Hawaiian King's Treasures Home After 191 Years

Smithsonian returns more than 1K artifacts belonging to King Kamehameha II
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2015 8:25 AM CDT
A cupid furniture mount in the Empire style, originally gilded, found in the wreckage of a ship belonging to King Kamehameha II.   (AP Photo/Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Harold Dorwin)
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(Newser) – A shipwreck hunter describes it as the first luxury ocean-going yacht built in the US, one that reportedly hit a shallow reef in April 1824, when everyone on board—save, perhaps, the captain—may have been drunk. Though no one is recorded to have died, the 83-foot ship, which belonged to the second king of Hawaii, went down off Hanalei. And 191 years later, the artifacts the Ha'aheo o Hawaii (Pride of Hawaii) held for so long at the bottom of the sea are going home. "We found gold, silver, Hawaiian poi pounders, gemstones, a boat whistle, knives ... Every bit of it is royal treasure," Richard Rogers tells the AP, putting the item-count at more than 1,000. He, in tandem with Smithsonian Institution scientists, surfaced King Kamehameha II's treasures between 1995 and 2001 after receiving what the Star-Bulletin reported at the time were the first underwater archaeological permits granted by the state.

All the retrieved items save those that needed attention from Texas A&M's Underwater Conservation Lab spent the following decade-plus in the Smithsonian's custody, on loan from the state of Hawaii. No more: Four crates were sent to the Kauai Museum last month, and another two or three are to be delivered. The AP notes the items are the only confirmed objects from Kamehameha II's "short but intense reign," which ran from 1819-1824. He purchased the ship in 1820; it had been built four years prior in Salem, Mass., for $100,000 at a time when comparable ships were built for $4,000 or $5,000. Half that staggering sum was spent on construction and the other half on exotic wood and furniture, a Smithsonian historian told the Chicago Tribune, adding "this was so unusual for the period that up to 2,600 people a day came to see her in 1816."

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