“Lāhainā (anciently called Lele, from the short stay of Chiefs there) is pleasantly located on the western shore of West Maui … It may be considered as the second port of the Hawaiian Islands, as, next to Honolulu, it is most generally frequented by the whaling fleet which touch at the islands in the spring and fall for recruits and refreshments.”
“This town was selected by Kamehameha III and his chiefs to lie the seat of government of the group … It has two churches, a hospital, a “palace,” which from the anchorage looms up and appears a stately building … There are three ship chandlery stores, some fifteen retail stores, and three practicing physicians.” (The Friend, April 30, 1857)
“As near as we can ascertain, the first whale ships that visited these islands and touched at this port were the “Bellina,’ Capt, Gardner, and (unknown) Capt. Worth, which was some where about 1819.”
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between the continent and Japan whaling grounds brought many whaling ships to the Islands. Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands.
Several hundred whaling ships might call in season, each with 20 to 30 men aboard and each desiring to resupply with enough food for another tour ‘on Japan,’ ‘on the Northwest’ or into the Arctic. (Thrum)
Between the 1820s and the 1860s, the Lāhainā Roadstead was the principal anchorage of the American Pacific whaling fleet. During that time, up to 1,500 sailors at a time were on the streets of the small town.
One reason why so many whalers preferred Lāhainā to other ports was that by anchoring in a roadstead from half a mile to a mile from shore they could control their crews better than when in a harbor.
“To whale ships no port at the islands offers better facilities for all their business (with the exception of heavy repairs) than does Lāhainā. As it is on this island, and but a short distance that the extensive potato fields are located that have furnished an almost inexhaustible supply … and fine herds of cattle …” (The Friend, April 30, 1857)
About this same time (1831,) Joaquin Armas came to Islands from Mexico (California) to catch cattle for Kamehameha III. His later reward for years of service to the King was several parcels of land, including a site in Lāhainā. (Pyle)
It is suggested that in 1833 Kamehameha III commissioned the construction of a two-story stone building on a property left to Armas, about a mile from the central core of Lāhainā, to serve as a store and inn to cater to visiting sailors. (Lāhainā Restoration Foundation)
During Armas’ occupation, on January 24, 1841, the first Catholic mass on Maui was celebrated in the house. (Bergin) Armas left the Islands in 1844.
On February 4, 1844, Milo Calkin was appointed US Vice Commercial Agent for the port of Lāhainā by William Hooper, acting United States Commercial Agent. One of his duties was to arrange for medical care for sick sailors.
In the beginning, sick and destitute sailors were being boarded out at some private establishment and being given medical care by a physician hired by the Agent. Calkin soon requested the ability to contract for a hospital to attend to the growing numbers. (HABS)
By August 1844, the US Marine Hospital was opened on the Armas site. Back then, the hospital business was divided into three major sections. The Commercial Agent (Calkin was the first) was responsible for recommending seamen to the hospital, keeping necessary papers and books, and handling the financial transactions.
A physician of the hospital (the first in Lāhainā was Dr Charles Winslow) had a contract with the US States Government which guaranteed him exclusive treatment of American seamen at US expense.
The third person involved in the hospital management was the purveyor (the first at Lāhainā was John Munn,) supplying food, clothing, shelter, maid service, laundry service and assorted other necessities. All of these services were charged to the US government. (Pyle)
The hospital (sometimes referred to as the ‘Seamen’s Hospital’) continued until 1862. A couple things caused it to close – (1) demand was dwindling (in 1859, an oil well was discovered and developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania; within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses – spelling the end of the whaling industry) and (2) a festering scandal surfaced accusing misuse of government funds.
Part of the scandal started with some questions about the exorbitant amounts charged by Dr Winslow. Winslow evidently made his fortune in Lāhainā and left. In a November 19, 1847 letter (Rev Baldwin to EB Robinson, “…. tomorrow morning they (Winslow) embark … for the U. States. Dr. W. came out four years since from Nantucket—has had the Seamenʻs hospital here and other practices who have probably yielded him $20,000 or more, and now feels rich enough to go home.”
Calkin was not only Commercial Agent, he was a successful ship chandler; however, he abruptly dissolved his business in February, 1846 and departed from Hawaiʻi in November of that same year. “It seems unlikely that Calkin was actually involved in the fraud, but he must have known about it.” (Pyle)
After Charles Bunker of Massachusetts arrived as US consul to Lāhainā in 1850 (which had recently been elevated to a Consulate from an Agent) costs at the consulate skyrocketed. By 1852, officials at the Treasury Department had become suspicious. The costs to care for seamen at Lāhainā were nearly double per person than those in Honolulu. (US Archives)
The situation continued for a few more years, but when the total amount spent for the hospitals in Honolulu, Lāhainā and Hilo reached more than $150,000 per year, an investigation was demanded by the Treasury Department.
US Commissioner in Hawaii, James W Borden, investigated the workings of the United States hospital and consular system in Honolulu, Lāhainā and Hilo.
In part, Borden reported, “A careful examination of the evidence will, I believe, satisfy you that the Physician as well as the Purveyor, in this respect, and also in that of obtaining from the seamen blank receipts, have been engaged in defrauding the Government, and I have therefore no hesitation in recommending the removal of them both …” (Borden, April 27, 1860; US Archives)
“It is a notorious fact that … many of our citizens deprecated the system which has been so long pursued by the consuls in the expenditures of the fund so wisely appropriated by Congress for the relief of sick and disabled American seamen, and the exaction of illegal fees and unjust charges from the seamen…” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 28, 1861)
“The testimony disclosed the long mooted fact, that the consulates of Honolulu and Lāhainā have a large patronage and that therefore the temptation to illegal practices is consequently very great; that the offices of physician and purveyor, highly lucrative positions …”
“…they possessed power to embarrass the operations of the merchants and shipmasters … therefore, the corrupt and unwarranted practices of the consuls has been heretofore winked at by them…” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 28, 1861)
The US Marine Hospital (Seamen’s Hospital) in Lāhainā officially closed on September 10, 1862.
In 1865 the Anglican sisters founded St. Cross School for Girls at the Marine Hospital premises, at first leasing the property and finally purchasing it in 1872. The Sisterhood opened a similar school – St Andrew’s Priory – on May 30, 1867. The Lāhainā school continued to operate until 1877.
After the school closed, the building was used for many years as a vicarage for the Anglican ministers and was later exchanged with Bishop Estate for another piece of property in 1909. (HABS) It has also been used as a private home and a meeting room for civic groups. Today, the property is leased for business use. (Lāhainā Restoration Foundation)
The image shows the US Marine Hospital (Seamen’s Hospital.) (National Library Of Medicine) In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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