Admiral Richard Thomas
Hawaiian Kingdom Sovereignty Restoration Day
July 31 Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea
Sovereignty was restored to
King Kamehameha III by Great Britain via Admiral Richard Thomas
In 1840, a land dispute between Mr. Richard Charlton, the first British ambassador to Hawaiʻi, and the Hawaiian Kingdom would spark the infamous “Paulet episode” which led to the forced cession of the Hawaiian Islands to Britain in 1843.
Of the lands claimed by Charlton, there was no disagreement over the land parcel, Wailele, on which Charlton lived. However, an adjoining parcel that he claimed, named Pūlaholaho, had been occupied since 1826 by retainers and heirs of Ka‘ahumanu, the kuhina nui (prime minister) until her death in 1832. These lands are located makai of Merchant Street, between Fort Street and Nuʻuanu Avenue.
Kamehameha III eventually rejected Charlton’s claim citing the fact that Kalanimoku, who went on to succeed Ka‘ahumanu as kuhina nui, did not, at that time, have the authority to grant the contentious lease to Charlton. Furthermore, since 1826, Ka‘ahumanu’s heirs had built houses on the land without objection from Charlton, so the proper time to present his objection had long lapsed.
In September of 1842, nearly two years after his rejected land claim, Counsel Charlton set sail for London via Mexico to press his case against the Hawaiian government.
Two months prior to Charlton’s departure from Hawaiʻi, King Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli, in an effort to secure national independence for Hawaiʻi sent a diplomatic envoy to seek international recognition of Hawai‘i’s sovereignty as a nation state from Britain, France, and the United States. The king’s private secretary, Timothy Ha‘alilio and the King’s long-time advisor, William Richards, were chosen to be Hawai‘i’s emissaries. Joining Ha‘alilio and Richards was Sir George Simpson, the North American governor-in-chief of the Hudson Bay Company. Simpson left for England via Alaska and Siberia while Mr. Richards and Mr. Ha‘alilio departed for the United States via Mexico on July 8, 1842.
Lord George Paulet, a captain in the British Navy, was in Mexico when Counsel Charlton arrived. Having Lord Paulet’s audience, Charlton voiced his complaints about the poor treatment he and other Englishmen had received in Hawai‘i and promoted the idea of annexation.
Admiral Richard Thomas, commander of British naval forces in the Pacific, sent Lord George Paulet to Hawai‘i to investigate Counsel Charlton’s claims. Captain Paulet arrived in Hawai‘i on February 10, 1843. He appeared quite set in his mind that Hawaiʻi was for the taking. In facing Paulet’s outrageous demands and threat of gun-boat diplomacy, Kauikeaouli ceded Hawai‘i under protest and appeal to the Queen of Britain on February 25, 1843.
During the five months of British occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Haʻalilio and Richards continued on with their mission in Europe with Sir George Simpson. On the twenty-sixth day of July, approximately six months after Paulet’s arrival, the British ship Dublin, carrying Rear Admiral Thomas of the British Navy, entered Honolulu harbor to make things right.
On July 31, 1843, Thomas officially restored the Hawaiian Kingdom government to Kamehameha III. In a grand ceremony, the Union Jack was lowered and the beloved Hawaiian flag was raised. This historic ceremony took place in the area known today as Thomas Square Park which is named after Admiral Thomas. The High Chiefess Princess Elizabeth Kekaʻaniau Laʻanui was 9 years old and was present with the king and the other royal children to celebrate this occasion. She passed through the town in the royal procession waving her flag with the rest of her cousins. She had dinner that night with Admiral Thomas and the royal children sang the restoration anthem.
On the same day, addressing his people on the front stairs of Kawaiahaʻo Church, Kamehameha III uttered these famous words in response to the restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono” – The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.