Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff

Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff

by Stephen Dando-Collins


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On a January afternoon in 1893, men hunkered down behind sandbagged emplacements in the streets of Honolulu, with rifles, machine guns, and cannon ready to open fire. Troops and police loyal to the queen of the sovereign nation of Hawaii faced off against a small number of rebel Honolulu businessmen—American, British, German, and Australian. In between them stood hundreds of heavily armed United States sailors and marines. Just after 2:00 p.m., the first shot was fired, and a military coup began.

This is the true, tragic, and at times amazing story of the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii and her government. It’s also the story of a five-year police state regime in Hawaii following the overthrow, an attempted counter-coup by Hawaiians in 1895, and of how Hawaii became a United States possession.

In Taking Hawaii, award-winning author Stephen Dando-Collins (Standing Bear Is a PersonLegions of RomeTycoon’s War) reveals previously little-known facts uncovered during years of research on several continents, in the most dramatic and comprehensive chronicle of the end of Hawaii’s monarchy ever published. Using scores of firsthand accounts, this often minute-by-minute narrative also shows for the first time how the queen’s overthrow teetered on a knife’s edge, only to come about purely through bluff. Taking Hawaii reads like an exciting novel, yet this tale of a grab for power, of misjudgment and injustice, truly took place. Judge for yourself whether you think the queen of Hawaii was wronged, or was wrong.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497638082
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 08/26/2014
Pages: 358
Sales rank: 606,846
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Australian-born novelist Stephen Dando-Collins trained as a graphic artist and worked as a designer, copywriter, and later senior executive with leading advertising agencies before serving as chief operating officer for Australia at a US market research group. He has been a full-time author, editor, and researcher since 1996, dealing mostly with historical subjects. His acclaimed work of American history, Standing Bear Is a Person, telling the true story of an 1879 Nebraska legal case, was published in 2004. The first in his series of definitive histories of the Roman legions, Caesar’s Legion, based on more than thirty years of research, has found a broad audience around the world since it was published in 2002. The second in the series, Nero’s Killing Machine, was published in 2005, followed by Cleopatra’s Kidnappers in 2006 and Mark Antony’s Heroes in 2007. The Inquest, his debut novel, benefits from his expert knowledge of Rome and the Romans of the first century.

Read an Excerpt

Taking Hawaii

How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew The Hawaiian Monarchy In 1893, With A Bluff

By Stephen Dando-Collins


Copyright © 2012 Stephen Dando-Collins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-1429-1



Depending on who writes the history books, a failed revolution is an act of treason, while a successful revolution is a turning point in history. On the afternoon of Tuesday, January 17, 1893, tough-minded American adventurer John Good was determined that the revolution of which he was a part would make history for its success rather than its failure. And to that end he was prepared to shed blood if need be.

Good had been appointed ordnance officer of the rebel forces by the revolutionary leaders. During the late morning, he had supervised the unpacking of Springfield rifles and crates of ammunition that had been illicitly shipped into Honolulu, capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from the United States. Disguised as general merchandise, the shipment had been received by the importing firm of E. O. Hall and Sons, whose L-shaped hardware store occupied the south-eastern corner of Fort and King Streets in downtown Honolulu. In the back of the Hall and Sons store, Good and several companions had filled scores of leather bandoleers with rifle rounds. Then, in the yard behind the store, they loaded rifles and bandoleers onto a horse-drawn wagon.

The Hawaiian authorities were aware that the proprietors of Hall and Sons had previously been engaged in the illegal receipt of arms, so Good would not have been surprised to see a uniformed Honolulu policeman lounging in the Fort Street shadows nearby as 2.00 p.m. came and went. The policeman, like all members of the local constabulary, was a native Hawaiian. His uniform was dark blue, buttoned to the neck. The badge on his left breast and blue slouch hat bore the crown of the Hawaiian monarchy. Sure enough, the constable, who was unarmed, had been posted to keep an eye on Hall's store in case suspected rebels were using it as an arms depot.

John Good knew that the revolution was scheduled to start at 3.00 p.m., and it was his task to transfer the rifles and ammunition to the former Armory of the Honolulu Rifles Association on Beretania Street. Companies of rebel volunteers had been secretly ordered to assemble there prior to going into action against the Government Building near Palace Square at 3.00.

At 2.20, John Good and three companions climbed up onto the loaded wagon in Hall and Sons' yard. To drive the wagon, Good had chosen Ed Benner, a mature and experienced driver for Honolulu merchants Castle and Cooke. For guards, Good had selected Edwin Paris, an American, and Fritz Rowald, a German, and both were now toting loaded Springfield rifles as they seated themselves on the back of the wagon. At the same time, rebel Oscar White, another American, who was secretary and treasurer of Hall and Sons, drew back the gates that opened onto Fort Street from the Hall and Sons yard. Good, who sat on the bench seat on the driver's right, patted Benner on the back and ordered him to drive like the wind. The driver lashed his whip along the backs of his two horses. The horses jumped forward. And the wagon rolled toward the gate.

Good's timing was poor. Just as the wagon came through the gateway, the horse-drawn Fort Street trolley car appeared opposite the gate, having just crossed the King Street intersection. A dray was beside it, going in the other direction. The way was completely blocked. At this same moment, the watching policeman came hurrying up, and grabbed at the wagon's reins.

"Halt!" the policeman ordered.

Benner was forced to rein in his horses. Beside him, John Good drew a revolver from his belt. Seeing this, the constable blew his police whistle. Four more uniformed Hawaiian police officers, all of them big men, had been stationed a little further along Fort Street, watching the law offices of William O. Smith, a suspected rebel. Summoned by the whistle, all four came at the run. The first cop to arrive grabbed the bit of the nearest horse. The next officer began climbing up beside the driver to take over the reins; Benner immediately reacted by lashing him with his whip, sending the policeman sprawling back onto the roadway on his back. Two policemen who ran to the rear of the wagon found themselves staring down the barrels of rifles leveled at them by Paris and Rowald. In the face of the guns, these two cops backed off.

As coincidence would have it, two more rebels stood on the rear platform of the small, open Fort Street trolley car, heading for the rebel meeting place just down the street at the Smith law offices. American-born and thirty-five years old, John A. McCandless had lived in Hawaii for twelve years, where, together with his two brothers, he had made a small fortune drilling artesian wells. His trolley car companion was a tailor by the name of Martin. The tailor promptly drew a pistol from his belt and brazenly aimed it at the policeman who had grabbed the horse bit. This officer fearfully let go of the bit and raised his hands.

At this moment, McCandless, on the street car, and Oscar White at the Hall and Sons gates, both yelled warnings to John Good. Prompted by their warnings, Good turned to his right in time to see another policeman running determinedly toward him down Fort Street from the King Street intersection. Good would later claim that he saw this policeman reach behind him as he ran, as if going to draw a pistol from his belt. Without hesitation, Good quickly took a bead on the officer with his revolver, and fired. The cop, who, like his fellow officers, proved to be unarmed, went down.

That shot was heard across downtown Honolulu.

It was heard by the US Marine Corps' Lieutenant Herbert. L. Draper, in charge of a detachment of marines stationed a block away at the American Consulate on the corner of Fort and Merchant Streets. Draper immediately hurried to use the telephone at the consulate to report to Captain Gilbert C. Wiltse, commander of the cruiser USS Boston, which lay at anchor in the harbor, that a shot had been fired.

The shot was also heard at the Honolulu Police Station House on Merchant Street. There, behind sandbags, more than a hundred policemen and Hawaiian Household Guard reservists armed with rifles and a pair of Gatling machineguns had been waiting tensely all day for something like this to happen. Charles B. Wilson, Marshal of the Kingdom of Hawaii and commander of Hawaii's police, promptly ordered all remaining policemen in the city to retreat to the station house. At the same time, Wilson rang Major Sam Nowlein, commander of the troops of the Household Guard protecting the Queen of Hawaii two blocks away at her royal residence, the Iolani Palace, to be ready to defend her with their lives and repel a rebel assault.

The shot was likewise heard at the Fort Street legal offices of William O. Smith. There, eighteen wealthy and influential local businessmen had been gathered since earlier in the day to finalize arrangements for the overthrow of the queen. Most of these men were American, or of American descent. Several were British and German. One, thirty-six-year-old Henry Waterhouse, had been born in Tasmania, Australia, and in Hawaii had the nickname of 'the Tasmanian'. Waterhouse, a deacon of the Central Union Church, had for the past few years been running the extensive Hawaiian business interests of his wealthy father, John T. Waterhouse, who, as a leading Honolulu capitalist, now devoted his time to promoting major new enterprises such as the Pacific telegraph cable. If it had not been for Henry Waterhouse, this coup would have fizzled like a damp firecracker in the preceding days, when the leading lights of the revolutionary movement had lost their courage and slunk away.

Now, the coup leaders who had joined Waterhouse at Smith's legal office puzzled over the meaning of the shot they had just heard; it didn't figure in their plans at all. Before long, their colleague John McCandless arrived by trolley car from the scene of the shooting just down the street, and solved the mystery for them. McCandless brought the breathless report: "Good has shot a policeman."

The rebel leaders all looked at each other in shock and surprise. It quickly dawned on them that the police could arrive at any moment to arrest them. Yet the revolt wasn't due to start for another thirty minutes. At least Good's shot had the advantage of drawing off the police who had been watching the Smith law offices from across the street. Fred McChesney, the California-born manager of the Honolulu branch of his father's San Francisco import-export business, spoke the thought that was in all their minds: "Now is the time to go," he said.

With those words, the Hawaiian revolution was launched.

Henry Waterhouse, voicing his agreement, jumped to his feet. He and the seventeen other revolutionary leaders hurried out the door. Fred McChesney hailed a passing horse-drawn taxi–a light, four-wheeled hackney carriage, or a 'hack' as it was known–and dashed to his nearby home to fetch his pistol. English-born John H. Soper, a former Marshal of the Kingdom who had been appointed commander of all rebel forces by the revolutionary leaders, was dispatched by Waterhouse to the Armory to collect those armed men who had already assembled there, then lead them to the Government Building. The other members of the rebel leadership decided to proceed directly to the Government Building without delay. Splitting into two groups, they hurried on foot via Merchant Street and Queen Street toward Palace Square.

Meanwhile, John Good and his wagonload of rifles and ammunition had completed their escape from the Hall and Sons store. Good's pistol shot had scared the wagon's horses into motion, just as, fortuitously, the trolley car and dray in their path had parted and opened the way for them. As the wagon charged up Fort Street a crowd quickly gathered around the downed policeman, with people coming from all directions. At the same time, the two unarmed cops who had gone to the rear of the wagon commandeered a hack, and gave chase to Good and his load.

Maintaining a respectful distance between their hack and the speeding wagon–for rebel guard Edmund Paris kept his rifle pointed at them all the way–the two policemen followed the wagon as it dashed along Fort Street then turned into School Street. From there, wagon and pursuers sped along Punchbowl Street to the former Armory on Beretania. Ever since the Honolulu Rifles militia had been forcibly disbanded by the Hawaiian Government, the Armory had been used as a bicycle repair shop. As the wagon careered around the corner from Punchbowl Street, a group of men stood formed up in neat ranks outside the Armory. These were all immigrants of German birth, led by Charles Ziegler. As soon as the wagon came to a halt, the Germans hurried to it and opened the boxes it contained. Taking out the rifles brought by Good, they loaded them, and strapped on the leather ammunition bandoleers.

The pair of shadowing policemen, seeing the mass of armed men ahead when they reached the Beretania Street intersection, turned their taxi away. Returning to the police station downtown, the pair reported to Marshal Wilson that they had observed men arming themselves at the Armory. When Wilson asked how many men were involved, his officers calculated they only numbered fifteen or twenty.

Marshal Wilson now prepared to fight. The combined force of Hawaiian police and soldiers, all men who had sworn to defend their queen to their last drop of blood, vastly outnumbered the known rebel forces. But a question nagged at Wilson. The previous evening, one hundred-and-sixty-two US Marines and sailors had been landed from the Boston and had taken up strategic positions in the city center, uninvited by the Hawaiian Government. The US force was well armed, not only with rifles and side-arms but with a cannon and a Gatling machinegun. The question was, would those US troops take part in the revolution, on the rebel side? In which case, the Hawaiians would not only be fighting home-grown rebels–American, British, German, Portuguese, and Australian residents of the Kingdom of Hawaii–they would also find themselves at war with the United States of America!



To fully understand the overthrow of Hawaii's monarchy, it is first necessary to understand the nature of that monarchy. By 1893, the concept of a monarch ruling over all of the Hawaiian Islands was not even a century old.

The original Maori residents of Hawaii had come across the Pacific to the islands in seagoing canoes. Anthropologists believe that these first Polynesian immigrants came around A.D. 400, about the same time that their cousins made their way to Aotearoa (New Zealand) from the Tahitian islands, by way of the Cook Islands and the Marquesas. There would have been intermittent migration to Hawaii from the other Polynesian islands over the next 600 years or so, but another major migration from Tahiti is believed to have taken place between the 10th and 13th centuries.

In their sturdy canoes, the original settlers brought their wives, their children, chickens, hogs, and the taro plant. The first settlers also brought a common Maori language and customs. From Hawaii to Easter Island, Tahiti to Aotearoa, all Polynesian peoples including Hawaiians are believed to have come from the same roots. Once upon a time, the Hawaiians, like their cousins the Maori of New Zealand, greeted one another by rubbing noses. This custom is not so much about the touching of skin as the exchange of breath, which is seen by Polynesians as an exchange of mana, or life force.

Over the centuries, the native society of Hawaii developed along caste lines, brought from east central Polynesia. Hawaiian society was very structured. There were several castes–the most superior being the ali'i, (pronounced ah-lee). The ali'i, who were both male and female, in turn consisted of eleven classes. Four major professions were practiced by the ali'i. The lani profession, (whose members were known as the kalani), was broken up into eleven major classes, headed by the ali'i nui. These kalani were the experts in managing the resources of the land, ocean and people.

Members of the huna profession, (the kahuna), comprised the medical practitioners, the seers, the astronomers, the truth seekers, the canoe builders, the navigators, the feather workers, to name a few. The most senior and revered kahuna was the kanuna nui. The third profession, that of the lawaia, consisted of the master fishermen, and their branch was in turn divided into numerous sub-professions connected with fishing and the sea. The last of the major professions practiced by the ali'i, the mahiai, were the master farmers, and they too had a number of sub-professions.

Immediately below the ali'i caste came the noa caste, which consisted of four classes. Last of all came the kauwa, the caste of no status, made up of slaves, prisoners of war, and outcasts. As in India to this day, you were born into your Hawaiian caste and nothing you did could ever elevate you to a higher caste. If you took a member of a lower class as a partner, your children took their caste.

The members of the upper class, the ali'i, provided what Westerners would call the chiefs and sub-chiefs of the islands. There was no concept of land ownership among the Hawaiian people. The ali'i considered themselves the islands' resource management stewards, acting on behalf of their ancestors. The Hawaiians believed that people lived in three different plains of existence–the plain in which you and I live, the plain in which the ancestors lived, and the plain in which gods lived. The people who lived on our plain of existence all worked for the ancestors–the real rulers or chiefs. It was the ancestors who were the landowners, and the lawgivers.

There were ali'i ancestors governing every aspect of existence. The kahuna–which included both men and women–oversaw the worship of a pantheon of heavenly gods such as Ku the war god, who was also the ancestor who looked after tall trees, and Pele, goddess of fire and the volcano. Likewise, there was a kahuna for every part of Hawaiian life. The fishing kahuna advised the people on the best time to fish, and where. An agricultural kahuna was the expert on the growing of taro and other crops. There was a kahuna in charge of the capture and release of the rare birds that provided the feathers used in the making of the cloaks and capes of senior ali'i for use on special occasions and during times of war–the oo bird for dull yellow feathers as well as black ones, the mamo bird for golden yellow and black, the i'iwi for dark red, the apapane for bright red. Other birds furnished green and white feathers.


Excerpted from Taking Hawaii by Stephen Dando-Collins. Copyright © 2012 Stephen Dando-Collins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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