The French in Hawai`i
In the 60 years after La Perouse's voyage in 1786, French ships visited the Hawaiian Islands regularly. The French launched voyages of discovery and scientific expeditions, voyages for trade, and voyages to protect French religious and political interests in the Pacific. La Perouse, the French equivalent to England's Captain Cook, spent two and a half years in the Pacific on a mission to discover new lands, make scientific observations, and establish commercial relations for France. He left France in 1785 and on May 30, 1786, his two ships landed on Maui.
La Perouse did not, however, claim Maui for France. He writes, "What right have Europeans to lands their inhabitants have worked with the sweat of their brows and which for centuries have been the burial place of their ancestors?" After leaving Hawai'i, he discovered and named Necker Island and French Frigate Shoals. After other adventures in the Pacific, the ships left Port Jackson, Australia in January 1788 and disappeared. Forty years later, Captain Peter Dillion, an Irish adventurer, discovered the two vessels had foundered in a storm off the island of Vanicoro, in the Santa Cruz group.
After the 1840s, about 25 French ships arrived in Hawai'i each year. Many were whalers as Hawai'i had become a commercial port for ships from around the world. In addition to trade, France was deeply interested in furthering her political interests in the Pacific and in spreading Catholicism. In 1837, Jules Dudoit, a Honolulu merchant of French background, was appointed consular agent for France and in the same year a convention on French-Hawaiian relations was signed. Another convention was signed in 1839, followed by two treaties in 1846 and 1857 formalizing relations between the two countries. French-Hawaiian relations continued to be stormy and included several dramatic episodes. The 1839 treaty, for example, involved the payment of $20,000 to a Captain Laplace under the threat of war. In 1849, marines from the French ships La Poursuivante and the Gassendi landed in battle array at the foot of Nu`uanu Street and took possession of the fort, government offices, and customs house.
To establish Hawaii's presence in Europe and to smooth over relations between Hawai'i and various European nations, several members of Hawaii's royalty traveled abroad. Queen Emma, Princess Ka'iulani, Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho), Prince Kuhio and King Kalakaua all visited France.
The often contentious political relationship between Hawai'i and France was in part the product of inherent religious differences between the French Catholics and the predominantly Protestant Hawaiian leadership. American and English missionaries, all Protestant, had been in the Islands since the 1820s and quickly became very influential in Hawaiian life and politics. Subsequently, many of France's diplomatic efforts in Hawai'i aimed to protect Catholic missionaries, who first arrived in 1827, and to secure a place for the Catholic religion in Hawai'i.
The first Catholic mission consisted of three priests of the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary: Father Alexis Bachelot, Abraham Armand, and Patrick Short, an Englishman. Though ordered away by Ka'ahumanu, they stayed long enough to celebrate their first mass on Bastille Day (July 14) 1827 and the first baptism was performed November 30. They acquired a piece of land in Honolulu from Kamehameha III for the first Catholic chapel. The Catholics had the protection of Governor Boki, who had been baptized in 1819 on the French ship Uranie, but Boki disappeared at sea in 1830 and his wife Liliha was removed from power in 1831. In April 1831, the chiefs banished Fathers Bachelot and Short; after several months they were shipped to Mexican California.
In 1835, a second attempt was made to found a Catholic mission in the Islands. The church created the Vicariate Apostolic of Eastern Oceania with Father Bachelot made prefect of the area north of the equator. Brother Columba Murphy, an Irishman who was a British subject, arrived in 1835 to look over the situation. As a result, Father Arsenius Walsh, also a British subject, arrived in September 1836, and through the influence of the captain of a French warship then in port, was allowed to stay and minister to foreigners but not to native Hawaiians. Bachelot and Short returned on April 17, 1837, but on April 30, a decree ordered them to return on the same ship that had brought them. The English and American consuls sided with Jules Dudoit against the chiefs and the priests were escorted ashore in early July by the captains of British and French warships.
Though Father Short left Honolulu at the end of October, a few days later two more priests arrived in Hawai'i: Father Murphy and Father Maigret. Murphy was allowed to land but Maigret and Bachelot sailed later in November for the South Pacific where Bachelot died at sea.
Soon after their departure, Kamehameha III issued a ban against the teaching or practice of Catholicism in the Islands, but in June 1839, what amounted to an edict of toleration was issued. As a result of the changing conditions and the demands of the French captain C.P.T. Laplace, the Catholic mission was finally established in May 1840 when the vicar apostolic of the Pacific, Bishop Rouchouze, arrived with three other priests—one of them the exiled Father Maigret. A stone church was soon begun, and schools and churches were erected on the other islands to advance the mission. The first Catholic printing press was set up in November 1841 and operated for 50 years. In 1847, Maigret was named Vicar Apostolic to the Sandwich Islands under the title of Bishop of Arathia; he served there until his death in 1882.
During the French mission period from 1827 to 1940, six bishops presided over the Catholic Church in Hawai'i. They all belonged to France's Congregation of the Sacred Hearts although only three of these mission bishops were born in France. Father Damien, Hawaii's most renowned French missionary, was actually born in Belgium. He was, however, a member of the French Congregation of the Sacred Hearts based in Paris. Damien was sent from France, ordained in the Honolulu Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in 1864, and assigned to Moloka'i in 1873.
Despite numerous religious and political conflicts that erupted throughout the years, France and Hawai'i also enjoyed more positive relations, particularly after the Islands were annexed by the United States. As early as 1854, Napoleon III invited the Hawaiian Kingdom to take part in the Universal Exposition of Agriculture and Industrial Products in Paris. Some of the products showcased at the expedition included: arrowroot, awa, coffee, flour, tobacco, koa, kou, kamani, and other ornamental woods, maize, sandalwood, sugar and tobacco in cigars. Hawai'i participated in Paris Expositions in 1855, 1868, 1889, 1899, 1900, and 1930-1931.
The kings and queens of Hawai'i were also frequent recipients of gifts and tokens of esteem from rulers around the world, including France. Items on display at 'Iolani Palace include a portrait of King Louis Phillipe that hangs in the Blue Room. In 1848, the huge portrait was carried by 12 seamen from the ship in Honolulu Harbor to the palace.
Today a friendly relationship between Hawai'i and France exists as Honolulu is a sister city with Bruyeres, France. In 1944, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion—made up mainly of second-generation Japanese-Americans from Hawai'i—suffered as many as 2,000 casualties while freeing Bruyeres and the nearby village of Biffontaine.