Lorelei (Loreley) means lauern, “to lurk,” “be on the watch for,” and lai, “a rock” – also “murmuring rock.” The Lorelei is a rock in the Rhine River – it marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea.
Stories say that Lorelei was a maiden who threw herself into the Rhine in despair over a faithless lover, and became a siren whose voice lured boats to destruction.
A variant of Lorelei is Lurline – some ships carry her name.
William Matson had first come to appreciate the name in the 1870s while serving as skipper aboard the Claus Spreckels family yacht ‘Lurline’ out of San Francisco Bay.
Born in Sweden, Captain Matson (1849–1917) arrived in San Francisco in 1867, at the age of 16. There, he began sailing in San Francisco Bay and northern California rivers.
Captain Matson became acquainted with the Spreckels family and was asked to serve as skipper on the Spreckels’ yacht, Lurline. The Spreckels family later assisted Captain Matson in obtaining his first ship, the Emma Claudina.
In 1882, Matson sailed his three-masted schooner Emma Claudina from San Francisco to Hilo, carrying 300 tons of food, plantation supplies and general merchandise.
That voyage launched a company that has been involved in such diversified interests as oil exploration, hotels and tourism, military service during two world wars and even briefly, the airline business. Matson’s primary interest throughout, however, has been carrying freight between the Pacific Coast and Hawai‘i.
In 1887, Captain Matson sold the Emma Claudina and acquired the 150-foot brigantine Lurline from Spreckels – this was the first of several famous Matson vessels to bear the Lurline name.
Matson met his future wife, Lillie Low, on a yacht voyage he captained to Hawai‘i; the couple named their daughter Lurline Berenice Matson, she was their only child.
After Lurline was born, Captain Matson did not command a ship again, but the family often traveled on the Matson ships to Hawaiʻi, staying there for a month or more at a time.
During one of these trips, Lillie and Lurline created the Matson Navigation Company flag from old signal flag pieces; the design is a circle with a large “M” surrounded by seven stars depicting the seven ships then in the fleet.
Matson built a steamship named Lurline in 1908; one which carried mainly freight yet could hold 51 passengers, along with 65-crew. That steamer served Matson for twenty years, including a stint with United States Shipping Board during World War I.
The family bought a house near Mills College where they spent summers, and they would rent a house in San Francisco for the winter months. Lurline remembers her father as “strict and straight-laced.” Lurline commuted to the city with her father to attend Miss Hamlin’s, a private girl’s school, studying music and art.
In 1913, Lurline met Bill Roth, a young stockbroker in Honolulu; she and Roth were married in 1914. Roth sold his brokerage business and went to work for Matson Navigation Company in San Francisco.
In October 1916, Captain William Matson died at age 67. After his death, Bill Roth was named general manager and vice president of Matson Navigation Company.
The Roths lived in San Francisco. Their son, William Matson Roth, was born in September 1916. Identical twins, Lurline and Berenice, named for their mother’s first and middle names, were born in 1921. (Filoli)
By 1918, Hawaiʻi had 8,000 visitors annually and by the 1920s Matson Navigation Company ships were bringing an increasing number of wealthy visitors.
With growing passenger traffic to Hawai‘i, Matson built a world-class luxury liner, the SS Malolo (later christened the Matsonia,) in 1927. At the time, the Malolo was the fastest ship in the Pacific, cruising at 22 knots. Its success led to the construction of the luxury liners Mariposa, Monterey and Lurline between 1930 and 1932.
On December 27, 1932, the Lurline sailed on her maiden voyage from San Francisco to Australia via Los Angeles, Honolulu, Auckland, Pago Pago, Suva, Sydney and Melbourne.
This was the heyday of the great Matson Liners; passenger trains were adopted as “Boat Trains,” carrying passengers from New York and Chicago to connect in San Francisco with the liner sailings. (cruiselinehistory)
Matson’s famed “white ships” were instrumental in the development of tourism in Hawai‘i. Matson’s luxury ocean liner and its 650-wealthy passengers would be arriving in Honolulu every two weeks.
In 1927, Matson built the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and, in 1932, Matson bought the Moana. Matson’s Waikiki hotels provided tourists with luxury accommodations both ashore and afloat.
Immediately after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the passenger liners Lurline, Matsonia, Mariposa and Monterey, and 33 Matson freighters, were called to military service.
The post-war period for Matson was somewhat difficult. The expense of restoration work proved to be very costly and necessitated the sale of the Mariposa and Monterey, still in wartime gray. In 1948, the Lurline returned to service after a $20-million reconversion.
Later, Laurance Rockefeller encouraged his San Francisco friend, owner of shipping company, Lurline Matson Roth, to build a house next to the Mauna Kea property. (The Roth family also lived in Filoli, the property in Woodside, CA, now open to the public.)
The Lurline continued to provide first class-only service between Hawaiʻi and the American mainland from June 1957 to September 1962, mixed with the occasional Pacific cruise. In 1963, the Lurline was sold and resold (renamed Ellinis,) and later laid up in 1981 and scrapped in Taiwan in 1987. Matson was sold to Alexander & Baldwin in 1969.
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I sailed with my family from San Francisco to home in Hawaii in 1956. I remember playing bingo and hula lesson to ‘Hukilau’ on board, but what sticks out in my mind was how very rough the seas were when we left S.F. and how one by one, family members went back to the stateroom, leaving only my father and I to have dinner together at our table.
Nancy Schultz says
Had to laugh when I read this. We left Hawaii on the Lurline in 1969 in May or June to Sa n Francisco. I was sick first, then my sister and my Mother. My Father was the only one who did not get sick. He was a Col. in the Army. I was in 4th grade so do not remember much other than the Baked Alaska on the last night of the cruise.
Susan Stone Trumbull says
Most interesting story of the Lurline. My mother, brother and I moved to Oahu on the Lurline in Dec. of 1950. I found our names on the passenger list…..and were amused to find our later neighbors Don and
Kincaid were sailing on the same ship! Small world.
I am wondering what some of your sources were…..the Hey Day of the White Ships was in the mid 1950’s. The Mariposa was already sailing the loop to the southseas, New Zealand and Australia starting in SF to Hawaii and from there south. in 1957 the Monterey, refurbished after her war-time service to be the sister ship to the Mariposa made the same route. I know this because my dad, Capt. Mervyn C. Stone was her skipper beginning with her maiden voyage. Our family moved back to the mainland to be able to see him more often. I was one of the hula dancers dancing the Hukilau at age 15. mentioned in the previous comment. 😉 You may inspire me to put my Dad’s Matson papers together…..I hope. I will be happy to share them.
Jeremiah Hutchins says
Please email me I would lo e to share info on the s.s lurline… big island drop zone Jeremiah
Frances Charters says
A wonderful ship the Lurline and the Mariposa I remember my family from NY & SF sailing to visit us in Hawaii where I lived for years The streamers & divers for coins the flower leis It was so beautiful and you always cried for it would be such a long time till everyone would meet again. Aloha Oe always was played It was a wonderful time for everyone I remember you could go in the elevator Aloha Tower Thanks for the U tube shows I have some old photos from Brownie camera and video too Thanks Bring back the charm of the Islands Aloha & love to all Frances
Glenna C. Couts says
I was a Hilo High student asked to greet visitors to Hawaii at the dock in Hilo..and was then invited to have a lovely lunch on board…I have photos of that day and wonderful memories of a kinder gentler time…..