Robert William Wilcox

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This article is about the Hawaiian revolutionary. For the English martyr, see Robert Wilcox (martyr).
Robert William Wilcox
Robert William Wilcox, 1902.jpg
Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives from Territory of Hawaii's At-large district
In office
November 6, 1900 – March 3, 1903
Preceded by (First delegate)
Succeeded by Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole
Member of the Hawaii House of Representatives
from the Maui district
In office
Member of the Hawaii House of Representatives
from the Oahu district
In office
Personal details
Born (1855-02-15)February 15, 1855
Died October 23, 1903(1903-10-23) (aged 48)
Resting place Honolulu Catholic Cemetery
Nationality Kingdom of Hawaii
United States
Political party Home Rule
National Reform
Spouse(s) Baronesa Gina Sobrero (divorced)
Princess Theresa Laʻanui
Children With Sobrero
  • Vitroria Colona Wilcox

With Laʻanui

  • Robert Wilcox II
  • Virginia Wilcox
Parents William Slocum Wilcox
Kalua Makoleokalani
Alma mater Military Academy of Modena
Occupation surveyor
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Italy

Kingdom of Hawaii in exile

Service/branch Royal Italian Army (Italy)

Royalist Insurgency (Hawaii)

Rank Sub-Lieutenant (Italy)

Colonel (Hawaii)

Battles/wars Wilcox Rebellion of 1889

Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii
1895 Counter-Revolution in Hawaii

Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox (February 15, 1855 – October 23, 1903), nicknamed the Iron Duke of Hawaiʻi, was a native Hawaiian revolutionary soldier and politician. He led uprisings against both the government of the Kingdom of Hawaii under King Kalākaua and the Republic of Hawaii under Sanford Dole, what are now known as the Wilcox rebellions. He was later elected the first delegate to the United States Congress for the Territory of Hawaii.

Early life[edit]

Wilcox was born February 15, 1855 on the island of Maui. His father Captain William Slocum Wilcox (1814–1910) was a native of Newport, Rhode Island. His mother Kalua Makoleokalani (1836–1865), a native of Maui,[2] was the daughter of Makoleokalani Hiapo (grandchild of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku) and Haupa, a direct descendant of Lonomakaihonua (the son and the brother, respectively, of King Lonohonuakini and King Kaulahea II of Maui, who reigned in the 1600s). His parents sent him to Haleakala Boarding School in the town of Makawao.

Upon completion of his studies, Wilcox became a teacher at a Maui country school. In 1880, Wilcox was elected to the royal legislature in Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu. He represented the citizens of Wailuku and its neighboring Maui towns.[3]

Military career[edit]

In 1881, King David Kalākaua selected Wilcox and two other Hawaiians to study at the Royal Military Academy at Turin in the Kingdom of Italy. By the time he completed his training in 1885, he achieved the rank of sublieutenant of artillery. Impressed with his military skills, Italian officials sent Wilcox to the Royal Application School for Engineer and Artillery Officers.

Planned rebellion of 1888[edit]

In 1888, the Reform Party (which later became the Hawaii Republican Party) took power in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Through what was called the Bayonet Constitution, they removed most political authority from the monarch, and placed income and property requirements on voters limiting the electorate to only wealthy native Hawaiians, Americans, and Europeans. The Reform Party ended costly programs such as Wilcox's training in Italy. On August 29, 1887, Wilcox received his orders to return home. Returning to Hawaiʻi in October, he began a career as a surveyor with the patronage of Charles B. Wilson but soon quit. He had now lost confidence that Kalākaua was strong enough to protect the interests of the Hawaiian people. Wilcox along with Charles Wilson and Sam Nowlein, planned[citation needed] a coup d'état to replace Kalākaua with his sister Liliʻuokalani, but the plot was never executed. On February 11, 1888, Wilcox left Hawaiʻi intending to return to Italy with his wife.

Rebellion of 1889[edit]

Instead of returning to Italy, Wilcox took up residence in San Francisco, California, and worked as a surveyor while his wife earned extra money teaching French and Italian. When he decided to return to Hawaiʻi in the spring of 1889, his wife, Gina Wilcox, refused to go with him, and took their daughter back to Italy.

Wilcox planned and this time executed another attempt to force Kalākaua to sign a new constitution on July 30, 1889. Kalākaua, apparently aware of the plot, avoided the palace, afraid that the rebellion would replace him with Liliʻuokalani. Stymied, Wilcox was finally confronted by the Honolulu Rifles. After a pitched battle, Wilcox surrendered. In October 1889 he was tried for treason before judge Albert Francis Judd but acquitted by the jury. Being one of the few leaders to stand up to the Reform Party earned him respect among the people. The American minister John L. Stevens, who called Wilcox a "half breed", wrote: "The trial is tending plainly to show that the Hawaiians are numerously in sympathy with Wilcox."[4] He helped form a new party called the "National Reform Party" which advocated restoring power to the monarch. Wilcox was again elected to the royal legislature where he served from 1890 to 1894 representing Oahu. However, the conservatives in the original Reform Party, backed by the economic resources of the "Big Five" industrial corporations remained in power.[3]

In 1891 Kalākaua died and his sister Liliʻuokalani became ruling monarch, swearing to uphold the 1887 constitution. Wilcox was angered that Liliʻuokalani did not choose him to be in her government, and formed his own National Liberal Party in November 1891. Although he did not explicitly advocate ending the monarchy, the party advocated restoring power to the people even if it meant a republican form of government. After the elections of February 1892, when only 14,000 people were allowed to vote, letters and petitions demanded reforms to the constitution. On May 20, 1892 Wilcox and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring to set up a republic. A month later the charges were dropped and he was released.[5]

Back in the legislature, he backed a measure that would strip power from the cabinet, and by August 1892 the ministers had resigned. Wilcox founded a newspaper called The Liberal from September 1892 to April 1893. He edited the section in the Hawaiian language while an English language section had several other editors. The paper attacked the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by the royal family while the common people were suffering the effects of an economic slowdown.[5]

On November 1, 1892 Liliʻuokalani appointed a new cabinet, and two hours later the legislature (including Wilcox) voted to remove them from office. On November 8, 1892 a new government acceptable to the legislature was formed. Wilcox no longer directly attacked the queen, but advocated modernization, and was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner that "...we should take some steps to secure commercial and political protection from some foreign country."

By the end of 1892 The Liberal expressed support for the queen. On January 12 another vote of no confidence allowed the queen to appoint another cabinet of monarchists. On January 14 Liliʻuokalani suspended the legislature and told the cabinet to sign a new proposed constitution that would restore political power to her. The cabinet advised against it, and delayed any action. On January 17, 1893 the Committee of Safety, backed by the Honolulu Rifles, took over the palace by force. During this time Wilcox, who was then a politician, was requested by Liliʻuokalani for his training in artillery to be put in command the field pieces of the Royal Guard as they prepared themselves to defend the queen.[6] Before any shots were fired, Liliʻuokalani surrendered to avoid bloodshed.[5]

Rebellion of 1895[edit]

Following the overthrow, The Liberal resumed publication January 25, 1893. The English language editor Clarence Ashford supported the Provisional Government of Hawaii, and expressed the view that the Queen had brought about her own downfall. On January 28 the paper argued for becoming a state of the United States, but protested the lack of any native Hawaiians as leaders of the new government. Neither the monarchy nor the provisional government was a representative democracy. Editorials in February proposed becoming part of the state of California, which would enable popular elections.[5]

However, the "Big Five" who dominated the economy wanted to avoid statehood, since as a territory they would not be subject to the American labor laws. They depended on cheap labor for their sugar plantations in Hawaii for example. By March 1893 American President Grover Cleveland decided against annexation anyway. The Liberal attacked the efforts of Princess Kaʻiulani when she travelled to America to argue for supporting re-instating the monarchy. Wilcox applied for a position in the new government but was denied. The newspaper shut down on April 15, 1893. Rumors circulated that Wilcox was preparing to proclaim a liberal republic.[5]

The leaders of the overthrow proclaimed their own Republic of Hawaiʻi on July 4, 1894. By the end of the year, royalists were planning a counter-revolution to restore Liliʻuokalani. The key conspirators were Sam Nowlein, head of the Queen's guard, Charles T. Gulick, advisor to both Kalākaua and Liliʻuokalani, and William H. Rickard, a sugar planter of British parentage. They needed a military leader, and approached Wilcox. At first he hesitated, but since he was frustrated with lack of progress on annexation as well as spurned by the republic, he agreed to lead the forces into battle.

Royalist and republican forces clashed at the base of Diamond Head on January 6 and 7, 1895, and in Mōʻiliʻili on January 7. Mānoa was the scene of battle on January 9. Casualties were minor, and only C. L. Carter, a member of a prominent island family, was killed. The royalists were quickly routed and Wilcox spent several days in hiding before being captured. All royalist leaders had been arrested by January 16, when Liliʻuokalani was taken into custody at Washington Place and imprisoned in ʻIolani Palace. Wilcox was arrested and tried for treason. This time he was convicted on February 23, 1895 and was sentenced to death with five other leaders. Some were freed due to giving testimony against the others, and his sentence was commuted to 35 years in prison. On January 1, 1898 he was pardoned by Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic, who had previously made pressured Liliʻuokalani to abdicate in exchange for his life and freedom, as well as for the lives of the others who had been sentenced to death.


man in vicorian dress suit
Going to congress in 1900

On July 4, 1898, by passing the Newlands Resolution, the United States annexed Hawaii, and Dole appointed Governor. The Hawaiian Organic Act of April 30, 1900 created the office of Delegate to Congress for the new Territory of Hawaii. Wilcox organized an election campaign for the office. Helping transform previously anti-annexation native Hawaiian political clubs into the Hawaiian Independent Party (later called the Home Rule Party of Hawaii), he advocated for "Equal rights for the People". Opponents accused him of bigamy since his first marriage in Italy had only been annulled by the church. The Republican Party nominated wealthy rancher and former cabinet minister Samuel Parker, and the Democratic Party of Hawaii nominated Prince David Kawānanakoa.[7]:78 Wilcox easily won the election to the 57th Congress. He hoped that his seat in Washington, DC could be used to advocate for native Hawaiians, a community he feared would be neglected by the American government. Asked to contribute a short autobiography for the congressional directory, instead of the usual bland list of credentials, he described himself as "an indefatigable and fearless leader for his countrymen." He called the current government "the Dole oligarchy".[8] Later versions of his biography removed the editorial remarks.[9]

However, quickly on his arrival he found himself an outsider. English was his second language, and his populist rhetoric gave him few allies in Congress, which dealt with slow deal-making. His service was also clouded by charges that he did not support the U.S. effort in the Philippines during the Philippine–American War.[10] Wilcox served in Congress for one term from November 6, 1900 to March 3, 1903. Although he was also endorsed by the Democratic party in the 1902 election he was defeated by Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole of the Republican party.[7]:85


Wilcox married two noble women. His first wife was an Italian Baroness and his second wife a Hawaiian princess. Wilcox's first wife was Baronessa Gina Sobrero, eldest daughter of Baron Lorenzo Sobrero of Piedmont and Princess Vittoria Colonna di Stigliano of Naples.[11] His daughter from his first marriage died shortly after his breakup with Baronessa Gina Sobrero. On August 20, 1896 Wilcox married Theresa Owana Kaʻohelelani Laʻanui (1860–1944), who was descended from a brother of King Kamehameha I.[12] They had a son and a daughter, Robert Kalanikupuapaikalaninui Keōua Wilcox (1893–1934) and Virginia Kahoa Kaʻahumanu Kaihikapumahana (1895–1954). Another daughter Elizabeth Kaʻakaualaninui died young in 1898.

grave site
Wilcox's grave at the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery, 2013


The same year he left Congress, Wilcox ran for high sheriff of Honolulu. Wilcox had been in declining health for sometime, while making a campaign speech he suffered a hemorrhage, and died a few days later on October 23, 1903.[7]:86 He was buried at the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery. In 1993, a bronze statue of Wilcox was unveiled at Fort Street Mall, 21°18′32″N 157°51′42″W / 21.30889°N 157.86167°W / 21.30889; -157.86167. The inscription says "He was regarded by many of his countrymen as a national hero". The statue now stands prominently in downtown Honolulu at Wilcox Park, also named in his honor in 1989, at the centennial of the "Wilcox Rebellion".[5]


  1. ^ Hawaiian Kingdom 1874-1893, the Kalakaua Dynastism By Ralph S. Kuykendall pp. 517
  2. ^ "Obituary of Robert William Wilcox". New York Times. October 25, 1903. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  3. ^ a b "Wilcox, Robert W. office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  4. ^ John L. Stevens (October 17, 1898), "letter from United States Hawaii Legation to Secretary of State James G. Blaine", Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, with Accompanying Testimony, and Executive Documents transmitted to Congress from January 1, 1893, to March 10, 1891 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Douglas V. Askman, (2008). "Her Majesty’s Disloyal Opposition: An Examination of the English-Language Version of Robert Wilcox’s the Liberal, 1892–1893". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 42: 177–200. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  6. ^ For whom are the stars? by Albertine Loomis
  7. ^ a b c Bob Krauss (1994). Johnny Wilson: first Hawaiian Democrat. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1577-6. 
  8. ^ "Biographies of Congressmen; Some Curious Contrasts Shown in the Directory Which Has Just Been Issued". New York Times. December 3, 1901. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  9. ^ Robert William Wilcox at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  10. ^ "CHARGES AGAINST WILCOX - Hawaiian Delegate in Congress Accused of Grave Crimes. LETTERS TO FILIPINO REBELS An Offer to Fight Against the Hypocritical Yankees' -- Petition Filed with House Committee". New York Times. February 2, 1901. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  11. ^ Edith Kawelohea McKinzie, Ishmael W. Stagner, ed. (1986). Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian language newspapers. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-939154-37-1. 
  12. ^ "Marriage record: Oahu 1832-1910". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Andrade Jr., Ernest (1996). Unconquerable Rebel: Robert W. Wilcox and Hawaiian Politics, 1880-1903. University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0-87081-417-6. 
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
First delegate
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Territory of Hawaii's at-large congressional district

November 6, 1900 - March 3, 1903
Succeeded by
Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole

External links[edit]