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A famous fire, a secret engagement, and a fateful ride.
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When we last left Princess Ka‘iulani of Hawai‘i, the leaders of the Provisional Government had defied President Cleveland and refused to hand the government over to the deposed Queen Lili‘uokalani. From Europe, Ka‘iulani waited and watched as hope for the monarchy dwindled. Newspapers all over the world speculated on possible romances with her hanai cousin, Prince David Kawānanakoa, as well as her guardian’s oldest son, Clive Davies. But Ka‘iulani had already told her aunt she only wanted to marry for love. And love always seemed to take a backseat to bigger problems, including money. If you’re not up to speed, here’s what we’ve already covered:
So how does Ka‘iulani’s story end? And how many of her mother Likelike’s deathbed predictions about her came true? Let’s find out.
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Livin’ on a Prayer
Over a year after the men of the Provisional Government overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, the political situation was still unsettled. To solidify their hold on power, they tried a little rebranding. On July 4, 1894, President Sanford Dole proclaimed Hawai‘i a republic, which sounded a lot more legit – and a lot more permanent – than a Provisional Government.
The U.S. government officially recognized the Hawaiian republic a month later. Recognition was a sort of diplomatic prerequisite for annexation – which is exactly what men like Dole and Lorrin Thurston were counting on.
U.S. President Grover Cleveland had asked Congress to seek out a solution with “honor, integrity and morality.” (Webb, 125) Nope. They went with lies, theft, and greed instead.
Ka‘iulani heard the bad news while she was with the Davies family in Ireland that summer.
That fall, she moved in with the Davies family in Southport since there was still no word from Lili‘uokalani about coming home. By this point, she’d been away from home for six long years. She wrote to a friend, “I often cry for my islands…and I swear I can hear something calling back to me. Oh, I do hope justice and goodness prevail and my people are able to hold the nation together. They don’t deserve what’s happening…” (Zambucka, 87)
In the meantime, there was nothing she could do but try to move on. She decided to take lessons in dressmaking, thinking she might be able to earn a living and ease her financial worries.
As if things weren’t stressful enough, that December, she heard that her old friend, Robert Louis Stevenson, had died of a brain hemorrhage on Samoa.
Not long afterward, in January of 1895, more bad news arrived from Hawai‘i. A group of Native Hawaiians had revolted against the government. The revolt was quickly put down, and the government had arrested Lili‘u as well as Ka‘iulani’s cousins Kawānanakoa and Kuhio.
The men of the government gave Lili‘u a choice: give up all rights to the throne, or be responsible for the execution of the rebels. To save their lives, she signed a formal abdication. The men then charged her with misprision of treason – essentially, knowing about the revolt and failing to alert the government.
They put her on trial in her former throne room. They wanted to humiliate her, and as a result, any Hawaiians who still supported the monarchy. But Lili‘u didn’t give them the satisfaction of an emotional response. In the end, they sentenced her to five years of imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of $5,000. (Forbes, 445)
Two weeks later, President Sanford Dole commuted her sentence to general imprisonment, and she was held in a single room upstairs in ‘Iolani Palace. She would remain there for almost eight months before Dole gave her a conditional pardon and held her under house arrest instead.
Archie wrote to Ka‘iulani that it was actually a good thing she was so far away from home – no one could blame her for any of the million things going wrong.
With almost all hope for monarchy gone, Archie decided to go visit her in Europe. He left on August 1, 1895, intending to stay through the following year. (Cleghorn, 1895 diary) Together, they went to Scotland and Southport and London. Archie’s diary notes a visit to popular tourist attractions including Hampton Court and Kew Gardens.
That October, Ka‘iulani celebrated her 20th birthday with her father by her side.
Her new friend, Lilian Kennedy, joined her in things like late-night pillow fights, hide and seek, and participating in the Battle of Flowers. If you’ve ever seen the Rose Parade on New Year’s morning, the Battle of Flowers was a bit like that. And while the girls were doing their thing, Archie got a little obsessed with the casino in Monte Carlo – he took a lot of notes in his diary about how many tables there were and how much money they made.
While in Europe, Ka‘iulani befriended a British aristocrat in his late 20s named Nevinson de Courcy. Nicknamed “Toby,” he became her pen pal and she called him her “Father Confessor.” She confided in him the way she never did to her aunt, guardian, or her father. She described herself and her two girlfriends as “about the three biggest flirts you could find…” (Noonan, 384)
That summer, Ka‘iulani and her father moved to the island of Jersey. They spent the fall traveling through England and Scotland, and returned to Jersey for Ka‘iulani’s 21st birthday that October.
On her birthday, she had two teeth pulled. She wrote to Toby, “My jaw was fearfully cut up trying to remove the bits as they splintered. I have had a very bad time of it…” (Zambucka, 102-3)
In addition to problems with her teeth, she also had frequent headaches, regular bouts of the flu, and had lost weight. But despite all the things going wrong with her health, that winter, Ka‘iulani flirted up a storm. She wrote to Toby, “One of my young men came out to see me yesterday…[I want to] have a little more fun as my fling is limited. I intend to get as much amusement this winter as I possibly can.” (Zambucka, 115)
Why was she so desperate to have fun that winter? Because there was an arranged marriage waiting for her in the spring. She told Toby that it was with “a man I don’t care much for either way.” (Linnéa, 162) “…I must have been born under an unlucky star as I seem to have my life planned out for me in such a way that I cannot alter it…My engagement is a great secret approved of by Mr. Davies and my Father – It is being kept secret for political reasons.” (Stassen-McLaughlin, 50)
So the big question here is: who was it? Unfortunately, no one knows for sure. Some authors think it was Kawānanakoa; some think it was one of Clive Davies’s sons. All we know is that Ka‘iulani didn’t want to marry this man, but seemed resigned to the fact that she had to.
Unfortunately, we’re going to see more of that fatalism emerge in her – that belief that things were happening around her that she was powerless to fight.
Trial by Fire
That winter, Ka‘iulani and Archie went back to Menton in the French Riviera. There, they learned that Lili‘u had been released from house arrest and gone to Washington, D.C. for President McKinley’s inauguration. But they didn’t have a lot of mental or emotional bandwidth for Lili‘u’s continued quest to regain her crown and her lands in Hawai‘i.
Both Ka‘iulani and her father were worried about money. It cost a lot to live the lifestyle they’d adopted. And they were both stricken by grief when they learned that Ka‘iulani’s half-sister Annie – the one who’d spent the first year with her at Great Harrowden Hall – had died in March at the age of 29, back home in Honolulu.
According to author Sharon Linnéa, Ka‘iulani wrote to her aunt, asking for permission to come home. Lili’u said no. (165)
So when the winter season was over, Archie and Ka‘iulani moved north to Paris. They lived on the fashionable Champs Elysees, and Ka‘iulani befriended the Comte de Chevilly, who lived next door and had three daughters, two about her age.
She arrived as preparations were nearly complete for the city’s Bazar de la Charité, an annual charity fundraiser. This year, the event had taken over a wooden warehouse and recreated a street of Old Paris, with individual stalls for vendors selling goods. Many royal and aristocratic women worked the bazaar, making it a social event as well as a charitable one.
As a visiting royal, Ka‘iulani had been invited and had planned to go on May 4.
But that morning, she woke up with a terrible headache that was bad enough to call a doctor. The doctor advised her to stay in bed and go to the bazaar another day. Ka‘iulani obeyed his orders – a decision that saved her life.
At 4 p.m. that afternoon, she heard noises outside – frightened noises, like screaming and crying. In the bazaar, a film projector had caught fire, which spread rapidly though the temporary construction inside the warehouse, made largely of cardboard and papier-mâché. Because the doors only opened from the outside, no one inside could escape without help. Five minutes after the fire began, the roof collapsed, trapping almost everyone inside.
Many of the women working there had burned to death, including the Empress of Austria’s sister. Ka‘iulani’s friends – the two oldest daughters of the Comte de Chevilly – had both died in the fire; the oldest, Marie Louise, had died on her 21st birthday.
Afterward, Ka‘iulani wrote to her aunt: “I have never heard of anything so fearful in my life. Nearly all the…victims were women and young ones too. There is a count next door who has lost his two daughters…Just imagine all those people gone in less than half an hour. And the dreadful agony they must have suffered…” (Zambucka, 120-1)
Ka‘iulani was so disturbed by what happened that her doctor had a word with her dad. Soon, they were off to England, hoping a change of scenery would help Ka‘iulani’s mood. They stayed with her former guardian, Theo Davies, at Tunbridge Wells.
That summer, she wrote to her so-called Father Confessor, Toby. Ever since the charity bazaar fire, she said, she’d been living on milk without a lot of exercise and had put on a few pounds. She wrote, “I’ve quite got out of the way of flirting! I don’t believe I could do it to save my skin.” (Stassen-McLaughlin, 49)
She didn’t mention anything about the arranged marriage that was supposed to be awaiting her that spring. All we can do is speculate that it must have fallen apart.
But as Ka‘iulani was going through physical and emotional turmoil in Europe, her people were going through turmoil of their own in Hawai‘i.
The new U.S. president, William McKinley, agreed to meet with pro-annexationist representatives from Hawai‘i, including Lorrin Thurston. Then, on June 16, 1897, the other shoe finally dropped. President McKinley forwarded a signed annexation treaty to the Senate.
In Hawai‘i, three patriotic clubs started gathering signatures for an anti-annexation petition. This was a good old-fashioned grassroots, door-knocking kind of campaign largely planned, managed, and carried out by native Hawaiian women.
They collected over 38,000 signatures and sent them to Washington in the hands of four delegates that November. (Silva) Like the queen, they believed that McKinley and Congress simply didn’t know that most native Hawaiians were against annexation.
Lili‘u filed a protest with the U.S. Secretary of State, and the press covered the annexation issue on a daily basis. Everything was in limbo and no one knew what would happen.
When Ka‘iulani and Archie heard about the annexation treaty, they decided it was finally time to go home. It might have been for financial reasons – life in Europe was expensive. Or it might have been because the throne seemed lost for good, which meant no one would think Ka‘iulani’s return had a political meaning.
They sailed from England on October 9, 1897.
It had been eight years since Ka‘iulani had been home. She had left at age 13 and was coming back at age 22. It was almost half a lifetime.
There’s No Place Like Home
Because of the splash she’d made in the press on her first visit to America, they were waiting for her when her ship arrived in New York. She assured the waiting reporters that her visit wasn’t political, and continued to Washington, D.C. to see Lili‘u, who was still fighting against annexation and writing her memoir.
When she reached San Francisco, reporters swarmed her again. They’d been warned not to ask about politics, so they focused on what she wore and how she looked. A writer for the San Francisco Call described her like this: “She is beautiful. There is no portrait that does justice to her expressive, small, proud face…Her accent says London; her figure says New York; her heart says Hawai‘i.” (October 31, 1897)
On November 9, 1897 she arrived in Honolulu. A crowd of thousands was there to greet her, some of them crying when they saw her. Close friends and family members – including Koa – came out to the ship to greet her before she set foot on shore.
But before she went home, she took a carriage ride up to the royal family’s crypt at Nu‘uanu and left flowers on her mother’s tomb.
Afterward, when the carriage pulled into ʻĀinahau, she saw the new house for the first time. Her dad had built it for a future queen, with a large reception room that now seemed unnecessary. But one thing remained the same – her beloved white pony, Fairy, was still alive at 18 years old.
The next day, hundreds of native Hawaiians came to see her – they brought her fruit, flowers, animals, and plenty of other gifts. For ten hours straight, she stood there to greet them and thank them for their gifts. (Zambucka, 131) Later, she wrote to her aunt, “It made me feel so sad to see so many of the Hawaiians looking so poor. In the old days I am sure there were not so many people almost destitute.” (Webb, 157)
Her aunt wrote back, “I was glad to know that your heart and that of your father lay in the right direction, that is: you are interested in the course of your people.” (Zambucka, 127) She also told Ka‘iulani that if the leaders of the Hawaiian Republic ever offered her the throne, she should refuse because they would never give her any real power.
Ka‘iulani couldn’t bring herself to write back – she thought the monarchy was gone forever and saw no point in discussing it.
She now took up the only role left to her – that of a private individual in Honolulu society. She visited schools, attended concerts, cheered at sporting events, and went to the theater. She refused to do or say anything that could be interpreted as a commentary on Hawaiian politics. By the same token, the government had to treat her with caution and respect since the native Hawaiians loved and respected her.
She spent a lot of time with her aunt, Dowager Queen Kapi‘olani, who was sick.
Once, an enterprising lawyer showed up, offering to help Kapi‘olani write her will. When Ka‘iulani and her cousin Kawānanakoa refused to let the lawyer see her, he took back the cake he’d brought her. Ka‘iulani wrote, “I admire the haole way of making a present to anyone.” (Noonan, 409)
But unlike Lili’u, Kapi‘olani didn’t think the monarchy would ever be restored. She told Ka‘iulani, “For myself, I can only pray that God will bring Hawai‘i a good future. I do not think I ought to tell Him how.” (Linnéa, 185)
Will They or Won’t They?
After her return to Hawai‘i, Ka‘iulani and Koa frequently attended society events together. Many people assumed this meant they were already engaged…or about to be.
We know that her aunt, Queen Kapi‘olani, really wanted them to get married and it’s not hard to see why. She and her husband, King Kalākaua, had been deeply in love. In a letter, she once called him “my heavenly chief – you are mine and I am yours.” (Allen, 205) She hoped Ka‘iulani and Koa could have a relationship just as fulfilling.
But that’s not how things worked out.
Rumor still linked Ka‘iulani to her former guardian’s son, Clive Davies. On February 2, 1898, she gave Clive a farewell party since he was headed back to England to get married. With one suitor off the table, the rumor mill had to find a new one. The easiest choice? George Davies, Clive’s younger brother.
Despite the rumors linking her to the Davies boys, Koa was always in the mix when journalists speculated on her romantic future. Unfortunately, it seems that Archie, Ka‘iulani’s father, wasn’t keen on Koa as a potential son-in-law; he thought Koa was too much of a ladies’ man. (Mrantz, 34)
Even Queen Kapi‘olani knew Koa had his faults.
The previous summer, she’d actually decided to cut Koa and his brother Kuhio out of her will. She thought they were hanging out with a bad crowd and ignoring her when she needed them. Then, about two months after Ka‘iulani’s return, she changed her mind.
On February 10, 1898, Kapi‘olani signed over most of her property to Koa and Kuhio – but ordered that the deed not be filed just yet. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 28, 1898) She wanted to stay in control of her property until she was near death or incapable of managing it herself. The deed was an act of good faith, showing that Koa would be provided for after she died.
But Koa and Kuhio filed the deed right away, without telling her.
On the very next day, February 11, the San Francisco Call published an engagement announcement for Ka‘iulani and Koa…but if you look closer, that story has a dateline of February 3, as if it had been written a week in advance but not published until Kapi‘olani signed over the deed to her property.
A similar engagement story appeared in the New York Times a day later, on February 12. According to both reports, the engagement depended on a financial transaction. As soon as Queen Kapiʻolani signed over a “considerable portion” of her real estate holdings to Koa and Kuhio, the engagement would be considered secure. (SF Call, Feb. 11, 1898)
A couple sources even say that wedding gifts began to arrive at ʻĀinahau, including a beautiful diamond and aquamarine necklace from Queen Kapi‘olani. Unfortunately, these sources don’t cite any references that prove the necklace was a wedding gift – and not just the gift of a beloved aunt.
Of course, when Kapi‘olani found out that Koa and Kuhio had filed the deed after she’d asked them not to, she was pissed. On February 19, eight days after the original betrothal announcement, the Hawaiian Star published a one-line denial of the story from Koa.
Ironically, on that very same day, Ka‘iulani threw a 30th birthday party for Koa. (Linnéa, 186) He raised a toast to thank her, and then her father raised a toast to Koa. But after this luau, Koa and Ka‘iulani were seen in public together less and less.
So what really happened?
Did someone straight-up tell Dowager Queen Kapi‘olani that Ka‘iulani wouldn’t marry Koa unless he had money? Was this the arranged marriage Ka‘iulani had mentioned to Toby the previous year? Did Ka‘iulani have any involvement in or knowledge of those announcements in the newspaper? We may never know the full story.
Curtis Iaukea, a courtier who knew everyone involved, later wrote, “That Princess Ka‘iulani ever entertained this proposition, I doubt…” (Iaukea, 67)
Later, Ka‘iulani’s niece said that Ka‘iulani and Koa had no romantic feelings for each other and thought of each other as brother and sister. (Noonan, 452) But Koa’s wife later said the exact opposite. He married a woman named Abigail Wahiʻikaʻahuʻula Campbell, who told a friend that “of course I never could have married David if Ka‘iulani had lived.” (Webb, 207)
To make matters even more confusing, her dad tried to fix her up with an Englishman named Andrew Adams, a journalist and part-time actor. Archie invited Andrew out to the house, possibly hoping Ka‘iulani would develop feelings for him. He also got Andrew a job as an overseer on a plantation.
So…were there sparks? I’m not sure anyone knows for sure. One biographer says they were “greatly attracted” to each other, but argued too much and stayed in the friend zone. (Zambucka, 135-6)
I’ve never seen a quote from Ka‘iulani herself explaining how she felt about Koa or Andrew Adams. Maybe that’s because there is no quote to find. Beyond the flirtations she mentioned to Toby and the serious crush she had on a nameless man in Wiesbaden, she kept her romantic feelings to herself.
But soon, politics in Hawai‘i would take center stage again and Ka‘iulani would discover that her people needed her more than ever before.
The Spoils of War
All the romantic drama we just covered happened early in 1898. But there was a lot more going on that year, so let’s back up just a bit.
That New Year’s Eve, as 1897 clicked over into 1898, Ka‘iulani and her father went to a ball hosted by the U.S. Consul General and his wife. The schedule called for a waltz to play at midnight – nothing with political overtones. But someone miscalculated, and when the clock struck midnight, the band played the American national anthem instead of the Hawaiian national anthem.
It may have seemed like a foregone conclusion that Hawai‘i was about to become part of the United States, but the reality wasn’t so simple.
In fact, U.S. President McKinley’s annexation bill had stalled in Congress.
The bill had 46 votes, but it needed 60 to pass. (Vowell, 219) So why didn’t it get the votes it needed? Partly because of the 556 pages of signed petitions from native Hawaiians protesting the annexation. (Silva) Partly because of Lili‘u’s formal protest…and partly because of some really racist fears about what might happen if all of Hawai‘i’s native Hawaiians and Asians became citizens. In the end, the Senate had adjourned without ratifying the bill.
That was not good news for the men who governed the Republic of Hawai‘i, who were clinging to power by a thread, fully aware that they had next to no support from native Hawaiians. In fact, the U.S. Minister to Hawai‘i, Harold Sewell, wrote in March of 1898 that if the annexation bill failed, the Hawaiian government would crumble.
Then, that February, Lili‘u published her memoir, which caused a political firestorm. In it, she defended herself against the charges of treason and explained her side of the story. It reignited the debate over annexation and the U.S.’s role in the overthrow of the monarchy.
But as it turned out, Hawai‘i was about to take a backseat to Cuba in American newspapers.
On February 15, 1898, an American warship, the USS Maine, blew up in Havana harbor, killing 266 men. (Rickover, 1) The U.S. declared war on Spain, vowing revenge for the unexpected attack. In reality, the explosion may have been due to spontaneous combustion.
At the time, Spain’s colonial possessions included not only Cuba, but the Philippines – and Hawai‘i made the perfect refueling station between America’s west coast and enemy territory.
Although Hawai’i was an independent republic, the government gave full support to the American army and navy. Ka‘iulani and Archie didn’t support this decision, but they had to remain neutral in public. Archie opened their private garden at ʻĀinahau to visiting soldiers, who arrived the first week of June. All in all, the U.S. sent about 10,000 troops through Hawai‘i on the way to fight the Spanish in the Philippines. (Tucker, xxxiii)
Even in the midst of war, romantic rumors swirled around Ka‘iulani and not one but two U.S. soldiers. One of them, Captain Putnam Bradlee Strong, was the only son of a former mayor of New York.
The other was James Blaine, the son of the U.S. Secretary of State who had once plotted with Lorrin Thurston prior to the Hawaiian revolution. Both romances were almost certainly invented to sell papers.
In the midst of all this chaos, a man named Burton Holmes arrived in Hawai‘i that June. Think of him as a Victorian Rick Steves – he was a popular lecturer and author of travel guides. Holmes met Ka‘iulani and went outrigger canoe surfing with her and some of her friends. Holmes described the experience as “a water-sport more thrilling, more delightful than anything ever devised by man in civilized lands…There before me is the Princess Ka‘iulani, her face aglow with excitement, shouting and paddling frantically, her eyes flashing with the wild pleasure of it all…” (Clark, 428)
Holmes also filmed Ka‘iulani and her friends canoe surfing. Starting in 1897, just one year before his visit to Hawai‘i, his cameraman began filming 25-second sequences to accompany his travel lectures. It’s even possible that his film of Ka‘iulani still exists. Those early films were rediscovered in 2003, although most are badly in need of restoration. They’re now at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. If they’re able to restore them, and if the original film wasn’t irreparably damaged – a big if – we may be able to see Ka‘iulani someday. Isn’t that amazing?
But that wasn’t the only kind of surfing Ka‘iulani did now that she was back home.
Because the Christian missionaries had discouraged surfing, hardly any native women surfers were left by the time Ka‘iulani was born. But she had learned as a child because, to Hawaiians, surfing wasn’t a sport or a hobby. It was an important part of life, of culture, of communing with nature. And after the missionaries discouraged it, surfing became a form of protest against their rules.
Years before she came back to Hawai‘i, Ka‘iulani had told a reporter about learning to surf: “How I struggled to acquire that art! … I was at it for six months, falling all the time, and I thought I never could be able to get the trick of it, when all at once I had it…The water was always warm and delightful, and the exhilaration of riding our boards in the breakers was always in season.” (SF Examiner, Mar. 19, 1893)
An early 20th century surfer named William Cottrell described Ka‘iulani as “an expert surfrider.” (Walker, 94) Today, her 7’4” wooden surfboard belongs to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
But Burton Holmes’s visit that June was just a momentary reprieve in terms of Hawai‘i’s dark political situation. Remember how U.S. President McKinley’s Hawaiian annexation bill had stalled in the Senate? Well, now there was a loophole. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge added the annexation as an amendment to a new bill that financed the Spanish-American War. This one passed and President McKinley signed it on July 7, 1898. (New York Times, July 8, 1898)
On July 13, a ship sailed into Honolulu, using its signal flags to share the news. (Linnéa, 191)
It was terrible news for Ka‘iulani and the native Hawaiians who still wanted their kingdom back. Rumors flew that Ka‘iulani would leave for exile in England. Her father published a denial, saying that her heart and her home were both in Hawai‘i.
But behind the scenes, she felt a growing sense of futility, restlessness, and depression. Ka‘iulani would later tell a reporter that ever since she’d come home, she felt “a sort of fatality.” She said of her people, “If I had the means I would give my life to them. I think they expected it of me, perhaps.” (SF Call, Aug. 7, 1898)
Finally, at midnight on August 1, 1898, Lili‘u arrived from Washington, D.C. after a fruitless fight against annexation. A crowd of native Hawaiians waited for her in complete silence. She arrived dressed all in black, and greeted the crowd with a sad smile and an emotional “Aloha.” They gave her the same greeting in return. Lili‘u, Koa, Ka‘iulani, and Archie drove off in a carriage pulled by two white horses. Just like they had for Ka‘iulani, many native Hawaiians came to her aunt’s home to pay their respects. It was dawn before Ka‘iulani left her side.
The annexation ceremony was scheduled for August 12, 1898 – the same day peace was declared with Spain. Ka‘iulani received an official invitation with a reserved seat, but she declined. She spent the day with Lili‘u behind closed doors.
A visitor named Mabel Craft later said that the fact that Ka‘iulani and Lili‘uokalani had been invited was “the very refinement of cruelty” and “the act caused fierce resentment among upper-class Hawaiians.” (Craft, 79)
The few native Hawaiians who had to be at the annexation ceremony – whether for business interests, because their spouses had to be there, or because they were in the National Guard – were said to have cried as the Hawaiian flag was lowered for the last time. Some covered their faces or refused to watch as the American flag was raised in its place.
The German bandleader, Henry Berger, had tears in his eyes as he conducted what had once been the Royal Hawaiian Band in the Hawaiian national anthem for the last time. Some of the band members broke down and couldn’t complete the last official performance of the song written by King Kalākaua.
When an American reporter came to Hawai‘i specifically to interview Ka‘iulani about the annexation, she said, “The missionaries came here to us and taught us to look to heaven for happiness, and while our eyes were on the skies they have taken our land from under our feet.” (SF Call, Aug. 7, 1898)
But even though everything seemed lost, there was still one more service Ka‘iulani could do for her people.
Citizen (Sugar) Cane
President McKinley had sent a panel of commissioners to Hawai‘i to orchestrate the annexation process. One of the questions they had to answer was whether native Hawaiians should be given voting rights. Would they be given full citizenship? Or would they be treated the same way Americans had treated the Native Americans, denying them citizenship and voting rights?
Ka‘iulani and Lili‘uokalani launched a full-on charm offensive to show the commissioners that native Hawaiians weren’t barbarians – far from it. They were hard-working, literate, and deserved the right to vote. Ka‘iulani hosted a luau for the commissioners on September 7, 1898.
She had the guests walk into the dining room two by two, each American on the arm of an indigenous Hawaiian. During the dinner, she served them traditional Hawaiian dishes, including poi. Ka‘iulani showed them how to eat it, dipping her fingers into the bowl. Even if, deep down, she felt like all hope was lost, she buried that feeling and presented a façade of sunshine and happiness because it was what would help her people most.
In the end, Ka‘iulani and Lili‘uokalani’s efforts paid off when both white settlers and native Hawaiians men got the right to vote. They did institute a literacy requirement, in English or Hawaiian, but that was no problem since Hawai‘i had an extremely high literacy rate. In the end, the only people without the right to vote were women and Asian immigrants. (Noonan, 450)
Although the fight against annexation was lost, Lili‘u went back to Washington, D.C. to fight for her main source of income – the crown lands. One of her advisors, Colonel MacFarlane, tried to comfort Ka‘iulani. He told her, “You will still be able to live as a Princess; your birth and antecedents will never be forgotten, and you will remain a leader of society here, the first lady in the land.” (Noonan, 454)
“Yes,” Ka‘iulani answered. “But I shan’t be much of a real Princess, shall I? They haven’t left me much to live for.” According to Macfarlane, she put her hand on her side, as if in pain. She said she tried to hide how unhappy she was so she wouldn’t worry her father, who watched her like a hawk. “But,” she said, “I think my heart is broken.” (Webb, 190)
That bitterness came out in a letter to her aunt. She described a group of American soldiers who’d come to her house, knocked on her door, and said they wanted to have the ex-princess take a picture with them. All she wanted was to be left alone, but some of the Americans treated her like a tourist attraction. She wrote, “They have now taken away everything from us and it seems there is left but little…” (Webb, 191) “We live now in such a semi-retired way, that people wonder if we even exist any more. I too wonder, and to what purpose?” (Zambucka, 142)
There it is again…that fatalism, the same fatalism that some believed had driven her mother, Likelike, to death.
Spear of the Wind
At the end of that year, in December of 1898, Ka‘iulani left for the island of Hawai‘i to attend her friend Eva Parker’s wedding. After the wedding, she stayed on with a few other guests, including Koa, for more parties, picnics, luaus, dances, and horseback rides.
Since she ended up staying longer than expected, she wrote home and asked her dad to send her money, clothes, headache powders, and quinine pills. It was the last letter she ever wrote him. Her last line was a tantalizing postscript: “Koa will tell you all news.” (Zambucka, 148)
What news was she referring to? I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
One day in mid-January, Ka‘iulani and the remaining guests went out on horseback, riding up into the mountains for a picnic. But the weather turned while they were out. They rode into a cold, driving rain that locals called the “Waimea spear of the wind.” (Noonan, 459) Ka‘iulani had already written home about the bad weather: “My goodness the rain cut one’s face like hail and it was blowing like cats and dogs.” (Zambucka, 146)
On that day, the riders all had raincoats with them, but Ka‘iulani didn’t put hers on.
The sources don’t exactly agree on what happened next. Some accounts say Ka‘iulani didn’t put her raincoat on because she’d spotted an old kahuna on the trail and wanted to hurry past him without the drawn-out greetings and reverence that a kahuna would show to any member of the royal family.
Another biographer says the kahuna incident happened a different day when she was out riding alone. In this version of the story, the kahuna warned her that rain clouds were gathering overhead. When she got back to the Parker ranch and told her friends what had happened, Koa was worried. Later, when the group went out for a picnic, Ka‘iulani galloped off into the storm, saying, “What have I got to live for?” (Zambucka, 144-145)
However it happened, she arrived back at the Parker house cold and drenched.
Not long afterward, she developed a cold and fever.
By January 24, she was so sick that her dad took a steamer from O‘ahu to Hawai‘i and brought their family doctor to see her. He diagnosed inflammatory rheumatism, complicated by exophthalmic goiter. (Webb, 195) A goiter is a bulge caused by an enlarged thyroid gland, usually found in the neck. In this case, the excess thyroid hormone caused her eyes to protrude.
Two weeks passed before they could move her back home. They carried her down the mountain on a litter, to a steamer waiting to depart for O‘ahu.
Then, as she lay sick at home, the Hawaiian government petitioned Washington, D.C. to grant her a pension. The petition praised her efforts to rise above the hurt feelings caused by the Hawaiian revolution. It was signed by the very men who had overthrown her aunt and abolished the monarchy.
But news of her improved financial situation didn’t improve her condition. She was still sick in March…and things were getting worse. According to her doctors, the rheumatism was attacking her heart.
On Sunday, March 5, the doctor’s bulletin said there had been a slight improvement that afternoon.
It didn’t last.
That night, after midnight, her father, half-sisters, a few close friends, and Koa gathered at her bedside. At 2 a.m., she cried out. Her throat had swollen nearly closed, and she had trouble speaking. Some said the word she cried was “Mama.” Others said it was “Koa” or “Papa.” (Linnéa, 214; Zambucka, 150) And then she died, at the age of 23.
As the story goes, the peacocks in the ʻĀinahau gardens screamed so loudly that night that locals heard it and knew Ka‘iulani had died.
That day, Archie wrote in the daily devotional book she’d given him for Christmas: “My dearest Ka‘iulani died at 2 am the child I have doted on since she was born.” (Goldberg Auctions) Later that same day, he came back and wrote, “dear Ka‘iulani – died 2 am — Our dear girl. Why did she leave me so young–so lovely–23 years 4 months & 18 days.”
That morning, the government flew its flags at half-mast to honor her. When the Sacramento Bee reported this fact, they said, “This seems like a hollow mockery. This country virtually stole the little Kingdom of which she was the heiress apparent.” (March 18, 1899)
At midnight on Friday, her body was moved from ʻĀinahau to the Kawaiaha‘o Church in Honolulu. Thousands of native Hawaiians followed her on foot.
Her funeral on Sunday afternoon drew a crowd of thousands. So many people gathered to watch on the roof of the Opera House that the police shooed them away, afraid the roof would collapse. Inside the church, the organist played a song called In Memoriam, composed for her mother’s funeral and not played since.
After the funeral, 230 men pulled a large black catafalque that contained her white casket, in a procession that would carry her to the royal mausoleum in Nu’uanu Valley. (San Diego Union and Daily Bee, March 25, 1899) More than 20,000 Hawaiians stood on the sidewalks to watch and mourn. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 13, 1899)
An editorial in a Hawaiian newspaper by Colonel George Macfarlane described why she was so loved: “The natives loved her for her quiet, steadfast sympathy for their woe, her uncomplaining endurance of her own; the whites admired her for her stately reserve, her queenly display of all necessary courtesy while holding herself aloof from all undue intimacy. All were attracted by her sweetness and grace; it was impossible not to love her.” (Noonan, 470)
In the end, all of her mother Likelike’s deathbed predictions came true – she left Hawaii for many years, she never married, and she never became queen.
I want to say a special thank-you to all the writers and researchers who have published books on Ka‘iulani and the Hawaiian monarchy. None of these posts or videos would have been possible without the work they did to tell this story. I added bits and pieces where I could, but they’d already done the heavy lifting. I think of myself as a storyteller, but I wish I were a scholar or researcher. I have the utmost respect for the writers who go into dusty archives and find the tidbits that make our eyes and hearts light up when we find them. I’m standing on their shoulders, using what they put out into the world to tell these stories in a new way. So thank you to everyone whose sources I cited on my website. You are the reason these posts and videos are possible.
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Sources for Princess Ka‘iulani of Hawai‘i: Part 4
Books & Articles
In alphabetical order by author’s last name
Allen, Helena G. The Betrayal of Liliuokalani, Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917. Honolulu: Mutual
Publishing, 1982. (Amazon affiliate link)
Brodsky, Alyn. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Cleghorn, Thomas Alexander Kaulaahi. The Watumull Foundation Oral History Project. Katherine B. Allen, interviewer. Honolulu: The Watumull Foundation, 1979. (read for free via the University of Hawai‘i)
Clark, John R. K. Hawaiian Surfing: Traditions from the Past. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011.
Cleveland, Grover. President’s Message Relating to the Hawaiian Islands, December 18, 1893. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893. (read for free via Google Books)
Craft, Mabel Clare. Hawaii Nei. New York: Godfrey A.S. Wieners, 1898. (read for free via Archive.org)
Dole, Sanford B. Edited by Andrew Farrell. Memoirs of the Hawaiian Revolution. Honolulu: Advertiser Publishing Co., LTD. 1936.
Fergusson, Erna. Our Hawaii. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942. (Amazon affiliate link)
Forbes, David W., ed. The Diaries of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, 1885-1900. Honolulu: Hui Hanai, 2019. (Amazon affiliate link)
Hanson, Edward. The Wandering Princess. United Kingdom: Fonthill, 2017. (Amazon affiliate link)
Iaukea, Sydney Lehua. The Queen and I: A Story of Dispossessions and Reconnections in Hawai‘i. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. (Amazon affiliate link)
Kuykendall, Ralph Simpson. The Hawaiian Kingdom 1874–1893, The Kalakaua Dynasty. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1967. (read for free via ULUKAU: THE HAWAIIAN ELECTRONIC LIBRARY)
Liliuokalani. Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1898. (Amazon affiliate link)
Linnéa, Sharon. Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1999. (Amazon affiliate link)
Mrantz, Maxine. Hawaii’s Tragic Princess: Kaiulani, The Girl Who Never Got to Rule. Honolulu: Aloha Publishing, 1980. (read for free via Archive.org)
Noonan, Peter W. Kaiulani of Hawaii And the Fall of Her Kingdom. Ottawa, Canada: Magistralis, 2021. (Amazon affiliate link)
Pafford, John M. The Forgotten Conservative: Rediscovering Grover Cleveland. Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2013. (Amazon affiliate link)
Requilmán, Arnold Hōkūlani. “A Hundred Years after the Pikake Princess.” Edited by D. Mahealani Dudoit. ʻŌiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal 2 (2002): 198–218. (read for free online)
Rickover, Hyman George. How the Battleship Maine was Destroyed. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. (Amazon affiliate link)
Siler, Julia Flynn. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Venture. New York: Grove Press, 2013. (Amazon affiliate link)
Stassen-McLaughlin, Marilyn. “Unlucky Star – Princess Ka’iulani.” Hawaiian Journal of History 33 (1999): 21–54. (read for free online)
Tate, Merze. The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom : A Political History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965. (read for free via Archive.org)
Teves, Stephanie Nohelani. “The Afterlife of Princess Kaʿiulani.” In Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance, 113–44. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
Thurston, Lorrin A. Memoirs of the Hawaiian Revolution. Edited by Andrew Farrell. Honolulu: Advertiser Publishing Co., Ltd., 1936. (read for free via Hathi Trust)
Tucker, Spencer, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History. Vol 1 of 3. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
Van Dyke, Jon M. Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai’i? Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. (Amazon affiliate link)
Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011. (read for free via Archive.org)
Walker, Isaiah Helekunihi. Waves of Resistance. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011. (Amazon affiliate link)
Webb, Nancy, and Webb, Jean Francis. Kaiulani: Crown Princess of Hawaii. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1998. (Amazon affiliate link)
Zambucka, Kristin. Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’i: The Monarchy’s Last Hope. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1988. (read for free via Archive.org)
@BazarCharite. (March 10, 2020) Marie-Louise Hatte de Chevilly fête ses 21 ans en ce 4 mai 1897. [Twitter post]
Cleghorn, Archibald Scott. Diaries for 1866, 1868-1869, 1877, 1879-1882, 1874. Hawai’i State Archives Manuscript Collection.
“La Liste des Victimes” via BazarDeLaCharite.fr.
Leong, Lavonne. “Unseen Treasures.” Honolulu Magazine online. December 3, 2009.
“Sale 68: The June 30th Manuscript and Collectibles Auction, Hawaiiana” via Goldberg Coins and Collectibles.
“A Short History of Holmes’ Film Work” via BurtonHolmes.org.
Silva, Noenoe K. “The 1897 Petitions Protesting Annexation.” University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Library website collection: The Annexation of Hawai‘i: A Collection of Documents. 1998.
Pacific Commercial Advertiser
The New York Times
San Diego Union and Daily Bee
San Francisco Call (specifically – Rix, Alice, “The Princess Who Wanted to Be Queen,” August 7, 1898)
San Francisco Examiner
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- Header image: Ka‘iulani: public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Ocean sunset: Photo by Andrew Coelho on Unsplash.
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