A diplomatic disaster

In 1824 King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu of Hawaii made a state visit to Britain. The kingdom of Hawaii had been established in 1795 and was known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands, a name given by Captain James Cook on his voyages in 1778. The king and queen arrived in May 1824, and toured London. They were due to meet George IV with a view to strengthening ties between the two nations, but then disaster struck. The outcome of their visit was reported by the Gazette of Health:Sandwich islands

Kamehameha II

Soon after these people arrived in London, they determined to be vaccinated, not only to secure themselves against small-pox infection, (a disease they dreaded exceedingly,) but to avoid conveying the contagion to their subjects on their return to their dominions.

Smallpox had not yet posed a danger to Hawaii, but in later years there were major outbreaks. One in 1854 killed thousands.

After vaccination had run its course to their perfect satisfaction, they were unfortunately attacked by measles, which was attended with such a high degree of inflammation of the lungs, that resisted the means adopted by their physicians to subdue it.

The author apparently cannot bring himself to make clear the terrible fact that the king and queen died.


Whether the means were proportioned to the degree of mischief in a vital part, and to the size and strength of the people, the information we have obtained of the practice, will not justify us in giving an opinion. The silence observed by the medical attendants, connected with the most extraordinary circumstance of a man and his wife, who were apparently in perfect health when they were attacked, falling a sacrifice to a disease, which is as much under the controul of medicine as any malady, is not creditable to the physicians, and the result confirms the old saying of  “too many cooks,” &c. &c.

The royal couple were both in their twenties and in robust health. The doctors were evidently bewildered that they should succumb to measles, a disease which rarely killed any but infants and the infirm. From a modern perspective this is no mystery at all: measles was a Western disease unknown in Hawaii, and they had no immunity to it. They were defenceless against an infection which was innocuous to most Europeans.

The event is greatly to be lamented, because the object of their visit to this island was to obtain a knowledge of the state of society of the most enlightened, virtuous, and free country in the world.

Enlightened, virtuous and free, but also hosting some of the most vicious pathogens in the world.

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