Starting in 1888, Robert Lewis Stevenson (born in Edinburgh Scotland on November 13th 1850,) the famous author of popular works such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ began a tour of the South Pacific, visiting Tahiti and the Marquesas.
For nearly ten years his health had been declining; he was told by his doctor to travel there because the climate was good for his bad health.
On January 24, 1889, he arrived in Honolulu and spent the first six months of that year in the Hawaiian Islands (he later settled and lived in Samoa.)
Here, the renowned author found time for writing, completing The Master of Ballantrae and The Wrong Box and starting others during his short stay.
Stevenson visited Kalaupapa (shortly after Damien’s death) and later wrote of the good work of Father Damien (now Saint Damien.) He also travelled to Kona on the Big Island (the setting for most of his short story “The Bottle Imp.”)
On Oʻahu, Stevenson was introduced to the King Kalākaua and others in the royal family by fellow Scotsman, Archibald Cleghorn. Stevenson established a fast friendship with the royal family and spent a lot of time with his good friend King Kalākaua.
In 1889, Stevenson wrote a poem, “To Kalakaua:”
“The Silver Ship, my King – that was her name
In the bright islands whence your fathers came –
The Silver Ship, at rest from winds and tides,
Below your palace in your harbour rides:
And the seafarers, sitting safe on shore,
Like eager merchants count their treasures o’er.
One gift they find, one strange and lovely thing,
Now doubly precious since it pleased a king.
The right, my liege, is ancient as the lyre
For bards to give to kings what kings admire.
‘Tis mine to offer for Apollo’s sake;
And since the gift is fitting, yours to take.
To golden hands the golden pearl I bring:
The ocean jewel to the island king.”
Stevenson also befriended Princess Kaʻiulani (daughter of Princess Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn – and the King’s niece) and was a frequent guest at her home, ʻĀinahau, in Waikīkī.
It was Stevenson who first referred to Kaʻiulani as “the island rose” in a poem he wrote for her and inscribed in her autograph book – Stevenson’s poem, “To Princess Kaiulani:”
“Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The Island maid, the Island rose;
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.
Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.
But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.”
When Kaʻiulani left for boarding school in England at the age of 13, Stevenson had several of his books bound specially for her (she was away from the Islands for nine years.)
Later in 1889, he and his extended family traveled to Samoa where they decided to build a house and settle. He took the native name Tusitala (Samoan for “Teller of Tales”, i.e. a storyteller).
He returned to Hawaiʻi in 1893 for a short stay at the San Souci Hotel in Waikīkī (a beachfront resort that opened in 1884 offering private cottages.) It gained fame, after he wrote about staying there for five weeks.
Stevenson’s remarks in the guest book note: “If anyone desires such old-fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clean sea water, good food, and heavenly sunsets hung out before their eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci.”
With turmoil at the time in the Hawaiian Islands and health concerns on his part, Stevenson returned to Samoa where on December 3, 1894, he passed away at the age of 44.