Discover Honolulu: Thomas Square

This post is part of an on-going series, Discover Honolulu, where we highlight the historic and cultural attractions of Hawaii’s largest city.  Thomas Square in Honolulu is a 6.5 acre public park located between the Neil Blasidell Center and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. It’s an unassuming park highlighted by a central fountain surrounded by banyan trees. It’s the perfect place for a picnic, especially if you’re enjoying a day at the Honolulu Academy of Art museum. The open-space park attracts regular activities like Hawaiian plant sales and family events. Did You Know? Hawaii’s state motto was first spoken here when Kamehameha III thanked Admiral Richard Thomas. 
Google “Thomas Square”and you’ll find a Wikipedia entry stating that the park is the location of a ceremony held on July 31, 1843, to celebrate the restoration of King Kamehameha III after British Admiral Lord George Paulet seized control of the Hawaiian Islands in February 1843.

History behind Thomas Square

As the story goes, British Admiral Lord George Paulet arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on February 11, 1843. Paulet threatened the Hawaiian government with a proposed attack on Honolulu if control of the islands wasn’t ceded to Britain (or at least to Paulet for the time being). Paulet’s superior, Admiral Richard Thomas, heard the news of Paulet’s unjust behavior, so he set sail for Hawaii to resolve these issues. Upon his arrival in late July 1843, Admiral Thomas restored power to the Kingdom of Hawaii. It wasn’t entirely Paulet’s fault. Thomas actually gave Paulet permission to sail to Hawaii to make amends. Paulet’s goal was to protect British citizens living in the “Sandwich Isles”. Apparently, the British consul of Hawaii had notified Paulet that Brits were not being granted their full legal rights, which prompted Paulet to set sail for paradise.

Paulet arrives in Hawaii

After landing in Honolulu, Paulet’s actions were rash. He immediately attempted to meet with King Kamehameha III, who at the time was unavailable. Paulet was frustrated, refused to speak with the king’s trusted advisor, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, and he threatened to launch an attack on Honolulu.
The King and his government gave in, fearful of bloodshed. But he didn’t stop fighting. Along with the help of Judd, they hid important documents and Hawaiian flags from the destructive Paulet. Notices of Paulet’s actions were sent from Hawaii to the world in hopes others would help resolve the occupation. Paulet did as much damage he could during the five months that his new government, the Provisional Cession of the Hawaiian Islands, occupied Hawaii.

How much damage did Paulet do?

  • Paulet destroyed all Hawaiian flags he could find
  • He raised the British Union Flag in place of the Hawaiian Nation flag
  • He cleared 156 residents off contested land  

How it all ended

Thomas has superiority over Paulet, and thus took control over Paulet’s actions and restored power to King Kamehameha III.

Thomas Square and the Hawaii State Motto

At what is now know as Thomas Square in Honolulu, King Kamehameha III thanked Admiral Richard Thomas with the now-famous words “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono”, meaning “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”. And that’s the story of Thomas Square!

Read more Discover Honolulu Posts

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