Englishmen James and John Starkey and Robert Cheshire Janion founded Starkey, Janion, & Co, a trading company in Liverpool, in April 1845.
They chartered a vessel and filled it with general merchandise valued at $80,000; it set sail for Honolulu. On arrival Janion rented a room on Nuʻuanu Street near the waterfront and hung out a sign “Starkey, Janion & Co.”
Later the same year, he negotiated a lease for a Ka’ahumanu Street site from Kamehameha III for “only 299 years,” as he wrote to the Starkeys, since “this was the best I could do.” (It was part of the claim of former British Consul Richard Charlton.
The firm quickly prospered, thanks to the whaling trade and prosperity on the Pacific coast. Transactions with the Hawaiians were bartered, coins and gold dust with the whalers.
They soon had their own fleet of ships sailing the seas between Hawaiʻi, the West Coast and England. As agent for Lloyd’s of London, Janion began underwriting cargoes leaving Honolulu harbor, later introducing fire insurance into the Islands.
By 1851, Janion and the Starkeys parted company. In the following year, Janion left Hawaii to return to Liverpool; to succeed him in Honolulu, Janion appointed a fellow countryman named William Green, whom he had hired two years earlier.
Then in 1856 he persuaded a Welshman, 23-year-old Theophilus Harris Davies, to go out to Hawaiʻi as a clerk for Green under a five-year contract. Eventually the Janion-Green partnership was dissolved and Davies became Janion’s partner.
In 1876, Davies incorporated Honolulu Iron Works with Janion, Janion’s wife, Green’s mother and Alexander Young. Janion died in 1881, leaving Davies in control.
Davies proved himself an aggressive promoter, playing a key role in the organization of Hāmākua, Laupāhoehoe, Niuliʻi, Kaiwiki and Union Mill plantations on the Big Island. He was adept at raising capital in London and helped finance a total of 22-plantations during his career.
Years later, Davies was a stockholder with Young in the organization of von Hamm-Young Company, forerunner of The Hawaiʻi Corporation. Principals were Young’s son Archibald, and Conrad C. von Hamm. An early project was the Alexander Young Hotel.
Toward the end of his career, Davies divided his time between Honolulu and his Nuʻuanu home, Craigside, and England, where he maintained a home at Southport called Sunset in Hesketch Park. It was there that he served as guardian to Princess Kaʻiulani during her years in English schools.
Back in the Islands, his business was thriving despite political upheavals and sugar setbacks. In 1892, the company opened a steamship department as agent for Canadian-Australasian Line, which began service in that year. Later the department represented Canadian Pacific, Cunard and many others.
In 1893 grocery, dry goods and hardware departments were set up and the following year, when the company incorporated, a Hilo branch was opened. Four years later Davies died.
Formerly organized into merchandise, insurance and shipping departments, Theo H Davies set up subsidiaries for all its activities.
Merchandise lines are primarily heavy equipment: Pacific Machinery’s Caterpillar tractors, Hawaiian Fluid Power’s hydraulic lines, Stubenberg Company’s manufacturing of field equipment, Davies Building Materials, and Hilo Iron Works.
Inter-Island Equipment handled lighter lines such as lawn mowers and air compressors while Davies Brokerage handled some grocery lines. Davies Marine Agencies operated the former steamship department.
Davies Insurance Agencies acted for underwriters Janion represented. They also acquired EH Campbell Tire, Honolulu’s Goodyear Tire distributor, and Atlas Electric, electrical equipment distributor.
Davies expanded to the Philippines in 1928, opening a Manila branch. In the 1930s the company built up a heavy investment in four Philippine sugar plantations.
One of Hawaiʻi’s Big Five (Amfac – starting as Hackfeld & Company (1849;) Alexander & Baldwin (1870;) Theo H. Davies (1845;) Castle & Cooke (1851) and C. Brewer (1826,) Davies grew to be second only to Amfac in territorial wholesaling.
It operated Honolulu’s pioneer retail grocery chain, Piggly-Wiggly, until the mid-1950s; it was also involved with Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, the Mandarin, Mercedes and Jaguar.
For a time in the 1960s Davies operated a building materials subsidiary in Spain with headquarters at Madrid but back in Honolulu the parent company was barely treading water. In the late 1960s and early-70s the company closed or sold off the drugs, dry goods, hardware and contract furnishing departments.
Mergers and consolidations reduced the company’s Big Island sugar plantations from five to three. Profits in merchandising were meager and returns on plantation investments were low. The iron works affiliate was sold to a mainland buyer that retrenched its activities drastically.
In 1967 Dillingham Corp. made a tender offer for Davies stock to the company’s 200 stockholders in Hawaii and England; the bid for control failed. In 1972, the 22-story Davies Pacific Center replaced the former Davies corporate headquarters. In 1973, Jardine, Matheson & Co., based in Hong Kong, acquired Davies. (Lots of information here is from Greaney and Engle.)