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  • Writer's pictureVallance

The Sons of the Sandwich Islands

In October of 1884 a small article appeared in the Scottish Umpire proclaiming the Rangers had two relatives of the King of the Sandwich Islands playing for them.

Wait, what was that? Rangers had royalty playing for the team in the 1880’s? Who were these guys and why was this not a well-known story?

Further reading of the Scottish Umpire revealed nothing more to add to the two young lads from the Sandwich Islands.

After further research we have a story to tell.

The Sandwich Islands was the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by James Cook in 1778 and was ruled in the 1880’s by King Kalakaua.

During his reign from 1874 to 1891, King Kalakaua actively supported the theme, "Hawaii for the Hawaiians." Kalakaua appointed a number of Hawaiians to top positions in his government, he also endorsed an act to perpetuate the genealogy of the chiefs of Hawaii, and he founded a society to promote the return of Hawaiian dance, music, and art. Kalakaua also encouraged Hawaii to become aware of events in the international arena.

Kalakaua was the first Hawaiian monarch to travel around the world, he sent envoys to Europe and Asia, established numerous consulates abroad, and cultivated diplomatic relations among several world powers.

He introduced an ambitious program to educate Hawaiian youths abroad. From 1880 to 1887 he sent 18 young Hawaiians, 17 men and one woman attended schools in six countries where they studied engineering, law, foreign language, medicine, military science, engraving, sculpture, and music.

Kalakaua personally selected the participants in his education program and probably planned to groom these young Hawaiians to become future leaders in his monarchy. Several of the youths were descended from Hawaiian nobility and others were the offspring of leaders in Kalakaua's government.

Henry Kapena, Hugo Kawelo and John Lovell were chosen to go to Glasgow to study. None of the three were from the royal family. In fact, John Lovell and Hugo Kawelo had been students at Punahou (a top private school in Honolulu). Henry Kapena was the son of John M. Kapena, a leading member of Kalakaua's government.

The boys travelled to the UK in the November of 1882 under the escort of Colonel Charles Judd.

Judd entered the three boys as apprentices at the Scotland Street Iron Works in the firm of Mirrlees, Watson & Co in Glasgow. Renny Watson, the youths' guardian in Glasgow and a partner in the firm proved a careful steward. Watson's instructions were to have Lovell, Kapena, and Kawelo trained in engineering; they were to acquire practical experience through their apprenticeships at the Ironworks.

Leaving the sunny climate of Hawaii to come to the cold, dark and smoggy Glasgow of the 1880’s must have been a bit of a shock to the young students. This was backed up by the report that Watson sent back to Walter Murray Gibson, Hawaiian Minister of Foreign Affairs in the November of 1883. Watson said –

“. . . we regret to have to inform you that whilst their conduct has been such as to merit our approval, the health of two of them, Kawelo and Kapena has been by no means satisfactory, particularly in the case of the latter who has for some time been laid up with pleurisy. We must therefore ask you to be prepared for our having to send one or both of these lads back owing to our climate being too severe for them, and this we may find it necessary to do without waiting for your reply, but you may rely on our doing what seems best for their interest. Lovell we are pleased to say enjoys good health and attends well to his work.”

Luckily Kapena and Kawelo survived their first Scottish winter and thrived in their apprenticeships.

The boys participated in a variety of sports whilst in Glasgow and it was at the end of October 1884 that Hogo Kawelo and John Lovell became members of the Rangers after both being proposed and seconded by one of the members of the club.

With Rangers home at the time being Kinning Park it would have been ideal for the lads as the iron works was just a stones throw away from the ground.

Bills from Mirrlees, Watson & Co. to the Hawaiian government show the boys didn’t just participate in football. Kapena's accounts list football boots, dues for the bicycle club, shin guards, bicycle stockings, gloves, a straw hat, and racing entrance fees. Kawelo's account lists, among other things, dues for the bicycle club, bicycle tools, and a set of banjo strings. Lovell's bills include shin guards, gloves, and football boots.

The winter of 1884 was actually a mild one and the lads enjoyed good health. Predictions for the following winter however, appeared ominous, and Watson wrote:

. . . Concerning Hugo Kawelo, we regret . . . to report that his health . . . has again assumed an unsatisfactory condition: his medical attendent, Dr. Macmillan has expressed his opinion that it would not be wise for him to face another winter here, and Dr. McCall Anderson, a consulting physician of some standing in Glasgow agrees with him in this opinion. We were thus considering the question of sending Kawelo home to you . . . to get him away before the cold weather sets in. . . . Regarding the other two, John Lovell and Henry Kapena, we are pleased to inform you that our Works manager reports that they are exceptionally steady and attentive to their work; they are not perhaps making such rapid progress as they did at first, but it is right to say that we have lately been very far from busy, and they have had more leisure, which we have tried to get them to utilize in attending science classes, but so far without much result. These two lads seem to thrive and keep their health.

Hugo Kawelo actually suffered from pleurisy and had a kidney infection. He left Glasgow on the 7th November 1885. John Lovell and Henry Kapena remained in Glasgow for another year, when the Iron Works reported that they had completed their apprenticeships.

Lovell and Kapena sailed for home on October 23, 1886.

As for playing for Rangers, neither made the grade to the first team but both turned out for the Shields Eleven. It may be that the two lads from Hawaii were Rangers first foreign players to wear the famous royal blue jersey.

Although the lads didn’t turn out to be royalty their story is still interesting.

Source material -

Hawaiian Journal of History after page 172 of volume 22, 1988, article Kalakaua's Hawaiian Studies Abroad Program by Agnes Quigg

Rangers FC Minute book

Scottish Umpire 24th October 1884

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