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In the late afternoon of August 8, 2023, wildfire swept into Lahaina, the sometime capital of the entire Hawaiian archipelago on the west coast of Maui, obliterating the town and killing more than a hundred people. The town may be rebuilt, but nothing is left of old Lahaina but memories. Some of those belonged to the captain of the French corvette Uranie, halfway through her never-to-be completed global circumnavigation, and to his wlfe Rose.. Just fifty years after James Cook first set foot on the islands, they found a town already in the process of adapting to visitors from beyond the Pacific.

On the 16th of August 1819, after a less than satisfactory stay on the Big Island, where it had been impossible to obtain the supplies needed for the next leg of his voyage, and after having rounded Kaho’olawe island on the previous day, Louis de Freycinet dropped anchor off the settlement he knew as Reheina (Historique, v. 2, part 2, p.541). He would remain there for fourteen days, during which time observations were made with the pendulums and other instruments. The role of the township as the royal seat of governance had yet to come, but Louis had brought with him the governor of the island, Kiaïmoukou, who had adopted the European name of Cox.

Figure 1:  Undated, but certainly early, drawing of Lahaina. Louis de Freycinet gave the coordinates of his anchorage as 20 51’ 35”N, 200 57’ 55”E (of Paris). The longitude translates to 156 40’ 57”E of Greenwich, and the coordinates of Lahaina are given by Wikipedia as 20 52’ 26”N, 156 40’ 39”W, confirming the identity of the ‘Reheina’ of Louis de Freycinet with modern Lahaina. Reproduction from the website ‘Images of old Hawa’i’, where material is placed for personal, non-commercial, and educational purposes.

Rose de Freycinet had been suffering from headaches and when the ship anchored she was still weak from the blood-letting that had been applied as a cure, and she did not go ashore immediately. When she did, she provided her mother with a short account of her visits to the town that she wrote as Reina.

I finally landed in my turn on Maui a few days ago, because I am feeling better, and all week has been busy with observations of the pendulum and the like, which has required the almost constant presence of my husband. However, we returned every day to eat and sleep on board. My evenings have been occupied in going through American newspapers which, although old, date from after our departure from Europe and have been of great interest to me. They were given to us by an American Captain Meek who anchored here recently, coming from Oahu. I thought the English were much occupied with the civilising of the Sandwich Islands, but I have learned that English vessels have barely been seen here in ten years: It is the Americans that come here the most. There are even people from that nation living on several of these islands, especially Maui and Oahu. We will anchor off the latter when we leave Maui, because Louis has learned that there is an American vessel there on which the captain has rice and biscuits for sale, the provisions we need for our next passage. You can have no idea of ​​the difficulties that we have encountered in these islands in completing our re-provisioning. Louis has been told on all sides that if we had still found here the old king Kamehameha, who loved Europeans, nothing could have been easier, but the authority of the young king being not fully established, we have found ourselves victims of the rapacity of the various chiefs who, even when themselves good, are advised to do ill by vile intriguers of all nations with whom they are obsessed. Louis will provide details of everything that might be useful to any sailors who might wish to know the condition and customs of the country. At the moment the situation is very annoying, because for a long voyage one must have sufficient provisions.

Rose then made brief mention of one of the foreigners who was living on the lsland..

 We have met here a M. Butler, an American captain who was brought to these islands by some remarkable adventures and is an example of what can be achieved by well-informed cultivation, on a portion of land that the former king entrusted to him.

Louis had much more to say about the visit, including more information on ‘M. Butler’. He wrote:

While ashore I  met an Anglo-American named Butler, who later confessed to me that he was a sort of consular agent of the government of the United Provinces of South America, and derived his powers from that same commander of the frigate Argentina, which, cruising a short while before near Manila, had captured the brigantine of our friend Medinilla, governor of the Marianas. Mr. Butler did not appear to me uneducated, and I even judged him a very gallant man. The adventures that had determined his settling in these parts are quite extraordinary. Landed because of illness on the island of Agrigan in the Marianas, he had been brought back to the Sandwich Islands, where his poor state of health had obliged him to remain. Tamehameha, wanting to make use of him, had granted him land on Mowi, and for some time he had lived there quite happily, but since the death of that prince and having no guarantee for his property, he had lived in continual fear of the vexations with which the heads of the island sometimes threatened him. Mr. Butler took me to his house, situated on the edge of the pretty stream which was to serve as our watering-place. I admired the intelligence and care with which the adjoining land was cultivated: there were immense nurseries of paper mulberry trees, whole fields of banana trees or sugar canes of a magnificent size, plantations of taros or other plants suitable for human food, with huge breadfruit trees scattered here and there; finally, the fertility and freshness of the soil was everywhere maintained by frequent and well-planned irrigation.

Figure 2: Kiai’moukou (on the left), also known as Cox, and two of his advisors. Plate 82 of the Atlas Historique

There is much more that could be written about Edmund Butler, whose complaint about the lack of security of land tenure in the islands was to be echoed by the American and European settlers Rose and Louis would encounter on Oahu. Louis, however, had other problems. Once on home territory and away from the royal gaze, Kiai’moukou was making all sort of difficulties.

On the 22nd, Kiai’moukou announced that he was ready to begin trading, and M. Requin, our quartermaster, was instructed to speak to him. However, it was obvious from the start that things would not go smoothly. After having brazenly maintained that the king had not promised to give me twenty pigs, but only ten; that he had not fixed the price of the largest of these animals at six piastres, but at ten, the honest governor made it a condition of selling us any of this sort that we buy the mediocre and the small ones, although most of them were so thin and weak that I would not have wanted to take them on board, even as a present. He also offered taro and sugar cane, needed as food for the beasts, at a quite ridiculous price, and finally established, as a condition sine qua non, that he would be given in payment only coined money and not any of our trade goods.

Irritated by these annoyances prompted by a signal bad faith, I took the ten pigs, that is to say, half of what the word of the king had authorized me to demand, and returned on board, with the intention of setting sail immediately:. Unfortunately I was no more certain of finding enough resources on Wahou to satisfy promptly all the needs of the corvette; the fear of wasting time and perhaps of missing my supplies made me concentrate in myself all the indignation I felt, and I resigned myself to making fresh attempts to finish with this man at some point.

Consequently, I fitted out the launch and the two large dinghies and went ashore early the next day, both to bring the instruments of the observatory back on board and to be in a position to quickly take on board such items as we could obtain. Kiai’moukou was well aware that his conduct had displeased me and when he saw the three boats heading for the shore, he doubtless imagined that I wanted to compel him by force to accept the conditions that I would dictate. He had always come to receive me when I landed, but not only did he not appear this time, but also abandoned his house, followed by his subordinate chiefs, except for one who had orders to tell me that the prince was in the bath, which at this hour, was not to be supposed. Be that as it may, his absence continued until the launch loaded with our tents, our baggage and our instruments had left the island to return on board.

On his return, I reminded him of the king’s promises to me, and declared in a very firm tone that, if he did not fulfil the conditions which had been agreed in his presence at Kohai’hai, I would buy nothing at all from him but, would immediately set sail, and then find a sure means of letting the king know how his orders had been disregarded.

Before agreeing to resume any business, I demanded that it would first be established that the ten pigs of which I had been unjustly cheated would be delivered to me, and that no restriction would be imposed on me in the choice of those of these animals that I would then like to buy. At first he made no reply but went to confer with his officers . He then sent word to me that the king had indeed promised me twenty pigs, but that he had thought that only ten should be handed over to me here, and that I would take the other ten from Wahou; that, however, he agreed to give them all to me immediately. For the surplus we entered into an accommodation: the fat pigs were taxed at the rate of eight piastres, and there were also great reductions on the other objects. Night having come to surprise us in the middle of these negotiations, I saw with regret that we would still have to devote the next day to them.

On the 24th, everything was finally completed, more easily than I expected..

During all our disputes, it was easy for me to see that Kiai’moukou was being advised by a very ill-favoured man, whom I have since learned was a convict escaped from Port Jackson. This wretch had gained the confidence of the prince, and urged him, I am convinced, to act so disloyally with us. The idea that we would go through with it as he liked might have commended itself to the latter, and momentarily spurred on his cupidity, but I believe that, lefr to himself and to the impulses of sound heart, he behaved with all the nobility and uprightness that had hitherto seemed to me to be the essence of his character.

It was of great importance that we arrived promptly at Wahou Island, where, according to Captain Meek, we would find a supply of biscuit and rice, so that I was in a hurry to get there. Consequently, on the 25th, the breeze having risen early, I took advantage of it to depart under full sail towards that destination, and finally dropped anchor off the port of Onorourou on the morning of the 26th.

It was only when moored off Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, at that time the main centre of foreign settlement on the islands, that Louis was at last able to solve his supply problems. Once adequately stocked, he was happy to leave. Rose, equally glad to be under way, was less happy about the supply situation. On the 12th of September she wrote:

Finally, just six days ago, loaded with provisions more notable for quantity than quality, we lost sight of the Sandwich Islands. About a hundred live pigs, a few goats and rather more kids, that is about the sum of what we were able to obtain. I would have liked to have had a large number of chickens, but on the contrary we have only a very few: they do not know how to raise poultry on these islands. What we were able to find of fresh vegetables will not go far.