The Hawaiian Shipping Company

The 18,009grt Lurline was built in 1932 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation at Quincy. In 1963 she was sold to Chandris and renamed Ellinis. On 15th April 1987 she arrived at Kaohsiung to be broken up by Groupship Iron & Steel Enterprises.

Matson Lines have been sailing from California to the Hawaiian islands for almost 130 years and are synonymous with this island group. They have been owned since 1964 by Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which have been based in the islands since 1870 growing sugar cane and coffee and marketing and distributing these two basic commodities. Today, Matson Lines provide container services from California to Honolulu, Guam, Micronesia and China, as well as Hawaiian inter island services.

The economy of the six main Hawaiian islands, also known as the Aloha islands, is based on fruit especially pineapples, sugar, molasses, coffee especially Kona and Kauai coffee, tourism and real estate.

The 196grt Emma Claudina, Matson’s first vessel in 1882. She was sold in 1887.

The transport of tourists and island products between Honolulu and California has long been the speciality of Matson Lines, which began in 1882 when Capt. William Matson sailed the small three masted schooner Emma Claudina of 196 tons from San Francisco to Hilo on Hawaii. He had been born in 1849 in Lysekil in Sweden and began a seafaring career at the age of 10 years. After arriving in San Francisco in 1867, he saw there was money to be made in the sugar trade from the Hawaiian islands. He purchased 4/16 shares in Emma Claudina, with his sugar plantation friend Claus Spreckles owning 5/16 shares. He replaced her with the larger wooden brigantine Lurline in 1887 on the same financial basis with Spreckels, from whom he rented office space in Market Street, San Francisco. He continued to use sailing ships such as the iron four masted barque Annie Johnson of 1,409 tons in 1895, rerigged her as a schooner in 1912, and fitted a Bolinders engine in 1916 to keep her sailing for another 10 years, when she was sold to a Papeete owner for further service, having already completed 54 years of service.

The 6,975grt Wilhelmina was built in 1909 by Newport News Shipbuilders. On 2nd December 1940 she was torpedoed and sunk by U-94 265 miles west of Bloody Foreland on a voyage from New Westminster for Liverpool in Convoy HX-90, carrying 6,365 tons of general cargo including 2,303 tons of fish and 1,450 tons of woodpulp.

The barque Roderick Dhu of 1,534 grt was purchased in 1896 and was fitted with a cold storage machine and electric lights in 1900. Oil was needed to fuel the furnaces of the Hawaiian sugar plantations, and the four masted iron barque Falls of Clyde, built on the Clyde in 1878, was one of several sailing ships converted into oil barges to transport oil to Hawaii, and she is currently preserved at Honolulu as a museum ship. The others were Rosecrans, Santiago, Roderick Dhu, Marion Chilcott and Monterey, the latter purchased in 1904 and fitted with oil tanks a year later. The aptly named four masted steel barque Hawaiian Isles of 2,097 grt was purchased in 1907, and he traded her for three years before her sale to Alaska Packers.

The 17,226grt Malolo was built in 1927 by Wm. Cramp & Sons at Philadelphia. She was renamed Matsonia in 1937 before joining Home Lines in 1949 as Atlantic. In 1955 she became Queen Frederica of Greek Line before being broken up at Eleusis in May 1977.


The Aloha islands were annexed by the United States of America in 1898, and became American territory in 1900. Capt. William Matson purchased his first steamer on 22nd July 1901 for the newly incorporated Matson Navigation Co. Inc. This was the former Hansa Line steamer Ehrenfels built in 1882 on the Tyne which he renamed Enterprise, after converting her to oil burning, and she traded until laid-up at Antioch in California in 1926, remaining laid up until sold for scrapping in Japan in April, 1937. The Matson Line passenger trade began in 1908 with the delivery of the new Lurline of 6,572 grt from the Newport News shipyard of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. She had accommodation for 51 passengers on her route between San Francisco and Honolulu, and was followed by a series of four liners over the next nine years with their distinctive reddish brown hulls and engines aft configuration. These were Wilhelmina of 6,975 grt in 1909 with accommodation for 146 passengers, Matsonia of 9,402 grt in 1913 with accommodation for 242 passengers, Manoa of 6,806 grt in 1914 with accommodation for 85 passengers, all from the Newport News yard, and Maui of 9,801 grt from the Union Iron Works in San Francisco in 1917. Maui had accommodation for 240 passengers with a crew of 140 and a service speed of 16 knots from her four turbines. During World War I, Wilhelmina, Maui and Matsonia served with the American Navy, with two type 535 transports, Buckeye State and Hawkeye State, used by Matson during 1921/22 while awaiting their return from refit. Capt. William Matson had died in 1917 at the age of 67 years, with all except one of his renowned fleet of passenger and cargo ships requisitioned for war service.

The 37,811gt Mahimahi was built in 1983 as the C-9 containership President Washington for American President Lines. She joined Matson in 1996. (Business Wire)

The 37,811gt Mokihana was built in 1983 by Avondale Industries Inc. as the C-9 containership President Monroe for American President Lines. She joined Matson in 1996 and in 2006 she had the rather strange piece of superstructure added to her stern to allow her to carry 1,350 vehicles. It can’t be said that it has enhanced her appearance! (Business Wire)

In 1921, two engines aft cargo ships for the sugar and tinned pineapple trade were delivered by the Moore Shipbuilding yard at Oakland as Manukai and Manulani of 9,550 grt. The Matson cargo fleet was equipped with refrigerated machinery in order to carry fruit, and had been renewed by 1925 by war standard ships e.g. the triple expansion steam powered Makiki, Maliko and Mauna Ala of 6,840 grt, and the turbine powered sisters Maunalei and Maunawili of 7,400 grt, which were launched on the same day. Makiki was later converted into a bulk sugar carrier, while the smaller Makaweli of 2,522 grt was converted into a molasses tanker. In 1926, the area of operation was extended to the South Pacific ports of Pago Pago in American Samoa and Suva in Fiji as well as those in Australasia by the purchase of the Oceanic Steamship Company from the Spreckels family, close business associates of Matson and owners of South Pacific sugar plantations. Three twin screw triple expansion powered liners fitted for oil fuel burning came with the deal in Sierra of 6,076 grt, Sonoma and Ventura of 6,280 grt, all completed between October and December 1900 by the Cramp yard at Philadelphia. In 1928, part ownership was taken in the new Oceanic & Oriental Navigation Company along with the rival American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, but this company was wound up in 1937.

The 7,896grt Hawaiian Planter was built in 1945 by Ingalls at Pascagoula as the Sea Pegasus for the US Government. She joined Matson in 1947 and in 1967 she was converted into a containership and renamed Pacific Trader. In 1972 she became Oriental Enterprise of Atlantic Far East Lines and on 19th August 1979 she arrived at Kaohsiung to be broken up by Nan Hor Steel.

The 14,812grt Mariposa was built in 1953 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation at Quincy as the C4 cargo ship Pine Tree Mariner for the US Government. She joined Matson in 1956 and was converted into a passenger liner. In 1983 she was sold to Shanghai Jin Jiang Shipping and renamed Jin Jiang and in 1992 they renamed her Queen of Jin Jiang. In 1993 she joined Faster Shipping as Heng Li. On 4th June 1996 she arrived at Alang to be broken up by Ajay Alloys Cast Ltd. (Don Smith/

Matson Lines introduced the first of a quartet of classic and beautiful twin funnelled liners in June, 1927 designed by William Francis Gibbs and built by Cramp of Philadelphia. The turbine powered Malolo of 17,226 grt had a black hull with her twin yellow funnels having a black top and carrying a blue central ‘M’, the tops of her funnels were later repainted blue during the 1930s. She had superb public rooms and accommodation for 693 passengers all in one class and her name meant ‘Flying Fish’ in Hawaiian. She brought the Matson liner fleet up to nine ships and with a service speed of 24 knots her passage time from San Francisco to Honolulu was only four and one half days. She was followed by the sister liners Mariposa, Monterey (both of 18,017 grt) and Lurline (18,009 grt) in 1931/32 from the Bethlehem Steel Corporation yard at Quincy (Mass.). Mariposa and Monterey sailed to the beautiful South Sea islands and on to Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and other ports in Australasia, while Malolo (renamed Matsonia in 1937) and Lurline sailed the main route to Honolulu. This famous and long lived quartet not only released the older and smaller Oceanic Steamship liners for scrapping in Japan in 1934, but also established Matson Line as the dominating line to Hawaii and the South Pacific.

The 14,799grt Monterey was built in 1952 by Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point as the C4 cargo ship Free State Mariner for the US Government. In 1956 she joined Matson and was converted into a cruise ship. In 1990 she joined MSC. In 2006 she was renamed Monte for her final voyage to Alang where she arrived on 3rd November. (FotoFlite)

The rival Los Angeles Steamship Company had operated passenger services from Los Angeles to Hawaii, but was taken over by Matson in 1931, their principal liner was City of Los Angeles of 12,642 grt, the former North German Lloyd liner Grosser Kurfurst completed in 1899 and transferred to Matson in 1934. Their cargo ship Diamond Head, named after the famous pinnacle of 780 feet in height at the eastern end of Waikiki beach at Honolulu, was also transferred to Matson ownership. However, there are no ‘diamonds’ on Diamond Head, only worthless calcite crystals. The Matson Steamship Company Inc. was established on 18th December 1934 for a direct service between Hawaii and the U.S. Gulf port of New Orleans and U.S. Atlantic seaboard ports in conjunction with the Isthmian Steamship Company Inc., with Matson assigning eight ships to the service.


Subscribe today to read the full article!

Simply click below to subscribe and not only read the full article instantly, but gain unparalleled access to the specialist magazine for shipping enthusiasts.

Subscribe nowLog In


Sorry, comments are closed for this item

Up next