Robert Louis Stevenson is one of my favorite authors and Hawai’i is one of my favorite places, so it’s all the more interesting to me that there is a strong connection between the two.
Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis and traveled frequently in an effort to find a climate that would be more healthy for him than his native Scotland. During a longer journey to the South Pacific, Stevenson visited Hawai’i twice: once for five months (24 January – 24 June) in 1889, and again for a shorter period of time (20 September – 27 October) in 1893.
On his first trip, Stevenson, his wife Fanny, and Fanny’s son Lloyd sailed to Hawai’i on the yacht Casco to visit Fanny’s daughter Belle Strong and her family. Belle’s husband, the artist Joseph Strong, had lived in Honolulu as a child and returned there later with Belle and their son; he was subsequently appointed an official government painter by King Kalākaua.
The Casco arrived in Honolulu on 24 January 1889, and Stevenson and his family (Fanny, Lloyd, and Stevenson’s mother) stayed for a few days with Henry Poor at his house at 40 Queen Emma Street, Honolulu.
Two days after arriving, Stevenson was invited to ‘Iolani Palace, where he was presented to King David Kalākaua and attended a feast in the king’s boat house. The king reciprocated by visiting the Casco on 1 February.
In the king’s boathouse. (Source: Hawai’i State Archives; Wikimedia Commons)
You can make a visit to the harbor, which still retains certain merits as a tourist destination, and wander over in the direction of where the boathouse once was (Diamond Head of Pier 7, near the University of Hawai’i’s Marine Center). But Stevenson is not there.
You can amble down Queen Emma Street and visit the Gothic-style Cathedral of St. Andrew with its stained glass window showing explorers who visited the Hawaiian Islands, but Stevenson is not there, in glass or in spirit.
You can tour ‘Iolani Palace – and you should – but any spirit, or mana to use a related Hawaiian word, remaining there is pretty much confined to that of the last king and queen of Hawai’i.
If you’re looking for Robert Louis Stevenson on O’ahu, the place to start is Waikīkī.
On 27 January 1889, the Stevenson party moved out to Waikīkī, where they stayed in Manuia Lanai, a bungalow belonging to Henry Poor.
After deciding to remain in Hawai’i for the present, Stevenson sent the Casco back to San Francisco and rented a small house with a large lanai next to Poor’s bungalow, located near the road that went through Kapiolani Park.
They stayed there off and on for over four months, sometimes working (Stevenson finished several books during this period) and sometimes entertaining. Either the Stevensons or the Poors – or they both together – hosted King Kalākaua, his sister Princess Lili’uokalani, and other guests at a lu’au.
There were other social visits with the island’s royalty. Stevenson visited the Cleghorns at their estate, ‘Āinahau, and developed a friendship with 13-year-old Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn, the crown princess of Hawai’i. (Stevenson’s stepdaughter, Belle Strong, had previously been a lady-in-waiting to Ka’iulani’s mother.)
During those months, Stevenson also made sailing trips to the Big Island and Moloka’i. He and his party eventually left Honolulu on 24 June 1889.
By 1893, the Stevensons were living in Samoa. However, trouble with his tuberculosis and a measles epidemic in the vicinity convinced Stevenson to make a trip to Hawai’i in hopes of improved health. He sailed with his cousin, Graham Balfour, and his Samoan cook, Ta’alolo, from Apia to Honolulu, arriving on 20 September 1893.
Earlier that year, George Lycurgus, a Greek businessman living in Hawai’i, had leased the Herbert house in Waikīkī (visible on the 1887 map as the second to rightmost house along the beach) and turned it into a hotel where guests could rent thatched bungalows. He called it the Sans Souci. It was at this hotel that Stevenson stopped during his second visit.
Balfour left for Scotland a couple of weeks later, but Stevenson stayed on a little longer. Unfortunately, he became very ill, and Fanny traveled from Samoa to get him, arriving on 19 October. Together, Stevenson and Fanny returned to Samoa on 27 October.
During his stay, Stevenson wrote in the hotel guest book: “If anyone desire such old-fashioned things as lovely scenery, quiet, pure air, clear sea water, good food and heavenly sunsets hung out before their eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Waianae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci.”
I decided to take Stevenson’s recommendation and find the Sans Souci with the hopes that I would also find him.
To be continued…