Views from French balconies, 1865

A royal visitor, enjoying anonymity

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I sat out on that balcony a very long time, taking advantage of our being unknown in that place—sat exposed without being known…

In a spirit of looking beyond the narrow shores of Britain, this week I give you a Hawaiian describing her impressions of France. But no ordinary Hawaiian – this was a queen.

Emma Kalanikaumakaʻamano Naʻea was born in Honolulu in January 1836 into a high-status family, her father being a high chief; her mother meanwhile, again from a high-status family, was the daughter of the English-born John Young (c.1742–1835), who had been a key advisor to the first king of the unified Hawaii kingdom founded in 1795. In Hawaii there was a traditional practice of adoption called hānai, which in Emma’s case led to her being brought up by the English doctor Thomas Rooke (who had cared for Young in his final days) and his wife Grace, who was Emma’s aunt (another daughter of Young).

Emma was consequently brought up in a very British manner – and known as Emma Rooke – but also to be conscious of her Hawaiian roots. Later in life she made considerable contributions to the nation’s cultural heritage, enlarging its libraries and acting as a very successful ambassador for all things Hawaiian, as well as establishing a new hospital and a school for girls.

In 1856, she married Alexander Liholiho (an Anglicised version of his name), who only a year before had become King Kamehameha IV – his grandfather had been the first king, Kamehameha I, the one advised by Young. The new king had travelled to Britain and America when he was a teenager and, like Emma, was a keen musician. Both of them had been educated by American Congregational missionaries, and in fact first met at school. Their marriage appears to have been happy, although hit a rocky patch when he drunkenly shot his secretary, suspecting him of having an affair with Emma (the friendship, the marriage and his reign were all rescued).

A darker shadow was to come, however: Emma and Alexander’s infant son died in 1858, and the king himself died in November 1864, apparently of grief. A year later, Emma’s own health was poor and she undertook a voyage to England, Europe and the US to convalesce, as well as further the cause of the new Anglican Church of Hawaii which she and her husband had helped to establish. She sailed from Honolulu on 6th May 1865 on board the Clio, and arrived in England that summer. I will touch on that part of her travels next week, but this time I’d like to present her first impressions of France, which are written (in letters and her own diary).1 Emma first arrived in France at Boulogne on 5th December 1865. She then travelled to Paris, where she penned a letter to King Kamehameha V (Alexander’s older brother and successor) from the Grand Hotel du Louvre describing her first impressions of France.

… when we reached the French coast Mr. Hamilton the English consul to Boulogne was the first person to come on board, and waited on me, he told me he did so by the express command of Earl Russell,2 and our luggage was sent to the Hotel de Bain, without word or examination, whither we drove, which is near by the landing. . . . [We were] received at the door by the landlady and landlord of the house, the former in a neat print dress & white apron and the peculiar white cap of muslin, fitted round the face looking so nice and Frenchy.

We were shewen upstairs into a pretty little room which looked over the harbour & on to the rising mountain beyond. A table was soon laid by a large puffy French waiter, with a light French dinner, of which we ate the celebrated French salad, and drank Bordeaux van ordinair [sic]. The moment we came into the harbour I felt instantly the change of everything. You saw France in every animate & inanimate thing—the market women in their white caps, short petticotes, sabots and great baskets of fish & other things hanging on their backs by the strap or loop of leather attached to them through which they slip their heads… the exterior & interior of houses the latter so tastily fitted, little recesses & nooks all curtained in with light curtains… and the French breads & the French long roll of bread to each one at table all tell instantly to the eye what that country is without asking questions…

[She then describes awaking in Paris and the scenes below her window.]

When we woke the next morning from our short night’s rest in Paris, we threw open the long windows and shutters, and slipping out into the little balcony whiled away 15 minutes before breakfast was announced, in looking down upon the rue Marenge [Rue de Marengo, named in 1854 after a French victory over Austria in 1800] at the pretty variegated sights in the street, of the bright dresses of both men and women, market vans, light phaetons, bright shops opposite the road, young demoiselles that trip along with blooming cheeks, and a bundle of sewing for the day’s work under their arm, Zouaves [French soldiers with a distinctive North African-influenced uniform] who jostle along with all their medals on their breasts, old women in sabots, white caps, short petticotes and a rainbowie handkerchief folded over their chest and shoulders—now all this was an early morning sight at the end of the street… We sat down to a light breakfast of sweet toast, beautiful coffee sweetened with square lumps of white sugar in large light green cups…

[She then travelled by train to the south of France. Her generally excited impressions of everything were slightly tempered by the men of Lyon, of whom she wrote: “… they have a cigar in the mouth… and when they go about they spit anywhere, whether in a room, on the floor, in the street. A filthy habit.” By 8th December, she was in Marseilles, and looking down from another balcony, enjoying her anonymity…]

[By] 4 o’clock we were… out on our balcony looking at the live street of Le Cannebiere [La Canebière], the great street of Marselles & the hotel the grandest place on it—all crowned heads & illustrious visitors go there. I never thought that the colored prints & pictures of street scenes could be so true. Why! it is to the reality!

It was a most animated scene all day long, & the variety of costumes is something very gay—the bright dress of Zouave soldiers, each regiment differing in brightness—the sedate looking French proprietaire in plane clothes with overcoats buttoned at the throat, & sleeves not used but dangling about, both hands being buried in the trowsers pockets—the narrow waggons or carts drawn by a tandem team of animals, foremost is the small donkey then a large mule, & a poor horse all with the queer head gear that looks like [a] yoke on their necks with a horn in the top of it covered with tiny globular bells on them that jingle through the streets— the Arabs in their white burnoose enveloping head & all, thrown over one shoulder—the young girls that swarm the streets passing up & down, their hairs so prettily & stylishly made, & who dresses in the most becoming of latest Mode de Paris—Americans in their usual quick businesslike walk— Priests in long robes & shovel hats shuffling through the crowd—the women of the lower orders dotting the mass with white by their white caps—the English discernable through that mottled crowd by their tall black hats, excessive simplicity of dress & dignified ladylike & gentlemanlike bearing— Turks with red fezzes & full trowsers, gay broad sashes wound round the waist—Sisters of Mercy of many orders & odd dresses, sailors, shabby cabs & drivers run about them, & once in a while a fast looking young gentleman dashes through this crowd in his Phaeton manageing two beautiful bays with his footman in livery & folded arms as stiff as you please behind him…

This was at our feet. The tall houses whose ornimental fronts & windows draped with bright sunshades, shop windows glittering with all kinds of purse temptations was opposite to us, piano music coming from our next door neighbours in the adjoining rooms.

Now with all this live scene utterly new to me you must not be surprised that I sat out on that balcony a very long time, taking advantage of our being unknown in that place—sat exposed without being known.

After a night in Marseilles, Emma went on to Hyères, regarded as the oldest resort on the French Riviera, to improve her health (she had picked up bronchitis in the damp environment of London). She found it a home from home. “The surrounding views are very diversified & strikes me [as] being much like scenery in my own land. The beautiful climate is doing wonders for us all, already we are almost ourselves again,” she wrote to her friend Lady Devon on New Year’s Day 1866.

In March that year she set out for Italy and then Germany before returning to London, and then New York, Washington and Canada. She returned home in July 1866 upon the news of her aunt and adoptive mother Grace’s death. In the course of her voyage Emma was wined and dined by the great names of the day, from Queen Victoria to Napoleon III and US president Andrew Johnson. She died in 1885, aged only 49.


The best source for these is Alfons L. Korn’s The Victorian Visitors: An Account of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1861–1866, which can be found online. I have left the spellings as he has them.


Russell was the British prime minister at this point, and took Emma under his wing during her trip to Britain.