On July 21, 1838, the French minister of the navy dispatched orders to Captain Cyrille-Pierre-Theodore Laplace, who at the time was already en route to the Pacific on a voyage of circumnavigation. Laplace received these orders, along with supporting documents, at Port Jackson, Australia, in March 1839.
The plight of French Catholics in Hawai‘i being distressingly similar to that of French Catholics in Tahiti, these orders read: “… What the English Methodists are doing in Tahiti, American Calvinist missionaries are doing in the Sandwich Islands.”
“They have incited the king of these islands, or rather those who govern in his name, to actions that apply to all foreigners of the Catholic faith – all designated, intentionally, as ‘Frenchmen.’”
“They found themselves prohibited from practicing their religion, then ignominiously banished from the Island … You will exact, if necessary with all the force that you command, complete reparation for the wrongs that they have committed and you will not leave those shores until you have left an indelible impression.”
In addition to the religious persecution, “Our wines, brandies, fabrics, and luxury goods find ready purchasers in Honolulu as well as in Russian, British, and Mexican settlements; but these articles are imported by American merchants (or replaced by substitutes of American manufacture).”
“French wines and brandies are subject to excessively high duties, on the grounds that bringing them into the Sandwich Islands would be harmful to the morals of the native population. American rum, on the other hand, is brought in – whether legally or illegally, I do not know—and consumed in prodigious quantities.” (Laplace; Birkett)
France, historically a Catholic nation, used its government representatives in Hawaiʻi to protest the mistreatment of Catholic Native Hawaiians. Captain Cyrille-Pierre Théodore Laplace, of the French Navy frigate ‘Artémise’, sailed into Honolulu Harbor in 1839 to convince the Hawaiian leadership to get along with the Catholics – and the French.
Captain Laplace and his fifty-two-gun frigate L’Artemise arrived in the Hawai‘i in July 1839. Laplace was the first Frenchman to visit the Islands with specific instructions from Paris to enter into official diplomatic relations with the Hawaiian government.
“It was my task to end this prohibition so detrimental to our commercial interests. I succeeded in doing so through a convention with the king of the Islands where he agreed that in the future French wines and brandies would be subject to no more than a 6 percent ad valorem duty when imported under the French flag.”
“The American missionaries raged and fumed at me, claiming that I was anti-Christian. They brought down on me all the curses of New and Old World Bible societies, to whom they depicted me as championing drunkenness among their converts …”
“… as if the way in which they were running things allowed these poor people to earn enough to buy Champagne, Bordeaux, or even Cognac brandy. Despite these diatribes, as unjust as they were treacherous, I carried my project to completion.” (Laplace; Birkett)
During the brief conflict, Laplace issued a ‘Manifesto’ “to put an end either by force or by persuasion to the ill-treatment of which the French are the victims at the Sandwich Islands” – Haʻalilio was taken hostage by the French. He was later exchanged for John ʻĪʻi who went on board the L’Artemise.
Item 4 of the Manifesto noted, “That the king of the Sandwich Islands deposit in the hands of the Captain of the l’Artemise the sum of twenty thousand dollars, as a guarantee of his future conduct towards France, which sum the government will restore to him when it shall consider that the accompanying treaty will be faithfully complied with.”
“However harsh the exaction of the $20,000 as a guarantee for the faithful observance by the King and chiefs of the treaty of the 12th July, 1839, the exaction of such pledges, and, even of hostages was a common practice, in remote ages of nations, now the leaders of civilization and the greatest in power.”
“It was the humiliating penalty which strength imposed on doubtful faith, before a higher civilization had rendered it the greatest reproach to a monarch, or the supreme director of a slate, to commit a breach of national faith, or break his word.” (Polynesian, May 12, 1855)
King Kamehameha III feared a French attack on his kingdom and on June 17, 1839 issued the Edict of Toleration (173-years ago today) permitting religious freedom for Catholics in the same way as it had been granted to the Protestants.
The King also donated land where the first permanent Catholic Church would be constructed, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace; the Catholic mission was finally established on May 15, 1840 when the Vicar Apostolic of the Pacific arrived with three other priests – one of whom, Rev. Louis Maigret, had been refused a landing at Honolulu in 1837.
On July 9, 1840, ground was broken for the foundation of the present Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, and schools and churches were erected on other islands to advance the mission.
So, what became of the $20,000? … “The following notice respecting the visit of Rear Admiral Hamelin to these Islands, is taken from the Moniteur of 10th August, 1846:”
“M. le contre Admiral Hamelin, commanding in the Pacific Ocean and on the west coast of America, arrived at the Sandwich Islands in March last, in the frigate Virginie.”
“After being made aware that the treaty of 1839, made by Captain Laplace, had been executed with fidelity, that officer general, by the advice of M. Dudoit, the Consul of Prance, restored, to the Hawaiian Government $20,000, the guarantee of the fulfilment of that treaty.” (Polynesian, May 1, 1847)
“This was effected with all formality, on the 23d of March (1846), the money being delivered in the original cases, No. 1, 2, 3, 4, secured by the seals of the French Royal Navy, and that of the Hawaiian Government, to M. Kekuanaoa, C. Kanaina and Wm. Richards, Esq., as the King’s Commissioners.” (Wyllie; Polynesian, August 22, 1846)
“I saw a couple of handcarts containing several ironbound boxes, and guarded by files of French marines, proceeding up Nuuanu street from the wharf, and on enquiring was told that the boxes contained the twenty thousand dollars …”
“… which was being returned to the Hawaiian Government. The same seals were on the boxes which had been affixed when they were delivered to Captain La Place, seven years before.” (Sheldon)
“The benevolent disposition of the Hawaiian Government towards the Catholics established there, and the protection accorded our missionaries by the authorities of the country, fully justify that measure, which has produced good effect. It has proved the sincerity of the French Government, and we have no doubt, will secure to our compatriots in the Archipelago the protection due to them.”
“Admiral Hamelin and suite visited King Kamehameha, and remitted to him and his Minister a few presents, consisting of firearms, which were received with satisfaction.”
“The King invited Admiral Hamelin and his officers to a dinner, which was followed by a soiree at the Consulate of France. The next morning the King was received on board the frigate where he evidently appreciated the attention shown him by the Admiral.
It is pleasing to know that the transactions in March, 1846, had given satisfaction to the French people in regard to all parties concerned.”
“The protection of the French missionaries has been the award due to their good conduct, and it is their right under the existing laws.”
“The irregularities of 1837 and 1889 have disappeared with the excitements that created them; and the Consul of France may justly boast of having emerged from difficulties unusually great, and gained for himself and compatriots a high measure of popular esteem.” (Polynesian, May 1, 1847)