1874 – On the continent, Jesse James and his gang participated in one of the most famous train robberies in history; at Gads Hill, Missouri, it was first time the James Gang robbed individual passengers.
Also on the continent, at Comer, Alabama, the White League (comprised of white Alabamian Democrats), formed an armed mob and killed at least seven black Republicans and a white Republican judge’s son, injured at least 70 more and drove off over 1,000 defenseless Republicans from the polls – it became known as the Election Riot of 1874 (also the Coup of 1874.)
But that was there, what was happening here in Hawaiʻi?
On February 12, 1874, nine days after the death of King Lunalilo, an election was held between the repeat candidate David Kalākaua and Queen Emma, widow of King Kamehameha IV.
This was the second election of Hawaiʻi’s leadership – the kingdom’s Constitution stated if the monarch dies before naming a successor “such vacancy, shall cause a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, who shall elect by ballot some native Alii of the Kingdom as Successor”.
Therefore, the elections were held by the members of the legislature, not the public. The election was held in a special session of the Legislature at the old Courthouse on Queen Street (it was almost the last official action to take place in the courthouse.) When the vote was tallied, Kalākaua won by a count of 39 – 6.
Emma’s supporters (referred to as the “Queenites,” “Emmaites” or the “Queen Emma party”) were unhappy with the decision – an angry mob of about 100 of the Queen’s followers gathered.
No outbreak occurred … until the Committee of five representatives, which had been appointed to notify the King of his election, attempted to leave the building and enter a carriage waiting to convey them to the Palace.
“The crowd surrounded the carriage and laid hands on them, and they attempted to defend themselves, as best they could without weapons, two of them were badly wounded before they effected entrance into the building to which they retreated.” (Hawaiian Gazette – March 4, 1874)
A riot ensued and many of the legislators were attacked, with one subsequently dying from his injuries (Mr. Lonoaea, representative from Wailuku, Maui.)
“An extra Police force had been enrolled the day previous, but except from those stationed inside, little or no assistance was obtained from the Police, who simply stood by and looked on, apparently sympathizing with the mob. It may be added that none of them were armed even with batons.” (Hawaiian Gazette – March 4, 1874)
The queen’s followers first surrounded and besieged the courthouse. “The building was in great disorder, nearly every window being smashed and apparently all of the furniture having been broken. The floors were littered with mutilated books and torn papers and that of the upper room was blood stained in several places.” (WHH Southerland)
Since the Hawaiian army had been disbanded after a mutiny sometime before, and the militias were unreliable, there was nobody to stop the riot. The Honolulu police force deserted and also joined in the unrest, even fighting against each other depending on their political sympathies.
“The only alternative, in this emergency, was to seek aid from the war vessels in port. About half-past 4 pm, a written request was sent by Charles R Bishop (the Minister of Foreign Affairs,) on behalf of the Government, to the American Minister Resident, for a detachment to be landed from the US ships Tuscarora and Portsmouth, lying in the harbor. And a similar request was transmitted to the British Consul General.” (Hawaiian Gazette – March 4, 1874)
The request stated, “Sir: A riotous mob having unexpectedly made a violent attack upon the Court House and the Members of the Legislature which we have not the force at hand to resist, I have to request that you will cause to be furnished at the earliest moment possible aid from the US ships “Tuscarora” and “Portsmouth” to the Police, in quelling the riot and temporarily protecting life and property. Your obedient servant, Chas. R. Bishop” (Hawaiian Gazette – March 4, 1874)
A force of 150 American marines and sailors under Lieutenant Commander Theodore F. Jewell were put ashore along with another seventy to eighty Britons under a Captain Bay from the sloop HMS Tenedos.
The Americans headed straight for the courthouse, pushing back the rioters, and placing guards, they also occupied the city armory, the treasury the station house and the jail.
British forces marched up Nuʻuanu Valley to Emma’s house where they dispersed a large crowd. They then went back to Honolulu to man the palace and the barracks.
“The American and English landing forces patrolled the city for a few nights and about one week later, no other disturbances occurring in the meantime, were withdrawn to their respective ships.” (WHH Southerland)
(The USS Tuscarora happened to be in port because it was surveying a suitable route for a submarine telegraph cable between San Francisco and Honolulu. They were taking a line of deep-sea soundings at intervals of thirty miles apart between the two ports.)
Kalākaua took the oath on February 13 (Queen Emma immediately acknowledged him as king,) after which his right to the throne was no longer in threat.
The image shows the old Courthouse and representation of the Election Riot of 1874 as drawn by Peter Hurd.