Project Canterbury

Five Years' Church Work in the Kingdom of Hawaii

By Thomas Nettleship Staley
Bishop of Honolulu

London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1868.

Chapter I. "Come over and help us"

THE circumstances connected with the discovery of the Hawaiian Archipelago by Captain Cook are too well known to need repetition. Twelve years later, we find Captain Vancouver visited the group (1792-1794). At that time the leading chieftain of the large island of Hawaii was Kamehameha, the Great, as the natives call him, the founder of the dynasty which has since borne his name. With him Vancouver had frequent interviews, using as interpreters two Englishmen, John Young and Isaac Davis, then living at his court. [John Young married a native woman of rank, through whom their granddaughter, the good Queen Emma, traces her lineage to the ancient royal stock of Hawaii.] These men had been taken prisoners in the year 1756 by Kamehameha, in revenge for a massacre, which the crew of an American Vessel had wantonly perpetrated on a party of natives assembled on the beach. They were treated kindly by the chieftain, rose to be chiefs themselves, and gained much influence over him--an influence, to their credit be it said, ever exerted on the side of humanity and civilization. Vancouver imported horses, sheep, cattle, and other things which the islands most needed, and sought to encourage trade and the pursuits of peace. He told Kamehameha, too, "of the one true God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe," and promised on his return to England to request King George to send him a "teacher of the true religion." [See Jarves's "History of the Sandwich Islands" (Honolulu, 1847), p. 88.]

Vancouver seems to have remembered his promise, for, when in England, he sought to impress on Mr. Pitt the duty of sending missionaries to the islands. But it was a time when the minds of men were taken up with the events then transpiring on the Continent; neither was it a missionary age, and a great opportunity was lost to our Church.

From the period of Vancouver's departure, the King of Hawaii was principally occupied in reducing the [2/3] eight islands under his own undivided sway, in consolidating his power, and establishing something like order and law in his dominions. He carried on a considerable trade with the vessels touching there. White settlers usually received a kind welcome and grants of land. [The Rev. S. Williamson, S. P. G. Missionary, Kona, Hawaii, writes, under date Sept. 9, 1867, of one of these early settlers Old Mr. P-- is on his death-bed. Hearing of this, I rode over to see him. He was very thankful. I regret the distance hinders me from visiting him regularly. He lives on the mountain, seventy miles off. Mr. P-- is one of the oldest foreign residents, having come in 1809."] There can be no doubt that a growing intercourse with civilized life, unfavourable as might be sometimes the specimens of it presented to his view, had the effect of shaking old beliefs, and infusing into the minds of the people a spirit of discontent with their heathen rites and oppressive tabu. The changes, too, which had occurred in Tahiti, in the final triumph of Christianity there through the labours of the London Missionary Society, had, it is said, also an influence during the last few years of Kamehameha's reign, in exciting within him a spirit of inquiry and a desire to learn more of that Supreme Being whom the foreigners professed to worship. "Unfortunately, the whites around him were little able, even had they been disposed, to explain the [3/4] sublime truths, or tell him of the heavenly tidings of the Gospel; and on the 8th of May, 1819, he died, as he had lived, in the faith of his country." [Jarves's History, p. 105.]

His son Liholiho succeeded him, and soon gave evidence of the little faith which he felt in the existing religious system. The prevalent scepticism found in him a willing exponent. The word went forth, the idols were abolished by edict, the "taboo" was broken, the Heiaus (sacred enclosures serving as their temples) were thrown down, their ruins being still visible in several spots on the islands.

In this remarkable movement the high priest, Hewahewa, himself took the lead. It was the following year that the first missionaries arrived, and found the way wonderfully opened by this revolution for a favourable reception of their message. [See "Missionary Register" (1821).] They were Presbyterians and Congregationalists, from New England. The promise of Vancouver, however, to endeavour to send English missionaries had not been forgotten, though a quarter of a century had passed by since it was given; and, consequently, some little hesitation seems to have been felt by the chiefs about permitting these first messengers of the Cross to [4/5] establish their mission. Mr. Young was ordered to write to this country, and inform its rulers that, "American teachers had come to labour among the people."

The arrival of Messrs. Tyerman and Bennett (of the London Missionary Society) in 1822, and of the Rev. W. (now Dr.) Ellis, then a missionary at Tahiti, proved of much use in removing the suspicions with which at first the objects of these earnest men were regarded. The language was put into a written shape, a task of no little difficulty. Ere long, the New Testament and, some time later, the whole Bible were translated into Hawaiian. In these respects we, who are called to "labour in the Vineyard" at this more advanced stage in the history of the Hawaiian kingdom, may truly say, "Other men have laboured, and we are entered into their labours."

The King, the leading chiefs and chiefesses, eagerly engaged in the task of learning to read. Books were printed, of course of a very rudimentary kind; and among scholars so apt as the Hawaiians naturally are, it is no marvel that at least the elements of knowledge were acquired.

In 1823 Liholiho (Kamehameha II.) and his Queen embarked for England, having resolved to incur the [4/5] risks of a long and tedious voyage, in the hope, it is said, of placing their kingdom under the protection of the British Crown. (They had, however, other aims.) In acknowledging the gift of a schooner sent out by the British Government for his use, the King, in a letter to George IV. (Aug. 21, 1822), had remarked, "Our former idolatrous system has been abolished, as we wish the Protestant religion of your Majesty's dominions to be practised here." And we have the authority of his late Majesty Kamehameha, in the Preface to the Hawaiian Book of Common Prayer, for believing that the realization of this wish was one of the reasons why the long voyage was undertaken. ["Ua kauohaia aku o Vanekopa e hoonna mai i ke Akua oiaio. Ua kii aku o Iolani i ka aina e, e lawe ia mai." "Vancouver was asked to send us the knowledge of the true God. Iolani visited foreign lands to obtain it."]

The expedition, however, had a very unfortunate end. Liholiho and his Queen died in London. Their remains were sent back to the islands, with all due honours, in a British man-of-war, "La Blonde," Captain Lord Byron. [Late Admiral Lord Byron, who died at Brighten early in the present year (1868).] Kekuanoa, the present King's father, who had accompanied the party to England, while [6/7] returning home in this vessel, was baptized by the chaplain on hoard. He is still living, and at the time of the arrival of the English mission in 1862 was Governor of the Island of Oahu, and President of the Board of Education. As the first baptized member of the Church, he was nominated by his late Majesty, with other leading persons in the islands, as one of its lay representatives; and his name stands as such in the charter of incorporation granted in 1862. This was done in anticipation of his expected confirmation, and of his becoming a communicant. But the influence of his early training, and his thirty years' connexion with the Congregational body, has prevented his taking any active part in establishing the Church invited by his lamented son, or in attending but very rarely its ministrations.

Kauikeaouli became King on the death of his brother Liholiho, with the title of Kamehameha III. but being a minor, Kaahumanu, one of the wives of Kamehameha I., acted as regent. It was not till 1829 that the young King began to take any active part in the administration of the government. Attempts were now made to introduce the Roman Church into the Islands; but, owing to the opposition [7/8] of the chiefs, acting under the inspiration of the Congregational mission, without success. The priests who first landed were banished, and their converts subjected to severe penalties. It was not till 1839, on the visit of the French frigate "L'Artémise," Captain Laplace, that permission was granted the Roman missionaries to commence their labours. The following were among the demands enforced on the Hawaiian Government "(1) The free toleration of the Roman Catholic faith. (2) The release of all persons suffering imprisonment for professing its tenets. (3) A deposit of 20,000 dollars in the hands of the captain, as a guarantee for the future. (4) That a site should be granted in fee-simple for the erection of a church in Honolulu." There was no other Course but to yield to these peremptory conditions; and from that time to the present the Roman Catholic Church has enjoyed in the islands a free toleration, numbering at this time one-third of the population within its fold.

In 1840 a sort of Constitution was proclaimed, under which the government was confided, under the King, to a council of chiefs. The Congregationalist missionaries at this time wielded, and continued to do so for some years, the greatest influence in the [8/9] administration; and in 1852 the King was induced to grant a still further Concession to Democracy in the shape of a Constitution based on "universal suffrage, vote by ballot, paid members, no property qualification." Kauikeaouli seems to have had some misgivings as to the expediency of this measure, or at least to have felt that it was an experiment; for when he gave his consent, he made the remark, that "the same power which granted the Constitution could take it away." All traces of feudal rights disappeared from the statute-book, so to say, though not from the social system of the country.

Meanwhile the business of the Islands was increasing. In 1816 no less than 674 vessels touched at the ports, far the greater part engaged in the whaling trade of the Pacific. The effect of such an intercourse between the natives and some of the worst specimens of our own race was painfully manifested in the spread of vice and disease, and the rapid diminution of the people. Foreign residents, however, increased in number. The year 1845 is memorable for the arrival at Honolulu of Mr. Robert Crichton Wyllie, a Scotch gentleman of fortune, who was ere long placed by the King in the responsible office of Foreign Minister, which he continued to [9/10] hold for nearly twenty-five years. To his zeal, industry, loyalty, and devotion to the interests of the kingdom, is due in no small degree the fact that Hawaii now holds a place in the family of recognized nations.

In 1847 the Princes Alexander Liholiho and Lot Kamehameha, children of Kinau, the then King's sister, by Kekuanoa, were sent on a voyage to the United States, England, and France. They had been carefully instructed from boyhood in the English language; hence that great superiority in general intelligence and cultivation which distinguished them from the mass of their fellow-countrymen. These young Princes met with kindly notice at our own court as well as elsewhere. They made a very favourable impression, and gathered new ideas, which were not lost upon them as regarded both the English State and the English Church. At Westminster Abbey they attended Divine Service, with the beauty and solemnity of which they were much struck. The writer has been permitted to hear read portions of the diary which the late King, then Prince Liholiho, kept during his stay in England. It records the sights and events of each day, with the impressions that they left upon this young chief's mind, written in excellent English and in good taste.

[11] In 1855 Kamehameha III. (Kauikeaouli) died, and was succeeded by his nephew, Alexander Liholiho Iolani, with the title of Kamehameha the Fourth. Soon after his accession, the young King married Emma, granddaughter of John Young (of whom mention has been already made), and the adopted child of. T. C. Rooke, Esq., M.D., a leading foreign resident at Honolulu. Dr. Rooke had given her the advantage of being taught by an English governess, a lady who is still living the Islands. The nuptials were celebrated by one of the Congregationalist missionaries, but, at the request of the King, according to the Marriage Service of the Book of Common Prayer.

The rejoicing was great when it was announced that a son and heir to the crown had been born to the royal pair. As the child grew, he became the idol of the people. His mother taught him herself his morning and evening prayers, and the first principles of the Christian faith. It was the King's great ambition to have him sent, when old enough, to one of the great public schools in England, but in the interval some suitable provision had to he made for educating the Prince of Hawaii at home. With this consideration, others combined to suggest to the King [11/12] the advantages which would result from the presence of a branch of the Church of England in Hawaii.

Often had he spoken in public of the want of industrial female boarding-schools, where the future wives and mothers of the land might be trained in the principles of morality and religion. [Collected Speeches of King Kamehameha IV." (Honolulu).] At Honolulu were some hundreds of British and American resident eager to welcome the Church of their baptism. Lastly, the licentiousness and heathenism, still widely prevalent according to the testimony of the American missionaries themselves, might be expected to receive no slight check by the introduction of a new Christian influence enjoying the thorough sympathy of the rulers of the people. ["Report of Hawaiian Evangelical Association for 1863," passim.]

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