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.
She inherited 10-acres of land in Waikīkī from her godmother, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani. She had gone out riding horseback on Parker Ranch and 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.