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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

George Anson Byron

George Anson Byron

1824 to 1826

The voyage of H.M.S. Blonde, under the command of Captain Lord Byron, was dictated by feelings of sympathy on the part of the Government of Great Britain for the then independent kingdom of Hawaii. Liholiho, or Kamehameha II, with his queen and their suite, paid a visit to England to obtain a firsthand view of western civilization. Measles, which is merely an incident to the children of western peoples, proved fatal to the adults of a race from the open Pacific, where resistance had not been built up by subjection to the ills which persisted with cultural progress. In spite of the care of Sir Henry Halford and the best physicians in London, Queen Kamamalu died on July 8, 1824, and King Liholiho died six days later. The British Government paid all the expenses of the unfortunate visit and detailed the Blonde to return the embalmed bodies of the deceased, together with their suite, to Hawaii.

The Blonde sailed from Spithead on September 29, 1824, rounded the Horn, and after visiting the Galapagos Islands for a stock of land turtles for provisions, sighted Hawaii on May 3, 1825. On May 6, the Blonde anchored off Honolulu and fired a salute of fifteen guns which was returned by the forts. At the reception for Lord Byron and his officers, the young king and the princess were seated on a cane sofa covered by a beautiful feather garment which had been made expressly as a skirt (pa'u) for the Princess Nahienaena. (This page 92historic garment, which was the first and only feather garment made for a female after the abolition of the tabu law prohibiting women from wearing garments made of feathers, is preserved in Bishop Museum.)

The Hawaiians were naturally grateful for the return of their dead, and valuable gifts were lavished upon the officers of the Blonde. A wooden image and a feather cloak which were given to Andrew Bloxam, the naturalist with the Blonde, were bought from his descendants a century later and are also preserved in Bishop Museum. The provisioning of the Blonde during its stay at Oahu was done entirely from Boki's estate, and it was with great difficulty that Lord Byron induced Boki to accept the payment for goods, as directed by the British Admiralty orders.

The Blonde left Honolulu on July 12, and after touching at Kealakekua Bay, sailed south for Tahiti. However, after trying for ten days to get to windward, Byron gave it up. On July 29 land was sighted, and its position proved that it was a new discovery. Charles Malden, surveying officer, and others went ashore, and Byron named the atoll Malden Island. A structure found on the island and composed of coral-limestone slabs was drawn by Robert Dampier.

On August 8 another island was encountered which Byron named Parry Island. This later proved to be Mauke (called Mauti by Byron) in the Cook Islands. As all hopes of making Tahiti were abandoned, Byron sailed for Juan Fernandez and the Chilean coast, where he spent some time. He doubled Cape Horn on December 29 and anchored at Spithead on March 15, 1826, after carrying out one of the most gracious acts that one country has ever extended to another.