25 February 1843: Hawaii occupied during the Paulet Affair

British naval captain, Lord George Paulet overstepped his authority in occupying Hawaii at the height of the Paulet Affair, on this day in 1843.

The Hawaiian Islands had enjoyed close ties with Britain since the 1790s. But in the five decades that followed, Britain's colonial focus was elsewhere, most notably on India. After all, trade with the islands only amounted to £40,000 a year hardly worth the bother. So the little Polynesian kingdom was allowed to quietly get on with things.

That's not to say foreigners left it alone. Quite the opposite. A bustling multinational community of merchants grew up in Hawaii, with British, French and American traders all eyeing each other with suspicion. But it was a falling out with the locals over land rights that united them.

Buying and leasing land was second nature to the Westerners. But the Hawaiians regarded the land as belonging to the people as a whole, to be administered by the chiefs. Angry land disputes followed.

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Meanwhile, the Hawaiian king, Kamehameha III, sent diplomats, first to America, and then to Europe, with the aim of winning recognition of its independence, and courting foreign investment. Britain and France responded favourably.

Then in early 1843, Captain Lord George Paulet, in command of HMS Carysfort, sailed into the Hawaiian capital, Honolulu. The British Consul, Richard Charlton, complained of unfair treatment of the British, and Paulet was ordered by Admiral Richard Thomas to investigate.

To Paulet, that meant issuing Kamehameha an ultimatum. On 25 February, he occupied Honolulu, and placed himself at the head of a provisional government. The Hawaiian flag was hauled down and the Union Jack run up in its place. Kamehameha was still the king, but in name only. Paulet's rule, however, was to be short-lived.

Less than six months later, Admiral Thomas arrived in the islands on HMS Dublin and upbraided Paulet for overstepping his authority. The Hawaiian kingdom was restored, and on 13 November, Britain and France issued a joint declaration recognising Hawaiian independence.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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