Descendants of
 Captain Robert Brown
                            1809 – 1894



Site by
LLP Web Designs



Back to Yarns Index

Another Account
Annie 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

At Kapapala 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, and goats.

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.

— J.S.R.

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, however.

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.

Punaluu 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.

Mr. Pogue 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.

[In my diary I note only a few facts. There was so much to tell and limited 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.

[We 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.

[During 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?”

[He said afterward he saw the water recede, then come in one tremendous 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 buried.

[Old Joba was a man of wealth, according to Hawaiian ideas, and had made 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.

“...I 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 ...”

[When Charlie dragged us aside he got Mary too, and the little screaming 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 not injured.

[Mother 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.

[Next, the children, Allie, Edith, and Tom, were brought along by the 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.

[Nelson 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 again.

[Here ends my diary as far as Hawaii was concerned. We had had over 3,000 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.

[One thing very noticeable was the clearness of the atmosphere, and the 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.”

[They had not gone far when an old native man on horseback rode up to 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 given.

[Beautiful 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.

[Such is the account of the earthquake 1868 – as taken from my diary and supplemented by my recollections, which are very vivid, early in 1901.]

NOTE: Annie 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.

Julius Scammon Rodman, sailor, explorer, collector, writer, and Hawaiiana expert, now lives in Olympia, Washington. His most noted work is The Kahuna Sorcerers of Hawaii, Past and Present, published in 1977. Rodman purchased Annie Spencer’s diary from her heirs.

This text appeared in the Centennial issue of Honolulu Magazine , volume xxii, no. 5, November 1987 and is reproduced here with permission from the publishers.

If you have material to add to this page,
please contact the site administrator: