British Hawaii: U.K. flavor in the former 'Sandwich Isles'
by Jeanne Cooper, SFGate April 29, 2011 (excerpt)
…Although the United States eventually captured Hawai'i through political means, the British beat the Yanks to the islands with the landing of Capt. James Cook on Kauai in 1778. And despite a few early skirmishes — including the one that cost the English explorer his life — the people who preceded the Europeans to the so-called "Sandwich Isles" by at least a thousand years generally had good relations with the British empire.
Thanks to the Anglophilia — some would say prudent politics — of the ali'i, the ties between Queen Elizabeth's and Kamehameha's united kingdoms are easily traced today….
King Kamehameha was quick to put English expertise to work in his inner circle, and it's possible the first intermarriages between British commoners and island chiefs were as much strategic as they were romantic. Nevertheless, it gave their royal descendants a fondness for both Anglo and Polynesian worlds.
The most famous product of such a relationship is Princess Victoria Ka'iulani, the daughter of Princess Miriam Likelike, sister of King David Kalakaua, and Scotsman Archibald Cleghorn, a successful merchant whose family had relocated to the islands when he was a young man. After her mother died, young Ka'iulani was sent to England to finish her education, where among other subjects she learned to paint. One of her oil paintings of a Scottish landscape hangs with distinction in the Picture Gallery of the Bishop Museum — named for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who also married a commoner, albeit an American.
The Caledonia Society of Hawai'i pays Princess Kai'ulani a Scottish-style tribute at the Royal Mausoleum every spring. But another Hawaiian royal with U.K. commoner blood had a much greater impact on Hawaiian Anglophilia. Queen Emma, as she became after marrying King Kamehameha IV, was the granddaughter of a niece of Kamehameha I and John Young, a stranded English seaman who became the great king's military advisor, but she grew up as the hanai (adopted) child of her maternal aunt, a half-English, half-Hawaiian chiefess who had married an English physician, Thomas Rooke.
The Rookes provided young Emma Na'ea with an English governess and surname. As Queen Emma, she lobbied with her husband for the Church of England to establish a mission in Honolulu. After Anglican clergy finally arrived in 1862, she and Kamehameha IV — who had translated some of the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian — were baptized into the faith, leading to the spread of the denomination throughout the islands. As a result, Anglophiles will particularly appreciate the traditional architecture of St. Andrew's Cathedral in Honolulu, which the royal couple helped found, and charming "country" churches such as Christ Memorial Episcopal Church in Kilauea, Kaua'i.
Having befriended Queen Victoria through letter-writing, Queen Emma named her only child Prince Albert Edward Kamehameha, honoring the former queen's beloved consort. Sadly, the little prince — for whom Princeville on Kaua'i is named — died in 1862 at age 4, followed a year later by his father. The widowed queens were finally able to commiserate in person during Emma's visit to Windsor Castle in 1865.
According to Sarah Vowell, author of the best-selling "Unfamiliar Fishes," the first members of the Kamehameha dynasty not only had good relations with the British, they thought they were British, politically speaking. One proof: Royal Navy Capt. George Vancouver gave King Kamehameha a Union Jack in 1794 after the latter formally ceded the "Island of Owhyhee to his Britannic Majesty," King George III. Citing historian Keanu Sai, Vowell writes, Kamehamehas I and II "believed they ruled a British protectorate. This is the reason that the Hawaiian flag features a Union Jack."
King Kamehameha III didn't appear to see it quite that way in 1843, after Captain Lord George Paulet forced him to relinquish sovereignty of the islands to the United Kingdom. When British Rear Admiral Richard Thomas restored Hawaiian rule six months later, Kamehameha III happily raised the islands' Union Jack-bearing flag as a sign of their independence, not their dependence. Vowell has her own droll take on the British perspective: "There is no record that the British government ever acknowledged receipt of the gift of Hawaii. That's how stuck up the British were — whole archipelagoes were handed to them and they were too busy ruining continents to notice."
Although the last decade has seen a rise in Hawaiian activists' use of a red, green and yellow "Kanaka Maoli" flag, the banner King Kamehameha III raised on July 31 (now celebrated as Ka Hae Hawai'i, Hawaiian Flag Day) holds a special place in many Hawaiian hearts. And two of the key British figures in the affair are reflected in the names of major Honolulu landmarks, even if many are unaware of the connection. Richard Charlton, the first British Consul to the Kingdom of Hawai'i, was granted land for a consulate from King Kamehameha III, on a street now called Beretania ("Britain" in Hawaiian.) Ironically, it was Charlton's complaints involving property rights that led Paulet to seize the kingdom. Thomas Square, bordered by Beretania on one side, commemorates the admiral who gave it back — and its layout even looks like a Union Jack when viewed from above.