130 Years Ago: Boxing up the Queen’s Own

The below image details Queen Liliuokalani’s 272-man Royal Household Guard being disarmed by Col. John Harris Soper, late of the California National Guard and a former Marshal of the Kingdom of Hawaii, following the overthrow of the monarchy in January 1893, while outgoing Captain of the Guard Samuel Nowlein looks toward the camera beside the bowler-hatted Soper. The Hawaiians stacked arms, turned over equipment, and list to “The Authority” notice read by Colonel Soper, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of military forces of the Provisional Government of Hawaii the day before.

Hawaii State Archives: Call Number: PP-54-1-001

Note the Union Army-style sack coats and kepis over white canvas trousers, and stacked “Trapdoor” Model 1873 Springfield breechloaders with Mills-style cartridge belts atop.

A small force of about 16 men were left to provide a ceremonial detachment to serve Liliuokalani in exile for another year or so.
 

Royal Guards in front of the house of Queen Lili’uokalani (known as Washington Place), circa 1893. Pictured here is the “fallen Queen’s house,” Washington Place, and the guard of sixteen, plus their captain. Photograph by Hedemann, 1893. It appears Nowlein is to the left, armed with a sword. Courtesy of the Bishop Museum.

Souper’s force also had the backing of the U.S. Navy, in particular, the Atlanta-class protected cruiser USS Boston, soon to be of Battle of Manila Bay fame.

As outlined by Lillich, on the Forcible Protection of Nationals Abroad, in International Law Studies, Vol 77, Boston’s Marines and Bluejackets were landed under the old “protection of lives and property” pretext:

When Queen Liliuokalani informed her cabinet that she planned to promulgate a new autocratic constitution by royal edict, some of her ministers informed the prominent American residents of the islands. These Americans requested the support of the U.S. Minister, John H. Stevens, and the protection of the U.S. Navy. Stevens arranged to have a detachment from the fifth USS Boston, a protected cruiser, land at Honolulu on 16 January 1893, for the ostensible purpose of protecting American lives and property. Curious to their stated purpose, the Americans were not stationed near American property, but rather were located where they might most easily intimidate the Queen.

The American presence served its function and on 17 January, Liliuokalani’s opponents deposed her and established a provisional government under the presidency of Sanford B. Dole. The provisional government requested that the United States assume the role of a protectorate over the islands. Mr. Stevens complied with the request and raised the American flag on 1 February. The Boston landed another detachment of Marines that same day, increasing the number of American forces in Honolulu to about 150 men. Subsequently, there was a change of administration in Washington, with President Cleveland disavowing the actions of Mr. Stevens.

On 1 April 1893, the American flag was hauled down and the landing force withdrew.

Sources: Baily 429-33; Ellsworth 93; Offutt 72-73

Fine screen halftone reproduction of a photograph of the USS Boston’s landing force on duty at the Arlington Hotel, Honolulu, at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, January 1893. Lieutenant Lucien Young, USN, commanded the detachment and is presumably the officer at right. The original photograph is in the Archives of Hawaii. This halftone was published prior to about 1920. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 56555

Going further down the rabbit hole, the dour Soper, aged 46 in the top image, would become Adjutant General and Chief of Staff of the National Guard of the Republic of Hawaii and then the Hawaii Territorial Militia in 1900 when the islands were formally absorbed by the U.S., retaining that post through 1907 when he retired at the rank of brigadier general. Of note, he managed Soper, Wright & Company, a large sugar plantation on the Big Island.

The National Guard of Hawaii, formed to serve the Hawaiian Republic from 1893-1898, was a battalion-sized unit comprised of two companies of mostly whites recruited in Honolulu (most of the former Honolulu Rifles), one company of Portuguese volunteers, and one of Germans. Hawaii State Archives

As for Nowlein, the native Hawaiian and devoted monarchist would later play a big role in the so-called Wilcox Rebellion in 1895, named such due to its leader, Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox, a surveyor with experience in the Italian Army. Nowlein’s and Wilcox’s ~500-man force of Royalists would fight the much-larger Republican Hawaii National Guard, which was augmented by two companies of U.S. Army regulars and a battalion of local Citizen’s Guard volunteers, in three pitched battles across three days, ultimately failing. Pardoned of most of a resulting five-year prison sentence, the last Captian of the Queen’s Guard died in 1905.

In 1916, the U.S. Army’s 32nd Infantry Regiment was first organized at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. At its activation, it was known as “The Queen’s Own” Regiment, a title bestowed by the deposed last queen of Hawaiʻi, Liliʻuokalani. Although it long ago left Hawaii (1/32 has been part of the 10th Mountain Division in New York since 1996), it still retains the nickname as part of its lineage. 

32nd Inf memorial on Fort Benning. Note the islander’s “Kamehameha” war cap and “The Queens Own” scroll

The Royal Guard would remain disbanded for 70 years. 
 
In 1963, the state enrolled a small ceremonial guard, outfitted in pith helmets and Trapdoor Springfields, to be the Royal Guards of Hawaii. Drawn from members of the Hawaiin Air National Guard, each of its 42 volunteers has to be of full or partial Hawaiian descent. 
 
As noted by the state: 
 
They were re-established on November 16, 1963, marking the beloved 19th-century monarch King Kalakauka’s birthday celebration. Members of the unit go to great lengths to maintain period-correct uniforms, even refurbish original helmets all on volunteer hours, and use the Hawaiian language to call commands during their drills and ceremony. The members of the Royal Guard help the state and its Guard members to connect to their unique place in history serving as reminders of the heritage and history of their forbearers. 
 

Hawaii Air National Guardʻs Royal Guard posts ceremonial watch on the anniversary of refounding, November 16, 2021. (US Air National Guard Photos by Master Sgt. Andrew Lee Jackson)

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