WAIKIKI is now a suburb of Honolulu as well as a boisterous holiday destination. Its tourist attractions are obvious – glorious white sand beaches and magnificent wave surges which are a surfer’s dream, together with a coastal road lined with luxury hotels, pizza parlours, cafés, hamburger joints and souvenir shops.

However, anyone tempted to stray into the areas where the Hawaiians themselves live might chance upon Cleghorn Street, a name which jars with the Polynesian street names nearby, and there their eye will fall on a plaque recording that where they are standing was once “Ainahu, ‘Land of the Cool Breezes’, Royal Estate of Victoria Kawekiu Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kaiulani Cleghorn, also known as Princess Kaiulani”. The visitor will stumble over the unpronounceable fourth name and may be puzzled by the first and last names. Victoria is an evident act of homage to Britain’s queen, who was her godmother, while the last name is her father’s. Archibald Cleghorn was a trader born in Edinburgh who married into Hawaii’s royal family when the islands were an independent kingdom.

Three adjacent streets in the neighbourhood are named Cleghorn, Tusitala and Princess Kaiulani. Tusitala was, of course, the name later given in Samoa to Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent five months in Hawaii in 1889 during which time he developed a close friendship with Cleghorn and his royal daughter, then aged 14 and known to history as “Hawaii’s Tragic Princess”. The estate, in spite of the plaque, was once Cleghorn’s, and RLS was a frequent visitor. He recalled fondly in a poem the spreading banyan tree where he used to sit with the young princess, telling her stories of Scotland and of his adventures on other Pacific islands. The tree is no longer there, but the authorities have left one field undeveloped and have allowed a tree to grow in the centre of it, as a memento of other times.

The National:

The Cleghorn family originally emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, but when Archibald was 16 they moved to Honolulu, capital of Hawaii, then an independent Polynesian kingdom. His father died soon after their arrival but Archibald, an enterprising lad o’ pairts, set up a chain of stores and indulged his passion for horticulture by introducing various species of tree and plant to the islands.

He did not spend all his time in these pursuits since by the age of 35 he had fathered three daughters with a woman known only as Elizabeth, but she found herself jilted when he married Miriam Likelike (pronounced Leakyleaky). When Likelike’s brother Kalakaua became king, she was given the title princess and Cleghorn was appointed to various important public offices. The couple moved out of town to their estate in Waikiki, where they built a palatial residence. They had one daughter.

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RLS arrived in Honolulu on board the yacht Casco on which he had been cruising in the Pacific for the best part of a year. The voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii had been particularly perilous, with the masts threatening to break. As he wrote: “Our voyage up here was most disastrous – calms, squalls, head seas, waterspouts of rain, hurricane weather all about. We ran out of food and were quite given up for lost in Honolulu.”

THE yacht made it to land and the family found accommodation in the city centre. They were quickly introduced into the royal circle, the way having been prepared for them by Belle Osbourne, the daughter of Fanny, Stevenson’s wife, and her husband Joe Strong, who had become court artist. Stevenson and Fanny invited the royal party on to the Casco, where the meal was followed by song and dance. For his royal guest RLS read “Ticonderoga”, a Scottish ballad of his dealing with clan rivalry. He also presented the king with a golden pearl, and recited a sonnet he had written to accompany the gift. The concluding lines were, “To golden hands the golden pearl I bring / The ocean jewel to the Island King.”

King Kalahaua was a man of some refinement but also known, presumably behind his back, as the Merry Monarch. He astonished RLS by his capacity to down wines in quantities which would have put a sailor on Leith Walk to shame. In a letter to his friend Charles Baxter, RLS said that his health was so much improved that he could take the risk of sea-bathing, but went on “what is far more dangerous (is) entertaining and being entertained by his Majesty here, who is a very fine, intelligent fellow, but O Charles! what a crop for the drink! He carries it too like a mountain with a sparrow on his shoulders. We calculated five bottles of champagne in three hours and a half (afternoon) and the sovereign quite presentable, although perceptibly more dignified, at the end.” RLS later discovered that the king had an appointment for dinner that evening on a visiting warship and managed to take the prize for outdoing the naval officers in a drinking competition.

Relations with Kalahaua were cordial and RLS was a frequent guest in the various palaces in the islands. The summer palace in Kailua on what is commonly, if prosaically, known simply as the Big Island is now a museum whose walls are hung with portraits of the royal dynasty as they progressed in a few generations from warlords to sophisticated monarchs who made contact with European royalty and lived in a similar style. In one of the exhibition cases, they have a music box which was presented by RLS to his royal host. There was no tag to indicate the source of the present, but the custodians promised to make good that omission.

The summer residence is outdone in splendour by Iolani Palace in central Honolulu, built in a style described bizarrely as “American Florentine” and which would have been fit for an Italian duke in his city-state before Italian unification. There are photographs of the Stevenson family seated alongside the regal household and ministers, including Cleghorn.

RLS never let up writing and his output on Hawaii was considerable, his imagination moving deftly between Scotland and Polynesia. Among other writings, he completed The Master of Ballantrae, wrote a travelogue of the islands and authored two of his best short stories: The Bottle Imp and The Isle of Voices. He developed one of those paternal relations which were frequent in his life with the young Princess Kaiulani. Her biographers paint a fetching, perhaps unduly romanticised, picture of her seated under the banyan tree when RLS first made her acquaintance. In spite of her years, she was aware of her responsibilities as hostess and invited him to tea, suggesting that he bring his flute (actually a flageolet).

He replied in mock formal terms. “Dearest Child, I do most heartily welcome the opportunity to dine with you and your respected father on the evening of Tuesday, the 23 inst. I hope you have found time to read through the book which I have given you. Most respectfully, Robert L Stevenson.” The editors of Stevenson’s correspondence have cast doubts on the authenticity of this letter, which they judge “stilted”. They further point out that nowhere else did RLS use that form of signature, but he was given to playful formality, as when in Samoa he drew up a pseudo-official document assigning his birthday to young Annie Ide, whose own birthday fell on Christmas day.

The National:

These were happy days for RLS but there were shadows over Hawaii and over Kaiulani. The king had decided that the princess should be educated in England, and RLS was worried about the impact of the British climate on her already precarious health. He wrote two letters to friends in England, asking them to look out for her. He told William Low that “if you want to cease to be a republican see my little Kaiulani as she goes through. You will die a red: I wear the colours of that little royal maiden”. His farewell gift was a sonnet:

Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face,
The daughter of a double race ...
But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempest by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.

Her father accompanied her and they went to Edinburgh before she took up residence in Great Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire.

HAWAII’S more serious problem was the threat to her independence from American sugar planters who, behaving with imperial arrogance, compelled the king in 1887 to sign what is known as the “bayonet constitution”, depriving him of all real power. He died in 1891.

Stevenson returned briefly to Honolulu in 1893 and visited Cleghorn as well as the successor queen, who was living quietly. Aware of the danger to Hawaii’s future, he told Cleghorn that if he “could be of any service to the royal line, just drop me a line and I will come right back here”.

He never returned.

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When the queen attempted to restore Hawaii’s independence, she was put on trial and detained under armed guard in her own palace. The islands were officially annexed to the USA in 1898, four years after Stevenson’s death, but there were intermittent rebellions. Hopes were placed in Kaiulani, who was greeted as rightful heir when she returned from England in the year of annexation, but her health was poor and she died a year later, aged 24, officially of rheumatism, although contemporary commentators said she had lost all will to live.

She is buried in the Royal Mausoleum in Honolulu.