Approximately a century
after the great Captain Cook
had placed Hawaii on the map,
another British vessel, HMS Scout,
docked in Honolulu Harbor,
Kingdom of Hawaii.
The day was September 9, 1874,
and the seven astronomers aboard
were on the same mission
as Cook's expedition of 1769
– to observe, and to record for science,
a rare transit of Venus across the sun.
The solar system's scale
was as yet
not girded with
any real knowledge
derived from measurement.
Venus' Transit presents
an excellent opportunity
"the Astronomical Unit"
which, according to NASA is:
" - approximately the mean distance
between the Earth and the Sun.
It is a derived constant
and used to indicate distances
within the solar system."
Hawaii's King Kalakaua
(who had his palace wired for electricity by
Edison 4 years before the White House was)
took personal interest in
the endeavor, granting the expedition
a suitable piece of open land
not far from our Honolulu
waterfront and downtown.
A wooden palisade enclosed
a well-equipped nineteenth-century
astronomical observatory, including:
"several temporary structures including wooden observatories, a bathing tent, a cook house,
and a sappers’ barrack."
were also placed two neighbor islands:
at Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii,
and at Waimea on the island Kauai.
Journals of the scientists speak of
heat unrelieved by thatched roofing,
even doubled layers of it!
They mention our winds,
powerful and playful enough
to dispatch a 90-foot coconut palm
crashing through the observatory fence
Apparently it rained enough
to flood the observatory grounds
and float the floors
of their wooden buildings.
Mr. Chauvin's timely book
also gives us the pleasure
of seeing our beloved Merrie Monarch
through the eyes of busy, preoccupied
'men of science'
One of them, George Tupman journal-ed that:
"King Kalakaua had not only interrupted
the astronomers’ work
with a two-hour evening visit,
but that he had had the temerity
to propose that if, as soon as all the instruments
were mounted, the astronomers would
open the observatory grounds to the public
for a week,
His Majesty would provide
some additional entertainment
by sending his own military band
down every day! "
Hawaiian hospitality was not appreciated
by these busy men!
Perhaps this is where our UN-serious reputation
as a place to conduct serious business
On the day-
" at about 3 o’clock hundreds of natives
arrived at the gates in their holiday clothes! "
From a journal of the time quoted by Dr. Chauvin
To make matters worse,
during the time surrounding the actual Transit,
the king was abroad in Washington DC attempting to negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty that the Kingdom desperately needed for important political
and economic reasons.
" When the Reciprocity Treaty was signed
in January 1875, it would put Hawaii’s fragile economy
on a firm basis by permitting Hawai‘i-grown sugar
to enter the United States duty-free.
But it would also direct the Hawaiian Islands
away from their long-standing flirtations with England
and toward their consummate embrace
with the United States; "
Pearl Harbor became property
( "leased") of the US Navy-
The transit of Venus was observed
here in Honolulu on December 8th.
The sun's disk disappeared in the Pacific
at 5:18 p.m. Honolulu Mean Time.
[No word about any green flash on that day.]
The transit was not complete,
but the observations of it's progress
I am indebted
for this fascinating information
to a lecture by Dr. Michael Chauvin
that was originally delivered by him on
June 7, 2004,
at the Smithsonian Institution
in Washington, D.C.
It is reproduced as an article at
Please check out Mr. Chauvin's
fascinating volume via this LINK.
The British 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition
Can also be ordered by phone (808-848-4135),