An entrepreneur-businessman who founded the first bank in Hawaii, Charles Reed Bishop also became deeply involved in the political and cultural life of the archipelago.
Born in 1822 in Glenn Falls in New York State, Charles Reed Bishop was certainly not set on a banking career in Hawaii. However, in 1846, during a trip with his friend William Little Lee to the Oregon territory – a journey which in those days was made by sea via Cape Horn – he landed at Honolulu and decided to settle there, becoming a Hawaiian citizen in 1849.
In Hawaii Charles Bishop invested in a sugar plantation and served as Collector General of Customs from 1849 to 1853. In 1850 he married Bernice Pauahi Paki, a descendent of the Royal House of Kamehameha. Although at first the marriage did not meet with the approval of the bride’s family, the union was to play a decisive role for part of Bishop’s career. He then set up a commercial shipping company in partnership with a man named William Aldrich, and also began to provide financial services – deposit-taking and currency exchange.
The first-ever bank in Hawaii
When Aldrich split off the shipping business in 1858, Bishop opened a bank in conjunction with him, under the name Bishop and Co. This, the first chartered bank in Hawaii, became one of the forerunners of the BNP Paribas Group. It prospered, changed hands, and in 1969 was re-named First Hawaiian Bank. Subsequently, through a merger with Bank of the West, it became a subsidiary of BNP in 1998.
Public service and philanthropy
Bishop sold his bank in 1895. In the meantime he had become involved in public service. He was elected as a representative to the legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1853, took on various roles in the service of the Hawaiian monarchy and was for a short period in 1873-1874 Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also President of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce almost continuously between 1883 and 1894.
When his wife Bernice died in 1884, Bishop took on the work of setting up the Kamehameha Primary Schools for which she had provided a rich endowment in her will. He also founded the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which houses an extremely rich collection of Polynesian popular art and traditional artefacts. When the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, Bishop settled in San Francisco, where he became Vice-President of the Bank of California. When he died aged 93 in 1915, his ashes were transported to Hawaii and lodged in the Royal Mausoleum.