Charles Reed Bishop: Advocate for the Lāhui

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Photo: Charles Reed Bishop
Charles Reed Bishop. – Photos: Courtesy

Contributed by Kamehameha Schools

January 25 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Reed Bishop, husband of Ke Aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and a driving force in the creation of the Kamehameha Schools.

At Maunaʻala, the sacred burial place of our aliʻi, a stone monument to Charles Reed Bishop is inscribed “Builder of the State – Friend of Youth – Benefactor of Hawaiʻi.” In honor of his life and legacy of service to ka lāhui Hawaiʻi, we share more about this man who loved Hawaiʻi.

Bishop was born on Jan. 25, 1822, in Glens Falls, New York. He traveled to Hawaiʻi as a young man, landing in Honolulu in October 1846 after his ship detoured to the islands on route to Oregon. His decision to stay in the islands would be pivotal for both Bishop and the Kingdom.

Bright and industrious, Bishop was welcomed in Honolulu. Three years after arriving, he became a citizen of the Hawaiian Kingdom and was appointed its Collector of Customs. He soon met and fell in love with Princess Bernice Pauahi Pākī, great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I.

Bishop and Pauahi married on June 4, 1850. Pauahi was betrothed at birth to Prince Lot Kapuāiwa, but seeing her love for Bishop, Kapuāiwa released her and gave his blessing to the marriage. Pauahi’s parents aliʻi nui Abner Pākī and Laura Konia, and her adoptive parents Elizabeth Kīnaʻu and Mataio Kekūanāoʻa overcame their initial objections to the marriage when Bishop proved he had the interests of Pauahi and the Kamehameha family at heart.

Photo: Bernice Pauahi Pākī and Charles Reed Bishop
Princess Bernice Pauahi Pākī and Charles Reed Bishop.

The aliʻi came to rely on Bishop, and he served in a variety of important positions for five Hawaiian monarchs from 1859–1891, including Privy Council member, Foreign Minister, and President of the Board of Education. In 1876, King Kalākaua appointed Bishop to Hoʻoulu Lāhui, a committee dedicated to halting the decline of the Hawaiian race.

The Bishops were a power couple in the kingdom and philanthropists in healthcare and education. They financially supported organizations such as the Queen’s Hospital, Kapiʻolani Maternity Home, Lēʻahi Hospital, Kauikeōlani Children’s Center, and the Salvation Army.

After Ke Aliʻi Pauahi died on Oct. 16, 1884, Bishop dedicated the rest of his life to the work they began together. As one of five original trustees of her estate, Bishop was the force behind the opening of Kamehameha Schools in 1887, contributing his own funds for the construction of the schools’ first buildings. He returned the land his wife left him to her own estate and contributed much of his own land as well. And he established the preparatory (elementary) school at Kamehameha with his own funds.

Bishop also supported educational institutions such as Oʻahu College (Punahou School), Kawaiahaʻo Seminary, the Mills Institute (Mid-Pacific Institute), St. Andrew’s Schools, and Sacred Hearts Academy. In this way, he helped shape the future of education in Hawaiʻi.

When Pauahi passed away in 1884 Maunaʻala had become overcrowded with caskets. So Bishop built an underground vault for his beloved wife and for more than 20 members of the Kamehameha family. They were ceremoniously interred there together in 1887.

In 1889, Bishop founded the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum as an enduring memorial to his wife to safekeep nā mea makamae — treasured heirlooms — of the Kamehameha family. Today, Bishop Museum continues to steward these treasured heirlooms, along with many other irreplaceable collections and objects that honor and perpetuate Hawaiʻi’s cultural and natural history.

In 1895, Bishop established the Charles Reed Bishop Trust to provide support to causes important to him and Pauahi. Today, trust beneficiaries include Bishop Museum, Central Union Church, Kaumakapili Church, Kawaiahaʻo Church, Kamehameha Schools, Mid-Pacific Institute and Lunalilo Trust. And to this day, Bishop’s trust continues to provide for the upkeep of Maunaʻala.

Bishop died in Berkeley, Calif., on June 7, 1915. He was 93. When news of his passing reached the islands, flags were flown at half-staff. His ashes were returned to Hawaiʻi and a kāhili service held in his honor at Kawaiahaʻo Church. This was the first time such a service was held for a white man since the death of John Young, trusted advisor to Kamehameha I; a testament to the aloha the aliʻi had for Bishop. A procession to Maunaʻala followed. His ashes were placed with Pauahi in the Kamehameha vault.

Hawaiʻi remains indebted to Bishop’s legacy of love for Pauahi and her people. History remembers him as a man of integrity who, through his noble actions, earned the respect of our aliʻi and the Hawaiian people.