The perils of fire in old Hawaii, 1848.


Kapalama, July 7, 1848.

O Elele Hawaii, aloha oe. Tell the people and the other Islands of this Nation of the great devastation that happened here in Honolulu last night.

On the 6th of July, at perhaps 1 o’clock at night, three houses went up in flames at the North East corner of town, near the North side of Kaumakapili Church [not where it is located now]. One adobe house and two pili grass houses. The adobe house belonged to Kahehenanui, a member of the church and a widower. One of the pili houses belonged to Kauhema, a church member, and that new pili house was only completed some months ago. The other pili house belonged to Lio and was about three years old.

The fire started at the new pili house of Kauhema on the south side of the structure in the lanai. A candle was burning there and the flame caught on to the wall of the lanai. The fire leaped from the house of Kauhema and caught the adobe house of Kahehenanui on fire, and then the fire jumped to the house of Lio, and those houses were all consumed leaving the house of Uilani located makai of those houses to escape from being burned down; the Church escaped the fire as well.

When the fire started, the bell of Kaumakapili church was sounded; and then all the bells of the town were rung with the shouting of, “A house is on fire! A house is on fire! Go and put out the fire!” Then the people went without anything to put out the fire, and the haole came from the ships and town with the buckets and other things to put out the fire and the assisted in putting out the flames with water, thinking to salvage the belongings. The Hawaiians just stood there and watched the fire without anything in their hands to extinguish the flames; there were maybe one thousand people standing and not helping.

Therefore the Marshall [Ilamuku] Henry Sea was perplexed by the fire, and he grabbed this man and that who just stood there, and told them to go and put out the fire; the men ran away because they did not want to help to get water to put out the fire; he grabbed policemen to go put out the fire, and some went to help and some did not and ran away; therefore the Marshall fined those people who had no aloha and just stood there talking. But the foreign haole from the British Warship and from the trade ships and some other haole continued putting out the fire from when the flames were huge until they were extinguished.

Here is another thing; it is said that there were some rescued valuables [waiwai pio] that were stolen from the burning houses and that they are gone. They were belongings of the haole who were renting the houses that burned down. And I believe that they were taken by those people who have no aloha and who do not think that these were rescued valuables from the fire and these can be returned to their owners, the ones who were devastated by the fire.

Hear me, you people reading this paper, let us think hard about what is the right thing to for our loved ones, to our friends and their relatives. Who is a brother of these troubled people? The people who just stood their without helping? The people who helped with aloha? How sad for those who are deprived of house and clothing!

J. L. Nailiili.

(Elele Hawaii, 7/14/1848, p. 20)


Ka Elele Hawaii, Buke 4, Pepa 5, Aoao 20. Iulai 14, 1848.

1 thought on “The perils of fire in old Hawaii, 1848.

  1. Interesting! This could very well be my ggg-grandfather, who with Kapela begot Hannah Kauhema; Hannah Kauhema with Henry Turton begot Hannah Turton — my great grandmother– who married George Markahm. Kauhema died in 1858 — and did have a houselot in Honolulu as well as an ili. Mahalo!

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