A Brief History of the Consular Corps of Hawaii

The Consular Corps has a long and noteworthy history reaching all the way back to the days of Kamehameha II. The very first representative of a then foreign power in Hawaii was John Coffin Jones, Jr., appointed by Washington in 1820 as agent of the United States for Commerce and Seamen. This was not a diplomatic position, but Jones, in many ways acted as if he were a consul.

It fell to the British to appoint the first fully accredited diplomat to Hawaii. On September 23, 1824, Richard Charlton, formerly the captain of a trading vessel, received the title of "Consul for the Sandwich, the Society, and the Friendly Islands." Unfortunately, he did not live up to expectations, causing all kinds of trouble. In 1843, he was chiefly responsible for the takeover of Hawaii carried out by Lord Paulet. As a result, the Islands were placed under the Union Jack for almost half a year. But with the appointment of Charlton, we can properly speak of the existence of a Consular Corps in this archipelago.

Jules Dudoit, France's first representative, tried to emulate Charlton. In the late 1830s, French warships on different occasions came close to annexing the Islands. With the joint recognition of Hawaii's independence in 1843 by France and Great Britain, the political situation became more stable. Other powers established diplomats in Honolulu: in 1846 the Kingdom of Denmark; in the mid-fifties the Hanseatic City of Bremen; followed by the kingdoms of Prussia; Sweden and Norway; as well as the Republic of Peru. In 1863, the Netherlands opened a consulate. In 1864 a number of smaller European states, including Switzerland, signed treaties of Friendship, Residency, and Commerce with Hawaii. In 1870, the Austro-Hungarian Empire established a consulate upon the visit of the frigate Donau, which also led to the reactivation of the Royal Hawaiian Band as we have it today. In 1885 Japan established a mission in Honolulu, four years after King Kalakaua had visited the Meiji emperor on his heralded voyage around the world, and some twenty years after the first Japanese envoys on their way to Washington, D.C. had been received by King Kamehameha IV.

By 1892 five legations (France, Great Britain, Japan, Portugal, and the United States) existed in Honolulu, as well as some twenty consulates. The Hawaiian Kingdom, which had adopted the protocol and etiquette established by the Vienna Congress, in turn maintained a diplomatic and consular network of ninety-three missions in America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.

Today, the Consular Corps of Hawaii consists of six career Consulates General and thirty-two Consulates General or Consulates ad honorem, embracing all the continents, including Oceania.

The tasks of a consul are manifold and challenging. Among the most important activities rank the furthering of trade; the maintaining of close relations with the State and County governments, and with the military; advising and helping nationals in Hawaii; and supporting culture and the arts. The Consular Corps of Hawaii is proud to contribute its share to an enhanced quality of life in the Fiftieth State of the United States of America.

Niklaus R. Schweizer, Ph.D.
Historian, Consular Corps of Hawaii