by Chris Cook
The influence of Great Britain on the Hawaiian Islands is pervasive but easily overlooked. English is the main language, the Hawaiian flag boldly displays the British Union Jack, and local law is based, in part, on old English common law.Britain's impact began the first day of Hawaiian contact with the western world, when sea captain James Cook of northern England set foot on the black sand beach at the mouth of the Waimea River on Kaua'i. Cook and his crew aboard the ships Discovery and Resolution were searching for a northwest passage from the Pacific to Atlantic on Cook's third circumnavigation of the globe. Cook landed on Kaua'i, January 19, 1778, forever changing Hawai'i.
Many historians believe Hawaiians greeted Cook as Lono, a god of harvest and peace. Cook toured Kaua'i's Waimea and the valley behind, studying heiau (temple sites), and describing intensive agricultural practices. He was surprised to hear Hawaiians speaking a language akin to Tahitian, which some of his men spoke fluently.
Cook named Hawai'i the Sandwich Islands after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, one of the sponsors of his expedition and the First Lord of the British Admiralty. Cook returned to the Sandwich Islands the following winter, sailing off Maui, then anchoring at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island where he was greeted by thousands of Hawaiians who lined the shore and sailed up to him in canoes. Hikiau Heiau at Kealakekua was dedicated to Lono, and historians believe that once again Cook was honored as a god-like figure, as he arrived during a peaceful season when the Hawaiian god Lono was in power.
Cook's stay at Kealakekua marked the first "Christian" burial of a westerner in Hawai'i when an old English tar named William Watman was given a Christian service by Cook, followed with a Hawaiian ritual by the kahuna of the Hikiau Heiau who burned the flesh off his bones and interred him.
After filling his ships with food and water, Cook sailed away, but sprung a mast northwest of Kealakekua Bay. His return to Kealakekua to fix his ship was stressful to the Hawaiians. They had already supplied Cook with much of their harvest and they needed the rest to feed their own people. The season of Ku, a war god, had begun. This and other factors led to an altercation on a smooth lava rock shoreline in front of the Hawaiian village Ka'awaloa, on the northern point of Kealakekua Bay. A young Kamehameha, the future ruler of Hawai'i, was among those who struck down Cook, who died.
By the mid-1780s, Cook's journals describing the location of the Hawaiian Islands had been published to acclaim in London. The drawings by artist John Webber, who sailed with Cook, and Cook's own vivid words would draw explorers and merchants to Hawai'i for the next 50 years.
However, Cook's death at the hands of Hawaiian warriors initially gave Hawai'i a reputation as a savage land and it was eight years before another foreign ship arrived. English captains to follow Cook included Portlock and Dixon, Meares and Douglass. They explored O'ahu and other islands and bartered peaceably with Hawaiians on most of the main islands.
The establishment of a strong relationship between Great Britain and Hawai'i began with the visits of British explorer Capt. George Vancouver in 1792. Vancouver had been with Cook, and he returned to Hawai'i in 1793 and 1794. Vancouver was a friendly, peaceable man who made deep a impression on the Hawaiian people through his wisdom and warmth. Vancouver tried to make peace between warring Hawaiian islands and refused to sell arms and ammunition to the ali'i (chiefs). His recognition of Kamehameha as the leading ali'i increased the status of the Big Island warrior. Vancouver told Kamehameha of Great Britain's government and religion, and offered to send teachers.
Kamehameha held a council of chiefs aboard Vancouver's ship Discovery on February 21, 1794. The ali'i decided to place Hawai'i under the protection of Great Britain, while retaining the right to rule Hawai'i independently. The British flag was hoisted on shore four days later and Lt. Puget took possession of all Hawai'i in the name of King George III of Great Britain. George III was the same British king who led the British against the American colonies during the Revolutionary War.
Vancouver's journals recorded that a salute was fired and Hawaiians exclaimed, "We are men of Britain." Though the secession was never ratified by the rulers of Great Britain, this event began a long and friendly relationship between the Hawaiian Islands and Great Britain.
Vancouver refused Kamehameha's request for firearms and gun powder, but promised Kamehameha delivery of a war ship with cannon as a gift from King George. John Young was a British sailor from Liverpool, England, who would play a leading role in the early post-western contact development of Hawai'i. Young was left behind on the Big Island by Thomas Metcalf, captain of the ship Elenora, and became an advisor and friend to Kamehameha, who made Young a high chief. Young brought knowledge of the western world, including naval and land battle strategies, to Kamehameha, and a sober, just voice on affairs of state for the Hawaiian Kingdom. He organized the construction of the fort at Honolulu Harbor.
Young built a compound at Kawaihae on the Big Island adjacent to the Pu'ukohala Heiau. There he and his Hawaiian wife raised a family and entertained both Hawaiian and western visitors. Young's grand-daughter Emma would become the wife of Kamehameha IV.
Kamehameha flew the British flag over his compound and on his war canoes and ships until 1816, when the Hawaiian flag was hoisted with its Union Jack and eight red, white and blue stripes. The Union Jack was most likely chosen to reflect Kamehameha's desire for British protection; the stripes represent each of the main Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian flag was first designed in about 1809 by either Captain Alexander Adams or Captain George Beckley, both friends and advisors to Kamehameha. Some say the flag first had nine stripes.
In 1816 Kamehameha's ship Ka'ahumanu sailed to China with a cargo of sandalwood, but was turned away from the port when it arrived flying the Hawaiian flag. Under the advice of an Englishman on board, the British flag was hoisted. The ship was allowed in the harbor, but Captain Alexander Adams had to pay a $3,000 duty. When Kamehameha found out, he instituted port fees in Hawai'i and greatly added to the treasury of his Hawaiian Kingdom.
Whaling, an industry that along with sandalwood carried the economy of Hawai'i from 1819 to the Civil War, began in the Pacific Ocean in 1789 with the arrival of the British whaler Emilia. British whaleships joined the Yankees from Nantucket and other New England ports in replenishing their ships in Hawaiian ports.
Before Kamehameha's death in 1819 Tahitians began arriving at the port of Honolulu, often aboard British ships. Some Tahitians had been Christianized by the London Missionary Society and brought word of the new teachings to the royal court.
British Protestant missionaries worked in Hawai'i only under the leadership of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They had agreed to establish missionary stations only south of the equator in the Pacific Islands, leaving most of the central and north Pacific to the Americans. The American missionaries were still serving in Hawai'i on a trail basis on May 1, 1822, when the ship promised by Vancouver to Kamehameha finally arrived, sailing from Australia. The captain of the Prince Regent told Kamehameha's son and successor Liholiho and his court that the British supported the work of the American missionaries in Hawai'i, saving the day for the fledgling mission station in Honolulu and ensuring its future in the Islands.
In thanks for the ship, Liholiho further cemented relationships with Great Britain by sending a letter to King George IV saying: "The whole of these islands having been conquered by my father, I have succeeded to the government of them, and beg leave to place them all under the protection of your most excellent Majesty; wishing to observe peace with all nations."
Liholiho, apparently afraid of American and Russian influences, wished to make sure that the British government would protect him in time of danger. In the fall of 1823 he announced he would visit England. Liholiho left Hawai'i in the English whale ship L'Aigle, with an entourage including Queen Kamamalu, Gov. Boki of O'ahu and his wife Liliha, and John Young's son James. They sailed from Honolulu on November 27, 1823 and arrived at Portsmouth, England on May 22, 1824.
In London, Liholiho and his party created a sensation. They were lavishly entertained, visiting Westminster Abbey and occupying the royal box at Covenant Garden theater to see the play Pizarro.
Unfortunately, in mid-June the royal party was stricken with a violent form of measles. After being attended to by physicians of King George IV, all quickly recovered except for Liholiho and Kamamalu. Kamamalu died on July 8, and grief-stricken Liholiho died six days later. The survivors met with the British king, who promised to protect the Hawaiian Islands but said the Hawaiian monarchy should rule the islands. The bodies of Liholiho and Kamamalu were placed in lavish coffins and shipped back to Honolulu aboard the 46-gun British frigate Blonde, commanded by Captain the Right Honorable Lord Byron, cousin of the poet Byron.
Upon the arrival of the Blonde at Lahaina on May 4, 1825, Lord Byron addressed the Hawaiian ali'i and firmed up the principle of hereditary succession of monarchy. The British lord sailed to Hilo, surveyed the harbor there and renamed it Byron's Bay. He also toured Kilauea Volcano and erected the first monument to Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay. A plot of land where Cook's Monument now stands belongs to Great Britain and is maintained by Hawaiians and by the crews of British ships that come to the bay periodically.
The late 1830s marked an official takeover of Hawai'i by Great Britain. This began with the appointment by the British government of Richard Charlton as consular agent to oversee British interests in Hawai'i and at the Society Islands. Charlton was a trader with business interests in Hawai'i, including Kaua'i's first cattle ranch on lands above Hanalei, now known as Princeville. Charlton wished to make Hawai'i part of Great Britain, and initiated a major diplomatic problem. His desire was answered all the way from the U.S. Capitol in Washington by Daniel Webster who told the British government that Hawai'i should remain independent.
Charlton complained that British interests were being threatened in Hawai'i. Rear Admiral Richard Thomas, commander of the British squadron in the Pacific, sent the frigate Carysfort to investigate, arriving on February 10, 1843. Commander Lord George Paulet warned Kamehameha III, threatening an attack on Honolulu. The king temporarily ceded the Hawaiian Kingdom to Great Britain, fearing the French were on the way to attack Hawai'i. The British flag was raised over each island, and many Hawaiian flags were destroyed. A queen's regiment of Hawaiian soldiers formed to pledge allegiance to Victoria, and three Hawaiian schooners were renamed the Albert, the Adelaide, and the Victoria. Dr. Gerret Judd, a prime minister of sorts for Hawai'i before the takeover, protested and secretly took Hawaiian government records into the royal tomb in Honolulu, storing them on the coffin of Ka'ahumanu.
As soon as Admiral Thomas, then in Valparaiso, Chile, learned of the doings of Paulet he sailed for Honolulu aboard the frigate Dublin. Thomas met with Kamehameha III and quickly restored the Hawaiian Kingdom. On July 31, a restoration ceremony was held east of downtown Honolulu, at a place now known as Thomas Square. At a colorful ceremony, the Hawaiian flag was raised and guns of the warships in Honolulu Harbor were shot off. In the afternoon a thanksgiving service was held at Kawaiahao Church and Kamehameha III uttered the words Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono (The life of the land is preserved by righteousness), which is today the motto of the State of Hawai'i.
British trading in Hawai'i began on a commercially viable level in 1834 when the Hudson's Bay Company set up shop, exchanging lumber from the Pacific Northwest for Hawaiian products and for cash brought to Hawai'i by other foreigners. In 1840 a shipment of English goods arrived aboard the barque Forager from London. The cargo was sent with hopes of "(driving) all Yankees off the Islandsand out of the Pacific" However, the immense Hudson's Bay Company failed to monopolize trade in the Islands. Other British traders arrived, including Starkey, Janion & Co., which became Theo. H. Davies & Co., Ltd., which is still a prominent firm in Honolulu.
With the advent of the Victorian Age, the Hawaiian monarchy departed from its Congregationalist ties and during the reign of Kamehameha IV joined the Episcopal Church, the American wing of the Church of England. The young king and his queen Emma requested in 1859 that priests be sent to Hawai'i. The royal couple promised land for a church and financial support from the kingdom. Originally the church was to be a joint American and English effort, but the coming of the Civil War ended the American participation, as the Episcopal Church was then closely associated with the American South.
The church was to be launched with the christening of the young Prince of Hawai'i by an Episcopal priest, and Queen Victoria consented to be his godmother. The Right Rev. T. N. Staley arrived in Honolulu in October, 1862, but unfortunately the young prince died eight days earlier. The new church was first called the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church, but soon became commonly known as the English Church. Kamehameha IV showed his interest by having the Book of Common Prayer translated into Hawaiian.
Following the death of Kamehameha IV, his successor, Kamehameha V, addressed the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church: "The liturgy, constitution, and teaching of the Episcopal Church seem to me more consistent with monarchy than any other form of Christianity that I have met with" In Honolulu, St. Andrew's Cathedral, with construction beginning in 1867 under the direction of Queen Emma, and the St. Andrew's Priory school recall this regal era.
British sugar planters created grand plantations in the Islands beginning in the 1860s. Planter James Makee, a Scot, whose Rose Ranch on slopes of Maui's Haleakala was a favorite gathering place of Hawai'i's famous visitors, put over a million dollars into his property. The rambling plantation house was usually filled with guests. Makee brought in shade trees, created gardens, and later turned the estate into a cattle ranch. At one dinner, officers of a visiting ship dined with him on what they thought were turkeys. After dinner Makee announce they had just dined on peacocks.
At Princeville on Kaua'i's north shore, a Scot named Robert Crichton Wyllie started a grand estate on lands bordering the Hanalei River. He imported a state-of-the-art sugar mill from Scotland in the early 1860s and invited Victorian visitors to Princeville. The best known guest was Lady Jane Franklin, the widow of a famed British explorer who had disappeared in the Arctic. Wyllie named his estate after young Prince Albert, the son of Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Today Princeville is a major resort destination, and the fine service and decor of the elegant Princeville Hotel echo Wyllie's dream for this romantic setting.
The sugar cane plantation era, which boomed in 1875 after the United States allowed sugar into the states duty free from Hawai'i, brought English and Scottish plantation managers and engineers to the Islands. The Kilauea Plantation on Kaua'i was one of the most British. This was shown well in a grand parade held for young Princess Liliuokalani who toured Kilauea in 1881 to pound in the last spike on Kaua'i's first railroad.
In the 1870s King David Kalakaua combined the regal airs of the Victorian British monarchy with a return to the ways of old Hawai'i. Kalakaua wore jeweled crowns, and had a sword of state created. Well-educated and well-traveled, Kalakaua recognized the importance of the visit of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson in the 1880s. Kalakaua cultivated a friendship with Stevenson and held a lu`au for him.
In turn Stevenson became intrigued by Princess Kaiulani, the half-Scottish heir to the Hawaiian throne. Stevenson wrote poems for her before she traveled to London to attend school at Harrowden Hall. As the Hawaiian monarchy began its fall Kaiulani was rushed back from England by Theophilus H. Davies, who strongly suggested that she be named queen to save the monarchy. On March 6, 1899 Kailulani died along with the hope of restoring the monarchy.
Hawai'i was famous in England in the 1910s through a sonnet written by In the English poet Rupert Brooke, who visited Honolulu and Kaua'i in 1913. Waikiki was included in his popular book of poems that expressed a patriotism and optimism in the early years of World War I. Brooke was on his way to the war but died in the Dardanelles from blood poisoning.
Today the British influence remains in Hawai'i. Beretania, the Hawaiian language's version of Britain, is one of Honolulu's busiest streets. Afternoon tea is served at posh hotels like Waikiki's Halekulani. The word pidgin, a bastardization of the word business, is still the street language of Hawai'i. And the Union Jack tucked away in the left corner of the Hawaiian flag still grandly flies through-out the Hawaiian Islands.