Thomas Charles Byde Rooke was born to Thomas and Sarah Rooke on May 18, 1806, in Bengeo, Hertford, England. He studied to be a Doctor at a branch of Christ’s College Hospital in Hertford and had studied in London where he graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1826.
He first landed in the Islands at Lahaina in 1829. After another season’s cruise his ship put in at Honolulu. Here Dr. Rooke was asked to remain and practice medicine, and, with the consent of his Captain, he agreed.
That year, Rooke married Grace Kamaikui, the second daughter of John Young, Kamehameha’s advisor (and “in his most perfect confidence”.) Grace was widow of Keʻeaumoku (Queen Regent Kaʻahumanu’s younger brother.)
The Rookes were apparently unable to have children of their own; when Grace’s sister, Fanny, had a child, Emma, she was hanai (a traditional custom of adoption) to the Rookes.
Emma’s formal education began at age five at the Chiefs’ Children’s School. She grew up speaking both Hawaiian and English, the latter “with a perfect English accent.”
At age 13, when the school closed in 1849, Rooke hired Sarah Rhodes von Pfister, an English governess, to tutor Emma for the next four years, but he also played an active role in her education. Emma learned a great deal about the outside world from her scholarly father, who assembled the finest library in Honolulu for her benefit.
At 20, on June 19, 1856, Emma married Alexander Liholiho, who a year earlier had assumed the throne as Kamehameha IV; she became Queen Emma. The couple had known each other since childhood.
Dr Rooke was one of the pioneers in the cultivation of coffee and was the charter member of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society when it was organized in 1850, serving on the coffee committee.
Rooke had his office and dispensary in his home (“Rooke House” on the makai/Waikiki corner of Beretania Street and Nuʻuanu Avenue.) Rooke House was “like an old-fashioned New England house externally, but with two deep verandahs, and the entrance is on the upper one.”
“The lower floor seemed given up to attendants and offices, and a native woman was ironing clothes under a tree. Upstairs, the house is like a tasteful, English country-house, with a pleasant English look … the most English-looking house I have seen since I left home, except Bishopscourt at Melbourne.” (Bird)
He was also physician to the Court, friend and advisor to the royal family, and became a naturalized citizen. In 1844 he is listed as Port Physician, and in December, 1850, he was appointed to the first Board of Health and served as its chairman. Rooke served twice as a member of the House of Representatives, representing the Honolulu district.
He was “elegantly dressed, rubicund, affable, and redolent of delicious odors that I afterwards learned to recognize as indicative of acquaintance with the choicest brands of rare old wine. The cordiality of his manners placed me at ease”. (Lyman)
Dr Rooke was one of the ten Honolulu physicians who were signers of the charter of incorporation of the Hawaiian Medical Society on May 19, 1856.
Rooke also taught Emma by example. Not only did he provide medical care to the poor, he also served as physician at the Hospital for British Seamen, which was established in Pauoa Valley in 1846
Rooke foreshadowed the establishment of The Queen’s Hospital with his pleas in The Polynesian for the establishment of such an institution.
After living in the Islands for nearly 30-years, Dr Rooke died in November 28, 1858, at Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi, at the age of 52. He was buried in the Wyllie tomb, or Wyllie crypt, at Mauna Ala, along with other members of Emma’s family.
Although he did not live to see the opening of the Queen’s Hospital in 1860, it was he who kindled the spark which brought it into being.
“(W)e have lost not only the Senior Member of our Profession here, whose labors among this people and community during his long residence on these islands, have secured for him an enduring place in the memory of the Hawaiian Nation;”
“(B)ut, also, a brother, whose strict sense of professional propriety in his relations to as, as well as to those entrusted to his care, not less than his uniform kindness and urbanity of manners, have won for him our lasting esteem and respect.” (Hawaiian Medical Society; Polynesian, December 16, 1858) (Lots of information here is from Queen’s Medical Center and Kelley)
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