The family dates back to early-Europe. They took the name of Saint Claire from the place, probably Normandy, where their estate was located. (Von Holt)
A senior Saint Claire married a daughter of Richard Duke of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror (their son fought in the Battle of Hastings, 1066.) By 1481, the spelling of their name started to appear as Sinclair. (Von Holt)
OK, let’s bring this closer to home.
Looking at genealogies and relationships between folks in Hawaiʻi, you tend to see a pretty tight group of people who are either related to each other, or the families had worked together for a long time.
On Kauai, you hear the names, but the relationships aren’t evident.
Sinclair – Gay – Robinson – Knudsen
Keeping track of these folks is best done with the family tree.
You’ll see that the gang above are all in the family. And, they link back to the Saint Claire clan of old.
It started in January 1824 when Captain Francis S Sinclair married Elizabeth (“Eliza”) McHutchison (sometimes spelled McHutcheson) – they were both from Glasgow, Scotland.
In 1840, the Sinclairs and their three sons and three daughters – George, Jane, Helen, James, Francis and Anne – made the move to New Zealand. Exchanging their Scotland land, they established the farm ‘Craigforth’ in a cove on the western side of Pigeon Bay on South Island.
Craigforth was largely self-sufficient. There were no servants and the Sinclairs made their own shoes and clothes. The Sinclair girls “could manage a boat as well as their brothers, they were fearless riders…crack shots, and capable workers, so that the hardships and roughing of those early years were not too much for their buoyant spirits.” (TeAra-govt-nz)
In 1846, Eliza’s husband and her eldest son, George, set off for Wellington. The ship, loaded with produce and with all the family’s savings on board, was wrecked somewhere along the coast. There were no survivors.
Under the shadow of this tragedy, the widow and family persevered.
One of the captains of the whaling ships that regularly visited Pigeon Bay, Thomas Gay, married Jane Sinclair in 1848 and they built a house at the bay. Then, Helen Sinclair married Charles Barrington Robinson, the former magistrate at Akaroa and the owner of extensive land holdings in Canterbury.
Are you starting to see the connections? Wait, there’s more.
In 1863, the Sinclairs decided to sell the Pigeon Bay farm and settle in Canada. Eliza and 13 members of her family sailed for Canada via Tahiti (captained by her son-in-law, Thomas Gay.) California was considered as an alternative place to settle, but they were persuaded to try Hawaiʻi. They travelled to Honolulu via Los Angeles, arriving there in September 1863.
The family was anxious to find land on which to settle and they were offered several large tracts on Oʻahu (at Kahuku, Ford Island and ʻEwa.) When King Kamehameha IV heard the family might leave the Islands, the King offered to sell them the island of Niʻihau. (Joesting)
After inspecting the place, they offered $6,000. The government countered – $10,000 outright, or a lease at $750 per year. Brothers James and Francis Sinclair bought it for the government’s price, $10,000. (Joesting)
Kamehameha IV died on November 30 before the closing, so Land Grant No. 2944 shows his brother, Kamehameha V, completed the transaction in 1864.
As he signed the contract, the king said: ‘”Niihau is yours. But the day may come when Hawaiians are not as strong in Hawaii as they are now. When that day comes, please do what you can to help them.’” (New York Times)
“It is said that the transfer of the island involved some hardships, owing to a number of the natives having neglected to legalize their claims to their kuleanas, but the present possessors have made themselves thoroughly acquainted with the language, and take the warmest interest in the island population.” (Isabella Bird, 1894)
Sinclairs also bought land at Makaweli and Hanapepe on the adjoining Island of Kauai. Ownership was subsequently passed down through the family.
Eliza Sinclair’s daughter, Anne Sinclair, married Valdemar Knudsen on Niʻihau in 1867. Later, that family (with 5 children) lived in Waiawa and Halemanu in Kokeʻe (on Kauai.)
The connections of the family names got a bit tighter when Aubrey Robinson (son of Helen Sinclair and Charles Robinson) married his cousin, Alice Gay (daughter of Jane Sinclair and Thomas Gay.)
The legacy continues.
Francis Gay formed a company with his brother-in-law (and cousin) Aubrey Robinson – Gay & Robinson.
Today, although the state records list them separately, if you combined the Robinsons’ holdings of nearly 51,000 acres on Kauai and some 46,000 acres on Niʻihau, the family would be the sixth largest landowner in the state. (sfgate-com)
The 2011 report lists Aylmer Robinson as the owner of Niʻihau, although he left it to his brother’s family when he died in 1967, and nephews Bruce and Keith Robinson assumed control several years before the death of their mother, Helen, in 2002. (sfgate-com)
Eric Knudsen, son of Anne Sinclair and Valdemar Knudsen, established the Eric A Knudsen Trust with extensive land holdings on Kauai, as well.
Niʻihau isn’t the only island this extended clan owned in the Islands.
After methodically buying up individual parcels, by 1907, Charles Gay, youngest son of Captain Thomas Gay and Jane Sinclair Gay, acquired the island of Lānaʻi (except for about 100-acres.) He was the first to establish the single-ownership model for Lānaʻi (with roughly 89,000 acres.)
Around 1919, Gay experimented with planting pineapple on a small scale. He eventually sold his interest and James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Ltd. began the subsequent establishment of its pineapple plantation.