Victoria Kamāmalu was born on 1 November 1838 as the daughter of Elizabeth Kīnaʻu, Kaʻahumanu II and her third husband, Mataio Kekūanāoʻa. Her mother was a daughter of King Kamehameha I, the founder of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Two of her brothers would go on to become Kings of Hawaii. Her mother refused to give up in hānai (a traditional form of adoption) as she had already given up four sons and personally nursed her daughter. Tragically, her mother would die of the mumps just six months after Victoria’s birth.
Victoria went on to be educated at the Chiefs’ Children’s School, which was later renamed as the Royal School. From birth, she was expected to one day succeed in her mother’s position of Kuhina Nui, roughly the equivalent of a prime minister or a regent. Female Kuhina Nui took on the name Kaʻahumanu out of respect for Queen Kaʻahumanu who was the first holder of the office. As Victoria was still a minor when her mother died, her aunt Kekāuluohi acted in her place, using the name Kaʻahumanu III. Her aunt died when Victoria was seven and so her uncle the King appointed John Kalaipaihala Young II and in 1850 Victoria was appointed heiress presumptive to the office.
In 1854, her uncle the King died, and he was succeeded by Victoria’s brother who became King Kamehameha IV. Probably because of his accession, Victoria succeeded to the Kuhina Nui office before the death of John Kalaipaihala Young II. From then on, she presided over the King’s privy council. From 1862, she and her elder brother Lot were added to the line of succession after the King’s only son died in August. Lot succeeded their brother upon his death in 1864 while Victoria assumed the power of the state for the day as Kuhina Nui. She proclaimed her own brother King with the words, “It having pleased Almighty God to close the earthly career of King Kamehameha IV, at a quarter past 9 o’clock this morning, I, as Kuhina Nui, by and with the advice of the Privy Council of State hereby proclaim Prince Lot Kamehameha, King of Hawaii, under the style and title of Kamehameha V. God preserve the King!”
Though Victoria’s marriage to William Charles Lunalilo had been arranged by her parents from infancy, the marriage was forbidden by her brothers. In 1857, her brother Lot caught a man named Marcus Cummins Monsarrat “arranging his pantaloons” in Victoria’s bedroom and the man was immediately banished from the country. Her brother attempted to have another marriage arranged for her, but in the end, she remained unmarried for the rest of her life. In 1863, she was appointed heiress-apparent and Crown Princess by her brother King Kamehameha V. As fate would have it, Victoria never succeeded as Queen as she predeceased her brother.
Victoria became ill during a party in February 1866. By May, she was suffering from paralysis and became bedridden. Her body began to swell, and she was not able to move without assistance. She died on 29 May 1866, still only 27 years old.
Mark Twain described the days surrounding her funeral in a letter, “The sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr Parker, pastor of the great stone church – of which the Princess was a member, I believe, and whose choir she used to lead in the days of her early womanhood. To the day of her death, she was a staunch, unwavering friend and ally of the missionaries, and it is a matter of no surprise that Parker, always eloquent, spoke upon this occasion with a feeling and pathos which visibly moved the hearts of men accustomed to conceal their emotions. The Bishop of Honolulu, ever zealous, had sought permission to officiate in Parker’s stead, but after duly considering the fact that the Princess had always regarded the Bishop with an unfriendly eye and had persistently refused to have anything to do with his church, his request was denied.”1