Archival Documents in Szeged Led to Records of a Historical Hungarian Presence in Hawaii
One early morning in October of last year, while standing next to a seamen's grave in a Catholic Cemetery in Honololu, my host to this solemn occasion described events from over a century earlier that led to the death of these seamen, one of the first contact of the Austro Hungarian Monarchy with Hawaii and the consequence of this contacts that affects people in Hawaii to the present day.
Almost a year later, during one of my trips from Honolulu, following the suggestion of my history study mentor, Professor Laszlo Peter (who played a seminal role in establishing the Vasvary Collection at Szeged Somogyi Library), I visited Maria Korasz, the Collection's curator. Our discussion was a follow up to ongoing studies of Istvan Bobay, a student from Gaspar Karoli University, Budapest, who was collecting documentation of a Hungarian presence in the Hawaiian Royal Guard.
During these studies and based on some of the material in the Collection, documentation surfaced in the Hawaii State Archives that has led to the identification of valuable records that documented a historical presence of Hungarians in Hawaii in the mid- and late 18th century. One of these records included an article that appeared in the Hawaiian Gazette dated December 22, 1869. The article provided an account of the Frigate SMS Donau that together with the Corvette SMS Herzog Friedrich of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy, during a navigational cruise in the Pacific, suffered severe damage encountering two typhoons near Japan and entered Honolulu Harbor on December 20, 1869.
According to sources cited by the Austrian Society in Hawaii, the SMS Donau carried the remains of two officers and four sailors who perished during the storms and that were laid to rest in the King Street Catholic Cemetery in Honolulu. The fate of te SMS Herzog Friedrich is unclear but it appears that the Corvette was damaged beyond repair.
The Hawaiian Gazette article lists Rear Admiral Baron von Petz as the Admiral heading this East-Asia expedition, Chevalier von Wiplinger as the Captain of the SMS Donau, and among the Lieutenants, a Baron Benko and a Dr. Janka as one of two Surgeons. Additional records also revealed a Hungarian name for one of the two correspondents traveling with the expedition. Most likely, Hungarian sailors of the Austro-Hungarian Navy also served on the SMS Donau and SMS Herzog Friedrich as part of this expedition. Local records that may have documented the crew's complement are, however, missing as a consequence of a fire at the records hall of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.
On June 12, 1892 the frigate SMS Fasana, also of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco. The ship's captain died during the trip to Honolulu and was given a state funeral in the Cemetery. At that time the crew of the SMS Fasana restored the grave of the officers and crew of the SMS Donau and documented the event with the only known photograph of the 1869 historic gravesite.
The legacy of the SMS Donau's visit lives on today. The extensive repairs to the Frigate took almost five months and during this time, the ship's marching band held daily concerts to the great delight of the Honolulu populace. By the order of King Kamehameha V, who was petitioned by his subjects, the band was revived and the spirit of the SMS Donau's naval band was captured in what is today the highly successful Royal Hawaiian Band.
In the years that followed urbanization brought changes to the graveyard. With the support of the Catholic Church the Austrian Association of Hawaii re-established the historic SMS Donau grave and in October 2012, a historical re-dedication ceremony of the SMS Donau Seamen's grave was held by the Austrian Association with representatives of the Hawaii Hungarian community as invited guests and the Hawaiian Royal Band playing the Radeczky March.