Built at Salem, Massachusetts in 1816, the brig ‘Cleopatra’s Barge’ was America’s ﬁrst oceangoing private yacht.
At the time, the concept of a ship built for pleasure was unknown on the western side of the Atlantic, where ships were built only for trade or war.
The yacht was built of solid oak as a schooner and had all the qualities of a good sea-going vessel. She was armed simply and well, and beautifully ﬁtted out on the exterior, with ﬁne carving on bow and stern. She had fourteen gun ports.
Her lavish furnishings included custom silver, glass and china services, and her interior decor rivaled that of the wealthiest homes.
Her exterior was distinguished by a herringbone paint scheme on the port side and multicolored horizontal stripes to starboard, a life-sized painted wooden Indian on deck, velvet-served quarter-deck lines, considerable gilding, and the latest patent windlass, pump and rudder technology.
At her stern were a salon ﬁnished with pink and deep blue mountings and gilt, a bedroom, a buﬀet, and a stairway leading up to her deck.
Mid-ship was a captain’s cabin and, forward, quarters for a crew, a storage area for tackle and so forth, a galley above and, ﬁnally, a spacious lounge containing tables of the ﬁnest workmanship, inlaid with palm and lacquered redwood.
She had five staterooms off the cabin, while the forecastle had accommodations for ten men and three boys.
Her registered tonnage was 191½-tons; she was 83-feet long on the water line, 23-feet beam and 11½- feet deep.
The Logbook for the Barge’s outbound voyage from Boston to the Sandwich Islands tell the tale of an uneventful voyage whose monotony was broken only by frequent sail changes and an occasional squall.
After 138-days at sea, Cleopatra’s Barge arrived at Lāhainā, Maui, on November 6, 1820; the very next day Liholiho (Kamehameha II) was welcomed aboard along with some family members and attendants.
Liholiho’s father Kamehameha I had loved foreign ships; over time he had collected a sizable ﬂeet of Western vessels, which, with guns and training by the foreigners, were a major asset in unifying and maintaining his kingdom across the islands.
Liholiho inherited his father’s love of ships; one of his childhood companions remembered seeing Liholiho frequently sailing a boat model “like a real man-of-war” on a pond and also recalled that their favorite boyhood pastime was drawing ships in the sand at the beach.
Just ten days after his ﬁrst visit to the ship, Liholiho purchased Cleopatra’s Barge and her cargo for 1.07-million pounds of sandalwood, worth $80,000 at the time.
On January 4, 1821, King Liholiho took formal possession of Cleopatra’s Barge, appointing his personal secretary, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Rives, as temporary captain.
Liholiho then renamed the yacht ‘Ha‘aheo O Hawai‘i’ (Pride of Hawaiʻi.)
During the next three years she made frequent voyages between the islands.
On one of those trips in July 1821, Liholiho sailed to Kaua‘i, intent on confirming allegiance from Kaumuali‘i (whom his father had negotiated peace and, ultimately, united the islands under Kamehameha’s rule.)
When Kaumuali‘i unwittingly boarded and was seated in the cabin, orders were secretly given to make sail for Honolulu – Kaumuali‘i was taken prisoner.
In November 1823, Liholiho traveled to England, he died of measles in London on July 14, 1824.
According to a passage from Hiram Bingham, in April 1824, “Cleopatra's Barge was wrecked in the bay of Hanalei, Kaua‘i, and lay not far from the beach dismantled and ruined ... and was given up as unrecoverable.”
The image is Cleopatra’s Barge – Ha‘aheo O Hawai‘i in Hawai‘i. Lots of information here is from Paul F. Johnson’s paper, “A Million Pounds of Sandalwood.” In addition, I have included some other images of the ship in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.