top of page
  • martinjcrowther

The Visit of Kaleleonalani, Queen of the Sandwich Islands

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Queen Emma. Copyright National Portrait Gallery.

A Forgotten royal visit

Martin Crowther, Heritage Engagement Officer for the St Nicholas Church, Castle Hedingham Voices from the Pews project reveals details of an extraordinary and largely forgotten royal visit to Hedingham Castle in 1865, uncovered during research for an exhibition due to be held in the church this summer.

Some queens associated with Castle Hedingham

Visits by queens are well-documented in the history of Castle Hedingham - from that of Queen Matilda, wife of King Stephen, who fell ill and died at Hedingham Castle in 1152, to the sumptuous entertainment of Queen Elizabeth I as the guest of John 16th Earl of Oxford and his wife Margery in 1561.

The village also boasts a Queen Street, though which monarch it’s named after is uncertain.

Queen Boudica in her chariot. Portrayed on an Essex jug by Castle Hedingham potter Edward Bingham. Private Collection.

A much earlier queen, Boudica, the leader of the Iceni in their spirited revolt against the Romans, features prominently on the elaborate Essex jugs of local Victorian potter Edward Bingham.

Queens in St Nicholas Church

Stroll into St Nicholas Church, and you’ll discover carvings of medieval queens, kings and archbishops on the intricately carved rood screen separating the nave from the chancel.

Carving of a queen on the medieval rood screen in St Nicholas Church, Castle Hedingham. Copyright Michael Anderson/St Nicholas Church.

And protected in a small glass-fronted box at the base of the tower is the only fragment of wall painting to survive from the medieval church – believed to be a representation of the Virgin Mary as The Queen of Heaven.

Wall painting fragment believed to be The Queen of Heaven in St Nicholas Church, Castle Hedingham. Copyright Michael Anderson/St Nicholas Church.

Visit of the Queen of the Sandwich Islands

However, another royal visit is much less well known. It is the inspirational story of a woman of colour who travelled over 16,000 miles to help raise money for a cathedral and improve the health and education of native Hawaiians. It was reported in the Essex Standard, on 9 August 1865, entitled 'Visit of the Queen of the Sandwich Islands'.

I came across it while searching for interesting stories about the village in the British Newspaper Archive. The following extracts provide some fascinating details...

On Thursday a meeting on behalf of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands’ Mission… was held in the Great Hall of the fine old Noman Keep on the estate of Ashurst Majendie Esq… and the occasion was rendered both attractive and memorable by the presence of the Dowager Queen of the Sandwich Islands, who… is now sojourning in this country and aiding by her presence and personal efforts the raising of money for increasing the efficiency of the Church founded in her native islands.

Queen Emma stayed at Hedingham Castle in for 2 nights in August 1865.

A temporary platform was erected for the chairman and speakers, and seats were reserved for the principal visitors. Queen Emma having a leather-covered easy chair placed upon a carpeting of crimson cloth. Her Majesty, who is of middle stature and of bronze complexion, but having a very pleasing and intelligent expression of countenance, was dressed in English mourning, including a widow’s cap.

So, who was Queen Emma? A bit of online research revealed an intriguing story…

Early life in Hawaii

Queen Emma was born in 1836, the daughter of a Hawaiian high chief and high chiefess, but following the Hawaiian tradition of hānai was adopted by her childless maternal aunt, chiefess Grace Kamaʻikuʻi Young Rooke, and her husband, Dr Thomas C.B. Rooke. She grew up in her adoptive parents' English mansion in Honolulu. Educated at the Royal School, which had been established by American missionaries, she was both Hawaiian and Euro-American in her habits, and, with access to an extensive library, developed a keen interest in books.

By the age of 20, she was an accomplished young woman, 5' 2" and slender, with large black eyes. Her talents as a vocalist, pianist and dancer were widely admired. She was also a skilled horse rider.

Married life and charity work

In 1856, she married Alexander Liholiho, who just a year before had assumed the throne as King Kamehameha IV. Two years later Emma gave birth to a son, Prince Albert Edward Kamehameha.

As well as family and palace duties, she extended the royal library, and in 1861 sang in a performance of Verdi's opera Il Trovatore with her husband as stage manager.

Well-known for her humanitarian efforts, she played a key role in establishing a public hospital to help Native Hawaiians suffering from imported diseases like smallpox. The Queen's Hospital opened in 1859 and Emma visited patients regularly whenever she was in Honolulu.

She also founded St Andrewʻs Priory school for girls, so Hawaiian girls could receive an education equivalent to that offered to boys.

The establishment of the Anglican Church of Hawaii

In 1860, Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV petitioned the Church of England to establish the Church of Hawaii. Following the arrival of Anglican bishop Thomas Staley, they were baptized in a joint ceremony on October 21, 1862 and confirmed in November of the same year.

With her husband, she championed the Anglican (Episcopal) church in Hawaii and founded St Andrew's Cathedral.

After the sad death of her son, aged just 4 in 1862, and of her husband a year later, Queen Emma became known in Hawaii as Kaleleonalani, which translates as ‘flight of the heavenly ones.’

1865 visit to Europe and America

In 1865 she travelled to England and the United States, both for her health and to raise funds for the Anglican mission in Hawaii. Among the places she visited were London, the French Riviera, Italy, Germany, Paris and Ireland, before sailing for New York.

She met extensively with European royalty, including Queen Victoria and the Emperor Napoleon III of France, as well as US President Andrew Johnson, and was the first queen to visit the White House.

The Secret of England’s Greatness. Queen Victoria presenting a Bible in the Audience Chamber at Windsor by Thomas Jones Barker. Copyright National Portrait Gallery.

Emma met Queen Victoria on September 9, 1865 and again on 27 November when she spent a night at Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria recorded the first visit in her journal:

After luncheon I received Queen Emma, the widowed Queen of the Sandwich Islands or Hawaii. Met her in the Corridor & nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner. She is dark, but not more so than an Indian, with fine feathers [features?] & splendid soft eyes. She was dressed in just the same widow's weeds as I wear. I took her into the White Drawing room, where I asked to sit down next to me on the sofa. She was moved when I spoke to her of her great misfortune in losing her only child. She was very discreet & would only remain a few minutes. She presented her lady, Mrs Hoopile whose husband is her Chaplain, both being Hawaiians...

Click here to see the original entry: Queen Victoria's Journals - Journal Entry

It was while in London, and exactly a month before she first met Queen Victoria, that Queen Emma made her fundraising visit to Castle Hedingham, taking advantage of the recently built railway.

It was arranged through her ‘intimate personal friend’ Lady Franklin, who was sister-in-law of Mr Ashurst Majendie, the owner of the castle.

Numerous people of rank were in attendance at this high-profile Victorian fundraiser, and were exhorted to dip into their pockets to help establish an Anglican Mission Church in Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii (as the Sandwich Islands was becoming increasingly better known).

Several long speeches were given and reported in full. Ashhurst Majendie, as Chairman, emphasising in dramatic terms how a recently godless country was being converted to Christianity.

The very interesting country… was, only 45 years ago, under the influence of the most debasing idolatry. There were idols of hideous form and gigantic size – some of them 10 feet high, their priesthood, of course, exercising an immense influence over the people; but by far he most dreaded of their deities was the terrible goddess Pele, supposed to inhabit the great volcano of Kilanea, the crater of which was nine miles in diameter, and 2,000 feet deep, and, with her attendant demons, to bathe and sport in its sulphurous waves. This was the scene of Christian courage triumphing over material and supernatural terrors when the converted chieftess Kapeolane, in the year 1825 dared the anger of the invaded goddess and the dangers of the way by descending alone into the crater, casting from her hands into the seething lava the sacred berries as an open act of desecration.

Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. Copyright US Geological Survey

He also higlighted the influence of women, including Queen Emma, in effecting such change... She, following the example of those who had gone before her, had ventured on a voyage of thousands of miles, through various climates, with the purest intention of doing good to her people. (Applause). He was sure they would give her as good a reception, and that they would endeavour, according to their means, to promote the great object which had brough her to this country. (Hear, hear, and applause).

The need for funds to build a suitable mission church was raised…

One of the dearest wishes of the Royal lady… was to see built up at Honolulu a suitable Mission Church as a memorial of her lamented husband. There is great need… for building a proper and suitable Mission Church at the capital. The Roman Catholics and the Calvinists possess large places of worship… whilst the worship of the English Mission is conduced in a small and poor temporary wooden edifice.

The importance of girls' schools was also highlighted...

The education of the female population is… one of the most pressing of the moral needs of the Islands; for on this, under God’s blessing, depends not only the future elevation of the moral character of the people, but the very existence of the native race.

Finally, after all the speeches a resolution was passed unanimously…

“That this meeting desire to offer their most respectful thanks to Queen Emma for her graciousness in honouring this meeting with her presence, and to tender to Her Majesty the expression of their heartfelt sympathy in her noble efforts to promote civilization and Christianity among the Hawaiian people.”

The collection amounted to £50, 8 shillings and 9 pence.

Queen Emma’s signature, Hedingham Castle, August 5th 1865

Queen Emma stayed at Hedingham Castle for two nights, and as she was a devout member of the Anglican church, there’s a good chance her stay included a visit to nearby St Nicholas Church.

What became of Queen Emma?

After her exhausting 18-month tour of Europe and the USA, which raised over $16,000 dollars, Queen Emma returned to Hawaii.

St Andrew’s Cathedral was built using money raised on the trip. It was constructed using Caen stone, shipped from Normandy to Hawaii as ships ballast. The first phase took 20 years to build and opened in time for Christmas 1886.

Today it has a special Royal Patrons Chapel to honour the memory of its founders, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma.

In 1874, although she had the support of many Native Hawaiians, Queen Emma was unsuccessful in an election to become the new head of state of Hawaii, and retired gracefully from public life.

After her meetings with Queen Victoria, they became lifelong friends and corresponded regularly.

She died in 1883, aged 49, and is buried in the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii.

259 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page