On January 29, 1891, the USS Charleston appeared in Honolulu Harbor on Oʻahu and quickly dispatched a message to the shore, informing Liliʻuokalani, then acting as regent during her brother King Kalākaua’s absence, that the king was dead. The Charleston had brought his body home from California. That afternoon, Liliʻuokalani would ascend to the throne as Hawaiʻi’s new queen. She was stepping into this role with her power and authority already under threat by a white male oligarchy that had steadily been chipping away at Hawaiian sovereignty throughout her brother’s reign. [1] Reflecting upon this moment seven years later, Liliʻuokalani said, “I was so overcome by the death of my dear brother, so dazed with the suddenness of the news which had come upon us in a moment, that I hardly realized what was going on about me, nor did I at all appreciate for the moment my situation.” [2] This moment would be commemorated in both words and images, including an accession photograph showing Queen Liliʻuokalani seated in state. This photograph presents Liliʻuokalani as regal and confident, and dressed in royal finery. It was tied to Hawaiʻi’s international relations, representing the monarchy’s sovereign right to rule for local and global audiences. This was particularly important given European and American interests in gaining political and economic control over the kingdom because of its strategic location in the Pacific.

Originally published on Smart History, June 22nd 2021. Click here for full article.