The Catcher Who Stopped a Revolution

Hay Wodehouse,  Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

Hay Wodehouse, Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

This guest column is by Bruce Allardice, one of the most active and proficient researchers into early baseball. He is professor of history at South Suburban College near Chicago. He has authored numerous books on the Civil War, and is head of SABR’s Civil War baseball subcommittee. He has also been a contributor to Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.

Some stories have it all—betrayal, courage, cowardice, a comic-opera kingdom, a drunken monarch, and a government saved by the long right arm of a baseball player. It even has a connection to Alexander Cartwright, one of the founders of baseball.

Up until 1898, the current state of Hawaii remained a separate country, for most of that time ruled by a dynasty of native Hawaiian monarchs. American shipping interests and missionary work brought thousands of American citizens to the islands. And these Americans brought with them the “new” game of baseball. As early as 1866 Hawaii became the second country outside the United States to establish baseball teams.[1] By the 1870s a regular league of amateur baseball teams played in Honolulu, sporting such nicknames as the Whangdoodles, the Stars, the Pacifics, and the Honolulus.

While researching early Hawaiian baseball, I ran across this story in Sporting Life, August 21, 1889:[2]

A Catcher Hero. Revolution Quelled Through the Efforts of a Base Ball Catcher.

One of the incidents of the recent attempted [Wilcox] revolution in Hawaii has a peculiar interest for base ball lovers. A special from San Francisco, under date of Aug. 12, says: 

“Some passengers by the Honolulu steamer who were seen late last night gave interesting accounts of scenes at the recent battle in Honolulu. The day was won, they say, by a base ball catcher, who threw dynamite bombs into the bungalow that formed the headquarters of the insurgents and brought them to terms quicker than rifle or cannon shot. The blue-jackets kept up a disastrous firing all day, and it was finally decided to throw dynamite on the bungalow. Bombs were made, but it was found that there were no guns to fire them.

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

“It was a long throw, and in their dilemma the King’s guards secured the services of Hay Wodehouse, catcher of the Honolulu Base Ball Club. Wodehouse took up his position in the Coney Island building, just across a narrow lane, and overlooking the bungalow. No attack was expected from that quarter, and there was nothing to disturb the bomb thrower. Wodehouse stood for a few moments with a bomb in his hand as though he were in the box waiting for a batman. He had to throw over a house to reach the bungalow, which he could not see.

“The first bomb went sailing over the wall, made a down curve, and struck the side of the bungalow about a foot from the roof, and the yell that followed reminded one of a day at the Haight street grounds when good pitchers were in the box. The bomb had reached them and hurt a number of the insurgents. Wodehouse coolly picked out another bomb. Then he took a step back, made a half turn, and sent it whizzing. It lauded on the roof of the bungalow, smashed a hole four men could have dropped through, and scattered old iron among the rebels until they thought they were in a boiler explosion. The base ball pitcher was too much for the rebels.

He threw one more bomb, and Wilcox came out and surrendered.”

Further details can be found in the Maui Times, Oct. 18, 1913:[3]

“I was somewhat surprised last week when I read a short mention of the death of James Hay Wodehouse at the Queen’s Hospital, for Hay was one of the makers of history here twenty-five years ago, and one of the pioneer ball players, for he played during the years when Thurston, Faxon Bishop, Willie Kinney, W. Lucas, the Baldwins and men of lesser note were active on the diamond. Hay was a great catcher in his younger days, and during a season a good many years ago, was a helper in winning the championship for his team, “The Honolulu,” I think it was. But what brought him to the public eye was the stopping of the revolution of 1889 which was led by the late Bob Wilcox. Wodehouse, be it known, was the son of a British Minister resident who, I think, was the dean of the diplomatic corps…. Well, when Wilcox, who had been a ward of the government to the extent of being sent to Italy for his education, made up his mind it was time to break out. He laid plots over the town and shook out seeds of revolution. With his supports, or some of them, he located in the Iolani grounds while the King was down at the boat house. It looked as though Bob would get the whip hand if something was not promptly done to dislodge him. His headquarters, and those of his lieutenants was in the bungalow. Just across Hotel street was the Haalelea or Coney residence behind the stone wall which is now used to keep unruly members of the University Club within and the public without.

“Someone suggested that a stick of dynamite or a bomb should be thrown into the house where Bob was, but there was no one about who could do it, until Hay was thought of and sent for. He could send a ball from the plate to second without an effort, and he believed so strongly that he could land on the bungalow, that he let her go. There was hades a poppin’ in two minutes and Bob was seen to make a rush for the big gasoline tank. A second bomb drove him from that and he was promptly gathered in. The revolution was pau [done] and it had been stopped by a ball tosser in the beginning.

“Being the son of a distinguished diplomat, there was trouble for him and the father was called on to explain what he knew of the affair, but he was innocent enough and the incident closed as far as any official investigation was concerned, but Hay had to answer to his father.”

The earliest contemporary account of the incident is in the Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889:[4]

“…Yesterday afternoon the Government decided that it was necessary to dislodge Wilcox from the bungalow into which he had withdrawn his remaining force. Half-past four was fixed as the time for the grand attack, but it was an hour later before preparations were completed. Having no ordnance to bring to bear upon the building the use of giant powder cartridges was resorted to. These were hurled by strong arms from Palace Walk and some from Richards street, and as they exploded the report made people at a distance think the rebels had got the cannon into play again. A terrific fusillade was at the same time begun and kept up with scarcely an intermission for about an hour from all the commanding points of vantage. A galling fire was poured into the lower flat of the bungalow by half a dozen citizen marksmen posted in the Hawaiian Hotel Stables. Then suddenly was heard the commanding shout, “Hold on,” after which only a desultory shot or two was heard from the church, and the explosion of one bomb at the bungalow. The cessation of the fray was caused by the beleaguered rebels displaying a white sheet and calling out their ‘Surrender.’ The gates were thrown open and a force of volunteers entering received the submission of Wilcox and about thirty of his followers. The remainder of them made good their escape over the Palace wall. The thirty who had surrendered to Lieut. Parker in the afternoon were previously sent to the Station under guard. Wilcox and his gang were escorted also to the Station. The rebel chief bore himself sullenly and proudly through the crowded streets, casting looks of disdain to right and left as cries of vengeance were heard, such as ‘String him up,’ etc.

[…]

“The interior of the bungalow in the Palace yard, where the rebels were located the greater part of the day, presented a scene of devastation this morning. The roof is damaged very considerably by the giant powder cartridges which exploded on it. The rooms upstairs at the Richards street end presented a sorry appearance. Furniture was all smashed to pieces, the floors were strewed with broken glass and bullet holes were seen in the walls in every direction. It was terrible to see what damage had been done. On the matting in several of the rooms were large patches of blood, and many cloths were lying around saturated with blood. On the back verandah down stairs was a long trail of blood looking as if a wounded man had been dragged along. The damage to the lower part of the bungalow was small compared to that on the first floor.”

Background

His majesty here, who is a fine, intelligent fellow, but O, Charles! What a crop for the drink! He carries it, too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders.–Robert Louis Stevenson to Charles Baxter, Feb. 8, 1889[5]

Stevenson was writing of his good friend and drinking companion, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii, whose troubled reign gave rise to the 1889 uprising.

King David Kalakaua

King David Kalakaua

Elected monarch in 1874 by the Hawaiian legislature, after the death of the last of the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great, David Kalakaua faced opposition from both “native” Hawaiians (many of whom preferred his cousin, the former Queen Emma, to be their monarch) and the Caucasian-descended “Haole”[6] merchants who paid most of the kingdom’s taxes. The new king was admitted by all to be personally charming and dignified. He was a huge sports fan,[7] and was the first monarch ever to attend a baseball game. His palace staff even sponsored a baseball club. But Kalakaua’s notorious drinking bouts, his spendthrift habits, his expensive (and largely unsuccessful) poker playing, and his impractical schemes for a “Pacific empire” bankrupted his own finances and the finances of his tiny kingdom. The improvident monarch gave over government of the kingdom to shady adventurers such as Cesar Moreno and Walter Gibson who promised, in return for power, to get the elected legislature to pay off the king’s mounting debts.

For the Haole taxpayers (and most others), the final straw came when Kalakaua took a $71,000 bribe from a Chinese businessman to license the import of opium into the kingdom. Greedy for more money, the king didn’t issue the license, then promptly took a second bribe from another Chinese merchant and gave him the license instead![8] In 1887 the mostly Caucasian Honolulu merchants organized a volunteer militia, marched on the royal Iolani Palace (another expensive extravagance, in their minds) and coerced the king into signing the so-called “Bayonet Constitution” which stripped the monarch of most of his powers, giving those powers to an elected cabinet.

Kalakaua resented his new restrictions. So did many natives, appalled that the man they viewed as their tribal chief now had to act as an English-style Constitutional monarch, co-signing the laws passed by the Haole-dominated Reform Party government. A former favorite of Kalakaua’s, young Robert Wilcox, vowed to do something about it. Of mostly native descent, the hot-headed Wilcox planned to raise a revolt, but word of his plotting (though not the exact details) leaked out all over Honolulu. The king heard of Wilcox’s plans (Wilcox held his planning meetings at the home of the Queen’s sister) and acquiesced, promising to allow himself to be captured by the rebels when they seized the palace, dismiss the government, and promulgate the new constitution Wilcox had written.[9]

Robert W. Wilcox

Robert W. Wilcox

On the night of July 30, 1889, Wilcox gathered together a ragtag bunch of about 150 rebels, all but a few of whom were natives, and set off to seize the government. However, Kalakaua heard a rumor that night that Wilcox (known to be untrustworthy)[10] also intended to depose the king and put his sister Liliuokalani (thought to be firmer against Haole domination) on the throne.

Frightened, the king double-crossed Wilcox. He left Iolani Palace to hide out at the royal boathouse, ordering the commander of the dozen palace guards, Captain Robert Waipu Parker[11] (himself first baseman of a local baseball club), to defend the palace by force. So when the rebels arrived at the palace grounds, they found no king, and no entrance to the palace. Wilcox had no plan B—or even a step 2 in his original plan. He made little or no effort to seize the members of the government. His men milled around in confusion on the palace grounds, discouraged and demoralized by the king’s betrayal.

The government reacted quickly. By early morning the palace grounds were surrounded by members of Honolulu’s volunteer militia and Haole volunteers. From the Opera House across the street from the palace grounds, and from the historic stone church a block away, they poured fire on the rebels. The rebels had seized the only four cannon in the kingdom, but the rifle fire prevented them from firing the cannon accurately at the government forces. The rebels retreated to the royal bungalow in the northwest corner of the palace grounds. There they made their stand. The grounds were surrounded by an eight-foot coral wall, and the rebels had a clear field of fire on the grounds and onto the surrounding streets.

Old Iolani Palace grounds[Below is a modern map of the Iolani Palace grounds. The Opera House was where the modern Post office is located. The bungalow is just to the left, and above, of the palace. Wodehouse threw his bombs from the Coney residence, just above the bungalow. At the left is a map from the Rocky Mountain News, August 20, 1889, which shows the same area. The bungalow is marked “B.” The Coney residence is marked “G” and is located just above the bungalow.]

By late afternoon many of the discouraged rebels had surrendered. But the fire from the bungalow continued. The government forces feared that Wilcox might hold out long enough, or create enough of a stir, that the king would change his mind again and back the rebels.[12] Wilcox hoped this too. Wilcox also hoped that he could escape in the coming darkness and raise the natives (who had thus far remained mostly neutral) in a mass revolt. Artillery was needed to batter down the bungalow walls, but no cannon were available.

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Contemporary author Stephen Dando-Collins says Wodehouse thought up the idea for throwing the bombs, constructed them, and enlisted Arthur C. Turton (a ship’s purser and baseball player himself) as a helper. The pair crept along the palace walls, up Richards Street which border the western side of the palace grounds. When they reached a close point—some sources claim on the street behind the wall, others say they climbed the Coney residence on Hotel Street—Turton lighted the fuse and handed the dynamite bombs to Wodehouse. The bombs were wrapped around nails or spikes so that when thrown onto the bungalow roof, they wouldn’t roll down. The dynamite, lobbed onto the bungalow roof, did the trick. The rebellion ended—the only rebellion in history ever put down by a baseball player.[13]

The Rest of the Story.

Hawaiian-born James Hay Wodehouse Jr. (1861-1913) was the son of the longtime British Consul to Hawaii, James Hay Wodehouse Sr. The Wodehouses counted the Earl of Errol and the novelist P. G. Wodehouse among their relatives. Wodehouse Sr. had served as president of the local cricket club, and his two sons James and Ernest became enthusiastic players on the local baseball clubs. Ernest pitched for the Stars and James (labeled “the fleet-footed Mercury of the League”) caught for the Honolulus.[14] At the time of the rebellion James was a salesman for one of the local British-based merchant companies.

James later married King Kalakaua’s step-niece. He died in Hawaii in 1913.[15]

Hawaiian born Arthur Campbell “Jack” Turton (1867-1890) was scion of one of the wealthiest planter families in the kingdom. He’d played baseball while attending Punahou School. Shortly after the rebellion, Turton caught a fever while on a visit to the U.S., and died in San Francisco. He was buried in that city’s Masonic Cemetery.[16]

King David Kalakaua (1836-1891), the “Merry Monarch,” died two years after the rebellions. His sister, Liliuokalani (“Queen Lil”, 1838-1917), was deposed two years later when she unilaterally tried to revoke the 1887 Constitution. The new government proclaimed Hawaii an independent Republic. In 1898 Hawaii was annexed to the United States.

Robert William Kalanihiupo Wilcox (1855-1903) was tried for treason. But a clause in the Hawaiian Constitution provided that natives be tried by an all-native jury, and despite his obvious guilt, the jury acquitted him and all the native rebels. The only rebel punished was a stray Belgian who joined the fight. In 1895 the “unconquerable” Wilcox again tried (and failed) to overthrow the government and restore the monarchy. Wilcox remained popular among the natives, who later elected the former rebel the new Territory’s delegate to the U.S. Congress!

And in perhaps the ultimate irony to this affair, Wilcox, whose revolution has been thwarted by two baseball players, married Theresa La’anui, whose first husband was the son of Alexander Joy Cartwright, considered by many the founder of Baseball![17]

Notes


[1]The king feared that he would be deposed by the winners, whichever side won.

[2]Sources for this narrative of the Wilcox Revolt include the first and freshest account: “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889. The Bulletin from Aug. 1st through 6th has more articles on the revolt. See also “A Rebellion,” San Francisco Bulletin, Aug. 10, 1889; “Fatal Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 10, 1889; “The Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 11, 1889; “The Honolulu Insurgents,” Fresno Republican, Aug. 13, 1889; “Kalakaua’s Kingdom,” Los Angeles Daily Herald, Aug. 10, 1889; “Insurrection!”, Hawaiian Gazette, Aug. 6, 1889. Perhaps the fullest eyewitness account is “An Incipient Revolt,” in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 20, 1889, written by William D. Westervelt, later president of the Hawaiian Historical Society. Another good account is “The Wilcox Insurrection,” The Friend, Aug. 1889, pp 66-67. Seven rebels lost their lives in the revolt. On the government side, only one man (Captain Parker of the Palace Guard) was wounded.

The books cited in the bibliography all discuss the Wilcox revolt, trying to make sense of the varying accounts.

Ralph S. Kuykendall, the dean of historians of Hawaii, observes:

“As for Wilcox’s objectives, however, there can be no doubt  that two of them were: (1) to replace the Constitution of 1887 with one similar to that of 1864; and (2) to get rid of the Reform cabinet. The uncertainties have to do with the relationship of King Kalakaua and his sister Liliuokalani to the movement.” See Kuykendall, p. 424.

[3] “Baseball. The Stars win the 1889 Season Championship,” Hawaiian Gazette, Sept. 17, 1889.

[4] “James H. Wodehouse will be laid to rest this afternoon,” Honolulu Bulletin, Oct. 9, 1913.

[5] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[6] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

[7]Queen Lil later wrote that Wilcox’s “enthusiasm was great, but was not supported by good judgment or proper discretion.” Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story, p. 201.

[8]Aka Robert Parker Waipu.

[9] Haole is a native Hawaiian term an ancient origin. Under Hawaiian law, anyone born in the islands became a Hawaiian subject, even if their parents were “foreign.” Thus, under Hawaiian law, haoles such as James Hay Wodehouse were just as much “Hawaiian” as the “natives”.

[10] Cf. “Kalakaua a Crank,” New York Herald, Dec. 12, 1889 (using the slang word “crank” to signify a baseball fan). See also Honolulu Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1889, for the king attending a party honoring the Honolulu champion baseball team. Only months after this rebellion was quelled, the king hosted the Spalding baseball world tour and hosted a luau for the players.

[11] The disappointed Chinese merchant sued the king, and the whole messy affair became public knowledge.

[12] Wilcox testified at his trial that the king knew of his plans and promised to sign Wilcox’s new Constitution.

[13] “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889.

[14] Stevenson, Robert Louis (A. Grove Day, ed.), Travels in Hawaii (U. of Hawaii Press, 1991), p. 94.

[15] “James Hay Wodehouse Made History Once,” Maui News, Oct. 18, 1913.

[16] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[17] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

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