::: Inter-Island Mail Routes :::
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Schooners and Early Steamers of the 1850's
A map taken from Whitney's Guide to Hawaii (1890 edition) on which the early
inter-island routes are superimposed in red.
Native schooners were the mainstay of inter-island shipping well into the latter part
of the 19th Century. These small craft suffered a poor reputation as they were cramped,
kept irregular schedules, rarely offered palatable food and had flea ridden sleeping
accommodations. Native passengers brought their own food and preferred to stay and
sleep on deck. Tourists and other wealthier passengers usually joined them to escape
close quarters below. Seasickness was a common misery as these little boats bobbed up
and down while becalmed, sometimes for several days.
Whitney and others in authority turned to steam vessels as the salvation for keeping
reliable schedules for inter-island trips. Early attempts to establish inter-island
steamer routes were:
On July, 25, 1851, the
Privy Council awarded a monopoly for inter-island steam transportation to Capt. William
Howard, contingent upon his placing a steamer in regular inter-island service. Howard
ran the steamer Constitution on a round trip
between Honolulu and Lahaina on January 31, 1852, but abandoned the plan without another
trip, blaming the then depressed economy for failure.
A new monopoly was awarded
by the Privy Council on December 19, 1853, to The Hawaiian Steam Navigation Company,
which had just completed a trial run with the side-wheel steamer
Akamai (formerly the S. B. Wheeler). For
nearly a year, the Akamai had a fitful career, being laid up for repairs or lack of
coal much of the time, but she was popular and ran a fairly regular schedule when in
service. On September 24, 1854, she sprang a leak and nearly sank so she was retired.
The steamers Kalama (October 2, 1854) and
Sea Bird (October 16, 1854) were put on the
inter-island service to replace the Akamai but both vessels were too large and their
operation was uneconomical. As the smaller vessel, the Kalama (formerly named the West
Point) ran the Kauai route and the Sea Bird ran the Windward Route to Maui and Hawaii.
The Sea Bird gave up the trade and left for California in April, 1855. The Kalama was
declared unseaworthy but stayed in service until January 5, 1856, when she was wrecked.
Neither vessel was replaced and the contract was abandoned.
With the Sea Bird and Kalama gone, inter-island transportation reverted to schooners.
Prominent in the coasting trade during the 1850's were:
- On the Maui Route, the modern schooner Ka Moi
was preeminent, making regular runs between Honolulu and Lahaina, with occasional
stops at Kahului. The older Maria ran
between Honolulu, Lahaina and Maalaea Bay landings at Kalepolepo and Makena. The
Kamehameha V serviced mostly Molokai,
Lahaina, and Hana. The Moi Keiki,
Maui Hikina ran less regular routes to
Lahaina from Honolulu.
- For Hawaii, the Liholiho was the main
Hilo packet, touching at Kawaihae and Kohala. Other schooners on the Hilo run included
Post Boy, Kalama
Mary was a cattle boat and ran principally
between Kawaihae and Honolulu. Kona was serviced by the schooner
Kekauluohi and the iron schooner
Alice. Only the Liholiho had a reputation
for comfort and reliability on the Hawaii Route.
- Less regular service was provided to Kauai. The Koloa packet
Excel was the main vessel running between
Honolulu and Nawiliwili, but she often was out of service. The
John Young touched at all Kauai ports.
Chance served Kaui until she was lost at
Koloa in 1855. Foreign travelers were advised explicitly to carry their own
provisions on these vessels.
Steamers Kilauea and Annie Laurie
Efforts to re-establish steamer service continued after the Kalama was wrecked. A new
company, taking the name of the old Hawaiian Steam Navigation Company, was formed and
obtained an exclusive contract for six years to operate a steamer among the islands.
This company bulit a steamer to suit conditions in the Islands and on June 28, 1860, the
propeller steamer Kilauea made its
appearance. Her career was checkered, being laid up for repairs or lack of coal on
many occasions. The Annie Laurie was a small
steam schooner originally intended by her owners to run the Kauai Route. She began
her runs to Kauai in October, 1862. When the Kilauea was laid up for extended periods in 1862,
1863 and 1864, the Annie Laurie was placed on the Hawaii route. In September, 1865, the
Annie Laurie was badly damaged and as a consequence her engine was removed and she
continued service as a schooner until she was wrecked in February, 1866. Meanwhile,
the Kilauea was having her troubles. In January, 1866, she was driven ashore at
Kawaihae. After a few months she was back in service but was
withdrawn several times until finally in November, 1868, she was withdrawn and the
islands were without inter-island steamer service for two years.
This cover was sent in February, 1868, from Kaluaaha, Molokai, to Keaiwa, in Ka'u,
Hawaii. It traveled by workboat to Lahaina, Maui and then by the inter-island steamer
Kilauea to Kawaihae, Hawaii, and overland by horse through Kona to Ka'u. Kaluaaha was
without stamps at the time so a 2¢ manuscript mark was put on the letter and it was
franked at Lahaina with the 2¢ Scott No. 31a.
Sailing Coasters of the 1860's and 1870's
Sailing ships offered the steamers stiff competition on freight through the end of the
19th Century, even when steamers were functioning well. Steamers won the bulk of the
passenger traffic, mail and some freight. But sailing ships could carry freight at
less cost. In 1860, two new sailing ships were added to the coasting fleet. First to
arrive was the clipper ship Emma Rooke,
followed in a month by the schooner Nettie Merrill.
Coasters often kept irregular and unpredictable schedules, going where paying freight
took them. However, some served specific ports with a degree of regularity.
- Kauai ports were served by the
Fairy Queen (Hanalei),
Mary (Anahola) and
Odd Fellow, among others.
- Oahu ports were served by the
Rob Roy and
Waiola, among others.
- Maui ports were served by the
Kate Lee (Makena),
Warwick, among others.
Hawaii ports were served by the
Emma Rooke (Kohala), Active
(Kohala), Kona Packet
(Hilo), Live Yankee
(Kawaihae), Mary E. Foster
(Hilo) and Prince
(Kona), among others.
October 3, 1868
Sailing ships in the coasting trade filled the void created by the withdrawal of the
Kilauea in 1868 until she was refit and returned to service in October, 1870.
This cover was docketed by Rev. Lyman on July 21, 1872 in Hilo and postmarked July 24
at Hilo and July 29 at Honolulu. According to the manuscript notation, it was sent by
the steamer Kilauea. Notice the circled "H" cancel on the Scott No. 31a stamp.
In October, 1870, the Kilauea was put back in service under government operation.
Samuel Wilder soon was put in charge and managed to operate her at a profit. The aging
Kilauea continued to suffer frequent engine failure but was kept in service. In the
mid-1870's interisland transportation consisted of one steamer and around 30 sailing
schooners, sloops and other boats.
Proliferation of Steamers in the Late 1870's
Matters of transportation took a decisive turn in 1876. In that year, the Reciprocity
Treaty between the United States and Hawaii took effect, reducing tariffs on various
Hawaiian exports including, most significantly, sugar. Hawaii's economy expanded
rapidly, making improvement of inter-island transportation imperative. Wilder's
successful operation of the Kilauea encouraged the government to order a new steamer
from Dickie Brothers in San Francisco. In August, 1877, the steamer
Likelike was delivered. The government
solicited bids to sell the Likelike and Kilauea and Sam Wilder
purchased them under a contract that included a guarantee of free mail carriage. In
March, 1878, the Kilauea was broken up. That same month the steamer
Kilauea Hou was launched for Captain T. H.
Hobron to run between Honolulu and the booming East Maui plantations using Kahului as
its port. Wilder added two new steamers to his fleet: the small steamer Mokolii
to work windward Oahu ports; and the larger steamer Lehua.
Mailed from Maui to Honolulu with a Honolulu postmark dated July 14, 1879, and
directions to be taken by the steamer Likelike.
About the same time as Wilder was building his fleet, Captain Thomas R. Foster was
having a rival fleet of steamers built by Hall Brothers at Port Ludlow, Washington. His steamers were
the James Makee (June, 1879),
C. R. Bishop (1880) and
Iwalani (March, 1881).
Steamship Companies and Routes
In 1883, the steamer companies incorporated. Foster's fleet became known as the
Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company, Wilder
incorporated Wilder's Steamship Company. A third
company, the Pacific Navigation Company, operated
mostly sailing ships so was not a competitive steamship force.
Mail among the islands in the 1880's and 1890's was carried almost
solely by the steamers operated by these companies. Wilder and Foster ran different routes rather than engage in head to head competition.
Inter-Island operated the Kauai and Oahu ports plus the Kona, Ka'u, Kukuihaele, Honokaa
and Kukaiau ports on Hawaii. Wilder took Molokai, Lanai and Maui plus all ports on
Hawaii, including Hilo, not served by Inter-Island. Both companies stopped at Lahaina
plus Maalaea Bay and Makena on Maui's leeward coast once. Inter-Island's service to Lahaina
started in 1886.
Both fleets were enlarged over
time. Wilder's obtained the Kinau,
Kilohana, but lost the Likelike in 1897 to a
reef. Inter-Island acquired the Planter,
W. G. Hall,
Ke Au Hou,
Mauna Loa and
Noeau, but lost the Planter and Mikahala to
Routes of the Steamship companies in 1890, superimposed on the map from Whitney's Guide
(1890). Wilder's routes (green lines) served Maui,
Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii ports in Kohala, North Hilo, South Hilo and Puna.
Inter-Island (blue lines) served Kauai, outer Oahu,
Maui ports of Lahaina and Maalaea Bay and Hawaii ports in Ka'u, Kona and Hamakua.
Schedules were published people could anticipate when vessels were to arrive or
leave any given port.
Inter-Island Steamship Co. steamers carried marking devices in the 1880's with the
legend "HAWAIIAN MAIL SERVICE." This cover from the W. G. Hall is dated March 4, 1886
on a UPSS 6a postal envelope. The stamped initials "H. W." probably refer to a member
of the Waterhouse family, prominent in 19th Century Hawaiian affairs.
A cover from Honolulu to Lihue, Kauai, mailed April 10, 1895, and marked to go by the Inter-Island
steamer James Makee.
By about 1880, steamer routes and schedules had reached the point where they carried
all the mail to the exclusion of the various sailing coasters.
- On the Kauai Route, Inter-Island Steam
Navigation's steamers ran the routes.
James Makee was a regular steamer serving
Kauai. Planter worked the southern Kauai
ports and Niihau until she was wrecked on a reef at Niihau on January 27, 1886.
W. G. Hall was withdrawn from the Oahu
route to take Planter's route. When
Mikahala arrived and was placed in
service on January 12, 1887, she became the regular Kauai packet.
C. R. Bishop also ran the Kauai route
from 1891 until she ran aground at Nawiliwili and was lost on January 31, 1894. The
new steamer Ke-au-hou arrived on October 31,
1894, to take over the southern Kauai and Niihau route.
No-e-Au was a standby vessel from the
time she was put in service on January 10, 1897, and sometimes served Kauai. In
addition to carrying mail between Kauai and Honolulu, the steamers supplemented the
overland mail service by carrying mail from port to port.
- Oahu ports were mainly served by Inter-Island
steamers. However, mail usually was handled by the overland routes. The horse
carriage to Waialua took over all mail to Waialua, Kahuku and northern Koolau in 1891.
By 1895, the Oahu Railway was carrying all the mail to Waialua.
W. G. Hall ran the Oahu route until she
was diverted to the Kauai route after the loss of
Planter in January, 1886. Oahu was left
with less reliable service and was dependent in part on plantation steamers.
Kaala was working western and northern
Oahu ports starting in 1888. Kaala was
owned by H. A. Wideman for service to his Waianae ranch and plantation until he sold
it to Inter-Island in May, 1889. She ran aground at Kahuku on January 19, 1898.
C. R. Bishop and
Waimanalo were working Oahu routes in
1889. Waimanalo was owned by principals
of the Waimanalo Sugar Co. for service to its landing until she was sold to
Inter-Island on March 3, 1896 and renamed
Kaena. She took mail to Kanehoe and
Waimanalo until the Pali carriage road was completed in 1898 when the overland
service took over all the mail to southern Koolau.
- On the Maui and Molokai Route, Wilder's had
the main service for most Maui and Molokai ports. Wilder's steamers ran a "milk run"
stopping at Molokai ports before arriving at Lahaina on the run from Honolulu. From
Lahaina, they proceeded around northern West Maui to Kahului and thence to Hana or
Kipahulu and then retraced their route stopping at various ports along northern East
Maui, Kahului, Lahaina and Molokai.
Mokolii was on this route from about 1879
onward. The steamer route along the northern East Maui augmented the often
unpredictable overland route between Hana and Haiku. When overland service between
West Maui and Wailuku/Kahului was terminated in 1888, the steamers carried all the
mail from Lahaina to Kahului or other parts of Maui.
Kilauea Hou was running a direct route
from Honolulu to Kahului from 1878 under ownership of Capt. Hobron until transferred
to Wilder's in 1885 and continued working that direct route under Wilder's ownership.
Wilder's steamers running between Honolulu and the Big Island stopped at Lahaina and
ran down the Maalaea Bay side of Maui, stopping at Maalaea Landing and Kihei.
Kinau arrived in 1884 to work this route.
When Claudine arrived on August 4, 1890,
she was put on Wilder's Big Island routes.
Kilohana had a brief career serving Maui
ports from late 1898 to December 10, 1899, when she ran onto the reef at Lahaina and
was lost. Starting in 1886, Inter-Island's vessels also stopped at Lahaina, Maalaea
Bay and Makena on their routes to or from the Big Island.
- Hawaii ports were served by steamers
belonging to both Wilder's and Inter-Island. Mahukona, Kawaihae and Hilo were the
Big Island's major ports and they were served by Wilder's, along with Paauhau,
Paauilo and Laupahoehoe in Hamakua. Inter-Island got Kona ports, Ka'u ports and the
Hamakua ports of Kukuihaele, Honokaa and Kukaiau. Wilder's used
Kinau for the Mahukona and Hilo route.
Hawaii ran this route starting late in
1899 when Wilder's moved her to coasting service from its foreign routes. On this
route, Wilder's steamers left Honolulu and stopped at the Maui ports of Lahaina,
Maalaea Bay and Makena and then proceeded to Mahukona and Kawaihae. From Kawaihae,
the steamers turned north, passing Mahukona and rounding Upulo Point at the north
end of Hawaii and running for Hilo along the Kohala and Hamakua coasts, stopping at
Laupahoehoe. Weather sometimes made Hamakua landings problematic and the steamers
would land mail wherever they could, causing consternation to local postmasters who
had to hire people to bring the mail to the proper place. Visitors for Kilauea
Crater took coaches from Hilo through Olaa to the volcano. For Inter-Island's routes,
C. R. Bishop and
W. G. Hall were on the Ka'u route at
various times. On this route, Inter-Island vessels left Honolulu stopping at Lahaina
and Maalaea Bay on Maui and then proceeding directly to Kailua, Kona. From Kailua,
the steamer went south stopping at the Kona ports of Napoopoo on Kealakekua Bay,
Hookena, Hoopuloa, rounding South Point, touching at the Ka'u port of Honoapo and
finally arriving at Punaluu, Ka'u, the terminus of the route. From Punaluu, five
mile railroad took passengers to Pahala and then coaches hauled the visitors to the
volcano from the Ka'u side. Planter
worked the route before being put on the Kauai route.
C. R. Bishop was on the route from time to
time and W. G. Hall was the main steamer
on the route after she was relieved of the Kauai route sometime around 1894. From
1881 onward Iwalani was familiar on
Inter-Island's Hamakua Coast route.
Apart from Messrs. Wilder and Foster, George S. Beckley stood out as another
personality among the steamer people. Beckley, known popularly as Admiral Beckley, was
the chief purser for Wilder's fleet and his name is seen often on postcards announcing
the expected arrivals and departures of Wilder's steamers at Maui landings.
Mails used by the steamship companies or designating their ships are addressed in
Back of a UX1 postcard mailed from Honolulu on January 4, 1889 to Kahului, Maui to
announce the expected departure of the steamer Kinau from Maalae Bay.
- Thomas, Mifflin, Hawaiian Interisland Vessels and Hawaiian Registered Vessels,
Seacoast Press, Santa Barbara, 1982. Essential for interisland route information.
- Thomas, Mifflin, Schooner from Windward, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu,
1983. Essential reference for interisland routes and mail carriage.
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