Shirley Waldemar Baker

Shirley Waldemar Baker (1836[1] – 16 November 1903) was a Methodist missionary in Tonga. He was the founder of the Free Church of Tonga and enjoyed significant influence during the reign of George Tupou I, who made him prime minister.

Shirley Waldemar Baker
2nd Prime Minister of Tonga
In office
April 1881  July 1890
MonarchGeorge Tupou I
Preceded byTevita ʻUnga
Succeeded bySiaosi U. Tukuʻaho
Personal details
London, England
Died16 November 1903
Ha’apai, Tonga

Early life

Baker was born in London, England, to Jane (née Woolmer) and George Baker. He arrived in Melbourne in 1852 during the Victorian gold rush, as a stowaway. He subsequently worked on the goldfields as a farmhand, miner and apothecary's assistant. In 1855, Baker became a teacher at a Wesleyan school in Castlemaine. He married Elizabeth Powell in 1859.[2]


In 1860, Baker was ordained as a Wesleyan minister and went to Tonga as a missionary. He became head of the mission and was involved in the councils of King George Tupou I, who made him his prime minister in 1880. A disagreement arose with the Wesleyan authorities at Sydney in 1879, and Baker founded an independent body under the title of the "Free Church of Tonga". Some of the natives, however, were loyal to their original church and much strong feeling was aroused, which resulted with an attempt to shoot Baker in 1887. He escaped unhurt, but his son and daughter were both wounded. Six Tongans were executed for this crime,[1] and many were deported to other islands. In 1888, the Rev. George Brown visited Tonga to inquire into the position and to endeavour to heal the breach between the two churches. He did not succeed, and his reports show that Baker was using his power to the disadvantage of those who were not adherents of the Free Church. In 1890, Sir John Bates Thurston visited Tonga and deported Baker at short notice to Auckland for being 'prejudicial to the peace and good order of the Western Pacific'.

Late life

Baker lived in Auckland for some years but suffered financial losses in the 1890s slump. Baker paid a short visit to Tonga in 1897, settled there again in 1900, and died there on 16 November 1903. His grave and monument still stand as a tourist attraction in Pangai on Lifuka, Haʻapai.[3]

Baker's side of the case may be found in Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography, published in 1892. An opposing view is in Basil Thomson's The Diversions of a Prime Minister, pp. 3 to 25. R. L. Stevenson, who called Baker "the defamed and much-accused man of Tonga" found him "highly interesting to speak to" (Vailima Letters, p. 41).

See also


  1. Noel Rutherford (1969). "Baker, Shirley Waldemar (1836 - 1903)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3. MUP. pp. 76–77. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  2. Rutherford, Noel (1969). "Baker, Shirley Waldemar (1836–1903)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 3. Melbourne University Press.
  3. "Obituary. The Rev. Shirley Baker of Tonga". Annual Register for 1903. Longmans, Green, and Co. 1904. p. 163.


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