On December 12, 1878, shipbuilders Russell & Co. launched the four-masted, full-rigged ship Falls of Clyde at Port Glasgow, Scotland where it became part of the Falls Line fleet - all of which were
named after Scottish waterfalls. Built with a wrought-iron hull with a net tonnage of 1748 tons, she had a registered length of 266 feet.
At the time of her launching, no one envisioned that her life under sail would last for more than four decades and that this stalwart ocean wanderer would visit ports on all continents with the exception of Antarctica from her first voyage to Karachi in 1878 under British registry until she was sold to an agent of Capt. William Matson.
In January,1898, flying the Hawaiian flag, the Falls of Clyde arrived in Honolulu. Capt. Matson then modified the ship’s rig to that of a bark and built a large wooden deckhouse forward and a charthouse on the poop deck.
Later registered in the United States, she carried sugar from Hilo to San Francisco until1906 when the Associated Oil Company in which Capt. Matson had an interest bought the ship and converted it into an oil tanker in 1907. Added were 10 tanks within the hull, a boiler room, and a pump room with a carrying capacity close to 750,000 gallons. She also carried molasses from Hilo to San Francisco over the next13 years.
image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 2 December 2006
In 1921, she was sold to the General Petroleum Corporation who, after de-rigging the ship, then used it as a floating petroleum depot in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Nearly three decades later, she was taken out of commercial service and was on the verge of being sunk to form a breakwater when Honolulu Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss came to her rescue. In addition to a core group of local supporters primarily from Hawai`i’s maritime community, over the next several years school children across the newly-admitted state raised money to help bring the ship back to Hawai`i.
Even the United States Navy provided assistance by towing the Falls of Clyde from Seattle to Honolulu in 1963.
With the financial support from people around the world and hundreds of volunteers working on a variety of restoration projects, the Bishop Museum, which had taken over management of the ship’s operations, opened the ship to the public in 1971 at Pier 5 in Honolulu Harbor. Over the next decade, tens of thousands of people visited the Falls of Clyde.
Unfortunately, during Hurricane Iwa in 1982, the ship sustained major damage when Pier 5 was destroyed. Over the next several months, several concerned individuals led by Bob Krauss formed the original Friends of The Falls of Clyde group which then took over control of the vessel after receiving permission to berth it at Pier 7.
The Friends joined with the Aloha Tower Maritime Museum to form the Hawaii Maritime Center in 1984.
A few months later, the Falls of Clyde was named a National Historic Monument by the National Parks Service, and additional restoration work began on a new forecastle deck and jibboom which was completed several years later.
Because of the need for more financially stable leadership, the Bishop Museum came back into the picture in 1996 and took over the Hawaii Maritime Center, including responsibility for both routine maintenance as well as long-term restoration work on the Falls of Clyde.
By early 2008, after receiving an estimate of at least $30 million to restore the ship, the Bishop Museum issued a contract to remove all valuable items from the ship including a priceless figurehead,
to dismantle the rigging, and to prepare the Falls of Clyde to be towed out to sea for scuttling.
Once word got out, several interested parties entered into discussions with the Museum, but other than delaying the actual scuttling date, no progress had been made to save the ship - until an ad hoc group of maritime enthusiasts and history buffs began to meet in mid-July, 2008, to figure out how to take back the ship’s ownership and then, over time, to restore it to its rightful place in Hawai`i’s history.
On August, 28, 2008, the Friends of Falls of Clyde filed its initial paperwork with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and submitted its 501c3 non-profit tax-exempt organization application to the IRS on September 22. On September 25, the Museum's Board of Directors approved the sale.
What a wonderful life this ocean wanderer has led sailing around the world under three separate flags. Even today, the Matson House flag which flies proudly from all its vessels includes a star recognizing the Falls of Clyde.