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Article researched and compiled by Sarah Gilbert, 2005

Victoria Kaiulani

The People’s (Hawaiian) Princess

Princess Victoria Kaiulani

For a short time in the early 1890's Burton Latimer was the home of the Crown Princess of Hawaii whose short but tragic life touched the hearts of people across three continents.

The Beginning

Kaiulani as a babyOn October 16th 1875, a baby girl was born in Honolulu . Her name was “Victoria Kawekiu Lunalio Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kaiulani Cleghorn”,

but more commonly known as Princess Kaiulani - Kaiulani translates to “royal sacred one” or “the highest point of heaven”.

Her mother was Miriam Likelike, who was Hawaiian and her father was Archibald Cleghorn born and educated in Scotland . He came to the Hawaiian Islands aged 16 with his father Thomas; they had arrived on the British brig called “Sisters”, from Auckland .

Thomas died in Honolulu in the same year, leaving 16 year old Archie to run the small dry goods store he had started up there. Archie’s mother soon went back to New Zealand but her son decided to stay on and prospered in business. Four years later he was doing well in the mercantile industry and he had stores on other neighbouring islands as well as Honolulu .

He met an Hawaiian lady called Elizabeth and he went on to have three daughters with her, Helen, Rose and Annie, all this happened while he was still in his thirties.

He had a home on Queen Emma Street in downtown Honolulu and his love of horticulture (which he had gained from his father) started there. His house had beautiful gardens created by himself.

When he was 35, he married 19 year old Miriam Likelike (as Elizabeth had since died). She was from a chiefly family and they had an estate called Ainahuau in Wakiki. It was there that he really got to use his talent for growing and caring for plants and trees. Amongst the many things he had planted and nurtured at their home were, eight varieties of mango trees, trees of teak, cinnamon, soap and an Indian tree with scarlet flowers shaped like a tiger's claw. He also created 3 lily ponds and added the peafowl for the wildlife addition to this beautiful haven he had created in his grounds.

Kaiulani's father - Archibald Cleghorn
Kaiulani and her father Archibald Cleghorn
Kaiulani's mother - Princess Likelike
(left) Archibald Cleghorn (centre) Kaiulani and her father
(right) Princess Likelike

King David Kalakaua
King David Kalakaua
Miriam Likelike was the daughter of High Chief Kapa’ake and the Chiefess Keohokalole. She was also sister to David Kalakaua, King of Hawaii from 1874 to 1891 and also Lili’uokalani who was Queen from 1891 to 1893.

As Kaiulani’s Uncle and Aunt never had any children of their own, she was placed third in line to the throne from birth, which was celebrated with the tolling of bells and gun salutes.

Kaiulani as a child
Kaiulani as a child

(below) Princess Ruth

Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani
Kaiulani grew up enjoying many things including, singing, reading, playing the guitar and ukulele, playing tennis and croquet, sewing and even surfing! Her main love however was horses and riding, she was an expert equestrienne and she had a special childhood pony called “Fairy”, this was a very apt name for this almost ‘fairytale princess’. She shed tears for “Fairy” as she was to leave her beloved animal behind when she was later sent abroad for schooling.

The Cleghorn family lived at Ainahau in Waikiki which was owned by Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani, who was Kaiulani’s godmother.

Sadly on 2nd February 1887 aged 36, Princess Kaiulani’s mother Miriam died and left her 12 year old daughter sorrowful at the loss. However, the brave princess had the duty to stay in the palace for three weeks while her mother’s body was lying in state in the throne room and she was even part of the funeral procession.

Princess Kaiulani found a friend in Robert Louis Stevenson when he moved into one of the neighbouring residences in January 1889. He helped her in many ways at different times of her short life and with the loss of her mother still obviously affecting her, he brought some joy to the dark times that had already happened and would continue to happen to the teenager.

Robert Louis Stevenson had been a friend of Miriam Likelike and was very taken with the family, and especially fond of the young Princess who thought that his hair was much too long!

When he learned of the Princess’ father’s plan to send her abroad for schooling, he feared that the drastic change of climate would prove detrimental to her health, it was not his place however, to voice these fears to her father.

Sadly his fears were to come true, and unfortunately very early on in her life.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis
The two of them enjoyed special times together, he would tell her stories of his and her father’s homeland, Scotland , and he loaned her several books to read.

A music box given to the Princess by Stevenson is amongst a collection at the Hulihe’e Palace in Hawaii , but the selection of tunes it plays has never been identified.

He also prepared the Princess for her trip to England by telling her as much information as he could about the place. He even wrote the Princess a poem in her autograph book before she left:

Forth from her land to mine she


The island maid, the island


Light of heart and bright of


The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here in southern


Shall mourn their Ka’iulani


And I, in her banyan’s


Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away

Shall glitter with unwanted day,

And cast for once their tempest


To smile in Ka’iulani’s eye.

Princess Kaiulani
Princess Kaiulani as a young woman
Harrowden Hall - Click to go to its site
Harrowden Hall
And so on June 17th, 1889 aged 14, Kaiulani was sent to England for her formal education, as her father felt this best if she were to be a monarch. She was accompanied by her half sister Annie (from her father’s relationship before marrying her mother), who stayed with her for longer than was arranged as Kaiulani was homesick. She remained in Europe for a lot of the turbulent times that were ahead for her.

It was away on these ‘education trips’, that the Princess learned of Robert Louis Stevenson’s death aged 44 from a brain haemorrhage on December 3rd 1894, which affected her greatly.

Whilst in England she studied in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire at The Great Harrowden Hall School for Girls. It is also a known fact that the Princess stayed at The Yews in Burton Latimer in 1893 with her former headmistress from Harrowden School, Mrs Sharp.

The Yews is point 11 on the Town Trail feature on the site

The Yews in 1914,
about 20 years after Kaiulani stayed there
The Yews, Kettering Road, painted in 1914

Although intelligent anyway, she studied French and German and was rated third in her French class. Art was also a subject she studied and enjoyed. Her stay in England was for several years, although initially she was told it would only be for one.

Throughout her time here she missed her home land greatly and suffered a lot of headaches and illness. When she returned home for any length of the time, the heat was very often too much for her, and whilst her education continued forward, Hawaii was changing into a very different place to what she would remember.

The monarchy - political and economical tensions

The Regent - Queen Lili'uokalani
Queen Regent
The Monarchy had begun many, many years before, with immediate relatives following down after deaths of the previous rulers. After the last reigning monarch had died leaving no one to follow on the title, a new King or Queen would have to be elected. This election was won by Princess Kaiulani’s uncle, David Kalakua, this was much to the upset of the last monarch’s widowed wife who had also been up for election.

It was not long after this that Kaiulani was born whilst her uncle was in power. After his death in 1891, his sister Lili’uokalani became queen but in name only.

Lili’uokalani unfortunately took on her brother’s political problems which had arisen over his dislike for the foreign businessmen and the high tax payments they had been forced to make because of their success. They had begun to believe that David Kalakua was corrupt and wanted him rid of his powers and were not happy that his sister had taken his role over.

Sugar was the main support of the islands and they relied on the U.S. as their main market. Plantation ownership and control was in the hands of American or European business men.

In 1887, during King David’s reign, a group of planters and businessmen, seeking to control the kingdom politically and economically, formed a secret organization, the “Hawaiian League” made up of mostly Americans.

The organizer was Lorrin A. Thurston who also went on to be the leader of the plan to overthrow the monarchy. King David was allowed to remain on the throne, with dethroning as a last resort if he refused to obey them. He finally signed the Bayonet Constitution which eliminated his power and gave all major voting rights to those that had the most money, these being the American and European business men and not the majority of native Hawaiians. When King David died his sister Lili’uokalani had to swear to uphold this constitution. Lorrin A. Thurston’s plan came into play for the annexation and overthrow of her, obviously kept secret as they were talking treason.

Thurston went to Washington to promote the take-over.

This new constitution that they wanted Lili’uokalani to uphold was refused by her Cabinet, fearing her enemies would use it against her. She stated that she was ready to discuss a new constitution but at a later date. The Annexation Club then claimed that by holding it off she had committed a revolutionary act.

The then American minister John L. Stevens said he would not protect the queen and he would land troops to protect the Americans there if needed.

The queen - to avoid bloodshed - surrendered Hawaii ’s sovereignty, believing that the American government would eventually restore her to the throne.

Lili’uokalani wrote to President Cleveland of the U.S. requesting this to be looked into and Kaiulani went to Washington to appeal for the monarchy.

After investigations by James H. Blount, former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he ordered the troops back to their ship and the American flag to be replaced by the Hawaiian.

Stamp showing King David and overstamped with the mark of the new regime
Changing times -
old stamp; new regime
President Cleveland said he would do everything in his power to reinstate the Queen, provided she would grant amnesty to those responsible for the overthrow. Eventually she agreed and the new American minister in Hawaii , Albert Willis, assured Dole of her promise and asked them to acknowledge their wrong-doing and to resign their power and restore the queen’s. They refused, stating that if American forces illegally assisted the revolution, the provisional government would not be responsible for their actions.

A search of Lili’uokalani’s home found a stash of arms buried in a flower garden and she was promptly arrested. Shortly after she was imprisoned at Iolani Palace , she found a document of abdication which she believed if she didn’t sign, would mean execution of her followers for treason.

The Iolani Palace in the 1890s The Iolani Palace c.2002
The Iolani Palace - then and now

In 1896 after she was released, she went to Washington with documents signed by many Hawaiian’s asking President Cleveland to re-instate their queen. It was unfortunately too late for him to help anymore.

Hawaiian’s submitted a petition to Congress with 29,000 signatures opposing the annexation. Ultimately, the annexationists won and the sovereignty of Hawaii was formally transferred to the U.S.

Sandford Dole was appointed the governor of the territory of Hawaii and the Hawaiian flag was lowered and replaced by the American one. The Hawaiian people had lost their land, their monarchy and now their independence.

The Princess’s Quest

Princess Kaiulani learned of all this news in three telegrams given to her by Theophilus Davies her “second father”, who had been chosen as her personal guardian and accompanied her to England and the trip she made to Washington to fight her country’s cause. The telegrams read:


Kaiulani also received a letter from her father telling her about the rebels forming a Committee of Safety to organize their own government and that Sandford Dole had been appointed as a new leader but not by the will of the people.

Kaiulani’s title of Princess had been stolen from her.

President Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland

William McKinley

President William McKinley
Princess Kaiulani at the period when she addressed President and Congress
She made trips to and across America at this time in 1893, to plead for this wrong to be made right. President Cleveland was won over by Kaiulani. He recognised that a wrong had been committed and promised to help to try to restore her aunt to the throne. A formal investigation by James Blount, a former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, agreed that essentially the United States had backed a coup against the legal rulers of Hawaii. Sadly, Cleveland's efforts were ineffectual, and in the term of the next President, William McKinley, Hawaii was formally annexed to the United States. Kaiulani managed to address the press even though she wasn’t in the best of health, and told them that even though she wasn’t in her home country with her people, she still had the strength and determination to stand up for their rights and she had faith in God and herself that her country would not be dishonoured.

It was in that time in 1897 after Hawaii had become a republic that her health really started to be affected, what with the stress of what had been happening, the deaths of close people to her and the constant changing of climates through her travelling.

However she also faced another loss that year when her half sister Annie died and the year after, Mr Davies was also taken from her by death.

Princess Kaiulani had been described as “savage” and a “barbarian”, but the paparazzi of the day were quite surprised when meeting her that she was anything but. They were met and greeted by a beautiful young lady of strong personality, dressed in the latest Paris fashions and speaking very good English.

Any attempts to disrespect Hawaii or its people were quashed whenever Princess Kaiulani came into the picture. She was described by one reporter as the very flower of civilization.

Her loyalty to Hawaii , its people and her family was never questioned and she may have been able to change things had it not been for the Spanish-American civil war and the coming to power of a new American President. And so it was 1893 and Princess Kaiulani had lost her Royal birthright.

This, along with the aforementioned death of Robert Louis Stevenson the following year, had a detrimental impact on the young woman’s health, and whilst back home in Hawaii, she sadly died at the tender age of 23, on the 6th March 1899. The story goes that she was out riding her horse and got caught in a tropical rainstorm; she developed rheumatic fever and never recovered.

Many say she died of a broken heart, as she hadn’t been able to get Hawaii back for its people. It isn’t hard to believe that this may have been the case, but even harder to believe that this strong-minded and independent young woman would have given up on anything, including life, if she had a choice in its path.

On the sad day of her death, the peacocks which roamed the grounds of her home started to make a tremendous din, and some were behaving so erratically that her father had to shoot some of the beautiful birds. It’s said they did this as they knew their Princess, who used to lovingly hand feed them, had passed away.

The Funeral Procession of Princess Kaiulani
Kaiulani's funeral procession

The streets of Honolulu were lined
with crowds for the whole length
of her last journey

Kaiulani once said herself “I must have been born under an unlucky star, as I seem to have my life planned out for me in such a way that I cannot alter it….”

It may be thought that her life ended with nothing but failure, but her story has given hope and inspiration to many people of all different walks of life, and it is easy to understand why.

Kauiulani’s father wanted his 10-acre estate which he spent many tireless hours landscaping to be turned into a park as an eternal tribute to his daughter’s life, but the city of Honolulu refused and the land was sectioned and auctioned off.

Her life is by no means forgotten, with statues erected of her, displays in memory of her in museums, and on commemorative stamps such as those shown below. Even bridal gown shops and surf boards are named after her.

In short, Hawaii and its native people remember her and what she did and tried to do for them all.

Commemorative Stamps to Princess Victoria Kaiulani

On November 23rd 1993, President Clinton signed a Congressional Resolution in which the U.S. government formally apologised to the native Hawaiian people for its own part in what had happened. Unfortunately it was over 100 years too late for Princess Kaiulani.

President Clinton signs the Congressional Resolution apologising to the people of Hawaii for the events of 1893
The signing of the Congressional Resolution

Click here to read the key excerpts from it

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