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  • The Watchers: How Espionage Doomed the Counter-Revolution of 1895
  • Ralph Thomas Kam (bio)

‘Auku‘u kia‘i loko.Pond watching heron (said of a spy).

—Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary

Although supporters of Queen Lili‘uokalani vastly outnumbered proponents of the Republic of Hawai‘i, the revolutionaries who toppled the monarchy employed espionage to suppress counter-revolutionary activities following the overthrow. Spying provided the key advantage that doomed the armed attempt to restore Lili‘uokalani to the throne by forcing the rebels to start fighting before they had fully prepared and later provided damning evidence that helped convict participants in the uprising.

Called variously a rebellion, a counter-revolution, an insurrection, and an uprising, the armed attempt to overturn the government of the Republic of Hawai‘i lasted less than a week, from Sunday, January 6, 1895, to Wednesday, January 9, 1895. The brevity of the conflict belies the much longer preparation for the uprising that had involved [End Page 163]

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Figure 1.

Edward Griffin Hitchcock, Marshal of the Republic of Hawai‘i, created or published before October 30, 1896. Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Archives (AH).

royalist supporters recruiting forces, soliciting funds, ordering arms and determining battle plans in the months leading up to conflict. Ever anxious about their government’s precarious position, leaders of the Republic of Hawai‘i employed a cadre of spies to monitor their opposition. The spies, officially called “specials” or “special policemen” were part of the marshal’s office, under Edward Griffin Hitchcock, son of Harvey Rexford Hitchcock, member of the fifth company of missionaries sent to Hawai‘i by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). He was the husband of Mary Tenney Castle, the daughter of Samuel Northrup Castle and Angeline Loraine Tenney Castle, members of the eighth company of missionaries. S.N. Castle was one of the founders of what became Castle & Cooke, [End Page 164] one of the Big Five corporations that controlled much of the economic life of Hawai‘i. Hitchcock served as marshal starting March 23, 1893. The marshal reported to the attorney general, William Owen Smith, son of yet another ABCFM missionary, James William Smith, a physician with the tenth company of missionaries.

Ancient Practice

Spying certainly was not new to Hawai‘i. The Hawaiian word for spy, “kiu,” existed before contact with the West. Kamehameha no doubt used kiu in his conquest of the island chain. Indeed, the use of women as spies was part of the poem, “A Legend of Kamehameha the Great,” published in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in January 1894.1 The Hawaiian word for spy was included in the earliest Hawaiian language dictionary compiled by missionary Lorrin Andrews, namesake of revolutionist, Lorrin A. Thurston. Referencing a practice that had been in existence for millennia, Andrews cited the Biblical use of the word regarding spying in the ancient kingdom of Egypt. The modern Hawaiian-English dictionary includes another highly applicable word, kiuho‘opulu, translated by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert as, “To spy cunningly in order to entrap, perhaps by pretense of cultivating friendship.”2 The espionage of the Republic of Hawai‘i relied heavily on developing friendships with royalists and their allies.

Watching Queen Liliuokalani

The spies especially kept constant watch over the deposed queen, Lili‘uokalani. She complained about the constant surveillance in her 1898 autobiography, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen:

Spies were in my household, and surrounded my house by day and by night; spies were also stationed at the steps of the Congregational church opposite my residence, to take note of those who entered my gates, how long they remained, and when they went out. My respect for true religion prevents my stating the active part one of the preachers of God’s Word took in this espionage.3

The identity of her household spy is open to speculation, but at least one of the specials asked whether the government would want just such [End Page 165] an operative inside Washington Place. John Henry Van Giesen asked in his report to the marshal: “Shall...


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