Princess Victoria Ka’iulani’s brief life was part of a significant chapter of Hawaii’s and ultimately the world’s history, coinciding with the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom by the USA. Born in 1875 in Hawaii to a Scottish father and Hawaiian mother, Ka’iulani’s life straddled two hemispheres and cultures. As a teenager, she was sent to England to be educated and to prepare for her role as a future Queen. During this time, the US government deposed Queen Liliuokalani, her aunt, whom she was expected to succeed to the throne, and annexed the Republic of Hawaii to the United States. Shortly afterwards, Ka’iulani returned to Hawaii but died within two years in 1899, at the age of twenty-three.
The historical context in which she lived ultimately connects her story to the events during and following her lifetime. Several years ago I discovered that she had been living ‘under the radar’ in my adopted home of Brighton & Hove, England. This was in 1893, the year that the United States toppled the Hawaiian kingdom, thereby gaining control of Pearl Harbor, an important naval base, and ultimately setting the scene for the war in the Pacific half a century later. (See ‘The Pool at Crystal City’)
She lives on as an iconic presence within the collective memory of Hawaii. In photographs and popular imagination, her image is like that of a fairy tale princess or tragic heroine. In the context of history, she was a compelling and charismatic figure whose life story was caught up within a wider political drama, and around whom, for a brief moment, the fateful course of world history seemed to pivot.