Friday, June 24, 2016

The Island Rose at Harrowden Hall: Victoria Ka'uilani Cleghorn

by Linda Root

Robert Lewis Stevenson, a Scotsman like her father, wrote a poem about her. It begins:

Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.'...

The country estate at Great Harrowden was featured in my recent posts, and is best known as the 17th Century refuge for hunted Jesuit priests and as the home to the amazing recusant heroines Anne Vaux, her sister Eleanor Brooksby, and their redoubtable sister-in-law Eliza Roper, the Dowager Lady Vaux. However, they were not the last formidable women to grace the grounds of the historically important Midland estate which is now an exclusive golf club. In the tradition of the Vaux, the last aristocratic woman to roam the halls of Harrowden was the heir apparent to a foreign throne. She arrived there already well educated and a celebrated beauty. Her family sent her to the exclusive girl’s school operated on the grounds with an eye to polishing her into the image of a proper queen. The move had been encouraged by their advisors. The new student at Harrowden's father was a skilled Scottish businessman and entrepreneur who had married into royalty. Although Scottish on her father’s side, her royal bloodline was from a very different culture. The English at Harrowden called her Vikie, after her namesake Queen Victoria. Her full name was Victoria Kawēkiu Kaʻiulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn. The portrait at the left was painted when she was a student there.

The family of Archibald Cleghorn, with Ka'iulani seated beside him

Wikimedia Commons- (PD)
One of 17-year-old Ka'iulani's closest friends was the author of Treasure Island, the Scotsman Robert Lewis Stevenson, who recognized special qualities in the girl. He was not as certain as her family's other British and American friends that a move to his homeland would be good for her. She was close to her family, an accomplished musician, a talented artist and an outstanding equestrienne. Her parents worried when she displayed usual derring-do as a surfer. She was soft-spoken and demure as became Victorian women of her day, but she was also very much Robert Lewis Stevenson's Island Rose.
 Liliukolani's favorite photo of Ka'iulani
Ka'uilani was the niece of two regnant Hawaiian queens, and her uncle was the last king of Hawaii, all of whom were childless.  As the descendent of their sister, the late Princess Likelike, a Governor of Hawaii and a notable composer and musician who died in 1887, the beautiful girl at Harrowden was the last hope of her aristocratic family. Their aspirations for her and concerns over growing unrest in her homeland had prompted them to take the advice of others and send her to England to be educated. Whatever the motives of her family and their haoli advisors, Ka'iulani's desire to learn the skills necessary to rule a country convinced her to go. To ease the pain of separation, her father Archie Cleghorn let her favorite sister Annie Cleghorn accompany her to England.

She left her happy island childhood behind. Her acceptance of her destiny and her intelligence helped her to adjust. Having her half-sister Annie in her presence helped. She did not remain locked away at Harrowden Hall. She traveled to the great cities of Northern Europe and toured Scotland. While she was there, she painted a watercolor of a scene possibly near their family friends the McFee's estate, Dreghorn Castle.
She left Harrowden Hall for Brighton where she received a rigorous education in European languages, especially French, in which she was proficient, and German, in which she was fluent. But from that point on, her story is a sad one.

The heroine in our romantic story died young and thus legend has painted her as a tragic young woman displaced from her homeland, who succumbed to homesickness and heartbreak, while glossing over her courage and her contribution to her cultures. Some of her contemporaries said the Scottish climate put an end to her. Others blame it on the death of her mother and a hearty dose of separation from her family. It is just as easy to cast Ka'iulani as a victim of the Winds of Change.

History could point a derisive finger at the new player on the international stage—the emergent  United States of America, with its own colonial aspirations and a new expansionist policy known as Manifest Destiny. With the Scots and British entrenched in the Hawaiian Islands, but not in significant numbers, Hawaii was to become the Jewel in the Treasure Chest. In 1893, the monarchy was overthrown. Ka'iulani's family friend and 'second father' Theophilus Davies received the news in a telegram, with instructions to pass the word to the princess—Queen Lilui had been ousted. In a recently discovered letter now archived in Honolulu, Davies explained: 'The government is now in the hands of a Council. Mr. Dole is President and Minister of Foreign Affairs.' Then Davies names the men heading a delegation to Washington on behalf of the pro-annexation usurpers: Wilder, Thurston, Carson, Marsden and Castle. A Hawaii governed by Hawaiians was history.

Princess Ka'iulani was devastated, but she did not go silently into obscurity. She was embittered knowing the men who had been her father’s erstwhile friends and her family's trusted advisors were the very men who plotted to rob her of her birthright. While she was at Harrowden, and then at Brighton, acquiring the education the haoli powers in Hawaii told her she needed if she were to rule, they were plotting with the Congress of the United States of America to make certain she never would. But they had given her the confidence and motive to raise her voice.

But this is not to be a political discourse, but the history of a most amazing woman about to step upon the international stage. She sought support and encouragement from her European and British friends, and then she sailed to the United States of America. Before she left, she issued the following statement to the Daily Press (courtesy of the Princess Ka'liuani Project):

"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?"

Her political opponents knew she was coming, and they launched a campaign to paint her as a barbarian, a short step above a cannibal. Garish cartoons of a primitive floozy appeared in the American press. Hawaii was portrayed as a backward country ruled by savages. No one mentioned that the streets of Honolulu had electricity before Washington, or that its last king had been the first foreign monarch to be honored at a State Dinner at the White House, albeit, by candlelight. They were expecting Jungle Girl, and this is what they got:

 The American press was stunned when the princess who was a linguist, an artist, and a fashion icon stood before the assembled press corps and spoke out against the annexation of her county. Said she:
"Seventy years ago Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawai'i. Today, three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capitol asking you to undo their father’s work. Who sent them? Who gave them the authority to break the Constitution which they swore they would uphold? Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with 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 seventy million people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine!"

Her words remind one of young Elizabeth R, whom she admired. She had the makings of a queen.   Ka'iulani was well received by the American President at the White House. Her efforts convinced him to delay annexation until situations stabilized. Ultimately, her efforts were doomed. Hawaii was too dear a prize to be left Ka'iulani and her mother's people. There were fortunes to be made.
When the Hawaiian flag was taken down, deposed Queen Liliukolani asked for its return and was ignored. When outraged Princess Ka’iulani was asked if she would be present at the raising of the American flag, her reply was ascorbic. She returned to England and lived in limbo for four years, devoting her efforts to charitable causes to benefit the native Hawaiian population. In 1897 she returned to the land of her birth. Even when formal annexation became inevitable, she remained a symbol of the pride and resilience of both of her ancestral peoples. She continued to be a vocal Hawaiian activist till her death on March 6, 1899, possibly of rheumatic fever.

According to local legend, her pet peacocks on her father’s estate at Ainahua screamed.

Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.
Her islands here in southern sun
Shall mourn their Ka’iulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid
But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwanted day,
And cast for once their tempest by
To smile in Ka’uilani’s eye

Robert Lewis Stevenson

Thank you for sharing this inspirational life.
Linda Fetterly Root

Linda Root is the author of seven historical novels centered on the life and times of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, and the early reign of her son James I of England. She is a former major crimes prosecutor and lives in the Morongo Basin area above Palm Springs. She is a member of the California and Supreme Court bars, the Marie Stuart Society, and the Board of the M.m.Bennetts Award.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: For more on the political climate of Ka'iulani's adult life and a glimpse of a revival of interest in her place in history, the author recommends: From Electric Scotland's Women in History of Scots Descent; and as well as the Princess Kaiulani Facebook page.


  1. This is a fascinating story.

  2. Wow. Pretty impressive post. I appreciate your research. Very few Americans know this story. I'm a UH grad Manoa and have studied Hawaiian history in the 19th century for some time. And the story of Kaiulani is well known to me. I'm currently researching RLS in Hawaii for a novella I'm writing. I first heard of Stevenson in Hawaii when I went to Hawaii to live in the 1970s. A replica of his house that once was set in Waikiki was not far from where I lived near the university and was used as a tea house. In what I've read, Stevenson was quite concerned about the climate in Scotland and Great Britain. The overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani is another story most Americans are unaware. A visit to Iolani Palace will cure that when a docent shows you where she was held in a small room for a several months before she was allowed to return to her home a block away. As for the royal kingdom, I'm currently reading 1887 directories. They are no different than ones found in San Francisco. Well done!

  3. Mahalo for the reference to my article on Electric Scotland. I would comment that the replica hale pili at Waioli Tea Room never really had anything to do with RLS...but was a matter of canny (and slightly dishonest) marketing. Stevenson certainly never lived in was probably just an outbuilding for staff at 'Ainahau. It was acquired in the 1920s as the property broke up. Stevenson may have visited Ka'iulani in her mother's old office (converted ro a playhouse for the Princess and her girlfriends)...but he and his family rented a house down the beach. The grass house owned by the Salvation Army was always just an attraction on the grounds of Waioli Tea Room (now sadly defunct, since the SA would not take out a liquor license to save their food and beverage operation) never a part of the tea room complex. It was marketed as Ka'iulani's in the early days, but morphed into "Robert Louis Stevenson's Grass Shack" over the years...probably because tourists would be more likely to know who he was. A bit of a genteel con.


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