The story of Princess Kaiulani, it can be argued, is a telling reflection of her would-be kingdom. It is a somber tale of unfulfilled promise, dashed dreams and a life cut tragically short. And in the end, it leaves us all wondering about “what might have been.”
Born on October 16, 1875, during the reign of King Kalakaua, Victoria Kaiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiui Lunalilo was named for England’s Queen Victoria, a longtime friend to Hawaiian royalty. Her mother was Princess Miriam Likelike, sister to Kalakaua. Her father was Scottish-born Archibald Cleghorn, one-time governor of Oahu.
At birth, Kaiulani was given an estate in Waikiki by Princess Ruth Keelikolani, the last surviving member of the Kamehameha’s. Called Ainahau, the estate was near the ocean and surrounded by trees and flowers. Peacocks strutted amongst the ponds and footpaths. As a child, Kaiulani spent many hours riding her white pony.
When she was 13, the princess met poet Robert Louis Stevenson, who had moved into the residence next door. The two became fast friends, with the famed writer mesmerizing Kaiulani with intriguing tales as they sat in the garden.
Shortly thereafter, Kaiulani was sent away to England to further her education. During her absence, Hawaii’s monarchy fell on troubled times, including the unexpected death of King Kalakaua in 1891. His sister, Liliuokalani, ascended the throne as Hawaii’s queen. Among her first acts was naming Kaiulani as her heir apparent.
Kaiulani wanted to return home, but the queen would not permit it. So the princess bided her time in England, attending royal balls, theatrical events, and other social functions. Tall, slim and beautiful, Kaiulani captured the hearts of all who met her.
Alas, by the time the princess returned to the Islands in 1897, her homeland was already a much different place. Liliuokalani had been forced to abdicate her throne four years earlier, and the monarchy was no more. Instead, Hawaii was about to be named a republic by U.S. President William McKinley.
“I must have been born under an unlucky star,” said Kaiulani, “as I seem to have my life planned for me in such a way that I cannot alter it.” Months later, while horseback riding on the Big Island, she was caught in a rainstorm and fell ill. The cold lingered for months. Finally, on March 6, 1899, Kaiulani died fo pneumonia. She was only 23.