Edmond Gardner, captain of the New Bedford whaler Balaena (also called Balena,) and Elisha Folger, captain of the Nantucket whaler Equator, made history in 1819 when they became the first American whalers to visit the Sandwich Islands (Hawai‘i.)
A year later, Captain Joseph Allen discovered large concentrations of sperm whales off the coast of Japan. His find was widely publicized in New England, setting off an exodus of whalers to this area.
These ships might have sought provisions in Japan, except that Japanese ports were closed to foreign ships. So when Captain Allen befriended the missionaries at Honolulu and Lahaina, he helped establish these areas as the major ports of call for whalers. (NPS)
At that time, whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.
In Hawaiʻi, several hundred whaling ships might call in season, each with 20 to 30 men aboard and each desiring to resupply with enough food for another tour ‘on Japan,’ ‘on the Northwest,’ or into the Arctic.
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands. Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands. Starting with Cook’s arrival, his crew and later the whalers sought and received other pleasures.
Kaʻahumanu and her followers seem to have concluded that an alliance with the missionaries would bring greater religious, political and economic benefits than the future envisioned from the foreign businessmen.
By adopting Christianity, Kaʻahumanu and most of the other Chiefs could claim to rule in the name of the God worshipped by most western leaders, perhaps gaining legitimacy and respect in their eyes. (Kashay)
The chiefs “proceeded to take more active measures for suppressing the vices which were destroying their race, and for promoting education. In the seaports of Honolulu and Lahaina this policy immediately brought them into collision with a lawless and depraved class of foreigners.” (Alexander)
Laws promulgated by Kaʻahumanu to be observed throughout the kingdom, and supported by the chiefs from all over the group except Boki. (These were the laws:)
1. You shall not commit murder; he who puts another to death shall himself die.
2. You shall not commit adultery; he who commits this crime, man or woman, shall be banished to Kahoolawe.
3. You shall not practice prostitution; anyone guilty of this shall be imprisoned and beaten across his back with a rope, and if he still fails to keep the law shall be banished to Kahoolawe.
4. Natives and foreigners are forbidden to manufacture, sell, or drink liquor.” (Kamakau)
“It is said to have been the motto of the buccaneers that ‘there was no God this side of Cape Horn.’ Here, where there were no laws, no press, and no public opinion to restrain men, the vices of civilized lands were added to those of the heathen, and crime was open and shameless.”
“Accordingly, in no part of the world has there been a more bitter hostility to reform. As soon as laws began to be enacted to restrict drunkenness and prostitution, a series of disgraceful outrages were perpetrated to compel their repeal.” (Alexander)
In the mid-1820s and early-1830s, several clashes (writers of the time referred to them as ‘ourtages’) happened that included the missionaries, merchants and whalers.
Outrage at Lahaina, 1825 – The ship ‘Daniel,’ of London, commanded by Captain Buckle, arrived at Lahaina October 3d, 1825, and the crew soon found that a change had taken place on shore since their last visit.”
“Two days later several of them entered Mr. Richards’s house and threatened him and his wife with death if he did not procure the repeal of the obnoxious law.”
“Their calm and heroic demeanor seems to have saved their lives for a time. On the 7th a larger company, armed with knives and pistols, landed under a black flag and forced an entrance into the yard, when the natives interfered, barely in time to rescue the lives of their teachers.”
“Outrage of the ‘Dolphin,’ Lieutenant Percival – On the 23d of January, 1826, the United States armed schooner ‘Dolphin,’ Lieutenant John Percival, arrived at Honolulu from the Marshall Islands, where he had taken off the surviving mutineers of the whale-ship ‘Globe.’”
“About this time the American ship ‘London’ was wrecked at Lanai, and the ‘Dolphin’ went there to save the cargo. On his return, February 22d, Lieutenant Percival called on the queen regent, and demanded the repeal of the law against vice, threatening violence if it were not done.”
“On the 26th his men attacked the houses of Kalanimōku, who was ill, and the mission premises, and did considerable damage before they were driven off. Mr Bingham was rescued from their hands by the natives, narrowly escaping with his life.” (Alexander)
The ship captains “blamed Bingham for the prohibition on prostitution and threatened to tear down Bingham’s house…. the sea captains were adamant that the missionaries were to blame for imposing Christian, Ten Commandment-based laws.”
“But during the confrontation with Captain Percival and Kaʻahumanu, she insisted that the aliʻi had accepted the word of Christ and that they were responsible the ban of (prostitution)”. (Brown)
Marie Alohalani Brown recounts correspondence of the time explaining the 1826 event:
“Second Outrage at Lahaina – In October, 1826, the crews of several whale-ships landed at Lahaina, threatening to massacre Mr. Richards and his family, who happened to be absent at Kailua, Hawaii. They went in a body to demolish his house, but found it strongly guarded.”
“They continued rioting several days, breaking open and plundering the houses of the natives. The native women had all fled to the mountains with Kekauōnohi, who was acting as governess in Hoapili’s absence, and remained there until the ships sailed for O‘ahu.”
“Third Outrage at Lahaina – In October, 1827, another assault was made at Lahaina by the crew of the ‘John Palmer,’ an English whaler, commanded by Captain Clarke, an American.”
“Governor Hoapili, having learned that several native women were on board, contrary to law, demanded that they should be landed. The Captain evaded and ridiculed the demand from day to day.”
“At last one evening the governor detained him on shore, and seized his boat to enforce his demand. Upon Captain Clarke’s promise to return the women in the morning, he was released.”
“Meanwhile the crew had opened fire on the village with a nine-pound gun, aiming five shots at Mr. Richards’s house, which, however, did little damage. The next morning Captain Clarke sailed for Honolulu, without keeping his promise.” (Alexander)
In March 1831, Kaʻahumanu and Kuakini came down hard, imposing moral law in Honolulu. The two restricted liquor licenses, the sale of rum, and gambling. They also tabooed ‘lewdness, & Sabbath breaking,’ meaning that both Hawaiians and foreigners could no longer play games, dance, ride horses or carouse on Sundays.
At a public meeting on April 1, 1831, Kauikeaouli announced that he had sequestered the lands, forts and laws of Honolulu, and had given them to Kaʻahumanu.
She, in turn, decreed that future governmental policy would be based on the 10 Commandments, and put Kuakini in charge of enforcement. (Daws)
The new Governor threatened that ‘if any transgressed he should take all their property and pull their houses down.’ Under the leadership of a native by the name of ‘Big Ben,’ the Hawaiian police constantly patrolled the streets of Honolulu.
As part of their new duties, they invaded private homes, grog shops, and gambling halls, searching for contraband liquor and lawbreakers. In the process, Big Ben’s force confiscated drinks, broke up billiard, bowling, and card games, and wreaked havoc on the lives of the foreign population. (Kashay)
The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. For Hawaiian ports, the whaling fleet was the crux of the economy. More than 100 ships stopped in Hawaiian ports in 1824.
The effect on Hawaiʻi’s economy, particularly in areas in reach of Honolulu, Lāhainā and Hilo, the main whaling ports, was dramatic and of considerable importance in the islands’ history.
Then, whaling came swiftly to an end. In 1859, an oil well was discovered and developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania; within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses – spelling the end of the whaling industry.