Island Doctor: Charles Wetmore

Charles Hinckley Wetmore (1820-1898) arrived in Hawaiʻi on March 11, 1849. Sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he and his wife Lucy Sheldon Taylor Wetmore were stationed in Hilo. Before his arrival, thousands of native Hawaiians had died from western diseases. Wetmore worked as a physician within the native community and missionary families.

Wetmore served as a health officer for the Hawaiian Kingdom’s Board of Health, oversaw the United States Hospital for Seamen, and became Hilo’s first druggist. The doctor offered treatments, medicine, and even performed surgeries. In the 1840s and 1850s he vaccinated people for smallpox. Later in life he, and his daughter Lucy, traveled to the Marshall and Caroline Islands as representatives of the Hawaiian Board of Missions. After visiting 25 mission stations he reported on the cultural influences of the people and their congregations.

The Lyman Museum preserves a small group of Wetmore papers: a journal of the voyage to Hawaiʻi, letters to family and friends, and reports of missionary activities in Micronesia. The Lyman Museum also houses other healthrelated documents from sugar companies, Puʻumaile Hospital (a tuberculosis clinic), and Hilo Hospital. The Archives is open for research by appointment. Learn more at https://lymanmuseum.org/archives/research-collection/.

Dr. Charles and Lucy Wetmore, ca. 1848
Wetmore wrote his journal while on the Leland en route to Hawaiʻi during 1848 and 1849. On March 10, 1849 he wrote, “This morning Hawaii was in sight. It could be indistinctly seen by the bright light of the moon long before the sun rose, near the shore we could see a light, but it remained for the sun to reveal in all its grandeur the lofty Mauna Kea. . . .We gazed at it with feelings of deep interest – we know not but this very island is to become our future home – our prayer is that we may be stationed where we shall do most good.”
On December 1, 1849, Wetmore related to his wife Lucy that he had given 308 people in Puna the vaccine for smallpox.
Wetmore family home on Pitman (now Kino‘ole) Street, ca. 1881
Buildings on Hilo Bayfront with Dr. Wetmore’s office and drugstore (far left), ca. 1885

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