Niihau manager Francis Sinclair

On Feb. 23, 1864, recently arrived New Zealand immigrant Eliza Sinclair bought the island of Niihau from King Kamehameha V at Honolulu in the names of her two sons, Francis and James Sinclair, for the sum of $10,000 in gold, as described in Royal Patent No. 2944. 

For nearly 20 years thereafter, Francis Sinclair managed the affairs of Niihau, at first making his home at Kiekie on Niihau’s western shore, and later, at Makaweli House in the mountains above Pakala. 

During that time, he returned to New Zealand for a brief interlude to marry his cousin, Isabella McHutcheson, who is best known for her book, “Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands,” the first book published with color pictures of Hawaiian flowering plants. 

His brother James Sinclair, with whom he’d co-signed for the purchase of Niihau, died in 1873 after having suffered from injuries he’d sustained in an accident in New Zealand. 

Although Francis went as far as becoming a Hawaiian citizen in 1874, he apparently felt his life was unfulfilled in Hawaii, for in 1883, he turned over the management of Niihau to his nephews Aubrey Robinson and Francis Gay, and in 1891, he sold his interest in Niihau to his sisters Jane Gay, Helen Robinson and Aubrey Robinson, after which he lived for a time in California before moving permanently to England to commence a career in literature. 

Among his literary works are “Ballads and Poems from the Pacific,” “Under Western Skies” and “From the Four Winds.” 

After Isabella died, he married her widowed sister. There were no children by either marriage, and he died on the Isle of Jersey in 1916. 

Since the time of Eliza Sinclair’s purchase of Niihau in 1864, the island has been continuously owned by her descendants; her great-great-grandsons, Keith and Bruce Robinson of Makaweli, Kauai, are Niihau’s current owners. 

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