Emotional days in exile for Hawaiian princess
ON A July afternoon just over a century ago, a royal princess from Hawaii was playing croquet on the lawn at one of Tunbridge Wells' most fashionable mansions.
She was 21-year-old Princess Kaiulani, heir to the Hawaiian throne, and she was staying with her guardian, Theophilus Harris Davies, at his magnificent new home, Ravensdale, in Chilston Road.
After eight years in England, the well-educated and much-travelled young woman would have fitted easily into the gentle rituals being played out among the rhododendrons and flower borders of a late Victorian garden.
However this was no ordinary visitor, for her colourful background had already brought her fame on both sides of the Atlantic.
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Raised since birth to rule her country, Princess Kaiulani had been forced, four years earlier, to sit helplessly as her family on the other side of the world was deposed in a political coup which would lead, eventually, to her home becoming America's 50th state.
Aged just 18, she had immediately travelled to America to ask the president to intercede, capturing the public imagination and inspiring one reporter to write: "Her accent says London; her figure says New York; her heart says Hawaii."
But when she sat down at Ravensdale to write a letter to a close friend on July 4, 1897, the princess had other matters on her mind.
She wrote: "I am really feeling much better, but have still to be very careful," adding: "I was so annoyed a few days back. I managed to get down for breakfast and stayed up fairly late in the evening, having also played croquet in the afternoon, when on my way to bed I again had one of my fainting fits. It showed me that I must be more careful, but all the same it is very hard lines, I hate posing as an invalid."
A wealthy businessman, Theophilus Davies had made his fortune in Hawaii and was a close friend of her parents, prominent Honolulu businessman Archibald Cleghorn, from Scotland, and Princess Miriam Likelike, of Hawaii's ruling dynasty.
His big, comfortable house, with its impressive entrance hall, graceful reception rooms, large stables and rambling grounds had been built, like so much of the town, by leading local architect and builder William Willicombe. It was completed in 1865, and he lived there himself until his death in 1878.
Like so many successful Victorian entrepreneurs, Davies was happy to retire to a quiet, leafy corner of a town famous for its wealth and good breeding. The son of a Welsh minister, he had not enjoyed great success in his early years, and had been dispatched to Hawaii in 1857, aged 23, to make a fresh start as a shipping clerk for a British firm in Honolulu. It was an opportunity he grasped with both hands, and he went on to head one of the island's five biggest sugar firms, bringing him great wealth and influence.
Princess Kaiulani, despite her enjoyment of social life in England, worried constantly about affairs back home. In the letter, she went on to express her concern, saying: "Things are in a very bad way out there…I am now pretty certain we shall never have back our own again. I am very sorry for my people, as they will hate being taken over by another nation."
She told another friend: "Last night I heard my peacocks crying in the night. So plaintive and lost they sounded. I awoke with my throat aching, because I couldn't let my feelings out."
By the autumn, she had returned home to her family, but her story was not destined to end happily, for just two years later, after much ill-health, she died aged 23.
However her story lives on, told and re-told in many books and papers and, in 2009, immortalised in a film, Princess Kaiulani.
Her visits to Tunbridge Wells have also become part of the story of Ravensdale which, no longer a private house, is now home to St George's Community Children's Project.