The following is an essay by a student on the history of Pearl Harbor entitled “An Essay on Acquisition of Pearl Harbor” and subtitled “Pearl Harbor. The history of its acquisition,” “Its location, appearance, and other characteristics,” and “An unorthodox view by a student.” This was published in the Independent over several issues in 1895.
Allow me space in your columns to publish an essay on Pearl Harbor which probably will seem very unorthodox and which in many ways differs in opinions and views from the well-established doctrine that the salvation of Hawaii lies in the cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States, and that the salvation of the United States lies in the possession of Pearl Harbor. I write at some length because I do not alone desire to convince you, Mr. Editor, but also the great numbers unacquainted with the harbor of its uselessness to Uncle Sam as a naval station or as anything else. Thanking you in advance for the space you allow. I remain yours against annexation. Student.
When in the year 1886, while the treaty extending the alleged “Reciprocity” Treaty of 1874 between the United States and Hawaii, was under consideration in the United States Senate, Senator Edmund secured the interpolation into its text, of an article providing for the cession by Hawaii to the United States, of the exclusive privilege of entering Pearl Harbor with its ships of war, and there establishing coming and repair stations for the navy of the latter, he did an act whose consequences are not yet fully unfolded. That was a shrewd piece of strategy on the part of the Vermont Senator, and one which did not at all appeal to, or comfort the Cleveland administration of the day, as the writer hereof has ample means of knowing. But it rendered possible by the diversity of sentiment in the Senate, as to the renewal or extension of the then all but lapsed treaty, upon any terms; and the scale seems to have been turned in favor of such extension by throwing in that large sized bunch of national policy, of indefinite weight, but then supposed, by those who knew where Pearl Harbor was located, to represent a decisive strategical advantage to the United States.
As negotiated by President Cleveland’s Secretary of State, Mr. Bayard, the new treaty was a very brief and unsensational document, and merely extended, in terms, the then existing treaty, for a period of seven years from the date of the exchange of the ratifications therein provided for the old treaty, as already stated, had then all but lapsed. Indeed, it was enjoying a most precarious tenure of life, for its stated term of seven years had long ago expired, and it was subject to abrogation upon twelve months’ notice from either of the contracting powers. It was merely a tenant at sufferance in the American Treasury, liable to be served with notice to quit any day, and with a numerous and influential contingent in the Senate clamoring for the immediate service of such notice as would extinguish it, and would relegate Hawaii, that pauper pensioner upon the funds of Uncle Sam, to a position of self-dependence. It was felt, and most reasonably so, that the treaty in question, which admitted Hawaiian sugar and rice to American ports duty free, in the face of a general duty of about two cents per pound upon those commodities, was nothing more or less than a bonus of so much money paid by the American taxpayers to the so-called “Hawaiian” planters, – under which innocent and convenient descriptive appellation were included planters of every nationality from China to Sweden, in an eastward course.
But when the document, submitted by the President to the Senate, came from that body with an amendment embodied in its text which completely changed its purport by calling for a cession by one to the other of the parties of a supposedly highly valuable but indefinite territorial advantage, it metaphorically knocked both the “high contracting parties,” as represented by the Executive of either Power, still higher. President Cleveland pouted and sulked, as well he might, to see his little commercial contract transmogrified into a treaty of territorial accession by the Senate, whose sole function in the premises, was supposed to consist in either approving or rejecting the instrument submitted to it, without amendment or alteration. So much disposed was Mr. Cleveland to resent this unexampled invasion of the Executive domain, that his Secretary of State actually notified the Hawaiian Minister at Washington, that the President did not regard the treaty, as negotiated and agreed upon by the diplomats and as submitted by him to the senate, as having been approved by the latter body in such manner as the constitution contemplated, nor so as to make it incumbent upon the President to proceed with the exchange of ratifications.
But, if the effect of the Senatorial aberration referred to was sullenness in the White House, it was consternation in Iolani Palace in Honolulu and in the halls of the sugar barons throughout this group. The administration of Prime Minister Gibson, though wont to flout the barons aforesaid upon all minor matters and occasions, seemed to realize that they must, in spite of the baronial opposition to and abuse of their general policy, so far mollify the barons on the treaty questions as to keep secure their grasp upon the United States treasury. Mr. Gibson was a shrewd old fox in matters political. He has taken the measure of the barons, and of their patriotic pretensions, and he knew that, while left to feed undisturbed upon the dividend pie for which they have shown such a relish, no real danger lurked behind their political mouthings. Consequently, it was deemed of vital importance to Mr. Gibson’s administration that the treaty should be extended upon some terms; but those proposed by the Senate, involving as they did a cession of the territory and of course of sovereignty, would expose that administration, if accepted, to a new danger from its erstwhile supporters, the Hawaiian people, – who swore wild oaths against anyone who should sign away an inch of their territory.
And so it came to pass that the sulks into which the Edmunds amendment to the text of the treaty had thrown Mr. Cleveland, proved the salvation, for the time being of the Gibson regime for, quietly depositing the amended draft of the treaty in a pigeon hole of the State Department, the President wet at rest for a year or more all treaty agitation; the Louisiana Senators retired from the fight against its extension: the barons of Hawaii resumed the task of spending their dividends and clipping their coupons; and until the latter part of 1887 nothing further transpired as to the cession of Pearl Harbor.
In the meantime (June 30 - July 1 - 1887) the first in the series of bloodless revolutions for which Hawaii has become if not famous at least notorious came to pass. Through it Mr. Gibson was forced out of the Government, a so-called Reform Cabinet was placed in office, the constitution was abrogated, and another promulgated in its stead whereby the King was reduced from a personal ruler to a virtual figure head. The sugar barons were in the saddle under the new dispensation, and at once negotiations were re-opened for an extension of the treaty. Mr. Cleveland, meantime, had outgrown the feeling of resentment incident to the Senate’s having trodden upon his executive corns, and began to admit the advantage of proceeding to an exchange of ratifications of the treaty. This was accordingly done in November 1887, and so the treaty was given a renewed term of seven years, at the end of which period, in November of last year, and thereafter, either party may abrogate it upon the twelve months’ notice to the other.
But the exchange of ratification last referred to was preceded and accompanied by a correspondence between the Hawaiian Government, acting through its Minister at Washington, and the American Secretary of State, Mr. Bayard, wherein was embodied what diplomatic gentlemen are pleased to term a “contemporary construction” of the meaning of the Article in the treaty which cedes to the United States the exclusive rights above referred to. In a few words, the effect of such correspondence was to declare that each of the contracting parties understood and interpreted that article to be coterminous, in point of time, with the rest of the treaty, and that it implied and involved no cession of sovereignty in any part of the ceded water or territory, by or on the part of the Hawaiian Government to the United States. Just how one nation can cede to another exclusive privileges of occupancy of the territory of the ceding power without a cession or loss of sovereignty, or just how there can be a dual sovereignty in Pearl Harbor, in case it shall ever be occupied as contemplated in the article of the treaty now under discussion, is one of those puzzles which, perhaps, can best be answered by members of the Corpa Diplomatic. In the meantime the United States Government through its naval officers on this station has been setting as though it intended to avail itself of the grant in question; and the balance of this article will be devoted to a description of the subject of the grant, its physical features, and other matters pertinent to an understanding of the situation in the world-famous Pearl Lochs.138
The existence of Pearl Harbor is without any apparently adequate excuse in nature. It is a body of salt water, but is neither sound, by, channel, strait or inlet, —nor anything else of the kind for which hydrographers have found appropriate names, so, for want of a more accurately descriptive appellation, it is called a harbor. The prenominal “Pearl” is derived from the fact of pearl oysters being found there in small numbers and of uninteresting physical characteristic. The names Pearl River, Pearl River Harbor, and Pearl River Lochs are also familiarly applied to the water in question, but there is no more excuse for applying the word “river” than the word “ocean” to the place. There is not even a permanent stream of any respectable proportions emptying into the harbor and only one stream (scarcely more than a brook), which is not dry during more than half the year. The “river” is therefore a purely imaginary feature of the lands-scape.:
In fact, all the streams on the mouth side of Oahu are but brooks, except that entering Honolulu harbor, with that exception, their insignificance is equaled only by that famous stream in America (Heaven only knows its location), for which the local congressman was pulling for an appropriation, whereupon the late lamented “Sunset” Cox declared that along its course, “you can’t find a dam, by a mill site! And you can’t find a mill, by a dam sight.” Yet the supply of water to Pearl Harbor is considerable, numerous springs in the low ground contiguous to the East and Middle Lochs: and this water, before mixing with the brine of the lochs, is utilized to propel the machinery of several rice mills and in irrigating considerable areas of rice, bananas, pineapples and other crops.
The south shore line of the Island of Oahu lies in an almost exact east and west direction from the base of Diamond Head (Leahi), that most picturesque landmark at the southeast corner of the island, to the mouth of Pearl Harbor ten miles to the westward. Passing the poetic and picturesque shore of Waikiki, with its deep and feathery fringe of giant cocoa palms nodding above a lower growth of the intensely green and lace-like algarroba, (a species of the locust) with the beach guarded by a reef line upon which the waves break in a continuous line of foam, we reach at a distance of four miles a break in that roof line, through which runs the channel to the harbor of Honolulu. To the westward of the Honolulu harbor entrance the reef-line extends to a greater distance from the shore, while inside the outer reef are ether and almost similar reefs or rather one extended reef, with ridge lines reaching to and above the surface at low water, in many places having over-lapping ends, the whole giving to the locality at low water a monotonous and dreary aspect, which at high tide gives place to a scene of thundering foam, rolling over an expanse of many square miles. And yet that inner field is navigable by very small craft when handled by experienced local navigators, though the deeper water of the open sea is almost invariably sought by the traffic, whether of business or pleasure, between Honolulu and Pearl Harbor and vice versa.
Pearl Harbor is peculiarly difficult of approach, when the normally calm condition of the ocean in its front is taken into account. Among the elements of this difficulty is that very calmness which habitually reigns upon those waters outside the reef, and the absence of bold headlands or other conspicuous landmarks at or near the mouth of the harbor, by which to steer a course, superadded to the torturous character of the channel to the entrance, as now existing. It is well said, that one may reasonably imagine himself on the bosom of the Pacific, while in reality upon the shoal water that for several miles from the entrance to Pearl Harbor is under laid by a deep bed of sand; and this expanse of water, while ordinarily placid during the prevalence of the trade winds from the north east, becomes a raging mass of breakers during the time of a “Kona” or southerly storm of periodical occurrence in these latitudes.
But to leave the subject of this sand-bed for a future paragraph, let us discuss the facilities for entering the harbor as now existing. Your correspondent on the occasion of his visit to Pearl Harbor for the purpose of preparing material for this sketch chartered a sloop in Honolulu, and with a brace of old sea dogs to do the navigation, and a few friends to assist in enjoying the scenery, the balmy breezes and the matchless beauties embodied in the ever-changing hues of that opal sea, glided out of Honolulu harbor on a lovely afternoon of April and headed down the coast. The peculiar reef formation of the locality makes a wide detour to sea essential to prudent navigation, even in the best of weather, and the day was well spent, when we arrived in line with the two objects which mark the course of approach to the entrance of the harbor. These are the derrick of a salt-pumping establishment standing on the west side of the entrance, and a hump on the shoulder of one of the northward slopes of the lovely Waianae mountains, nearly twenty miles to the westward which picturesque chain of hills, bathed in the haze of the tropic afternoon, form an element of combined beauty and grandeur in the landscape, of rare and striking excellence; and amid the mass Kaala, the giant of Oahu, lifts her verdure-clad peak 4000 feet to a close communion with the clouds. From the base of that chain eastward to the shores of Pearl Harbor, and of the outer sea, stretches a gently sloping plain, scarred and seamed by the torrents of centuries, but presenting, few or none of those scars to the observer from the deck of our craft.
With all available local knowledge and skill, the navigation of the entrance is studded with difficulties and dangers. A bar here, and outcropping of reef beyond; on this side a sand spit extending into the channel; and on the other rocky shoal, such is the succession of features encountered. But after some preliminary grating upon the coral, and some poling of our craft off the edges of sand spits, the deep water of the inner entrance was reached in safety, and gave opportunities for a survey of the surroundings, unembarrassed by the necessity of efforts to avoid immediate stranding.
From outside the entrance the view of Pearl Harbor is uninteresting and without notable feature. The scene in general, from the outside, is of a mass of shoal water, relieved by the foam of several lines of breakers, with flat expanses of and stretching away beyond to the Waianae mountains on the westward, and to the Konahuanui range on the north. Nor does this scene materially change until, as suggested, the inner entrance is very near at hand. Then the change is sudden, pleasing, and in a degree wonderful. You see the low land which compresses the main artery of the entrance into a width of about four hundred feet. Just ahead is a stretch of deep water, about forty acres in extent, with gradually expanding shore lines, to east and west. But the central view is blocked, by the jutting, almost into the very gate to the harbor, of the foot of a long and irregularly shaped peninsula which protruded from the mainland at the northwest of the entrance a distance of nearly four miles, and forms the barrier which divides the West from the Middle Loch. The picture is most inviting, as we enter the harbor and confront the peninsula directly ahead; its abrupt sides laved by a lovely and narrow channel on the east leading directly north, to Middle and East Lochs; while an equally beautiful channel, almost a facsimile of the first, leads to the northwestward, and widens into West Loch, leaving the peninsula on the right.
West Loch, while bearing in a generally direct line from the entrances, is sinuous to a degree, and but slight progress into its mazes is requisite to show a completely land-locked harbor; with the low, rocky plateau of Puuloa, Honouliuli and the peninsula about mentioned surrounding you at all points. The average width of the loch during the first two miles from the entrance does not exceed a quarter of a mile; it is sufficiently sheltered by the low surrounding lands with their thickets of algarroba to present an almost unrippled surface in all ordinary weathers. The black and gray rocks which form its peculiarly abrupt banks, with the vivid green of the algarroba fringe, the whole set in the majestic framework of the Waianae and Konahuanui range of mountains combined with the opal hues of the water itself, to comprise one of the most lovely pictures of this character anywhere to be found.
After two miles of a regular, and picturesque career, the West Loch becomes eccentric in its shores, curves and indentations, to a degree which renders description difficult and comparisons impossible. It sends an offshoot into the heart of the peninsula on the north, that almost cuts it in twain; while its main body extends to a width of more than a mile; its waters shoal gradually; and several small islands dot its surface. At a distance of less than four miles from the entrance the inner limit of this Loch is reached, where the rich alluvial land of Honouliuli sloping with a gentle grade from the Waianae mountains, form its shore.
Deep water prevails in the West Loch, which, except in its upper end, is exempt from shoals, during three miles on its course there is a uniform depth of 7 to 9 fathoms, except where a lava ledge crossing from a point of the peninsula reduces the depth to 6 fathoms during a very short distance; and these depths prevail as a rule, not only up to the shore, but in many localities extend for considerable distances under the projecting surface of lava rocks; and ships of the heaviest tonnage, if once introduced into this Loch, could in many places lie alongside the banks, and utilize the lava tableland for a series of quays.1
The East and Middle Lochs
What has been said of the West Loch in the way of general description applies with equal fidelity, save for some unimportant details, to the East and Middle Lochs. Returning to the entrance and rounding the point of the peninsula to the north-ward (looking out for a shoal that makes out from that body of land and greatly reduces the width and hampers the navigation of the channel leading to the two Lochs last named), we encounter, at the head of the channel, the large picturesque island of Mokuumeume or Ford’s Island, as it is locally called, from the family name of two generations of owners. Arrived at that point, a vista of rare beauty is opened on either side of the Island extending, on either hand, about two and a half miles across the waters of the lagoon variegated by the verdant shores of peninsula, island and mainland, with the stately background of Konahuanui mountains rising beyond and above the whole.
The main course of the channel we are navigating continues in a substantially northern direction, leaving Ford’s Island on the east, while a channel much narrower and shallower, but which expands to a widths of half a mile before the Island is passed, divides the Island from the mainland on the east, and opens into the East Loch, the most considerable group of water ways. This larger body is also reached from the main channel, by passing to the westward of and between Ford’s Island and the Pearl City Peninsula, so-called, which protrudes from the northern mainland to the southward, about a mile and a half, and forms the barrier between the East and Middle Lochs. The former comprises fully three square miles of water, and lies chiefly to the northward, through partially to the eastward of Ford’s Island bounded north and east by the mainland, and west by the Pearl City Peninsula. It is completely land-locked, but is open to trade winds and storms which occasionally sweep over the Konahuanui mountains, and render it at times extremely hazardous navigation by small crafts. The depth of water from the entrance into this Loch by the main channel (except for projecting bars and shoals which will yield to dredging operation,) is uniform at 7 to 16 fathoms, but this depth holds good in only a small proportion of the Loch proper, near the west channel. The eastern portion of the Loch shows but 6, 5 and 4 fathoms, and toward the mainland at the north the shoaling process continues until a depth of but one fathom prevails over a mud bottom, with outcropping ridges of lava rock.
The Middle Loch is the least considerable in the group, in point of navigable area, though in superficial area it outranks West Loch. From the point of passing the strait where Beckoning Point on that first described protrudes northward toward the foot of Pearl City Peninsula (in which strait 7 fathoms of water is found) the waters of Middle Loch shoal so rapidly as to be scarcely navigable by the smallest sailing craft throughout two-thirds of its length of nearly two miles. This portion of the lagoon is less interesting as well from a scenic standpoint. A short distance its shores sink from a height of about six feet (at which altitude they were plenteously covered with the inevitable algarroba) to a series of marshes too low for even rice culture. The green rice fields, succeeded by the rising grounds and bluff, beyond with the mountain background relieving the monotony of muddy water and wet marshes, render the whole by no means uninspiring.
Availability for Naval Purposes
It has become the custom with all who have developed either material or sentimental interests in promoting the acquisition of Pearl Harbor by the United States, to unreasonably extol the supposed benefits to Uncle Sam of such acquisition and to describe this body of water as the one thing needful to complete the naval supremacy of the United States in the Pacific. The present writer will not deny that the Pearl River Lochs, if open to the navigation of the American naval vessels, would constitute most convenient and commodious harbor; but in even these respects, the Harbor has been and is vastly overrated. Supposing the outside entrance (of which more anon) to be cleared and rendered navigable for the ships, there would be considerable dredging of sand bars, and blasting of rocky ridge in the inner Harbor required in order to its safe navigation; while the area of deep water in the Lochs especially the East and Middle Lochs, will be seen from the foregoing, to be much less than is generally supposed and written about. It is a very easy, and somewhat sonorous declaration to make, that the navies of the world might ride at anchor in a given body of water, and Pearl Harbor has not been forgotten when that phrase was going around. And while it is quite true that all the national vessels of the United States could be at anchorage berths in the Harbor, it is equally true that, without a most extensive and costly system of dredging, the Harbor could not be made available for anything like naval navigation, as I understand the word navigation. The deep water of Pearl Harbor is confined almost exclusively to the narrow channels above described. Where they extend into lake like proportions the water immediately shoals to a degree that makes naval navigation impossible. The channels holding the deep water are lovely and the great depth of water at the banks would be a great convenience in the matter of docking, but they are too narrow to permit a modern cruiser to turn around within their shores, even by the backing and tacking process, to say nothing of turning at one sweep. Therefore, if it be only an anchorage ground for his ships, of which Uncle Sam is in search, it can be found in Pearl Harbor (after the matter of the entrance shall have been adjusted), but if a maneuvering ground and protected body of navigable water is the object of the search, Pearl Harbor will not and cannot fill the bill, at least not without the expenditure of enormous and indefinite sums in dredging out the main bodies of the Lochs.
The Harbor’s Defensibility
Another reason advanced in favor of the acquisition of the Harbor is that it is so secure as to remove, or exclude all fears of it being tampered with by a hostile Power in time of war. It seems strange that anyone of intelligence can be found to advance that view, when the facts and the logic of the situation are so completely on the other side of the question. It is the most obvious of facts that, if the United States were once established in Pearl Harbor, she would be at the constant risk of losing it in case of war with any power, unless her naval contingent in these waters should be so strengthened as to bid defiance to the strongest power that could be sent against her. In order to hold the Harbor, she must be able to repel all intruders. This she might do by a system of mines planted in the entrance, but such an expedient would suspend the navigability of the entrance, even by her own vessels, and render it valueless either as a refuge for fleeing merchantmen, or as a source from whence to launch her naval enterprises against the enemy. In short, the Harbor could be hermetically sealed by a blockading squadron, and not only its usefulness as a recruiting and repairing station entirely neutralized, but the vessels within its shores would be practically removed from the navy list while such blockade should continue. It will thus be seen that the possession of this Harbor (and in a much greater degree of the whole group of Islands increase the heresy of Annexation should gather force sufficient to bring about that end), would be a source of positive weakness, instead of strength to the Union. The property once acquired, it would have to be utilized at tremendous expense; and it would have to be defended at all hazards, a proposition involving the making of the American naval power supreme in the Pacific; and this means, in these days of rapid steam communication, making it supreme upon every sea.
The American public need no reminder that the cry for naval expenditure and an increase in the number and efficiency of ships comes chiefly from the officers of the Navy and their friends and relatives, who wish for more vessels to command, with the consequent opportunities for rapid promotion. The officers of that branch of the service are restive under condition which (in the words of Lieut. Staunten, in his article “A modern Battle Ship In Action,”) render “a good digestion by far the most valuable qualification for attaining the rank of Rear Admiral,” while they are playing the “waiting game now essential to promotion in the Navy where,” (still quoting from the Jingo Lieutenant), “the indolent and indifferent share honors equally with the ardent and enthusiastic.” They want more opening for promotion, and they see those opportunities in the increase of the navy. Such increase can best and most easily be compassed by persuading the people of the United States that the necessities of their commerce or political prestige demand protection here, a fleet there, and a group of Islands yonder. None better than naval officers know that the possession of the Hawaiian Islands, for instance would in reality prove a source of weakness rather than of strength to the Union, by rendering it essential that sufficient naval force be always maintained in these seas, to repel any attack from any combination of naval powers likely or possible to be brought against the Americans in time of war. This could only be done at fabulous expense, something which, perhaps, the American patriotism would be equal to, as a means of protecting the integrity of its territory, but which can most conveniently be avoided by resisting the temptations of the Jingo party to acquire territory so far from their sea coast, which might by any possibility, and very soon require such expensive sacrifice in order to its protection.
When, therefore, you see an article or an argument in favor of either the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, or the acquisition of Pearl Harbor for a naval station it is safe to assume it has emanated from some Jingo naval officer; and all that such officers say in favor of either project is prima facie a plea for their own promotion, and unreliable both in fact and theory.
The fortification of Pearl Harbor has been discussed, and such project has been advanced as an argument to prove that it could be so defended from hostile attack. But a study of the conditions there existing will convince any reasonable mane that fortifications sufficient to repel the attack of a modern naval power are impracticable: and that even if found feasible, they could be constructed only at a cost entirely out of proportion to the advantages to be gained hereby.
To begin with, there is no eligible site for a fort within modern cannon shot of the entrance to the Harbor. The land for many miles’ radius, varies in altitude from one foot to eight feet above high water, and this in a locality where the mean rise and fall of the tide is but one foot, seven inches. Though the outer and inner reefs should be covered with fortifications the most formidable permitted by the situation, yet nothing strong than stone and cement could be opposed to the hostile guns of an enemy, and how long would the most perfect construction of such materials, when place as a fair target for such guns, be left intact? The same result would follow the construction of so-called forts on the land commanding the entrance. In order to command the approach of a hostile fleet, such edifices must themselves be exposed to the fire of that fleet; and, in the utter absence of anything in the way of natural defensive strength in the position, who so sanguine as to hope or believe in the efficacy of mere masonry, when opposed to the steel of modern ordinance?
As above intimated, the land in the vicinity lies very low, for purposes of defense. This remark applies equally to those within the harbor, whether Island or peninsula. There is absolutely no suggestion of a natural stronghold in the situation. And this fact could not only render impractical the efficient fortification of the entrance, but, granting, for the sake of the argument, that the entrance could be secured, there is nothing to oppose the shelling of the inner works by the long-range guns now in vogue on naval vessels. A war vessel, lying end on to a fort at a distance of several miles, may present a very small target to the fort, - so small as to avoid mishap to the ship while being able herself to effectively attack not only the fort but also to throw destructive missiles past the fort and into the naval yard (supposing one to exist) beyond. And such, it seems to your correspondent, would be the condition of things, even in the event of the entrance to Pearl Harbor being effectively fortified; such course might, (though I do not believe it would) prevent the actual entry of a hostile craft, but could not protect the naval works which might be constructed in the lagoon proper.2
The Lands and Their Titles
It is no unusual thing to find a land scheme behind propositions for the acquisition by the Government of any given piece of property for public use. Few navy yards have been established; few outpost offices erected; few forts or arsenals built without the colored gentleman in the woodpile being unmasked; and such gentleman of color very generally stands forth as the advocate of a land owner or syndicate. And so it is in Pearl Harbor at the present time. There is a most patriotic desire on the part of divers pretended citizens of America who have long since forsworn their natural allegiance for the benefits of official salary in Hawaii, to confer upon their much beloved Uncle Samuel certain lands in and about the lagoon, in exchange for their aforesaid Uncle’s surplus gold coin. Of course, nothing could be more disinterested than the efforts of those patriotic gentlemen to make the desired exchange. Such is always the case. They are burning with ardor to see the flag of their native land floating over the placid waters of the lagoon, and are not only willing, but determined to promote that most worthy object—for a generous consideration. But before discussing individual cases and lands, a brief glance at the titles is desirable whose history is brief, and comparatively simple.
Prior to 1848, the feudal idea that all land is owned by the Sovereign, and all occupants hold under him and practically at his will, prevailed in its full vigor in Hawaii. But the advance of civilization among the aborigines, coupled with the material, interests of the foreigners, then constantly increasing in numbers in the Islands, developed the necessity of a more liberal system of land tenure. Hence in the year mentioned, the reigning King, Kamehameha III., by virtue of the Royal grace which found expression in the act of the very primitively endowed legislature existing under the constitution then recently granted by the King, made the Great Māhele or Land Division to which all titles refer and which was the genesis of them all.
The prevailing idea involved in the Great Māhele was to make a division of the whole territory into three substantially equal parts, of which the King personally should continue to own one, the Government one and the people the third. It was fortunate for the Hawaiian race that Kamehameha was sufficiently ignorant and unenlightened not to have learned what the dominant party in Hawaii today assert and act up and act upon in their intercourse with the community respecting the definition of that much abused phrase, “the people.” Kamehameha was sufficiently antique in his ideas to suppose that “the people” meant and embraced the whole body of his subjects, without regard to race, creed, color or previous party affiliation, to quote from the modern manifestos of American politicians. But such back number notions find no place in the Government of today in Hawaii, whose votaries, when looking for a definition of the phrase quoted find it impossible to see beyond the little clique of aliens who, by the grace of Minister Stevens, were placed in the political saddle, on January 17, 1894, and have since entrenched themselves in their position, while “the people,” as elsewhere understood, and as formerly understood in Hawaii, contented themselves to await the answer of the United States to the protest against the Stevens aggression.
As usual in the case of a concession by a King to the people, Kamehameha did not neglect his own interest in this Division. He was both the King, and the sole Judge of lands he would “assign” to himself, as well as to the others in interest, and in that dual capacity, it would be strange indeed if his interests had suffered. The King selected a lot of lands, by their names, scattered over the entire group of Islands, and the Government’s portion was similarly assigned. Then there was created a land Commission, for the settlement of the claim of private individuals, who were awarded for simple titles to such lands as they could prove they had previously occupied by the Royal assent or acquiescence, and exempt from feudal services or rental paid to any subordinate chief. Many thousands of claims were thus passed upon, in a manner satisfactory to the people, and characterized by a liberality of construction and presumed in favor of the occupant as opposed to the interest of the chief, quite at variance with the spirit of feudalism. The awardees of these claims were afterward granted Royal Patents of their land, upon the payment of almost nominal sums by way of commutation to the Government, but the theory of such commutation is not quite clear, seeing the Government had no valid claim to the lands so awarded.
The small holdings thus awarded were called kuleanas, and the word kuleana has since come into use indifferently to describe not only one’s right to a piece of land, but the land itself.
Of course the vast majority of the lands, in point of area, thus assigned to “the people,” were gobbled by the high chiefs, to some of whom vast extents were granted by virtue of their former exercise of dominion over the tenants thereof. The unit of land description is the ahupuaa tract invariably running from the sea to the crest of the mountains, beyond which other ahupuaas extend to the opposite shore. There is history written in this name, which is combined of the two elements “ahu,” a collection, and “puaa,” swine: it having been customary in very ancient times for the chief holding an ahupuaa (those larger divisions were all held by the chiefs,) to render an annual tax or rental to the King of one swine for each ahupuaa under his dominion. The area of these ahupuaa differ widely, and while some include only a few hundred others embrace many thousands of acres. Thus the ahupuaa of Honouliuli, lying between the Pearl Harbor Lochs and the crest of the Waianae mountains, contain over 50,000 acres.
Within the different ahupuaa are many kuleanas, originally allotted to the peasantry. Next smaller than the ahupuaa, is the “ili” of which many are contained in the former division, and still smaller is the “moo,” which may be more than a house lot or a taro patch. Each land, under whichever of these divisions, has its separate name, however small in area, showing a prodigious development of the bump of locality in the aboriginal Hawaiian.
The lands surrounding Pearl Harbor are comprised within comparatively few grants. The ahupuaas are for the most part of great extent, owing chiefly to the fact that the most powerful and influential chiefs were there located in the early days, along the north and west shores of the lagoon; however are a great number of small kuleanas, indicative of the highly concentrated population of that locality in times past—a feature which is still a marked characteristic of the vicinity, as compared with other districts.
The great land of Honouliuli, (which includes that of Puuloa, lying to the westward of the Harbor entrance,) was awarded to a high Chiefess named Kekauonohi, wife of the powerful and popular Kealiiahonui, who died in the early fifties. It has come down by few conveyances to the ownership of Mr. James Campbell, probably the most wealthy resident of Hawaii today; and within its borders is located the famous and recently established Ewa Plantation, where the world’s record in sugar culture was last year broken by their harvesting within a fraction of ten tons per acre, from an area of 125 acres. From this ownership is excepted the Puuloa lands, referred to, which are the property of Mr. James I. Dowsett, one of the first children born of white parents on the Islands, now an extensive and successful rancher. These lands are devoted to ranching, while near the entrance to the Harbor, salt works of considerable capacity are profitably conducted by Mr. Dowsett. Next adjoining Honouliuli is the ahupuaa of Hoaeae, comparatively small in area, and then comes the extensive and valuable Waipio, in whose borders is embraced the peninsula first herein referred to, which runs to the very entrance of the lagoon, and separates West Loch from the other portions of the Harbor.
Waipio was the property of a very influential Hawaiian, (though not a chief,) named John Ii. Who embraced the faith, and some of the thrifty practices of the missionaries, learned to read and write, and was made a Justice of the Supreme Court, a position to which it has never been deemed necessary, in Hawaii, to appoint men learned in the law. Mr. Ii died, and left a daughter. She was sole heir to the Ii estate.
She married Mr. C. A. Brown, who with the patriotic instinct of a true American, places those acres at the disposal of his home Government, with an alacrity that almost verges upon anxiety to devolve their ownership upon his Uncle Samuel. There comes to him with peculiar force and meaning, as he stands at times upon the cliffs of Waipio, the sentiment of Scott’s stirring lines:
“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
As never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my Native (wife’s) land.”
The major section at the land scheme underlying the Pearl Harbor Naval Station craze is right here at Waipio, and at Ford’s Island, now owned by this same patriotic Mr. Brown. This gentleman went all the way to Colorado some years ago, in order to buy up the title to Ford’s Island, from a son of the original Dr. Ford for whom it is so named. He secured the deed he went for, but was soon compelled, (or persuaded) to convey the Island to his wife, a mortgage upon whose other hands furnished the funds for the purchase.
That he had the contingency of selling the Island to the U. S. Government in mind sufficiently appears from the fact of his having given his vendor a separate agreement to pay him a further sum of Fourteen Thousand Dollars, in case he, Brown, should sell the Island to the United States or any other Government. As he is now supposed to have been in Washington, engaged in the endeavor to sell to Uncle Sam, and as Ford thinks he will come out at the small end of any deal which Brown may conduct, and the agreement for more money to be paid Ford upon the condition above mentioned was so drawn as to make it unrecordable under Hawaiian law, (as a means of notifying all the world of Ford’s equities,) Ford is now stated to be about to begin suit to declare his position and interest in the Island.
The fact that Mr. Brown has most persistently devoted himself to the entertainment of Admirals Irwin, Walker and Beardslee during the last years and that his swell dinners to the officers mentioned are famous lends color to the belief that there may be some understanding between him and them in the premises.
The vicinity of the Harbor is not destitute of other little land projects whose advocates look through a vista having the U. S. Treasury at the other end of it. There is a variegated boom right on the Pearl City Peninsula, so called for the reason that no “city” is apparent in the locality. That imaginary city was laid out by the Oahu Railway & Land Co., a corporation running a little railroad from Honolulu to Ewa Plantation, a distance of about 15 miles, most of which skirts the lagoon. The original “city” was platted on the uplands, running from the shore of the Harbor to the mountains several miles away. It was intersected with avenues bearing names that sooth, and streets bearing names that jingle, and a crowd of suckers were one day corralled in an auction room, hypnotized by the auctioneer, and the lots were sold off in a trice at figures that would create a boom in Denver. This was several years ago. The lots are still there, and as vacant as ever, for the most part. The projector of that scheme, in showing his imaginary “city” to an irreverent visitor one day, remarked that the one needful to make Pearl City great and prosperous, was a plentitude of water, interspersed with good society; to which the visitor replied that Hades needed even less, as it had good society.
Having worked the uplands for all they were worth, the ardent projector moved his paper “city” down upon the Pearl City Peninsula, and laid out more lots, and parks, and avenues than would grace a railroad center in Ohio. After much effort he succeeded in giving some of these away to certain speculators, and swapped a few more for different kinds of old junk. The one investor, has built several cozy cottages, for which there are no tenants, and a school house for which there are neither teacher nor pupils, and a church for which there are no worshipers; while some other owners, to a total of less than a dozen, have built little camping-out cottages which they sometimes occupy,- and so the Peninsula section of Pearl City stands. Of course each lot owner has an axe to grind, and wants to grind it at the United States Treasury. Each thinks he sees a fortune in his few square feet of soil, in case of the establishment there of the much desired naval station. Though few in numbers, they are fitted with full lung power, and make a good deal of noise when prating of the advantages, (to Uncle Sam, of course,) of such an establishment. But such philanthropic schemes are all alike, in their main features and symptoms, and the American public, having seen so many need little details of description as to this one.
From Pearl City eastward, and around to the entrance to the Harbor, the land is variously owned. The Railway Company, the Crown Land Commissioners, the great Bishop Estate, and the estate of the late Queen Emma, (devoted to the support of the Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu,) hold the larger tracts; and, strange to relate, there is no symptom of a land boom, or of a scheme to unload upon Uncle Sam visible in these localities.3
The surveys of the Harbor conducted by the United States navy have presumably been done with a view, looking to its practical utilization. Much of the foregoing article has been devoted to a discussion of the interior of the lagoon. But whatever the advantages of the interior, they must first be reached, in order to be utilized. As above shown, there is no present possibility of conducting any but the smallest craft into the harbor, owing to the shallow and tortuous entrance.
It has been long supposed that the outer shoals were under laid with hard coral and lava rock, and that the process of opening a channel would involve elaborate and expensive blasting operations. But that theory has yielded to some practical experiments, conducted by the naval officers, and which reveal the fact that the material underlying the areas of shoal water off the entrance is nothing more or less than sand; considerably encrusted and hard packed, in places, but still only sand. The manner of the demonstration has been to set up a derrick at different points off the entrance, as the framework of a sand pump, consisting of a four-inch pipe fitted with sand valves and plunger; to pump the sand and water from the bottom of the pipe, which would continue to wattle as the pumping progressed until a depth of 32 feet had been reached at each point of operations.
Lieutenant Max Wood, of the U. S. S. “Philadelphia,” a most experienced officer under whose command those experiments were conducted, is understood to have written a report in which he sustains, in enthusiastic terms, the feasibility of dredging the entrance, by cutting a ditch or a channel through that great sand bed for a distance of about two miles and so opening the Harbor to naval and commercial crafts. It is further understood that Lieut. Wood takes the ground that such channel would not be in danger of filling up, but that on the contrary, the section of the tides would exert a scouring effect upon the ditch, and keep it from becoming choked. But this sanguine view is not shared by those whose experience in these waters entitles their opinions to respect. Those who oppose the Lieutenant’s views, to the very feeble tidal action of these latitudes, as compared with these further north or south. As before mentioned, the mean rise of the tide at Pearl Harbor is but one foot seven inches. It follows, therefore, that no such volume, and consequently, no such force of water would sweep through the proposed ditch, as though the rise and fall of the tide were six to eight feet, a moderate figure in more northern climes.
But if we take it for granted that the sand will shift with the tidal current, it must be remembered that the tide runs in before it runs out, and the incoming tide must be reckoned with, as well as that outward bound. It seems to your correspondent that the experience of the last few years is against the view advanced, or supposed to be advanced by Lieut. Wood. Take for instance the Golden Gate, and Carquinez Straits, between the Sacramento River and San Pablo Bay. The Sacramento is a mighty stream. In it the tide rises to a height of six feet as high up as the Delta of the San Joachim. And yet, in the case of the “slickens” or debris from the hydraulic mines, although so light as to be held for a great part in solution, it settles along the entire course of the river, until Suisan Bay has become almost unnavigable, and the navigability of Carquinez Straits is seriously threatened, while a well-grounded apprehension exists as to the filling up of the whole of San Pablo and San Francisco Bays, and even the Golden Gate itself. If, then such conditions can exit and grow along the course of the Sacramento, in spite of the tremendous tidal force there constantly exerted, what can be hoped for at the mouth of Pearl Harbor? There are other examples along the western coast of America. All navigators know that the entrance to Humboldt Bay changes with each storm, if not with each tide and the same is true, though perhaps in a lesser degree, of the Columbia River entrance. Who would maintain for a moment that a ditch, cut through either bar last mentioned, could be found the next morning after a heavy tide? And yet, if Pearl Harbor is to be opened and kept open, it must be done under conditions less favorable to the project, in some material respects, than prevail at either Humboldt Bay or Columbia River. Here the sand shoal extends two miles. There is a storm of periodical occurrence in these waters, called “kona,” from the fact of its coming from the south,—that being the “kona” or lee side of the Islands. That is the most furious of all our storms, and the mouth of Pearl Harbor is peculiarly exposed to it, after its sweep across the sand shoal referred to. It is the opinion of excellent judges here that, even were such a ditch dug through the sand shoal to the Pearl entrance, and though it should be kept open by tidal action, or other forces, in ordinary weather,—yet, upon the occurrence of one of our “konas,” it would be filled to its banks, during much of its course, by the sand that had been dug to make it, and other sand carried in by the force of the storm. And such is the opinion of your correspondent.
No doubt the recent deepening of the bar to Honolulu harbor will be cited in favor of the feasibility of the project named, but the parallel will not hold good between the two localities. At the Honolulu bar, the dredging operations merely involved the shaving off of the hump of a hillock of sand, whose sides descended precipitously, inshore and offshore, to deep water, and requiring a cut loss that two hundred yards in length. That work has stood the test up to date. But if it has been a ditch through two miles of almost level sand bed, sloping gradually for that distance into deep water, it would have been as it is at Pearl Harbor, a very different story.4
1An Essay on Acquisition of Pearl Harbor, Independent, May 9, 1895, p. 1.
2Ibid., May 10, 1895, p. 1.
3Ibid., May 11, 1895, p. 1.
4Ibid., May 13, 1895, p. 1.