Robert Crichton Wylie (1798 - 1865)

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Death: Died in HI, USA
Cause of death: murder ?
Occupation: Minister of Foreign Affairs in Hawaii
Managed by: Treva Sherman
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Robert Crichton Wylie

Robert Crichton Wylie was born in 1798 at Hazelbank in the Parish of Dunlop, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was the second son of Alexander Wylie, a farmer, and his wife Janet Crichton, and undoubtedly named (by custom) for his mother’s father. Young Robert matriculated at Glasgow University in 1810, at age twelve. He later left without, so far as we know, achieving a degree. Having acquired some medical knowledge, perhaps having apprenticed under an older experience physician, Wylie served as a surgeon on trading vessels and then in South America for some years before turning his attention to merchant activities in Chile. According to family lore he made a fortune from the silver mines before returning to Britain. In the 1830s he was living in London where he served as a junior partner in one shipping firm, and then had his own shipping venture for about five years. He is said to have been an acquaintance of Sir James Clarke, Queen Victoria’s physician. He was also one of the original board of directors of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

A true Victorian entrepreneur, Robert Crichton Wylie’s life changed forever when on a trip to the U.S. in 1843 he met an old acquaintance from South America, General Miller, who was enroute to Hawaii to serve as H.M.’s Consul-General. Miller convinced Wylie to accompany him, and so they arrived in Honolulu in March 1844. Fairly shortly after arriving in Hawaii General Miller was required to pay a visit to Tahiti, and R.C. Wylie became the acting British Consul General for about a year. Upon Miller’s return in 1845, Robert Wylie was invited by King Kamehameha III to take up the portfolio as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and later on as Minister of Foreign Relations, posts in which he served until his death in 1865. He also served as Secretary of State for War and the Navy, as a member of H.M. Privy Council, and was appointed to the House of Nobles.

The tenure of R.C. Wylie as an advisor to the royal court of Hawaii occurred in a significant historical context. In 1843 a British naval officer, Lord George Paulet, had attempted – without any authority – to annex Hawaii for Britain. Kamehameha III had been able to send out envoys that were able to secure recognition of the royal government by the President of the U.S., the Belgians, the French, and (most importantly under the circumstances) the British government under Lord Aberdeen. General Miller was sent out in the immediate wake of this crisis, and R.C. Wylie just happened to be at the right place at the right time. In addition to whatever abilities the canny Scot had to offer, his role was apparently a part of the effort of the Hawaiian kings to offset growing American ambitions in the islands by cultivating ties with Great Britain. His tenure seems to have been one of relative stability for the Hawaiian Kingdom. Perhaps one of Wylie’s last major actions in his role was to help get Queen Emma, the widow of Kamehameha IV, prepped and sent off to Britain to visit Queen Victoria… a visit which proved a great success.

Wylie also seems to have been something of a typically eccentric figure… being remembered for walking to and from his office with an old green baize bag stuffed with papers slung over his shoulder.

King Kamehameha IV died in 1863 and was succeeded by his brother as Kamehameha V. Robert Crichton Wylie continued his service to the Hawaiian Crown until his own death in October 1865. At the time of his death the Royal Mausoleum in Honolulu had just been completed, and R.C. Wylie was laid to rest in the tomb along with Kamehameha IV. In 1904 a separate vault was constructed adjoining the royal tomb for the remains of Wylie and eight others closely associated with the Kamehameha family.

Concurrent with his royal service, R.C. Wylie also further built his fortune in Hawaii. He acquired a significant plantation in the Hanalei Valley on the island of Kauai, and also held the mortgage on all of Waikiki (including the famous beach) on Oahu. At the time of his death a nephew, Robert C. Cochrane, came out from Scotland as the designated heir of the childless bachelor. Young Cochrane enjoyed his inheritance only briefly however, as he either committed suicide or was murdered, and Wylie’s estates were then said to have been divided up among his executors… said by Wylie descendants to be the forbears of some of the richest families in Hawaii.

By the mid-1870s American influence began to increasingly outpace British influence in the Kingdom of Hawaii, resulting in the final takeover by the U.S. in 1898. But the influence of the descendants of the Hawaiian royals continues among Native Hawaiians, and as recently as April 2008 a group called the “Hawaiian Kingdom Government” briefly occupied the historic Iolani Palace in Honolulu. And, it is notable that the flag of the State of Hawaii, the 50th state in the U.S. continues to bear the Union Jack.

One wonders what the slender red-haired Scot, Rab Wylie, would think of Hawaii today? Especially concerning all the hotels and such that line his Waikiki beaches? And one wonders what he would think of an aspiring young man who grew up in Hawaii and then struck out to make his own way in the world… Barack Hussein Obama.

These pages were sent to William Wylie by a cousin's wife. She copied it from a book on Hawaii owned by William Cuthbertson of Girard Kansas. Mr. Cuthbertson had complete records of the Wylie and Cuthbertson familys whose origin was from Scotland.

One of six children of Alexander and Janet (Crichton) Wyllie, was born at Hazelbank in the Parish of Dunlop, in Ayershire, Scotland. His father a farmer, for generations. The Wyllies had been Presbyterian: "Although of my own not noble, though ancient Presbyterian family, I am the First Episcopalian," Wyllie wrote in 1864,two years after his confirmation int he Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church.

In the year 1810, the boy Robert, aged twelve, was enrolled at the University of Glasgow a pupil of Professor William Richardson.

In the Natricular Albums of the University of Glasgow (1913) from which this record has been quoted, appears this notation:

Robert Crichton Wyllie, born at Hazelbank, 13th October 1798. Surgeon in a vessel bound for the North Seas. Shipwrecked three times. Surgeon in South America. Merchant there 14 years. A London west-end club man. British pre-consul at Honolulu 1844-5. Secretary of State for War and Navy, and a member of H. H. Privy Council, and the House of Nobles. Died at Honolulu Oct 19 or Nov. 1865.

After his arrival in Hawaii in 1844, R. C. Wyllie was sometimes called Dr. Wyllie. In 1846 a lampoonist in the Honolulu newspaper described him as having attended "The University of Hum Burg". However, his name does not appear among the graduates of the faculty of medicine at Edinburgh, the great center of medical studies n Scotland during the early 19th century. It seems probable that Wyllie acquired his surgical skill n the manner of Roderick Random, not at the ancient seat of learning, but by serving as assistant to some practioner willing to supervise his apprenticeship in the medical rt. In any event, like Smollett's hero Wyllie first went to sea as a ship's surgeon. IN a new chapter added in the second eition of his Hawaii (London, 1866) Manley Hopkins notes that in South America, Wyllie...allowed his surgical and medical knowledge to be made available, and attended the inmates of several convents and nunneries. From these whe would receive no fees; and the form which their gratitude took was at once elegant and costly. The religious houses presented to him, on three or four occasions, small trees, from the branches of which hung gold and silver coins, ornamentsand valuable trifles. He preserved these graceful memorials untouched; and used, when residing in London, to displa them on his dinner table with satisfaciton and pardonable pride.

Though the first forty five of Wllie's life remain obscure, his later correspondence occsionally provides a brief glimpse of his youthful adventures. On his "voyage to calcutta in my yacht, the Daule," he stopped at Honolulu in 1824, where ie visited a Mission School for natives and met the Reverend William Elis, then in Hawaii conducting Polynesian researches. A few years later at th age of twenty eight he was already a wealthy young merchant of Nazitlan and a popular figure among the natives.

Wyllie's Nazatlan period lasted from 1825 to 1830. During the next ten or eleven years he pursued his fortune in London. From 1831 to 1835 he was a junior partner in the firm of Lyall, Wyllie & Co., shipping merchants. For about five years after 1835 he operated concern of his own, when he was "Mr. Wyllie of No. 2 Vinners Court, Old Bond Street. "His name figures occasionally in the commercial news of the period. He was one of the original board of directors of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. Meanwhile his investments were not confined to England, but extended to America, to New Jersey where he owned stock in the Norris Canal and as far west as Illinois where he acquired Illinois state bonds. Not all these ventures proved profitable, and indeed some in the end turned out utterly worthless. A Whig in Politics, with strong views on any topics, he was a early member of theReform Club: Some may still remember in" wrote Manley Hopkins in 1866, a well dressing man, of animated but tedious conversation, and possessed of a remarkably retentive memory."

In later years in Hawaii, Wyllie loved to sprinkle his correspondence with references to old friends and acquaintances, some of whose names evoke shadowy suggestion of the London of his period: Sir James Clarke, of the private physicians of Queen Victoria; Hugh Matheson of the firm of Matheson & Co.; the ubiquitous Sir John Bowing; Miss Thomasina Ross, a minor write, and authority on Spanish Literature, and a family connection of Charles Dickens. In a letter to Lady Franklin, July 16, 1861, Wyllie speaks of the "10 years I resided in MayFair, London in social relations a protege of the Dowager Duchess of Richmond." "The Governor of the Bank of England" he writes to Queen Emma in 1865, "is my old friend, Daniel Kirkman Hodson, Esq. N.P. He is the brother of Sophie Hodson, of wom you have often heard me speak, now Mrs. Welles...All of Mr. Hodgsons connections are moneyed people and highly respectable." In his book of "Book fo Instructions, "Wyllie provided Queen Emma with some characteristic social advice for her travels abroad.

Contemporary Honolulu newspapers and other records of the period contain numerous references to Wyllie's appearance and habits. With his slender bony build and slightly reddish hair and sanguine complexion, even without his Lowland accent he was readily recognizable as being of Scottish extraction. Often he would walk the two miles from his house in Nuuanu Valley to his office near the water front carrying with him the pleasurable burdens of business--an ancient green baize bag bulging with copious letters and dispatches. He was a tireless worker and an easy target for his enemies.

His full dress, when visiting a ship-of-war, is a white star upon his breast, two yellow crowns upon his collar, a beautiful russet moustache upon his face and a crimson ribbond across his shoulders, just a half an inch broader than the rgulation rebband worn by the other ministers of state.

The history of Wyllie's later life is the history of the Hawaii of his time. It's livlier lights as well as its shadows.

R. C. Wyllie died on OCt. 19, 1865, bringing to a close twenty years of faithful and fruitful services to the government and people of Hawaii. He had labored with much success to secure for this little Mid-Pacific Kingdom, a recognized and respected, if somewhat humble place in the family of nations.

This was taken from a book entitled "The Victorian Visitors" Hawaii by A. L. Kern. This book was secured from the University of Hawaii at Honolulu.

Many noted taken from the journals of Lady Franklin and her niece Miss Craycraft who had visited Wyllie. They were on their way around the world. According to a legend Lady Franklin was trying to find her husband who started to find the NOrth Pole and never returned.

R. C. Wllie had a plantation named Princeville and also a home named Rosebank in Hawaii.

Mr. Wyllie's nephew and principal heir, when he realized he would be lucky to inherit $3,000 instead of the $3,000,000 estate he had expected. (On the strength of his hopes, Robert had got himself engaged). So great was the young man's chagrin that one night at Hanalei, in a fit of acute melancholy, he committed suicide--by slashing his throat with a razor.

Mr. Davies of Liverpool writes to us 30st Oct, noted Lady Franklin in her brief mention of some of these shocking events, "that he has this week read a letter of which he gives this extract. Charles Judd purchasing Rose Bank--what a terrible finale to all MR. Wyllie's ambitious notions! Not a year has passed away--his nephew dead--and a cartload of his books and old papers I have seen i a shed! Mr. Davie's adds that he supposed we have heard that Mr. Wyllie's estate will probably prove insolvent.

P.S. It was rumored that Wyllie was murdered.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Mausoleum_of_Hawaii

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Robert Crichton Wylie's Timeline

1798
October 13, 1798
1845
1845
- 1865
Age 46
1865
October 19, 1865
Age 67
HI, USA
????
Honolulu, HI, USA