Manuel paused, said in a confidential voice: “If today I wrote all that I overheard and saw in those years, the complexion of many an incident would be changed in our history books.” (Manuel Reis)
Manuel Gil dos Reis was born in Oporto, Portugal. When he was a whippersnapper, his father took him to Cape Verde islands, down in the Atlantic, west of Africa. Father Reis was port-master there. His father gave Manuel thimblefuls of deep red wine, told him sagas of the sea.
Transatlantic clippers, stately and wondrous ships of trade, opening new worlds in the Americas, called for provisioning at Cape Verde. One day young Manuel could not resist the temptation. He signed on one, made his way to New Bedford, MA and later transferred to an American whaler, the bark Atlantic, as lookout and steerer.
The Atlantic rounded the stormy Horn, beat across the south Pacific to the great whaling grounds near New Zealand. At the Chatham Islands the Atlantic met another whaler, the Napoleon. Together the two ships sought the rich harvest from the sea. It was reckless work but with the reward that the harder you worked the more cash there was at the voyage’s end, when the
One day on these grounds the ships collided. The Atlantic’s masts and rigging were badly smashed. The closest refitting port was Honolulu, nearly 4,000 miles away. He came to the Islands.
Manuel’s practical life at sea has made him resourceful. He became a coachman and yardman to a Mrs. Hillebrand for $3 a week, yet soon bettered it for another position with the U.S. Minister, General James W. Comly, at $25 a month.
While driving about town he yarned with independent coachmen who, by publicly hiring their vehicles, made as much as $20 a day. Manuel thought: Why don’t I do that?
But he kept on with the U.S. minister, religiously saved his dollars, some of the only gold in the thriving town which used mostly silver Mexican dollars, until he had sufficient capital to launch out in his own business.
He bought wagonettes and California bred horses. His stand was at the corner of Fort and King streets. He could drive you to Waikiki, via King and Kalakaua, in 12 minutes. There were no traffic stop signs.
The drives to Waikiki and up the Nu‘uanu valley to the Pali were about as far as you could go in those years. In his days off, Manuel often took a ride on horseback with friends.
Manuel’s business flourished. He lived on the job. His stables and home were together on Queen St, opposite the federal building, where today the [Melim Building] stands. Three drivers worked for him. They had a hack each. Pay: 25c of every dollar they took.
The first telephone service in Honolulu – December 30, 1880 – was a boon for Manuel’s business. It was much easier for patrons to telephone, have him send a hack any hour of the day or night. Alexander Graham Bell, the hello business inventor, formed a firm friendship with Manuel.
Personally, Manuel drove King Kalakaua, whose favorite spot on the island was a private boathouse on the harbor front near Pier 5. There the merry monarch made whoopee with haoles like Claus Spreckels. One day at poker Spreckels held four aces, Kalakaua four kings. Kalakaua claimed the pot because he said, “I make five kings – that’s better than 4 aces.”
At the beginning of the hard working, gay eighties, Manuel on his cab seat began to hear murmurings of unrest and discontent. His passengers hatched plots and counter plots.
But Manuel remained neutral. [However, in a story on Reis Wray Jose notes “Manuel Reis was a royalist. … Manuel Reis often chauffeured such royal notables as Kalakaua, Kapiolani, Liliuokalani and others, as part of his business.” And his hackstand “was often called the ‘Royalist Hackstand’ because of the number of known royalists it served.”]
Up in the lonely, storm tossed lookout of the whaling ship, young Manuel had learned to hold his tongue, to think rather than talk. It was a good habit, too, while he waited by the hour, for King Kalakaua.
Monarchs and the anti-monarchists used the hacks. Manuel overheard many a conspiracy, could have won favors if he had passed on the information.
So when the unrest finally culminated in the revolution of 1887 and the consequent uprisings, Manuel was not surprised. He drove about his business, unperturbed by the rifle fire or the passions of his hot-headed passengers.
Government disturbances, after all, meant brisk business for Manuel, who was called upon to rush messengers: post haste from side to side with history making dispatches.
Because he had married Eugenia Keoho‘okalani Kahaule, fine daughter of an old Kona family, Manuel knew that inevitably he would be regarded with suspicion by the anti-monarchists. On the third day of the 1895 uprising, Manuel was driving Miss Helen Wilder (sister of Gerrit P Wilder) out at Waikiki.
Jim Quinn, “a tricky Irishman” who worked with Manuel, drove post haste to Waikiki, warned Manuel that Marshal Hitchcock sought him, Manuel told Miss Wilder and she was content to be dropped off at the foot of Nuʻuanu Street.
Manuel knew what was coming. He told his wife to carry on the business, hid 1,000 silver dollars in the bureau drawer for her to use. Then he went along to the prison house, knew that because he had a Hawaiian wife, drove so many of the monarchy, he would be probed.
But probed he was not. Marshal Hitchcock boomed from the office: “Take him down below.” And quickly Manuel found himself with 12 other “political prisoners” in the dark, overcrowded cells. There were nine Britishers, two Greeks, (one of them George Lycurgus), and one Dane.
For 35 days and nights they were kept in the hot, close cells. They were never questioned as they expected to be, but they were irritated and scared blue by the threatening, bullying guards.
Two and three times every night the prisoners would be awakened rudely and moved from cell to cell. There were two men to each cell, six by eight feet. The only real fresh air and daylight they enjoyed was two hours of exercise in the yard every morning.
The guards delighted in scaring the prisoners. They polished their bayonets, rattled their rifles, talking loudly about death at dawn. They stretched new ropes, guffawed about the hangman’s noose. One of the prisoners became hysterical.
He considered he could save his neck if he told all, which was that Queen Liliuokalani’s supporters had hidden rifles under Washington Place, he claimed.
Manuel contracted a fever in the unsanitary cells. He was at the point of death, so he was released. They wanted him to sign a declaration of guilt, that he had conspired against the republic. But independent Manuel, weak in body but strong in spirit, refused. He went to Kona’s hospitable coast for a month and recuperated slowly.
Manuel’s funniest story about that attempted insurrection is of a well-known Hawaiian who, panic stricken by the bullets that whirred in the civic square between the palace and the judiciary building, flung himself at the foot of the Kamehameha statue and feigned death for many hours.
All here is from an interview/article on Manuel Reis published in the Star Bulletin, September 7, 1935.