'King George' [King George Tupou I of Tonga, c.1797-1893]

The source of this late-19th-century wood engraving bearing the title ’King George’ has not yet been identified but is probably an illustrated magazine. As it is mounted with images of Greenwich Pensioners it was previously thought to show a black pensioner - of which there were a number (see for example BHC1159) - dressed in elaborate uniform for unknown reasons. More recent work on drawings of the Pacific made in 1849-51 by Captain (later Admiral) Edward Gennys Fanshawe suggests it is a portrait of King George (Siaousi) Tupou I of Tonga (c.1797-1893), who took the name George (Siaousi) after George III of Britain on Christian baptism in 1831. Similarity to other images appears to support the identification: this one is probably based on a photograph of the 1860s or later.

Though established as partial ruler of the Tonga group by the 1830s, George Tupou’s formal reign began in 1845 and according to Fanshawe, writing in 1849 (see PAI4640), he was ‘one of the most intelligent and statesmanlike’ of the Polynesian rulers. His coronation was only in 1875 and this image may date from about then, since it shows a fairly old man, and the first Tongan postage stamp, issued in 1886, represents the king with a white beard. His exact date of birth is not known but he was nearly 100 when he died from over-exerting himself taking a swim, and so old that his successor, George Tupou II, was his great-grandson. Fanshawe noted that one of his younger sons, aged three in 1849, was a child prodigy who had then already been offered formal education by the Governor of New Zealand. This item is mounted on a sheet with PAI8792-PAI8794 and PAI8796-PAI8797.

Object Details

ID: PAI8795
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Date made: probably 1840s; circa 1875
People: Greenwich Pensioner; King George Tupou I of Tonga
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Admiralty Collection
Measurements: Sheet: 115 x 48 mm

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