Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter VIII.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Arrival of Catholic Missionaries Admiral de Tromelin Proselytism Controversies with the Priests Arrival of the Mormons The Reformed Catholics Bishop Staley Lord George Paulet.

THE pioneer Catholic missionaries arrived in 1827 and were rejected by the rulers.

This company was led by Rev. John Alexius Augustine Bachelot, who was commissioned by Pope Leo XII. as "Apostolic Prefect of the Sandwich Islands." They landed without permission and refused to depart, under the delusion that the Pope as the Viceregent of Heaven had dominion over all earthly principalities and powers, as if the earth were his footstool. Then followed a long struggle, in which arrogance, intrigue, and duplicity were freely exercised, and which conflict has continued until this day. One step of aggression followed another until the power of the French Government was invoked by the priests, and in 1839 Captain Laplace, commander of the French frigate l’Artémise, appeared and made charges and demands which, it was then supposed, meant a seizure of the Islands. But the Lord spared us.

Failing in this attempt, the French sloop-of-war Embuscade, Captain Mallet, appeared in 1842 with fresh charges and demands, threatening the king and the life of the kingdom. Fortunately royal commissioners had been dispatched to England and France with plenary powers to settle all difficulties amicably with these Governments, especially with the French. Of course Captain Mallet had nothing to do, as the case had been appealed to the supreme power.

In August, 1849, the French frigate La Poursuivante, Admiral de Tromelin, came into Hilo with a French bishop and consul on board, who made a pleasant and polite call at our house. From here the Admiral sailed for Honolulu, where he brought new charges of grievances because the French priests and the Catholic religion had been dishonored.

He went so far as to land his marines, and with martial music and waving flag, enter the fort at Honolulu, throw down the guns from the walls, fill up an old well, break up a few calabashes, etc. The fort had no garrison, the gates were wide open, and there being no resistance, it is reported that the gallant Admiral said to his officers and marines: "Let us go on board; they won’t fight, and there is no glory in this." I relate the story as it was told me.

Rumors were afloat that the United States Commissioner then in Honolulu had agreed, under the earnest request of the King and nobles, to run up the United States flag as a signal of a protectorate so soon as a hostile gun was fired from the frigate. It is supposed that the Admiral felt that he had gone too far, and could not grasp the prize, and therefore withdrew from the bloodless conflict, since which time we have had no more threatening from the French Government, but have had to meet what looks line Jesuitical tactics on all sides.

I have here given only a hasty sketch of the introduction of Catholicism into these Islands, and for more detailed information I will refer the reader to the histories of the Rev. Hiram Bingham and James J. Jarves, Esq. These histories were written mostly at the times and place of the troubles, and they present a fair and truthful statement of the facts. Mr. Bingham’s history also affords a very full and interesting view of the mission of the A. B. C. F. M. from the year 1820 to 1845.

Of this persistent aggression of the Catholics, Hilo and Puna have had their full share. Priests were early stationed in these and the adjoining districts, and they at once took a bold and defiant stand. These emissaries confronted me everywhere. I often heard of them as having gone just before me on my tours. They appointed meetings near by my appointments, and at the same hour; they even came to my congregations in anger to command some of their claimed neophytes to leave the house.

Everywhere they perplexed and vexed the simple natives by telling our best and most tried Christians that they were outside the true Church and on their way to perdition. They taught the people that the Protestants were all heretics and deceivers, that their ordinations were invalid, their pretended marriages adultery, and their teachings delusive.

They also appealed to the selfish and baser feelings of the natives to carry their point, encouraging them in the cultivation and use of tobacco, and assuring them that if they would turn Catholics they would never be called on to give to the priests, to assist in building churches, to contribute at monthly concerts, or be taxed in any way to support religion. Thus they gained weak followers. But when the priests changed their policy and began to call on their proselytes for help in building churches and supporting their teachers, many of the natives saw the duplicity and left them at once.

When a church member was under discipline or had been suspended for notorious sins, he was often sought and received into the Catholic church. Liars, thieves, drunkards, adulterers, were flattered with the belief that all would come out well with them if they were only in the true Church!

This "daubing with untempered mortar," and crying "Peace, peace, when there was no peace," was a bold and impudent opposition to sound church discipline, encouraging delinquents to harden themselves in sin. It became "a refuge of lies," a hiding-place of transgressors, a snare to catch souls.

This determined and unrelenting attack of the papal powers upon the church of Hilo and Puna greatly increased the cares and labors of the pastor. I delivered more than thirty public lectures on the history, character, and predictions of the papacy, besides continuous and unwearied private efforts with those who were perplexed by the sophistry of the priests. And I had the comfort of knowing that many of my people became more than a match for the priests in faith and argument.

A priest one day assailed one of the native Christians by asserting that all the American missionaries came to the Islands to get money.

"Ah!" said the native, "you believe that, do you?," "Most certainly," said the priest. "Well, your belief is most marvelous. We Hawaiians think that those who are in search of gold and silver avoid such poor people as we are and go where money is plenty. It is most strange that you should believe that Mr. Bingham, Mr. Thurston, and others came here to get money when there was no money in this country. Do you think them such fools?"

Another good old native was accosted one day thus: "Are you one of Mr. Coan’s disciples?" to which he replied, "I am one of the disciples of Christ." "What is the true Church" asked the priest. "Why do you priests cast the second commandment out of your catechism?" In a flurry "The second commandment, the second commandment! I was not talking about the second commandment. I asked you what is the true Church?" Good old Paul replied again: "And why do you cast the second commandment out of your catechism?" "What, what! what do you mean I tell you I am not talking about the second commandment, but about the true Church." Steady to his point, Paul coolly and emphatically repeated again, "Why do you cast the second commandment out of your catechism?" Turning on his heels the Jesuit went off exclaiming, "Paul, you are an old stubborn fool." But he never assailed him again.

Another priest meeting Barnabas saluted him with much politeness, and offering a little flattery, began to express great desire that they both might escape delusion and find the one and only way to heaven. Then he began with the usual opening question: "What is the true Church?" Barnabas calmly replied, "The true Church of God is composed of all true believers who love and obey the Lord Jesus, of every age and name and nation on earth and in heaven." This comprehensive truth began to ruffle the priest, and he tried to parry the point of the Spirit’s sword by syllogistic logic, saying, "There can be only one true Church." Barnabas saw the premises, and anticipating the reasoning and conclusion, he cut the matter short. "I have answered your question, and now, as you and I both have enough to do, I bid you good-morning" and as he left the priest he heard him murmuring, "Poor deluded and stubborn heretic."

One of their most audacious acts remains to be recorded. I had once visited Mr. Paris, at Kau, on the occasion of transferring those members of my church from that district to the care of Mr. Paris.

On Monday I was returning toward Hilo. When near the center of Kau, as I was passing a Catholic church under the foot-hills of Mauna Loa, I was stopped by about two hundred Catholics, headed by a French priest, who challenged me then and there to a debate. This was in a narrow pass along the road which was so completely obstructed by the collected Catholics as to prevent my passing on. The challenge I respectfully declined, and as it was late in the afternoon, and I had some eight or ten miles of rough road to travel before I slept, I begged the mob to open the road, and suffer me to pass peacefully on my way. This the priest refused, commanding the people to keep the passage blocked, and with lifted hands and clenched fists, he declared that this Coan, this opposer of the Catholics, should never pass until he had accepted the challenge for debate. Again and again I calmly declined, and asked for a passage through the crowd. The priest became furious and his whole frame trembled with excitement, while the people around him seemed fierce as wolves.

Not being able to proceed, I dismounted and tried to elbow my way through, leading my horse. The priest kept right before me, with hands quivering, and voice roaring: "Who is the head of the Church? Who is the head of the Church?" For a time I made no reply, but quietly tried to work my way along, till at last I spoke out in full and clear tones, "The Lord Jesus Christ, He is the Head of the Church." Immediately the priest roared out at the top of his voice, "That is a lie, Peter is the head of the Church."

Several faithful natives were with me, watching with intense interest the scene. When this assertion of Peter’s headship thundered from the priest, one of the men named Sampson, a bold and powerful man, could hold in no longer, and with the voice of a giant, and the arm of Samson of old, he cried out, "Clear the road, and let my teacher pass," and with the word came the act; with his strong arms he scattered the mob to the right and left, and I followed on through the passage thus opened. As I mounted my horse and rode quietly on, the howling crowd shouted: "He flees! he flees! He is a coward."

Some of the leaders of this mob afterward left the Catholics, and repented with tears.

This priest, recognizing me upon the road one day afterward, at once turned into the bushes, rather than to meet me. I never met him again, and it was not many months before the strong young man was dead. Not many years after the introduction of the papal priests came a drove of Mormon emissaries. These spread themselves in squads all over the group like the frogs of Egypt.

They made an early descent upon Hilo. At first they employed flattering words. They called at once on me, asserted their divine commission, affirmed the heavenly origin of their order, enlarged on the new and sure revelations made to Joe Smith and his successors, the prophets, and invited me to join them, assuring me that I would then see the full-orbed light of truth, whereas I had only seen its faint dawn. "You are a good man," said they, "and have done what you could; but we have come to teach you the way of God more perfectly, and if you will unite with us and come into this new light, your people will all soon be born again, i.e., be dipped in water, and then by the laying on of hands they will receive the Holy Ghost and all the signs will follow." I asked, "What signs?"

They replied, "Speaking with tongues, healing the sick, and all miracles." I then said, "Let us take up the signs, in order, and see if you Mormons have them. Can you cast out devils?" "Yes." "But, if testimony is true, many of your people, like other sinners, act as if the devil were still in them. ‘They shall speak with tongues.’ Can you do it?" "Oh, yes, we can at Utah." "And why not here, where you need the gift more? And why do you ask for a teacher of the native language? Do you believe you could handle poisonous serpents, and drink deadly things with impunity?" "We can heal the sick." "And so can I. But do not Mormons die?" "Oh, yes." "Can you raise the dead?" "The Mormons at Salt Lake can do it." "Well, if you will go with me to a fresh grave near by, and raise a dead body to life, I will join you to-day." This silenced them on miracles and signs. And when I produced my copy of "The Book of Mormon," and showed them I knew more than they about the doctrines of the faith to which they were trying to make me a proselyte, they were confounded, and went away despairing of my becoming a convert.

But for years numbers of this deluded sect traveled over these districts, using all their powers of persuasion, not excepting lying and deceit, to draw the people after them. When once they succeeded in making a disciple they would quarter themselves in his house until he had cooked the last pig, goat, or fowl, and until his taro, potatoes, and bananas were gone, all the while boasting of their great love, and comparing themselves with the American missionaries, who they said came here to get salaries and to oppress the people.

I met the Mormons often on my tours, and had abundant evidence from repeated conversations, and from the testimony of the most reliable members of the church, of their ignorance, bigotry, impudence, and guile.

Finding that they could not prevail by flattery, they assumed a bold front, denounced the American missionaries as false pretenders, deceivers, and blind guides, without baptism, without ordination, and without credentials from heaven. One of their number came into our congregation on a Sabbath, and when I arose at the close of the service to dismiss the assembly, the Mormon arose, and with a loud voice gave notice that he would preach immediately. The great congregation moved quietly toward the church door, when he placed himself in the door-way to prevent their egress, demanding in loud, boisterous language that they all remain and hear "the true gospel." Steadily the crowd moved to the door, and pressing the arrogant intruder aside, returned to their homes.

Though numbers of low characters at first turned after the Mormons, the sect soon ran out here, and now they have neither church, or school, or meeting house in all Hilo and Puna.

The entrance of Bishop Staley into the Hawaiian Islands with his corps of priests and sisters has gone into history. Receiving the title of "Lord Bishop of Honolulu," he contemplated the supplanting of the American missionaries, the conversion of the foreign residents and natives to his faith, and the establishment of one grand Episcopal Diocese over all the isle ends of the group.

The whole scheme was planned, and he soon began to move with his clergy for its execution.

Having established several stations in Hawaii and other islands of the Archipelago, he came to Hilo with one of his clergy.

Ignoring practically the church which had long been established here under its present pastor, and all who had labored to gather and to guide the flock, he walked boldly in as if by divine right, appointed his meetings to preach in the English and Hawaiian languages, and announced that he would at once establish two congregations, one of Hawaiians, and one of English speaking residents.

In the further pursuance of his scheme, he appointed two boards of trustees or agents, one composed of members of my church, and one of foreign residents. These agents he instructed and empowered to open subscriptions, collect funds, proselyte the people, and make all necessary arrangements for buildings and for gathering congregations. He then presented the appointed curate of Hilo, and engaged board and lodging for him.

All this was done as if by royal authority, and without condescending to confer with or to know the incumbent pastor and his associate laborers. The arrangements having been completed, his lordship returned to Honolulu, taking the curate-elect with him to get his baggage, with the promise that he should return immediately to exercise his priestly functions for the cure of souls, and as the only authenticated messenger of Heaven to the benighted and perishing heathen of Hilo. They came, they saw, they went, but they did not soon return.

It was found that there was one factor in the plot which the shrewd bishop had overlooked, and that was the will of the people of Hilo. They had somehow imbibed the doctrine of "Free Agency," which implies will and choice and personality.

The bishop’s theory was smooth and perfect, but its practical execution was so clogged by friction that it failed of success. Letters followed Bishop Staley to Honolulu stating that neither of his boards had secured a proselyte or a dollar, that his agents did not act, and that all things were going on in the old way. This was a damper surely, and it might be an extinguisher.

But the bishop rallied and appeared again in Hilo, appointed meetings as before, and wished to know the reasons for the inactivity of his Hilo agents. His efforts were of no avail. The people could not see what allegiance they owed to a lord and bishop created in London, or why they should forsake their "own and their fathers’ friends," to whom under God they owed all they knew of civilization and of Christian truth.

The Reformed Catholics have never established a church in Hilo, and it is not known that they have a single convert here.

We wish to be liberal and to labor in loving harmony with all who love our Lord and Saviour, and who pray heartily for His coming and kingdom, but we pity all who are exclusive, and who vainly set themselves up as the only true Church.

During the year of 1843, the English corvette Carysfort, Lord George Paulet commanding, made two visits to Hilo.

This young Briton had seized the reins of the Hawaiian Government, hauled down the national flag, dethroned the king, and established what he called a Provisional Government. The country was in confused agitation, and a dark cloud veiled our political sky.

When he arrived he went in person to our prison, commanding the keeper to open the doors, discharge the prisoners, and give him the keys. The guilty offenders and criminals feeling that their hour of triumph had come, rushed out jubilant, and went whither they desired.

Lord George soon called on us, and introduced himself as the savior of the country. He was a young, jolly, and sanguine man, of pleasant manners and very sociable. He seemed at ease, yet self-conscious. "Well," said he, "you are now under the British flag; how do you like it?"

"Well, sir, we choose to be under the Hawaiian."

"No, no! but the English Government is strong, and your protection is sure." "True, but we desire that this weak and small people should be free and independent. It is a right which should not be taken from them without just cause."

"Well, well, but you would rather be under the flag of England than of France?" "That may be, but we choose the flag of the country for which we have labored." "You could not live under the Hawaiian flag. The French were determined to take your islands as they took Tahiti. I knew it, and I hastened hither before them and saved the country, and you ought to thank me."

All this was spoken in great good humor and self-satisfaction, and his lordship shook hands and bowed a pleasant good-morning.

He returned to Honolulu, and our native police went immediately in search of the prisoners he had set free and returned them to the prisons. Hearing of this, and that the same thing had occurred in Lahaina, he hastened back with all canvas spread, landed with body-guard and side arms, went to the prison and opened again its doors, setting the inmates free. He then inquired for the native judge who had countermanded his orders by returning the prisoners to jail, and hastened in person to his house, as the natives said, "piha i ka huhu," filled with wrath.

But the wide-awake judge having had a hint of his coming, and not caring to end his judgeship in prison, stole out at the back door and could not be found.

The commander, to hold the fort, organized a police mostly of foreigners of a certain class, some of whom had, I think, seen the inside of a prison, and others who might be fair candidates for such a place, and giving them strict orders to see that his commands were executed, he left Hilo for the second and last time. Our new police were greatly magnified by their office, and were somewhat haughty and imperious during their brief authority.

Lord George appointed his officers, civil and military, over all the Islands, enlisted and drilled soldiers among the natives and foreigners, and taught them rebellion against their lawful sovereign.

After five months of "torment," the time of the reign of the locusts in the Apocalypse, the flag-ship of the good Admiral Thomas arrived in Honolulu. The English flag was removed from all its staves, the Hawaiian was raised in all our ports, and the commander of the proud Carysfort was ordered to salute the royal signal he had dishonored. To this day it waves and flutters over an independent kingdom, and the Carysfort with her lordly commander has been seen no more in our waters.


Return to the Hawaii Center for Volcanology Home Page

This page maintained by Ken Rubin©,
Other credits for this web site.

Last page update on 16 Aug 1997