“It is my painful duty to report to you that the extreme sentence of the law has been carried out upon a native born Hawaiian, who had been in this Colony for many years, and who was convicted at the last assizes of the murder of his wife and child, and his wife’s father and mother.” (Henry Rhodes, Hawaiian Consulate, Victoria, May 18, 1869; Hawaiian Gazette, July 7, 1869)
Today, there is a place known as Kanaka Bay, named after Kanaka Pete on the east side of Newcastle Island, off Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Let’s look back.
Peter Kakua (‘Kanaka Pete’) left his home in Honolulu in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi for Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, in 1853. He travelled to Victoria in 1854 but soon departed for Fort Rupert in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Pete remained at Fort Rupert for five years, then returned to Victoria where he “worked for Sir James Douglas (Governor of both Vancouver Island and British Columbia) for a year.” He left and took a job with the Vancouver Coal Company at Nanaimo. (Illerbrun)
Kakua’s aboriginal wife, Que-en (his ‘common law’ wife of about six years, known as Mary,) told him, via her brother, that she was leaving her husband. Kakua returned home to find Mary, their young child, plus Mary’s parents, packing up her things. (Fryer, BC Local News)
Then, on December 4, 1868, four bodies were found in Peter Kakua’s home and the Hawaiian was missing. They didn’t have to look far, however, to find him; he was sitting beside a fire on Newcastle Island.
December 5, 1868, he was arrested and charged with the murders of his Indian wife, Que-en (known as Mary;) their infant daughter and his wife’s parents (Squash-e-lik and Shil-at-ti-Nord.) (Cunningham, BC Local News)
At the Coroner’s Inquest, Pete willingly offered the following statement, “My wife had gone away and left me for some days, and had sent me a message by her brother to say that she did not intend living with me anymore.”
“I began drinking and continued up to the night of Thursday the 3rd Decr. About 12 o’clock on that night I returned to my house with the intention of going to bed.”
“When I opened the door I found a fire burning, and my wife and her father and mother sitting round it. I asked them what they wanted, and if my wife was going to live with me again, they told me no, they had only come for her things.”
“I got some drinks from a friend. I then thought I would go and sleep in my own house on the floor. When I went in I found the old man in bed with his daughter. I thought this too bad, and took hold of him to drag him out.”
“He caught hold of my hair and pulled me down on the bed and got my finger into his mouth and called out to the old woman to come and beat me. The old woman rushed at me and began striking me on the head and body with a stick, my wife also striking me.” (Kakua’s hand had a mangled stump, he claimed his wife’s father had bitten off his finger.)
“Being considerably intoxicated at the time, and owing to the pain I was suffering I became almost mad and laid hold of the first thing I could reach which was an axe, produced in court, and laid about me indiscriminately.”
“After a time I fell down and remember nothing more until I awoke at daylight on Friday the 4th instant when I saw my Father-in-law, Mother-in-law, my wife and child all dead.”
Those at the Inquest heard more from Dr. Klein Grant, who had examined the bodies of the victims. According to Grant, who described the condition of each corpse in detail, the wounds which brought death “were all inflicted by a heavy weapon such as the axe produced.” (Illerbrun)
After pleading not guilty to four counts of ‘wilful murder,’ Pete was tried on two counts, one heard on February 16, 1869, the other on February 17. (Illerbrun)
“The jury, upon the first trial (murdering Que-en,) upon the testimony furnished, found the prisoner guilty of murder, and recommended him to mercy.” (Henry Rhodes, Hawaiian Consulate, Victoria, May 18, 1869)
The mercy recommendation was made on the ground that “Kanakas (Hawaiians) are not Christians and killing men may not be such an offense in their eyes.” (Illerbrun)
He was then tried upon the second indictment (murdering Shil-at-ti-nord, Que-en’s mother,) and a verdict of guilty was rendered against him, without the recommendation of the first jury.” (Henry Rhodes)
The “crime of passion” aspect of the case, though not clearly enunciated in Kakua’s own testimony, had apparently made no impact on the jurors, for Judge Needham had informed them that if Que-en was involved in “open adultery” Pete should not be found guilty of murder. (Illerbrun)
The next day he was sentenced to be hanged “on a day to be henceforth designated by the Executive.”
The day after sentencing, Attorney General Crease wrote: “Although the murders were committed by the same person and at nearly the same time the facts the provocation and the law were different in their application to each individual case and were so stated by the Judge in his charges.” (Illerbrun)
Henry Rhodes, Hawaiian Consulate, Victoria, noted, “I endeavored to get his sentence commuted, and for this purpose requested his Counsel to draw up a petition to the Governor praying for a commutation.”
“This petition (forwarded to the Colonial Secretary) was signed by a number of the members of the Legal profession and by a number of influential gentlemen of this city”.
“Taking all these matters into consideration, and the ignorance of the prisoner, and the uncertainty I feel as to the statement taken down by the magistrate, … I have no hesitancy in joining the prayer of the petitioners, and I sincerely hope, that taking these matters into consideration. His Excellency will find sufficient ground for exercising the prerogative of the Crown, and acceding to the prayer of the petition.” (Henry Rhodes)
Rhodes was later notified that “the Governor regrets that in this instance, he cannot interfere with, the course of the law, by acceding to the prayer of the petition.” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 7, 1869)
Peter Kakua (Kanaka Pete) was hanged at Nanaimo, “the scene of his fearful crimes,” at 7 am on the morning of March 10, 1869. “He ascended the scaffold unflinchingly, made no remarks, and struggled but slightly after the drop fell. His neck was evidently broken.” (Illerbrun)
Being of neither Caucasian nor First Nations descent, Kakua could not be buried in any of the city’s cemeteries and was instead interred on his last place of freedom – the east side of Newcastle Island.
Unfortunately, Kakua was still not allowed to rest. Thirty years later, the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company unearthed Kakua’s coffin as they dug for a new coal mine. Kakua was reburied, in another unmarked grave, for good. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
Today, the gory tale lives on in the form of ghost stories told around the fire by those camping on Newcastle Island. (Nanaimo Daily News) Many claim the most haunted area in the Pacific North West is Newcastle Island.
The image shows Kanaka Bay. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.