LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — A museum in Hawaii is preparing to open a treasure-trove of artifacts from the shipwreck of a royal yacht sunk off the coast of Kauai 191 years ago.
Richard Rogers, a Hawaii shipwreck chaser, worked with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution to dredge up the findings from the ship owned by King Kamehameha II, aka Liholiho, the second king of Hawaii.
“We found gold, silver, Hawaiian poi pounders, gemstones, a boat whistle, knives, forks, mica, things from all over the world, high- and low-end European stuff. Every bit of it is royal treasure,” Rogers said.
A cupid furniture mount in the Empire style, originally gilded, was found in the wreckage of a ship belonging to King Kamehameha II, aka Liholiho, the second king of Hawaii, which sunk off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii in 1824. The cupid is sharpening an arrow on a lubricated grind stone. (AP/Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Harold Dorwin)
Rogers volunteered his time aboard his research vessel, the Pilialoha, over a five year period in four-week intervals from 1995 to 2001 to pull up the treasures.
“It’s all pickled and nice and ready to be displayed,” Rogers said. “There are over a thousand artifacts. We did our homework and this find is invaluable because it all belonged to the king. It is a fabulous window into the 1820s.”
Rogers said the king’s belongings were buried in 10 feet of water and 10 feet of sand. His favorite discovery was a trumpet shell.
“I found it under a bunch of sand and carried it onto the deck. This was in 1999. I blew it and it made the most beautiful sound going out over Hanalei Bay,” Rogers recalled. “I thought about how it hadn’t been blown in over 170 years.”
This photo provided by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History on April 8, 2015 in conjunction with the upcoming book “Shipwrecked in Paradise: Cleopatra’s Barge in Hawaii,” shows a sampling of Hawaiian artifacts found in the wreckage. At center is the royal pu, or conch horn. Around it are ulu maika game stones, pounders, canoe breakers, and a stone rubber. (AP/Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Richard Strauss)
A vegetal ivory finger ring was found. (AP/Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Hugh Talman)
Kamehameha II purchased the yacht from George Crowninshield II, who named it “Cleopatra’s Barge” in 1816. According to historian and Kauai Museum volunteer Zenon Wong, it cost $50,000 to build the 192 ton yacht. Rogers said it was the first luxury ocean-going yacht built in the United States.
Wong said reports were conflicting about the condition of the crew of the 83-foot long ship, which had been renamed Ha?aheo o Hawai?i (“Pride of Hawaii”). Some documents indicate everyone on board was drunk April 6, 1824, when the ship went aground on a shallow reef. Other historical accounts report everyone was intoxicated except the captain. The cause of the wreck is unfounded but speculation shows it may have been the combination of an unexpected wind gale and a snapped anchor cable. There are no reports that anyone died aboard the ship, which was crewed entirely by Hawaiians.
A watercolor painting by Capt. Richard W. Rogers contains historical and archaeological information on the ship belonging to King Kamehameha II, aka Liholiho. (AP/Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Richard W. Rogers)
The principal value of the artifacts is historical, said Paul F. Johnston, Ph.D., Curator of Maritime History at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution. They represent the only known objects from the short but intense reign of Kamehameha II, the man who abolished the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) socio-cultural system and allowed Christian missionaries into the kingdom.
“He only reigned from 1819 -1824, but Old Hawaii changed forever and irrevocably from the changes he put into place during that short period. He was an important member of our nation’s only authentic royalty,” Johnston said.
This is a diagram of the wreckage of the stern of the ship. (AP/Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Thomas Ormsby)
The State of Hawaii owns the artifacts and loaned them to the Smithsonian for conservation and study. The findings were in the custody of the Smithsonian from the time of their recovery, with the exception of some artifacts going to the Underwater Conservation Lab at Texas A&M University. Those objects were returned to the Smithsonian after cataloging, conservation and stabilization. Several years ago a sampling of the artifacts were displayed at the Smithsonian.
Four crates of recovered artifacts weighing nearly 1,200 pounds were delivered to The Kauai Museum in March. Two to three additional crates are scheduled for delivery and will complete the collection.
Kauai Museum Director Jane Gray said she expects to open the crates soon and unveil the contents to the public after everything has been carefully unpacked.