Denby Fawcett: Queen Liliuokalani's Royal Standard Will Be Returned To Hawaii Thanks To A $60,000 Deal - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Hawaii’s state archivist will bring the flag home and documents of the man who led the military forces to dethrone the queen.

State Archivist Adam Jansen is flying to New York later this month to bring home to Hawaii items from Bonhams auction house related to the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

They include Liliuokalani’s Royal Standard, the queen’s personal flag that flew over her Washington Place home in Honolulu on Jan. 17, 1893, the day she was overthrown.

According to the queen’s diary, the day after she was deposed, she visited the royal mausoleum and later traveled by carriage to her cottage at Waikiki to take a swim, trying to calm herself from the enormity of what had happened.

When she returned to Washington Place, she received a note from the provisional government ordering her to permanently take down her personal flag, which greatly distressed her because she had understood the new government would allow Hawaii’s royal flags to continue to fly.

Jansen, who will travel to New York on March 27, said he feels an enormous responsibility as the courier of Liliuokalani’s Royal Standard, which will remain beside him as carry-on luggage on the plane home from New York to Honolulu.

“I will be treating the queen’s personal flag as representing the queen herself. It has mana. The flag is an important piece of the story of Hawaii coming back to the people after more than a century,” said Jansen.

Washington Place 175th anniversary ceremonies.
The Royal Standard once flew over Washington Place until Queen Liliuokalani was forced to take it down after she was overthrown. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

He will also be bringing back the personal letters and documents of Col. John Soper, who was in charge of the military troops that amassed, banding together to threaten violence if the queen did not step down peacefully.

The estate of Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa and Damon Estate heiress and philanthropist Brendan Damon Ethington have each donated $30,000 for a total of $60,000 to prevent the historically valuable materials from ending up in the hands of private collectors.

Bonhams had initially intended to sell the property in an online auction, but the London-based company stopped that plan after the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office sent a letter saying the items rightfully belonged to the state.

However, Honolulu sword and antiques dealer Robert Benson — the owner of the property that had commissioned Bonhams auction house to sell the items — refused to relinquish the documents and the flag.

He had purchased them from Soper’s descendants eight years ago in San Francisco.

Royal Standard Queen Liliuokalani Denby Fawcett column
A section of Queen Liliuokalani’s 12-foot long Royal Standard. (Courtesy: Jim Wright)

Benson and his wife, Rita, said they were glad worthy parties had purchased the items.

“We were their caretakers for a while and are very happy the pieces are going to good homes,” they said Saturday in an email.

Attorney Jim Wright successfully negotiated with Benson to buy the Soper documents and the Royal Standard. Ethington then agreed to pay half of the price.

Wright is the trustee of Kawananakoa’s revocable living trust.

Both parties agreed to subsequently donate the items to the state.

Robbie Alm said Kawananakoa’s estate became involved because “the princess hated seeing treasures of Hawaiian history put up for sale online.”

Kawananakoa, who died in December, held no formal title, but her lineage included the royal family that long ruled the islands.

Alm said it drove her crazy to see artifacts and documents important to understanding Hawaii’s history locked up in private collections with no public access.

“She wanted people to have the opportunity to live and breathe history,” he said.

Benson, the collector who owned the flag and Soper’s papers for eight years, said he was well aware of their historic value.

“I will be treating the queen’s personal flag as representing the queen herself.

State Archivist Adam Jansen

He told me in a phone conversation in October that he had tried many times to get the state archives interested in buying them and had brought them to the attention of Kamehameha Schools, but there were no takers.

“Robert Benson is the person who preserved and protected the flag and documents. We have them today because of him,” said attorney Jim Wright.

The state archivist has said the queen’s Royal Standard shouldn’t be used as a “war trophy.”

That was what happened after the overthrow when Soper took the queen’s flag as his personal property.

Queen Liliuokalani
Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani. (Wikimedia Commons)

Soper was the Honolulu businessman Sanford Dole selected to lead the armed troops in the overthrow. After the Hawaiian queen stepped down, Dole made Soper the commander-in-chief of the military forces of the provisional government of Hawaii.

Soper later served as the top military leader in the Republic of Hawaii and through the first decade of the Territory of Hawaii. Hawaii became a state in 1959.

Jansen said Soper’s writings are enormously valuable and will provide scholars and others new insights from the top military leader of the overthrow and the opportunity to read in his own handwriting his attempts to justify the dethronement of a sovereign monarch.

“I am just glad I was able to help the archives get the documents,” said Ethington, whose great-grandfather Samuel Mills Damon was finance minister in King David Kalakaua’s Cabinet. He did not participate in the overthrow but was made vice president and later finance minister of the provisional government that followed.

Ethington said as a history major at Yale she became aware of the importance of primary documents to students and scholarly researchers.

“There is nothing better than the firsthand documents of the times. They should be protected and available to the public, not in private collections. How will we know what happened if we don’t have access to the actual writing of the people who were there?” she said in an interview.

Jansen said once the documents are returned the public will have multiple ways to see them both at the archives and in digitized form on the internet, with hard copies of the documents to be placed in Iolani Palace.

Alm said he hopes Liliuokalani’s flag can be returned to Washington Place since it was originally taken from there.

Col. John Harris Soper disarming Queen Liluokalani's household guard after the overthrow.
Col. John Harris Soper disarming Queen Liluokalani’s household guard after the overthrow. (Wikimedia Commons)

But Jansen said that will have to be part of an ongoing discussion because the queen’s former residence lacks the preservation capability of a museum.

Jansen said he hopes the return of the queen’s personal flag will make history resonate for the people of Hawaii in a way it might not have before.

“It is not just the piece of cloth but who owned it, what it signified. It can never be duplicated,” he said.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

This flag was stolen, by why are so many different sellers just okeydokey with trafficking stolen goods? It doesn’t sound like it was difficult to get that information either! So ‘the family’ had possession: that’s totally not the same as ownership!The papers are not the same. Hawaii foundations having to pay to get back that flag is tawdry blackmail from the descendants of unlawful usurpers/thieves. Instead of such arrogant entitled hutzpah, they should be ashamed and return any ill gotten financial gains. So blatant. I’m really offended that they thought it was theirs to sell. There are serious arts investigations going on, with teeth too, that are forcing major US museums with looted goods to GIVE them back. It’s not surprising that this auction slipped under the radar, but I hope there’s a chain of custody investigation. Especially when it’s so public!

Mauna2Moana · 8 months ago

Today, I finished reading Hawaii Aloha authored by Keith S. Abe of Hilo, Hawaii. A fantastic book with quotes of Mark Twain describing the island people as: unselfish, loving people and most hospitable. Full of Aloha. The ending of the book high lights the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani. Today, Danby Fawcett article of the Queens personal flag coming home to Hawaii is a miracle to behold. Hawaii Aloha is a must read book. Mahalo

kealoha1938 · 8 months ago

Let’s act like a nation and receive the queens flag with respect and pride . With t love and appreciation of its history It is a lost child being returned to ifs homeland . We should send a delegation to retrieve the queens flag and return it home . We should send kahili bearers to honor our queen and her flag . A couch shell announcing its importance and passage Let all of American witness our pride and resolve let all of America understand the injustice to our queen and the native hawaiian population . Don’t look back look to the future . IMUA

peters · 8 months ago

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