A Hawai’ian Holiday in 1937 – By Madeleine Seed
Recently while working on updating the Vancouver Maritime Museum artifact catalogue I have stumbled across a most interesting collection of objects. It was donated to the VMM in the summer of 2004 and contains a number of items related to a holiday cruise the donor took to Hawai’i in 1937. The donor was inspired to take this trip after listening to a program about Hawai’i on the KSL Radio Station, a station that originated in 1922 and still broadcasts to this day in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The holiday journey began on Thursday July 8th, 1937 in Vancouver, boarding the R.M.S Monowai. This ship was part of the All Red Route of the Canadian Australasian Line Ltd. which was jointly operated by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, Ltd. and the Canadian Pacific. The route had stops in Honolulu (Hawai’i), Suva (Fiji), Auckland (New Zealand), and finally Sydney (Australia). At the time $100 was enough to cover a roundtrip from Vancouver to Honolulu. Based on the stamped date on the Immigration and Identification card, the journey ended on July 31st, 1937 when the donor returned to Canada aboard the R.M.S. Niagara, another ship within the Canadian Australasian Line Ltd.
This collection of objects includes a souvenir R.M.S. Niagara leather wallet containing a deck of cards, a souvenir R.M.S. Niagara kisbee ring, a dinner menu for July 11th, 1937, a passenger list for the R.M.S. Monowai, a used Canadian Australasian Line luggage sticker, a copy of the NIAGARA NEWS, a Canadian Australasian Line luggage tag, a Canadian Immigration and Identification card, and two Canadian Pacific Steamship envelopes. On one of these envelopes the results of a round of Cameroon, a dice game similar to Yahtzee, is written inside.
A passage upon popular vessels, such as the R.M.S Monowai or the R.M.S. Niagara, would be seen as more than a means of travel. Sometimes passengers would travel for the sake of the large social events that occurred onboard and the overall prestige that accompanied such endeavours. On land, local newspapers would sometimes provide a special social news section which often gave details of the movements of citizens who were well known in the public eye. The names of the ships they sailed on were usually mentioned and particular ships would gain a reputation for being held in high esteem in the eyes of the “high society”. Passenger lists were be published and kept by some as mementos. In our copy of the passenger list of the Monowai, the donor left notes scrawled upon the pages of names, possibly noting whom he travelled and interacted with.
The R.M.S. Niagara actually had its own wireless newspaper that was printed and published aboard ship by the Pacific Wireless Press Agency. In our collection’s copy of the July 27th, 1937 issue, several ads for hotels in the ports of call can be found on the pages as well as some of the current events going on in the world. The events would have been radioed in and then printed in the Niagara News for the passengers. Notices for events and activities onboard the ship were also printed in the paper as well as letters received by past or current travellers. One event noted in our edition is the “Fancy Dress Ball” that was to occur that Wednesday evening. Guests could win prizes for “Best Costume Brought on Board”, “Best Costume Made on Board”, “Most Original Costume” and “Best Sustained Character”. In this case it seems our donor won “Most Original Costume” due to a prize ticket being stapled to the newspaper page where the event is noted.
A Little More Background Information on the Ships:
R.M.S Monowai (II)
The R.M.S. Monowai (II), originally known as the S.S. Razmark, had several nicknames like “The Grand Old Lady of the Tasman" and the “Ugly Duckling of the Tasman Sea.” Though she was not known to be the most beautiful or luxurious ship, her years of faithful and dependable service made her a beloved New Zealand liner. The Monowai was owned by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (USSCo) which was founded in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1875. By 1914, the company's dominance in the world of New Zealand coastal and trans-Tasman trade earned it the nickname the “Southern Octopus”. The R.M.S. Monowai was purchased and refitted to replace the R.M.S. Tahiti, which foundered after breaking a tail shaft. In 1960, the ship was sold to the Far Fast Metal Industry Company of Hong Kong for £165,000 and was broken up.
R.M.S. Niagara (II)
Originally the ship was solely owned by the Union Steam Ship Co of New Zealand, but the R.M.S. Niagara (II) was later co-owned by the USSCo and Canadian Pacific in 1931. Under the new co-ownership the line name was changed from the Canadian Australasian Royal Mail Line to the Canadian Australasian Line. She was then owned by the Canadian Australasian Line until 1940 when she struck a mine and sank in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. The mine was laid by the German auxiliary cruiser Orion (HSK-1). At the time of its sinking, the Niagara was carrying a large, secret shipment of gold from the Bank of England as payment for munitions supplies to the United States of America, who at that point had not yet entered the Second World War.