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Kamehameha IV and the Shooting of Henry Neilson

Alexander Liholiho shot one of his closest friends, leaving physical and emotional wounds from which neither man would recover.


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He and Emma also founded the Queen’s Medical Center.

On Aug. 17, 1862, 4-year-old Albert threw a tantrum over a pair of boots. “The temper of the Kamehamehas had descended to the young prince,” Liliu‘okalani wrote, “and was also the cause of his death.” The king doused him with cold water to calm him and it was believed at the time that Albert developed brain fever as a result. He died 10 days later. More recent research, however, suggests that the boy may have actually had appendicitis.

The king became a recluse, suffering from asthma and depression, gasping in his guilt in his home at Kahalua. He died on St. Andrew’s feast day, Nov. 30, 1863, two months’ short of his 30th birthday. Emma ran unsuccessfully for the throne in 1874, losing to David Kalakaua. She died in 1885 at the age of 50.

In Aug. 1905, Neilson’s nephew, Edward Harriman (father of President Kennedy’s ambassador to Britain), visited Hawai‘i in search of details of his uncle’s shooting. No factual accounts existed, so legends had begun to grow. One bizarre story he heard, which was then widely reprinted, was that the king shot Neilson holding the pistol over his shoulder while looking into a mirror.

The Church of England made Nov. 28 a feast day in its liturgical calendar, honoring Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. A stained glass window in the front of Honolulu’s St. Andrew’s Church—the Kahalua property—depicts both monarchs, and little Albert as an angel.   

Hilo-based writer Joseph Theroux last wrote about the Dole pineapple tower, in our March 2010 issue.

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