned polygamy and was married according to the Wesleyan formula, he and his wife being publicly baptised on Jan. 11th, 1858, under the names of Ebenezer and Lydia. In 1859 Thakombau, as the most powerful chief of Fiji, offered the sovereignty of the islands to Great Britain. The offer was declined by the Duke of Newcastle in 1862. About that time the demand for cotton, owing to the American civil war, led to an influx of Europeans into Fiji for the purpose of cotton cultivation. In June 1871 certain Englishmen set up a Fijian Government, with Thakombau as king. A constitution was agreed upon, and a Parliament elected. The Parliament and the Government before long drifted into mutual hostility, and the Ministry latterly governed without the aid of the Parliament. The question of annexing Fiji had in the meantime been agitated both in Australia and England on many grounds, and in August 1873 the Earl of Kimberley commissioned Commodore Goodenough, commanding the squadron on the station, and Mr. E. L. Layard, her Majesty's consul in Fiji, to investigate and report on the matter. These commissioners on March 21st, 1874, reported an offer of the cession of the sovereignty of the islands from the chiefs, with the assent of the Europeans, but on certain terms which were not acceptable, and Sir Hercules Robinson, the Governor of New South Wales, was despatched to Fiji in Sept. 1874 to negotiate. This mission was completely successful, and the sovereignty of the islands was ceded to her Majesty by Thakombau, Maafu, and the other principal chiefs, in a deed of cession dated Oct. 10th, 1874. A charter was shortly afterwards issued by her Majesty erecting the islands into a separate colony and providing for their government. Thakombau, who had been guaranteed a pension in return for transferring the sovereignty, visited Sydney, N.S.W., at the end of 1874, accompanied by his two sons. When the old chief returned to his native land he was ill with the measles. The disease spread rapidly, and during the six months it ravaged the islands 40,000 Fijians died of it. The natives, as Mr. Thomas narrates, naturally regarded this fearful visitation as an indication that the gods were displeased at the surrender of their country to foreigners. Thakombau died on Feb. 1st, 1883.