Walter Murray Gibson was born at sea, the son of English emigrants, en route to the United States (March 6, 1822.) His early years were spent in New York, New Jersey and South Carolina; and his youthful imagination was kindled into a flame of romantic ambition by tales of the East Indies. (Kuykendall)
While still a young man, he had been imprisoned by the Dutch in Java for more than a year, found guilty of plotting to stir up a rebellion against their rule. From that time in 1850-51 he had carried a dream of becoming the savior of the island races of Oceania, of gaining power to rescue them from the misrule of their white masters. (Adler – Kamins)
In 1861, he came to Hawaiʻi after joining the Mormon Church the year before; he was to serve as a missionary and envoy of the Mormon Church to the peoples of the Pacific Ocean. He landed in Lānaʻi and eventually created the title “Chief President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Islands of the Sea.” He more regularly went by the name Kipikona.
The experience with the Church was relatively short-lived; in 1864, he was excommunicated for selling priesthood offices, defrauding the Hawaiian members and misusing his ecclesiastical authority (in part, he was using church funds to buy land in his name.)
By the 1870s, Gibson focused his interests in ranching in the area called Koele, situated in a sheltered valley in the uplands of Kamoku Ahupuaʻa. As the ranch operation was developed, Koele was transformed from an area of traditional residency and sustainable agriculture to the ranch headquarters. (Lānaʻi Culture and Heritage Center)
Herds of sheep were managed from Koele, and during shipping season, wool and mutton for the meat markets in Honolulu, were shipped from the coastal village of Awalua, at the northern end of the island. (Lānaʻi Culture and Heritage Center)
In 1872, Gibson moved from Lānaʻi to Lāhainā and then to Honolulu.
He established a small bilingual newspaper, Ka Nuhou (News,) and wrote, edited and ran it for 14-months (1873-1874.) It grew in circulation to about 5,000, double the size of any other Hawaiian language periodical to and for the Hawaiian people. Its slogan was – Hawaiʻi for the Hawaiians.
Not everyone enjoyed its content. “The Nuhou is scurrilous and diverting, and appears ‘run’ with a special object, which I have not as yet succeeded in unraveling from its pungent but not always intelligible pages.” (Isabella Bird)
He denounced, as enemies of the kingdom, those who favored ceding Pearl Harbor to the US as an inducement to enter into the reciprocity treaty with Hawaiʻi so eagerly sought by the sugar planters to gain access to the American market. (Adler – Kamins)
He used the newspaper to support, first, Lunalilo, then, King Kalākaua in their election campaigns.
Following that, he ran for political office and served in the House of Representatives, representing Maui (the only haole in the 27-member Legislative Assembly – 1878-1882.)
He made his way to become as Finance Committee Chairman and under his leadership allocations of public funds showed his concern for the national pride of Hawaiians: $500 to Henri Berger, leader of the Hawaiian Band, for composing the music for Hawaii Ponoʻi, the new national anthem; $10,000 for a bronze statue of Kamehameha I; and $50,000 to begin construction of a new ʻIolani Palace, to house King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani, and all their successors. (Adler – Kamins)
Public service did not stop there. He was later Member of Privy Council and Board of Health (1880, Health President 1882;) Commissioner of Crown Lands (1882;) Board of Education, President (1883;) Attorney General (1883;) House of Nobles (1882-1886;) Secretary of War & Navy (1886;) Premier and Minister of the Interior (1886) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1882-1887.)
In his new capacities, Gibson’s first notable accomplishment was his development of a new monetary system for the island nation. The new money was printed in San Francisco and the bills featured Kalākaua. This was followed by the creation of a postal system; Gibson himself designed and printed the postage stamps for the Hawaiian kingdom. (Lowe)
Then, the good times ended. “A conspiracy against the peace of the Hawaiian Kingdom had been taking shape since early spring.” (Liliʻuokalani) In 1887, the struggle for control of Hawaiʻi was at its height as David Kalākaua was elected to the throne. But the businessmen were distrustful of him.
“So the mercantile element, as embodied in the Chamber of Commerce, the sugar planters, and the proprietors of the “missionary” stores, formed a distinct political party, called the “down-town” party, whose purpose was to minimize or entirely subvert other interests, and especially the prerogatives of the crown, which, based upon ancient custom and the authority of the island chiefs, were the sole guaranty of our nationality.” (Liliʻuokalani)
The Hawaiian League (aka Committee of Thirteen, Committee of Public Safety & Annexation Club) were unhappy with the rule of Kalākaua and used threats to force the king to adopt a new constitution. The Hawaiian League came into control of the Honolulu Rifles (made of about 200 armed men.) The Hawaiian League used the Rifles to force King Kalākaua to enact the Bayonet Constitution. (Kukendall)
On July 1, Kalākaua asked his entire cabinet to resign. Gibson, a strong and vocal supporter of the King was also an early target. He was captured by the Honolulu Rifles and almost lynched; instead, he was banished from the Islands.
He left Honolulu on July 12, 1887 on the sugar freighter JD Spreckels and arriving in San Francisco on August 6, 1887. He spent the following five months in and out of St Mary’s Hospital and died January 21, 1888 of tuberculosis of the lungs.
When his body was returned to Honolulu, he lay in state and thousands lined up to view his remains through a windowed coffin. “The place has been thronged with visitors, many of whom were natives, who expressed a kindly aloha for the departed Premier.” (Daily Bulletin, February 18, 1888)