Buckle, Wahinepio and Leoiki

At the end of May in 1823, Keōpūolani, Nāhiʻenaʻena and Hoapili (Keōpūolani’s husband) moved to Maui and took up residence in Lāhainā.

"The queen was desirous to have missionaries to accompany her … A meeting was called to consult whether it was expedient to establish a mission at Lahaina. The mission was determined on, and Mr. S. (Stewart) was appointed to go: he chose Mr. R. (Reverend William Richards) for his companion."  (Betsey Stockton Journal)

At about the same time, whaling ships were calling at Hawaiʻi.  (Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands.)

At that time, whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.

Rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area.   The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands.  Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands.

Starting with Cook’s arrival, his crew and later the whalers sought and received other pleasures.  The matter of sailors and Hawaiian women got more complicated in 1825, when the British whaler Daniel IV, under the command of William Buckle, made its way into Lāhainā.

Before leaving, Buckle asking that Leoiki accompany him on his cruise sent her to her chiefess, Wahinepio, with eight gold doubloons. At first hesitant, Wahinepio spoke with Buckle and then gave her OK, after he promised to bring the girl back (as well as adding two more doubloons.  (Litten)

To many it appeared Wahinepio sold Leoiki, a girl of sixteen, into slavery to Captain Buckle.  The money was later added to the treasures left by Liholiho, because no one was found willing to be its owner.  (Thrum, 1918)

As was the practice, Richards sent his daily journal to the mission headquarters (his account of the matter later appeared in the newspapers – likewise, a new policy was established, not allowing women to board the ships at anchor.)

This brought two areas of disturbance: (1) a claim of slavery, with subsequent assertions of libel and (2) a rowdy crew expecting female companionship on board ship.

Let’s address the latter, first.

Take the scene of October, 1825. A missionary and his family are alone on the Island of Maui. The British whale ship Daniel, under Captain Buckle, arrives and comes to anchor. The crew soon find that a change has taken place. Instead of the accustomed throng of native females, not an individual of the sex approaches the ship. (Dibble)

With a law in force forbidding women to visit ships, the Captain and his crew threatened to burn Mr. Richards' house, and to kill him and his wife. The next day fifteen sailors came ashore armed with knives and pistols and waving a black flag. By order of the chiefs the mission was surrounded by two hundred armed natives. The sailors marched up the hill with threatening mien but, seeing the array of bayonets, turned around and marched right back again. (Thrum, 1918)

The first matter of slavery claims did not go unnoticed by Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III.  “After sitting silent a short time Boki read a manao of the king & his sister in which they express their intention to prevent any violent measure being taken against Mr. Richards, that they would condemn the one that should be proved to be in the wrong and justify the one that should prove to be in the right.”  (Chamberlain)

Buckle had claimed libel against Richards for publishing the slavery claims in the papers (the story was not just mentioned in the Islands, it made the continental papers, as well.)

To this Richards replied that he had not seen the communication alluded to and that he could not make oath to any newspaper declaration & moreover that he had never written or said anything which by a fair interpretation could be construed to mean that Buckle had made a purchase for the purpose of reducing to slavery.  (Chamberlain)

Supporting the ‘no sale’ situation, Leoiki (and Buckle) denied that she had been sold to Captain Buckle.  (Chamberlain)

Later, Richards addressed a conciliatory letter to Buckle stating the reasons which he sent his report to the Mission Board and that he did not authorize the publication of it and that he had never supposed that Buckle had obtained the woman for the purpose of reducing her to slavery, nor did he think that by a fair interpretation that meaning could be inferred.  (Chamberlain)

Buckle, feeling his reputation has been damaged, answered Richard’s letter declaring false the account of the purchase & of the riot & pronounces the whole to be a libel, and states if this were a civilized country where justice could be obtained he should bring him to the punishment which he deserved; and that even now he could demand that Richards retract what he had written and acknowledge his statements to be false.  (Chamberlain)

Richard Charlton, British Consul-General, noted, "Captain Buckle could not be convicted of having bought a female slave as the inmate of his cabin."  (Bingham)  The natives say Mr. Richards is to be put to death for falsely accusing Buckle. (Chamberlain)

While the transfer of funds raised the suspicion of many that Leoiki was sold into slavery, some suggest the payment was simply the traditional payment of dowry. (While we sometimes limit the context of ‘dowry’ to the property a woman brings to a marriage; it can also mean money given by the groom to the family of the bride.)

Then, on December 26, 1827, the Daniel IV, under the command of Captain Buckle, left Lāhainā.  “The departure of this captain who has been the occasion of so much trouble to the mission gave us no small comfort. She sail’d in company with the Elizabeth Capt. Stewart. We were happy to see both vessels steer directly off without altering their course.”  (Chamberlain)

A meeting of the chiefs followed.  There, they agreed to close the subject.  The meeting did, however, proclaim three general laws: those against murder, adultery and theft. (Litten)

There is another tangential end to this story.  On February 5, 1826 (very much in the middle of the above timeframe,) William Wahinepio Buckle was born to Buckle and Leoiki (apparently born while they were at sea.)

The Māhele documents show that Leoiki was given five lands on three islands; she also received title to the land Captain Buckle bought for their home in downtown Honolulu: both definite indications that she was still considered an Aliʻi.  (Creed, waihona)

William Wahinepio Buckle later was a member of King Kalākaua's Privy Council.  His daughter, Jane Kahakuwaiaoao Keakahiwalani Buckle Clark, was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Some of the Buckle descendants are buried in the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery on King Street. 

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Captain William Buckle
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