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Robert Crichton Wyllie
Born October 13, 1798(1798-10-13)
Dunlop, Scotland
Died October 19, 1865 (aged 67)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Nationality United States
Occupation Physician, Businessman, Politician
Parents Alexander Wyllie
Janet Crichton

Robert Crichton Wyllie (1798-1865) was a Scotish physician, businessman. He then served two decades as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Kingdom of Hawaii.


Early life

Wyllie was born October 13, 1798 in an area called Hazelbank in Dunlop parish of East Ayrshire, Scotland. His father was Alexander Wyllie.[1] His mother Janet Crichton traced her descent from James Crichton. He attended the University of Glasgow, earning a medical diploma by the time he was 20. He left as a ship surgeon, intending to practice in Russia. He got as far as Valparaíso in Chile in 1818, then set up in practice in nearby Coquimbo. After a few years he gave up medical practice and became a partner in a successful trading business. He took a small yacht Daule to Kolkata, India (then called Calcutta) from 1824 to 1826, stopping in the Hawaiian islands en route. His cousin William Edward Petty Hartnell had settled near Monterey, California since 1822, taking the name Don Guillermo and a Spanish wife.[2]

He returned to England in 1830, and continued to grow his fortune in banking with a partner named Lyall. He joined the expensive Reform Club in London. In 1842 he left for Mexico to investigate some of his investments in a group called the Spanish American Bondholders. Mexico was in financial trouble from the Texas Revolution and had essentially mortgaged vast amounts of land. His cousin Hartnell provided detailed reports encouraging British settlement of California. He was involved with Manuel Micheltorena, governor of Alta California, and Wyllie proposed a plan to buy land in Sacramento Valley and colonize California in 1843.[3][4]

Writing about this episode, a historian says: drama in the Pacific was complete without the fastidious, meticulous and verbose Scots busybody, Dr. Robert Chrichton Wyllie.[5]:83

He stayed with British British Consul to Mexico (and fellow Scot) Alexander Forbes, hoping to get help fom his investors for the California scheme. The investors, however, were willing to wait to get their money back. Irish priest Eugene McNamara led what would be the closest attempt to assert British influence in California.[5] By the time McNamara acted, however, events such as the "Bear Flag Revolt" gave the United States effective control over California.


Wyllie ran into his friend William Miller while in Mazatlán. Miller, although born in England, served as a general in the Latin American wars for independence under Simón Bolívar. The two had met earlier in Valparaíso. Miller had just been appointed British Consul to the Kingdom of Hawaii and convinced Wyllie to come with him while he was waiting for a response from his investors. They arrived in Honolulu in January 1844 aboard HMS Hazard. Miller continued on his voyage to Tahiti, since he was assigned to oversee British relations to all Pacific Islands. Wyllie stayed in the Hawaiian islands for the rest of his life.[3]


Politics and diplomacy

Wyllie first worked as acting British Consul until Miller returned March 15, 1845. During this time he compiled in-depth reports on the conditions in the islands. He was then appointed by King Kamehameha III as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of War, and to the legislature in the House of Nobles on March 26, 1845.[6]

He was seen as a counter to the American influence of Gerrit P. Judd, who had been a missionary doctor before becoming the first Treasurer, effectively the most powerful position in the country. Judd had also been acting as Minister of Foreign Affairs up to the appointment of Wyllie. Judd served about a year as Minister of Interior, and then was given the title Minister of Finance April 15, 1846.[7] One of his first assignments was to list the various complaints between the previous British Consul Richard Charlton and the American Commisioner George Brown. Brown had been fairly universally disliked, and was removed by request of the Hawaiian government.

In 1847 he started collecting documents to form the Archives of Hawaii.[8]

Crises and treaties

On August 12, 1849, French admiral Louis Tromelin staged a French Invasion of Honolulu. Tromelin sacked the city before sailing off with the king's yacht and other plunder. Judd and two young princes were sent to Europe to negotiate treaties, stopping in the United States on the way. Judd advocated annexation by the United States to protect against further actions by British and French.[9] Wyllie was more in favor of a simple treaty of Reciprocity. Former Hawaiian newspaper publisher James Jackson Jarves negotiated a treaty with John M. Clayton signed on December 20, 1849.[10]

In the meanwhile, Judd had met Charles Eames, the new American Commissioner and negotiated his own treaty in October 1849. Eames had been appointed by President James Polk for this purpose, but got only as far as San Francisco when he got involved in the California Gold Rush.[11]:379 Eames was quickly replaced with Luther Severance as U.S. Commissioner.[12] By 1850 he had treaties signed by the United States, Britain, France, and Denmark.

Wyllie had suggested dismaltling the old Honolulu Fort, since its outdated armaments had proven to be useless in preventing attacks anyway. In 1850 he proposed developing land around the Honolulu Harbor including the old fort land. Distractions would prevent this from happening for several years.[13]

A shipload of former gold prospectors led by Samuel Brannan arrived in 1851. These came to be known as the "filibusters".[14]:69

Mixing business

seal with plough and volcano
The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society was founded by American and British plantation owners

Wyllie built a house in Nuʻuanu Valley he called Rosebank. He entertained foreign visitors at the house, and the area today still hasseveral consular buildings.[15] In March 1853 he bought a plantation on Hanalei Bay on the north shore of the island of Kauaʻi. After an 1860 visit by Queen Emma of Hawaii and her son Prince Albert Kamehameha he named the plantation Princeville. He named another part of the plantation Emmaville, but that name never stuck.[16] Originally the land was planted with Coffee which was not suited to the wet lowlands. It was then planted with sugarcane.[17] He was a founding member of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society in 1850, contributing many papers.[18]

Another former Scotish physician, William Jardine (1784–1843) had become wealthy trading opium out of Hong Kong. Wyllie made Jardine's nephews consuls to make sure the lucrative China trade continued.[19] When his sugar production was limited by a labor shortage, he proposed importing workers from Asia for plantation workers.[20]:179

Annexation delayed

Wyllie would outlast many of his rivals and colleagues. Elisha Hunt Allen was American Consul 1850 – 1853. David L. Gregg became the American Commissioner 1853 – 1859. A smallpox epidemic in 1853 forced Judd to resign from the cabinet September 5, 1853. By the end of 1853, foreign residents were presuring the king to sign a treaty of annexation with the United States to protect them from a rumored insurrection. Kamehameha IV became king in January 1855, and kept Wyllie in the cabinet. The new king had seen American racism first-hand on his 1849 trip, so ended all negotiations for annexation. Kamehameha V then came to power when Kamehameha IV died November 30, 1863 and also kept Wyllie in the cabinet.

A letter once appeared in the Ayr Advertiser confusing Wyllie with English physician Thomas Charles Byde Rooke, who was adoptive father of Kamehameha IV's wife Queen Emma. It was titled "The Ayrshire Queen" and called Emma Wyllie's daughter.[21]

"Holy war"

Emma and Queen Victoria's silver christening cup

Wyllie kept Hawaii officially neutral during the American Civil War,[22] but promoted continuing trade of sugar and other products to the expanding California market. Meanwhile he quietly tried to lesson the influence of conservative American missionaries.[23]

In 1859, Wyllie instructed the Hawaiian Consul in London, Manley Hopkins[24] to send a priest from the Anglican church. He also contacted William Ingraham Kip of the American Episcopal Church in California who supported the idea, but the Civil War prevented any help from them. Thomas Nettleship Staley was consecrated as Bishop and arrived October, 1862 to start the Church of Hawaii. This was a more liberal church with pomp and ceremony missing from the dour American sects.[23]

Wyllie encouraged Emma to write to Queen Victoria, and despite the constrast in their respective dominions, they became lifelong friends. They exchanged condolences when their sons and then husbands died. Victoria sent an elborate silver cup and offered to be godmother (by proxy) of the young prince.[25]

In 1862 Lady Jane Franklin was entertained by Wyllie at his estates. He proposed giving out peerage titles, with Lady Jane as one of the first to be awarded. The Republican Americans would not allow it, but he did introduce court etiquette rules and official titles for the royalty. He insisted on formal European-style military uniforms for both royalty and cabinet officers, and favored decorative medals such as the Royal Order of Kamehameha I.[15]


Wyllie died October 19, 1865. Charles de Varigny who was serving as Minister of Finance, was his successor as Foreign Minister. He was the third person buried in the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii, which had just been completed. His nephew Robert Crichton Cockrane was named his heir, and changed his last name to Wyllie. Robert found out that the new sugar factory built on his Princeville plantation was deep in debt, and committed suicide in 1866. It was then bought by Elisha Hunt Allen at auction for a fraction of what Wyllie had spent on it.[16] A tomb built in 1904 was named for him, and his remains were moved there, along with eight members of the family of Queen Emma.

Rosebank was bought at auction by Charles Judd, son of Gerrit. Walter M. Gibson wrote that the personal papers were thrown out of the house, but most have never been found. He then sold Rosebank to F. A. Schaefer.[3] However, his meticulous records of public government business became the basis of the Hawaii State Archives.[15]

A street is named Wyllie Road in the Princeville resort at 22°13′8″N 159°28′16″W / 22.21889°N 159.47111°W / 22.21889; -159.47111 (Wyllie Road). As Nuʻuanu Valley was developed, a Wyllie Street was named for him, opposite the site of his Rosebank estate at 21°19′38″N 157°50′45″W / 21.32722°N 157.84583°W / 21.32722; -157.84583 (Wyllie Street). [26]



  1. ^ Mark Boyd. "An Adventurous Life". Reminiscences of fifty years: pp. 427–429.  (obiturary attributed to Ayr Advertiser)
  2. ^ Susanna Bryant Dakin (1949), The Lives of William Hartnell, Stanford University Press, ISBN 9780804714242, 
  3. ^ a b c James D. Raeside (1984). "The Journals and Letter Books of R.C. Wyllie: A minor historical mystery". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 18: pp. 87–95. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  4. ^ Henry Lebbeus Oak, William Nemos, Frances Fuller Victor. "Foreign Relations and Immigration—1843". History of California. 4. Hubert Howe Bancroft. pp. 383–384. 
  5. ^ a b John Fox (2000). "Wyllie". Macnamara's Irish colony and the United States taking of California in 1846. McFarland. pp. 83–86. ISBN 9780786406876. 
  6. ^ "Wyllie, Robert Crichton office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii.,%20Robert%20Crichton.jpg. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  7. ^ "Judd, Gerrit Parmele office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii.,%20Gerrit%20Parmele.jpg. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  8. ^ Agnes C. Conrad (1967). "The Archives of Hawaii". The Journal of Pacific History 2: pp. 191–197. 
  9. ^ William De Witt Alexander (1891), A brief history of the Hawaiian people, Board of Education of the Hawaiian Kingdom, ISBN 9780898753240, 
  10. ^ "Treaty with the Hawaiian Islands". December 20, 1849. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  11. ^ Ralph Simpson Kuykendall (1965) [1938]. Hawaiian Kingdom 1778-1854, foundation and transformation. 1. University of Hawaii Press. p. 249. ISBN 0-87022-431-X. 
  12. ^ Paul T. Burlin (2006). "Chapter 5: Luther Severance: Whig Ideologue as Diplomat". Imperial Maine and Hawai'i: interpretive essays in the history of nineteenth-century American expansion. Lexington Books. pp. 95–134. ISBN 9780739114667. 
  13. ^ William De Witt Alexander (1907). "Early Improvements in Honolulu Harbor". Annual Report (Hawaii Historical Society): p. 16. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  14. ^ Pauline King Joerger (1982). A political biography of David Lawrence Gregg, American diplomat and Hawaiian official. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 9780405140938. 
  15. ^ a b c Albert Pierce Taylor (October 15, 1929). "Intrigues, conspiracies and accomplishments in the era of Kamehameha IV and V and Robert C. Wyllie". Papers of the Hawaiian Historical Society (Hawaii Historical Society) 16: pp. 16–32. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  16. ^ a b Edward Joesting (1988). Kauai: The Separate Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 180–187. ISBN 9780824811624. 
  17. ^ Rhoda E. A. Hackler (1982). "Princeville Plantation Papers". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 16: p. 65–85. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  18. ^ The Transactions of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society. Volume 1. Henry M. Whitney, Hawaii Government Press. August 1850. 
  19. ^ "Circular and related documents MS.JM/L4/5". Jardine Matheson Archive. circa 1850. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  20. ^ Ralph Simpson Kuykendall (1953). Hawaiian Kingdom 1854-1874, twenty critical years. 2. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-87022-432-4. 
  21. ^ "Notice re the ancestry of Queen Emma MS.JM/L4/8". Jardine Matheson Archive. circa 1857. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  22. ^ "Kamehameha IV Printed Proclamation of Neutrality". The Abraham Lincoln Papers. United States Library of Congress. August 26, 1861. 
  23. ^ a b Robert Louis Semes (2000). "Hawai'i's Holy War: English Bishop Staley, American Congregationalists, and the Hawaiian Monarchs, 1860 - 1870". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 34: pp. 113–95. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  24. ^ Manley Hopkins (1869). Hawaii: the past, present, and future of its island-kingdom; an historical account of the Sandwich Islands. D. Appleton and Company. 
  25. ^ Rhoda E. A. Hackler (1988). ""My Dear Friend": Letters of Queen Victoria and Queen Emma". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 22: p. 101–130. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  26. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Elbert (2004). "lookup of Wyllie". on Place Names of Hawai'i. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 

Further reading

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Gerrit P. Judd
Kingdom of Hawaii Minister of Foreign Affairs
1845 – 1865
Succeeded by
Charles de Varigny


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