The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burn’d on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.
(Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II, William Shakespeare)
Built at Salem, Massachusetts in 1816 for George Crowninshield Jr., the brig ‘Cleopatra’s Barge’ was America’s ﬁrst oceangoing private yacht.
At the time, the concept of a ship built for pleasure was unknown on the western side of the Atlantic, where ships were built only for trade or war.
“Without any other model than his own mind supplied, he produced the celebrated ‘Cleopatra’s Barge,’ which has been admired in both hemispheres, and accomplished in her all he wished”. (Salem Gazette)
The yacht was built of solid oak as a schooner and had all the qualities of a good sea-going vessel. She was armed simply and well, and beautifully ﬁtted out on the exterior, with ﬁne carving on bow and stern. She had fourteen gun ports.
Her lavish furnishings included custom silver, glass and china services, and her interior decor rivaled that of the wealthiest homes.
Her exterior was distinguished by a herringbone paint scheme on the port side and multicolored horizontal stripes to starboard, a life-sized painted wooden Indian on deck, velvet-served quarter-deck lines, considerable gilding, and the latest patent windlass, pump and rudder technology.
At her stern were a salon ﬁnished with pink and deep blue mountings and gilt, a bedroom, a buﬀet, and a stairway leading up to her deck.
Mid-ship was a captain’s cabin and, forward, quarters for a crew, a storage area for tackle and so forth, a galley above and, ﬁnally, a spacious lounge containing tables of the ﬁnest workmanship, inlaid with palm and lacquered redwood.
She had five staterooms off the cabin, while the forecastle had accommodations for ten men and three boys.
Her registered tonnage was 191½-tons; she was 83-feet long on the water line, 23-feet beam and 11½- feet deep.
The owner, Captain George Crowninshield died suddenly on November 26, 1817. In settling the estate, the yacht was sold at auction.
She made one voyage to Rio Janeiro, after which she was sold again, and run as a packet between Boston and Charleston, SC.
In 1820, in fulfillment of a previous agreement with Kamehameha, she sailed from Salem or Boston on June 18, 1820.
“Although she bore a general cargo of “Axes, Brandy, Cottons, Gin, Hats, Hard Ware, Lead, Looking Glasses, Molasses, Muskets, Swords, Rum, Dry Goods, Sugar, Tea, Wine, Boots,” copper, umbrellas and a wagon, she left New England with a far different purpose in mind than general trade.”
“In their letter of instruction to their partner Captain Suter dated two days before he departed, Bryant & Sturgis wrote: ‘The Cleopatra’s Barge of which you have the immediate command is intended to be Sold Vessel & Cargo at the Sandwich Islands …’”
“‘… in this case you must endeavor to make your agreement with the King in the clearest manner — Stating how many Pikels of wood you are to Receive what the quality is to be & when it is to be delivered to your agent.’”
“The partners intended from the outset to sell the famous yacht to Hawaiian King Kamehameha II, son of Kamehameha the Great, who had united the Sandwich Islands and only recently died, leaving his son in power.” (Johnson)
The Logbook for the Barge’s outbound voyage from Boston to the Sandwich Islands tell the tale of an uneventful voyage whose monotony was broken only by frequent sail changes and an occasional squall.
After 138-days at sea, Cleopatra’s Barge arrived at Lāhainā, Maui, on November 6, 1820; the very next day Liholiho (Kamehameha II) was welcomed aboard along with some family members and attendants.
Liholiho’s father Kamehameha had loved foreign ships; over time he had collected a sizable ﬂeet of Western vessels, which, with guns and training by the foreigners, were a major asset in unifying and maintaining his kingdom across the islands.
Liholiho inherited his father’s love of ships; one of his childhood companions remembered seeing Liholiho frequently sailing a boat model “like a real man-of-war” on a pond and also recalled that their favorite boyhood pastime was drawing ships in the sand at the beach.
Just ten days after his ﬁrst visit to the ship, Liholiho purchased Cleopatra’s Barge and her cargo for 1.07-million pounds of sandalwood, worth $80,000 at the time.
On January 4, 1821, King Liholiho took formal possession of Cleopatra’s Barge, appointing his personal secretary, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Rives, as temporary captain.
Liholiho then renamed the yacht ‘Ha‘aheo O Hawai‘i’ (Pride of Hawaiʻi.)
Kamehameha II was quite proud of his ship; in the words of Charles Bullard, the agent for the ship-owner: “If you want to know how Religion stands at the Islands I can tell you; all sects are tolerated but the King worships the Barge.”
During the next three years she made frequent voyages between the islands.
On one of those trips in July 1821, Liholiho sailed to Kaua‘i, intent on confirming allegiance from Kaumuali‘i (whom his father had negotiated peace and, ultimately, united the islands under Kamehameha’s rule.)
When Kaumuali‘i unwittingly boarded and was seated in the cabin, orders were secretly given to make sail for Honolulu – Kaumuali‘i was taken prisoner.
In November 1823, Liholiho traveled to England, he died of measles in London on July 14, 1824.
According to a passage from Hiram Bingham, in April 1824, “Cleopatra’s Barge was wrecked in the bay of Hanalei, Kaua‘i, and lay not far from the beach dismantled and ruined … and was given up as unrecoverable.”
“(S)he ended her career as she had commenced it – a yacht.” (Salem Gazette; Crowninshield))
Whaling soon replaced the sandalwood trade of ʻiliahi wood in economic importance. It lasted about fifty years, from 1820 to 1870. During this time Hawaiʻi provided support services to the whaling ships; people grew crops and sold fresh fruits, vegetables and salted-meat to the ships. (Lots here from Johnson and Alexander.)