Pioneering Steamships and Companies of OTHER NATIONS Sailing to China


List of Steamships Acquired by Japan up to 1870 (1857)

Pacific Mail S.S. Co. (1867)

Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co. (1871)

Kiodo Unyu K.K. (1883)

Australian Oriental Line (1912)

Illustrated Evolution of Blue Funnel Mainline Ships to China

Our next section deals with some  pioneering steamship companies of the United States, Japan, Indochina and Southeast Asia which played an important role in the development of steam navigation in China and were often seen in Chinese ports.  The Australian and Hong Kong-flag Australian Oriental Line is also included. 

List of Steamships Acquired by Japan up to 1870-A primary reason why the United States forced the opening of Japan to the outside world in 1858 was its strategic location for transpacific steam voyages, especially for coaling.  As a reactive and protective measure, the Tokugawa government and the Han (clan) Daimyo strongholds then very actively acquired steamships both old and new. The ships - usually armed with modern guns - strengthened the Daimyo and helped lead to the Meiji Restoration. The late T.M. Milne researched and published a List of Steamships Acquired by Japan up to 1870, of which many had been in service on the China coast.  Mr Milne was a correspondent of both Howard and Stephen, and sought Stephen's assistance in disseminating his work in Japan. While the late Goro Yamataka published some of Milne's work in tabular form, it has tended to be forgotten. The PDF at right therefore revives Milne's studies, with a few additions which are clearly marked, mainly in the form of illustrations.  The steamship below, which would have flown the newly introduced Japanese national flag in China on her delivery voyage, is the sloop-of-war NISSHIN, completed at Dordrecht for the Hizen Han in 1869 (Umi to Sora 6/58).

Pacific Mail S.S. Co.-The first regular steamship service across the Pacific was one commenced from Sydney to Panama in June 1866, but this was soon followed by a service started by the major U.S. operator, Pacific Mail S.S. Co. from San Francisco to Yokohama and Hong Kong in January 1867.  The Peabody Museum image below shows the COLORADO after she arrived in Hong Kong that month. To supplement this service, at the same time, Pacific Mail introduced a Branch Line from Yokohama to Nagasaki and Shanghai. The second photograph, taken by Felix Beato at Nagasaki in 1871, shows the Shanghai route feeder ships COSTA RICA (l.) and OREGONIAN (r.). An illustrated fleet list of the Pacific Mail steamers that served Japan and China up until the 1920s  (but not other routes) is in the PDF at right.

Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co.-In Japan a merchant from the Tosa Han, Iwasaki Yataro began to build up Japan's largest fleet of steamships from about 1870, which came to be known as the Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co., the first company in the now world-famous Mitsubishi conglomerate. Cooperating closely with the Japanese government, in January 1875 Mitsubishi commenced a four-ship service to Shanghai with the aim of closing down the Pacific Mail Branch Service which was, in effect a cross trade, an outside line that was not operated by Chinese or Japanese ships.  Mitsubishi soon won this battle and purchased the four Pacific Mail Branch Line ships.  In 1876 year P.&O. commenced a two-ship branch line between China and Japan but this effort too was defeated by Mitsubishi.  Shown below is Mitsubishi's TAKASAGO MARU (formerly P&O's DELTA) at London where it was sent in 1877 for a training cruise and major reconstruction (Nautical Photo Agency). An undergraduate thesis by Stephen in 1972, particularly analysing interactions between the Japanese government and Mitsubishi is in the first PDF at right. His detailed illustrated fleet list of Mitsubishi, kindly checked and updated by the late T.M. Milne, and a bibliography are in the second PDF at right.


Kiodo Unyu K.K.-In the early 1880s a new company, Kiodo Unyu K.K. was formed in Japan to challenge the Mitsubishi monopoly with major shareholdings by Mitsui and the Japanese government.  It also ran a four-ship service between Japan and Shanghai. An illustrated fleet list of its steamships is in the PDF at right.  The combination of the Milne, Mitsubishi and Kiodo lists covers 80-90% of all major Japanese steamships until the establishment of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha in 1884 and the merger of Mitsubishi and Kiodo into Nippon Yusen Kaisha in 1885, companies which are well recorded.  We note that histories of individual Japanese merchant ships and companies from around that time until the present day are recorded at Fumio Nagasawa's website - the third clickable item  船名索引  accesses the alphabetical list.


The below photograph of Kiodo Unyu's largest ship, YAMASHIRO MARU, with a sail furled on a forward yard, was taken in Sydney Harbour by the photographer Alfred William Buchanan Dufty (1858–1924).  The Royal Navy ensign on the foremast signifies that the vessel is headed for a British port, and possibly that the British master is qualified as a Royal Navy officer. The houseflag on the mainmast is that of Nippon Yusen Kaisha, formed by the merger, each of two red stripes signifying one of the companies in the merger.





The Australian Oriental Line, a rather small concern, ran a passenger and cargo service from Australia to Chinese and Japanese ports from 1912 until 1961.  The two photographs below taken by Lindsay Rex show one of the last two ships, CHANGTE, arriving in a wintry Hobart, Tasmania in July 1960.  A full fleet list of AOL ships may be found in the PDF at right.
























The Evolution of Blue Funnel Mainline Ships to China


We have included in the SEA section a list of the feeder ships of the Blue Funnel Line. Below is an early photograph at Shanghai and following are photos of a few 1950s and 1960s mainline Blue Funnel (and affiliate Glen Line) ships with views after some of the vessels were acquired by China-based and Hong Kong-based owners.  First is a late-1880s section of a photographic panorama of Shanghai by Kung Tai, taken from Pootung. This section shows Hongkew across the Whangpoo and what appear to be no less than three Blue Funnel steamers, identifiable by tall masts and pale funnels with black tops.













Following are closeups of two of the ships. The vessels were voyaging regularly from the United Kingdom through the Suez Canal (Dennis George Crow coll.).

















Next is DOLIUS of 1956, typical Blue Funnel cargo ship of the postwar period, and a direct descendant of the above 1880s ships, shown with reflection in a smooth sea. The vessel and her 8000 bhp diesel engines were built by Harland & Wolff Ltd. at Belfast in Northern Ireland (Andreas Hoppe@shipspotting)​.










The same ship on Chinese coastal service as ZHANDOU 51 ('Combat 51') of the Shanghai Maritime Bureau, following the fitting of new antennas and removal of three pairs of kingposts and two lifeboats (Donald Anderson).





Below is Glen Line's GLENLYON built in 1962 by the Nederlandsche Dockyard & Shipbuilding Company in Amsterdam and driven by then very powerful 18,000 bhp Sulzer diesel engines built at Winterthur in Switzerland (Andreas Hoppe@shipspotting).






Next is a sister ship FLINTSHIRE built by van der Giessen at Krimpen and owned by Glen Line and later the Blue Funnel Dutch subsidiary Nederlandsche Stoomvaart Mij. "Oceaan" B.V. (Ian Schiffman/SK*).



Another sister QING HE CHENG of COSCO, formerly GLENFALLOCH, can be seen below negotiating the bend in the Whangpoo in central Shanghai. The Hongkew district can be seen in the background, and can be compared with the black and white panorama photo above. This ship was constructed by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. at Govan (Ville de Tanya).  Photos follow of QING HE CHENG at Singapore ( and Hong Kong (Donald Anderson).









































Yet another sister was YANG CHENG of COSCO, formerly GLENOGLE also built by Fairfield at Govan seen below photographed at sea by Karsten Petersen using his Canon reflex.  Beneath are further photographs of YANG CHENG in the Thames (David Salisbury) and at Bangkok (
























PHRONTIS of the subsequent ‘Priam’ class was built in 1967 by Mitsubishi H.I. at Nagasaki as PEMBROKESHIRE. Sulzer engines built by the shipyard could develop 18,900 bhp (Chris Howell@shipspotting).










KWANGSI of the China Navigation Co. based in Hong Kong was formerly the ‘Priam’ class vessel RADNORSHIRE, built by Vickers at High Walker. Interesting variations can be seen when compared with PHRONTIS which had been completed eight months earlier (Mike Greene@shipspotting).



















Finally below is ORIENTAL IMPORTER of the Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line, formerly PROMETHEUS, one of four Vickers-built ‘Priam’ class ships which were lengthened and converted by their new owner to containerships (SK colln*).