In 1846, a treaty had been concluded with France, eliminating the harsh terms of the treaty of 1839. This produced an exceedingly friendly feeling toward France.
However, in 1848, Consul Dudoit retired from the French consulship and William Patrice Dillon was appointed in his place. Later, things got worse.
The French Invasion of Honolulu (also known as the Sacking of Honolulu, or the Tromelin Affair) was an attack on Honolulu by Louis Tromelin for the persecution of Catholics and repression on French trade.
On August 12, 1849, French admiral Louis Tromelin arrived in Honolulu Harbor on the corvette Gassendi with the frigate La Poursuivante. Upon arrival, de Tromelin met with French Consul Dillon.
Dillon immediately initiated a systematic and irritating interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom, arising largely out of personal hostility to RC Wyllie, minister of foreign affairs, picking flaws and making matters of extended diplomatic correspondence over circumstances of trifling importance.
This continued until the French Admiral Tromelin arrived, and after a conference with Dillon the celebrated “ten demands” were formulated and presented to the Hawaiian Government with the commanding request for immediate action.
The ten demands:
1. The complete and loyal adoption of the treaty of March 26th 1846.
2. The reduction of the duty on French brandy to fifty per cent ad valorem.
3. The subjection of Catholic schools to the direction of the chief of the French Mission and to special inspectors not Protestants and a treatment rigorously equal granted to the two worships and to their schools.
4. The use of the French language in all business intercourse between French citizens and the Hawaiian Government.
5. The withdrawal of the (alleged) exception by which French whalers which imported wine and spirits were affected and the abrogation of a regulation which obliged vessels laden with liquors to pay the custom house officers placed on board to superintend their loading and unloading.
6. The return of all duties collected by virtue of the regulation the withdrawal of which was demanded by the fifth article.
7. The return of a fine of twenty-five dollars paid by the whale ship ‘General Teste’ besides an indemnity of sixty dollars for the time that she was detained in port.
8. The punishment of certain school boys whose impious conduct (in church) had occasioned complaint.
9. The removal of the governor of Hawaii for allowing the domicile of a priest to be violated (by police officers who entered it to make an arrest) or the order that the governor make reparation to that missionary.
10. The payment to a French hotel keeper of the damages committed in his house by sailors from HBM’s (His Britannic Majesty’s) ship ‘Amphitrite.’ (Alexander)
The Hawaiian Government was allowed three days in which to make a satisfactory reply to these demands. If they were not acceded to, the admiral threatened to cancel the existing treaty, and to “employ the means at his disposal to obtain a complete reparation.”
Sensing disaster, King Kamehameha III issued orders: “Make no resistance if the French fire on the town, land under arms, or take possession of the Fort; but keep the flag flying ’till the French take it down. … Strict orders to all native inhabitants to offer no insult to any French officer, soldier or sailor, or afford them any pretext whatever for acts of violence.”
On August 25, the demands had not been met.
About noon of the 25th, a firm but courteous reply was sent to the admiral, declaring that the Hawaiian government had faithfully observed the treaty of 1846; that the existing duty on brandy was so far from being “an absolute prohibition” that the importation of French brandy had greatly increased under it; that rigorous equality in the treatment of different forms of worship was already provided for, but that public schools supported by government funds should not be placed under the direction of any mission, whether Catholic or Protestant; and that the adoption of the French language in business was not required by the treaty or by international law, and was impracticable in the state of the islands.
The Hawaiian government offered to refer any dispute to the mediation of a neutral power, and informed the admiral that no resistance would be made to the force at his disposal, and that in any event the persons and property of French residents would be scrupulously guarded.
After a second warning of the impending invasion, 140-French Marines, two field pieces and scaling ladders were landed by boat, which were met with no opposition and Tromelin’s troops took possession of an empty fort.
The invaders also took possession of the customhouse and other government buildings, and seized the king’s yacht, together with seven merchant vessels in port.
But the Admiral was careful not to lower the Hawaiian flag.
The marines broke the coastal guns, threw kegs of powder into the harbor and destroyed all the other weapons they found (mainly muskets and ammunition).
They raided government buildings and general property in Honolulu, including destruction of furniture, calabashes and ornaments in the governor’s house. After these raids, the invasion force withdrew to the fort.
On the 30th, the admiral issued a proclamation, declaring that by way of “reprisal” the fort had been dismantled, and the king’s yacht, “Kamehameha III,” confiscated (and then sailed to Tahiti,) but that private property would be restored. He also declared the treaty of 1846 to be annulled, and replaced by the Laplace Convention of 1839. This last act, however, was promptly disavowed by the French Government.
He sailed away with the understanding that the King would send an agent to France to settle the difficulties.
In 1850, the Hawaiian government instructed commissioners JJ Jarves and GP Judd to demand an indemnity of $100,060 on account of the seizure of the Kamehameha and damage wrought by de Tromelin’s forces.
But for the consideration of a loss of face, the indemnity would have been paid. Instead, a compromise was decided upon. To Consul Perrin, successor of Dillon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote:
“There is no need to tell you that indemnities are out of question. The word itself should be avoided: however, the Prince-President … wishes that … in his name, you put in the hands of King Kamehameha a very costly present.”
The present turned out to be an elaborate silverware table service. Today, the heavy, ornate silver service sent to Kamehameha III by Louis Napoleon of France is the formal tableware of the Governor of Hawaiʻi in Washington Place.
The image shows Fort Kekuanohu, Fort Honolulu in a drawing by Emmert in 1853 (this is to show a representation of the fort – this was not drawn during the occupancy by the French.) (The inspiration and information here is primarily from reports in the Hawaiʻi Journal of History through UH-Mānoa.)