Sarah Rhodes von Pfister was not only a tutor and governess, but also a trusted mentor and confidante to one of Hawaiʻi’s Queens. Sarah played an important role in her growing up during her adolescence. (Kanahele)
Let’s look back.
Siblings, (the boys) Henry and Godfrey Rhodes, and (the girls) Mary Ann, Annie, Sarah and Sussannah (Mrs Brown, Mrs. Covington, Mrs. von Pfister, and Mrs. Robinson) were children of a prominent officer of the Bank of England.
The von Pfister family came of good stock and was among the early settlers in New York; the brothers were Frank M, Edward H and John R von Pfister. (Brown)
Members of both families came to the Islands. John von Pfister courted and married Sarah Rhodes. They had two children, Ida and Ramsay.
In 1842, George Rhodes and Frenchman John Bernard “obtained a lease from the government for fifty years, on two parcels of land, ninety acres east and sixty acres west of the (Hanalei) river, and there started a coffee plantation.”
“This was a new industry for Kauai, although coffee berries had been brought to Honolulu from Brazil in 1825 on the British frigate Blonde, and a few plants had then been started in Manoa Valley on Oahu.
“Four or five years later the missionaries at Hilo and other planters in Kona on the island of Hawaii had begun to grow coffee around their houses, but it was from the original source in Manoa Valley that the seed and young were obtained for Hanalei.”
In October of 1845, Godfrey Rhodes and John von Pfister formed a partnership. By 1846, the Rhodes and Company Coffee Plantation covered seven hundred and fifty acres, so that the two plantations counted over one hundred thousand trees and “a great part of the valley, at least to the extent of a thousand acres, was under cultivation in coffee at this time.” (Damon)
“In May, 1847, just as the trees were in good condition of full bearing, they had “severe rains for two weeks which did much damage to the valley, flooding the coffee plantations.”
“Masses of rock, trees and earth were loosened and carried by force of water, crushing several hundred trees and doing much other damage.”
“Recovering from this pullback another difficulty was met with the following year by the California gold fever, rendering labor scarcer and dearer.” (Thrum)
John caught the Gold Fever and headed to California.
Placards posted around told the sad news, “Posted around San Francisco was a placard stating that a reward of $5,000 would be paid for the apprehension of Peter Raymond, who murdered John R von Pfister at Sutter’s Mill, or for his head in case he could not be taken alive.” (Grimshaw)
Widowed, Sarah managed to get along by teaching school, which filled a long-felt want in the community. (Brown)
Sarah moved to Honolulu and set up a “select” school for the children of Honolulu’s elite, which was located on Smith and Beretania Streets. (Kanahele)
Smith Street was opposite the old Kaumakapili church, and was named after its pastor, Rev. Lowell Smith. Sarah lived nearby and had a school there. (Unfortunately Sarah’s building burned down, but she was able to get a new school site.) (Brown)
Then came the new special student for Sarah Rhodes von Pfister. At the age of five, the child had entered the Chiefs’ Children’s School.
That school was created by King Kamehameha III; the main goal of the school was to groom the next generation of the highest ranking chief’s children of the realm and secure their positions for Hawaii’s Kingdom.
Seven families were eligible under succession laws stated in the 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i; Kamehameha III called on seven boys and seven girls to board in the Chief’s Children’s School.
The Chiefs’ Children’s School was unique because for the first time Aliʻi children would be brought together in a group to be taught, ostensibly, about the ways of governance.
Amos Starr Cooke (1810–1871) and Juliette Montague Cooke (1812-1896), missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, were selected by the King to teach the 16-royal children and run the school.
The school closed in 1849; then, when the school closed, Thomas Rooke, hānai father of Emma Naʻea Rooke, hired Sarah Rhodes von Pfister to tutor his daughter for the next four years.
As noted above, Sarah not only taught the young girl, she also became her friend.
On June 19, 1856, Emma married Alexander Liholiho (who a year earlier had assumed the throne as Kamehameha IV) and became Queen Emma.
In March 1853, Robert Crichton Wyllie bought the coffee plantation at Hanalei. In 1860, he hosted his friends King Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma and their two-year-old son, Prince Albert, at his estate for several weeks. In honor of the child, Wyllie named the plantation the “Barony de Princeville”, the City of the Prince (Princeville.)
Members of Queen Emma’s family are interred in the Wyllie Crypt at Mauna Ala: Queen Emma’s mother, Kekelaokalani; her hānai parents, Grace Kamaikui and Dr. Thomas Charles Byde Rooke; her uncles, Bennett Namakeha and Keoni Ana John Young II; her aunt, Jane Lahilahi; and her two cousins, Prince Albert Edward Kunuiakea and Peter Kekuaokalani.