Captain James Cook made three voyages into and around the Pacific. On the first voyage (1768-1771,) the Royal Society had petitioned the British government and the Admiralty to send astronomers to observe the Transit of Venus from Tahiti in 1769 – they were also looking for the great southern continent, Terra Australis Incognita (Australia.)
His second voyage (1772-1775) expanded on the exploration of the South Pacific (he finally found Australia on this trip, as well as other locales (Easter Island, the Marquesas Islands, Tonga and the New Hebrides.)
Cook’s third and final voyage (1776-1780) took him to the North Pacific, seeking a navigable northwest passage. On this trip, in 1778, Cook made contact (‘discovered’) the Hawaiian Islands (he was killed there in 1779 and his crew completed the voyage.)
Cook first sighted Oʻahu on January 18, 1778. On February 2, 1778 his journal entry named the island group after his patron: “Of what number this newly-discovered Archipelago consists, must be left for future investigation.”
“We saw five of them, whose names, as given by the natives, are Woahoo (Oʻahu,) Atooi (Kauaʻi,) Oneeheow (Niʻihau,) Oreehoua (Lehua) and Tahoora (Kaʻula.) … I named the whole group the Sandwich Islands, in honour of the Earl of Sandwich.” (Cook’s Journal)
The name ‘Sandwich Islands’ stuck, at least for a while; and later foreign, as well as Hawaiian, writers referred to the Islands this way.
As an example, on May 23, 1786, Captain Portlock referenced the islands in his journal, as he made way to “Owhyhee, the principal of the Sandwich Islands.”
Later, in instructions to Captain George Vancouver (March 8, 1791,) “The King, having judged it expedient, that an expedition should be immediately undertaken for acquiring a more complete knowledge, than has yet been obtained, of the north-west coast of America” and further told him to proceed “to the Sandwich islands in the north pacific ocean, where you are to remain during the next winter”. (Vancouver’s Journal)
Missionary Hiram Bingham in recounting the time he spent in the Islands (April 4, 1820 – August 3, 1840) named his book “A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands”. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sponsors, named the mission the “Sandwich Islands Mission.”
The first English language newspaper in the islands was named the Sandwich Islands Gazette and Journal of Commerce, published in Honolulu from July, 1836 to July, 1839. Another early Honolulu newspaper was entitled the Sandwich Island Mirror.
But the “Sandwich Islands” reference was not limited to foreigner use.
In one of the first written laws in the Islands, “He Mau Kanawai no ke Ava o Honoruru, Oahu (Some Laws for the Harbor of Honolulu, Oʻahu),” noting seven rules, written in Hawaiian and English in parallel columns, Kalanimōku signed the measure noting their location, “Oahu, Sandwich Islands, June 2, 1825.” (Hawaiian Historical Society)
Another law begins with the clause, “Be it enacted by the king and Chiefs of the Sandwich Islands, in council assembled, That, after the first of January 1839, the importation of rum, brandy, gin, alcohol and all distilled spirits whatsoever, shall be entirely prohibited to be landed at any port, harbor or any other place on the Sandwich Islands ….” (Report of the Executive Committee of the American Temperance Union)
Hawaiʻi’s first treaty, signed December 23, 1826 between Hawaiʻi and the United States, notes in Article 1, “The peace and friendship subsisting between the United States, and their Majesties, the Queen Regent, and Kauikeaouli, King of the Sandwich Islands, and their subjects and people, are hereby confirmed, and declared to be perpetual.” Further references to the Sandwich Islands are noted throughout.
The move toward constitutional governance (through the Declaration of Rights) by King Kamehameha III proclaimed the rights of the people, ensuring equal protection for both the people and the chiefs. Written by Kamehameha III and the Chiefs, and enacted on June 7, 1839, its translation notes …
“Whatever chief shall perseveringly act in violation of this Constitution, shall no longer remain a chief of the Sandwich Islands, and the same shall be true of the governors, officers and all land agents.”
Shortly after, however, was an apparent concerted effort to drop the Sandwich Islands reference, in favor of referring to the islands as the Hawaiian Islands.
“It may be safely said that the term ‘Sandwich Islands’ was never accepted by local authority, or had official use, and hence called for no legal act, or by authority notice, for the adoption of what was their own.”
“That important cluster of Islands, situated in the North Pacific Ocean, commonly known as the Sandwich Islands, were so named by Captain Cook, at the date of their discovery by him, in honor of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich, then first Lord of the Admiralty.”
“Their legitimate appellation, and the one by which they still continue to be distinguished by the aboriginal inhabitants, is ‘Hawaii nei pae ʻāina,’ a collective term, synonymous with ‘these Hawaiian Islands.’” (Thrum, 1923)
“This term is derived from the largest of the group, Hawaiʻi, whence the reigning family originated, and is gradually taking the place of the former.” (Jarves, 1847)
A notable change in the Constitution of 1840 shows the substitution of “Hawaiian Islands” for “Sandwich Islands,” specifically the clause from the Declaration of Rights noted above, as well as other similar references. It is suggested that the 1840 Constitution officially named the islands the Hawaiian Islands. (Clement)
After a transition period, generally, after that point the Hawaiian Islands label took hold.
However, still into the 1880s, when King Kalākaua was visiting New York, his spokesman it speaking with New York Times reporter noted …
“Now, before you ask me a single question, let me ask just two favors. One is that you won’t speak of the King as ‘King of the Sandwich Islands,’ the title grates on our nerves, as it were, you, know, and then, too, it is altogether improper.”
“There is now no such thing as the ‘Sandwich Islands’ — that is all changed; it is the Hawaiian Islands, and please write it that way and we will all be obliged, greatly obliged.” (NY Times, September 24, 1881)