Family History

These pages are dedicated to a small but determined family of Scottish pioneers who in 1840 journeyed by sea from Scotland to New Zealand and then to the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1863.  This is a brief recounting of that story.


     It begins in the mid 1800s with Captain Francis Sinclair, his wife Elizabeth McHutcheson Sinclair, and their six children: George, Jean, Helen, James, Francis and Anne who were all born in Scotland. Captain Sinclair was from Edinburgh. Their last residence in Scotland was at Bothwell Hall near the walls of Stirling Castle. "Even though life seems to have been happy and prosperous there in Stirling, Captain and Mrs. Sinclair were seriously considering a tremendous change of scene. Wonderful reports of the opportunities in New Zealand were being brought back to the old country, so in October of 1839, with a number of other Scottish and English families, they decided to go to the new country."1)  When the British Government declared New Zealand an English colony in 1840, Capt. Sinclair acquired a royal grant of land to be chosen once they arrived there. In 1843 after a four-month voyage round the Cape of Good Hope, and some time spent in Wellington awaiting the land arrangements, the family sailed to the South Island and ultimately settled at Pigeon Bay on the Banks Peninsula. There they built the home they called Craigforth.

    In 1846 Capt. Sinclair and his son, George, along with several others, were lost at sea while on a trading and supply trip to Wellington. The widow "Eliza" Sinclair surrounded by her family stayed at Pigeon Bay for another 17 years.  As the family was growing in size, so too was the need for expanded ranching prospects on larger tracts of land.  In 1862 Eliza, along with her surviving sons, daughters, and their families, left New Zealand on the 300 ton barque Bessie, skippered by Captain Thomas Gay (Jean's husband).  They sailed northward having heard about land opportunities on the west coast of North America.  On the way up they re-provisioned in Hawai'i and were impressed by the pleasant climate.  Suitable land prospects in North America never materialized.  Hearing that King Kamehameha IV was welcoming Europeans to the islands, they elected to sail back to Honolulu.  King Kamehameha did indeed welcome them and showed them various parcels of land on Oahu.  He showed them, amongst others, Manoa, Ford Island, and Kahuku but it wasn't until he offered them the island of Ni'ihau that they realized that they had found their new home.



In 1864 they acquired the island of Ni'ihau and a year later the ahupua'a of Makaweli on Kaua'i. The Makaweli lands were purchased from Crown Princess Victoria Kamamalu Ka'ahumanu IV, a granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.  Over the years, the family built several residences. The first was built on Ni'ihau at Kiekie



Pakala Plantation Estate






Back Page


1) Stories of Long Ago, Ni'ihau - Kaua'i - Oahu by Ida Elizabeth Knudsen von Holt (1985, Daughters of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii)

Other resources:

The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2001 pp. 183-199 - "The Sinclairs of Pigeon Bay and the Romantic 'Prehistory' of the Robinsons of Niihau" by Hugh Laracy

Niihau, The Last Hawaiian Island, Ruth M. Tabrah (Press Pacifica, Honolulu, 1987)


Kauai - The Separate Kingdom, Edward Joestring (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1984)


Niihau: A Shoal of Time, Gavan Daws and Timothy Head, American Heritage Magazine, Volume XIV, Number 6 (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., New York, October 1963)





Finding Ni'ihau to be too isolated and dry, the family moved to Kaua'i building a succession of residences on that island. Kapalawai, one of the older family residences, was built in 1897 and was designed to house the entire family. This is where Aubrey & Alice Robinson lived and where his children including Sinclair Robinson the oldest were raised. Another house built sometime later is Kaholuamanu, a rugged hunting lodge located up in the mountains of Makaweli and accessible only by horseback or helicopter.  

Upon arriving in the islands, the family resumed the cattle and sheep ranching they pursued in New Zealand.  Later, they started a small sugar plantation called Gay & Robinson which is still family-owned to this day.   Makaweli and the family's peripheral lands on Kaua'i comprise approximately 51,000 acres.  The ahupua'a of Makaweli is a rough pie-shaped wedge, stretching from the ocean to mount Waialeale, the center of Kaua'i. Crops are grown in the lowlands and cattle are raised higher up.   G&R no longer farms these lands itself.  Instead, it leases its farm land to other growers.  G&R continues its ranch operations and markets its beef under the brand name Makaweli Meat Company.  G&R also generates its own electricity via two hydro-electric plants totaling 7 MW output.  


    The mountains and valleys of Makaweli are spectacular. In fact, you may have seen them in the movie Jurassic Park. The opening scene, where the helicopter lands at a waterfall and Sir Richard Attenborough gets out, was shot at Manawaiopuna Falls in Makaweli.



Mahalo for your visit!