Failed Hawaiian Colony on Erromango

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 88-89:

Kamehameha died in 1819 at the age of about sixty-six. His fleet of foreign-going ships probably never made adequate profits, even though most of the capital and operating costs had been derived from the extraction of natural resources, with free Hawaiian labor ashore. Most of the voyages to China by his ships were ruinous, at least partly due to the unscrupulous agents and merchants in Canton, lack of care, recurring repairs and delays, and related payments of high port dues. His son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) faced increasing debts, as resources from land and sea, used for financing these ventures, had appreciably decreased.

Despite mounting debts the new king went on to purchase more ships. His first acquisition, at enormous cost, was the luxury yacht Cleopatra’s Barge (191 tons), bought from the American millionaire shipowner George Crowninshield Jr. Renamed Haaheo O Hawaii (Pride of Hawai‘i), the ship cruised around the Hawaiian group with the royal family and leading chiefs until 1825, when it was wrecked. It was reported that the ship at this time was “manned by a drunken, dissipated, irresponsible crew from the captain down to the cabin boy.” About the same time, the ship Prince Regent, which Vancouver had promised as a gift, was also wrecked after less than one year in service. To add to the problems of the royal family, news was received in 1825 that the king and queen had died of measles on a visit to England during 1824. They were there to elicit British political support and in the process incurred considerable expenditure.

The family, now with a boy king (Kamehameha III), faced numerous creditors, and with sandalwood and pearls exhausted, a bold maritime venture was conceived to solve these financial problems. Governor Boki of Oahu and Chief Manui‘a of Hawai‘i were to sail for Erromango in Vanuatu and acquire the still plentiful sandalwood of that region for carrying to China on Hawaiian ships. Chief Boki was in effect to occupy Erromango as ruler in a Hawaiian attempt at colonization. They sailed on 2 December 1829. Boki was in charge of the royal warship Kamehameha with a complement of 300 people, including 10 foreigners, Hawaiian sailors, soldiers, servants, women, and some other Polynesians. His navigators were Blakesly (a watchmaker) and Cox (a silversmith), possibly neither being qualified in navigation or experienced in seamanship. Manui‘a was in charge of the Becket, with 179 people. His navigator was more sensibly a former mate of a whaler.

Other merchants were also seeking Erromango sandalwood in 1829–1830 with Pacific Island labor. The Sofia carried more that 100 Tongans to the island in 1829. On a second voyage in January 1830 the Sofia recruited 200 Rotumans for Erromango. The Snapper in turn delivered another 113 Tongans for sandalwood extraction. The Kamehameha never arrived in Erromango, and no trace was ever found of the ship The Becket stayed there for six weeks, but Erromangoans were alarmed at the arrival of four European-type ships with 600 or so Polynesians, and there was much hostility, malaria, and many deaths. The Becket returned to Honolulu on 30 August 1830 with only a few Hawaiians and foreigners left alive….

The last foreign-going vessel independently owned by the Hawaiian royal family was the schooner Kamehameha III (116 tons), which sailed to California in 1848. However, the French Navy commandeered the ship in response to a complaint by its consul in Honolulu regarding unfair treatment of French business interests by the Hawaiian authorities.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, Hawai'i, labor, migration, Pacific, Polynesia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s