Tribal warfare and Tongan intrusions
In the early 1820s, Levuka was established as the first modern town in Fiji, on the island of Ovalau.
The intervention of European traders and missionaries, of whom the first arrived from Tahiti in 1830, led to increasingly serious wars among the native Fijian confederacies.
Supplied with weapons by Swedish mercenary Charlie Savage, Ratu Tanoa, the Vunivalu (a chiefly title meaning Warlord, often translated also as Paramount Chief) of Bau Island, defeated the much larger Burebasaga Confederacy and succeeded in subduing much of western Fiji.
His successor, Seru Epenisa Cakobau, fought to consolidate Bauan domination throughout the 1850s and 1860s, and started calling himself the Tui Viti, or King of Fiji.
He faced opposition, however, from local chiefs who saw him at best as first among equals, and also from the Tongan Prince Enele Ma'afu, who had established himself on the Island of Lakeba in the Lau archipelago in 1848.
A Christian, Ma'afu brought Wesleyan missionaries from Tonga, and the Methodist Church gained its first foothold in Fiji.
Most chiefs in the west regarded the Wesleyan missionaries, aligned as they were seen to be with Ma'afu, as a threat to their power, refused conversion, and resisted missionary attempts to set up outposts in their villages.
Trouble with the United States
Cakobau's claimed position was also undermined by international developments.
The United States threatened intervention following a number of incidents involving their consul, John Brown Williams.
His trading store had been looted by Fijian natives following an accidental fire, caused by stray cannon fire during a Fourth of July celebration in 1849.
When his Nukulau Island house was subjected to an arson attack in 1855, the commander of the United States naval frigate USS John Adams demanded compensation amounting to US$5000 for Williams from Cakobau, as the Tui Viti.
This initial claim was supplemented by further claims totalling US$38,531.
Cakobau was faced with a dilemma. To disclaim responsibility for the debt, he would have to deny his self-proclaimed and still far-from-universally accepted sovereignty.
To admit responsibility, he would have to undertake to pay the debt, or else face punishment from the United States Navy.
He chose the latter course, hoping that the United States was only bluffing.
Reality began to catch up with Cakobau in 1858, when the USS Vandalia sailed into Levuka.
Unable to pay his debt, and faced with increasing encroachments onto Viti Levu's south coast from Ma'afu, Cakobau approached the British consul with an offer to cede the islands to the United Kingdom, if only they would assume responsibility for his debt in return for...