She was born on October 16, 1875, to Princess Miriam Likelike (the youngest sister of King Kalākaua) and Archibald Cleghorn; she was the only direct descendant of the Kalākaua dynasty. She was duly appointed and proclaimed heir apparent to the Hawaiian throne.
Her father Archibald Scott Cleghorn was from Edinburgh, Scotland and was brought to Hawaiʻi by his parents by way of New Zealand, arriving in Honolulu in 1851.
Within the year, Archibald’s father died of a fatal heart attack while on his way home from church. Archibald took over his father’s business and turned it into one of the most successful mercantile chains in the islands.
She inherited 10-acres of land in Waikīkī from her godmother, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani. Originally called Auaukai, her mother named it ʻĀinahau; she spent most of her life there.
She once said, “Well, it has been a strange life, really, and a very romantic one. Still I have been happy. I have seen a great deal and everybody has been most kind to me.” (Independent, November 11, 1897)
“(S)he is beautiful. This royal Hawaiian girl needs not the exaggeration of newspaper gallantry. Of all her portraits there is none that does justice to her expressive, small proud face.”
“She is exquisitely slender and graceful, quite tall and holds herself liko a like a Princess and like a Hawaiian, I know no simile more descriptive of grace and dignity than this last.” (Miriam Michelson, Independent, November 11, 1897)
“While we were talking a friend of the Princess, a Hawaiian girl, came in, and we three got to discussing the political situation in the islands, despite previous paternal admonitions. It was pretty, then, to see the earnestness with which (she) said:”
“‘Even the enemies of my aunt, of the Queen, will tell you that all through her suffering, and through her hard treatment, she conducted herself with the utmost dignity. And she felt the indignities, she felt the insults I know it, for I felt them for her.’” (Independent, November 11, 1897)
“(She) was adored by her people; her death is the greatest blow that could have befallen them; with her their last hopes are buried. There. is not a native in the islands who could have wished to compass that sweet girl’s death.”
“People used to say that if she got hold of a few yards of material and wound them about her she would contrive to look fashionably attired.”
“She had the dignity of an English aristocrat and the grace of a creole. It is not the case that she was a three-quarter caste; she was a pure half-caste, wholly native on her mother’s side.”
“But her early seclusion and her English training had made her different from others, and she was thoroughly English in her ideas and ambitions.” (San Francisco Call, April 9, 1899)
“As a child she was kept apart from other children, mixing with them, only by condescension, never allowed for a moment to forget the part she was to play.”
“As a young girl, at an English school, she was not as others; she had her own governess, her own system of training, her own studies, peculiarly calculated to fit her for her position.” (San Francisco Call, April 9, 1899)
Then, returning from England, she had gone to the Waimea on the Big Island to visit Helen and Eva Parker, daughters of Samuel “Kamuela” Parker (1853–1920,) grandson of John Parker (founder of the Parker Ranch.)
While attending a wedding at the ranch, she and the girls had gone out riding horseback on Parker Ranch; they encountered a rainstorm. She became ill; she and her family returned to O‘ahu.
Tragically, after a two-month illness, Princess Kaʻiulani died on March 6, 1899 at her home, ʻĀinahau, at age 23.
It is said that the night she died, her peacocks screamed so loud that people could hear them miles away and knew that she had died.
“Every one admired her attitude; they could not do otherwise. Her dignity, her pathetic resignation, her silent sorrow, appealed to all. The natives loved her for her quiet, steadfast sympathy with their woe, her uncomplaining endurance of her own …”
“… the whites admired her for her stately reserve, her queenly display of all necessary courtesy, while holding herself aloof from all undue intimacy. All were attracted by her sweetness and grace; it was impossible not to love her.” (Macfarlane, San Francisco Call, April 9, 1899)