Object of the Month

“I think we shall succeed in copper plate printing”: Views of Hawaii Engraved at the Lahainaluna Seminary

Hilo, Hawaii Engraving

Hilo, Hawaii

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This depiction of Hilo, Hawaii, was engraved in 1840 at the Lahainaluna Seminary by Kepohoni, after a drawing by missionary Edward Bailey. The thatched buildings in the center represent the Hilo Boarding School, with missionaries’ residences on either side.

Missionary Education in Hawaii

When the first American missionaries arrived in Hawaii, or the Sandwich Islands, as they were then known, they were (as missionaries often were) appalled by the condition of the people they found there. In the words of Rev. Sheldon Dibble, who spent seven years as a missionary to the islands and instructor at the Lahainaluna Seminary, the Islanders were “destitute, ignorant, wild, beastly, and degraded—inconceivably so … The longer one lives among the heathen, the more fully does he realize the ignorance, the vileness, and the abominations of the horrible pit in which they are sunk.” Missionaries were ever anxious to bring the light of the Word to such “heathens,” and soon after arriving, began preaching and establishing schools where their message could be taught to the younger generations. Bringing formal Western-style education to Hawaii was fraught with challenges, not the least of which were the language barrier and a dearth of teaching materials. Soon after their arrival in 1820, missionaries began printing primers, books, and tracts in Honolulu for use in their schools and worship services.

Lorrin Andrews and the establishment of the Lahainaluna Seminary

Lorrin Andrews was born in April of 1795 in East Windsor, Connecticut. The Andrews family moved to the Western Reserve, settling at Rootstown, Ohio. Andrews attended Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, leaving before graduation due to a lack of funds. He became a printer, then a teacher in Maysville, Kentucky. By 1825, he had attended Princeton Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach. He soon offered himself as a missionary to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), based in Boston. In November of 1827, Andrews and his wife of three months, Mary Ann, set sail for the Sandwich Islands aboard the ship Parthian, along with a small party of missionaries, including four native Hawaiians and (a first for the ABCFM) four single women, who were to assume domestic, as well as missionary, endeavors upon their arrival in the Islands. This group was the third wave of missionaries sent to Hawaii by the ABCFM and would be followed by nine more groups until the mission Board’s attention shifted after 1848. After a long and unpleasant journey, the party arrived in Maui in March of 1828. Lorrin Andrews became the assistant to Rev. William Richards at Lahaina and began teaching.

In 1831, the General Meeting of the ABCFM recognized the need for an institution of higher education to train native teachers and other workers to assist in their missionary efforts, resulting in the establishment of the Lahainaluna Seminary. The seminary was literally built from the ground up by its founding group of twenty-five scholars and Lorrin Andrews became its first principal. Throughout his time in Hawaii, Andrews had bemoaned the lack of detailed maps to use in his classes and this new school created a demand for ever more sophisticated textbooks, so by 1834, Andrews had established a printing operation onsite at Lahainaluna. The first work printed there was He Hoikehonua no ka Palapa Hemolele, a translation of Samuel Worcester’s Scripture Geography. Ka Lama Hawaii, a newspaper first published in 1834, became the first Hawaiian language newspaper and the first newspaper printed west of the Rockies. The woodcut illustrations in this newspaper were a huge hit and combined with Andrews’ desire for more and better maps, prompted Andrews to explore the establishment of a copperplate printing enterprise at the Seminary.

Despite chronic shortages of paper, copper, and any practical technical knowledge of copperplate printing aside from what was contained in the encyclopedias he had access to, Andrews soon accomplished his goal. Working with students, as well as interested local villagers, in just eight years he trained more than a dozen Hawaiians to produce finely detailed copper engravings. Between 1834 and 1844, the Seminary produced more than a hundred views and illustrations, portraits, maps, and local currency. The drawings on which the engravings were based were largely done by missionaries, but the copperplate engraving was all executed by native Hawaiians.

Hilo, Hawaii in 1840

The engraving featured here was drawn by Edward Bailey, a missionary who had arrived in the Islands in 1837 along with his wife Caroline. The engraving was done by Kepohani, who was not a scholar at the Seminary, but rather a talented young villager who assisted Lorrin Andrews. Over the course of his career at Lahainaluna, Kepohani produced nine views of various spots in Hawaii, portraits of Kamehameha I and his daughter Kamamalu, and numerous botanical illustrations, maps and other illustrations for books produced by the Mission Press. The print depicts on the left, the Goodrich-Coan house, built in 1830 by Rev. Joseph Goodrich, who was stationed at Hilo between 1824 and 1835 and succeeded by the Rev. Titus Coan. The house has all the features of a traditional New England saltbox, looking a bit out of place next to the thatched roof buildings of the Hilo Boarding School. On the right of the image is another missionary house, built by the Lyman family and later occupied by the Wetmore family, nicknamed “the zinc palace,” due to its metal roof. Finely engraved depictions of native flora round out the scene.

The End of the Printing Enterprise at Lahainaluna

In 1842, the Lahainaluna Seminary began to print local currency in response to a chronic shortage of money and the complications of barter and trade arrangements. This “Lahainaluna Money” was intended for local circulation only and for a time was quite successful. In 1844, however, a counterfeiting scheme involving two of the printers at the Seminary was uncovered, causing all of the currency to be recalled and reissued with secret markings.

Counterfeiting, however, was not the downfall of the copperplate printing enterprise at Lahainaluna. Ongoing disputes between Andrews and others who thought the printing could be done more economically elsewhere led to the grudging departure of Andrews and the suspension of printing at Lahainaluna by 1844. After his departure, Andrews became the Chaplain of the American Seamen’s Friend Society and was appointed a special judicial advisor to Governor Kekuanaoa of Oahu. He remained in Oahu and died there in September of 1868. In addition to the establishment of the press at Lahainaluna, Andrews also published several works on the Hawaiian language. Although the missionaries have long since departed, the Lahainaluna Seminary exists to this day, as a coeducational public boarding school known as Lahainaluna High School. Hale Pa’I, the small building that housed Andrews’s printing enterprise, still stands on campus and was restored and named to the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1976.

Graphics at the Massachusetts Historical Society

The view of Hilo is one of nine engravings produced at the Lahainaluna Seminary in the collections of the MHS. They were all given to the Society in December of 1851 by Joseph Andrews, whose relationship to Lorrin Andrews, if there was one, is shrouded in the mists of time. They represent just a few of the thousands of separately cataloged engravings, etchings, and lithographs held by the Society. The collection includes views, both domestic and foreign; portraits of the famous and the obscure; depictions of battles and historic events; and ephemera such as political cartoons and illustrated trade cards. Cataloging of the graphics collection is presently underway and new items are added to ABIGAIL, our online catalog, on a daily basis. For best results, search ABIGAIL by subject and look for headings that contain “Pictorial works” for places and things and “Portraits” for people.

For further reading

Andrews, Lorrin. A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, to which is appended an English-Hawaiian Vocabulary and a Chronological Table of Remarkable Events (Honolulu: Henry M. Whitney, 1865).

----. Grammar of the Hawaiian Language (Honolulu: Mission Press, 1854). 

---. A Vocabulary of Words in the Hawaiian Language (Lahainaluna: Press of the High School, 1836). 

----. A transcription of Andrews’ journal on his voyage to Hawaii.

Forbes, David W. Engraved at Lahainaluna: a History of Printmaking by Hawaiians at the Lahainaluna Seminary, 1834 to 1844 with a Descriptive Catalogue of All Known Views, Maps and Portraits (Honolulu: Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, 2012).

Goldman, Rita. “Hale Pa’I,” in Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine, May/June 2008. 

Wood, Paul. “Carving Copper,” in Hana Hou: The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, vol. 15, no. 6 (Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013).


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