The first timepieces seen by the Islanders were those brought in 1778-1779 by Captain James Cook and his officers. These instruments included “the same Watch Machine that was out with me last voyage,” “Another Watch Machine . . . put on board the Discovery,” an astronomical Clock,” an “Alarum D°,” and a “Pinchback pocket Watch with a second hand & Ruby Cylinder.”
The “watch machine,” or marine chronometer, was an extremely accurate and sophisticated timepiece, essential for determining longitude, that had only recently been perfected by John Harrison; tested on Cook’s second voyage, it had “performed magnificently.”
The first direct evidence of a clock on Island soil appears in a list of goods received by Kamehameha I at Lahaina in 1812, in return for a shipload of sandalwood. Well down an accounting of such items as clothing, swords, mirrors, saddles, casks, lamps, fishing rods, and rockets appears the entry, “1 large clock for the house.” (Schmitt & Cox)
“Large public clocks first appeared in the 1840s and 1850s. In 1842, James Hunnewell presented Kawaiahaʻo Church with the large church clock on the gallery wall below the new organ.”
The public clock served the functional purpose of telling passers-by the time. But it also served as a village landmark, a reference point, and a symbol of civic pride. Indeed, public clocks were something of a status symbol for a community, a sign that a town had reached a certain level of prosperity, that there was action there.
A clock was ordered from France soon after the dedication of the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Cathedral. Bishop Maigret sent the order through the office of the superior of the Sacred Hearts Fathers and Brothers in Valparaiso, Chile.
It was sent there for inspection before it was forwarded to Hawai‘i. For some unknown reason, it was switched with an older clock in Chile. (Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace) This ‘second-hand’ clock was installed in the Church’s original tower in about 1846. (Historic Hawaii Foundation) It is the oldest tower clock in Hawai‘i.
Kawaiahaʻo Church, designed by Hiram Bingham and constructed between 1836 and 1842, was in the New England style of the Protestant missionaries. Its tower clock is commonly referred to as the Kauikeaouli clock (four faces,) in memory of King Kamehameha III, its donor.
It was made by the Howard & Davis Clock Makers of Boston, Massachusetts. Mechanics arrived with the clock in 1850 and preparations were made for its installation – King Kamehameha III was selected to supervise the task. The clock, which tolls the hours, still operates on its original machinery.
Down on the Honolulu Harbor waterfront, Lucas’ Honolulu Planing Mill building served a couple critical purposes. First, the clock tower served as a range marker for ships aligning to enter/leave the harbor. (“The line of the harbor light (red) and the clock tower of the Honolulu Planing Mill on Fort … just touches the west side of this channel at the outer end.”) (Hawaii Bureau of Customs)
In addition, the clock served as a local time piece, as well as the official time to mariners. “Time-Signal at Planing Mill … a time-signal has been established at the Honolulu steam-planing mill, Honolulu, Sandwich islands. The signal is a whistle, which is sounded twice daily by electric signal from the survey office; … (giving time associated with) Greenwich mean time. (Nautical Magazine, January 1890)
The Lucas clock didn’t always work; “Lucas’ clock … At 7 this morning the clock was of the opinion that 10:45 was about the correct time.” (Hawaiian Star, October 25, 1895)
“Lucas’ clock on the Esplanade has been groggy for some time lately but repairs are being made. It’s a godsend to the waterfront people and the government should keep it in repair.” (Evening Bulletin, July 12, 1897)
Others wanted to be different, “Maui wants to adopt the Government time on Lucas’ clock with five minutes added, but some few will not agree to it. The result is a great uncertainty in times. (Maui, June 28)” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 1, 1890)
Another Harbor timepiece (and still keeping time) are the four clocks on Aloha Tower (construction began in 1924.) It was completed in a year and a half and became the landmark of Honolulu.
At 10 stories and 184 feet of height topped with 40 feet of flag mast, for four decades the Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Hawaii. It was built in the Hawaiian Gothic architectural style.
The 4 clocks, each face 12 feet in diameter (by far the biggest clock in the Territory of Hawai‘i and one of the largest in the United States at the time) and facing different directions, were made of bronze and weighed 7 tons each.
If a ship or person was too far away to read the clock, two other means of time synchronization were provided. A time ball was lowered to the bottom of the forty-foot mast atop the tower each day at noon, and the blast of a siren was sounded at 7 am, noon and 4 pm.
Aloha Tower was built as a control tower for the Honolulu harbormaster and a lighthouse as part of a modern freight and passenger terminal at piers 8, 9 and 10.
In addition, it provided offices for the harbor master, pilots and customs officials. The eleventh floor of the tower served as a lookout for the harbor pilots, with balconies on all four sides.
The Kaʻahumanu Church began on August 19, 1832; the first services were held under a thatched roof. The present Kaʻahumanu Church is actually the fourth place of worship for the Wailuku congregation. The original congregation, under the leadership of the Reverend Jonathan S Green, was forced to hold their meetings in a shed.
Active fundraising under Pastor William Pulepule Kahale led to the opportunity to finally build a permanent church. Under the direction of Reverend Edward Bailey, in May, 1876, the new church, finally named the Kaʻahumanu Church, was completed.
The Kaʻahumanu Church is a large blue stone structure with wall more than two feet thick. It has a high-pitched gable roof with no overhang, but the eave terminates in a small molding adjacent to the top place along the wall.
The exterior is finished in plaster. The church tower was not added until 1884 with a “fine tower clock from the U.S. costing $1,000.” In 1892 the chandeliers were added to the interior.
Hilo’s Waiākea Social Settlement Clock was dedicated in 1939, in memory of Mrs CS Richards. The May 23, 1960 tsunami damaged the clock – it stopped at 1:05 am, when the tsunami struck. It was restored on its original pedestal and reminds all who pass of the timing of the tsunami.