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.
|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|
|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|
|Orbita||Cargo / Passenger 390,000 B.||07/07/1914.||Gross: 15495 Net: 10140||12370||Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast|
|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|
|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|
|William Wheelwright||Cargo||15/01/1960. Yard No: 1574||Gross: 31320 Net: 19152||46400||Harland & Wolff Ltd. Belfast|