The Scots-Hawaiian princess who beguiled Robert Louis Stevenson

She was half Scots and half Hawaiian, a young princess so beguiling she inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write the poem My Island Rose after he met her in Honolulu.
Princess Ka'iulani, a Hawaiian princess who was half-Scots. Picture: Creative CommonsPrincess Ka'iulani, a Hawaiian princess who was half-Scots. Picture: Creative Commons
Princess Ka'iulani, a Hawaiian princess who was half-Scots. Picture: Creative Commons

But Princess Ka’iulani was not only regarded for her rare beauty.

The daughter of Archibald Cleghorn, a revered Edinburgh-born horticulturist and collector of customs, she was to become a leading voice in the campaign to restore the Kingdom of Hawaii after the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.

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The story of Princee Ka’iulani and the broader Scots influence on the central Pacific archipelago is explored in a new three-part radio series for BBC Scotland, The Scots in Hawaii.

The Princess was born to Archibald Scott Cleghorn and Princess Miriam Likelike in 1875.

Cleghorn, born Edinburgh in 1835, arrived in Hawaii in 1851 with his parents, who were shopkeepers.

He was to become one of the country’s most celebrated horticulturists and was lead landscaper for Kapo’olani Park - where the Hawaiian Scottish Festival and Highland Games is still held - and Iolani Palace, the Royal Household.

Cleghorn, who is remembered particularly for his planting of banyan trees, became a great friend and advisor to King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, and served as Royal Governor of Oahu in the 1890’s.

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Robert Louis Stevenson met Cleghorn and his family after arriving in Hawaii on assignment for a US publisher.

Journalist Billy Kay details how Stevenson, then one of the world’s most famous writers following the success of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was to become a great ally of King Kalakaua and the royalist movement.

A regular guest of the Royal Household, where he enjoyed much hospitality and drink, he was to meet Princess Ka’iulani, niece to the King, when she was just 13.

In a letter to a friend, he wrote: “If you want to cease to be a Republican, see my little Ka’iulani as she goes through. I wear the colours of that little Royal maiden. Thought she is but a half-blood and the wrong half, Edinburgh Scots, like mysel’.”

Ka’iulani was to leave Hawaii to be educated in England, with the Princess also travelling to Scotland and across Europe. Before her departure, he wrote The Island Rose.

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.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,

Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,

And I, in her dear banyan shade,

Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away

Shall glitter with unwonted day,

And cast for once their tempests by

To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.

Princee Ka’iulani embarked on a trip to the United States to lobby for the Kingdom to be restored after the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, just two years after the death of her uncle.

While she made a good impression at the White House and delivered several speeches and press statements, the United States refused to return the monarchy to power.

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She died aged just 23 in 1899, her weak health said to have worsened following several bereavements of those closed to her - including Robert Louis Stevenson, who died in Samoa in 1894.

• A Scots-Hawaiian Princess is now available on iPlayer Radio.