On O‘ahu, in 1815, Kamehameha I granted Russian representatives permission to build a storehouse near Honolulu Harbor. But, instead, directed by the German adventurer Georg Schaffer (1779-1836,) they began building a fort and raised the Russian flag.
They built their blockhouse near the harbor, against the ancient heiau of Pākākā and close to the King’s complex. There are reports that the Russians used stones from Pākākā in building their facility.
As a side note, Pākākā was the site of Kaua‘i’s King Kaumuali‘i’s negotiations relinquishing power to Kamehameha I, instead of going to war, and pledged allegiance to Kamehameha, a few years earlier in 1810.
When Kamehameha discovered the Russians were building a fort (rather than storehouses) and had raised the Russian flag, he sent several chiefs, along with John Young (his advisor,) to remove the Russians from Oʻahu by force, if necessary.
The Russian personnel judiciously chose to sail for Kauai instead of risking bloodshed. On Kauai, there they were given land by Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i; the Russian Fort Elizabeth was built soon after on Kauai.
The partially built blockhouse at Honolulu was finished by Hawaiians under the direction of John Young and mounted guns protected the fort. Its original purpose was to protect Honolulu by keeping enemy or otherwise undesirable ships out. But, it was also used to keep things in (it also served as a prison.)
By 1830, the fort had 40 guns mounted on the parapets all of various calibers (6, 8, 12 and probably a few 32 pounders.) Fort Kekuanohu literally means ‘the back of the scorpion fish,’ as in ‘thorny back,’ because of the rising guns on the walls. In 1838 there were 52 guns reported.
The fort protected Honolulu Harbor and also housed a number of administrative functions, including many years of service as Honolulu’s police headquarters. The first courts of the islands were held here until a new courthouse was built in 1853, adjacent to the fort.
Then the fort was taken down and the prison moved. A prison was built in 1856-57 at Iwilei; it took the place of the old Fort Kekuanohu. The new custom-house was completed in 1860. The water-works were much enlarged, and a system of pipes laid down in 1861.
Between 1857 and 1870, the coral block walls of the dismantled Fort edged and filled about 22-acres of reef and tideland, forming the ‘Esplanade’ or ‘Ainahou,’ between Fort and Merchant Streets (where Aloha Tower is now located.) At that time, the harbor was dredged to a depth from 20 to 25-feet took place.
The following are reminiscences of the old house in the fort. “In the course of demolishing the ‘Fort’ of Honolulu, now going on, the old stone house, formerly occupied by the Governor, is sharing the fate of the surrounding walls and fast ‘hiding its diminished head.’”
“It was built in 1831, by Governor John Adams Kuakini, (a High Chief, and Governor of the Island of Hawaii from 1820 till his death in 1845,) and was the residence of Governor Kekūanāo‘a until the French ‘raid’ in 1849 …”
“… when he gave it up to the ‘brave Poursuivantes,’ who amused themselves by breaking calabashes, making charcoal sketches on the walls, and recording on them their own praises.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 1, 1857 & Thrum’s Annual, 1931)
“While the Government was trying to arrange matters, and while the prime minister was on board the French man-of-war, a squad of soldiers was sent ashore, who took possession of the fort, dismantled the guns, threw them into the harbor, went to Governor Kekūanāo’a’s house, smashed the furniture, and threw it into the yard.” (Lee)
“When, after wreaking their vengeance on the guns and calabashes the French retired to their ships, the Governor disdained again to occupy his desecrated domicile, and it has been used since as a barrack and partly as a prison until the other day, when it was again evacuated for the new prison at Leleo.”
“Many recollections cluster around ‘the old house in the Fort,’ and had we a poet laureate attached to our staff of Government officials, we should seriously recommend the composition of an elegy on this occasion.”
“Here, in bygone days, all who intended to commit matrimony must present themselves before the stern old Governor for his consent to the banns …”
“… here taxes were paid, in poi, fish, tapas, sandalwood and dollars here captains came for permission to ship sailors and far help to catch runaways …”
“… here criminals and offenders of all sorts were summarily disposed of in the ‘good old times’ when we had little law and less equity …”
“… in short, here was transacted all and every kind of Government business, for then the ‘Governor’ was the factotum of the powers that be …”
“… and certainly, in the matter of simplicity and economy, we cannot confidently assert that the present routine is an improvement of the old.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 1, 1857 & Thrum’s Annual, 1931)