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SS Malolo visited Australia in October of 1929


Please Note: Photographs on this page are from the author’s collection unless otherwise mentioned.

The Matson liner SS Malolo was built by W. Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia in 1926. She was the first of a number of ships designed by William Francis Gibbs for Matson Line. SS Malolo was launched on June 26, 1926. Completed in May 1927, she departed on the 24thfor her sea trails. However the next day, whilst experiencing thick fog, she was located near the Nantucket Lightship a Norwegian vessel, SS Jacob Christensen collided with Malolo causing her to suffer substantial damage, with some 7,000-tons of water flooding her engine room. However, due to her advanced design and a high standard of safety features, such as having a double bottom and watertight bulkheads, she was kept afloat and was towed to New York where she entered dry-dock and was repaired and completed.

Finally she was completed and delivered to Matson Lines in October 1927, and on November 16, she departed San Francisco for her maiden voyage to Honolulu.

When built the Malolo was the largest and the most technically advanced liner of her time, and she was considered the most luxurious liner to have been built in the United States.

As the Malolo departed Honolulu during her maiden return voyage, Matson initiated the custom of passengers throwing their leis into the sea as the ship passed Diamond Head. The lei floating away would signify that the passenger would return again to the shores of Hawaii in the future.

Here we see the just completed SS Malolo

This luxury liner accommodated 457 First Class & 163 Cabin Class passengers in the ultimate comfort and style. Although not a large ship, she was spacious considering the passenger ratio. Public rooms in both classes were elegant with walls lined with fine timbers combined with subdued colours and luxuriously furnished. Malolo would be one of the first liners to have an indoor swimming pool, which became a popular and much spoken of feature of the ship. Accommodations were mostly outside, with just a few inside cabins. The vast majority had private facilities.

The First Class Main Lounge was a bright and certainly a most spacious room! Besides being beautifully furnished and carpeted, its walls were painted in beige tones with fireplaces and huge bay windows at both sides. The ceilings were given the feel of added height by a central dome as well as what appeared to be domes on both sides of the lounge, but were in fact more like deep frames, which was a very clever idea and it worked well!

The Smoking Room on the other hand was a very different story altogether as it was very much more a traditional style of venue and it had that rather British feel. Beautifully timber clad walls as well as an elegant fireplace with a mantle clock above. Once again it featured a central domed ceiling above with a timber feature and grand pillars dividing the room into sections. However, the furnishings being more casual with sofas and lounge chairs having light coloured floral patterned upholstery, tables with chequered tablecloths, and quaint timber chairs. Along all the walls there were wall light fittings that were delightful, as well as the ceiling lighting. And as is so typical of all Matson ships palms featured in all public venues!

Obviously the Main Restaurant is always one of the finest and highest venues of the First Class, as it tends to be on most Liners, and the Malolo would certainly not disappoint! The Restaurant was spacious, and it looked even more so, due to the heart of the venue was two decks high, with its grand dome featuring a superb light fitting in the middle as well as a large mural on one end and a bandstand at the other. The all marble black and white/grey floor looked rather spectacular, combined with the fine and elegant dark timber chairs. You can just imagine the superbly set tables with the best silver and fine porcelain and crystal glasses ready for a sublime evening meal!

This Artist impression shows SS Malolo as built with the traditional reddish brown Matson hull of those days

Externally the Malolo was what we might consider an average looking ship, having the traditional Matson reddish brown hull, white superstructure, with two masts, two tall yellow, black topped funnels with the traditional “M” Matson logos on them. However, what was extraordinary was that her lifeboats were slung low on her superstructure, something that would be changed 10 years later when she was greatly modernised. In the meantime making her more suited for the tropics as soon she would be heading for Australia on a regular basis, she received a minor refit and painted all white.

The Malolo is undergoing her “tropification” and will soon be an all white ship with plain yellow funnels with the blue “M” for Matson!


Here we see the Malolo in her new all white livery and she is ready for her new role cruising the Pacific to Asia and Australia

Although the Malolo continued the West Coast to Hawaii service she also undertook a number of longer cruises. She departed San Francisco on September 21, 1929, heading across the Pacific visiting Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand then down to Australia. Ports visited in Australia were Fremantle (Perth), Melbourne and Sydney. She then crossed the Tasman Sea to Auckland New Zealand, she then returned to San Francisco via Fiji, American Samoa and Hawaii.

Here we see the Malolo in Sydney on November 26, 1929

The menu shown below came from the estate of the famed silent screen star Billie Dove, whom apparently sailed to Hawaii with her husband Bob Kenestan. These menus are part of Paul Melzer’s collection and he kindly emailed these to me.

From the Paul Melzer’s collection 


From the Paul Melzer’s collection


From the Paul Melzer’s collection


Specifications - SS Malolo as built & 1937:

Built by: W. Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia.

Yard #: 509.

Tonnage: 17,232 GRT / 1937: 17,226 GRT.

Length: 582ft - 177.3m.

Width: 83ft - 25.4m.

Engines: Steam; Geared Turbines by the builders – 25,000 SHP.

Screws: Twin.

Service peed: 21 knots.

Passengers: 457 First Class & 163 Cabin Class.

1937: 693 First Class only.

SS Matsonia:

With the departure of an earlier Matson liner, the Matsonia, in 1937 Matson Lines decided to substantially rebuild the Malolo and rename her Matsonia. The work undertaken would greatly alter her overall appearance, as her life boats were relocated two decks higher. The deck where the lifeboats had been was fully enclosed, providing additional cabins including a number of the famed Matson “Lanai Suites.” The new boat deck included a much sought after promenade, popular in the warmer climates. In addition her older accommodations were vastly improved. Upon completion she looked stunning and had the appearance of a much larger ship, although she now registered at 17,226 GRT. SS Matsonia looking much like a new ship continued to sail between San Francisco and Honolulu until 1941.

A postcard of the SS Matsonia released just after her 1937 rebuilding

On November 21, 1941, Matsonia was requisitioned by US Navy to be deployed as a troop transport ship. She received a hurried transformation in order to transport up to 3,000 troops and departed San Francisco on December 5 bound for the Philippines with troops. However, due to the attack on Pearl Harbour Matsonia was turned back “and zigzagged home to San Francisco” according Sam Fox who was on board. There she was loaded with weaponry and other needs for the war zone, as well as some 3,280 troops.

The USS Matsonia is seen here ready to depart from San Francisco in 1943

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph – NH 89859

She departed San Francisco once again with her hurried refit as a trooper being completed on December 16, 1941 and headed for Honolulu in convoy that includsed her two newer sisters, the Monterey and the Lurline. For the duration of the war she transported troops around the Pacific and also made a good number of calls to Australia.

Passenger Stories:

A Voyage to Brisbane Australia:

Mr. W. F. Beseler wrote me and told me his story:

“I sailed on the Matsonia on my last trip as a USMMCC Cadet to and from Brisbane Australia with some retuning servicemen and also some war brides. She was a vast change from my previous ship, the Grace Line Santa Elisa, but comparing the two would be apples and rice! Capt. Frank Johnson was the master, and a gentleman by the name of Borthen was chief officer, and a Schurz (sp) was first mate.

I was told that the Hawaiians were snubbed by the name “Malolo” meaning “flying Fish” and had put a curse on her resulting in the mishap and the loss of some of her fantail, I don't know if this tale is true!

Later on they had lifted her lifeboats up on “Lanai (Boat) Deck,” which some claim gave her a little less stability in weather and some dubbed her “rollolo.” I can attest to her roll, she took a pretty good roll, and then just momentarily hung there; it seemed like a long time! Cadets didn't have a lot to do on Matsonia, polishing brass and the like. On 12 to 4 watch my job was to wind all the bulkhead clocks, and then one of the cooks, who had been a pastry chef in one of the big hotels, would make me a sumptuous breakfast!

We stopped at Pago Pago on both tracks to Brisbane, all went ashore for souvenirs. On the return we ran into a bad storm in the trough you could just see the next wave at eye level, too young and dumb to be scared! A stevedore strike in San Francisco made us detour to Seattle, so we journeyed up the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I'm not sure that we had a pilot, but Capt. Johnson had good control of her, and we spent about a month there. Since the war was over, some of us cadets decided to call sea life a day and left her at that time. She was a great ship and especially good food always. Excellent officers! W. F. Beseler.”

Tony Prince was just six years old when he sailed on the Matsonia from San Francisco departing on October 6, 1945, arriving in Brisbane Australia on October 22. He said;

“I was on this voyage with my father to join family in Australia. I understand it was not a scheduled voyage however I have a copy of the passenger list to substantiate it. I well remember sailors tossing ammunition overboard during the trip. Gun tubs were still in place along the decks and the ship still wore her wartime grey colour scheme. After all, the Pacific War had only been over for a very short time and she was still under US Navy command.”

In 1946, she was decommissioned and it is estimated that she transported over 176,000 persons, that is troops, war brides as well as other civilians.

She was returned to Matson in April 1946 and was given a massive refit returning her to her old beautiful self in order that she could resume her passenger services. She departed San Francisco on May 22, 1946 and remained on the Hawaii service at first.

Here is another fine photo of the Matsonia whilst at sea

Marshall Earl Wilcox and his wife Gladys Olivia boarded the Matsonia in December 1946 for a cruise, which according to their daughter Dawn was greatly enjoyed. From the cruise they collected a series of superb menus that survive to this day and we are pleased to present scans that their daughter Dawn Sandner has kindly sent me.

Four superb menu covers from Mr & Mrs Wilcox’s cruise on the Matsonia in 1946

This set of images was kindly provided to us by Dawn Sandner (USA), daughter of Mr & Mrs Wilcox


A View of the interior of one of the menus



As you can see from all four covers the colours are vivid and the art work is simply superb!








A postcard of the Matsonia seen berthed at Pier 10 at Honolulu around 1946/47

Finally the Matsonia was laid up to be sold in April 1948, and another Matsonia, the ex Lurline, Monterey –that had been built in 1932 would continue the name and service but later in 1956. That particular ship would later become the Greek Chandris liner HMS Britanis.

SS Atlantic:

She is seen here as the Home Lines - SS Atlantic


Here is a fine view of the Home Lines Atlantic stern

Soon Matsonia was sold to the Mediterranean Line, being the Panamanian flagged subsidiary of famed Home Lines and she was given the name Atlantic. She was sent to the Ansaldo shipyards in Genoa to be refitted. When completed she was registered at 15,602 GRT and now accommodated 283 First Class, 224 Cabin Class and 735 Tourist Class passengers. Except for the additional lifeboats and the Home Line logo on her funnels, externally she was basically unaltered.

Another black and white photo of the SS Atlantic

SS Atlantic Departed Genoa on May 14, 1949, on her maiden voyage to New York, sailing via Naples and Barcelona. She continued this service until 1952 when she commenced on the Southampton, Canada service sailing via Le Havre. During the winter months, like so many other ships, she operated cruises from New York to the Caribbean.

RHMS Queen Frederica:

Renamed Vasilissa Friederiki she was now part of the National Hellenic American Line fleet

In January 1955 SS Atlantic was transferred to the newly formed National Hellenic American Line (a Home Lines subsidiary) and renamed SS Vasilissa Friederiki being Greek for Queen Frederica. However, only the English version of the name was ever used on her bow, with the Greek lettering appearing on her stern. She was refitted and her glazed lower Promenade Deck was now fully plated in, making room for additional cabins. She was now able to accommodate 132 First Class, 116 Cabin Class as well as 931 Tourist Class passengers. She departed Piraeus on January 29, 1955 for Naples, Palermo, Halifax and New York and remained on this service with various variations. However, she departed Naples on December 15, 1958 bound for Australia laden with Italian migrants. Australian ports visited were Fremantle (Perth), Melbourne and Sydney, returning to Europe via the same ports but her destination was Piraeus.

The Queen Frederica is seen after her refit in Piraeus on January 29, 1955


A postcard of the RHMS Queen Frederica in her new Chandris livery

Towards the end of 1960 she was given a major refit and partial rebuilt, which saw her after superstructure extended. When completed she was registered at 21,239 GRT, accommodating 174 First and 1,005 Tourist Class passengers.

Canadian John Tee sailed on the Queen Frederica as a deck hand from November 1961 through to March 1962. He told me that “they sailed the usual Piraeus, Naples, Messina, Palermo, Gibraltar, Halifax, New York and returning to Piraeus, whilst in February 1962 we operated four round voyages NY, New York, Nassau, Bahamas and return.” Thereafter she commenced and remained on the Cuxhaven, Canada service until November 1965.

She became much loved in Australia and New Zealand as the Chandris liner lovingly known as the - “Queen Fred”

In November 1965 she was sold to Dimitri Chandris Piraeus (Chandris Lines), but was registered for Themistocles Nav, S.A. Featuring the traditional Chandris blue and black topped funnel with a large white X (being the Greek for CH) Queen Frederica departed Piraeus on December 10, 1961 bound for Australia. Upon her return to Greece, instead of continuing on the Australia service Chandris decided to place her on the Piraeus to New York service, with cruises in the winter months.

She made a round trip from Southampton to Australia in October 1966 (then registered at 16,435 GRT) and made a number of cruises before returning to Europe.

1966 Sailing schedule & Deck Plan

She returned to Australia again in 1967, again undertook several cruises during the summer and finally departed Australian waters for the last time in March 1969.

Queen Frederica is seen here berthed in Fremantle (Perth) in 1967.

Sovereign Cruises:

Upon her return to Europe in late in April, she operated cruises around the Mediterranean. In June an U.K. organisation named Sovereign Cruises signed a contract to operate a twelve month series of Mediterranean cruises to commence in September that year, which would conclude in September 1971.

A postcard when she was under charter to Sovereign Cruises

At the conclusion of the charter it Chandris decided that the old faithful ship, RHMS Queen Frederica would be laid up on the River Dart on September 22. Then in June 1972 Queen Frederica sailed under her own power to Piraeus where she was laid up, but it was suddenly decided to give her yet another refit, she was chartered by Blue Seas Cruises and operated another popular series of Mediterranean cruises out of Palma de Mallorca in the warmer months from April to November 1973. But the conclusion of this charter she was laid up once again at Piraeus for now there was little to no work available for this fine old ship and she remained there until 1977.

Still looking splendid, the old girl - Queen Frederica is seen here laid up

Finally fifty years after being delivered to Matson Line the superb ex SS Malolo, SS Matsonia, SS Atlantic, and RHMS Queen Frederica was sold to Greek breakers in July 1977 and because she had been shut down years earlier and had been a “dead ship” she had to be towed to the Eleusis breakers yards. During the breaking up process in February 1978, whilst her interiors were being demolished due to a spark from a workers torch she was totally gutted by fire and obviously work was halted. Three years later her ravaged hull could still be seen amongst the other ships at the breakers yard.

In conclusion:

This fine ship that had served under various flags, yet she was the perfect example of great American ship building design, engineering, and revealed the optimal quality of American shipbuilding. A class of shipbuilding that concluded in the United States when the great SS United States was completed, but sadly it soon ended, as it has in Great Britain, for now shipbuilding has gone offshore to European builders, Germany, France, Scandinavia and Italy! But, to this day the Great SS United States thankfully survives, as does the Grace Lines SS Santa Rosa!

This was one of the fine liners, a great cruise ship and she is worthy to be remembered!

The delightful Matson SS Malolo, Matsonia: Home Lines Atlantic and Chandris Queen Frederica


“She was a delight of a Ship!”



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