Lahaina, and Hawaii through history, 1941.



According to information gleaned from the Bishop Museum records and the Archives of Mr. E. Bryan Jr., curator at the Museum, the old Lahaina Prison was built in 1851 and completed in April 1852. This was during the reign of Kamehameha III, who ruled until 1854.

For “local color” at that time I have talked with old Hawaiians who are from 70 to 80 years of age, and have also spent many hours at the Wailuku library reading old volumes supplied by Mrs. Juliette Davis, Librarian.

The really ancient past of Hawaii, 500 A.D. up to the time of Captain Cook’s discovery in 1778, is wrapped in myths and it is difficult to separate them from facts.

According to Fornander the first settlers of these islands had come from the lands bordering the Persian Gulf, and had brought with them the old Jewish religion and customs.

Paao, great kahuna from Tahiti, may, according to some historians, have been a Roman Catholic priest.

Suffice it to say that the “pagan religion” of the ancient Hawaiians was founded on a belief in a Trinity, Kane, Ku and Lono, and an evil god or Lucifer, Kaneloa.

To these and to lesser gods the people offered prayers, offerings and, were the situation serious enough, human sacrifices.

The story of the Flood differs from the Christian Bible only because the mountain was Mauna Kea, the Ark was a canoe, and the man’s name was not Noah.

The Hawaiians had images, and “holy water” (clean sea water) to drive away evil spirits, even as the Catholic church has statues and holy water today. The ancients practised circumcision, and had many tabus about food, etc.

Also, while it was a grand life for the Alii, it was not too pleasant for the makaainana or common people. Both the Alii (chiefs) and the kahuna (priests) often made life a hardship for the commoners when they demanded of them labor, foods, tapa, or human sacrifices.

But, for the most part it was a very happy and free existance and there is no record of pests or diseases until after the arrival of the “foreigners.”

For instance, the first mosquitoes were introduced to Lahaina from the ship Wellington from San Blas, Mexico, in 1826. Leprosy was brought among the first coolies introduced from China in 1865, and many diseases came from the visiting crews of various whalers and other ships.

Some early names of chiefs have come down to us, but because it was he who made Lahaina his capitol we shall begin with Kamehameha I, known as the Great, as the Napoleon of the Pacific, and as one of Nature’s noblemen.

Kamehameha I was born in November 1736 and became a valiant and courageous Chief, and finally conquered and brought under his rule all the Islands of Hawaii.

During his time he called often at Lahaina in his fleet of peleleu canoes and would often stop for a year or longer in his grass Palace (which stood on that area now occupied by Kamehameha III school) surrounded by the grass houses of his chiefs and friends.

Interesting events of his reign were the discovery of the Islands by Captain James Cook in January 1778, and his second visit in November of that year and his death on February 14, 1779.

The sailing of Chief Kaina to China with Captain Meares in September 1787 and the reception of this Chief by the King on his return in December 1788.

The Massacre of natives at Olowalu by Captain Metcalf of the Eleanor in February 1790, and the capture of his ship, Fair American, by Chief Kameeiamoku of Olowalu in March 1790, in retaliation.

The invasion of Maui and the great battle of Kepaniwai in Iao Valley, July 1790 and the Great Eruption of Kilauea in November of that year.

At the time of the capture of the Fair American two of her crew, John Young and Isaac Davis, were spared by Kamehameha, and these became his advisors and friends and helped to plan his battles and to use the ship’s guns and musketry in those battles.

On March 5, 1792, the arrival of Captain Vancouver, and his second visit in February 1793 when he brought the first cattle as a gift to his friend, the King.

Vancouver had a fine influence upon the native ruler and it was he who gave to Kamehameha and English flag which was used as a part of the Sandwich flag, or, now the Hawaiian flag. (The name Sandwich Islands was given to this country by Captain Cook in honor of his patron, Lord Sandwich).

Vancouver made a third trip to Hawaii on January 9, 1794, and the Cession of Hawaii to Great Britain occurred in February of that year.

The Sandwich flag was first flown in foreign waters aboard the king’s brig, Kaahumanu, when Captain Alexander Adams was sent with her to trade in China. The Captain’s excuse for the loss of money on this trade venture was that the flag was not recognized in China.

The first horses were landed at Kawaihae as a gift to His Majesty by Captain Cleveland, on May 24, 1803.

Isaac Davis died in May 1810. The King returned to Hawaii in 1811, and, aafter a long and prosperous reign, died in Kona on May 8, 1819, and “great was the grief and mourning of his people.”

His son, Liholiho, Kamehameha II, followed as ruler, with the favorite queen, Kaahumanu, as advisor.

Kaahumanu and the queen-mother, Keopuolani, were the first to break the tabus when the young king was ordered to eat with them.

When nothing happened, like an earthquake or eruption to show the gods’ disfavor, the common people raised a shout of joy, “The tabus are at an end the gods are a lie—”

Hawaii was a land without a religion then, except for a few who worshipped in secret, and the rulers were most sincere in their desire for Christianity when the Missionaries arrived.

Many Hawaiian youth had gone to America as seamen and some as students at New England schools. One of these, Humehume, son of Kaumualii who was king of Kauai, joined the Navy and took part in the War of 1812.

The youths requested that the “word” of Christianity be taken to their homeland and the first company of Missionaries and some of these Hawaiians sailed in the brig, Thaddeus, and arrived off Honolulu on March 31, 1830.

As all royal persons lived at Lahaina at that time the newcomers had to come here to ask permission to teach.

Kaahumanu and other Alii became sincere Christians and Keopuolani was the first to be baptised and to receive Christian burial. Many of these first native Christians are buried in the Wainee church cemetery.

The Missionaries found that Lahaina might mean merciless sun, or day of cruelty, or that the name might have been Lele at first, because of the flying visits to the place by kings and chiefs.

The newcomers described Lahaina as “like a Paradise after the dreariness of Honolulu”, and were enraptured by the beautiful beach and calm water, the village of grass houses and the neat taro patches and gardens all about.

How the wide road ran along the beach, lapped on the lower side by the waves, and how all the valley was shaded by beautiful trees, such as Ulu, shading the clear running river and all the houses and gardens.

The royal residence (on the site where Kamehameha III school now stands) was, shaded by trees and flanked by royal fish ponds. A Fort stood along the beach in front of the king’s palace and extended as far as the wharf makai of what is now the Post Office.

There was an “abundance of fresh water from the mountain stream winding its way to the sea, and every kind of vegetable and melons and fruits including fine grapes, but not many hogs, due to the ravages of recent wars.”

As many as one hundred whalers and other ships would be anchored off shore at one time, and the crews would spend hours ashore walking about or riding horseback or drinking and eating in the grog shops or with the natives.

At sundown a guard went to the top of the Fort and beat upon a drum as signal for the crews to return to ships, and “more often than not it was a ludricous sight to see the men being carried to their row boats.”

The Fort was demolished by government order in 1854, three years after the Prison was built.

The Missionaries lived in grass houses until a coral stone house was built for them and that house is now our Library and is known as the Baldwin House.

It was fired upon by angry sailors, and was guarded and protected by natives, after the Mission was started in 1822 and Kaahumanu had followed the adivise of the teachers and had made laws against various practices.

The first of the “Lahaina Outrages” was committed by a Captain Buckle and his crew who fired upon the house and threatened the lives of Reverend Mr. Richards and his family unless the laws were revoked. (1825).

Hoapili, the governor, put a strong guard there and finally drove off the crew.

Again in 1825 the crews of several whaling ships landed and threatened to massacre Mr. Richards and all his people and were driven off only after much fighting and terror.

In 1826 the Dolphin arrived and Lieutenant Percival called upon Kaahumanu and demanded that the “obnoxious laws be repealed,” and when she refused the crew attacked the house of Kalanimoku, who was ill, and this time Mr. Bingham was rescued from death at the hands of the men who had “left law and order behind after rounding Cape Horn.”

The United States Government, answering the appeal from the rulers and the Missionaries, sent a sloop of war to quell the riots of the visiting seamen and this was the end of the troubles. The laws against drinking, murder, fighting, boxing, etc., were kept and were obeyed.

(Boxing in those days was called the “lua” which was a skillful manner of breaking bones and necks, and the loser was usually killed and life.)

(Star of Hawaii, 4/30/1841, p. 1)


The Star of Hawaii, Volume XXXVI, Number 1, Page 1. April 30, 1941.

We read, “What a galaxy of chiefs was then living at Lahaina! Schools were established at the homes of many of these Alii and all pupils were adults. The number of inhabitants was about 2500, and they visited together and played games under the trees, or enjoyed the sport of surf riding in the beautiful sea off Lahaina.”

 According to Mrs. William Kaai whom I talked with, up to the time of Kamehameha V the river still flowed seaward through the taro patches and the garden irrigation ditches. Where Malu Ulu o Lele park is now was once the little island of Mokuula, a place tabu for the private home of the kings, as a place for the burial of the bones of Alii, and also as a place sacred to the Moo. (Moo were half gods, half men, who could take any form they chose but usually took the form of lizards.

The river spread out past where the Wainee church is, surrounded Mokuula, through the fish ponds of the king, and also into a canal to the sea.

Wainee church was burned in 1893 and rebuilt, Luaehu school was the beginning of Kamehameha III school, and Halealoha (the little coral stone church in the rear of the Japanese theatre) was also a school and meeting place. Mr. Dickenson who was deacon of Wainee and also a principal of the schools, is buried in the cemetery mauka of Halealoha.

Lahainaluna was started in 1831 and was attended by adults and children of Hawaii nei and also by children from the Mainland, and particularly from California during the “Gold Rush Days.”

Liholiho, Kamehameha II, “pulled” the first sheet of printing at the Mission on January 7, 1822 and the first newspaper was published at Lahainaluna. Feb. 14, 1834.)

The British Frigate, Blonde, commanded by Lord Byron, cousin to the famous poet, arrived at Lahaina enroute to Honolulu, carrying the bodies of Kamehameha II and his queen and others of the Royal party who had died on their trip to England, May 4, 1824.

Princess Nahienaena quieted the outcries and grief of the people with an order to be quiet and pray their prayers to Christ.

The Catholic Mission was established in Hawaii in 1831 and the Centennial of their First Mass was celebrated recently and a bronze plaque was placed by the garden of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Taylor where it can be read.

After 1820 Honolulu became an important port and official business of the monarchy increased while the American Consul Jones and the British Consul Richard Charlton lived there.

Lahaina remained the favorite place of kings and their people, however, from Kamehameha I to V, and Honolulu was simply the business capitol.

The Courthouse was built in 1862, there was already many coral stone houses and some lumber. The Anglican Sisters school was situated where the Japanese Methodist church is now. The sugar plantation of Messers Campbell and Turton, the model one of Hawaii with an annual output of 1800 tons, is now the Pioneer Mill company.

One travelled on foot or horseback then, but mostly took the S. S. Kilauea or canoes to Maalea Bay and caught the “Express” for Wailuku.

Maria Lanakila church was at first a coral stone building in 1852, as was the priest’s cottage. From there the Catholics went forth to teach and to baptise, and it took them some time to teach the people that their statues were not gods, but merely objects to remind one of God, like a picture of one’s father.

There was a time when the Catholics were persecuted, but the King could see no good reason why there should not be freedom of religion in Hawaii and the persecution came to an end.

The chiefs who met in Lahaina from 1820 to 24 died rapidly. Kamehameha II and his queen Kamehamalu, Keopuolani and queen mother, King Kaumualii, and many others.

Kamehameha III was at first a “very wild fellow,” but settled down to become one of the best remembered kings of Hawaii. The death of Kaahumanu June 5, 1832 marked an era in the history of the nation. The four succeeding years had been quiet but they were years of reaction, uncertainty and troubled internal affairs.

After her death when Kamehameha III came to the throne he had no wise queen to guide him and trusted the wrong people. Through their influence he abrogated many of Kaahumanu’s laws, and distilleries were set up and grog-shops multiplied.

Kinau, his sister, finally told him (1833) “We cannot war with the word of God between us” and there was almost a civil war because she and her people stood for a Christian life and government and the king and his adherents would allow drinking and son on.

There followed a year of disorder when schools were deserted and congregations thinned, and in 1834 governor Hoapili and his chiefs went to Honolulu and destroyed all the distilleries.

The King finally god rid of the evil influences, made good laws and built up a stable government. He founded the Kamehameha III schools and in 1839 the first constitution was drawn up at Lahaina.

The Declaration of Rights was signed by the king and promulgated on June 7, 1839, and is known as the Magna-Charta of Hawaii.

On December 19, 1842 the Hawaiian government was recognized by the United States as independent, and that “no power ought to take possession of the Sandwich Islands.”

The life of the land had been restored, and the national motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono” was adopted. “The life of the land is perpetuated by righteousness.”

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 found a new era in Hawaii, for it opened a new market for the production of the Islands.

The  Constitution was extremely liberal, and together with the king’s gift to the people of lands in fee simple, forms the glory of the reign of Kamehameha III.

Steam navigation started in 1853 and in 1853–4 there was agitation in favor of annexation to the United States. The Missionaries were generally opposed to this idea, believing its effects would be disastrous to the natives, but the king was tired of demands made upon him by foreign powers and looked upon it as a refuge from impending dangers.

He died December 15, 1854, and his adopted son, Alexander Liholiho, became Kamehameha IV.

He married Emma Rooke, a granddaughter of John Young, and these two monarchs founded the Queens hospital and did many fine things for their people.

Kamehameha IV died November 30, 1863 and his elder brother, Prince Lot Kamehameha became king under the title of Kamehameha V. His reign was marked by bitter party contests and he promulgated a new constitution in 1864.

In April 1865, Dr. Hillebrand was sent to China, India and Malay states to make arrangements for the importation of laborers.

The first whaler Bellina, had come to the Islands to Lahaina in 1819, and often there were as many as 400 of these ships here annually. In 1871 the whaling fleet was lost in an ice floe in the Arctic sea, and this disaster was the end of whaling on a big scale.

The king died December 11, 1872, after a reign of nine years and this was the last of the Kamehameha line of kings.

Prince Lunalilo was elected as king in 1873 and died January 18, 1874.

David Kalakaua took the oath of office on Feb. 13, 1874 and later visited in Washington D.C. The Treaty of Reciprocity was ratified in June 1875, and is the most important date in Hawaiian history since 1843. It brought and era of unexampled prosperity and made many changes for the future.

Kamehameha III had been forced to spend much of his time with government  business in Honolulu and Lahaina, while still the favorite place, was not growiing so fast as the Oahu town. A fine palace had been built in Honolulu and the “grass palace” of the first kings was gone from Lahaina.

Kalakaua died in January 20, 1891 in the Palace hotel in San Francisco, and his body was brought home aboard the “Charleston.” His sister, the regent, was proclaimed queen under the title of Liliuokalani, and Princess Kaiulani was appointed heir apparent.

Liliuokalani like to visit in Lahaina on occasion and usually stayed at the Seong home as guest.

Mrs. Seong, Mrs. A. K. Hoapili (both dead now) and Mrs. William Kaai and others were Ladies in Waiting to the queen in those days.

Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898 and that was the end of Royalty.

Pearl Harbor was started in 1909 but Lahaina Roads is still the better known place at Washington D.C.

Lahaina is an ordinary island town today, but with the Boy Scouts taking over this old Prison perhaps people generally will take time to visit it and look back over the glory which was once Lahaina’s.

If the Lions club does establish a small museum in the Prison that will help too to preserve the past.

Few people take time to read the various histories of Hawaii but I have tried to condense the important facts of our old Capitol so that residents and visitors will have time to read briefly, while visiting this old landmark, of that glorious time of Chiefs and Missionaries and progress.

Perhaps Honolulu may become the capitol of the State of Hawaii and the American flag may have a 49th star. However, the Hawaiian flag will not change, and Hawaii can do no better than to live as justly and as morally as did the Missionaries and the Hawaiian Chiefs who became Christians so long ago, and who worked together for the advancement of Hawaii with a just government in the capitol of Lahaina.

[Whether this article is a translation of the preceding Hawaiian-language article or the other way around, this is a nice look at how one person did translation in 1941!]

(Star of Hawaii, 4/30/1841, p. 3)

Ancient Lahaina

The Star of Hawaii, Volume XXXVI, Number 1, Page 1. April 30, 1941.

1 thought on “Lahaina, and Hawaii through history, 1941.

  1. The youths requested that the “word” of Christianity be taken to their homeland and the first company of Missionaries and some of these Hawaiians sailed in the brig, Thaddeus, and arrived off Honolulu on March 31, 1830. [typo: 1820] mahalo

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