The King Of Laysan Island

German immigrant Max Schlemmer (1856-1935) — known as the “King of Laysan Island” — settled in Lihue, Kauai in 1885 and was thenceforth employed by Lihue Plantation Co. for eight years at the Lihue sugar mill and as a mechanic with the plantation’s railroad system.

Then, in 1893, Schlemmer was hired by the North Pacific Phosphate and Fertilizer Company to mine guano at Laysan Island, located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

He brought his wife and children to Laysan Island in 1895, and in 1896, the year he was promoted to superintendent of guano operations at Laysan Island, it’s noted that he and his family, along with two employees, were the island’s sole human inhabitants.

Not long afterward, however, he returned to Kauai, where he resided with his family in Waimea, while running a saloon and a boardinghouse there for several years.

In 1900, he returned to Laysan Island to manage affairs for the North Pacific Phosphate and Fertilizer Company, replacing Capt. Joseph Spencer as the “King of Laysan” — a jocular epithet for the monarch of all he surveyed of that little spot of an island in the vast Pacific.

Also departing from Honolulu for Laysan Island with Schlemmer that year was a new party of Japanese laborers to work the guano.

Schlemmer remained at Laysan Island until 1909, the year President Theodore Roosevelt declared Laysan Island a part of the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation and he was removed.

But, he was back again in 1915 with some of his children, after the government gave its permission for him to attempt to restore the island as a natural habitat and breeding ground for several bird species.

However, by that time, Laysan Island had been decimated of wildlife and he and his children nearly starved to death before being rescued by the USS Nereus and returned to Honolulu, where Schlemmer made his home until his death in 1935.

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Hank Soboleski’s book, “Kauai Island History,” contains nearly 500 of his columns dating from 2006 to 2015. It is available at The Garden Island office, 33137 Kuhio Highway. It is $50, cash or check only.

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