Hawaiian Abroad – James Kāneholo Booth (1860-1884)

Aloha mai kākou…if anyone reading this knows Hardy Spoehr, please forward these posts to him as we’ve got a story for him!

We spent this afternoon in Napoli, specifically at the Nunziatella, the West Point of Italy.  It was both exciting and emotional and it has taken us hours to start talking again after decompressing.

Hardy Spoehr asked if we might travel to Naples during this trip.  Always up for an adventure, I was game, shared a bit of info with the girls, and picked up three sets of a dossiers on James Kāneholo Booth.  The three dossiers were possible because Hardy has already done extensive research, including a trip to Naples and Rome. 

King David Kalākaua was the first Hawaiian monarch to circumnavigate the world.  Influenced by the best of the best from other places, he initiated his Scholars Abroad program in the early 1880s.  Young Hawaiians with promise and a certain amount of rank were sent to other countries to learn what they could, and bring back their new skills to benefit the kingdom.  They went to study medicine, law, engineering, art and other disciplines.

Somewhat well known today is the quest of Dr. Benjamin Young to identify the first Native Hawaiian physician.  Hot on the trail of Matthew Makalua who was sent to England by King Kalākaua to study medicine, Dr. Young found the cemetery in which he was buried, and descendants of Makalua, who had married into the famous Dewars family (of Dewars scotch). 

This project has led others to identify other Hawaiians abroad and when possible and with the blessings of family members, bring them home to Hawai‘i.

In 1881, Robert Wilcox, James Boyd and James Kāneholo Booth were sent to the finest academies in Italy to study with the best in military studies.  Wilcox and Boyd studied in Turin, and both returned to become military leaders and have descendants who are leaders in Hawaiian community. 

Booth, however, was sent to Scuola Militaire Nunziatelle, or Nunziatelle Military Academy, in Napoli.  He was there from 1881 until 1884 when he met with an unfortunate death during the cholera epidemic that swept through Europe, nearly wiping out Naples.

Believing him to be the son of the Hawaiian King, the government of Italy made arrangements to inter Booth separately despite the practice of sprinkling lime on plague victims and burying them in mass graves.  Being Protestant in a Catholic country, he was buried in a British Cemetery in Naples.

Fast forward a hundred years to a sprawling metropolis and the British decided to move the iwi from its cemetery so that the land can be developed.  Where is James Kāneholo Booth now?

Hardy has spent years tracking down information on Booth and his whereabouts, as well as that of descendants of any family members he may have.  He has communicated with the Nunziatelle as well as those in charge of military affairs based in Rome.  We learned today that his queries have generated further study into the whereabouts of Booth.  For example, Il Consigliare Giuseppe Catenucci, the historian, reported to us that he has inquiries out to all cemetery directors in the municipality as to the whereabouts of James Booth, the Havaiano.

Today was one of the most profound experiences one can imagine.  Thanks to patience and a degree of charm, we were granted entry not only to the antechamber of the Nunziatelle, but eventually to the 17th century chapel, a study room in which Booth would have studied, to the commons, and to meet the Commandante Col. Filippo Troise.  We presented him with a flag of Hawai‘i and, in return, he presented us with gifts, too.  We are grateful to the officers who granted us access and to the Secretario who charmed us with his extensive knowledge and hospitality.  The visit through the museum was fascinating.  Dr. Catenucci was clearly excited to be involved in this search as we believe he plans to publish a monograph dedicated to Booth in the near future.

Mahalo, Hardy, for the hard work you put in to this and other efforts to raise the status of kanaka maoli, and particularly the love with which you do what you do.  We have given away two of the dossiers you made and will need one more upon our return.

See the accounts by Alohalani and Kalei for more details about today’s visit.

I’ll close with something written in tribute to Booth by a soldier and teacher of Booth’s.  The student asked the professor to write something in his album, and I’ll ask Alohalani to translate:


Del giovane principe



Allor che il tempo edace

Le pagine ridenti avra ingiallite

Di quest’ Albo si caro, e, qual fugace

Sogno d’amato giubilo,

Per te saran sparite

Molte dolcezze dell’ eta piu bella,

Queste pur vecchie pagine

Ti porterano ancor vita novella.

Sfogliandole vedrai

Ancor la gaia gioventu fiorente,

Ed al Ricardo d’un desiato amore,

Col memore pensier ritornerai…

Amor pel cielo italic,

Pel suol fatato, ardent,

Dove fremono I sensi, e parla al core,

Ricco di mille immagini

E di possente rima,

Un carme, ognor gentil, che ci sublime.


2 thoughts on “Hawaiian Abroad – James Kāneholo Booth (1860-1884)”

  1. via Mele..…thank you so much..I don’t tweet or twoot for that matter so this was wonderful to get your email…so glad Kim was able to connect…hardy

  2. via Mele:
    This is so exciting ! ! ! I still recall with considerable emotion when I began my trek many years ago and meeting with Matthew Makalua’s descendants in London, of combing through the medical records at the hospital in East Sussex, and of course, finding his house in St. Leonards, and finally, discovering the final resting place of Makalua and his beloved wife, Clementina, in Hastings, England.

    Please let Kim know how excited I was to read of her adventure in Italy and how much this will add to our knowledge of those difficult Kalakaua years. Ben Young

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