The headline of a December 15, 1884 front page story in the Daily Alta California in San Francisco suggested, “on the afternoon of Dec. 1st, (Honolulu was ransacked) by a pirate vessel’s crew.” There was more …
The Most Audacious Piratical Raid on Record.
No Attempt at Resistance.
The King, Public Treasury and Merchants Despoiled.
Over Three Millions in Coin and Plate Carried Off.
Capture of the Palace.
The Town in Possession of the Pirates for Nine Hours.
Not a Blow Was Struck Nor a Shot Fired.
Bishop’s Bank Plundered.
The Piratical Band Supposed to Have Organized in this City.
In explicit detail, we learn that “At 2 o’clock of the afternoon of December 1st a strange vessel was sighted off Diamond Head. The Alameda had passed out, and was well into the Molokai Channel by this time. [As the memoranda of the Alameda made no mention of this incident, she could not have seen her. — Ed.]”
“The craft, which was rigged like a steam whaler, after standing close along shore, shaped her course to the southward, and was soon a mere speck on the horizon. Towards evening, however, she was observed to go about and steer direct for Honolulu.”
“At 9 p. m., or thereabouts, the stranger hove to just outside the reef, and a boat, containing Colonel Curtis Iaukea, the recently appointed Collector of the Port, and four men, pushed off for her. About half an hour afterwards a second boat was sent from the Custom House, as the one containing Iaukea had not returned.”
“At 10 o’clock five boats, filled with armed men, pushed off from the strange craft and came alongside the Oceanic Steamship Company’s wharf. A few natives who were engaged in catching the red fish, a shoal of which had come into the harbor, ran up town with the intelligence that the wharf was thronged with armed men.”
“Mr. Brown, a reporter of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, met them, and, doubting the information, walked down to the water front. He found himself at once Surrounded by an Armed Force”
“Who bound him hand and foot and left him in charge of a dozen of their number, while the rest, about seventy or eighty, marched up Fort street in solid column.”
“All had Winchester repeating rifles, revolvers and cutlasses. Nine ‘o’clock in Honolulu sees the streets almost deserted, with the exception of a few natives and policemen.”
“‘The leader, a tall man with a long, red beard, walked deliberately towards us with a cocked pistol in his hand. We stood in the porch, sort of paralyzed. No one thought of making any resistance then, and I tell you the rifles looked mighty wicked in the light of the lamps of the hotel ground.’”
“‘Now, gentlemen,’ said the Captain, “’ don’t want any foes. We have not come here to play at soldiers, and we don’t intend to get hurt. If any of you show a weapon or make a threatening motion, we’ll fire on you. We have not come here to rob you; you ain’t going to be a dollar out, but we will not be interfered with.’”
“‘Never you mind,’ said the Captain. ‘Give me the keys of the house.’ They gave them to him, and I was locked up with the rest. There was a sentinel posted at each entrance, and we sat in our rooms looking out of the windows, for no one knew how many men were on the island, or exactly what they wanted, for that matter.”
“That the leader was a man well acquainted with the town there can be no doubt, and, indeed, Dexter identified him as a person who had once been employed as a steward on board the Mariposa, and who had worked his passage in the steward’s mess. So far, no one in the upper portion of the town, except the hotel people, knew anything about the invasion.”
“The ‘King’s Own,’ a company of about forty men, Kalakaua’s special guard, were in their barracks, near the Palace, and the sentries were posted in their usual places at the Palace gates. The filibusters marched directly from the hotel to the Palace.”
“The king had a dinner party that evening, and was entertaining his Ministers … They were immediately surrounded, but in the confusion that followed General Hayley managed to slip through the hall and to the barracks, through the rear entrance of the palace.”
“Mr. Gibson was about to address the leader of the gang when the King pushed him aside and demanded haughtily what the meaning of all this was. ‘It means, sir,’ said the leader, that we’ve just taken possession of this little kingdom of yours, and we mean to hold it, too, by G – d !’”
“The Palace now being in possession of the filibusters, they proceeded to raid it in the most systematic manner. The feather cloak of the Kamehamehas, which is prized by the Hawaiians as a sacred relic, was carried off.”
“The presents of silver plate which the King had received in his European trip were also taken off in addition to the silver service in daily use in the Palace.”
“Mr. Frank Pratt, the Public Registrar, who keeps the keys of the Treasury, was seized at his residence on Beretania street, dragged to the public building on Aeolani Hale, and forced to open the vaults.”
“Here were $700,000 in Hawaiian currency – silver dollars and half-dollars – and $200,000 in American gold and silver. All the money the pirates sacked up and sent down to their boats.”
“Their next proceeding was an attack on the residence of Mr. C. R. Bishop, the well-known banker. Mr. Bishop, who lost his wife recently, and who is in ill health, was taken from his bed and forced to open the safe in his bank on Merchant street. Here the filibusters bagged in the neighborhood of $500,000 in gold, silver and greenbacks.”
“The door of the business house of W. G. Irwin & Co. was forced, where some $300,000 which Mr. Irwin had sent from San Francisco several weeks ago, rested. This money was taken off with the rest.”
“At daybreak the next morning the leader withdrew his men from the town, and released the King and the other prisoners who were confined in the Palace and the barracks.”
“Not a blow had been struck on either side and no one was injured or insulted except Colonel Judd, who was bruised and kicked by the sentinel left in charge of him. General Hayloy had his left wrist broken in a fall over the breach of one of the Krupp guns in on attempt to escape from town after the first alarm.”
“The utterly defenceless condition of Honolulu, and the perfect practicability of such a scheme, removes all doubt about the matter. Moreover, the names Moran has given are those of well-known Honolulu citizens.”
“That the filibustering expedition was fitted up in this city and sailed from here with the express purpose of sacking those islands, knowing how easily it could be accomplished, is evident. They laid their plans cleverly.”
“No matter how small, who had the nerve and purpose for the job. It does not seem remarkable, in view of all this, that the raid should have been so easily accomplished. Where the vessel sailed for, or what her name was, Moran did not hear. She was away by daybreak, and possibly sailed for the Gilbert group, or perhaps Tahiti.”
Interestingly, none of the local papers carried the story. Rather, they soon concluded it was a hoax.
“An hour’s sensation was produced, upon the arrival of the Alameda, by an imaginary account, in the Alta California of the date the steamer left, of the capture and sacking of Honolulu, on the afternoon of Dec. 1st, by a pirate vessel’s crew.”
“Whether the motive was amusement, profit or political effect, the hoax can hardly fail to have injurious results, of more or less
degree and duration, upon Hawaiian securities abroad.”
“The work is generally ascribed to Mr. Dan O’Connell, late editor of the Advertiser, an opinion that is strengthened by the issue of an extra with the article, in similar type to the original, from the office of that paper, within an hour after the steamer’s arrival.” (Daily Bulletin, Dec 23, 1884)
A closer look at the Daily Alta supports the conclusion – hidden in the middle of page four was the disclaimer, “The narrative on the first page shows what might be accomplished in the Hawaiian Kingdom by a small body of desperadoes.” (Daily Alta California, December 15, 1884)
“The whole thing appears very much like an attempt to help the Government here to get forward a grand military scheme; in fact it is the army bill once more coming to the fore.” (Hawaiian Gazette, December 24, 1884)