Charles Furneaux (1835–1913) was born in Boston and became a drawing instructor in that area. For many years he lived in the town of Melrose, Massachusetts.
In 1880, Furneaux came from Boston to Hawaiʻi as a tourist, intending to spend a few months in the Islands. The climate and the scenery appealed to his health and artistic eye, and he decided to remain in the Islands. (Hawaiian Gazette, November 11, 1913)
While living in Honolulu he taught at the private schools Punahou and St. Albans (now known as ʻIolani School.) He spent most of his time (about 25-years) in Hilo.
For many years and until the annexation of Hawaiʻi to the United States he was the American consular agent and United States shipping commissioner at the port of Hilo.
He reported, “A bill is now before the Hawaiian Legislature asking for an appropriation to construct a wharf on the east side of Hilo Bay. A wharf, such as contemplated, would greatly facilitate the loading and unloading of vessels, which, at present, is accomplished by lighters. Hilo Bay affords safe anchorage for the largest class of vessels.”
“In this connection, I may say, it is generally conceded that a diversity of industries will increase the wealth and importance of this island. Hawaiʻi, of which Hilo is the principal port, contains an area of 2,500,000-acres.”
“There are large tracts of unoccupied lands well suited to the culture of coffee, bananas, papayas, pine-apples, water-lemons, and other tropical fruits that would admit of transportation to the United States, where they would undoubtedly find a market. I am fully convinced that the introduction of steam communication will add materially to the importance of Hilo as a commercial port.” (Consular Reports, August 18, 1890)
Furneaux was president of the Hilo Agricultural Society. At a meeting of the group, “President Furneaux read an exhaustive paper on “Banana Culture” which contained much interesting and valuable information regarding various methods of cultivation and corresponding success, which had come to his attention.”
“There is a marked difference between the Hilo banana and the Honolulu banana. The skin of the latter is much tougher and consequently bears transportation easier. The Hilo banana if not properly wrapped becomes bruised and discolored, and unsalable. He suggested that greater care be exercised in the wrapping of fruit shipped from here.” (Hilo Tribune, April 22, 1904)
“Furneaux has had considerable experience in planting coffee and is the owner of some fine coffee lands in Olaʻa. … He noted, “All authorities seem to agree that coffee requires shade … (and) decomposed vegetable matter is one of the most valuable of fertilizers.” (Consular Report)
A successful farmer and responsive diplomat … but, Furneaux is best known as an artist.
His reputation is mainly based on the paintings he created in Hawaiʻi, especially those of erupting volcanoes. The Bishop Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art, ʻIolani Palace and Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (South Hadley, Massachusetts) are among the public collections holding works by Charles Furneaux.
As a painter, Furneaux attained considerable distinction, especially of the Volcano of Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes. He was an intimate friend of the noted painter Jules Tavenier.
Furneaux was well known throughout Hawaiʻi. When the news reached Hilo that the annexation treaty had passed congress and had been signed by the commissioners of the United States and the Republic of Hawaiʻi, Furneaux was the happiest man in the metropolis of the Big Island.
While some of his art were landscapes, many were portraits. Furneaux spent the rest of his life in Hawaiʻi as a painter, teacher and coffee farmer. He died in Hawaiʻi in 1913. A lane in downtown Hilo is named for him.