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.
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.
Also on this day
Mass opposition to Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos ended his 21-year reign on this day in 1986, and brought Corazon Aquino to power. Read more here.