Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Remembering the SS Manchuria

I get a chance to combine a few interests here - China, ships and travelling to China. I’ve been researching a person for a forthcoming book and discovered them in the shipping records as having left China for New York (landing in San Francisco and then travelling overland) in January 1909 aboard the SS Manchuria (left). This gives me a chance to blog about the Manchuria as the details won’t make it into the book.

The Manchuria was owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and worked the trans-Pacific routes. She waspretty new in 1909 having been launched in late 1903. The coal-fired 13,639 ton Manchuria was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey (guess what? it ain't there anymore!) and remained in service until the early 1950s eventually being scrapped in Italy. Basically she was a beautiful ship.

Pacific Mail was the major carrier of Americans and their mail between the US and Asia - in 1866, Washington had awarded the first mail contract of US$500,000 per annum between San Francisco and the Far East, to be specific to Hong Kong via Japan and the Sandwich Islands, to Pacific Mail. By 1867, the company was running several different lines in the Far East: The monthly China Line, between San Francisco and Hong Kong, stopping at Yokohama and the monthly Shanghai Line between Yokohama and Shanghai, via Nagasaki. This also ran once, linking with the China Line. Through these links, freight could be moved from New York to Yokohama in 42 days, to Shanghai in 47 days and Hong Kong in 50 days. In 1902, Pacific Mail launched the SS Korea and SS Siberia, which were their first steel hulled ships, followed by SS Manchuria and SS Mongolia in 1904. These ships were the largest and fastest passenger-freight ships in the Pacific at the time.

Life aboard appears pretty good – strolling the deck, gazing at passing junks or dancing the night away as the postcards issued on the Manchuria to send to friends indicate (above and left obviously). OK, so it took a bit of time and you stopped of in Japan and maybe Hawaii but think of the books you’d read, the sleep you’d catch upon, the leisurely meals and new friends and basically what’s the rush? And all with a fraction of the emissions. Damn – born too late again!


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