Last words of the King, 1891.

Kalakaua’s Last Words Preserved by Phonograph.

Outside the little circle of immediate friends and attendants upon the late King Kalakaua who were admitted into the sick chamber it is not known that for the ten days prior to the monarch’s death an Edison phonograph stood near the bedside. Many who saw the instrument daily never suspected its character or use, and during the excitable days preceeding the King’s death, during which every nerve was taxed to its greatest tension, the innocent-looking little machine reposed in its shaded corner unnoticed and unobserved by all except the King’s chamberlain and his secretary.

When the phonograph was brought into the sickroom last Monday a week ago Chamberlain Macfarlane explained its use and purpose to the King and begged that he would speak into the receiver. The near approach of death was not suspected at that time, but it was urged upon Kalakaua that in after years his people would be rejoiced to listen to the natural tones of their former ruler. Little did either the King or the chamberlain suspect that in less than a week the little waxen scroll containing the words of King Kalakaua in audible character would be so highly prized.

The King consented, and, raising himself up in bed, put the receiver in his mouth and talked into the instrument in his native tongue. He spoke slowly and with some effort for nearly ten minutes, then sank back exhausted, promising to complete the message when he should feel stronger. Then next day came, with the excitement incidental to preparing for the supper in honor of the King at the California Hotel, and the phonograph was forgotten. On the following day came the entertainments for the Mystic Shrine, and again the phonograph was neglected.

After that until death had closed his lips forever both Secretary Baker and Chamberlain Macfarlane watched and waited anxiously for the signs of returning consciousness, when they might have the King conclude the scroll, but the watching and waiting were fruitless.

On Wednesday the phonograph operator was sent for. He removed the waxen roll and gave it to Colonel Baker, who has since guarded it as sacredly as his own life. Yesterday he took it back to Honolulu, where its worth will be computed beyond measure in vulgar coin. It has not been read yet, nor will it be read until it is placed in an instrument upon Hawaiian soil. It will probably play a most important part in the Hawaiian obsequies.—S. F. Chronicle.

[In 2009, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, the keeper of this “waxen scroll,” tried to glean sounds off of it, but to no avail.]

(Hawaiian Gazette, 2/10/1891, p. 3)

Kalakaua's Last Words Preserved by Phonograph.

Hawaiian Gazette, Volume XXVI, Number 6, Page 3. February 10, 1891.

1 thought on “Last words of the King, 1891.

  1. There are varying published accounts of exactly how this recording was made, but based on the extremely indistinct sounds that can still be heard on it, the most likely actual scenario was that the representative of the Edison Company (maker of the machine) spoke first, then Kalakaua said only a few sentences – not “nearly ten minutes” of speech, as this article claims. The actual words were published elsewhere, at the time, so we do know what he said.

    The surface of this cylinder recording was not only soft (so that it could be recorded on) but is made of an organic material. This means that every time the cylinder was played, the surface was worn away, and furthermore it was subject to damage by mold or other factors. It has been in the Bishop Museum collection since 1918 but even when it was first donated in that year, the donor wrote that the voices were very faint and indistinct. Alas that today, only the most tiny fragments of what might be human voices can be heard, and they are not intelligible.

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