Pacific Line


The correct name of the company was Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSNC). Its formation was the result of the enterprise of an American, William Wheelwright who settled in Valparaiso, Chile in 1828. The unusual geography of Chile (today it is 4,300 km long with a maximum width of 180 km) on the western coast of South America made seaborne communication essential for the country that had only achieved its independence in 1818. It was clear to Wheelwright and to the Chilean Government, that because of the uncertain wind patterns along the Pacific Coast, only steamers could provide a reliable service. In 1835, the Chilean Government granted Wheelwright exclusive rights to steam navigation in its waters for a period of 10 years.

Wheelwright experienced considerable difficulties in establishing a steamship company, despite the additional support given in 1836 by a committee of Peruvian merchants. Fortunately the British Government provided considerable support for Wheelwright in the new western republics and actively promoted the idea of a railway across Panama. As Wheelwright had been unable to get American backers, he sought finance in London and PSNC was formed in 1838. It was not until 1840 however, that a Royal Charter was granted, which enabled the new company to raise money from the general public. The logistics of the enterprise were formidable. The company had to develop a new class of ship – the coastal passenger liner – and sail these small vessels to the Pacific; transport coal; provide crews; create maintenance facilities and operate in an area that was virtually uncharted. The first two 682 ton paddle steamers opened a service from Valparaiso to Callao (Peru) at the end of 1840 and by 1846 the service reached Panama. This service was connected overland to Royal Mail S P Co's Southampton – Colon service, enabling Valparaiso to be reached in 40 days, compared with 4 months by sailing ship around Cape Horn.

The finances of the company were parlous during the first 10 years of its operation, but by 1851 it had local mail contracts and in 1852 obtained a British Government Mail Contract to operate a fortnightly service from Valparaiso and Panama. The financial health of PSNC further improved in 1854 when the Panama Railway was opened and from the savings from the company pioneering the use of more fuel efficient compound engines from 1856. When the company reached its twentieth anniversary in 1860 it had a fleet of 12 steamers in operation. Its ambitions grew with its success and in 1865 the PSNC charter was amended to extend its area of operations. At the end of 1867 the shareholders agreed to establish a new service from Liverpool to Valparaiso via the Straits of Magellan. The new service began in 1868 and was an immediate success, which resulted in it being extended northwards to Peru and in 1873 it was operated on a weekly basis. To maintain its new services PSNC employed 22 steamships in its Atlantic fleet, plus 35 steamships in its Coastal fleet. The combined total made PSNC the largest steamship company in the world. Unfortunately the fleet proved to be far too big for the available traffic and in 1874 the service was reduced to fortnightly, leaving the company with 11 ships laid-up in Liverpool. Fortunately Anderson, Anderson & Co and F Green & Co had joined forces to launch a service to Australia and they entered into an arrangement to employ most of the surplus vessels, as described in the Orient Line history.

In 1879 Chile went to war with Bolivia and Peru, which lasted for four years and completely disrupted the PSNC operations. The company only survived because of its income from the Australian service. The South American trade recovered slowly after the war and the pattern of trade changed, leading PSNC to introduce its first cargo ships in 1893.

In 1905 Royal Mail bought the PSNC shareholding in Orient Line and its interests in the Australian trade. In 1910 PSNC was itself acquired by Royal Mail. From this point onwards PSNC began to decline. The Argentine-Chile railway was opened in 1910, greatly reducing traffic on the Magellan route, but the greatest adverse change was the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. This coincided with most of the PSNC ships being taken up for the war effort, leaving a vacuum that American shipowners and traders were able to exploit to divert trade to the US East Coast.

In 1922 Chile introduced regulations exclusively protecting its coastal trade for its national vessels, with Peru following in 1928, so that the PSNC coastal services had to be abandoned. The company was severely hit by the Depression of the early 1930s and the entire Royal Mail financial empire collapsed in 1931. PSNC became an independent company again, operated under the control of its creditors, until it was repurchased in 1938 by a restructured Royal Mail Lines.

During WW2, US shipping companies, especially Grace Line further increased their influence and by 1951 PSNC was down to 17 ships and by the end of the decade 10 ships, plus two tankers under construction.

Royal Mail Lines (including PSNC) was taken over by Furness Withy in 1965 and by 1984 PSNC had disappeared.


Vessel Type Launched/Completed Tonnage DWT Builder
Cotopaxi Cargo / Passenger 635,970 G. 22/12/1953. Yard No: 1496 Gross: 8559 Net: 4552 11430 Wm. Denny & Bros. Ltd. Dumbarton
Cuzco Cargo / Passenger 754,249 G. June 1951. Yard No: 339 Gross: 8038 Net: 4586 11465 Blyth Drydock & Shipbuilders Co.Ltd. Blyth
Eleuthera No Info
Flamenco Cargo 619,300 G. Dec 1950. Yard No: 474 Gross: 8491 Net: 4504 11125 Greenock Dockyard Co.
George Peacock Cargo 17/03/1961. Yard No: 1626 Gross: 18863 Net: 11110 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Kenuta Cargo / Passenger 619,300 G. Aug 1950. Yard No: 473 Gross: 8494 Net: 4501 11100 Greenock Dockyard Co.
La Paz Cargo / Passenger 462,000 G. 1920 Gross: 6548 Net: 4052 9200 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Lagarto Cargo / Passenger 500,000 G. 17/05/1917. Gross: 5075 Net: 3208 9600 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Laguna Cargo / Passenger July 1923. Gross: 6469 Net: 4033 9310 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Lautaro Cargo / Passenger 500,000 G. 1915 Gross: 6240 Net: 3950 9600 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Lobos Cargo / Passenger 462,000 B. 1921 Gross: 6479 Net: 3997 9200 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Loreto Cargo / Passenger 480,000 G. July 1919. Gross: 6682 Net: 4105 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Glasgow
Loriga No Info
Orbita Cargo / Passenger 390,000 B. 07/07/1914. Gross: 15495 Net: 10140 12370 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Orbita No Info
Orcoma No Info
Orcoma Cargo 1966 Gross: 10300 Net: 3984 14614 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Orduna Cargo / Passenger 390,000 B. Sept 1913. Gross: 15507 Net: 9500 11400 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Orita Cargo / Passenger 15/11/1902. Yard No: 351 Gross: 9266 Net: 5824 11200 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Orita Cargo 596,825 G. Feb 1957. Yard No: 859 Gross: 6553 Net: 3372 9000 Bremer Vulkan, Vegesak
Oropesa Passenger 09/12/1919. Gross: 14075 Net: 8616 14000 Cammell, Laird & Co. Ltd. Birkenhead
Oroya Passenger 16/12/1920. Gross: 12257 Net: 7380 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Oroya Cargo April 1978. Gross: 9015 Net: 5529 Lithgows Ltd. Port Glasgow
Ortega Passenger 22/03/1906. Yard No: 376 Gross: 7970 Net: 4519 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Oruba Passenger 1904??
Pizarro Cargo / Passenger 621,076 G. 20/05/1955. Yard No: 485 Gross: 8564 Net: 4556 Greenock Docyard Co.
Potosi Cargo / Passenger 621,076 G. 23/02/1955. Yard No: 484 Gross: 8564 Net: 4556 11090 Greenock Docyard Co.
Reina Del Pacifico Cargo / Passenger 340,000 G. 23/09/1930. Gross: 17707 Net: 10720 9910 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Salamanca Cargo / Passenger 627,880 G. March 1948. Yard No: 1358 Gross: 8610 Net: 5142 9925 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Salaverry Cargo / Passenger 628,440 G. 02/04/1946. Yard No: 1193 Gross: 8590 Net: 5120 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Salinas Cargo / Passenger 627,880 G. 07/03/1947. Yard No: 1357 Gross: 8610 Net: 5142 9959 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Sarmiento Cargo 63,315 G. 17/08/1943. Yard No: 1157 Gross: 8364 Net: 4998 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Samanco Cargo / Passenger 633,150 G. Aug 1943. Yard No: 1156 Gross: 6263 Net: 3672 9869 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Santander Cargo 628,440 G. May 1946. Yard No: 1192 Gross: 8550 Net: 5093 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Somer's Isle Cargo 383,590 G. July 1959. Yard No: 1622 Gross: 5684 Net: 3033 7335 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast
Walsingham No Info
William Wheelwright Cargo 15/01/1960. Yard No: 1574 Gross: 31320 Net: 19152 46400 Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast

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