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The Kingdom of Hawaii

 

 

 

 

Once modern weapons arrived the various war-lords on the big island of Hawaii were soon reduced to one, when 'Kamehameha the Great' defeated the other local chieftains, assisted by a serendipitous eruption of the Kilauea volcano in 1790 that killed over 80 warriors of the opposing warlord and scattered the remainder.  This was a clear sign from the gods.

 

angry gods

 

 


 The rise of Kamehameha - US Army Museum

 

Kamehameha had been present when Cook arrived and understood the importance of guns.  He quickly acquired an armoury of 'Brown Bess' muskets from traders and British interests.

 

 

Brown Bess musket Brown Bess musket
Monarchy Cannon Monarchy Cannon

Weapons of the type used by Kamehameha's troops to take Oahu - US Army Museum

 

He was also at pains to prevent potential rivals doing the same. In this he was assisted by two British sailors who made Hawaii their home. The most influential of these was John Young who built a house and established a family with an Hawaiian girl.  Young was an impressive man and a persuasive orator who acted as technical and diplomatic adviser as well as translator to foreign visitors. As Kamehameha rose to power Young was appointed Royal Governor of Hawaiʻi and one of his grandchildren would later become Queen.

Another occasional ally was British naval officer, Captain George Vancouver who had been with Cook as a junior officer and had already met Kamehameha. He and Young also developed an understanding. Vancouver is the man after whom both Vancouver island and the city in Canada are named, in addition to Mount Vancouver in New Zealand and another in Alaska.  He is best known for exploring and charting both the north west coast of North America and south west Australia. His achievements are so many his role in Hawaii is hardly mentioned in his main Wikipedia entry.

Yet he was very influential in Kamehameha's rise to power. In 1794 Kamehameha who had not yet secured the remaining islands and fearing attack from other nations ceded the island of Hawaii to Great Britain.  According to Vancouver: Several officers then went ashore, raised the British flag, and took possession of the island of Hawai'i in the name of King George III. A salute was fired aboard both Vancouver's naval vessels, and two copper plates were prepared with the following inscription:

'On the 25th of February, 1794, Tamaahmaah king of Owhyhee. in council with the principal chiefs of the island, assembled on board His Britannic Majesty's sloop Discovery in Karakakooa bay, and in the presence of George Vancouver, commander of the said sloop; Lieutenant Peter Puget, commander of his said Majesty's armed tender the Chatham; and the other officers of the Discovery; after due consideration, unanimously ceded the said island of Owhyhee to His Britannic Majesty, and acknowledged themselves to be subjects of Great Britain.'

source: Rhoda E. A. Hackler - Alliance or Cession?
Missing Letter from Kamehameha I to King George III
of England Casts Light on 1794 Agreement

 

Henceforth Kamehameha flew the Union Jack and soon partitioned King George to station a British warship in Hawaii and provide a Register and Seal to facilitate trade with North West America.

 

Island Woahoo March 3rd. 1810

To His Majesty King George

Sir

Having had no good opportunity of writing to you since Capt. Vancouver left here
has been the means of my Silence. Capt. Vancouver Informed me you would send me
a small vessel am sorry to say I have not yet received one.

Am sorry to hear your being at War with so many powers and I so far off cannot assist
you. Should any of the powers which you are at War with molest me I shall expect your
protection, and beg you will order your Ships of War & Privateers not to Capture any
vessel whilst laying at Anchor in our Harbours, as I would thank you to make ours a
neutral port as I have not the means of defence.

I am in particular need of some Bunting having no English Colours also some brass
Guns to defend the Islands in case of Attack from your Enemies. I have built a few small
vessels with an Intent to trade on the North West of America with Tarro root the produce
of these Islands for fur skins but am told by the White men here I cannot send them to
sea without a Register. In consequence of which beg you will send me a form of a Register
& seal with my Name on it. Being very poor at these Islands any thing which you may
think useful to me I beg you will send by the earliest opportunity. My best respects to you
& your Queen & all your family wishing you Health Happiness & a long prosperous
Reign.

And am Sir
Your Majesty's
most devoted Friend & Servant

TAMAAHMAAH

King of the Sandwich Islands

PS. My removal from Owyhee to this Island was in consequence of their having put to
death Mr. Brown & Mr. Gordon, Masters, (of the Jackall & Prince Le Boo, two of you
merchant vessels.)
I have sent by Mr. Jno. Gl Spence Commander of the Ship
Duke of Portland, a feather'd cloak & beg your acceptance

source - as above

 

The post script refers to the attempt by the rival chieftain on Oahu to capture two British merchant ships during which both captains were murdered.  The ships were then recaptured by the remaining officers and crew who sailed to Hawaii to seek Kamehameha's (Tamaahmaah's) protection. 

He assembled a flotilla of war canoes and in a battle plan worthy of Napoleon took Oahu in a multi-pronged attack, driving the defenders into the Nu'uanu Valley. They were given the choice of surrender or death.. The feathered cloak sent to King George was a valuable trophy that had belonged to the deposed leader.  The chiefs on the remaining islands quickly capitulated and pledged fealty.

 

 


The Battle of Nu'uanu - US Army Museum  

 

Later he would write to King George again - note the new phonetic spelling of his name (signed by his own hand on both occasions):

Brother,

We, Kamaahamaah King of the Sandwich Islands wishing to render every assistance
to the ships of His Most Sacred Majesty's subjects who visit these seas, have sent a letter
by Captain Spence, ship Duke of Portland, to His Majesty, since which Timoree King
of Atooi, has delivered his island up, and we are now in possession of the whole of the
Sandwich Islands. We, as subject to His Most Gracious Majesty, wish to have a seal and
arms sent from Britain, so as there may be no molestation of our ships or vessels in these
seas, or any hindrance whatsoever.

Wishing Your Majesty a long, prosperous and happy reign, I am Brother

KAMAAH AMAAH

Oahoo, August 6th 1810

source - as above

 

Thus by 1796 Kamehameha had taken the eight inhabitable Sandwich Islands and unified them under the new 'Kingdom of the Sandwich Islands', later the Kingdom of Hawaii.  He soon affected European dress as King Kamehameha I.  A modern economy developed.  In addition to food and fresh water Hawaiians traded sandalwood for western goods.  Advised by John Young, Kamehameha built warehouses and employed foreigners as intermediaries with the visiting merchant-captains and as harbor pilots.

Kamehameha remained autocratic and wedded to the old religion yet he was remarkably open to new ideas, building modern ships, promoting trade and bringing Hawaii into the community of nations. He developed a sophisticated understanding of national loyalties and cultural and political differences.  His favourite female companion, Kaahumanu was equally astute and became known as his principal 'wife' (of five wives and several more casual friendships). She became very influential in the new nation's diplomatic affairs.  She too had several lovers, a source of tension between them.  She was greatly admired by Vancouver who encouraged her exclusive relationship with Kamehameha and described her as his 'Queen', disregarding the others.  Foreign diplomats understood that it was she who was to be addressed and treated as Queen. 

 

 

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