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Antonius Tui Tonga (1850–1905)

by Clive R. Moore

This article was published:

Antonius Tui Tonga (c.1850-1905), Pacific Islander community leader and farmer, was born probably on the island of Bau (Mbau), Fiji. By about 1876 he had arrived at Mackay, the main sugar-growing area in Queensland. In 1880, although described as under indentures, he was an overseer on Pleystowe plantation. On 14 June that year in Holy Trinity Church of England, Mackay, as 'Tui Thacambau' he married Lelia, a servant, from Myes (Emae) Island in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). He claimed that his parents were Tui Thacambau (Cakobau), King of Fiji, and his wife Temonia, who may have been one of the two wives Cakobau divorced in 1857.

Between 1880 and 1885 Tui Tonga acted as an agent provocateur and in 1890 as interpreter for the police, helping to obtain convictions of hoteliers and shopkeepers for selling alcohol and firearms to Islanders. On 16 November 1885, again at Holy Trinity Church, and again claiming to be the son of the King of Fiji, 'Tuie Tonga', a widower, married Fanny from Aoba, (Vanuatu). He gave his occupation as 'warder', and from that year he worked in the dispensary of the government hospital for Islanders.

By 1892 Tui Tonga was living with Lilian, a woman from Malaita, Solomon Islands, and their son. On 21 January that year he shot Lily and attempted to kill himself. Found guilty of murder, on 25 May he was condemned to death. Over two hundred of Mackay's leading citizens petitioned the governor for leniency, claiming that he had been temporarily insane through jealousy at the time of the murder. The presiding judge noted that 'the Prisoner was a highly educated man speaking several European languages' and that if he had been White the jury would probably have found him not guilty. On 10 June the sentence was commuted to fifteen years penal servitude. Tui Tonga was discharged from St Helena prison, Brisbane, on 18 June 1897, with the remainder of his sentence remitted conditionally. Records described him then as a 47-year-old Catholic, with black hair and black eyes and with two stars tattooed on his right shoulder and a fern leaf, tree and fish on his right arm; he was 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall and weighed 10 st. 4 lb. (65 kg).

Tui Tonga returned to Mackay, where he operated a boarding house for Islanders and a farm. On 22 February 1901 at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Townsville, now styling himself Antonius Tuietonga, he married Agnes Davison Brown, a Scottish-born domestic servant, stating that he was the son of Daniel Tuietonga, labourer, and his wife Mary, née Mitchell. In November that year he founded at Mackay the Pacific Islanders' Association, to fight against the mass deportation ordered by the Australian government's Pacific Island Labourers Act (1901). The campaign spread in the southern Queensland and northern New South Wales sugar districts and helped to lead to a royal commission into the use of imported labour in the sugar industry, which eventually caused the Commonwealth government to ease its policy to deport all Islanders.

Tui Tonga died of heart disease on 30 December 1905 at his Mackay farm and was buried with Catholic rites in the local cemetery. His 5-year-old daughter, and a son by an earlier marriage, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Moore, Kanaka: A History of Melanesian Mackay (Port Moresby, PNG, 1985)
  • D. Routledge, Matanitu (Suva, Fiji, 1985)
  • Journal of Pacific History, vol 11, parts 1-2, 1976, p 28
  • C. Moore, '"Good-bye, Queensland, Good-bye, White Australia
  • Good-bye Christians”: Australia’s South Sea Islander Community Deportation, 1901-1908’, New Federalist, no 4, Dec 2000, p 22
  • Mackay Mercury, 27 Mar 1880, 22 May 1880, 21 May 1884, 4 June 1884, 14 June 1884, 4 Apr 1885, 24 Apr 1890, 23 Jan 1892, 4 Feb 1892, 7 June 1892, 16 Nov 1901, 18 Jan 1906
  • Mackay deposition books, A/38111-2, May 1884 – Apr 1885 (Queensland State Archives)
  • PRI 2/7 p 369 and EXE 6 1892/43 and A/18577 (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Clive R. Moore, 'Tonga, Antonius Tui (1850–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Tuietonga, Antonius

Mbau, Fiji


30 December, 1905 (aged ~ 55)
Mackay, Queensland, Australia

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