Alexander Liholiho, who ruled the kingdom of Hawaii as Kamehameha IV, lived a short but eventful life marked by great accomplishments and, sadly, an even greater tragedy.
From the Beginning
Liholiho was born on February 9, 1834, in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. He was the grandson of Kamehameha the Great and the adopted son and heir of his uncle, King Kamehameha III. The young prince was educated at the Royal School by American missionaries until he was 14, when he and his older brother, Lot (the future Kamehameha V), were taken out of school so they could expand their education through world travel.
Liholiho was nearly 21 on January 11, 1855, the when he succeeded his uncle on the throne. Charles de Varigny, the secretary of the French consulate in Honolulu, described the young king as “tall, but obesity did not disfigure his slender, athletic frame. His features were regular, his forehead high, his smile delightful. Lively, intelligent eyes lent brightness and animation to his very sympathetic facial expression.”
A year later, in 1856, Kamehameha IV married Emma Rooke, a chiefess and great-grandniece of Kamehameha I. Queen Emma became a significant influence on her husband. The couple had one son, Albert.
The king abhorred the increasing amount of influence that the Americans were enjoying in his kingdom. He correctly feared that, in time, the United States might take over his nation. As a result, Liholiho sought to cultivate a stronger relationship with Britain as a way to balance the power of the Americans. He also strived to find other ways to lessen Hawaii’s dependence on the U.S.
Kamehameha IV also laid out a plan for public hospitals to care for Hawaii’s sick and elderly. When met with resistance by the legislature, the king and his wife took matters into their own hands and solicited funds for a new hospital in Honolulu. Today, nearly 150 years later, Queen’s Medical Center remains one of the prominent hospitals in the state.
One of the saddest chapters of the Hawaiian monarchy was the death of young Prince Albert. On August 17, 1862, the boy threw a temper tantrum, and his annoyed father decided to cool him off by placing him under a cold water faucet. Shortly after the dousing, the child became sick with a high fever. Ten days, later, the prince was dead.
Overcome with grief and guilt, Kamehameha IV became a recluse and withdrew from public life. A year later, on November 30, 1863, after years of suffering from nerve disorders and asthma, the king died unexpectedly. He was only 29.