Author, illustrator Isabella McHutcheson Sinclair

Isabella McHutcheson Sinclair (1840-1890) is not to be mistaken for her aunt and mother-in-law, Elizabeth McHutcheson Sinclair (1800-1892), who immigrated to Hawaii from New Zealand in 1863 with 12 members of her family — all with surnames of Sinclair, Gay or Robinson — and subsequently purchased Niihau from Kamehameha V and the Makaweli Ahupuaa on Kauai from Princess Victoria Kamamalu.

Isabella Sinclair is, instead, best known for her book, “Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands,” the first book published with color pictures of Hawaiian flowering plants.

Born in Scotland, where she was privately educated, Sinclair immigrated to New Zealand with her family in 1861.

Four years later she married her cousin, Francis Sinclair Jr., a son of her aunt Elizabeth McHutcheson Sinclair, during his visit to New Zealand from Niihau.

The newly married couple then sailed for Hawaii, where they resided at Kiekie, Niihau and later lived at Makaweli, Kauai.

For a number of years, Isabella explored Niihau, Waimea Valley, Olokele Valley, Kokee and places thereabouts on Kauai, painting the wildflowers she discovered and obtaining information about them from Native Hawaiians.

She also collected botanical specimens of these flowering plants, which she sent to Dr. Joseph D. Hooker, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, for scientific identification.

Dr. Hooker provided her with each flower’s botanical name, while she furnished the Hawaiian names, natural habitats and blossoming seasons of the flowers, and incorporated them into a portfolio of 44 full-page color plates she’d painted.

The resultant book, published in London in 1885, was dedicated by her with the words, “To the Hawaiian Chiefs and People who have been most appreciative friends, and most lenient critics, this work is affectionately inscribed.”

Isabella and Francis Sinclair Jr. had no children. After her death, Francis married her widowed sister.

In 1891, he sold his property on Niihau to his sisters, Jane Gay and Helen Robinson, and his nephew Aubrey Robinson, and moved to England.


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