The Hawaiian Kingdom in the World: King Kalakaua's 1881 World Tour

Experience the travels of King Kalakaua (r.1874-1891) as the first head of state to circumnavigate the globe in 1881. Explore some of the many gifts that were exchanged between nations, as well as first-hand accounts that document this amazing journey.

By The Friends of Iolani Palace

Watercolor painting of Hawaiian double hulled canoes (1886) by R. C. BarnfieldThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A Legacy of Voyaging, Continued

By the late 19th century, long-distance canoe voyaging in Hawaii had largely stopped, however many Hawaiians continued to travel on ships all over the world.

Photograph of King Kalakaua aboard the Kaimiloa by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

King Kalakaua’s journey was part of this long legacy of Hawaiian voyaging. 

Cabinet card of King Kalakaua by J. A. GonsalvesThe Friends of Iolani Palace

The Hawaiian Kingdom in the World

King Kalakaua's voyage around the world was ambitious and pioneering. He aimed to study foreign governance, bolster diplomatic relationships, and promote immigration to secure labor for a booming plantation economy in the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (1881-01-22) by The Pacific Commercial AdvertiserThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Bon Voyage, King Kalakaua!

King Kalakaua departed Honolulu on January 20th, 1881. Prior to his departure, he attended numerous dinners and celebrations across the Hawaiian Islands. His tour was met with great enthusiasm by his subjects and was a common topic in local and international newspapers. 

Palace Hotel, San Francisco. New Building designed for Bradley and Rulofson Gallery. (1870s) by UnknownThe J. Paul Getty Museum

A Greeting Fit for a King

Kalakaua arrived in San Francisco on January 29, 1881. He was hosted by prominent Chinese families, as well as the Chinese consul general. On February 7, a grand ball was hosted in his honor at the world-renown Palace Hotel. 

Photograph of King Kalakaua with Japanese Ministers (1881) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

An Emperor's Welcome

On March 7, the King arrived at Yokohama, Japan. Although he hoped to travel in secret, Kalakaua was honored by a large welcoming as his ship arrived at port.

The band of His Imperial Majesty of Japan played Hawaii Ponoi (the Hawaiian Kingdom national anthem, written by Kalakaua) as the ship arrived. During his stay, Kalakaua was hosted and entertained by the Meiji emperor, a gesture of the strong friendship between the two nations.

Royal Order of Kamehameha I Grand Cross by KretlyThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Exchanging Royal Orders

An act of diplomacy and good will, royal orders were commonly exchanged between sovereign rulers in the 19th century.

In Tokyo, the Emperor personally presented King Kalakaua with the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum, Japan’s highest order. In return, Kalakaua bestowed upon the Emperor the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Hawaii’s most prestigious order. 

Chinese vase (1883-02-12) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A Progressive Monarch

In China, King Kalakaua proposed the expansion of Chinese immigration to the Hawaiian Kingdom. It was only a year later that the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigration to America.

A Progressive Monarch

King Kalakaua’s support for Chinese immigration was not ignored. In 1883, the United Chinese Society of Honolulu gifted the King a pair of vases seen on display in the Grand Hall of Iolani Palace today. 

You might be wondering, how did King Kalakaua travel so quickly?

King Kalakaua’s voyage took only ten months thanks to rapid improvements in transportation technology. On his tour, he mostly travelled via steamships and trains, enabling his party to traverse oceans and continents with ease.

Letter from Shanghai (1881-04-06) by King KalakauaThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A Transportation Revolution

In this letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, William L. Green, King Kalakaua praises "the agents of the China Merchant Steamship Navigation Company, having kindly placed one of their fast boats, the Pan-Tah at my disposal. "

During his trip, King Kalakaua received many gifts from foreign leaders.

Royal Order of the Crown of SiamThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A Gift Between Kings

The King was presented with numerous gifts as he travelled throughout Asia. In Siam (Thailand), King Rama V gifted him the Star of the Royal Order of the Crown of Siam... 

Elephant statuette by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace well as an elaborate bronze elephant like this. 

King Kalakaua wrote numerous letters back home, providing information about the people and places he visited.

Letter from the Red Sea (1881-06-18) by King KalakauaThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A section of the letter shown here was written in July of 1881 by King Kalakaua to his sister, Princess Liliuokalani. After passing a shipwreck, he sketched a lighthouse as he sailed across the Red Sea. 

King Kalakaua was not the only Hawaiian voyager. In fact, he encountered several on his tour.

Historical photograph of James Kaneholo BoothThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Hawaiian Youths Abroad

In 1880, King Kalakaua launched the Hawaiian Youths Abroad program, sending young Hawaiians to study engineering, medicine, military science, and other subjects in six different countries. The program helped prepare and educate them to serve the Hawaiian Kingdom's government. 

In Naples, Italy, on June 30, 1881, King Kalakaua was greeted by Robert Napuuako Boyd and James Kaneholo Booth. These young men were students at military academies in Livorno and Turin, respectively. Pictured here is Booth in his Royal Military Academy uniform. 

Victorian wooden music box (1881) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

This wooden music box was gifted by King Umberto of Italy to King Kalakaua.  

Victorian wooden music box, interior (1881)The Friends of Iolani Palace

The box came with four Western ballads: "Scots Wha Hae Wi Wallace Bled", "O Lovely Polly Stewart", "My Love She's Like the Red Red Rose", "There's Nae Luck About the House". 

Royal Order of St. Michael & St. George by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Tea with the Queen

On July 11, King Kalakaua met Queen Victoria of England, who had sent her own personal carriages to receive his party in London.

The Queen bestowed upon King Kalakaua this Knight of the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George, a royal order reserved only for sovereigns.

Sometimes, things did not always go according to plan.

Newspaper article including information on King Kalakaua's visit in Spain (1881-10-29) by The Pacific Commercial AdvertiserThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Unexpected Adventures in Spain

According to The Pacific Commercial Advertiser,  King Kalakaua’s trip was briefly halted when his train struck a bull, causing it to derail between Veradas and Puerto Llano. Fortunately, nobody was injured, and the event caused quite the excitement! 

Other times, new ideas were inspired.

Artillery HelmetThe Friends of Iolani Palace

King Kalakaua was interested in military strategy. On his tour, he visited several military schools, attended drills and practices, as well as took note of the military attire he saw. 

This Prince's Own Volunteer Guard artillery unit helmet demonstrates the influence of Prussian designs in the military attire of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Photograph of Iolani Palace staircase (1882/1887) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A tour of the United States was the final leg of King Kalakaua’s world trip. In a span of just twenty days, the King quickly toured several American cities including New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Omaha. 

Photograph of the Grand Staircase of Iolani Palace with carpet by The Friends of Iolani PalaceThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Lighting up the Palace

While in New York, King Kalakaua met with Thomas Edison, who demonstrated the use of electric lighting. When Iolani Palace was completed in 1882, it had electricity before both the White House and Buckingham Palace.  

A Momentous Circumnavigation Completed, King Kalakaua Returns

Photograph of a Honolulu archway (1881-10) by A. A. MontanoThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Home Again, At Last!

King Kalakaua’s arrival to Honolulu Harbor on October 29, 1881, marked the end of his world tour. He was greeted by thousands of spectators and numerous archways decorated with Hawaiian flags, bunting, and greenery. 

Photograph of Iolani Palace main gate (1881-10-28) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

The Kauikeaouli Gate of Iolani Palace was also decorated to celebrate the return of King Kalakaua.

Commemorative medal (1881) by UnknownThe Friends of Iolani Palace

A Voyage To Remember

In celebration of King Kalakaua's circumnavigation, a commemorative medal was created in 1881. 

Booklet, "KING KALAKAUA'S TOUR ROUND THE WORLD A SKETCH OF INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL" (1881-10) by Pacific Commercial AdvertiserThe Friends of Iolani Palace

An International Kingdom

King Kalakaua’s 1881 world tour was a remarkable success. He represented the Hawaiian Kingdom with dignity and established long-lasting relationships with foreign leaders. 

Photograph of Iolani Palace Gold Room by The Friends of Iolani PalaceThe Friends of Iolani Palace

Today, King Kalakaua's legacy is displayed throughout Iolani Palace. The many gifts he received on his tour and in subsequent years continue to adorn the rooms of the Palace.  

Explore King Kalakaua's journey with our 1881 Tour Virtual Map

Credits: Story

Special thanks to Hawaii State Archives.

For Additional Reading:
Neil Dukas, A Military History of Sovereign Hawaii, 2004. 
Lorenz Gonschor, A Power in the World: The Hawaiian Kingdom in Oceania, 2019. 
Tiffany Lani Ing, Reclaiming Kalakaua: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on a Hawaiian Sovereign, 2019.
Stacy Kamehiro, The Arts of Kingship: Hawaiian Art and National Culture of the Kalakaua Era, 2009. 

*As a symbol of a proud Hawaiian national identity, Iolani Palace strives to reflect the history and lifestyle of Hawaii during the Kalakaua era. In keeping with how the Hawaiian language was written during the monarchy era time period, Iolani Palace does not include the use of diacritical marks, which are commonly used today.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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