Peter Warner, an Australian seafarer whose already eventful life was made even more so in 1966 when he and his crew discovered six shipwrecked boys who had been living on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific for 15 months, died on April 13 in Ballina, New South Wales. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Janet Warner, who said he had been swept overboard by a rogue wave while sailing near the mouth of the Richmond River, an area he had known for decades. A companion on the boat, who was also knocked into the water, pulled Mr. Warner to shore, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The story of the 1966 rescue, which made Mr. Warner a celebrity in Australia, began during a return sail from Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, where he and his crew had unsuccessfully requested the right to fish in the country’s waters. Casually casting his binoculars at a nearby uninhabited island, ‘Ata, he noticed a burned patch of ground.
“I thought, that’s strange that a fire should start in the tropics on an uninhabited island,” he said in a 2020 video interview. “So we decided to investigate further.”
an interview with Vice this year. “And when I compare it to what I gained at school, I think I learned more on the island. Because I learned how to trust myself.”
Back in Tonga, Mr. Warner was greeted as a hero. King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who had earlier denied him fishing rights, reversed himself. But the owner of the stolen boat was not in a celebratory mood, and he had the boys arrested. He dropped the charges after Mr. Warner offered to compensate him.
The story captivated Australia; a year later the Australian Broadcasting Corporation sent Mr. Warner and the boys back to the island to recreate aspects of their ordeal for a film crew. Other documentaries and newspaper features followed.
Lord of the Flies,” William Golding’s 1954 novel about a group of boys stranded on an island who descend into murderous anarchy. But this was nothing like Mr. Golding’s book: The six boys flourished in their spontaneous community, suggesting that cooperation, not conflict, is an integral feature of human nature.
“If millions of kids are required to read ‘Lord of the Flies,’ maybe they should also be required to learn this story as well,” the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, who wrote about the episode in his book “Humankind: A Hopeful History” (2020), said in an interview.
Peter Raymond Warner was born on Feb. 22, 1931, in Melbourne, Australia, to Arthur George Warner and Ethel (Wakefield) Warner. Arthur Warner was one of the country’s wealthiest men, having built a manufacturing and media empire, and he expected his son to follow him in the family business.
But Peter was uninterested; he preferred boxing and sailing, and at 17 he ran away from home to join a ship’s crew. When he returned a year later, his father made him go to law school at the University of Melbourne.
He lasted six weeks. He ran away again, this time to sail for three years on Swedish and Norwegian ships. Quick with languages, he learned enough Swedish to pass the master mariner’s exam, allowing him to captain even the largest seagoing vessels.