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  • Kalākaua and the British Press: The King’s Visit to Europe, 1881
  • Douglas V. Askman (bio)


On August 19, 1881, the Nottingham Evening Post explained that King Kalākaua of Hawai‘i (r. 1874–1891) had embarked at the beginning of the year on a journey around the globe and would, upon his return to Honolulu, become “the only reigning monarch who has ever made a tour of the world.”1 Kalākaua’s journey was covered by newspapers internationally, and this article will analyze the extensive coverage of the king’s trip in the British press, focusing on Kalākaua’s time in Europe, especially Britain.

Kalākaua visited the United Kingdom twice during his travels in 1881. During both journeys British newspapers showed a significant interest not only in the Hawaiian monarch himself, but his kingdom as well. The British press’ reporting about Kalākaua and Hawai‘i was overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, British papers were at times effusive in their praise of the king. Many of the monarch’s activities were covered in detail, especially his meetings with notable individuals. Kalākaua’s personality and demeanor were complimented almost universally, and the Hawaiian Kingdom was held up as a model. Nevertheless, in some of the press coverage an underlying, and sometimes blatant, cultural and racial prejudice is apparent. [End Page 27]

British coverage of Kalākaua contrasted with American reporting about the king. Like papers in the United Kingdom, journals throughout the United States followed the monarch’s trip widely in 1881. However, American reporting tended to be more mixed. Favorable articles were common in American newspapers; but more so than in the British press, periodicals in the United States presented negative coverage. As in Britain, negative reporting often included culturally and racially demeaning stereotypes about the king and his kingdom.2

Motivations and the First Phase of the King’s Trip

The first phase of Kalākaua’s world tour brought him initially to San Francisco, California at the end of January 1881. From there the king travelled to a variety of countries and territories in Asia, including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and India. British reporting on this portion of the king’s trip was generally brief and cursory.

The Pall Mall Gazette of London reported on February 1 that Kalākaua had arrived in San Francisco and was preparing to travel to Asia and Europe, departing from California to Japan. The paper explained that the purpose of the king’s trip was to look for immigrants to bring to Hawai‘i in view of the rapidly declining native population. This information came via telegram from San Francisco and was circulated in various English newspapers.3 Several weeks later the Liverpool Mercury related that Kalākaua had left the administration of the Hawaiian government to his sister and heir, Princess Lili‘uokalani, who was serving as regent during the king’s absence.4 Other news of Kalākaua’s travels in Asia also came from San Francisco. For example, the Salisbury Times noted that the king had visited Shanghai, China and discussed the topic of Chinese immigration to Hawai‘i.5

Other reporting on the king’s journey before reaching Europe came directly from sources in Asia. The Hampshire Telegraph announced on June 4 via a correspondent in the British colony of Hong Kong that Kalākaua had visited in mid-April, arriving from Shanghai. The coverage of the king’s time in Hong Kong was very positive. Kalākaua was referred to as “His Majesty,” and the Telegraph noted that the king’s party was met on arrival by the British governor’s private secretary. In addition, Kalākaua was invited to stay at the governor’s official residence while in Hong Kong. The paper portrayed the king in positive [End Page 28] terms, describing him as having a “genial, unaffected manner, and keen powers of observation.”6

After Kalākaua arrived in Britain in early July the Liverpool Mercury provided a brief summary of the king’s global travels before he reached England. The coverage was very favorable with the Mercury reporting that Kalākaua had...


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