HHMS Kaimiloa was the first and only ship of the Hawaiian Royal Navy. The ship was formerly the Explorer, a 170-ton schooner, built in England in 1871. Kaimiloa sailed from Hawaii to Samoa and other Pacific islands in 1887 in an effort by King Kalākaua to form a confederation of Polynesian states to counteract European imperialism. The instance nearly resulted in military conflict between the Kingdom of Hawaii and the German Empire, who viewed Samoa as their possession in the Pacific. It was also used as a training ship.

HHMS Kaimiloa anchored at Honolulu Harbor.jpg
Kaimiloa anchored at Honolulu.
Kingdom of HawaiiKingdom of Hawaii
NameHHMS Kaimiloa
Commissioned28 March 1887
Decommissioned30 August 1887
FateBurned in 1910
General characteristics
Class and typeExplorer gunboat
Tons burthen170 tons
Length127 feet 8 inches (38.91 m)
Beam25 feet 3 inches (7.70 m)
Draft11 feet 2 inches (3.40 m)
Speed8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph)

In the Hawaiian language, kaimiloa (from ka ʻimi loa) means "one who seeks afar" which roughly translates 'explorer'.[1][2]


Kalakaua on the Kaimiloa
Isobel Strong designed a royal naval ensign similar to this for the Kaimiloa.

Walter M. Gibson had himself named secretary of the Navy, among his other titles.[3] However, the "navy" did not have any ships. On January 22, 1887, Gibson convinced the government to purchase the Explorer, a 128-foot (39 m) British merchant steamer employed in the copra trade. The Explorer had been launched as Firebrick in Blyth, Northumberland in 1871. King Kalākaua bought the ship for $20,000 and added the rigging.[4] After being refitted at great expense (over budget and behind schedule), the ship was renamed Kaimiloa and came into commission on 28 March 1887[5] and was ceremonially launched on April 20, 1887. Henri Berger composed a march in her honor.

Kaimiloa finally set sail on May 18, to serve as John E. Bush's flagship.[6] The ship's captain was George E. Gresley Jackson.[4] Twenty-four of the crew members were young Hawaiians who were enrolled in reform school, and who were placed on the ship's crew with only one month of training.[7] Due to the music program which was in effect at the reform school, some of these crew members were also members of a military band. They were led by Charles Palikapu Kaleikoa, who was a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band.[8]


Seeking an alliance with Samoa, Kaimiloa set sail on May 18, 1887, and reached Apia on June 16.[7] However, due to Samoa already being in negotiations with the German Empire, and the United Kingdom and United States of America also keeping track of the situation, talks did not progress well.[4] During these negotiations, the military band held a concert for the townspeople of Apia, which helped to build up good relations between them and the Hawaiians.[8] There were few problems caused by the crew, with only one incident that required reprimand being on record.[4][7]

Due to the effects of the coup d'état that happened in July 1887, the ship was ordered to return home on August 23.[9] They arrived in Honolulu on September 23.[4] This was the only voyage conducted by Kaimiloa for the Hawaiian navy. The crew were disbanded on August 29, and the ship was decommissioned on August 30.[10] After this, Charles Palikapu Kaleikoa reformed the Royal Hawaiian Band and continued to play in it until his retirement 40 years later.[8]

Later on, the Samoan crisis evolved into the Samoan Civil War (1887-1889) with rival colonial powers supporting different chiefs as kings of Samoa.

After decommissioningEdit

After being decommissioned, Kaimiloa was used as a quarantine ship, but in 1888 it was sold for 2,800 dollars[10] and used as a transportation vessel between the Hawaiian islands.[4]

In 1894, the Gatling guns were removed by the administration of the Republic of Hawaii.[10] Later, the steam engine was also removed and used by the sugar industry.[4] Kaimiloa was then used to transport coal and oil.[10] In 1910, the hull was burned.[4]


  1. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of explorer". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  2. ^ Helen Geracimos Chapin, "Shaping history: the role of newspapers in Hawai'i"
  3. ^ "Gibson, Walter Murray office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Logs of Kaimiloa & Velocity Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed on August 16, 2011.
  5. ^ Kaimiloa, March 28, 1887. Accessed on August 16, 2011.
  6. ^ Jacob Adler (1965). "The Hawaiian Navy Under King Kalakaua". Annual Report. Hawaiian Historical Society: 7–21. hdl:10524/71.
  7. ^ a b c Crew of the Kaimiloa, March 28, 1887. Accessed on 16 August 2011.
  8. ^ a b c Kaimiloa Cadet Band. Accessed on August 16, 2011.
  9. ^ Several of the crew members remained in Samoa after this. Pasefika Designs, LLC.. Accessed on August 16, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d Bob Krauss Research Index[permanent dead link] (search for "Kaimiloa"). Accessed on August 16, 2011.