to Yarns Index
Brown Spencer’s diary account of the 1868 volcano erruption
with notes by Julius Rodman.
Historian W.D. Alexander described the 1868 eruption in the
book The Great Eruption in Kau, published in 1899. An excerpt
from the book:
At length, on the 2nd of April, a terrific earthquake took place,
which shook down every stone wall and nearly every house in Kau,
and did more or less damage in every part of Hawaii
in eastern Kau, it caused a destructive landslip commonly known
as the “mud flow.” An enormous mass
of marshy clay was detached from the bluff at the head of the
valley, and in a few minutes swept down for a distance of three
miles, in a stream about half a mile wide and thirty feet deep
in the middle, it moved so swiftly that it overtook and buried
thirty-one human beings and over five hundred horses, cattle,
Immediately after this earthquake, a tremendous wave, forty
or fifty feet high, rolled in upon the coast of Kau, sweeping
away all of the villages from Kaalualu to Keauhou, and destroying
some coconut groves. Over eighty persons perished in a few minutes,
and the survivors were left destitute and suffering. At the same
time the crater of Kilauea emptied itself of lava through underground
fissures toward the southwest. The central part of floor of the
crater fell in, forming a pit three thousand feet long and five
hundred feet deep, with sloping sides.
On the 7th of April, the lava from the central crater of Mauna
Loa burst out of the southwest slopeof the mountain, in the land
of Kahuku, at a point 5,600 feet above the sea. The lava spouted
up in great fountains, several hundred feet high, and flowed
to the sea, a distance of ten miles, in two hours, This eruption
continued only five days. It destroyed several houses and several
hundred head of cattle and overflowed 4,000 acres of good land.
Three men were imprisoned for several days on a hill surrounded
by lava streams, and Captain Robert Brown and his family were
obliged to run for their lives.
Some 30 years after the event, in 1901, Annie Spencer supplemented
her diary with recollections and notes. The resulting document
is presented here:
Saturday, March 28th, 1868
Today has been a day of terror. We had a number of earthquakes
during the night; but from daybreak when I awoke, until 2 p.m.,
there were 97. At 20 minutes of 2, I was over to Charlotte’s
when there was a most terrific shock. We all rushed out of
doors. After half-an-hour or so I went over to the house, and
then with Charlie went up to Mr. Pogue’s. They were all
out under the trees, and there they remained until 4 p.m. when
we all went out to Kauko’s. Here we are, and the earth
is trembling’ every now and then there is a heavy shock
of earthquake. Mr. Pogue, Charlotte, and Nelson came out on
horseback, the rest of us on our feet. Mr. Pogue returned,
At 7 a.m.
I noticed the natives picking up Pele’s Hair
[a hairlike vitreous product of the volcano borne upon
the wind a t times*]. There are great quantities of it on the leeward
side of Kilauea. I picked up a large bunch, tied it, and labeled
it for my cabinet, thinking in future times it would be a memento
of this exciting time.
[I had omitted in the diary to say anything of our own experiences
around the lunch table. The cook was pouring a glass of water
when there came a heavy shock. He stopped and stood there while
we got up in a hurry and ran out to the back porch. Charlie followed,
trying to calm my terror.]
In a short
time I went over to Charlotte’s and was with
her. I found Nelson had just got home from the Pulu Station.
When we ran out of Charlotte’s house, books, vases, dishes,
etc. were falling all about. Charlie was standing on our front
verandah; the shock came and he saw our cemented walk and front
wall rise and fall in waves. They were full of cracks and seams.
Houses were moved off their foundations several feet. Charlotte’s
was, but I forget the exact number. The Pulu House which was
a two-story building 30-by-30 feet was moved westerly 6 feet.
Charlie came over to me immediately. It was reported the Pogues
were in trouble, someone dead. So Charlie and I went up. We found
them almost paralyzed with terror. One of the girls was almost
in a state of collapse. We moved from Waiohinu because of the
hills about us, and fear of falling rocks.
Sunday, March 29th
At Kauko’s. We had a dreadful night. A number of times
we have started up thinking the house would be down on our heads.
Mrs. Pogue and girls went up to Waiohinu at 7 a.m. The rest of
us remained here all day except Charlie and Nelson who went in
for a while. Earthquake follows earthquake with an intermission
of from 10 to 30 minutes. We all feel worn out, but there is
no prospect of their stopping for some time to come. [The volcano
Kilauea was not burning much at the time.] We all sleep on the
verandah. Heard from Kahuku. The house is in ruins and all the
family are living in one of the servants’ houses. Poor
Mother was terribly nervous, but kept up bravely. A flow was
reported on the mountains.
Monday, March 30th
The earthquakes still continue but much diminished in frequency and strength.
At 6 a.m. Charlie, Nelson, and Walsh the blacksmith left for the flow. I
went into Waiohinu at 9 and did a lot of cooking. I then called on the Pogues.
Walked out. A man driving two donkeys laden with food, clothing, and books.
We had lunch and I lay down to rest, had a nap. Charlie and Nelson arrived
at 8 p.m. They could not reach the flow, and were afraid to stay there any
longer, as the earth was heaving and trembling constantly, so they came back.
We passed rather a quiet night, only a few shocks and those slight ones.
Tuesday, March 31st
I stayed here all day yesterday. Quite a number of shocks, but
slight ones. It is very tiresome and I long to be in quietness
once more. I read a good deal and passed the time. Charlie
had a headache all day, but went into Waiohino in the afternoon.
He and Nelson walked out. Mr. Gilloway, our shoemaker, arrived
from Kona and had a fit right before the gate. He reports terrible
earthquakes in Kona. People afraid to remain in their houses.
Wednesday, April 1st
Last night the shocks were many and hard, consequently our rest
was much broken. A number of times we started up to rush out
of doors, but did not. After breakfast, drove to Waiohinu.
One of the horses balked and I got out and walked in. Had three
earthquakes while I was in at Waiohinu. Today has been pretty
quiet. God only knows how long it will last. There is not any
flow as yet, and I suppose we shall not have settled times
until the lava starts flowing. I hope we all have a quiet night’s
rest. Charlotte talks of our going to Kahuku tomorrow. I think
we will drive out and get some books.
Thursday, April 2nd
This morning, early after breakfast, Charlotte and I with the
children – Ellen and Amy Haley and my adopted boy, Frank – went
out to Kahuku. All along the road the walks were much shattered.
All the folks were well and very much pleased to see us. The
house was very much shattered, and all the family were living
in a small wooden house. We returned home, arriving here at
about 3. At 20 minutes of 4 there was a most frightful earthquake.
It was impossible to walk. Charlotte fell coming off the steps
and I on top of her. Charlie had Amy, he fell with her. She
rolled down the hill while he tried to come to our assistance.
The Pogues came out and we all slept under an awning. We all
felt thankful it was no worse. The destruction is fearful.
The church is all down. All our houses are much shattered and
we all have lost much. Mr. Pogue’s house is much broken,
but we have much to thank God for, that none of us are injured.
and Honuapo are desolate. A tidal wave came in and swept all
away. Many lives are lost. At Alualu all the stone houses
are gone with their contents. God is talking in thunder tones’ may
we all listen and profit by it. Today has been fearful, it was
absolutely impossible to stand or walk. No words of mine can
do justice. All the walls came down, there have been terrible
landslides, and the earth is in constant tremor. All Waiohinu
have come out here, for this is the safest place. The roads are
seamed and cracked. Oh, it is terrible.
at about 8 o’clock prayed, and it was a very
solemn time. There were a few trembling mortals out under a slight
shelter of sticks and mats. While we were listening to Mr. Pogue’s
prayer, we had two shocks of earthquake. It was very solemn.
The night was compatively quiet, and we hope the worst is over.
The volcano Mauna Loa has burst out and is very active. We hope
it will flow from the mountain, and so relieve the pressure of
the pent-up gasses that we could hear under the ground beneath
us. Oh God help us! He only is our Hope now. Keawehanoo came
from Kealualu with his friends, reports 23 missing, two from
Punauu and 21 from Honuapo, Joba’s wife among them.
my diary I note only a few facts. There was so much to tell
space to tell it in. We drove to Kahuku on that dreadful
April 2nd. Mother was so glad to see us. We went into the poor
old house. Walls broken and cracks a foot wide in the parlor.
The furniture was sliding toward the center of the floor. I managed
to wrest open the bookcase and get quite a number of books. Mother
kept calling us to come out. She was afraid the walls would fall
in and injure us. After our lunch she kept urging us to go home
again. We joked her on trying to get rid of us, sending us from
our father’s house. Poor dear Mother smiled, but still
urged our going, and she sent Mary in with us in place of Edith.
At last I ordered Tom Price to put the horses to, and with our
books we started back.
had gotten to Kauko’s and were sitting on the verandah
looking at the books, when Charlie, who was holding Amy, showing
her his watch, shouted out of the house, “For God’s
sake, quick!” He jumped and fell, and so did Mary; Charlotte
fell on the steps and I on top of her. Charlie managed to reach
us despite his many falls, and dragged us away from the house
which seemed to be falling on us. We sat on the grass watching
our surroundings. I noticed a house just in front of us go down
just as one would crush an eggshell. Stones from the walls were
falling and rolling all about us.
the day, Charlie had been watching two whale ships lying off
our coast, through the spy glass. It had been hurled from
the house by the terrible violence of the shock. He picked it
up and stood by, his eyes fixed on the beach. Almost paralyzed
with terror as I was, I noticed he removed his hat and said in
a most pleading and awe-stuck voice, “God have mercy on
those at the beach.” Quickly my mind seized the thought
of tidal waves, as just before November 1867 there had been earthquakes
and a destructive tidal wave at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. I
asked, “Is it a tidal wave? Will it reach us?”
said afterward he saw the water recede, then come in one
breaker which swept far up the land, carrying all
with it as it went out. There were smaller waves that followed.
At the same time, hundreds of tons of earth were hurled from
the western slope of the hill above Waiohinu, over the tops of
the grove of trees into the valley below. The villages of Honuapu
and Punaluu were all swept away. Many were drowned’ though,
as the natives are expert swimmers, many were saved. A hill,
25 miles from us, behind which for ages a stream of water had
lost itself, was hurled 4 miles inside of a minute, catching
goats and cattle fleeing for their lives by the hind legs. Afterward
they were found dead and dying. Under the mud flow as it is popularly
called—really a landslide—30 of our work people were
Joba was a man of wealth, according to Hawaiian ideas, and
over his estate to Charlie, adopting him. He always
called him “Makua Father Joba,” and his wife, Mama.” Their
pretty home at Punaluu, a big native hut with its store of mats,
nets, camphor trunks, and household goods, was all swept away.
Even the pond was destroyed. Steamers now anchor near where we
had bathed and fished in times past. Oh, the sorrow and terror
of that night! All night long the poor sorrowful natives were
coming. “Where is Kale (Charlie)?” was their cry.
And soon their tale of woe and destruction
was poured into his sympathetic ear, weaping and wailing
until one’s heart
was aching. At last a feeble voice called, “Where is my
child? Where is Kale?” And Makua Joba came, having walked
16 miles that night. Grasping Charlie’s hand, he broke
out in a loud wail, “Mama is gone, my father’s tomb
is gone, I, only am left to tell you.” Charlie brought
the poor old man to me. I could only grasp his hand and
weep too. Even now, after 33 years, my eyes fill, and I
choke up as
I remember that night of sorrow and terror. Old Joba lived
many years after, and Charlie cared for him to the end.
noticed a house in front of us go down as one would
crush an eggshell. Stones from the walls were falling and
rolling all about us ...”
Charlie dragged us aside he got Mary too, and the little
children, and brought them to where Charlotte and I
sat on the grass. Mary went off into terrible hysterics. “The
house, the children, Mother!” she screamed over and over
again. As soon as Charlie could, he wrote a hurried note and
sent it by a native to Kahuku. He got back after dark, so that
we would know that though terribly frightened, the family was
said – I have heard her tell the story many times – she
was on the little porch of the servant’s house. The big
stove was there, and on it were the big kettles of hot food for
the servants, food for the family, and hot water to scald the
milk pans. When the terrible earthquake came, they feard the
two little ones – nina, aged 4 years, and Theoph, not quite
2 – would be scalded. She threw herself between to save
them. A beam fell and pinned her. She saw Father come running
around the corner of the house. Several times he fell, but up
again and ran only to fall again.
the children, Allie, Edith, and Tom, were brought along by
natives, all limp with the fright and horror of the time.
With the help of the men, Father got Mother out of the perilous
position. Very glad were they to get Charlie’s note telling
of our safety, as Mother was haunted by a fear of our being on
the long hill on our way from Kahuku to Kauko’s.
was in the country, and we feared he might have been injured
if not killed. He got to us about dark. Never shall I
forget the silent grasp of the hand he gave. One half of the
district seemed to have slipped past the other. The eastern half
sank down from 3 feet to 6. A crack which my husband has traced
for nearly 15 miles crossed the road a stone’s throw from
where we were staying. The road was dislocated, one end slipping
ast. Charlie measured it and it was out of place 17 feet, 4 inches!]
Friday, April 3rd
The day was quiet, though we had a good many shakes. We retired
at about 6 o’clock. At about 12, we had three heavy shakes
and a number lf slight ones. I did not sleep well, and had
a nervous chill.
Saturday, April 4th
Today has been a very quiet day and I feel thankful.It is just
a week ago since we came here, and it seems an age. The whole
district is very much excited about the prophecy of the Kaula
Prophet of Pele. He prophesies that at 2 p.m. there would be
a very heavy shock, and that the river would carry all Waiohnu
away. But it has been very quiet indeed. All the natives have
fled to the hills except old Kema (Shem) and his wife, Mary.
Mrs. Pogue, Charlotte and Nelson came out this afternoon. This
morning the native women held a prayer meeting in the pa [enclosure].
Mr. Pogue held a meeting on the big hill.
Sunday, April 5th
Last night was very quiet and we had a good night’s rest.
Mr. Pogue held a prayer meeting in the afternoon. He read the
4th Psalm and we sang three hymns. We have decided to got o Kona
to take the Kilauea for Honolulu.
Monday, April 6th
Arose very early after a bad night. Packed up and at 10 a.m.
left Keolakaa. Reached Kahuku; Charlie urged Father to go with
us. At least let the family go, and after putting us safely,
he would come back. Father refused; he thinks the worst is
over. He rode overland for two days, arriving at Mr. Vida’s.
We had tea, and while at the table there was a heavy shock
of earthquake and we all started out of doors, but it proved
to be only a fright, nothing serous. We all slept out of doors
in their summer house.
Wednesday, April 8th
At about 12 last night there was an alarm of fire, but it was
the lava flow. I did not get up I was so tired, but they described
the sight as so very grand. We arose early. The whole air was
full of smoke so we could only see a short distance. The sun
looked like a globe of fire. The steamer came and we left at
11 a.m. At the steamer we found a large party coming up to
see the eruption. I would not for anything go to Ka’u
ends my diary as far as Hawaii was concerned. We had had
shocks in the 12 days. Some were up and down and around,
or else swaying to and fro. We suffered a good deal from nausea.
Charlie had a big stove set up in a hollow. There we cooked our
meals. And we had boxes of hard bread, a barrel of salt beef
and other provisions opened, which he distributed to those in
the pa where we were. He had a bucket of water placed in a secluded
place, and he watched it. Never did he find it perfectly quiet,
showing that the earth was in a state of tremor. We often noticed
smells of sulphur – as if we had struck a match nearby.
And every morning while living out of doors, we had to shake
the bed clothes free of ashes.
thing very noticeable was the clearness of the atmosphere,
bright appearance of the stars. After we left Ka’u
for Kona, on the night of Tuesday, April 7th, the lava broke
out about a quarter of a mile, or a little more, above Father’s
house, and the family had to flee just as they were. Father grabbed
two blankets as he seized Theoph and Nina and ran out calling
on all to follow him. When he reached where the gate had been,
he put the children into the arms of trusty natives, and helped
Mother. Her strength failed her and she could not walk. “Save
the children, never mind me,” was her cry. Father on one
side, and Mr. Swain on the other, dragged her along, striking
for the hill near the back of the house called “Mother’s
Hill,” and right across the track of the flowing lava.
After a little, she rallied and was walking along with the children,
Father, servants, and natives, going eastward to reach Waiohinu.
When they first reached the gate, Mr. Swain met Father and shouted, “The
lava has cut us of. My God! We are cut off.” Father said” “Strike
for Mother’s hill.”
had not gone far when an old native man on horseback rode
Mother, and in the native language, said “take my
horse; your need is greater than mine.” So Mother mounted
and carried Theoph in front wrapped in a blanket (he had croup),
until they reached a house in Waiohinu. There they stayed until
the schooner Kona Packet, with Capt. Mordant, arrived and all
but Father came to Honolulu.
[Friends gathered about Mother, and cloth or material for clothing
was sent in, in overwhelming abundance. Besides, money was given
by downtown merchants to the amount of several hundred dollars.
Mother refused it (and so did father) at first. But, when urged
by friends to take it, they did, and with it bought a piano as
something they wanted but could not afford. As Charlie told them,
in times past Father and Mother had helped many needy, for their
hands were always open, ready go give when they had it, and it
was not charity, but to take it as they themselves would have
Kahuku was ruined as a residence, though it is a fine cattle
run. The family returned July 2nd to Ka’u,
and on July 4th, 1871, sailed for Washington state.
is the account of the earthquake 1868 – as taken
from my diary and supplemented by my recollections, which are
very vivid, early in 1901.]
Spencer’s husband, Charles, later served in
King Kalakaua’s and Queen Liliuokulani’s cabinets.
Mr. Pogue was the Rev. John Fawcett Pogue, a Boston missionary
who was first stationed in Lahina, Maui, in the 1850s. His wife
was Maria Kapule Whitney, who was the firs haole girl baby born
in Hawaii. His son, William F. Pogue, married Emma Victoria Saffery
and was at one time a partner of Henry Perrine Baldwin. The Pulu
station or house came into prominence during the Civil War, when
Hawaii exported large quantities of downy fern fuzz to northern
states, as a substitute for scarce cotton batting. Hawaiians
gathered the stuff in high fern forests and brought it down to
the various Pulu stations.