“I wish to inform you that your King has surrendered recently the Kingdom due to the incessant demand to the Commander of the British battleship. We have tried all means of settling the controversy, but in vain.”
“And therefore, we were given the time to consider as to the matter of surrendering from the hours of the morning to four in the afternoon; that, if we fail to recognize and adhere to the demand, we would likely be killed.” (Kekāuluohi to Kuakini, February 27, 1843)
Let’s see how we got there.
April 25, 1825, Richard Charlton arrived in the Islands to serve as the first British consul. A former sea captain and trader, he was already familiar with the islands of the Pacific and had promoted them in England for their commercial potential (he worked for the East India Company in the Pacific as early as 1821.)
Charlton had been in London during Kamehameha II’s visit in 1824 and secured an introduction to the king and his entourage. By the time he arrived in Hawai‘i in 1825, instructions had already arrived from Kamehameha II that Charlton was to be allowed to build a house, or houses, any place he wished and should be made comfortable. This apparently was due to favors Charlton had done for the royal party. (Hawaiʻi State Archives)
In 1840, Charlton made a claim for several parcels of land in Honolulu. To substantiate his claim, Charlton produced a 299-year lease for the land in question, granted by Kalanimōku. There was no disagreement over the parcel, Wailele, on which Charlton lived, but the adjoining parcel he claimed, Pūlaholaho, had been occupied since 1826 by retainers and heirs of Kaʻahumanu.
In rejecting Charlton’s claim, Kamehameha III cited the fact that Kalanimōku did not have the authority to grant the lease. At the time the lease was made, Kaʻahumanu was Kuhina Nui, and only she and the king could make such grants. The land was Kaʻahumanu’s in the first place, and Kalanimōku certainly could not give it away. (Hawaiʻi State Archives) The dispute dragged on for years.
This, and other grievances purported by Charlton and the British community in Hawai‘i, led to the landing of George Paulet on February 11, 1843 “for the purpose of affording protection to British subjects, as likewise to support the position of Her Britannic Majesty’s representative here”.
That day, Paulet sent King Kamehameha III six demands, threatening war if they were not acceded to by 4 pm of the next day.
- Restoration of Charlton’s land and reparation for losses
- Acknowledgment of the right of Mr Simpson to serve as acting Consul
- Guarantee that no British subject shall be subjected to imprisonment, unless it is a felony under English laws
- Written promise given by Kamehameha III for a new trial for Captain Jones
- Adoption of steps to resolve disputes between British subjects and Hawaiians
- Immediate settlement of grievances and complaints of British subjects against the Hawaiian government
Pressed by demands which became more and more impossible, the King said, “Let them take the islands.” (Smith) Before the deadline, the King acceded to the demands under protest, and appealed to the British Government for damages.
But a fresh series of demands having been made, and claims for, the king decided, by Dr Gerrit Judd’s advice, to forestall the intended seizure of the Islands by a provisional cession, pending an appeal to the justice of the home government.
On February 25, the King acceded to his demands and noted, “In consequence of the difficulties in which we find ourselves involved, and our opinion of the impossibility of complying with the demands in the manner in which they are made … “
“… we do hereby cede the group of islands known as the Hawaiian (or Sandwich) Islands, unto the Right Honorable Lord George Paulet … the said cession being made with the reservation that it is subject to any arrangement that may have been entered into by the Representatives appointed by us to treat with the Government of Her Britannic Majesty…”
Under the terms of the new government the King and his advisers continued to administer the affairs of the Hawaiian population. For business dealing with foreigners, a commission was created, consisting of the King (or his representative,) Paulet and two officers from Paulet’s ship. Judd served as the representative of the King. (Daws)
Interesting, at the same time this was going on, three representative of the Hawaiian government were already on the continent and Europe to seek recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty by other countries. The King and others were concerned that there may be takeovers by others.
Great Britain claimed Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand,) the French Marquesas and Society Islands … the Hawaiian Islands’ strategic mid-Pacific position made it a likely next target. Invasion, overthrow and occupation seemed imminent.
In the face of this threat, Kamehameha III commissioned and dispatched three Ministers – an American, Briton and a trusted childhood friend; William Richards, Sir George Simpson and Timoteo Haʻalilio – to secure the recognition of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s independence and protection of public international law that accompanied recognition. (Hawaiian Journal of Law & Politics)
In April 1842, Simpson left for England; in July, Haʻalilio and Richards departed for the US. By December 1842, the US had recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom; shortly thereafter they secured formal recognition from Great Britain and France.
On April 1, 1843, Lord Aberdeen, on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, assured the Hawaiian delegation that: “Her Majesty’s Government was willing and had determined to recognize the independence of the Sandwich Islands under their present sovereign.”
On November 28, 1843, the British and French Governments united in a joint declaration and entered into a formal agreement recognizing Hawaiian independence (Lord Aberdeen signed on behalf of Britain, French ambassador Louis Saint-Aulaire signed on behalf of France.)
The Declaration states:
“Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the King of the French, taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands of a government capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations have thought it right to engage reciprocally to consider the Sandwich Islands as an independent State and never to take possession, either directly or under the title of protectorate, or under any other form, of any part of the territory of which they are composed.”
“The undersigned, Her Britannic Majesty’s principal secretary of state for foreign affairs, and the ambassador extraordinary of His Majesty the King of the French, at the court of London, being furnished with the necessary powers, hereby declare in consequence that their said majesties take reciprocally that engagement.” (Hawaiian Journal of Law & Politics)
Back in the Islands … after five months of British rule, Queen Victoria, on learning the injustice done, immediately sent Rear Admiral Richard Darton Thomas to the islands to restore sovereignty to its rightful rulers. On July 31, 1843 the Hawaiian flag was raised. The ceremony was held in area known as Kulaokahuʻa; the site of the ceremony was turned into a park Thomas Square.