Six Boys Survived Being Shipwrecked For 15 Months After ‘Borrowing’ Boat
Lord of the Flies tells a terrifying tale of what happens if a group of young boys are left to their own devices on a deserted island: chaos, terror, and death.
That’s exactly what it is – a tale – but for the longest time the story has been used as a way to predict what would happen if a group of children found themselves stranded without parental supervision.
Now we know differently though, with a new, real-life story about a group of schoolboys who were shipwrecked for 15 months giving us a much more hopeful ending.
A 1966 article in Australian newspaper The Age told the story of six boys who had been found three weeks earlier on a rocky island south of Tonga called ‘Ata. All sounds pretty familiar so far, right?
Except this is where it differs from Lord of the Flies, because after being stranded there for more than a year, they were eventually rescued by an Australian sea captain called Peter Warner – and all of them were alive and well.
Peter was travelling home from Tasmania in the winter of 1966 when he came across ‘Ata and noticed something unusual: there were burned patches on the green cliffs. That was nothing compared to what he saw next though, with a naked boy jumping into the water and screaming for his help.
‘My name is Stephen,’ the boy said, as recalled by Peter to The Guardian. ‘There are six of us and we reckon we’ve been here 15 months.’
The boys – Stephen, Sione, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano – told Peter they were students at a boarding school in Nuku‘alofa, the Tongan capital, and had got stranded after ‘borrowing’ a boat one day in 1965 from a fisherman they all disliked and had been caught in a storm.
Peter initially didn’t believe them and used his radio to call in to Nuku‘alofa. Twenty minutes later, the operator said: ‘You found them! These boys have been given up for dead. Funerals have been held. If it’s them, this is a miracle!’
So just how exactly did they survive? Having set sail without a map or a compass, the boys were stuck at sea ‘without food or water’ for eight days after a storm ripped their sail to shreds and the boat’s rudder broke.
On the eighth day, they discovered ‘Ata island and headed towards it, not knowing it would be their home for the next 15 months. They split jobs, working in teams of two for garden, kitchen and guard duty.
The boys, aged between 13 and 16, prayed and sang songs both in the morning and evening and while they sometimes argued, they would resolve it by giving those involved a time-out.
By the time we arrived, the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.
They had difficult days: it hardly rained during the summer, meaning the boys were extremely dehydrated; a raft they built in an attempt to leave the island fell apart in the waves; and Stephen broke his leg after falling off a cliff one day.
In all of these instances though, they kept each other’s spirits lifted and looked after each other, with the other five boys setting Stephen’s broken leg using sticks and leaves. When they eventually returned home, a medical professional was said to be astonished at his perfectly healed leg.
The boys survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds and seabird eggs, but after discovering an ancient volcanic crater on top of the island would eat wild taro, bananas and chickens.
After being rescued on September 11, 1966, they were taken back home only to be arrested as the fisherman they had ‘borrowed’ the boat from, Mr Taniela Uhila, who had decided to press charges.
Luckily for the boys, Peter rescued them once more and paid Mr Uhila £150 for his old boat, securing the boys’ release from prison.
He later commissioned a new ship and hired all of the boys as his crew, giving them the opportunity to see the world beyond Tonga.
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