Headline: The Atlantic Transort Line 

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The S.S. China after the removal of two of her masts, presumably during the 1903 refit. (W.L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office)

S.S. China

Builder: Fairfield & Co., Glasgow
Launched June 29, 1889; maiden voyage November 23, 1889; broken up 1925
Hull: length: 320'; beam: 40'; 5,480 tons; steel; 3 decks; 4 holds; 4 masts
Power: single screw; engine by builder, triple expansion with cylinders of 40", 66", and 106", stroke 72"; 953 n.h.p.; steam pressure 120 lbs; bunker capacity 1,960 tons; 17 knots

 

This ship was built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and sailed on its San Francisco, Yokahama, and Hong Kong service. She was transferred to Hawaiian registry in 1897and was chartered for use as a military transport in the Pacific during the war with Spain in 1898, and was then registered in the United States. She had a major refit in 1903 and emerged with accommodation for 139 first class passengers, 41 second, and 347 "Asiatic."

The China arrived in the port of San Francisco just two days after the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906. The line's downtown offices and port facilities had been destroyed but after some frenzied improvisation China sailed on schedule on May 5.

In 1915, according to the New York Times, The Pacific Mail Steamship Company complained of "cumulative Government oppression through legislation" and began selling its fleet "owing to inability to compete with Japanese steamship lines in the Pacific trade under the La Follette Seaman's Law." The five largest steamers in the fleet (Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea, Siberia, and China) were sold to the Atlantic Transport Company of West Virginia in 1915 for $5,250,000 (although valued at $8,000,000) to replace wartime losses. Just $250,000 was paid for China. The International Mercantile Marine Company was in deep financial difficulty at the time, and a receiver had been appointed. The U.S. District Court gave permission for the purchase after accepting that it was impossible to have new ships built because of the war and these five vessels were needed to help restore the line's earning capacity.

In fact the China was not required for service, presumably because of her small size and considerable age, and she was sold on for a mere $275,000. By October of 1915 the China Mail Steamship Corporation of San Francisco was operating her under her original name. She was laid up in 1923 and went to the breakers in 1925.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; The Red Star Line and the International Mercantile Marine Company, Vernon E.W. Finch, Antwerp, 1988; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; The New York Times, August 14, 1915

A Pacific Mail Steamship Company depicting the China in her original form, with four masts and yards crossedThis brochure issued by the Panama Pacific Line c.1910-15 describes the ships and their service (Kinghorn)
Left: A Pacific Mail Steamship Company depicting the China in her original form, with four masts and yards crossed.
Right: This brochure issued by the Panama Pacific Line c.1910-15 describes the ships and their service (Kinghorn) Click for PDF document

S.S. China, from a Japanese tinted postcard (Kinghorn)
S.S. China, from a Japanese tinted postcard of c.1900 when she still had four masts (Kinghorn)

The S.S. China after the removal of two of her masts, presumably during the 1903 refit. (W.L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office)
The S.S. China after the removal of two of her masts, which was presumably done during her 1903 refit. (W.L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office)

 

For more information ...

Kinghorn "The Atlantic Transport Line 1881 - 1931" McFarland, 2011

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