Arrival in Honolulu, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 126-128:

AT daylight on the morning of the 23d of September we made Oahu, one of the Sandwich Islands, and about eight o’clock entered the harbor of Honolulu. A couple of small hawsers were run out from the starboard bow, and these were seized by several hundred natives, men, women, and children, who were on the reef, up to their necks in water, and very soon the ship was warped over the bar and into port, amid such shouting and singing that it seemed as though bedlam had broken loose. All Honolulu, including its land-sharks, was at the waterside and joined in the shouting and cheering. It was not the novelty that created the excitement, for the arrival of a man-of-war, in their port, was no uncommon thing; but they looked upon the event as a sort of golden shower which was to fill their pockets. They had been expecting our arrival for six months.

There were nine whale-ships lying here, besides our squadron. Five of them were American. The next morning between five and six hundred American sailors, all dressed in white frocks and trousers, black tarpaulin hats and neckerchiefs, and their pockets well filled with Spanish dollars, went on shore. Passing the American consul’s house, half-way up Main Street, we hove to, and saluted the Star Spangled Banner, which was proudly waving from his house. The consul, Mr. Brinsmade, and his wife, bowed very gracefully to us from the veranda.

It astonished the natives greatly to see so many sailors let loose at once. The principal street of the town was Main Street. The first settlers lived on this street, in frame houses. Some of these were painted white, with green blinds, and were inclosed with neat picket-fences. The next street was about half a mile back, and ran crosswise. The buildings on this street had thatched roofs and sides, with glass windows and frame doors. Here were located the grog-shops, dancing-halls, billiard-rooms, cock-pits, sailors’ boarding-houses, and gambling-saloons. Some of these houses were inclosed by walls of brick, dried in the sun, and were whitewashed. These were occupied by the middle classes. European garments were worn by this class of people. On the next street the houses were rudely fashioned. They were built of sticks, vines, and half-formed sun-dried bricks, and plastered with mud. The residents on this street were not quite half-dressed. Some of the men wore hat and shirt, and some wore trousers and no shirt. The dress of the ladies was made very much like a bag with a hole in the bottom, for the head to be slipped through, and arm-holes in the sides. It reached to the ankles, and appeared to be of the same width throughout its entire length.

In the outskirts, mud huts were found, which once formed the only habitations of the Sandwich Islanders. The natives occupying these were dressed in the garb of the heathen, a narrow strip of tapa tied around the loins, or a blanket of the same material thrown corner-wise over the left shoulder and tied in a large knot on the breast.

The greatest curiosity I saw while here was the Seaman’s Bethel. This was built in Boston by the Boston Seaman’s Friends’ Society, taken down and shipped to this port in 1826 or 1828. It was in this bethel that Father Damon preached so many years.

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Filed under economics, Hawai'i, military, nationalism, U.S.

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