Within ten years after Captain Cook’s contact with Hawai‘i in 1778, the Islands became a favorite port of call in the trade with China. The fur traders and merchant ships crossing the Pacific needed to replenish food supplies and water.
The maritime fur trade focused on acquiring furs of sea otters, seals and other animals from the Pacific Northwest Coast and Alaska. The furs were mostly sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the US.
A triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China and the Hawaiian Islands to Britain and the United States (especially New England).
One such boat was the Lelia Byrd. Between 1803 and 1805, she crossed the Pacific three times (over 20,000-miles of open ocean,) including numerous journeys up and down the American coastline from the Columbia River to Guatemala.
The Lelia Byrd was fitted out at Hamburg by Captain Richard J Cleveland of Salem, Massachusetts – he liked the boat: “Having … purchased a new boat, we took the first favorable opportunity to proceed down the river, and … put to sea on the 8th of November, 1801, in company with a dozen sail of ships and brigs … The superiority of sailing of the Lelia Byrd was soon manifest, as, at the expiration of four hours, but two of the number that sailed with us were discernible from the deck, having been left far astern.” (Cleveland)
June 21, 1803 marked an important day in the history of Hawaiʻi land transportation and other uses when the Lelia Byrd, an American ship under Captain William Shaler (with commercial officer Richard Cleveland,) arrived at Kealakekua Bay with two mares (one with foal) and a stallion on board.
Before departing to give these gifts to Kamehameha (who was not on the island to accept them,) the captain left one of the mares with John Young (a trusted advisor of the King, who begged for one of the animals.) “This was the first horse that ever trod the soil of Owhyhee (Hawaiʻi,) and caused, amongst the natives, incessant exclamations of astonishment.” (Cleveland)
Shaler and Cleveland then departed for Lāhainā, Maui to give the mare and stallion to King Kamehameha I. “When the breeze sprang up, though at a long distance from the village of Lahina (Lāhainā,) we were boarded by Isaac Davis … Soon after, a double canoe was seen coming towards us; and, on arrival alongside, a large, athletic man, nearly naked, jumped on board, who was introduced, by Davis, as Tamaahmaah (Kamehameha,) the great King.”
“Desirous of conciliating the good opinion of a person whose power was so great, we omitted no attention which we supposed would be agreeable to him. … after walking round the deck of the vessel, and taking only a very careless look of the horses, he got into his canoe, and went on shore.” (Cleveland)
“Davis remained on board all night, to pilot us to the best anchorage, which we gained early the following morning, and, soon after, had our decks crowded with visiters to see the horses. The people … expressed such wonder and admiration, as were very natural on beholding, for the first time, this noble animal.”
“The horses were landed safely, and in perfect health, the same day, and gave evidence, by their gambols, of their satisfaction at being again on terra firma. They were then presented to the King, who was told, that one had been also left at Owhyhee for him. He expressed his thanks, but did not seem to comprehend their value.” (Cleveland)
While Kamehameha “remarked that he could not perceive that the ability to transport a person from one place to another, in less time than he could run, would be adequate compensation for the food he would consume and the care he would require,” Hawaiʻi had a new means of transportation (as well as a work-animal to help control the growing cattle population (gifts from Captain Vancouver in 1793.)) (Cleveland)
Cleveland and Shaler left and continued trading between China and America. “A few days after my departure for Canton, Mr. Shaler sailed from thence, bound to the coast of California, where he arrived without accident. He had been on that coast but a few weeks, and had disposed of but a small amount of cargo, when, unfortunately, the ship struck on a shoal, and beat so heavily, before getting off, as to cause her to leak alarmingly. (Cleveland)
(T)o have attempted to reach the Sandwich Islands, while they could hardly keep the ship afloat in smooth water, would have been highly imprudent. There seemed, then, to be no other alternative, than to go to one of the desert islands in the neighbourhood, land the cargo, and heave the ship out, or lay her on shore. (Cleveland)
The tide did not ebb sufficiently to enable them to come to the leaks by laying her on shore; and in attempting to heave her keel out, she filled and sank. Fortunately, the water was so shoal as not to cover the deck; and she was again pumped dry. It was now evident, that they could not make such repairs as would allow them to prosecute the voyage; and to stop the leaks sufficiently, to enable them to reach the Sandwich Islands, seemed to be the only way to avoid the total loss of the property. (Cleveland)
The repairs they were able to make, were done in so imperfect a manner, as would have made it unjustifiable to attempt any other passage, than one, where they might presume on good weather and a fair wind all the way, like the one contemplated. With these advantages, however, it was not without incessant labor at the pumps, that they were able to reach the Sandwich Islands in 1804. (Cleveland)
An attempt to repair the ship, with the very inadequate means which were available here, was discouraging, from the great length of time it would require. No foreign vessel was procurable, to return to the coast with the cargo. To freight a ship with it to China, would have been easy; but then it would be transporting it to where the loss on a resale would be very heavy. (Cleveland)
In this dilemma, it was decided, as a choice of difficulties, to barter with Tamaahmaah the Lelia Byrd for a little vessel of thirty or forty tons, which had been built on the island. (Cleveland)
This was a negotiation of greater magnitude than the King had ever before participated in; and the importance of which was sensibly felt by him. (Cleveland)
Kamehameha was open to negotiation; he saw the benefit of the new style of boat coming to the islands and started to acquire and build them. The first Western-style vessel built in the Islands was the Beretane (1793.) Through the aid of Captain George Vancouver’s mechanics, after launching, it was used in the naval combat with Kahekili’s war canoes off the Kohala coast. (Thrum)
Encouraged by the success of this new type of vessel, others were built. The second ship built in the Islands, a schooner called Tamana (named after Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Kaʻahumanu,) was used to carry of his cargo of trade along the coast of California. (Couper & Thrum, 1886)
According to Cleveland’s account, Kamehameha possessed at that time twenty small vessels of from twenty to forty tons burden, some even copper-bottomed. (Alexander)
The king’s fleet of small vessels was hauled up on shore around Waikiki Bay, with sheds built over them. One small sloop was employed as a packet between Oahu and Hawaii. Captain Harbottle, an old resident, generally acted as pilot. (Alexander)
Shaler exchanged “Lelia Byrd,” with Kamehameha for the Tamana and a sum of money to boot. (Alexander) The cargo was received into his store, and when the schooner was ready it was all faithfully and honorably delivered to the person appointed to receive it. (Cleveland)
Mr. George McClay, the king’s carpenter, put in a new keel, and nearly replanked the Lelia Byrd in Honolulu Harbor. She afterwards made two or three voyages to China with sandalwood. (Alexander)
In 1809, the village of Honolulu, which consisted of several hundred huts, was then well shaded with cocoanut-trees. The king’s house, built close to the shore and surrounded by a palisade, was distinguished by the British colors and a battery of sixteen carriage guns belonging to his ship, the “Lily Bird” (Lelia Byrd), which lay unrigged in the harbor. (Campbell; Alexander)
Kamehameha kept his shipbuilders busy; by 1810 he had more than thirty small sloops and schooners hauled up on the shore at Waikīkī and about a dozen more in Honolulu harbor, besides the Lelia Byrd. (Kuykendall) Later, the Lelia Byrd finally sank near Canton. (Alexander)
The image shows the Lelia Byrd.