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The Sacramento Daily Union, April 18, 1866

Honolulu, March 1866


I have been here a day or two now, but I do not know enough concerning the country yet to commence writing about it with confidence, so I will drift back to sea again.


The Ajax is a 2,000 ton propeller, and one of the strongest bulk vessels afloat. All her timber-work is very heavy and fastened and bolted together as if to hold for a century. She was intended for a warship, and this accounts for her extraordinary strength. She has excellent cabin accommodations for sixty passengers, without crowding, and bunks for forty more. She has room for over twelve hundred tons of freight after her coal and stores for the round trip are all in; and when a coal depot is established for her hereafter at Honolulu, so that she need carry only fuel enough for half the voyage, she can take two or three hundred tons more. Her principal officers all served in the war. Captain Godfrey and the Chief mate, Baxter, were both in our navy, and Sanford, the Chief Engineer, has seen a great deal of service. He held his commission as Chief Engineer in the navy for sixteen years, and was in seven battles in the Mexican war, and six during the rebellion - a very good record. Hite, the Purser, served under General Sherman, in the Paymaster's department, with the rank of Captain.


The Ajax has a "harp" engine, laid horizontally, so as to be entirely below the water line a judicious arrangement, in view of the ship's intended duty originally, in a service where cannon balls and shells would pelt her, instead of the rain showers of the Pacific. The horizontal engine takes up much less room than when placed in an upright position; it packs as closely as sardines in a box and gives the ship a good deal of extra space for freight and passengers. Every portion of the Ajax's engine and fire rooms is kept in perfect neatness and good order by the Chief's crew of 18 men.

In this place I would drop a hint of caution to all romantic young people who yearn to become bold sailor boys and ship as firemen on a steamer. Such a berth has its little drawbacks - in conveniences which not all the romance in the world can reconcile one to. The principal of these is the sultry temperature of the furnace room, where the fireman, far below the surface of the sea and away from the fresh air and the light of day, stands in a narrow space between two rows of furnaces that flame and glare like the fires of hell, and shovels coal four hours at a stretch in an unvarying temperature of 148 degrees Fahrenheit! And yet how the people of Honolulu growl and sweat on an uncommonly warm day, with the mercury at 82 degrees in the shade and somewhere in the neighborhood of 100° in the sun! Steamer firemen do not live, on an average, over 5 years.


It is a matter of the utmost importance to the United States that her trade with these islands should be carefully fostered and augmented. Because - it pays. There can be no better reason than that. In actual revenue California is a burden to the country; she always falls behind; she always leaves a deficit at the end of the year to be made up by the nation; she never yields revenue enough to support the Government establishments within her borders. In contrast with this, the Sandwich Islands, which cost the United States but little, have paid her, in customs, as high as $400,000 in gold coin in a single year! duties paid upon sugar, etc., received in American ports and subtracted from the profits of the producer here. I will give the figures. They were compiled by the late N. Lombard Ingals, Secretary of the San Francisco Board of Brokers, regarded as one of the best accountants and financial statisticians that ever visited these islands. The following estimate is for 1864:

Coffee, 14,854 lbs., duty 5c per lb. - $ 742.70

Molasses, 259,469 gals., duty 8c per gal. - 23,757.52

Pulu, 664,600 lbs. (at 7c per lb., $46,522), at 20 per cent. - 9,304.40

Salt, 308,000 lbs., at 18c per 100 lbs. - 554.40

Sugar, 885,957 lbs., at 3c average duty. - 265,558.71

Rice, 337,978 lbs., at 2 1/2c per lb. - 9,449.45

Unenumerated, at least - 2,000.00

Being for San Francisco alone, fully - $311,367.18

Mr. Ingals then adds sugar and molasses sent to Portland, Oregon, the same year, on which $40,000 duties were paid, making over $350,000 paid in revenues to the United States for Sandwich Island products on the Pacific coast alone.

Mr. Ingals then says: "The Eastern vessels' cargoes consist mostly of oil transhipped from American whalers, and therefore duty free - the balance of their cargoes are hides, wool and sundries. I think it would be safe to estimate that the whole of them did not pay over $50,000 to the Custom house."

You will acknowledge that a trade which pays so well, albeit with no risk and small expense to the United States, ought to be encouraged, extended and irrevocably secured. There are two ways of doing this: Let Congress moderate the high duties some what; secondly - let the Islands be populated with Americans. To accomplish the latter, a steamer is indispensable. The sailing vessels can carry freight easily enough, but they [are] too slow and uncertain to build up the passenger trade from which immigration and permanent settlement here must naturally result. In California people are always pressed for time; it is only a few scattering idlers and pleasure seekers who can look serenely upon such an appalling sacrifice of precious hours as a tedious voyage of three weeks hither in a baffled and buffeted sailing vessel and a return trip occupying four or five weeks. But businessmen and capitalists would run down here by the steamer when they knew the sea voyage could be ciphered down to days and hours be fore starting - and a short number of days at that. And with the influx of capital would come population, and then I could not ride over mile after mile of fertile soil (as I did yesterday) without seeing half a dozen human habitations.


An important question to be considered is how a steamer is to be made to pay during the year or two that she is populating the islands, doubling their productions and establishing a profitable trade for herself (for more than one-half of the export trade is now in the hands of the sailing vessels, secured to them by joint ownership in ships and plantations, by long time contracts for transportation, and by advance money to planters), and will remain so for some time. The legitimate way to establish a steamer on a paying basis from the first is to give her a Government subsidy of fifty or a hundred thousand dollars a year for carrying the mails, and subtract it from the $500,000 a year appropriated for the China Mail Company, which is to begin business the first of next January. The latter company will either let a sub-contract to the Ajax, or else put a small steamer of their own into the Honolulu trade - probably the former.

The China steamer will be a 5,000 ton vessel; the Ajax is 2,000 tons burden. Neither of them can enter here except in broad daylight, so narrow and crooked and shallow is the channel. The harbor is so small that it cannot accommodate more than two hundred vessels comfortably, and so narrow that a large ship cannot be handled freely in it. It is not much wider than the river at Sacramento - a section of your river a mile and a half long opposite Sacramento would afford an ampler harbor than this. For half a mile a ship coming in winds about through a channel as crooked as a dog's hind leg, and marked by long lines of upright posts on either side, and in this channel there is not good room enough for two ships to pass abreast.

The great China mail steamer can not enter this port. She will draw too much water - there is only about twenty-two feet on the bar. If she arrived here at dusk she would have to lie at anchor outside the harbor all night and exchange mails by small boats in the morning - that is, in fair weather. In the stormy season - in the season of the terrible Kona she might have to lie there for five or six days. The China mail steamer will be at sea from thirty-five to forty days on a round trip. With her provisions and sixty or seventy tons of coal a day, and other expenses, if she gets off with an outlay of $1,500 a day, while under way, she will do well. Honolulu is clear out of her way, both going and coming. Leaving San Francisco she would naturally come down until a little below the thirtieth parallel, to get the benefit of "the trades," but from thence to Honolulu, nine degrees further south, would be all lost time to her. Returning, she would leave Shanghae [sic] and bend around north till above the fortieth parallel, to get the west winds, and then if she had no destination but San Francisco she could go straight across with a spanking breeze all the way - but that not being the case she would make use of the west wind a great part of the voyage, I suppose, and then take in a lot of no longer useful canvas and come straight down south a matter of twenty degrees, land at Honolulu, and then sail north again about seventeen, to get to San Francisco. Thus, you see, she will come out of her course, outward bound, over five hundred miles, to strike Honolulu; returning, she will come out of her course 1,200 altogether, full 1,700 miles every trip more than she would have to make if she left the islands out of her voyage. The Ajax is considered fast; the greatest day's run she made this trip, with the wind exactly right and every rag of canvass set and drawing, was about 300 miles. On several other occasions she did not make over 200. So, to allow the China ship the very liberal average speed of 275 miles a day (250 would be nearer right), she must lose over six days every voyage if she comes to Honolulu; she will fool away at least one day here, each way - eight days altogether; expense for a year, $144,000. It cannot be done any cheaper by the China mail steamer. The Ajax can do it for a great deal less, and the China company would make money by sub-letting the contract to her. The China steamer will certainly never perform the Sandwich Island part of her contract with the Government; that portion will unquestionably be executed by some other steamer, and so, why not turn it over to the Ajax, and thus secure to the country the benefits that must accrue to it from the permanent establishment of a San Francisco and Honolulu steamship line?

I am not particular whether the Ajax owners continue her in this trade or not, but I would like to see some steamer line established on this route, and I only speak of the Ajax in this connection because she has already gained a good footing, and because she is owned by a company which has the confidence of the public and is financially able to carry out a project of this kind in a good and satisfactory manner, and because, further, if the China company put a small steamer of their own in this trade they will not be likely to do it for a year to come, and a twelvemonth is a good deal of time to lose.


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