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ISLAND HISTORY: Eliza Sinclair purchased Ni‘ihau from Kamehameha V in 1864

Eliza Sinclair (1800-1892) had prospered as a rancher in New Zealand after arriving there from Scotland in 1841, but she’d not been content there since the deaths at sea in 1846 of her husband and her eldest son.

By 1862, others in her family had also grown restless and a decision was made to emigrate.

Led by Eliza Sinclair, the family set sail from New Zealand in April of 1863 in search of a new home, visiting Tahiti and British Columbia first, before sailing westward to Hawai‘i.

And, on Sept. 17, 1863, she and 12 members of her family, all with surnames of Sinclair or Gay or Robinson, arrived unannounced at Honolulu Harbor aboard their own ship, the barque “Bessie,” along with servants and crew, and all their worldly possessions.

Having arrived in Hawai‘i, she was then anxious to buy land on which to reestablish her family.

And, she possessed ample means to do so — a fortune in cash she’d earned from the sale of her timberlands in New Zealand.

Before long, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hawaiian Kingdom arranged to sell her Kahuku on O‘ahu.

Others offered Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, ‘ewa lands, and a tract between Honolulu and Diamond Head, but none appealed to her.

Later, when the government put the island of Ni‘ihau up for sale, Francis and James Sinclair, her two sons, sailed there to inspect the island.

Unusually heavy rains had fallen prior to their arrival, so that Ni‘ihau, a desert island, appeared much greener than normal, and the brothers were also perhaps charmed by the idea of owning their own island.

In either case, they were favorably impressed and persuaded their mother to buy Ni‘ihau.

The people of Ni‘ihau, however, objected, but their appeal to the Minister of the Interior went to no avail, and on Jan. 20, 1864, Eliza Sinclair purchased Ni‘ihau fee simple from Kamehameha V in the names of her two sons for $10,000, as is indicated on Royal Patent No. 2944, dated Feb. 23, 1864.

Eliza Sinclair’s descendants, Keith and Bruce Robinson, still own Ni‘ihau.
Source: The Garden Island

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