“It has been a strange life really and a very romantic one.” – Victoria Ka’iuani Cleghorn.
For the last century, Princess Victoria Ka`iulani Cleghorn life was known as tragic because she died young and was never allowed to fulfill the office for which she was raised: Queen of the Hawaiian Islands.
Ka‘iulani was a true warrior princess who fought for truth, but her story of heroism has largely been forgotten. This shy, quiet and sophisticated beauty lead a melancholy life. Few people outside Hawaii know of Ka`iulani’s stand for her people and fewer still know that she was half Scottish.
Ka‘iulani led a life of love and music. She was witty, had a sharp sense of humor and a great many friends. There is also speculation that Ka’iulani influenced surfing in the English Channel at Brighton. This is the real Ka’iulani that is much more interesting to remember. There are few accounts of Ka‘iulani’s fight for her nation, but we owe it to her to remember her story.
Every one admired her attitude, dignity and resignation during times of sorrow, which appealed to all. The natives loved her for her quiet steadfast sympathy with their woe and her uncomplaining endurance. The whites admired her for her stately reserve, her queenly disposition despite necessary courtesy, while holding herself aloof from all undue intimacy. All were attracted by her sweetness and grace; it was impossible not too.
Her mother was born Princess Miriam Kapili Kekauluohi Likelike was born January 13th, 1851. She was a vivacious musician and composer known for her generosity and for opening her home to many international visitors. Her parents were High Chief Kepaakea and Hawaii Island Chiefess Analea Keohokalole.
While always sporting the latest fashion, the Princess held the position of Governor of Hawaii Island in 1879 to 1880. Her oldest brother David became King in 1874. After the death of her brother, William Pitt in 1877, Likelike became second in line to the throne, behind her sister, Lili’uokalani.
Her father Archibald Scott Cleghorn was born November 15th, 1835 in Edinburgh, Scotland and was brought to Hawaii by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cleghorn by way of New Zealand. After arriving in Honolulu in 1851, Thomas set up a dry goods store in Chinatown, but within the year, at the age of 54, Thomas suffered a fatal heart attack while on his way home from church.
Archibald took over his father’s business and turned it into one of the most successful mercantile chains in the islands. Continuing his father’s love of horticulture, Archie also became known as Hawaii’s Father of Parks and served as O’ahu County Parks Commissioner. He was the lead landscaper for what is the present location for the Hawaiian Scottish Festival & Highland Games, Kapi’olani Park, as well as landscaper for ‘Iolani Palace.
Archibald is also responsible for the spectacular gaardens of the ‘Ainahau estate, where he planted several varieties of plants, shrubs and trees, including Hawaii’s first banyan, which became known as ‘The Ka’iulani Banyan’. A slip from this tree was planted at Princess Ka’iulani Elementary School upon Princess Ka’iulani’s passing.
Archibald was a great friend and advisor to King Kalakaua. He was also advisor to Queen Lili’uokalani and served as Royal Governor of Oahu in the 1890’s. He also served as the first President of The Queen’s Hospital, a member of the Privy Council, the Board of Health, the Board of Prison Inspectors, the Board of Immigration and for 46 years, the president of the Pacific Club. Archibald Cleghorn willed the magnificent estate of ‘Ainahau back to Hawaii, specifying that it be retained as a park for all Hawaii to enjoy. It was to be named, Ka’iulani Park in the center of Waikiki. Today, Cleghorn Street is a two block-long street located near the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.
Before becoming King, the empassioned and politically ambitious David Kalakaua, led a group called the Young Hawaiians. He introduced his friend Archibald Cleghorn to his sister, Miriam Likelike. Archibald was smitten by the young beauty, and with the approval of David Kalakaua, he began courting her. Archie and Likelike Married September 22, 1870 at Washington Place, the home of Likelike’s sister, Lydia and Governor John Dominis.
Four years later in 1874, Likelike’s brother, David Kalakaua began his reign as King of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On December 12th of that year, he was the world’s first ruling monarch to be honored with a state dinner at the White House. The evening, which is the most glamorous of events at the White House, was hosted by President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant.
Nearly a year later on October 16, 1875 the Hawaiian nation was thrilled to learn of the birth of Archie and Likelike’s daughter, Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani Kawekio I Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn. The city was alive with the sound of church bells ringing to celebrate her royal birth, as highest born ali’i of her generation.
Ka’iulani’s christening was at Christmas Eve at St. Andrews Cathedral where her Godparents were the King, and Her Highness Ke’elikolani. The tiny child remained calm and silent as water dripped on her forehead from the container decorated with white flowers and the enscribed words, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me’. Following the ceremony, King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi’olani hosted an enormous and lavish party at Iolani Palace where the celebrations continued.
Ka`iulani spent her childhood in a paradise setting at `Âinahau (cool land) in Waikiki. Her days were spent in games of croquet with friends, riding her pony, or creating a flowery fantasy world beneath sheltering banyan trees.
She would think of it often, later in life when she was away from her island home. The estate was also home to her treasured peacocks, a gift from her godmother, Queen Ruth Ke`elikôlani. The entire estate was later willed back to Hawaii by Ka’iulani’s father.
Her beloved Mama Nui was most special to Ka‘iulani. Queen Ruth was Ka’iulani’s connection to old Hawai’I and after receiving one of her many gifts from her godmother, Ka’iulani wrote this note: “Dear Mama Nui, Thank you for the nice hat you sent me. It fits so nicely Mama wanted it, but I would not let her have it. Thank you for the corn and watermelons, they do taste so good. Are you well? With much love from your little girl, Ka‘iulani.”
Ka‘iulani was an active and athletic young woman. She enjoyed horseback riding, and was an accomplished surfer and swimmer – in fact she often worried her governess by swimming dangerously far out into the breakers. Possessing the gift of the great musical Kalakaua family, Ka‘iulani also danced hula, sang and played ukulele.
This musical dynasty often gathered at Ainahau for luaus where they would sing and try out their new musical compositions in friendly competition. When Ka‘iulani was not working on her scrapbook, she spent many hours with her best friend and half-sister Annie Cleghorn.
Annie was accomplished on guitar and ukulele, so the two sisters often played music in front of the grass shack, where Ka‘iulani’s mother, Miriam Likelike composed music. Joyful times were also spent with her Uncle, King (David) Kalakaua whom she called, Papa Moi. He would tell her of the old days: “Ka‘iulani, each of us must make an agreement to in our own ways, bring the ancient Hawaiian traditions back in a way that is pono.” Among these, were the ancient Hawaiian martial arts of Lua. King David was also known as The Merry Monarch, established a royal school to reawaken this ancient art in the late 1800’s.
Kalakaua also taught his niece the same statement he learned at High Chief’s Children’s School in Honolulu. Every morning their students recited the Hawaiian Declaration of Rights of 1840. “God has made of one blood, all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth in unity and blessedness. God has bestowed certain rights alike on all men, all chiefs and all people of all lands.” These words made a lasting impression on young Ka’iulani.
Other companions during her years in Hawaii were her governesses. Ka‘iulani was very close with her teacher, but at times challenged their relationship causing friction between her governess Miss Gardinier and her mother Princess Likelike. Ka‘iulani found out very early that she could be as naughty as she liked and would escape by climbing on to the roof. Years later she admitted, “I was naturally naughty, I suppose.”
Although there was great criticism of Kalakaua’s reign, particularly concerning issues of overspending, it was important for Ka‘iulani’s Uncle, to bring Hawaii into the modern age. He was the first world leader to travel the globe in order to personally connect with several monarchs of other lands, which he wrote about in his composition, “Ka Momi”. On his birthday in 1886, Iolani Palace became the world’s first royal residence to be fully lit by electricity. A year and a half later, when Ka‘iulani was 11, she threw the switch that lit up the streets of Honolulu.
Just before this event Ka‘iulani’s mother died and soon after she also lost her governess Miss Gardinier, who was engaged to be married. Of the day her mother died, Ka‘iulani said years later, “I thought nothing would ever reconcile me to my mother’s death…. I am glad she does not know this. I idolized my mother. She was charming; very brilliant, very happy and sunny; we worshiped each other. And I have missed her every day from the first dreadful day she died. I was taken to the palace. I remember when she lay for three weeks in state. I can see her (dead) face now laid against the cloak of feathers. Everything is black against that white, white room.”
Sometime later, Honolulu would again be a happy place with the arrival of a world celebrity. Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde came to visit. Hawaii greeted Stevenson with great enthusiasm, which he returned in kind. Stevenson became good friends with her Uncle, the King as well as her father, Archibald. Archie and Louis were both born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
There was an order from the King that the princess “receive an education fit for a future queen” and to do that she must go to England. Stevenson was able to help Ka‘iulani leave Hawaii by telling her about her father’s homeland. He told her tales of ancient Celtic queens to encourage her curiosity of this faraway land.
After experiencing England for the first time, in the summer of 1889, Ka’iulani felt much more a woman of the world than she had just six months earlier. She and her sister Annie witnessed the beginning of “La Belle Epoch” in London, which inspired Ka’iulani’s inner artist, and her paintings of the British countryside. Days were spent visiting art galleries, local landmarks, attending concerts and meeting celebrities of the day.
While remaining in Europe Ka‘iulani studied hard, traveled to different countries and raised funds for the underprivileged. Ka‘iulani was very popular in society circles and made great and lasting friendships. She also had more than a few romantic interests – but one thing was certain – when Ka‘iulani married, she would marry for love. In a letter to Queen Liliuokalani, Ka’iulani wrote: “I could have married an enormously rich German Count, but I could not care for him. I feel it would be wrong if I married a man I did not love, I should be perfectly unhappy and we should not agree, and instead of being an example to the married women of today, I should become like one of them, merely a woman of fashion and a flirt. I hope I am not expressing myself too strongly but I feel I must speak out to you and there must be perfect confidence between you and me, dear Aunt.” While at school in January of 1891, Ka’iulani received the sad news of the death of her Uncle.
Ka‘iulani’s one year in England turned into four. Upon the succession of her Auntie Liliu to the throne, Ka’iulani was named heir to the throne by her aunt, Queen Liliuokalani. Ka’iulani admitted that although she was not in Hawaii to enjoy the celebrations, she was thrilled by the news of officially becoming “Crown Princess”, an event which she had been preparing for all her life.
In Hawaii, the announcement of Ka’iulani’s appointment as Heir Apparent was well received by all, in fact this one event seemed to unite the native and foreign population. Back home in Honolulu, local newspapers commended her for the education she was receiving in England: “…it ought to give her the foundation of an enlightened and liberal education which will fit her for the highest position which she is destined to fill.”
Soon, Ka’iulani was joined in England by her father, Archie, who had been eager to escort her to his native Scotland. There, the Honorable R. A. McFee hosted them at Dreghorn Castle. Ka’iulani remembered that her uncle had told her he had planted two trees at the castle. With the agreement of the McFee’s she honored King Kalakaua’s memory by planting another.
Ka’iulani was on a mission and made plans – she was going to be queen one day and she began to prepare. Ka‘iulani learned about her Scottish roots and sought out the ancient Celtic art of her ancestors. She studied the Scots Gaelic language and made lasting bonds between the Hawaiians and the Scots. She enjoyed riding her horse at a great pace across the highlands. Ka‘iulani was becoming a bridge between the two cultures and the best of both.
Ka‘iulani often wrote to Queen Liliu’okalani, keeping her up to date as her education progressed: “I am so glad that Father is putting up a proper house at Ainahau. It has always been my ambition to have a house at Waikiki worthy of the beautiful garden…I have left great Harrowden Hall for good. Mr. Davies has kindly found a lady who will look after and be a sort of mother to me while I am here in Brighton. I believe Ms. Rooke is a thorough lady. I shall take lessons in French, German, music and English, especially grammar and composition.”
I am looking forward to my return next year. I am beginning to feel very homesick. I shall be so very glad to see you. I suppose that you will not know me again as I have changed so much. I must close now, with very much love and kisses — I remain, Your loving niece — Victoria Kaiulani”
In just one day Ka‘iulani’s life was changed forever. She received shocking news from her guardian in England, Mr. Theophilus Davies. While in Liverpool, Davies was notified of the upheaval in Hawaii, then he received a telegram with instructions: Monarchy Abrogated – Queen Deposed – Break news to Princess.
In excerpts from a letter to Ka’iulani, Theo Davies, broke the news. The following letter was recently discovered by archivists at The Bishop Museum:
“My Dear Kaiulani, I received the news from Honolulu last night, and our first thought by the fire-side was of you. You will feel, as I did, rather bewildered at first, but the clear plain truth is that the Queen appointed a new cabinet – S. Parker, Cornwell, Colburn & Peterson, and then tried to give a new Constitution. The Ministers refused to sign it, and the Queen insisted, and then addressed the natives from the Palace steps. – The citizens then assembled and dethroned the Queen, who left the Palace – and the government is now in the hands of a Council – Mr. Dole president and Minister of Foreign Affairs… – A. C. Wilder, Thurston, Marsden, C. Carter, Castle are the deputation gone to Washington, where they will arrive on Friday next. – I had a telegram from Honolulu to-day asking me to tell you….As to you, my dear girl, you are in the hands of the loving Saviour, who makes no mistakes, and has his own plans for you. It may be that he will show you the way clearly, very soon, or he may want you to learn patience before the gift comes. We did pray for you last night and will pray for you.”
Ka‘iulani was shattered. It’s not hard to imagine how she may have felt. Ka`iulani was far from home and the life she knew was being taken away for her, her family and her entire nation. She may have thought that her life’s purpose, all of her plans, all of her work, all of her education was now pointless.
Lies were being printed about the Hawaiian people and who they were. These articles were printed in newspapers across the United States. Hawaiians were being called barbarians… uncivilized… unable to rule themselves. There were degrading political cartoons about both Ka’iulani and the Queen. One Minnesota newspaper cartoon portrayed Liliuokalani as a black slave, floosie attempting to hand over the Hawaiian crown to a pawnbroker for cash, while another magazine cover portrayed Hawaii as a troublemaking Topsy, the character from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was clear that the Americans were receiving incorrect information about the Hawaii situation and that the creators of these cartoons had no direct knowledge of the Queen nor the Princess.
The American sugar plantation owners and Europeans had by far the largest interest in Hawaii were not willing to let the natives keep control of the island – and papers confirmed that ‘the largest interest’ was a matter of financial interest. Many owners had accumulated much wealth by cultivating Hawaiian soil and much more was to be made if the Hawaiian throne was abolished and Hawaii became an annex of the United States.
Ka’iulani’s guardian in England, Theophilus Davies urged her to speak to press, however she didn’t have much faith that she could make a difference. Why would they believe to a seventeen year old girl, if they didn’t believe the Queen? Ka’iulani suffered with the knowledge that the world saw her as someone quite contrary to who she was. Ka’iulani had to practice patience, while knowing that there were those who spread untruths about her intentions, her education and her character. She questioned if America had any desire to learn the truth.
In her nation’s darkest hour, Ka‘iulani found the strength to make a statement to the press in England, which was printed in several newspapers including The Daily Bulletin on March 2, 1893, in Honolulu. It was her first step in setting the record straight.
“Four years ago, at the request of Mr. Thurston, then a Hawaiian Cabinet Minister, I was sent away to England to be educated privately and fitted to the position which by the constitution of Hawaii I was to inherit. For all these years, I have patiently and in exile striven to fit myself for my return this year to my native country.
I am now told that Mr. Thurston will be in Washington asking you to take away my flag and my throne. No one tells me even this officially. Have I done anything wrong that this wrong should ‘be done to me and my people? I am coming to Washington to plead for my throne, my nation and my flag. Will not the great American people hear me?”
On February 22nd, 1893, Ka‘iulani boarded a ship for America accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Theo Davies and their daughter Alice. Before her departure, a London reporter asked if she would be returning. She stated, “Yes, if I am successsful. I will be of age next year, and then I will carry out my original intention, … which was to visit Queen Victoria, then visit the President of the United States, then proceed to Hawaii and assume the position to which I am entitled…”
Ka’iulani expressed the hope that she might gain the sympathy of the American people and saw no reason to be deprived of her rights through no fault of her own and without being even notified to appear in defense of them.
When Ka’iulani arrived at New York harbor, several newspapers across the United States and Hawaii, published Ka’iulani’s statement to the American people: “Unbidden, stand upon your shores today where I thought so soon to receive a royal welcome on my way to my own kingdom. I come unattended, except by the loving hearts that have come with me over the wintry seas. I hear that commissioners from my land have been for many days asking this great nation to take away my little vineyard. They speak no word to me, and leave me to find out as I can from the rumors of the air that they would leave me without a home, or a name, or a nation.
Seventy years ago Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawaii. They gave us the gospel, they made us a nation and we learned to love and trust America. Today three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capital asking you to undo their fathers’ work. Who sent them? Who gave them authority to break the constitution, which they swore they would uphold. Today, I, a poor, weak girl, with not one of my people near me, and all these Hawaiian statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong, strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of 70,000,000 people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine.”
Americans, who had been reading the newspaper reports prior to Ka’iulani’s statement from England were expecting a savage barbarian. With Ka’iulani’s personal arrival in America however, the American press quickly began to correct their previous statements: “The Princess is 18 years old. She is a tall, beautiful young woman, with a sweet face and slender figure: She has the soft brown eyes and dark complexion that mark the Hawaiian beauty. She had come to the United States, she said, more for the purpose of learning and observing for herself the nature of the people who had been asked to take control of her country than to make a formal petition for her crown. “That,” she said, “is rightfully mine, and if the Americans are the nobleminded people I think they are they will not be a party to the outrage by which I have lost my birthright”.”
John Cleghorn did not accomplish what he had hoped, however, Ka‘iulani’s presence in the US forced the American press eat their words. They recorded her every move, from the moment she set foot on American soil.
Reports of Ka’iulani’s speech quickly reached The White House. President Grover Cleveland and his wife First Lady Frances Cleveland were impressed, and wanted to meet this “Woman of the Hour”. Upon reading the reports of this accomplished, Crown Princess, who was being educated in England in preparation to inherit the throne of Hawaii, Cleveland believed it was possible that he been misinformed about the state of affairs in Hawaii.
“Her beauty, grace and sweetness completely won Mrs. Cleveland’s heart, the President was charmed with her—how could it be otherwise? And Mr. Davies’ representations put matters before President Cleveland in a new light. President Cleveland became aware of abuses which he had not suspected; he promised to do all he could in the interests of Princess Kaiulani, and he was as good as his word.”
In her darkest moments, Ka’iulani found the inner strength to fight for her nation in its hour of need. In the face of widespread slander and libel against the Hawaiian people and its Monarchy, she faced the world and spoke the truth. Her frank words and stunning beauty took the American President, people and press by storm forever changing their idea of the Hawaiian people. Her mission to America was a triumph.
She was only seventeen at the time.
Ka’iulani’s presence influenced President Cleveland to reassess the situation in Hawaii. In Washington – annexation was stopped and Minister James Blount was sent to Honolulu to conduct an in depth investigation of the political activities in Hawaii and assess the situation. Honolulu celebrated with colorful banners and images of Ka‘iulani decorating shop windows to celebrate their young princess.
On February 12, 1898, The New York Times published an article titled, “Princess Kaiulani Engaged – To Wed Prince David Kawananakoa of Hawaiian Royal Blood. In this same year, after Hawaii was finally annexed, Ka’iulani spoke at the Annexation Ball.
“I was asked if I would be at the Annexation Ball. I looked do you see? – looked at the one who asked me that. Then 1 said, ‘Why don’t you ask me if I am going to pull down Hawaii’s flag for them? You know they wanted to find twelve native girls to raise the new flag. They thought it would be poetic. They did not find them.”
During a moment of reflection, Ka’iulani said, “I thought my heart would break when I heard that the monarchy was overthrown and I had all a girl’s disappointment, and I think all a Queen’s. I had wanted to be a good Queen some day. I had thought about it and made all sorts of vows and plans you can think of. I dreamed of all that I would do for my people. I was sure that I could make them the happiest people in the world. They are a happy people, you know—very kind and simple and trusting. They have shown that to the world, haven’t they?”
March 6th, 1899 marked the end of an era; Hawaii’s most beloved Hawaiian/Scot, Princess Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn passed away. It was an unexpected shock for the entire Hawaiian nation, both native and foreign. Some described her as weak, but Ka’iulani had been a strong young woman who loved the outdoors, where she rode on horseback, surfed, paddled and sometimes swam out beyond the breakers. Although she became ill after encountering a storm at Waimea on the Island of Hawaii, no one thought it would lead to her death. It’s likely that the stress Ka’iulani experienced throughout her life was ultimately responsible for the onset of her illnesses at age 22.
Ka’iulani fought till the end.