A King's Statue
by Betty Fullard-Leo
Hilo’s new King Kamehameha
I statue erected in Wailua Park.
Four massive bronze statues honor the great warrior
King Kamehamehathe original at Kapaau on
the Big island, a replica at Aliiolani Hale (the
judiciary building) in Honolulu, another in the Capitol
Building in Washington D.C. and the most recent, erected
in 1997 in Hilo, on the Big Island.
Curiously, the first statue of the king was conceived
to mark the centennial of the discovery
of Hawaii by Captain James Cook. In 1878 when
Walter Murray Gibson, a legislator for Lahaina, Maui,
proposed construction of the statue as a monument, his
rationalization was that Kamehameha was at Kealakekua
Bay to greet Captain Cook, and that this Hawaiian
chiefs great mind, though (he was) a mere youth
then, well appreciated the mighty changes that must
follow after the arrival of the white strangers.
In reality, it was Chief Kalaniopuu who was in
command at Kealakekua, while Kamehameha is thought to
have been about 20 years old at the time.
Gibson and four other community leaders were allotted
$10,000 to have the monument completed, but Gibson quickly
assumed responsibility for the task, sailing to the
Mainland where he met with Boston sculptor Thomas R.
Gould. From September 30, 1878 to January 24, 1880 when
the statue was shipped from Florence, Italy, Gould kept
Gibson informed of his progress through regular correspondence.
Photographs of the work were exchanged and suggestions
offered for changes.
On December 4, 1878 Gould wrote to Gibson: In
modeling the statue it will be very easy for me to lengthen
the feather cape as you suggest, and to extend the waist
cloth so as to cover the privates not as a clout but
as a falling drapery. In another instance, Gould
requested that the face be altered to conform to an
engraved portrait of the early king. Shortly after that,
a contract was confirmed with the other members of the
committee and with the cabinet council of the current
King Kalakaua, detailing that Gould would complete a
bronze statue of heroic size, about eight-and-a-half
feet tall, in twelve to fifteen months.
Gould rendered the statue in plaster in Boston and
shipped it to Europe to be cast in bronze. More questions
were sent from Florence, Italy, regarding the length
and shape of the spear. Gibson returned a sketch by
King Kalakaua illustrating needed changes in the point
of the spear and other adjustments.
Payments in $2,500 amounts were slow in coming, and
several times Gould mentioned the problem in his letters,
but finally he sent photographs of the completed statue,
which were framed and released to the newspapers. Reporters
from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser were quick to
complain about the statues footwear, which they
said resembled Grecian sandals, more than Hawaiian.
An additional $2,000 was allotted for construction of
a base for the statue, and Robert Lishman, a Honolulu
architect, hurried to complete the job in time for the
statue to be erected near the Judicial Building in Honolulu
in December, 1880.
The statue was shipped from Bremen on August 21, 1880
on the G.F. Handel, but by December no statue had arrived.
Finally, the third week in February, word came that
the Handel and all its cargo had sunk off the Falkland
Islands. King Kalakaua, touring his kingdom at the time,
told Big Island residents in Kohala the disappointing
news. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser reported that
at least one Hawaiian didnt seem to mind. D.S.
Hookano was quoted, We receive your words
with joy... May it please your Majesty...Let us remember
the Conqueror, Kamehameha I...It is good that we should
here raise a monument (on the Big Island) for him, as
this is his birthplace...I therefore subscribe towards
a monument in Kohala $100.
None-the-less, a replica was ordered for Honolulu using
$7,000 of the $12,000 insurance payment, and for an
additional $4,500 Gould also was contracted to design
four bronze plaques to cover the base of the pedestal,
which would show legendary incidents in the life of
King Kamehamehathe king greeting Captain Cook,
reviewing a fleet of war canoes, warding off five spears
at one time, and with a family in a peaceful scene representing
his Law of the Splintered Paddle. When Gould
died unexpectedly before completing the tablets, his
son Marshall assumed the task.
Then, in March 1882, Gibson heard a rumor that the
Kamehameha statue was aboard a British ship, Earl of
Dalhousie, in Honolulu Harbor. He hurried aboard and
discovered the original statue, minus the right hand,
with the spear broken and a hole in the feather cape,
in the possession of the ships Captain Jervis.
It seems Jervis had stopped in the Falklands with a
boat full of Portuguese immigrants en route to Hawaii,
where he saw the statue in front of a store. The story
was that it had been recovered by fishermen and taken
to Port Stanley. In Honolulu, Gibson paid $875 to Captain
Jervis for the damaged statue and ordered the necessary
At last, in January 1883, the British ship Aberaman
delivered the replacement statue and the bronze plates,
but it was now four years after the centennial celebration
of Cooks discovery of Hawaii. Gibson had
been appointed King Kalakauas prime minister.
It seemed a good idea to unveil the replica at Aliiolani
Hale in honor of the belated coronation of King Kalakaua.
On February 14, 1883, the king pulled a wire to lift
the Royal Standard and a Hawaiian flag from the impressive
statue, while the Royal Hawaiian Band played Hawaii
In May, 1883 the now repaired original statue was shipped
to Mahukona, accompanied by an honor guard of 118 men
on the Likelike. Workmen poured the cement base for
the new statue on a rise called Ainakea in the Kohala
District, but the cement hadnt hardened enough
by the time King Kalakaua arrived for the unveiling,
so the statue was suspended over the pedestal from a
sling under its arms attached to a crane. The band played,
Reverend E. Bond said a prayer, and at the kings
request Princess Kekaulike pulled the cord to unveil
this second statue on the afternoon of May 8.
The third Kamehameha I statue was commissioned after
statehood in 1959, when the new state was entitled to
install two statues in the U.S. Statuary Hall in Washington
DC. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, then a representative,
proposed a likeness of the warrior king, and 1965 a
Hawaii Legislative committee approved the choice
of it and a statue of Father Damien. The King Kamehameha
statue, reproduced by Ortho R. Fairbanks and Clarence
P. Curtis, became the first statue of a king, as well
as the largest statue to be displayed at the capitol.
The unveiling on April 15, 1969, was accompanied by
the blowing of a conch shell, a chanter, kahili bearers
and the presentation of leis.
Most recently, a fourth Kamehameha I statue, which
has a few odd quirks in its own history, was erected
at Wailoa State Park in June 1997. The Mamalahoe chapter
of the Kamehameha Alumni Association in Hilo had learned
years earlier that Princeville Corporation had an impressive
statue in storage on Kauai since 1963 that had
never been displayed. It seems the corporation had planned
to erect the statue, sculpted by R. Sandrin at the Fracaro
Foundry in Vicenza, Italy, at the entry to the resort
where all the streets are named after alii, Hawaiian
royalty. When the people of Kauai learned of the
plans, however, they protested because Kauai was
the one island Kamehameha the great had never conquered.
Princeville attempted to give the statue to the county,
but the proud Islanders did not want it in front of
their county buildings either.
The Kamehameha Alumni Association of Hilo had no such
prejudices. A spokesperson for the group, Jacquelyn
(Skylark) Rosetti, pointed out that Hilos history
is closely entertwined with Kamehameha I. Hilo was the
great kings first seat of government, 800 of his
war canoes were built in Hilo Bay, and the legendary
Naha stone, which he hefted as a teenager to fulfill
the prophecy that he would become king, is displayed
in Hilo. The community contributed $106,000 to crate
the king to Hilo, prepare the site and set up the statue.
Perhaps most impressive of all Kamehamehas likenesses,
this statue is 14 feet tall (18 feet if you count the
spear), weighs nearly five tons and is cast in red bronze
with a gold leaf cloak. The sandals were changed to
look more Hawaiian, and somewhere in the casting, the
great kings nose became a bit more Roman in shape.
In any case, it seems only fitting that the Big Island
is home to both the original King Kamehameha statue
and the grandest of all his statues.
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