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A Man of Many Talents

Maui author reveals the life and work of Edward Bailey.

May 26, 2011
Cindy Schumacher

Decker chronicles Bailey’s accomplishments in this 352-page illustrated biography, using his letters and landscape paintings to create an important reference on lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes on Maui throughout the 1800s.

“I spent 10 years collecting historical fragments, letters from Bailey’s family and friends and color plates of Bailey paintings from all over the globe,” said Decker. “The book started not as a project, but as a puzzle.”

While volunteering at the Bailey House Museum in Wailuku, Decker discovered there was very little information about Edward Bailey. “There has been almost nothing written about him, except his obituary,” she said.

Article Photos

Edward Bailey often painted the ‘Īao Valley, which was not far from the house he lived in. This painting shows a narrow gorge in the valley.

Photo courtesy: Edward Bailey’s Private Collection

After months of bewilderment, Decker began dipping into archival folders of letters labeled “Wailuku,” “Seminary” and “Bailey.” But the folders had been made with a focus on the history of Bailey House, rather than Bailey himself. “I grew more confused,” Decker said. She started to make a timeline, and slowly an outline of Edward Bailey’s life began to emerge.

Edward Bailey arrived in Maui in 1839 with his wife, Caroline, as part of the Eighth Company of missionaries sent out by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), a Boston-based society of Congregationalists and Presbyterians.

The Eighth Company received Hawaiian language lessons before they left Boston, and soon after arriving, Bailey was using Hawaiian phrases. “Within two years, he could write in Hawaiian,” said Decker.

Upon moving to Wailuku, Edward plunged into teaching. He founded a school for both teachers and male students, took charge of the Wailuku Female Seminary and later established an English School for both girls and boys.

Bailey was a talented engineer, as well as landscape artist. Consequently, in 1848, the Department of Public Instruction hired him as surveyor and land agent, and also appointed him as kahukula, school supervisor, for the large central Maui school district.

“I have followed Edward’s inner, as well as outer life, his dedication to teaching, his struggle to support his growing family, his interactions with fellow missionaries, and his business ventures that helped establish the sugar cane industry on Maui,” Decker said.

“Never afraid to go against the current of popular thinking, Bailey was outspoken when he felt that important issues were at stake, no matter what it involved,” she said. Drawing heavily on letters and journals of the Baileys and their circle, Decker presents Edward and Caroline largely in their own words and those of their friends and neighbors.

“I verily believe that if the people were once assured that the soil was their own a change would come over the face of the country at once,” said Bailey in January 1845. As a land agent for the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of the Interior, and honoring the 1839 Hawaiian Bill of Rights, Bailey was in a position to ensure that indigenous Hawaiians were able to gain title under law to their kuleana, the small farms that fed them.

“From childhood, Edward loved making sketches and drawings,” said Decker. His detailed paintings of Maui in the 19th century have long charmed visitors to the Bailey House Museum and the Ka‘ahumanu Church (which he also designed). He was an observant naturalist whose specimen collections and drawings of Maui flora and fauna are early biological records for this island.

“Over and over, Bailey painted the steep green walls of ‘Ïao Valley, the sweeping central valley of Maui and great Haleakalä, touched by the pink light of sunset,” she said. He taught drawing to the Hawaiians at Lahainaluna, and many of the engravings printed there were based on his drawings. Bailey also made maps and helped prepare charts and illustrations for textbooks.”

“Using Bailey’s own words to draw us into the changing island culture of the time, Decker allows us to share his hopes and misgivings,” said historical novelist Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith. “This book presents Bailey in his many roles. It is the first story ever written of his life explaining his passionate idealism, his faith in God and his deep concern for the welfare of the Hawaiian people.”



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