Michael White in Hawai’i – King Kamehameha’s Tax Collector

The oral history continues:


Michael White had to get out of town fast. He’d been caught smuggling and it was only a matter of time before the authorities closed in on him. At this point, his narrative became rather spare. He said “thence went to Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i). [We] were 20 days on the passage, left the vessel there.

There were no ships going home [to England] from the Islands. Stayed there some time and finally shipped upon a Sandwich Man o’ War Brig named Kameahmeah (the King's name); I was First Lieutenant of her. We knocked around the islands gathering in the taxes. I was there from latter part of 1826 till May 1828.”


This last passage was deceptively interesting. According to White’s friend H. D. Barrows, White had been in the Sandwich Islands in 1816 prior to coming to Lower California. This makes the most sense. Why would it occur to Michael White, having missed his ship from Acapulco to London, that the best way to get to England would be to travel halfway around the world in the opposite direction? That’s just plain crazy, unless he’d been there before on a whaler.


The second part of that statement — that he couldn’t find a ship headed for England, so he signed onto a Hawaiian-owned brig — represents a fascinating period in Hawaiian history. King Kameahmeah the Great [1758-1819] united the kingdom of Hawai’i in 1810. Liholiho, known as King Kamehameha II [1797-1824] was his successor.


Unfortunately, Liholiho was best remembered for breaking the religious taboo that forbade members of the opposite sex from eating together, which he did in a very public manner, and his ideas about “modernizing” involved tearing down temples. That, combined with his early death, was enough to open the door to Protestant missionaries. In 1824, Liholiho and his favorite wife, Queen Kamamalu, a six-foot seven-inch chieftainess, contracted measles during a visit to England. They both died in London but their bodies were returned to Hawaii for burial.


Which brings us to the owner of the boat, the Kameahmeah. According to Bernice Judd, Voyages to Hawaii before 1860, 1929, the Kamehameha was a vessel owned by Boki, Hawaiian high chief, member of Kamehameha II suite on the voyage to England, 1823-25. Boki and his ship were mysteriously lost in 1829. But Boki had his own ideas about modernization – he imported coffee and sandalwood and sold cheap wine to European sailors, much to the chagrin of the missionaries.


During Michael White’s time in Hawai’i, the king was Kauikeaouli, better known as Kamehameha III, a younger son of Kamehameha I, and Kamehameha II’s brother. Kamehameha III went on to become Hawaii’s first Christian king and enjoyed a 29-year reign, the longest in Hawaiian history.


At any rate, thrown into this mix was Michael White, First Lieutenant of the King’s Man O’ War, in a period where Hawai’i was being run by regents. Kauikeaouli was only 11 when he ascended to the throne in 1825, 11 months after the death of Liholiho. For the next seven years, from 1824 to 1832, real political power was in the hands of his stern adoptive moth
er and regent, Queen Ka’ahumanu – and with Boki.


Which still didn’t solve Michael White’s desire to get home. Another opportunity presented itself: “Then Mr. [Richard] Charlton, the English Consul, had a Brig called the Dolly —he employed me to bring her to this coast as a trader, and to buy horses and send them there. My agreement with him was that if I could better myself here in California I was to stop.”


And “better himself” he did. It’s doubtful that he wanted to return to The Sandwich Islands at that point. Glen Dawson, who wrote the notes and introduction for the oral history recorded by Bancroft, included a footnote: “Bancroft, III, 146. lists an American brig, Dhaulle (or Dolly ?), William Warden, master, at Monterey, July 1829 from Honolulu; carried 47 horses to the Islands. Bancroft lists White's arrival in California as 1829 rather than 1828, but indicates some doubt as to the date of arrival. In any case when Bancroft wrote, White was a candidate for the title of the oldest living pioneer. 1758-1819.” Which I suppose is to mean that White was remembering events 50 years in the past and what’s a year or two relatively speaking?


And that brings us to 1829, and Miguel Blanco’s return to California.


~ by ravenjake on December 28, 2009.

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