George Charles Beckley was known as “the English friend and military adviser of Kamehameha the Great.” (Taylor) Born in 1787, Beckley arrived in the Islands around 1804. About 1813, he married Ahia Kalanikumaikiʻekiʻe.
Ahia was daughter of Kaha, a trusted friend of Kamehameha I, a warrior and Kahuna Kalaiwaʻa (a priest who superintended the building of canoes) and of Makaloa, daughter of Malulani (k) and of Kelehuna (w) of Puna, Hawaiʻi. (Hawaiian Historical Society)
In preparation of Kamehameha’s conquest of the Islands, he ordered Kaha, “to build a war fleet to carry his invasion forces across the straits to the other islands. As each canoe was finished, to show the confidence he had in his skills, Kaha had his beautiful daughter Ahia ride each canoe on its sea trial.” (Dye)
Family traditions credit Beckley as being the designer of the Hawaiian Flag (other stories suggest the flag was designed by Alexander Adams, another trusted sea captain of Kamehameha – they may have designed it together (Adams later served as executor of Beckley’s estate and guardian of his children.))
The early Hawaiian flag looks much like the Hawaiʻi State flag of today, the apparent inspiration of the design being a melding of British and US flags, the most common foreign flags seen in Hawaiian waters at the time.
The original design had stripes (like the US flag) representing the eight major islands under one sovereign and the British Union Jack, representing the friendly relationship between England and Hawai‘i.
At the birth of the princess Nahiʻenaʻena (Kamehameha’s daughter) at Keauhou, Kona, in 1815, Beckley was made a high chief by Kamehameha, so that he might with impunity enter the sacred precinct, and present the royal infant with a roll of China silk, after which he went outside, and fired a salute of thirteen guns in her honor. (Hawaiian Historical Society)
“In consequence of his having become a tabu chief, his wife, Ahia, was thenceforth obliged by the ancient code of etiquette to “kolokolo” or crawl prone on hands and knees, when she entered the house of her lord.” (Hawaiian Historical Society)
In 1815, Kamehameha I granted some Russians permission to build a storehouse at Honolulu Harbor. Instead, they began building a fort against the ancient heiau of Pākākā and close to the King’s complex and raised the Russian flag. (Pākākā was the site of Kaua‘i’s King Kaumuali‘i’s negotiations relinquishing power to Kamehameha I.)
When Kamehameha discovered they were building a fort (rather than storehouses,) he sent several chiefs, along with John Young (his advisor) and Kalanimōku, to remove the Russians from Oʻahu by force, if necessary. The partially built blockhouse at Honolulu was finished by Hawaiians and mounted guns protected the fort.
Beckley was the first commander of the fort (known as Fort Kekuanohu or Fort Honolulu.) Its original purpose was to protect Honolulu by keeping enemy or otherwise undesirable ships out. But, it was also used to keep things in (it also served as a prison.)
“Kareimoku (Kalanimōku) is always in the fort, where they are still at work, and the natives not being familiar with the use of cannon, they have appointed an Englishman, named George Berkley, who had formerly served in a merchantman as commandant. The fort is nothing more than a square, supplied with loop-holes, the walls of which are two fathoms high, and built of coral stone.” (Kotzebue)
The Beckleys had seven children, William (1815,) Maria (1817,) Localia (1818,) Mary (1820,) George (1823,) Hannah and Emmeline (1825.)
His oldest child, William Beckley, who was born at Keauhou, was brought up together with Kauikeaouli (later King Kamehameha III.) His two oldest daughters were brought up by Queen Kaʻahumanu. (Hawaiian Historical Society)
The diary of missionary Hiram Bingham notes, “Whatever of hostility may have been manifested against the spiritual claims of the Gospel by foreigners and others, we were encouraged in our efforts to commence a school by several residents, some wishing their wives, and others their children to be instructed.”
“Among them, were … Beckley (English)… These cherished a desire that their long neglected children, whose morals, habits, language, and manners differed little from their contemporaries – the children of aboriginal fathers – might now, at length, if they wished it, have the advantage of a school for their improvement.”
Apparently, marriage did not keep Beckley constantly in the Islands. Instead, after a couple of years, he followed the custom of the day and took his wife with him on his numerous long voyages between the Mexico and Canton, China. (Hawaiian Historical Society) He apparently also kept a home in Vera Cruz, Mexico. His youngest daughter Emmeline was born off the coast of Mexico.
Beckley had several Hawaiʻi properties, including: a farm with the fishing grounds called Kealahewa, situated in the district of Kohala, Island of Hawaiʻi, by King Kamehameha I (1811;) a farm with the fishing grounds called Kaliheawa, Kalihi, by Keōpūolani (1815;) a farm called Kawailole, situated at the mouth of the valley of Manoa, sold by Kalanimōku (then Governor of Oahu) (1815;) and house lot in Honolulu by King Kamehameha (1819.)
George Charles Beckley died April 16, 1826 in Honolulu. “He was buried agreeably to his wish within his own enclosure. A vault was dug within the walls of an unfinished house; and inclosed with bricks & lined with mats. A part of the church buryal service was read by Mr. Bingham, who afterwards made a short address to the bystanders both in English & Hawaii & closed with prayer.” (Chamberlain)