On the advice of his physician King Kalākaua traveled to the US continent for a change of climate to recuperate his health. He died at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on January 20, 1891.
His remains were brought back to Hawaiʻi aboard the USS Charleston. As the ship rounded Diamond Head, the flags were seen lowered to half-mast, and it was then that the King’s subjects realized Kalākaua was dead.
Kalākaua was succeeded by his sister, Liliʻuokalani, who was proclaimed Queen on January 29, 1891. Her experience as Princess Regent during King Kalākaua’s nine-month journey around the world in 1881 and her visit to the United States in 1887 with Queen Kapiʻolani helped prepare her for her new role as Queen of Hawaiʻi.
Queen Liliʻuokalani was determined to strengthen the political power of the Hawaiian monarchy and, at the request of her people, to limit suffrage to subjects of the kingdom.
Her attempt to promulgate a new constitution galvanized opposition forces into the Committee of Safety, which was composed of Hawaiʻi-born citizens of American parents, naturalized citizens and foreign nationals; they later organized the establishment of a provisional government.
On January 17, 1893, Queen Lili`uokalani yielded her authority to the US government in a letter delivered to Sanford B Dole: “…Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”
“Weary with waiting, impatient under the wrongs they were suffering, preparations were undoubtedly made amongst some in sympathy with the monarchy to overthrow the oligarchy.” (Queen Liliʻuokalani)
In 1895, an abortive attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Liliʻuokalani to power resulted in the Queen’s arrest. She signed a document of abdication that relinquished all her future claims to the throne. Following this, she endured a public trial before a military tribunal in her former throne room.
Convicted of having knowledge of a royalist plot, “at two o’clock on the afternoon of the 27th of February I was again called into court, and sentence passed upon me. It was the extreme penalty for “misprision of treason,” – a fine of $5,000, and imprisonment at hard labor for five years.” (Queen Liliʻuokalani)
The sentence was commuted to imprisonment in an upstairs apartment in ʻIolani Palace.
Queen Liliʻuokalani’s “prison” room is on the makai-Diamond Head second-floor corner of ʻIolani Palace. If you visit the Palace today, the area where the Queen was held is clearly noted by its white covered-over window.
Contrary to urban legend, the Palace windows were not frosted and painted over to block the Queen’s ability to see out and others to see her inside.
In 1887, the Palace’s second story windows were opaque glass. When the Palace was attacked in 1889 during the initial Wilcox Rebellion, many of the Place windows were broken. When repairs were made (through 1890,) these windows were replaced with frosted glass.
There are apparently no photographs of the Queen’s room during her imprisonment. She describes the apartment as, “a large, airy, uncarpeted room with a single bed in one corner. The other furniture consisted of one sofa, a small square table, one single common chair, an iron safe, a bureau, a chiffonier (storage for odds and ends,) and a cupboard, intended for eatables … There was, adjoining the principal apartment, a bath-room, and also a corner room and a little boudoir …” (Queen Liliʻuokalani)
During her imprisonment, the Queen was denied any visitors other than one lady in waiting (Mrs. Eveline Wilson.) She began each day with her daily devotions followed by reading, quilting, crochet-work or music composition.
“Though I was still not allowed to have newspapers or general literature to read, writing-paper and lead-pencils were not denied; and I was thereby able to write music, after drawing for myself the lines of the staff.” (Queen Liliʻuokalani)
The Palace has a quilt the Queen made; the center square of Liliʻuokalani’s quilt includes the embroidered words “Imprisoned at Iolani Palace … We began the quilt there …”
“Surrounding the Kalakaua coat of arms and framed by pairs of crossed Hawaiian flags, the center block outlines the sequence of events that changed the course of Hawaiian history, including the stitched date the Provisional Government was put in place, when Lili’uokalani was forced to step down, and the date of the aborted Wilcox revolution that precipitated the queen’s arrest.” (Star-Bulletin)
Embroidered dates indicate the quilt was completed after Liliʻuokalani’s release on September 6, 1895.
She spent 8 months in this room. After her release from ʻIolani Palace, the Queen remained under house arrest for five months at her private home, Washington Place. For another eight months she was forbidden to leave Oʻahu before all restrictions were lifted.
Liliʻuokalani died of a stroke on November 11, 1917 in Honolulu at the age of 79.