Baker, Shirley Waldemar

Controversial WM missionary in Tonga, born in Camden Town, London. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Woolmer, was a WM minister (e.m. 1797; d. 1827). In 1852 he ran away from home and arrived in Australia at 16, where he worked in various jobs and became a local preacher in the Castlemaine district, Victoria. Despite his meagre education and a lack of theological training, he was accepted for missionary service in Tonga, was ordained in 1860 and had a colourful career. During 20 years as a missionary he showed himself to be articulate and able in administration, earned the enmity of traders, British officials and the missionary authorities and survived an attempted assassination. His handling of the mission finances greatly increased its income. The medical knowledge he had acquired benefited mission staff and Europeans as well as Tongans. Despite his recall to Australia in 1879, he returned to Tonga in 1880 and became Premier under King Tupou I, resigning from the WM ministry in 1881. He gave vigorous support to the Tongans' policy of national independence and set up a national educational system in rivalry with the WM mission schools. In 1885 he set up the self-governing Free Wesleyan Church, which won the backing of the Tongan government, but did nothing to allay ill-feeling between him and WM leaders like J.E. Moulton and Jabez B. *Waterhouse. His pro-German leanings led to a treaty with Germany in 1876, giving recognition to Tonga's status and Tupou's sovereignty. Expelled by the British in 1890, he pursued his business interests in Auckland, Samoa and Europe, before returning in 1897 to settle in Tonga, by which time his royal ally, Tupou was dead. He died in Ha'apai on 16 November 1903..


'He was a man of ability and resource, enterprising and plausible; and he contrived to make himself useful to the King, who had in those days few Europeans on whom to rely for advice regarding his constitutional and administrative projects. Sir Basil Thomson … found Baker in 1866 to be "a florid, well-fed man of fifty-five, common in speech, alert and confident.' (Sir Harry Luke, Qeen Salote and her Kingdom, p.54)

  • L.S. and B.S. Baker, Memoirs of the Reverend Dr. Shirley Waldemar Baker (1951)
  • Sir Harry Luke, Qeen Salote and her Kingdom (1954), pp.54-56
  • N. Rurtherford, Shirley Baker and the King of Tonga (1971)
  • Methodist Recorder, 20 Feb 1997
  • Oxford DNB
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography