The Kilauea visit that was a prelude to revolution


To the scientists who monitor Puu Oo crater, the scene in this photo seems familiar. A rising lava lake forms a symmetrical, perched lava pond as frequent overflows build steep levee walls higher and higher.

Similar volcanic features have been described and photographed several times in recent years at Puu Oo, but this image is very old. The photo appears to show a lava lake within a pit crater located inside Kilauea Caldera. Sometimes called Dana Lake, this molten pond was a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Kilauea between 1890 and 1894. It is featured in many old photographs, as well as in a painting by volcano artist D.H. Hitchcock.

But the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s copy of this old photo from the Hawaii State Archives has no label at all. When was it taken and who were the visitors?

A recent visit to Bishop Museum and some additional research have provided surprising answers. At Bishop Museum, we found another copy of the same image, which provided a date of 1893 and a label, “Gov. Stevens and party.” Other individuals identified in the Bishop Museum print included Demosthenes Lycurgus, Peter Lee and Alexander Lancaster. Lee managed the Volcano House hotel at the time, and Lancaster was a famous volcano guide. Lycurgus and his brother, George, would later succeed Lee as Volcano House managers.

But who was Gov. Stevens? Hawaii had island governors in the 1890s, but there were none with this name. A close look at the photo shows that the second man from the right bears a strong resemblance to U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Hawaii John L. Stevens.

Based on that clue, Martha Hoverson, a volunteer librarian at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, found references to a voyage to Hilo made by Stevens and his daughter, Grace, on the American gunboat USS Boston. They arrived in Hilo on Jan. 5, 1893, and toured the volcano the next day while the ship conducted gunnery practice in Hilo Harbor.

Stevens and the USS Boston returned to Honolulu Jan. 14, just in time to play a pivotal role in the history of Hawaii. That morning, Queen Liliuokalani disbanded the legislature and attempted to proclaim a new constitution for the kingdom. Stevens met with the Committee of Public Safety, a group composed mostly of American businessmen, that afternoon. Two days later, at Stevens’ request, Marines from the USS Boston were dispatched into Honolulu, altering the balance of power between the political factions that were competing for control of the kingdom.

The monarchy was overthrown three days later, and, on behalf of the United States, Stevens immediately recognized the provisional government. On Feb. 1, Stevens declared Hawaii a protectorate of the United States.

We don’t know who took this remarkable photo 120 years ago, but we do know the photographer captured an important moment in the geologic and political history of Hawaii.

Kilauea activity update

A lava lake within the Halemaumau Overlook vent produced a nighttime glow visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook and via HVO’s webcam during the past week. After recovering slightly from a deflation-inflation event at Kilauea’s summit two weeks ago, the lava lake level dropped again this week during the deflation phase of another DI event. This deflation had not yet transitioned to inflation as of Thursday.

On Kilauea’s east rift zone, surface lava flows remain active on the coastal plain, but were not entering the ocean as of Thursday. The active flows straddle the eastern boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Within Puu Oo, glow and small, sporadic lava flows emanate from openings in the northeastern, northwestern and southeastern parts of the crater floor.

No earthquakes were reported felt in the past week on Hawaii Island.

Visit hvo.wr.usgs.gov for Volcano Awareness Month details and Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes and more; call 967-8862 for a Kilauea summary; email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.