Robert Louis Stevenson in Hawaii

Note: Stevenson's original spellings of places have been used in this section.

The Hawaiian Islands

Lloyd Osbourne, RLS and King Kalakaua in the King's boathouse

Summary of movements:

1889

• 24 January 1889, arrives in Honolulu on the Casco
• 24 – 27 January, at Henry Poor’s house, 40 Queen Emma Street, Honolulu
• 27 January – c. 2 February, at Manuia Lanai (Henry Poor’s bungalow), Waikiki
• c. 2 February – 26 April, at a rented house next to Poor’s, Waikiki
• 26 – 27 April, sailing to the island of Hawaii (Big Island)
• 27 April – 2 May, at Hookena on the ‘kona coast’ of Hawaii
• 2 – 3 May, sailing to Honolulu
• 3 – 22 May, at the house in Waikiki
• 21 – 22 May, sailing to Kilaupapa on Molokai
• 22 – 28 May, at Kalawao
• 28 – 29 May, at Kamalo (in the house of Daniel and Hugh McCorriston) on the south coast of Moloka’i
• 28 – 31 May, at the house of Mr Meyer on top of the cliffs above Kaunakakai, further west on the south coast of Molokai
• 31 May – 1 June, sailing from Kaunakakai to Honolulu
• 1 – 24 June, at Waikiki
• 24 June, leaves Honolulu on the Equator

1893

• 12 – 20 September 1893, sailing from Samoa to Honolulu
• 20 September – 27 October, at Sans Souci Hotel Waikiki
• 27 October, leaves for Samoa

(i) Honolulu and Waikiki (1889)

RLS arrived in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, and stayed there for five months (24 January to 24 June 1890). There the Casco party met up with Fanny’s daughter Belle Strong with husband Joe and eight-year-old son, Austin, who had been living in Honolulu since 1882.

RLS was presented to King Kalakaua at the Iolani Palace and had a feast in the Boat House on 26 January and the King visited the Casco on 1 February. The King introduced RLS to his sister, Princess Likelike, her husband, Edinburgh-born Archibald Cleghorn, and their daughter and heir to the Hawaiian throne, 13-year-old Princess Ka'iulani, with whom RLS struck up a playful and paternalistic friendship.

King Kalakaua visits the Casco

For the first few days the Stevenson party stayed with Henry Poor and his mother Mrs Caroline Bush, at 40 Queen Emma Street, Honolulu (24-27 January). Then on 27 January 1890 they moved to Poor's bungalow, Manuia Lanai, at Waikiki, three miles east of Honolulu.

In early February Stevenson decided to send the Casco back to San Francisco and stay on to work in Hawaii. As a result he rented the house next to Henry Poor’s. This too was a one-storey “rambling house or set of houses” in a garden, centred on a lanai, “an open room or summer parlour, partly surrounded with venetian shutters, in part quite open, which is the living room” (Letter from RLS to Sidney Colvin, c. 8 March 1889, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol vi [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 265).

In Waikiki RLS finished The Wrong Box (1889), The Master of Ballantrae (1889), and the poems of Ballads (1890) and started work on The Ebb-Tide (1894).

(ii) The Kona Coast of Hawaii

Apart from the island of Oahu and its capital Honolulu, RLS also visited two of the other eight islands of Hawaii. On 26 April he left Honolulu alone on the steamer W.G. Hall and the next day landed at the village of Hookena on the west (or “kona”, i.e. leeward) coast of the “Big Island”. This island, also called Hawaii, is the largest and most south-easterly of the chain of eight Hawaiian islands. There he stayed a week at the home of a retired Hawaiian judge D. H. Nahinu. He arrived back in Honolulu on 3 May.

Stevenson’s account of his experiences on “the Kona Coast” were included in the letters published in magazines in 1891 but not in the version of In the South Seas edited by Sidney Colvin in 1896. The material was included in later collected editions: in the Swanston Edition (1912); the Vailima Edition (1923); and the Tusitala Edition (1924). In the latter it occupies chapters I, II, III and V of “The Eight Islands” section. The “Journal of the Kona Coast” has been published in Travels in Hawaii, ed. by A. Grove Day (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991).

The Kona Coast of Hawaii is the setting for most of “The Bottle Imp” (1891): Keawe is from Honaunau on the island of Hawaii in the mountains above Hookena. When he has the bottle, he builds a house there and meets Kokua nearby in Honaunau Bay. After catching leprosy he decides to buy back the bottle and takes the boat to Honolulu, where he tracks down the successive owners of the bottle, starting at Waikiki Beach and ending in Beritania Street in the centre of Honolulu.

(iii) Molokai

On 21 May RLS took the short sea voyage (aboard the Kilauea Hou) to the island of Moloka’i, just to the south-east of Oahu. Next morning he landed at Kilaupapa on west side of the Kalaupapa Peninsula (on the north coast of Molokai). He then walked to Kalawao on the east side of the peninsula. He slept here during his stay and regularly rode over to Kalaupapa on the other side of the Peninsula to visit the leper settlement, which had been overseen by Father Damien until his recent death on 15 April 1889.

Father Damien on his death bed

This experience impressed RLS so much that he wrote Father Damien (1890) in defence of the priest he had heard so much about on Molokai. An account of the leper colony was included in the 1891 letters published in magazines but these were excluded from In the South Seas edited by Sidney Colvin in 1896. The material was reprinted in volume 21 of the Tusitala Edition (1924).

RLS left Kalawao on 28 May and sailed in the Mokolii round to Pukoo on the steep south coast of Molokai, from there he rode to Kamalo, where he was the guest of Daniel and Hugh McCorriston. The following day he was taken along the cliff-foot westwards to Kaunakaki and then up to the clifftop home of Rudolph W. Meyer, where he stayed probably until 31 May, then took a steamer back to Honolulu probably from Kaunakaki.

(iv) Honolulu and Waikiki (1893)

Liliuokalani and RLS

In August 1893, RLS suffered from a serious lung haemorrhage and with a measles epidemic spreading, it was decided to go to a healthier spot for a time. RLS travelled with his cousin Graham Balfour and his Samoan cook Ta’alolo on the SS Mariposa from Apia, Samoa, to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands (12 – 20 September 1893). This was a convivial trip of conversations and joking among the passengers, with RLS fully joining in.

RLS stayed at the Sans Souci Hotel in Waikiki (20 September – 27 October 1893). The hotel, which had been opened earlier that year, was “a rambling beach hostelry nestled among coconut palm trees’ with a ramshackle wooden main building and ‘miniature thatched bungalows” for guest rooms (Sister Martha Mary McGraw, Stevenson in Honolulu [1959], from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol. viii [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 172n). Graham Balfour left for San Francisco on his way back to Scotland on 6 October.

Some time after arriving RLS fell seriously ill and as a consequence Fanny travelled there (arriving on 19 October) and they returned to Samoa together on 27 October on the S.S. Monowai.

RSL wrote in the hotel register: “If anyone desire such old-fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clear sea water, good food and heavenly sunsets hung out before their eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waiana, I recommend him cordially to the ‘Sans Souci’”(The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol viii [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 174n).

This section was provided by Richard Dury.

Image 1 courtesy of Capital Collections. Image 2 courtesy of Capital Collections. Image 3 courtesy of Capital Collections. Image 4 courtesy of Capital Collections