Volcanoes Erupt

In 18001801, Hualālai Volcano erupted above Ka‘ūpūlehu at an elevation of about 5,750 feet and sent lava flows to the ocean. Historic eruptions of Hualālai include three eruptions between 800 and 1100, an eruption around 1300. Both Mauna Kea and Hualālai Volcanoes are considered dormant but not extinct.

The towering Mauna Kea Volcano rises up more than six miles from the ocean bottom, and 13,796 feet above sea level. Measured from base to summit, Mauna Kea is more than 1,000 feet taller than Mount Everest, which is the tallest mountain on Earth measured from sea level. Mauna Kea’s last eruption occurred about 4,500 years ago.

Carpenter Survives Shipwreck

In April of 1822, the brig Hermes, a whaling ship on the way to Japan, ran aground in the leeward Hawaiian Islands on what is now called Pearl and Hermes Reef.

Carpenter James Robinson built a schooner from the wreckage and then sailed back to the main Hawaiian Islands. Robinson later remained in the Islands and became a prominent pioneer shipbuilder.

Royal Shipwreck in Hanalei Bay

On April 5, 1824, King Kamehameha II’s royal ship, the Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i (Prince of Hawai‘i) became shipwrecked at the mouth of the Wai‘oli River in Hanalei Bay. Built in 1816 in Salem, Massachusetts, the vessel was the first ocean-going yacht in the United States built solely for pleasure rather than commerce or war.

Known as a hermaphrodite brig, Cleopatra’s Barge had a main mast that was square-rigged while the fore and aft sails were rigged on the mizzen. Thousands of visitors came to see it being built in the Salem harbor.

The vessel cost about $50,000 to build and another $50,000 to furnish, measuring 100 feet along its deck and 83 feet long at its waterline. The ship had five staterooms, a large forecastle, and mahogany paneling inlaid with fine woods.

In November of 1820, King Kamehameha II (Kalaninui ‘Iolani Liholiho) purchased Cleopatra’s Barge for the promise of an amount of sandalwood totaling 8,000 piculs (sandalwood was selling for $10 per picul). The king renamed the ship Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i (Pride of Hawai‘i) and used it as a royal pleasure craft, ship-of-state, merchant vessel, and for interisland travels.

In 1824, King Kamehameha II was away on a journey to England with Queen Kamāmalu [Kamāmalunuiomano], when a royal crew sailed the Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i to Hanalei, Kaua‘i where it wrecked on the reef. A few days later a salvage attempt was made by a large number of Hawaiians who manufactured rope from hau and tied it to the base of the main mast,[i]

In 1995, marine archaeologists rediscovered the ship beneath the sand at the mouth of the Wai‘oli Stream. Recovered artifacts included poi pounders, a calabash gourd, a quartered whale’s tooth, gold-laced beads, an ivory ring, and many items that may have been part of King Kamehameha II’s wardrobe. American-made artifacts included a leather holster, a block and tackle (with rope), and musket balls.

Chinese artifacts recovered from the shipwreck included ceramics and tableware. During the last days of the 1996 recovery work, large sections of the ship’s hull were discovered.

The Saga of the Kamehameha and the Becket

On December 2, 1829, the ships Kamehameha and Becket left the Hawaiian Islands in search of sandalwood in the South Pacific (New Hebrides). The ships were outfitted by Boki (Kamā‘ule‘ule), who was Governor of O‘ahu under King Kamehameha II (Kalaninui ‘Iolani Liholiho).

The Kamehameha and Becket became separated somewhere near the Fiji group. Then the Kamehameha perished in a fire apparently started by someone who was smoking and accidentally ignited gunpowder in the hold.

The crew of 250 died, along with Boki. The crew of the Becket, decimated by disease and other mishaps, finally returned to Honolulu on August 3, 1830 with just 20 survivors.

Renowned Botanist Dies in Cattle Pit

In 1834, Scottish botanist David Douglas, for whom the Douglas fir tree was named, was found dead in a hole dug into the ground as a trap for wild cattle.

Tsunami Strikes Hilo

On November 7, 1837, a earthquake in Chile generated a tsunami that made its way toward the Hawaiian Islands. In Kahului, Maui the beach mysteriously began to drain away, and people rushed out to pick up stranded fish. Minutes later a tsunami arrived.

People, livestock, canoes, and the village’s 26 grass houses were all swept inland and deposited in a small lake. In Hilo, 100 houses were destroyed. In all, at least 15 people in the Hawaiian Islands were killed.

The Sinking of the Paalua

The Paalua was built by Frenchman John Bernard, who started the first commercial coffee plantation in the Hawaiian Islands in Hanalei, Kaua‘i with British subject Godfrey Rhodes when they obtained a 50-year Government lease of 150 acres of land near the Hanalei River in 1842.

In 1845, Bernard was returning from Honolulu on the schooner, Paalua when the ship sank off of Hanalei Bay in a heavy squall just a few hundred yards from shore. Bernard and several others died. Several Hawaiians on the boat were able to swim to shore.

Hurricane Hits Maui

In 1850, an unnamed storm, likely a hurricane, hit Lahaina, Maui. The hurricane destroyed an estimated 100 homes including the king’s palace, and killed at least five people aboard the ship Sophia.

Mauna Loa Eruptions

In 1852, a Mauna Loa lava flow came within seven miles of Hilo. In 1868, a lava flow from Mauna Loa Volcano entered the Pacific Ocean to the west of South Point in Kā‘ū.

The volcanic activity also formed the 240-foot high littoral cone known as Pu‘uhou (“New hill”[ii]). In 1877 lava from Mauna Loa’s summit crater flowed through the Kona district and into the sea near Ka‘awaloa.

Mauna Loa Volcano is the most massive mountain on Earth, rising 13,677 feet above sea level, and descending another 18,000 feet below the sea. Mauna Loa’s total size is about 10,000 cubic miles, making it more than 100 times as large as Washington’s Mount Rainier.

In the last 1,100 years, Mauna Loa’s eruptions have poured lava over some 1,000 square miles, which is about half of the volcano’s total land area. Mauna Loa has erupted 37 times since 1832, and 14 times in the last 100 years.

Moku‘āweoweo, the summit caldera of Mauna Loa, is about three miles long, 1½ miles wide, and 600 feet deep, having filled in somewhat from its depth of more than 985 feet in 1794.

The Wreck of the Steamship West Point

In 1856, the steamship West Point was carrying a cargo of oranges when it wrecked on the rocks in a squall while leaving port at Kōloa, Kaua‘i. This was the first wreck of a steamship in the Hawaiian Islands.

Local Earthquake Causes Landslide and Tsunami

On April 2, 1868, an earthquake estimated to have a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale struck the south end of Hawai‘i Island. The quake caused a giant mudslide that killed hundreds of people and buried a small village, destroying nearly every European-style home in the Ka‘ū district.

The 1868 earthquake also generated what is known as a localized tsunami. Water reportedly surged ashore high enough to cover the tops of coconut trees, at least 60 feet high at some spots along the Ka‘ū coast.

The ancient village of ‘Āpua in Puna on Hawai‘i Island was swept away. The localized tsunami killed 48 people.

The Shipwreck of the U.S.S. Saginaw (1870)

On October 30, 1870, the U.S.S. Saginaw ran aground in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on the eastern reef of Kure Atoll, about 1,000 miles northwest of Kaua‘i. Waves smashed the ship in two, and the crew of 93 crawled over the fallen main mast to Kure’s lagoon where they survived by drinking rainwater and eating seals and birds.

The crew eventually decked-over the Saginaw’s 22-foot gig (a captain’s boat), and then fitted and provisioned the small vessel, and five of the crew members sailed for help on November 18, 1870. Storm-tossed and weather-beaten, the crew lost their oars and their provisions were ruined by ocean water. The captain of the tiny craft caught dysentery.

The small vessel foundered off of Hanalei Bay 31 days later with the exhausted crew, and was rolled over by the rough ocean swell. Two of the crew members were swept away by waves and drowned. The captain, drenched in his heavy clothing, held onto the hull for a short time, but soon lost hold and also perished.

By sunrise the tiny craft had drifted down the coast to Kalihiwai where coxswain William Halford made it to shore, also pulling to shore the other survivor, who then died on the beach. King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] was soon informed of the situation, and promptly dispatched the vessel Kīlauea to Kure. On January 3, 1871, the stranded crew of the U.S.S. Saginaw was rescued.

In August of 2003, marine archaeologists diving in a reef channel at Kure discovered the wreck of the 155-foot Saginaw. The divers identified the vessel after finding a series of metal artifacts including large iron anchors and heavily encrusted cannons.

Hurricane Hits Islands

On August 9, 1871, an unnamed hurricane hit the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, and Moloka‘i. The hurricane caused an estimated $10,000 in damage and destroyed about 150 houses.

Tsunami Strikes Hawai‘i Island

On May 9, 1877, a large earthquake occurred near Peru, generating a tsunami that arrived in Hilo before dawn. The tsunami destroyed 37 houses and killed five people. Many more were injured.

Eruption Threatens Hilo, Princess Responds

In 1880, a lava flow from Mauna Loa Volcano took 280 days to reach the edge of Hilo, causing great concern. King Kamehameha’s granddaughter, Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani, traveled to the area and offered chants and gifts. This is said to have supplicated the wrath of the volcano goddess Pele, and the lava flows stopped just on the edge of town.

Fire Engulfs Chinatown

In 1886, a three-day fire engulfed eight blocks of Honolulu’s Chinatown district and burned the homes of 7,000 Chinese and 350 Hawaiians, causing about $1.5 million in damage.

Balloon Flight is First Air Fatality in the Hawaiian Islands

On November 2, 1889, Joseph Van Tassel completed the first successful manned hot-air balloon flight in the Hawaiian Islands. Taking off from O‘ahu’s Kapi‘olani Park, Van Tassel ascended to an altitude of one mile and then parachuted back to Earth.

Less than three weeks later, on November 18, Van Tassel attempted the same thing from Punchbowl, but drowned when winds blew him off course and he landed in Ke‘ehi Lagoon. This was the first air fatality in the Hawaiian Islands.

Four Drowned in Three Hour Downpour

In 1898, three hours of torrential downpours bring seven inches of rain in Honolulu flooding Nu‘uanu and Pauoa valleys, killing four people and leaving 300 people without homes.

[i] p. 102, Joesting, Edward. Kauai: The Separate Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press, 1984.

[ii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.