In Thrum’s Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1880, pp. 24–26, appears this article:
THE HAWAIIAN FLAG.
We exceedingly regret to report an unsuccessful search for the History of the present Flag of these Islands, the time of its adoption and the parties interested in its formation; but after diligent inquiries and research through volumes of voyages, histories, periodicals and manuscript journals during the past three years, we have to acknowledge the main fact lost in oblivion, while references thereto in various voyages and histories are confusing and contradictory.
There is a general idea and belief among many of our old residents that the present Hawaiian Flag was made by the late Capt. Alexander Adams before his voyage to China in the brig “Kaahumana, [Kaahumanu]” in 1817, and was by him first flown, not only in the Chinese waters, but on the coast of California. Others again have the impression that a flag was brought from China by him; but we can gather no information corroborative as to who was authorized in Chinese waters to design a flag for this, even small kingdom, though the description given viz: a St. George and St. Andrew’s cross in the corner filled in with blue, with field consisting of red and white stripes, shows almost virtually the East India Flag. Refering to Capt. Adams’ Journal we find the following mention only, that touches upon the points in question: ” April, 1816, The King of these Islands having a strong passion to purchase the brig, (‘Forrester,’ of London) and expressing the same, myself and Capt. Ebbetts was accordingly deputed to treat with him, but he would not purchase her without I would enter his service as her commander. I resultingly acquiesced, the brig being given up to him at Kealakekua, and called by him Kaahumanu * * *. I was accordingly honored on taking command with the Flag of his Majesty and a salute of 11 guns.”
This certainly refutes the general belief that the flag was made by Capt. Adams, as his own narrative shows a flag to have been here before him ; but
whether the present one or some other we cannot gather, for it is evident that there have been more than one. In another portion of his journal is an allusion to a flag—but also without description—that has no doubt given rise to the idea of his making the flag; where at Waimea, Kauai, at which port he had touched from Honolulu for supplies, en route for China, he notes: “Mch. 12, 1817, * * * Gave the King our ensign to hoist in lieu of the Russian, who said it was on account of his having no other.”
It is to be borne in mind that the allusion here is to the king of Kauai, and not Kamehameha, as Kauai was under its own King till 1821, and his possession of a Russian flag while the principal town was occupied by a Russian colony was not strange.
Finding these theories of Capt. Adams’ authorship exploded by his own writings, search was made in other directions with the following result. Vancouver, in his last visit, (1793) when he assured Kamehameha of England’s friendship and protection, gave him an English flag, which we find by Archibald Campbell, in his “Voyage round the World, 1806-1812,” arriving at these Islands Dec. 1808, that the English colors were used, for he says: “The King’s residence, built close upon the shore, and surrounded by a palisade upon the land side, was distinguished by the British colors.”
Jarvis [Jarves] states, (pp. 96) describing the period of about 1816, speaks of the flag, as somewhat similiar to the present, viz: “English Union, with seven alternated red, white and blue stripes.” This however is not coroborated by Lord Byron, in his “Voyage of the Blonde,” in 1825, in which he describes the flag as follows: “On all days of ceremony the Sandwich flag is hoisted on the forts; it has seven white and red stripes with a Union Jack in the corner.” (P. 121.)
This is almost the East India flag before described, and confuses the searcher after truth as to when the several changes took place. If Jarvis is correct in the flag he describes, and he certainly was in a position to know whereof he wrote, it is a grave error in the recorder of the “Voyage of the Blonde” to give so different a one nine years later. The present flag has eight stripes representing the Islands of the group-white, red and blue, with Union Jack in the corner. Capt. Hunt, who was here in the Baselisk [Basilisk] in 1845, is said to have changed the relative position of the colors of the stripes by placing the white on top instead of at the bottom, though there is a possibility of this being the time of adding the eighth stripe, Jarvis and Byron mentioning only seven. Capt. Hunt is also accredited with designing the Royal Standard now in use.
We leave the above subject as here recorded, trusting it will meet the eye of some one whose knowledge and memory will be freshened thereby to account the true history of the Hawaiian Flag, its origin, and parties interested in its formation.
[The original of this article is downloadable here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's EVOLS page! This publication is very useful for many random facts about Hawaii at the time. If you have not seen it before, you should go check it out!!]