JAMES CAMPBELL: Bishop Street boy who married Hawaiian royalty and shaped Oahu

Did you ever hear about the man from Bishop Street who married a Hawaiian princess? The company he founded owns half of Capitol Hill and Pearl Harbour.

James Campbell was born the son of a cabinet maker William and his wife Martha in Bishop Street on February 4, 1826.

He left Ireland at the age of 13, stowing away on a lumber schooner bound for Canada.

From there he went to New York where his brother John was based and worked with him in the family trade for a couple of years.

James Campbell

An account of his life published by the Campbell family estate in the late 1970s recounts how after two years in New York he boarded a whaler bound for the South Seas and ended up on an incredible adventure after being shipwrecked in Polynesia.

“In 1841, he signed on as a carpenter on a whaler sailing out of New Bedford, bound for the Pacific whaling grounds by way of Cape Horn.

“They never reached their destination. The ship was wrecked when she struck a reef in the Tuamotus [a Polynesian archipelago in the middle of the Pacific]. Campbell survived by clinging to a spar and floating ashore to a small nearby island,” the biography states.

James and two other of the surviving shipmates were promptly seized by the locals and the Derryman was tied to a tree to await his fate.

A young Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine

He used all his wiles to persuade the head of the islanders that as a cabinet maker, he could repair a broken rifle he had spotted on one of the leaders.

“The resourceful Campbell, observing a broken musket in the hands of the local chief, indicated he could fix it. He accomplished the repair with iron from a rusty barrel hoop. This so impressed the chief that he freed the three castaways and accepted them as useful members of the community. A few months later James escaped from the island by drifting out to a passing schooner that took him to Tahiti,” the story goes.

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After several years in the Society Islands he moved on again and evenutally arrived in Hawaii in 1850 aboard a whaling vessel that put in at Lahaina, Maui.

a performance at the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii - the festival is named after David Kalākaua, the last king and penultimate monarch of Hawaii who appointed Campbell to his House of Nobles.

He married the daughter of a European innkeeper called Barla. His first wife Hannah Barla Campbell sadly passed away at just 19 years of age in 1858.

Noticing the undercultivation of sugar on the islands despite their favourable climate, Campbell founded Pioneer Mills and set about amassing a large fortune through cane plantations. He was later dubbed ‘Kimo Ona-Milliona’ or ‘James the Millionaire’ by the locals.

He took a second wife, who happened to be Abigail Kuaihealani Maipinepine of the Kalanikini line of Maui chieftains - effectively a member of the Hawaiian royal family.

According to the official history: “James Campbell married Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine on October 30, 1877. Abigail, born in Lahaina on August 22, 1859, had just passed her 19th birthday.

James Campbell settled in Honolulu on the south eastern tip of the Hawaiin island of Oahu

“The newlyweds lived on Maui briefly, then moved to a home on Emma Street in Honolulu, which Campbell purchased from A. S. Cleghorn in 1878.

“Under ownership of the Cleghorns and subsequently the Campbells, the Emma Street home was the scene of much lively social entertaining. Hawaii’s beloved Princess Kaiulani, daughter of the Cleghorns, had been born there in 1875.

“The Campbells’ first daughter, Abigail Wahiikaahuula, later Princess Abigail Kawananakoa [named after her mother] was born in the same room as Princess Kaiulani.”

Pioneer Mills continued producing sugar right up until the late 20th century, when it diversified into real estate.

“Campbell’s interest in real estate led to his purchase of two large tracts of ranch land on Oahu. In 1876, he purchased for $63,500 approximately 15,000 acres at Kahuku on the northernmost tip of Oahu from H. A. Widemann and Julius L. Richardson.

Pearl Harbour

“The nucleus of the property was Kahuku Ranch, originally started by Charles Gordon-Hopkins around 1850. In 1877, he acquired from John Coney some 41,000 acres at Honouliuli, west of Pearl Harbor, for the sum of $95,000.

“Campbell also purchased downtown Honolulu properties and other lands on Maui and Hawaii,”the biography states.

Many of the Derryman’s contemporaries were doubtful of the value of the Kahuku and Honouliuli land holdings due to the barren nature of the ground.

But Campbell confounded them all by sinking Hawaii’s first ever artesian well in September 1879. “Water commenced to flow when the well reached 240 feet. The Hawaiians called the well ‘Wai-Aniani’ (crystal waters). The flow from the well continued for 60 years until it was sealed by the City and County of Honolulu in 1939. The site of this first well is marked by a plaque attached to a large lava rock on the east side of Fort Weaver Road.

“The pioneer well proved that an enormous artesian water supply was available for one of the driest areas of Oahu.

“The success of Campbell’s first well created intense interest leading to the drilling of additional wells with equal success.”

As if he didn’t have enough on his plate the boy from Bishop Street was at one stage appointed to the Hawaiin legislature by Kalākaua, the second last monarch of the kingdom.

“Despite his business responsibilities, he found time to serve in the upper house of the legislature. He was a member of the House of Nobles representing Maui, Molokai and Lanai in the special session of 1887 and the regular session of 1888,” his biographers reveal.

Campbell continued to invest in both Hawaii and the United States. In his later years he is reported to have spent a great deal of time travelling in both Europe and America with his family.

A trip to the US in the 1890s was the occasion for an incredible episode reminiscent of the adventures of Campbell’s younger days. In 1896 he was kidnapped and held for ransom in San Francisco, California. According to the official history it made news headlines for days.

“A man named Oliver Winthrop, whom Campbell had met in San Jose, called on him at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco where the Campbells were staying. Winthrop said he had sold a ranch and wished to invest the proceeds in coffee lands in Hawaii. He solicited Campbell’s advice.

“He also persuaded Campbell to come with him to his purported home, a cottage on California Street, to assure his...wife that the climate of Hawaii would be beneficial to her health.

“There Winthrop and another man seized Campbell, stole $300 from him, bound him to a bed and demanded $20,000 ransom for his release. The 70-year-old Campbell refused to sign a draft for the money through two days of terror and beatings, without food or drink. Winthrop and his companion finally gave up and released their hostage.

“Subsequently Winthrop was captured and, after a much publicised trial, sentenced to life imprisonment. His companion was never identified.”

Campbell remained loyal to the Hawaiian monarchy, even after Liliuokalani, its last queen, was overthrown in a coup d’état on January 17, 1893.

The Derryman died after a lengthy illness at his Emma Street home in Honululu on April 21, 1900.

“On the afternoon of his funeral the banks and most of the large business houses closed. He was buried in the family plot in Nuuanu Cemetery. A self-made man, he left an estate valued then at over $3 million,” his biography tells us.

Today several monuments survive him. James Campbell High School, a school founded outside Honululu in 1962, was named in his honour, while the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge was established in Oahu in 1976 to protect wildlife on the island.

In his will he directed that ‘The Estate of James Campbell’ be held in trust for the benefit of his wife, Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine, his four daughters and their offspring. When the trust expired in 2007 following the death of his last surviving daughter the James Campbell Company LLC, a new company was established. Today it is a massive real estate company with assets across the US.

As the firm states on its official website: “The portfolio is valued at $3.8 billion as of December 31, 2020 and currently totals 22 million square feet of buildings and 12.3 million square feet of ground leases.

“In Hawaii, the Company owns 2,680 acres of land in total. The Company has two operating divisions: Real Estate Investment Management (REIM) and Kapolei Properties Division (KPD). REIM manages the Company’s portfolio of high quality income-producing real estate assets in 12 states and Washington, D.C. KPD is focused on the developable and leasable property in and around the City of Kapolei on the island of O’ahu, as well as on economic development and job creation in the Kapolei Region.”

The official history gives us an insight into the character of the man behing this legacy.

“As a personality, James Campbell was most often described as reserved and dignified. Tall and slender, he had a full beard and dressed in well-cut dark suits with a top hat.

“He did not like horseback riding, but always drove a fine, top-quality carriage with good horses.

“His wife Abigail enjoyed entertaining, but though always courteous, he tended to be somewhat aloof and would slip away to be alone.

“The Emma Street home had an attic room with a ‘widow’s walk.’ Campbell made an apartment out of the room and devised a method to pull up the ladder after him to secure his privacy.

“Herman Von Holt, whose father Harry was foreman of the Honouliuli Ranch for Campbell, recalls his father’s describing James Campbell as being fair and honest, personally charming, and devoted to his family.

“The editor of ‘The Friend’, Serano Bishop, who had known Campbell as a neighbor for many years, wrote of him: ‘Mr. Campbell was a good citizen, although not a religious man’.

“‘He was remarkable for sound business courage, qualities very commonly accompanying Scotch descent.’

“Campbell himself said that the principle upon which he had accumulated his wealth was in always living on less than he made.”

*The James Campbell Esq. biography is published by the Estate of James Campbell, Kapolei.