William Charles Lunalilo was born on January 31, 1835 in an area known as Pohukaina to High Chiefess Miriam ‘Auhea Kekauluohi (Kuhina Nui, or Premier of the Hawaiian Kingdom and niece of Kamehameha I) and High Chief Charles Kanaʻina.
Lunalilo’s grandparents were Kalaʻimamahu (half-brother of Kamehameha I) and Kalākua (sister to Kaʻahumanu). His great grandfather was Keouakupupailaninui (father of Kamehameha I).
He was declared eligible to succeed by the royal decree of King Kamehameha III and was educated at the Chief’s Children’s School, and at age four became one of its first students.
He was known as a scholar, a poet and a student with amazing memory for detail. From a very young age, he loved to write, with favorite subjects in school being literature and music.
Kamehameha V had not named a successor to the throne before he died on December 11, 1872. Lunalilo wanted his people to choose their next ruler in a democratic manner and requested a plebiscite to be held on New Year’s Day following the death of Kamehameha V.
He therefore noted, “Whereas, it is desirable that the wishes of the Hawaiian people be consulted as to a successor to the Throne, therefore, notwithstanding that according to the law of inheritance, I am the rightful heir to the Throne, in order to preserve peace, harmony and good order, I desire to submit the decision of my claim to the voice of the people.” (Lunalilo, December 16, 1872)
Kalākaua chose to run against Lunalilo. The majority of people on every island chose William Charles Lunalilo as King. At noon on January 8, 1873, the Legislature met, as required by law, in the Courthouse to cast their official ballots of election of the next King. Lunalilo received all thirty-seven votes.
The coronation of Lunalilo took place at Kawaiahaʻo Church in a simple ceremony on January 9, 1873. Unfortunately, he was to reign for just over a year, succumbing to pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1874.
Upon his passing, the Royal Mausoleum was the temporary resting place for Lunalilo. By birthright, his remains could have remained there with the other Aliʻi, however, his desire was to be among his people, and in 1875 his remains were moved to their permanent resting place in a tomb built for him and his father, Kanaʻina, on the grounds of Kawaiahaʻo Church.
Then, terrible news hit the papers, “Advices from Key West, Fla., today told of the arrest at the naval station there of two bluejackets, Albert Gerbode and Paul Payne, charged with having broken into the Lunalilo mausoleum and stolen the skull of a Hawaiian king, a silver shield and a silver crown.” (The Evening Leader, Tartonn Springs, Florida, April 22, 1918)
In follow-up reporting, we learn that, “All that remains intact of the historic crown of King Lunalilo, which was stolen last autumn from the tomb in the Kawaiahao churchyard, is a silver leaf, part of the name plate and the silver ornament which rested on the top of the crown. The rest has been melted down into a single bar of silver.”
“Deputy Sheriff JW Asch returned this morning from Key West, Florida, where he went to recover the crown. His story of the chase, which finally ended in the arrest of Albert Gerbode and Paul Payne, electricians in the submarine flotilla which was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and the recovery of the stolen property, throws much new light on the robbery.”
“Sheriff Asch says that both Gerbode anil Payne absolutely deny taking any of the skulls and bones from the tomb, as was reported at the time of the robbery.”
“He says that both the naval authorities and himself are inclined to believe the two men in this respect, which would make it appear that others entered the tomb and stole the bones.”
“The skull which the two men had was made by themselves of plaster of Paris.”
“According to the confession of Gerbode and Payne, Sheriff Asch says plain robbery was the motive for the theft. They had heard that Hawaiian chiefs were buried with all their jewelry and expected to make a big haul.”
“In the confession the men said that they did not use instruments to enter the tomb, but simply yanked off the padlock, which they said, was so old and worn that it took but little effort to break.”
“The crown was kept intact until the submarine had reached Key West where it was melted down.”
“Another strange feature of the theft was that the two electricians made no attempt to hide the crown and a large number of the crew knew of its existence on board. For this reason, when charged with the robbery, neither Gerbode nor Payne attempted to deny anything but made a full confession.”
“Gerbode and Payne are to be tried by the naval authorities at Key West. They will not be returned to Honolulu as was first reported.”
“It will be possible to some extent to reproduce the original crown from the silver, as the naval authorities made Gerbode and Payne draw pictures and diagrams of the crown with a full description of its appearance. That Sheriff Asch brought back with him.”
“The silver has been sent by registered mail and will probably arrive on the next steamer from San Francisco. – Star-Bulletin.” (Maui News, May 31, 1918)