Owyhee.- Sandwich Islanders- Their Nautical Talents.- Tamaahmaah. -His Navy.- His
Negotiations.- Views of Mr. Astor With Respect to the Sandwich Islands- Karakakooa.-
Royal Monopoly of Pork.- Description of the Islanders-Gayeties on Shore.- Chronicler of
the Island. -Place Where Captain Cook was Killed.- John Young, a Nautical Governor.-
His Story.- Waititi - A Royal Residence.- A Royal Visit - Grand Ceremonials.- Close
Dealing- A Royal Pork Merchant- Grievances of a Matter-of-Fact Man.
OWYHEE, or Hawaii, as it is written by more exact orthographers, is the largest of the
cluster, ten in number, of the Sandwich Islands. It is about ninety-seven miles in length,
and seventy-eight in breadth, rising gradually into three pyramidal summits or cones;
the highest, Mouna Roa, being eighteen thousand feet above the level of the sea, so as
to domineer over the whole archipelago, and to be a landmark over a wide extent of
ocean. It remains a lasting monument of the enterprising and unfortunate Captain
Cook, who was murdered by the natives of this island.
The Sandwich Islanders, when first discovered, evinced a character superior to most of
the savages of the Pacific isles. They were frank and open in their deportment, friendly
and liberal in their dealings, with an apt ingenuity apparent in all their rude inventions.
The tragical fate of the discoverer, which, for a time, brought them under the charge of
ferocity, was, in fact, the result of sudden exasperation, caused by the seizure of their
At the time of the visit of the Tonquin, the islanders had profited, in many respects, by
occasional intercourse with white men; and had shown a quickness to observe and
cultivate those arts important to their mode of living. Originally they had no means of
navigating the seas by which they were surrounded, superior to light pirogues, which
were little competent to contend with the storms of the broad ocean. As the islanders
are not in sight of each other, there could, therefore, be but casual intercourse between
them. The traffic with white men had put them in possession of vessels of superior
description; they had made themselves acquainted with their management, and had
even made rude advances in the art of ship-building.
These improvements had been promoted, in a great measure, by the energy and
sagacity of one man, the famous Tamaahmaah. He had originally been a petty eri, or
chief; but, being of an intrepid and aspiring nature, he had risen in rank, and, availing
himself of the superior advantages now afforded in navigation, had brought the whole
archipelago in subjection to his arms. At the time of the arrival of the Tonquin he had
about forty schooners, of from twenty to thirty tons burden, and one old American ship.
With these he held undisputed sway over his insular domains, and carried on
intercourse with the chiefs or governors whom he had placed in command of the
The situation of this group of islands, far in the bosom of the vast Pacific, and their
abundant fertility, render them important stopping-places on the highway to China, or to
the northwest coast of America. Here the vessels engaged in the fur trade touched to
make repairs and procure provisions; and here they often sheltered themselves during
the winters that occurred in their long coasting expeditions.
The British navigators were, from the first, aware of the value of these islands to the
purposes of commerce; and Tamaahmaah, not long after he had attained the sovereign
sway, was persuaded by Vancouver, the celebrated discoverer, to acknowledge, on
behalf of himself, and subjects, allegiance to the king of Great Britain. The reader
cannot but call to mind the visit which the royal family and court of the Sandwich
Islands was, in late years, induced to make to the court of St. James; and the serio-comic ceremonials and mock parade which attended that singular travesty of
It was a part of the wide and comprehensive plan of Mr. Astor to establish a friendly
intercourse between these islands and his intended colony, which might, for a time,
have occasion to draw supplies thence; and he even had a vague idea of, some time or
other, getting possession of one of their islands as a rendezvous for his ships, and a
link in the chain of his commercial establishments.
On the evening of the 12th of February, the Tonquin anchored in the bay of
Karakakooa, in the island of Owyhee. The surrounding shores were wild and broken,
with overhanging cliffs and precipices of black volcanic rock. Beyond these, however,
the country was fertile and well cultivated, with inclosures of yams, plantains, sweet
potatoes, sugar-canes, and other productions of warm climates and teeming soils; and
the numerous habitations of the natives were pleasantly sheltered beneath clumps of
cocoanut and bread-fruit trees, which afforded both food and shade. This mingled
variety of garden and grove swept gradually up the sides of the mountains, until
succeeded by dense forests, which in turn gave place to naked and craggy rocks, until
the summits rose into the regions of perpetual snow.
The royal residence of Tamaahmaah was at this time at another island named
Woahoo. The island of Owyhee was under the command of one of his eris, or chiefs,
who resided at the village of Tocaigh, situated on a different part of the coast from the
bay of Karakakooa.
On the morning after her arrival, the ship was surrounded by canoes and pirogues,
filled with the islanders of both sexes, bringing off supplies of fruits and vegetables,
bananas, plantains, watermelons, yams, cabbages and taro. The captain was desirous,
however, of purchasing a number of hogs, but there were none to be had -The trade in
pork was a royal monopoly, and no subject of the great Tamaahmaah dared to meddle
with it. Such provisions as they could furnish, however, were brought by the natives in
abundance, and a lively intercourse was kept up during the day, in which the women
mingled in the kindest manner.
The islanders are a comely race, of a copper complexion. The men are tall and well
made, with forms indicating strength and activity; the women with regular and
occasionally handsome features, and a lascivious expression, characteristic of their
temperament. Their style of dress was nearly the same as in the days of Captain Cook.
The men wore the maro, a band one foot in width and several feet in length, swathed
round the loins, and formed of tappa, or cloth of bark; the kihei, or mantle, about six
feet square, tied in a knot over one shoulder, passed under the opposite arm, so as to
leave it bare, and falling in graceful folds before and behind, to the knee, so as to bear
some resemblance to a Roman toga.
The female dress consisted of the pau, a garment formed of a piece of tappa, several
yards in length and one in width, wrapped round the waist, and reaching like a
petticoat, to the knees. Over this kihei, or mantle, larger than that of the men,
sometimes worn over both shoulders, like a shawl, sometimes over one only. These
mantles were seldom worn by either sex during the heat of the day, when the exposure
of their persons was at first very revolting to a civilized eye.
Towards evening several of the partners and clerks went on shore, where they were
well received and hospitably entertained. A dance was performed for their amusement,
in which nineteen young women and one man figured very gracefully, singing in
concert, and moving to the cadence of their song.
All this, however, was nothing to the purpose in the eyes of Captain Thorn, who, being
disappointed in his hope of obtaining a supply of pork, or finding good water, was
anxious to be off. This it was not so easy to effect. The passengers, once on shore,
were disposed, as usual, to profit by the occasion. The partners had many inquiries to
make relative to the island, with a view to business; while the young clerks were
delighted with the charms and graces of the dancing damsels.
To add to their gratifications, an old man offered to conduct them to the spot where
Captain Cook was massacred. The proposition was eagerly accepted, and all hands
set out on a pilgrimage to the place. The veteran islander performed his promise
faithfully, and pointed out the very spot where the unfortunate discoverer fell. The rocks
and cocoa-trees around bore record of the fact, in the marks of the balls fired from the
boats upon the savages. The pilgrims gathered round the old man, and drew from him
all the particulars he had to relate respecting this memorable event; while the honest
captain stood by and bit his nails with impatience. To add to his vexation, they
employed themselves in knocking off pieces of the rocks, and cutting off the bark of the
trees marked by the balls, which they conveyed back to the ship as precious relics.
Right glad, therefore, was he to get them and their treasures fairly on board, when he
made sail from this unprofitable place, and steered for the Bay of Tocaigh, the
residence of the chief or governor of the island, where he hoped to be more successful
in obtaining supplies. On coming to anchor the captain went on shore, accompanied by
Mr. M'Dougal and Mr. M'Kay, and paid a visit to the governor. This dignitary proved to
be an old sailor, by the name of John Young; who, after being tossed about the seas
like another Sinbad, had, by one of the whimsical freaks of fortune, been elevated to
the government of a savage island. He received his visitors with more hearty familiarity
than personages in his high station are apt to indulge, but soon gave them to
understand that provisions were scanty at Tocaigh, and that there was no good water,
no rain having fallen in the neighborhood in three years.
The captain was immediately for breaking up the conference and departing, but the
partners were not so willing to part with the nautical governor, who seemed disposed to
be extremely communicative, and from whom they might be able to procure some
useful information. A long conversation accordingly ensued, in the course of which they
made many inquiries about the affairs of the islands, their natural productions, and the
possibility of turning them to advantage in the way of trade; nor did they fail to inquire
into the individual history of John Young, and how he came to be governor. This he
gave with great condescension, running through the whole course of his fortunes "even
from his boyish days."
He was a native of Liverpool, in England, and had followed the sea from boyhood, until,
by dint of good conduct, he had risen so far in his profession as to be boatswain of an
American ship called the Eleanor, commanded by Captain Metcalf. In this vessel he
had sailed in 1789, on one of those casual expeditions to the northwest coast, in quest
of furs. In the course of the voyage, the captain left a small schooner, named the Fair
American, at Nootka, with a crew of five men, commanded by his son, a youth of
eighteen. She was to follow on in the track of the Eleanor.
In February, 1790, Captain Metcalf touched at the island of Mowee, one of the
Sandwich group. While anchored here, a boat which was astern of the Eleanor was
stolen, and a seaman who was in it was killed. The natives, generally, disclaimed the
outrage, and brought the shattered remains of the boat and the dead body of the
seaman to the ship. Supposing that they had thus appeased the anger of the captain,
they thronged, as usual, in great numbers about the vessel, to trade. Captain Metcalf,
however, determined on a bloody revenge. The Eleanor mounted ten guns. All these he
ordered to be loaded with musket-balls, nails, and pieces of old iron, and then fired
them, and the small arms of the ship, among the natives. The havoc was dreadful; more
than a hundred, according to Young's account, were slain.
After this signal act of vengeance, Captain Metcalf sailed from Mowee, and made for
the island of Owyhee, where he was well received by Tamaahmaah. The fortunes of
this warlike chief were at that time on the rise. He had originally been of inferior rank,
ruling over only one or two districts of Owyhee, but had gradually made himself
sovereign of his native island.
The Eleanor remained some few days at anchor here, and an apparently friendly
intercourse was kept up with the inhabitants. On the 17th March, John Young obtained
permission to pass the night on shore. On the following morning a signal-gun
summoned him to return on board.
He went to the shore to embark, but found all the canoes hauled up on the beach and
rigorously tabooed, or interdicted. He would have launched one himself, but was
informed by Tamaahmaah that if he presumed to do so he would be put to death.
Young was obliged to submit, and remained all day in great perplexity to account for
this mysterious taboo, and fearful that some hostility was intended. In the evening he
learned the cause of it, and his uneasiness was increased. It appeared that the
vindictive act of Captain Metcalf had recoiled upon his own head. The schooner Fair
American, commanded by his son, following in his track, had fallen into the hands of
the natives to the southward of Tocaigh Bay, and young Metcalf and four of the crew
had been massacred.
On receiving intelligence of this event, Tamaahmaah had immediately tabooed all the
canoes, and interdicted all intercourse with the ship, lest the captain should learn the
fate of the schooner, and take his revenge upon the island. For the same reason he
prevented Young from rejoining his countrymen. The Eleanor continued to fire signals
from time to time for two days, and then sailed; concluding, no doubt, that the
boatswain had deserted.
John Young was in despair when he saw the ship make sail; and found himself
abandoned among savages;-and savages, too, sanguinary in their character, and
inflamed by acts of hostility. He was agreeably disappointed, however, in experiencing
nothing but kind treatment from Tamaahmaah and his people. It is true, he was
narrowly watched whenever a vessel came in sight, lest he should escape and relate
what had passed; but at other times he was treated with entire confidence and great
distinction. He became a prime favorite, cabinet counsellor, and active coadjutor of
Tamaahmaah, attending him in all his excursions, whether of business or pleasure, and
aiding in his warlike and ambitious enterprises. By degrees he rose to the rank of a
chief, espoused one of the beauties of the island, and became habituated and
reconciled to his new way of life; thinking it better, perhaps, to rule among savages
than serve among white men; to be a feathered chief than a tarpaulin boatswain. His
favor with Tamahmaah, never declined; and when that sagacious, intrepid, and aspiring
chieftain had made himself sovereign over the whole group of islands, and removed his
residence to Woahoo, he left his faithful adherent John Young in command of Owyhee.
Such is an outline of the history of Governor Young, as furnished by himself; and we
regret that we are not able to give any account of the state maintained by this seafaring
worthy, and the manner in which he discharged his high functions; though it is evident
he had more of the hearty familiarity of the forecastle than the dignity of the
These long conferences were bitter trials to the patience of the captain, who had no
respect either for the governor or his island, and was anxious to push on in quest of
provisions and water. As soon as he could get his inquisitive partners once more on
board, he weighed anchor, and made sail for the island of Woahoo, the royal residence
This is the most beautiful island of the Sandwich group. It is forty-six miles in length
and twenty-three in breadth. A ridge of volcanic mountains extends through the centre,
rising into lofty peaks, and skirted by undulating hills and rich plains, where the cabins
of the natives peep out from beneath groves of cocoanut and other luxuriant trees.
On the 21st of February the Tonquin cast anchor in the beautiful bay before the village
of Waititi, (pronounced Whyteetee.) the abode of Tamaahmaah. This village contained
about two hundred habitations, composed of poles set in the ground, tied together at
the ends, and thatched with grass, and was situated in an open grove of cocoanuts.
The royal palace of Tamaahmaah was a large house of two stories; the lower of stone,
the upper of wood. Round this his body-guard kept watch, composed of twenty-four
men in long blue cassocks, turned up with yellow, and each armed with a musket.
While at anchor at this place, much ceremonious visiting and long conferences took
place between the potentate of the islands and the partners of the company.
Tamaahmaah came on board of the ship in royal style, in his double pirogue. He was
between fifty and sixty years of age, above the middle size, large and well made,
though somewhat corpulent. He was dressed in an old suit of regimentals, with a sword
by his side, and seemed somewhat embarrassed by his magnificent attire. Three of his
wives accompanied him. They were almost as tall, and quite as corpulent as himself;
but by no means to be compared with him in grandeur of habiliments, wearing no other
garb than the pan. With him, also, came his great favorite and confidential counseller,
Kraimaker; who, from holding a post equivalent to that of prime minister, had been
familiarly named Billy Pitt by the British visitors to the islands.
The sovereign was received with befitting ceremonial. The American flag was
displayed, four guns were fired, and the partners appeared in scarlet coats, and
conducted their illustrious guests to the cabin, where they were regaled with wine. In
this interview the partners endeavored to impress the monarch with a sense of their
importance, and of the importance of the association to which they belonged. They let
him know that they were eris, or chiefs, of a great company about to be established on
the northwest coast, and talked of the probability of opening a trade with his islands,
and of sending ships there occasionally. All this was gratifying and interesting to him,
for he was aware of the advantages of trade, and desirous of promoting frequent
intercourse with white men. He encouraged Europeans and Americans to settle in his
islands and intermarry with his subjects. There were between twenty and thirty white
men at that time resident in the island, but many of them were mere vagabonds, who
remained there in hopes of leading a lazy and an easy life. For such Tamaahmaah had
a great contempt; those only had his esteem and countenance who knew some trade or
mechanic art, and were sober and industrious.
On the day subsequent to the monarch's visit, the partners landed and waited upon him
in return. Knowing the effect of show and dress upon men in savage life, and wishing to
make a favorable impression as the eris, or chiefs, of the great American Fur Company,
some of them appeared in Highland plaids and kilts to the great admiration of the
While visits of ceremony and grand diplomatic conferences were going on between the
partners and the king, the captain, in his plain, matter-of-fact way, was pushing what he
considered a far more important negotiation; the purchase of a supply of hogs. He
found that the king had profited in more ways than one by his intercourse with white
men. Above all other arts he had learned the art of driving a bargain. He was a
magnanimous monarch, but a shrewd pork merchant; and perhaps thought he could not
do better with his future allies, the American Fur Company, than to begin by close
dealing. Several interviews were requisite, and much bargaining, before he could be
brought to part with a bristle of his bacon, and then he insisted upon being paid in hard
Spanish dollars; giving as a reason that he wanted money to purchase a frigate from
his brother George, as he affectionately termed the king of England. *
At length the royal bargain was concluded; the necessary supply of hogs obtained,
besides several goats, two sheep, a quantity of poultry, and vegetables in abundance.
The partners now urged to recruit their forces from the natives of this island. They
declared they had never seen watermen equal to them, even among the voyageurs of
the Northwest; and, indeed, they are remarkable for their skill in managing their light
craft, and can swim and dive like waterfowl. The partners were inclined, therefore, to
take thirty or forty with them to the Columbia, to be ernployed in the service of the
company. The captain, however, objected that there was not room in his vessel for the
accommodation of such a number. Twelve, only, were therefore enlisted for the
company, and as many more for the service of the ship. The former engaged to serve
for the term of three years, during , which they were to be fed and clothed; and at the
expiration of the time were to receive one hundred dollars in merchandise.
And now, having embarked his live-stock, fruits, vegetables, and water, the captain
made ready to set sail. How much the honest man had suffered in spirit by what he
considered the freaks and vagaries of his passengers, and how little he had
understood their humors and intentions, is amusingly shown in a letter written to Mr.
Astor from Woahoo, which contains his comments on the scenes we have described.
"It would be difficult," he writes, "to imagine the frantic gambols that are daily played off
here; sometimes dressing in red coats, and otherwise very fantastically, and collecting
a number of ignorant natives around them, telling them that they are the great eris of
the Northwest, and making arrangements for sending three or four vessels yearly to
them from the coast with spars, &c.; while those very natives cannot even furnish a hog
to the ship. Then dressing in Highland plaids and kilts, and making similar
arrangements, with presents of rum, wine, or anything that is at hand. Then taking a
number of clerks and men on shore to the very spot on which Captain Cook was killed,
and each fetching off a piece of the rock or tree that was touched by the shot. Then
sitting down with some white man or some native who can be a little understood, and
collecting the history of those islands, of Tamaahmaah's wars, the curiosities of the
islands, &c., preparatory to the histories of their voyages; and the collection is indeed
ridiculously contemptible. To enumerate the thousand instances of ignorance, filth, &c.,
- or to particularize all the frantic gambols that are daily practiced, would require
Before embarking, the great eris of the American Fur Company took leave of their
illustrious ally in due style, with many professions of lasting friendship and promises of
future intercourse; while the matter-of-fact captain anathematized him in his heart for a
grasping, trafficking savage; as shrewd and sordid in his dealings as a white man. As
one of the vessels of the company will, in the course of events, have to appeal to the
justice and magnanimity of this island potentate, we shall see how far the honest
captain was right in his opinion.
* It appears, from the accounts of subsequent voyagers, that Tamaahmaah afterwards
succeeded in his wish of purchasing a large ship. In this he sent a cargo of sandal-wood to Canton, having discovered that the foreign merchants trading with him made
large profits on this wood, shipped by them from the islands to the Chinese markets.
The ship was manned by natives, but the officers were Englishmen. She accomplished
her voyage, and returned in safety to the islands, with the Hawaiian flag floating
gloriously in the breeze. The king hastened on board, expecting to find his sandal-wood
converted into crapes and damasks, and other rich stuffs of China, but found, to his
astonishment, by the legerdemain of traffic, his cargo had all disappeared, and, in
place of it, remained a bill of charges amounting to three thousand dollars. It was some
time before he could be made to comprehend certain of the most important items of the
bill, such as pilotage, anchorage, and custom-house fees; but when he discovered that
maritime states in other countries derived large revenues in this manner, to the great
cost of the merchant, "Well," cried he, "then I will have harbor fees also." He
established them accordingly. Pilotage a dollar a foot on the draft of each vessel.
Anchorage from sixty to seventy dollars. In this way he greatly increased the royal
revenue, and turned his China speculation to account.