Sea Captains at the Port of San Francisco: 1800s

Born in Sweden 1849

In 1876, Captain William Matson came to San Francisco around Cape Horn as a sailor on the ship Bridgewater. Matson soon commanded scow schooners carrying coal from Mt. Diablo Mines to the Spreckels sugar refinery in San Francisco.

He next took command of a larger schooner carrying sugar from the Hawaiian Islands. After building a brigantine, Lurline, he bought other sailing vessels. His acquisitions turned into the Matson company, which still plys the world's seas. One of his earlier vessels was the Falls of Clyde, (which has been preserved and is berthed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and which, by 2012, was in danger of losing funding for its preservation).

May 27, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

New Sugar Corporation

Articles of incorporation of the Honolulu Sugar Company were filed yesterday. The capital stock of the corporation is $900,000, of which $70,000 has been subscribed. The directors are: Nicholas Ohlandt, M. Ehrmann, J. L. Koster, F. Tillmann Jr., William Matson, Samuel Sussman and A. F. Morrison.

In the early 1900s, Matson bought out Welch & Co., a competing line of sailing ships. By 1939, the Matson Navigation Company owned 42 steamers and is noted for introducing luxury liners into the Pacific trade: the Malolo, the third Lurline, the Monterey, and the Mariposa.

August 5, 1901, San Francisco Call


Captain Matson Secures the Enterprise for the Run

She Will Carry Freight Only and Will Begin Loading Today.

Hilo is to have a regular steamship service. At first it will be "for freight only," but the near future may see first-class passenger boats on the run. Hitherto Honolulu has been the only port in the Hawaiian group that has been so favored, but now the second city in importance among the islands is making a bid for recognition and will not be denied.

Captain William Matson has purchased the American steamship Enterprise, and in a few days she will begin loading for Hilo. The intention is to keep her permanently in this trade and add other steamships to the line as the occasion warrants.

The barque Annie Johnson.
The Barque Annie Johnson
Henry Scott

Back in the eighties a 200-ton vessel was considered big for the Hilo trade, and in 1887, when Captain Matson built the brig Lurline, everybody laughed at him and wondered where he would get freight enough to fill her. There was no trouble about the freight question, however, and in a few years the Lurline was not big enough for the trade, so the bark Annie Johnson was bought and put on the run. The latter was formerly the British bark Ada Iredale, but while coming here from Australia with a cargo of coal caught fire and burned to the water's edge. She drifted ashore on Tahiti and was rebuilt by the late Andrew Crawford, and put under the American flag. Since coming under the Matson flag she has never met with a mishap.

The Hilo trade with San Francisco continued to grow and soon another vessel was required, so Captain Matson bought the bark Santiago. Next he purchased the ship Rhoderick Dhu and not only changed her into a bark, but also dropped the "h" from her first name, and she is now the Roderick Dhu. About this time the Lurline was sold and soon afterward the four-masted ship Falls of Clyde was bought and changed into a four-masted bark. A month or so ago the ship Marion Chilcott was added to the fleet and last of all the steamer Enterprise. The Marion Chilcott was formerly the British ship; Kilbrannan. She went ashore in Puget Sound, but was got off by Barneson & Chilcott of Seattle and put" under the American flag. Her new owner will change her into a bark after she makes one voyage.

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Tne Enterprise was formerly the British steamship St. George and a few years ago was in the Australian passenger trade.

Her last foreign owner, H. Deederischen of Kiel, Germany, sent her to Cuba during the war with a cargo of coal and she went ashore in a fog almost on the exact spot on which General Shafter landed his troops. She was got off and sold to American parties, who repaired her, changed her name to Enterprise and got an American registry for her. She is 2593 tons gross burden, 222 feet, ft inches long, 35 feet 8 iInches hr-m. 25 feet 6 inches deep and was built in 1882 at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

She is a splendid sea boat, a large carrier and speedy, as her run of seventy-two days from Baltimore shows. She and the Asuncion sailed together for this port, but the Enterprise beat her arrival ten days.

April 25, 1908, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Appointed Swedish Consul

By Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO, April 24 -- Captain William Matson of the Matson Navigation company has been appointed consul for Sweden at San Francisco, with jurisdiction of territory of the Pacific coast, comprising California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

August 26, 1911


Captain Matson Property, Valued at $10,000,000,
Said to Have Changed Hands

Reports gained, circulation yesterday that negotiations were near conclusion for the sale of the Honolulu Oil company, one of the most valuable properties in the Kern county oil fields. It was said also that the transaction as contemplated would include all the holdings of Captain William Matson, who is the chief stock holder in the Honolulu company. The name of the prospective purchaser was variously given as the Standard, the Royal Dutch and the Associated. In this connection it was recalled that the Associated had been the purchaser of the Matson pipe line interests.

The Matson properties are among the most extensive in California. They include producing areas in Coalinga, the Midway, and the Buena Vista hills. While no exact measure has been taken of their value, they are said to reach as high as $10,000,000.

The reports could not be verified last night, but oil men pointed out that these properties would prove a tremendous asset for any of the large petroleum corporations. The Honolulu, on section 10, was one of the famous gushers of the field. This company has developed a number of high gravity wells in the Buena Vista hills.

Captain Matson is the president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He is a veteran in the oil business and has been associated in his extensive enterprises with capitalists of San Francisco and the Hawaiian islands.

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November 8, 1911, San Francisco Call

Retiring President of Chamber of Commerce Presented Vase

Captain William Matson, the retiring president of the old Chamber of Commerce, was the guest of honor at a luncheon held yesterday in the Palace hotel, given by the trustees of the old organization. W. M. Alexander presided. A silver vase, suitably inscribed, was presented to Captain Matson by the trustees. A gold matchbox and a testimonial were presented to Chester V. Burks, for 10 years secretary of the Chamber of Commerce.

Wallace M. Alexander John A. McGregor
William M. Bunker George A. Newhall
C. W. Burks Henry D. Nichols
Charles Templeton Crocker H. C. Norton
William H. Crocker Henry Rosenfeld
Joseph Martin James Rolph, Jr.
Charles C. Moore John T. Scott
  James Tyson

May 22, 1912, San Francisco Call


State System of Control, Declares Pioneer Steamship Man, Is Wrong
Commonwealth, He Argues, Should Cede Management to San Francisco

"The state system of controlling San Francisco's water front is wrong. Something should be done. The Call is right in advocating a change," was the emphatic declaration of Captain William Matson, president of the Matson Navigation company.

For a half century Captain Matson has been identified with the shipping of the Pacific coast. He knows the San Francisco water front and its relation to the commercial life of San Francisco as they are known to few men.

Captain Matson has realized for years that the system whereby the control of the water front is given over to the state is wrong. He has suggested remedies. He has called the matter to the attention of Governor Hiram W. Johnson and to the members of the present state board of harbor commissioners. He is ready now to assist in evolving a system which will put San Francisco's water front on a business basis.

The fact that Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach and other cities of the state have been given control of their water fronts has brought about a condition, in the opinion of Captain Matson, which makes the demand for the same treatment for San Francisco a matter of necessity, not sentiment.


"Our water front Is the heart of San Francisco." said Captain Matson. "It is what makes values in our city. If the development of our water front is inadequate, the business of the entire city suffers accordingly. If we are not careful the commerce which should be ours will go to Oakland. Los Angeles and San Diego. With the opening of the Panama canal we should be able to attract a much greater volume of commerce to this port. If our system of managing the water front is wrong, we shall be the losers."

Shortly after Governor Johnson took office Captain Matson went to Sacramento and called his attention to the necessity of making a change in the system of managing San Francisco's water front. He was informed by the governor that it would be impossible to take the matter up with the legislature then in session, but that he would consider data submitted by Captain Matson so that he might be able to place a proposition before the next legislature, which will meet in January. Whether the governor has given the matter further consideration Captain Matson is unable to say.


Captain Matson called particular attention to the management of the great harbor at Liverpool, where the control is practically vested in the city. The government names half of the trustees of the controlling board and the city the other half.

"Our water front in San Francisco represents an investment of virtually $20,000,000," said Captain Matson." The present system of control by a state board is impracticable. The state should cede the water front to the city or devise some form of trusteeship similar to that prevailing in Liverpool. The increased business interests of San Francisco demand that the water front be conducted along business lines.

"I should personally favor a board of commissioners to be named by the mayor and to serve without pay, their terms to overlap so that it would be difficult for a mayor to gain actual control of the commission. I think that the commissioners should name a chief executive officer at $10,000 or $15,000 a year and a chief engineer at $6,000 or $8,000 a year. Only high class men should be had for the principal executive offices and they are not to be obtained without good salaries.


For the subordinate positions I think there should be civil service regulations which would take the mismanagement of our water front entirely out of politics. Our water front should be managed with as much care and business ability as any other big institution in which millions are invested." Captain Matson also called attention to the cumbersome feature of the present system of state control which necessitates exceptional delays in making extensive improvements too great to be undertaken without a bond issue. "With state control it is necessary to get a bill through the legislature and signed by the governor providing for the issuance of bonds for the improvement of the water front. Then, at the next general election, the matter is submitted to the voters of the state and thousands of voters without interest in San Francisco's welfare and unacquainted with the needs of her water front are called upon lo determine whether bonds should be issued for the improvement of a water front that has been maintained without cost to the state, its revenues at all times being sufficient to meet its indebtedness and wipe out the bonds as they fall due.

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Matson Lines to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia

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Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

Gold Rush Port

Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront
James P. Delgado
Gold Rush Port The Maritime Archaeology of San Franciscos Waterfront.Described as a "forest of masts," San Francisco's Gold Rush waterfront was a floating economy of ships and wharves, where a dazzling array of global goods was traded and transported. Drawing on excavations in buried ships and collapsed buildings from this period, James P. Delgado re-creates San Francisco's unique maritime landscape, shedding new light on the city's remarkable rise from a small village to a boomtown of thousands in the three short years from 1848 to 1851. Gleaning history from artifacts, such as preserves and liquors in bottles, leather boots and jackets, hulls of ships, even crocks of butter lying alongside discarded guns. Gold Rush Port paints a fascinating picture of how ships and global connections created the port and the city of San Francisco.

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Matson Line, Hawaii and South Seas
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Matson Hawaiian Guide Map

The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold RushShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.
David Igler
From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.The Pacific of the early eighteenth century was a place of baffling complexity, with 25,000 islands and seemingly endless continental shorelines. But with the voyages of Captain James Cook, global attention turned to the Pacific, and European and American dreams of scientific exploration, trade, and empire grew dramatically. By the time of the California gold rush, the Pacific's many shores were fully integrated into world markets-and world consciousness. The Great Ocean draws on hundreds of documented voyages as a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Cook's exploits, focusing in particular on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s. Beginning with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd, historian David Igler uncovers a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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