Submitted by scott on
Start Date
End Date

After a three months’ absence, I found myself in San Francisco again, without a cent. When my credit was about exhausted, (for I had become too mean and lazy, now, to work on a morning paper, and there were no vacancies on the evening journals,) I was created San Francisco correspondent of the Enterprise, and at the end of five months I was out of debt, but my interest in my work was gone; for my correspondence being a daily one, without rest or respite, I got unspeakably tired of it. I wanted another change. The vagabond instinct was strong upon me. Fortune favored and I got a new berth and a delightful one. It was to go down to the Sandwich Islands and write some letters for the Sacramento Union, an excellent journal and liberal with employees.
We sailed in the propeller Ajax, in the middle of winter. The almanac called it winter, distinctly enough, but the weather was a compromise between spring and summer. Six days out of port, it became summer altogether. We had some thirty passengers; among them a cheerful soul by the name of Williams, and three sea-worn old whaleship captains going down to join their vessels. These latter played euchre in the smoking room day and night, drank astonishing quantities of raw whisky without being in the least affected by it, and were the happiest people I think I ever saw. And then there was “the old Admiral—” a retired whaleman. He was a roaring, terrific combination of wind and lightning and thunder, and earnest, whole-souled profanity. But nevertheless he was tender- hearted as a girl. He was a raving, deafening, devastating typhoon, laying waste the cowering seas but with an unvexed refuge in the centre where all comers were safe and at rest. Nobody could know the “Admiral” without liking him; and in a sudden and dire emergency I think no friend of his would know which to choose—to be cursed by him or prayed for by a less efficient person.

On a certain bright morning the Islands hove in sight, lying low on the lonely sea, and everybody climbed to the upper deck to look. After two thousand miles of watery solitude the vision was a welcome one. As we approached, the imposing promontory of Diamond Head rose up out of the ocean its rugged front softened by the hazy distance, and presently the details of the land began to make themselves manifest: first the line of beach; then the plumed coacoanut trees of the tropics; then cabins of the natives; then the white town of Honolulu, said to contain between twelve and fifteen thousand inhabitants spread over a dead level; with streets from twenty to thirty feet wide, solid and level as a floor, most of them straight as a line and few as crooked as a corkscrew.

From  The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, pages 315-7

Sam changed his plans to embark for the States when the owners of the Sacramento Union, James Anthony and Paul Morrill—“lovable and well-beloved men,” Sam later called them—offered him a job as special correspondent during a visit to the state capital in late February. “I had a sneaking notion that they would start me east,” he wrote Will Bowen, but instead they assigned him to Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands, to promote the sugar industry there. “The vagabond instinct was strong upon me,’ Sam wrote in Roughing It. “Fortune favored and I got a new berth and a delightful one.” As George Barnes explained, Anthony and Morrill sponsored Sam's voyage in exchange for a series of articles “on the social, commercial, and political condition of the Kanaka group.” In other words, he was hired to be a corporate flack and, in fact, according to Barnes, his correspondence would be “exhaustively discussed in our Chamber of Commerce.” Sam planned to stay only a month “and ransack the islands, the great cataracts and the volcanoes completely,” he informed his mother and sister, “and write twenty or thirty letters to the Sacramento Union—for which they pay me as much money as I would get if I staid [sic] at home” and continued to contribute to the Enterprise. In mid-February he booked passage aboard the Ajax, a 1,354-ton propeller-driven sail- and steamboat built in London to run Union blockades during the Civil War, with a cruising speed of about twelve knots and a crew of eighteen. It could accommodate sixty cabin passengers and forty more in steerage and carry over 1,200 tons of freight. “The Ajax is the finest Ocean Steamer in America, & one of the fastest,” Sam asserted. Its owner, the California Steam Navigation Company, inaugurated regularly scheduled passenger service between San Francisco and Honolulu on January 13, though it was canceled after only two round-trips because the company lost twenty thousand dollars on the experiment. Sam had been invited to join the maiden voyage of the Ajax to Hawaii but, as he explained to his family, “I could not accept it, because there would be no one to write my correspondence [to the Enterprise] while I was gone.” Instead, he chose to resign his column and travel to Honolulu on the second voyage of the Ajax in March. As soon as Evans got wind of Sam’s plans, he predictably ridiculed him while hinting that the “sagebrush bohemian” was leaving San Francisco because of a recurrence of venereal disease. The bohemian “has been a little out of health lately and is now endeavoring to get a chance to go to Honolulu, where he expects to get rid of one disease by catching another; the last being more severe for the time being, but more readily yielding to medical treatment.’ During his absence, Evans added, Sam “will be sadly missed by the police, but then they can stand it; [they are] used to missing men, though the missing men generally go over the Bay instead of out the Golden Gate.” During Sam's months in Hawaii, his friends at the Dramatic Chronicle lamented his absence because he could not badger Evans from afar. “Fitz Smythe is getting really terrible,” the paper editorialized. “Mark Twain! Mark Twain! will you never come back from those cannibal islands? Fitz Smythe must be attended to.” In particular, Evans was “a maniac on the Chinese question”—that is, in his defense of Chinese immigration: “He is willing to swear to the good character of any Chinaman who happens to be brought up in the Police Court. Sam's presence was obviously required to contest such racial toleration.

At 4:00 p.m. on March 7, Sam embarked on the Ajax for Honolulu on his first trip outside the U.S, The Dramatic Chronicle enjoined the ship's captain ‘to take especial care” of “the funniest man now on top of the earth” for “he is worth more than all the ship's cargo. In these dismal days who shall put an estimate upon the value of a man who can make you laugh as ‘Mark’ can?” In his first letter to the Sacramento Union, Sam detailed his departure:

Leaving all care and trouble and business behind in the city, now swinging gently around the hills and passing house by house and street by street out of view, we swept down through the Golden Gate and stretched away toward the shoreless horizon. It was a pleasant, breezy afternoon, and the strange new sense of entire and perfect emancipation from labor and responsibility coming strong upon me, I went up on the hurricane deck so that I could have room to enjoy it. I sat down on a bench, and for an hour I took a tranquil delight in that kind of labor which is such a luxury to the enlightened Christian—to wit, the labor of other people.

Rather than tour the islands for only a month as he originally planned, Sam lingered there until July and mailed twenty-five letters to the Sacramento Union totaling about ninety thousand words—his first extended narrative and a rehearsal for his travel correspondence from Europe and the Holy Land during his Quaker City voyage the following year.”

From "Mark Twain Speaking": Pages 4-15:

Sandwich Islands Lecture  First Given in San Francisco, October 2, 1866; Intermittently Thereafter Until December 8, 1873

The islands are a dozen in number and their entire area is not greater I suppose than that of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. They are of volcanic origin, of volcanic construction I should say. There is not a spoonful of legitimate dirt in the whole group, unless it has been imported. Eight of the islands are inhabited, and four of them are entirely girdled with a belt of mountains comprising the most productive sugar lands in the world. The sugar lands in Louisiana are considered rich, and yield from 500 to 1,700 pounds per acre. A two-hundred-acre crop of wheat in the States is worth twenty or thirty thousand dollars; a two-hundred-acre crop of sugar in these islands is worth two hundred thousand dollars. You could not do that in this country unless you planted it with stamps and reaped it in bonds. I could go on talking about the sugar interest all night—and I have a notion to do it. But I will spare you. It is very interesting to those who are interested in it, but I'll drop it now. You will find it all in the Patent Office reports, and I can recommend them as the most placid literature in the world.

These islands were discovered some eighty or ninety years ago by Captain Cook, though another man came very near discovering them before, and he was diverted from his course by a manuscript found in a bottle. He wasn’t the first man who has been diverted by suggestions got out of a bottle. When these islands were discovered the population was about 400,000, but the white man came and brought various complicated diseases, and education, and civilization, and all sorts of calamities, and consequently the population began to drop off with commendable activity, Forty years ago they were reduced to 200,000, and the educational and civilizing facilities being increased they dwindled down to 55,000, and it is proposed to send a few more missionaries and finish them. It isn’t the education or civilization that has settled them; it is the imported diseases, and they have all got the consumption and other reliable distempers, and to speak figuratively, they are retiring from business pretty fast. When they pick up and leave we will take possession as lawful heirs.

There are about 3,000 white people in the islands; they are mostly Americans. In fact they are the kings of the Sandwich Islands: the monarchy is not much more than a mere name. These people stand as high in the scale of character as any people in the world, and some of them who were born and educated in those islands don’t even know what vice is, A Kanaka or a native is nobody unless he has a princely income of $75 annually, or a splendid estate worth $100. The country is full of office-holders and office-seekers; there are plenty of such noble patriots. Of almost any party of three men, two would be office-holders and one an office-seeker. In a little island half the size of one of the wards of St. Louis, there are lots of noblemen, princes and men of high degree, with grand titles, holding big offices, receiving immense salaries—such as ministers of war, secretaries of the navy, secretaries of state and ministers of justice. They make a fine display of uniforms, and are very imposing at a funeral. That’s the country for a petty hero to go to, he would soon have the conceit taken out of him. There are so many of them that a nobleman from any other country would be nobody. They only lionize their own people, and therefore they lionize everybody.

In color, the natives are a rich, dark brown—a sort of black and tan. A very pleasing tint. The tropical sun and the easy-going ways inherited from their ancestors, have made them rather idle, but they are not vicious at all, they are good people. The native women in the rural districts wear a loose, magnificent curtain calico garment, but the men don’t. Upon great occasions the men wear an umbrella, or some little fancy article like that—further than this they have no inclination toward gorgeousness of attire.


They were a rusty set all round—those Kanakas. By and by the American missionaries came and they struck off the shackles from the whole race, breaking the power of the kings and chiefs. They set the common man free, elevated his wife to a position of equality, and gave a spot of land to each to hold forever. The missionaries taught the whole nation to read and write with facility, in the native tongue. I don’t suppose there is today a single uneducated person above eight years of age in the Sandwich Islands. It is the best educated country in the world, I believe, not excepting portions of the United States. That has all been done by the American missionaries. And in a large degree it was paid for by the American Sunday school children with their pennies. We all took part in it. True, the system gave opportunities to bad boys. Many a bad boy acquired the habit of confiscating pennies of the missionary cause. But it is one of the proudest recollections of my life that I never did that—at least not more than once or twice, I know that I contributed. I have had nearly $2 invested there for thirty years, But I don’t mind it. I don’t care for the money if it has been doing good. I don't say this in order to show off, but just mention it as a gentle, humanizing fact that may possibly have a benevolent and beneficent effect upon some members of this audience.

These natives are very hospitable people indeed—very hospitable. If you want to stay a few days and nights in a native’s cabin you can stay and welcome. They will do everything they possibly can to make you comfortable. They will feed you on baked dog, or poi, or raw fish, or raw salt pork, fricasseed cats—all the luxuries of the season. Everything the human heart can desire, they will set before you. Perhaps, now, this isn’t a captivating feast at first glance, but it is offered in all sincerity, and with the best motives in the world, and that makes any feast respectable whether it is palatable or not. But if you want to trade, that’s quite another matter—that’s business! And the Kanucker is ready for you. He is a born trader, and he will swindle you if he can. He will lie straight through, from the first word to the last. Not such lies as you and I tell, but gigantic lies, lies that awe you with their grandeur, lies that stun you with their imperial impossibility. He will sell you a molehill at the market price of a mountain, and will lie it up to an altitude that will make it cheap at the money. If he is caught, he slips out of it with an easy indifference that has an unmistakable charm about it.


The chief glory of the Sandwich Islands is their great volcano. The volcano of Kee-law-ay-oh is 17,000 feet in diameter, and from 700 to 800 feet deep. Vesuvius is nowhere. It is the largest volcano in the world; shoots up flames tremendously high. You witness a scene of unrivaled sublimity, and witness the most astonishing sights. When the volcano of Kee-law-ay-oh broke through a few years ago, lava flowed out of it for twenty days and twenty nights, and made a stream forty miles in length, till it reached the sea, tearing up forests in its awful fiery path, swallowing up huts, destroying all vegetation, rioting through shady dells and sinuous canons. Amidst this carnival of destruction, majestic columns of smoke ascended and formed a cloudy murky pall overhead. Sheets of green, blue, lambent flames were shot upward, and pierced the vast gloom, making all sublimely grand.

The natives are indifferent to volcanic terrors, During the progress of an eruption they ate, drank, bought, sold, planted, builded, apparently indifferent to the roar of consuming forests, the startling detonations, the hissing of escaping steam, the rending of the earth, the shivering and melting of gigantic rocks, the raging and dashing of the fiery waves, the bellowings and unearthly mutterings coming up from a burning deep. They went carelessly on, amid the rain of ashes, sand, and fiery scintillations, gazing vacantly at the ever-varying, appearance of the atmosphere, murky, black, livid, blazing, the sudden rising of lofty pillars of flame, the upward curling of ten thousand columns of smoke, and their majestic roll in dense and lurid clouds. All these moving phenomena were regarded by them as the fall of a shower or the running of a brook; while to others they were as the tokens of a burning world, the departing heavens, and a coming judge. There! I’m glad I’ve got that volcano off my mind.

The climate of these islands is delightful, it is beautiful. In Honolulu the thermometer stands at about 80 or 82 degrees pretty much all the year round—don't change more than 12 degrees in twelve months, In the sugar districts the thermometer stands at 70 and does not change at all. Any kind of thermometer will do—one without any quicksilver is just as good. Eighty degrees by the seashore, and 70 degrees farther inland, and 60 degrees as you ascend the slope of the mountain, and as you go higher 50 degrees, 40, 30, and ever decreasing in temperature, till you get to the top, where it’s so cold that you can’t speak the truth. I know, for I’ve been there!


Type of Feedback