From the Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, volume 1: Pacific Steam Navigation Company. Pacific Steam Navigation Co. (PSNC) was set up by royal charter in 1840 to run steamer services on the west coast of South America. William Wheelwright, an American master mariner and shipbroker with experience of operating steamers in South America, inspired its foundation, was appointed Chief Superintendent in 1840, and took overall control after a dispute with the original directors in 1843. PSNC successfully overcame all the problems of operating on a distant 4000-mile coastline with many navigational hazards and few facilities. It was quick to take up technical innovations such as iron hulls (1845) and compound engines (1856). After a dispute with the Panama Railway Co., it started a direct Liverpool Valparaiso service from 1868. By 1873 it had the biggest merchant steamer fleet in the world (fifty-seven vessels) but an over ambitious weekly Liverpool Callao timetable caused losses and cut backs in 1874 1875. In 1877 six of its laid up steamers were used on a new London Australia service in partnership with Anderson, Anderson and Co.; this became the Orient Line which was eventually sold to the Royal Mail group in 1906. The South American services continued to be its main focus and these were beset by local wars, leading to economic disruption, competition and the navigational hazards which led to a continual loss of ships. Nevertheless, it was able to maintain its strong position, helped by an extension of its charter and the modernisation of its fleet, which began to include larger luxury passenger liners such as the Orcoma ("the electric ship") of 1908. In 1910 the rapidly expanding Royal Mail bought PSNC, but it continued to operate separately with its existing policies.
In the First World War its ships served as transports, hospital ships and armed merchant cruisers; eleven were lost. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 intensified competition, especially with US lines to Ecuador, Peru and Chile. PSNC countered after the war by starting a New York-South America service and building five new motor cargo ships. In 1922 Chile decided to reserve its coastal trade, which was a major blow. The Royal Mail group collapsed in 1931 and PSNC was rescued. Apart from its 20,000-ton express passenger liner, Reina del Pacifico, its ships were slow, aging and reduced to a total of fourteen by 1938. Renewals, ordered in 1939, were held up by the outbreak of the Second World War. Five new ships were delivered between 1943 and 1948.
The new tonnage and an extended route with an increased number of calls at Caribbean ports saw a revival in the 1950s and early 1960s but jet aircraft reduced passenger traffic, while competition from subsidised national shipping lines affected cargo. In 1960 1961 two tankers were purchased. In 1965 PSNC and Royal Mail were bought by Furness Withy. Conventional cargo services were gradually phased out in favour of combi vessels and in 1983 a single container ship as part of a consortium. In 1980 Furness Withy, including PSNC, was taken over by Hong Kong shipowner C.Y. Tung and re sold to the German Oetker shipping group.
Some files may relate to a number of associated companies and it has not always been possible to distinguish each one precisely. The companies involved are Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSP), Furness Withy, Johnston Line, White Diamond Line, George Warren and Co. (Liverpool) Ltd. and Shaw Savill. Material which can be clearly identified as relating to the above companies will be found under that company's appropriate heading but cross referenced to the PSNC Archives, where it will continue to be kept.
For further details see the attached catalogue.