November 28th is Lā Kūʻokoʻa, Hawaiian independence day. In 1842, seeing that Pacific Island nations were succumbing to imperialism, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) sent three envoys to Europe and the United States to secure recognition of Hawaiʻiʻs independence.
Timoteo Haʻalilio was the Hawaiian Ambassador, the Reverend William Richards was his secretary and Sir George Simpson of Britain agreed to assist the mission. Haʻalilio was a Lahainaluna graduate born on Oʻahu of aliʻi rank and the son of Haʻaloʻu, the governor of Molokaʻi. Richards was a former missionary who left the mission to become a teacher of political economy to the chiefs. Simpson was the former governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. Haʻalilio and Richards went through Mexico to Washington DC while Simpson travelled to Europe via Siberia. Between the three of them, they circumnavigated the Earth in pursuit of recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty.
The duo in Washington were able to garner recognition from President Tyler in December 1842 and travelled to Europe. Simpson, meanwhile, travelled first to Belgium, where its King Leopold had just received recognition eleven years earlier. Leopold was related to both King Louis-Phillpe of France and Queen Victoria, and could put in a good word for the fledgling new state on the international scene. Simpson then met Haʻalilio and Richards to pursue recognition from Britain and France. The trio first received recognition verbally, but waited until they could secure written recognition. On November 28th, 1843, the three envoys from the Hawaiian Kingdom obtained written recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty from the United Kingdom and France. The date became a national Hawaiian holiday beginning in 1844.
Richards kept a journal that gives stirring accounts of their travels. In the Mexican desert, the two men experienced scorching heat during the day, and bitter cold at night, and rode part of the way on mules. The reason for the ignominious nature of their journey, was that it was kept secret so as not to upset diplomatic relations. The pair reached Washington and secured verbal recognition from President John Tyler, who promised to bring the issue up with Congress and work toward a written recognition.
In the meantime, Haʻalilio was experiencing the kind of discrimination that Prince Alexander Liholiho would later experience in the US while travelling with Reverend Gerrit Judd. In one letter, Richards tells of Haʻalilio being refused entry to a dining room, and having to eat with the servants. Richards’s protests, that Haʻalilio was the Hawaiian ambassador fell on deaf ears. Out of respect, Richards joined Haʻalilio in the servants’ dining area.
In Hawaiʻi, the Paulet Affair, an overthrow by Britain had occurred in February, but was reversed in July. So Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty on the international level was being challenged just as it was being recognized. It took a few months to get a joint proclamation from Britain and France, but that was made on November 28th, signed by Lord Aberdeen on behalf of Queen Victoria. With their successful mission behind them and the sovereignty of Hawaiʻi secure, Haʻalilio and Richards returned to Hawaiʻi. But the trip had taken a toll on Haʻalilio. Richards’s journal has daily entries on his health, with good days and bad days, and one can feel the affection Richards had for his traveling companion, upon whom Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty literally depended. On December 3rd, 1844, Haʻalilio died of tuberculosis on board the returning ship at the age of 36.
Kupuna Mel Kalahiki, one of those who revived the observance of another Hawaiian holiday, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (along with Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell), described Haʻalilio as “one of the unsung heroes that you don’t often hear about,” the first martyr for the cause of Hawaiian sovereignty.