“In referring to the several journals of the day one is struck with the absence of any account of the occurrence at the time”. (Thrum)
While local papers appear to have had stories squashed by a “pocket veto” of the King, a couple mainland papers ran short stories on the tragic events and follow-up.
“No legal notice of the event was in any way taken; no person would have been foolhardy enough to propose it. It is not my purpose to defend the right of the king to this execution of summary vengeance …”
“… especially as it was done in a moment of anger; yet beyond the sadness of the act, it has a certain bearing on this sketch of my life as one of the descendants from the ruling families of Hawaii.” (Liliʻuokalani)
“On Sunday, September 11th, 1859, occurred a melancholy and tragical affair at Lahaina, which, as a matter of history, should not be omitted in these recollections.” (Thrum)
“The first news we received was that the king in a fit of passion had shot and mortally wounded one of the party, his own secretary, Mr. HA Neilson.”
“After the occurrence all that the tenderest of brothers could have done was proffered by the king to the wounded man; but after lingering for some months, Mr. Neilson died.“ (Liliʻuokalani)
“(T)he community was electrified by the intelligence, from Lahaina, that his Majesty had shot, and dangerously, if not fatally, wounded Henry A Neilson, formerly of New York, but since the accession of the King … his private secretary and constant attendant, confident and friend.” (New York Times)
“Much more might be said, were I disposed to report every flying rumor. Conjecture is alive to the motive of such an imprudent, impolitic act. The first supposition of all is that it was jealousy – whether well-founded or baseless.”
“But no breath of suspicion lights upon the young Queen. She is by every one acquitted of such a folly and dishonor as giving any cause of vengeance to her lord. She is above reproach.” (New York Times)
“I incline to the opinion that the act was committed under the influence of ungovernable passion, accompanied by more or less of temporary mental aberration brought on by brooding on his troubles.”
“There seemed to be a distinct intention to kill the man he shot. For this some assign as the cause jealousy, created by ill-disposed persons in his train; others anger at indiscretions of Neilson. All feel deeply for the Queen.” (New York Times)
The Honolulu Advertiser ventured an editorial on September 28 and actually mentioned the act (“the king shooting his secretary”) but with no details. They said the act was “an open contradiction to the laws of God and man, which can under no pretext be justified.” Yet, it concluded: “He has erred, so we are all liable to commit acts of error.” (Theroux)
On October 12 the king wrote a letter to Neilson in which he “regretted” this “great false act of my life … the act committed by me was premeditated, founded upon suspicions long harrowed up and extending for a length of time.” (Theroux)
King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho) announced that he would make a public proclamation, submit to a trial and abdicate the throne. A flurry of letters were exchanged between the king and his minister of foreign affairs, Robert Wylie.
The King listed his reasons for abdication, but Wylie begged him not to exaggerate the gravity of the affair and opposed the proclamation. He insisted that “no emergency has occurred,” that “abdication” would be “a shame on himself” and “annihilation on the sovereignty of the nation.” (Theroux)
The Privy Council and the House of Nobles, the legislatures of the day, advised against “abdication.” One of the few items that appeared in the papers was a notice from the Privy Council that, despite rumors, the king would not abdicate his throne.
“We are authorized to state, for the purpose of allaying any anxiety that may exist in the public mind, that the rumors in regard to his Majesty’s abdication are, we are happy to say, without foundation.” (New York Times)
By October 20, McKibbin reported to the king that Neilson was “feverish and in low spirits.” On November 20, he suffered a relapse and the wound opened “afresh.”
“There were causes which were apparent to any of our people for something very like righteous anger on the part of the king. His Majesty was trying to make us each and all happy; yet even during moments of relaxation, undue familiarity, absence of etiquette, rudeness, or any other form which implied …”
“… or suggested disrespect to royalty in any manner whatsoever, would never be tolerated by anyone of the native chiefs of the Hawaiian people.” (Liliʻuokalani)
“To allow any such breach of good manners to pass unnoticed would be looked upon by his own retainers as belittling to him, and they would be the first to demand the punishment of the offender.”
“It was in this case far too severe. No one realized that more than the king himself, who suffered much distress for his victim, and was with difficulty dissuaded from the abdication of his throne.” (Liliʻuokalani)
“If ever mortal man suffered the pangs of remorse it was Liholiho the king. From the first sober moment, if he was drunk, he never forgot the deed, and all that he could order done for the poor unfortunate sufferer was done to relieve him.” (Gorham D. Gilman, in Thrum)
“I used to visit Mr. Neilson and never a word did I hear him utter against the king. I believe that they were two friends until that fateful night. … In my recollection Kamehameha IV was the most of a gentleman in his manner of the five kings I was favored to be acquainted with. He was so from boyhood.” (Gorham D. Gilman, in Thrum)
“The (then) seaside cottage of the king, on the present site of the Enterprise Mill, was assigned to him for a residence. Subsequently he was moved to a cottage on Alakea street, just below the Wicke’s premises, and which he occupied to the time of his death, which occurred February 12th, 1862, as shown by the following notice in the Advertiser of the 13th:”
“‘Yesterday morning, Mr. Henry A. Neilson died in this city. In former years he was well known, but for two and a half years past has been confined to his room by the unfortunate occurrence which is familiar to all.’” (Thrum)
There was never an official investigation into the shooting of Henry Neilson.
On the 27th of August, 1862, Prince Albert, the four-year-old son of Alexander Liholiho and Emma died. “The king and queen had the sympathy of all parties in their bereavement; but Kamehameha IV completely lost his interest in public life, living in the utmost possible retirement until his death.” (Liliʻuokalani)
The king became a recluse, suffering from asthma and depression. He died on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1863, two months’ short of his 30th birthday. Emma ran unsuccessfully for the throne in 1874, losing to David Kalākaua. She died in 1885 at the age of 50.