1866 - Mark Twain
The Whaling Trade
The whaling trade of the north seas - which is by no means insignificant - centers in Honolulu. Shorn of it this town would die - its business men would leave and its real estate would become valueless, at least as city property, though Honolulu might flourish afterwards as a fine sugar plantation, the soil being rich and scarcely needing irrigation.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce might do worse than make an effort to divert the whaling trade to her city. Honolulu fits out and provisions a majority out of ninety-six whalers this year, and receives a very respectable amount of money for it. Last year she performed this service for only fifty-one vessels - so you can see how the trade is increasing. Sailors always spend all their money before they leave port. Last year they spent $150,000 here, and will doubtless spend double as much when this year's fleet returns. It is said that in the palmy days of whaling, fifteen or twenty years ago, they have squandered as high as a million and a half in this port at the end of a successful voyage. There have been vast fleets of whale ships fitted out here and provisioned and recruited in a single year in those days, and everything promises that the whaling interest will now move steadily forward, under the impetus of the long-continued high rates of oil and bone, until it eclipses in importance any degree it has ever attained in former times. In chartering vessels to carry home the "catch" of whalers; in equipping them, and supplying and recruiting them; and in relieving their crews of their money at the end of the season, San Francisco might manage to get several hundred thousands a year out of the whaling trade if she could get it into her hands, or a million or so, should whaling again reach its former high prosperity.
It costs from one thousand dollars all the way up to twenty thousand to provision and fit a whaler here for her voyage to the north seas, including paying off crew, and taking them "by and large", the average is about six thousand dollars to each vessel. Of the ninety-six ships which go north from here this season, only forty-nine will fit here - the other forty-seven, being the increase in tonnage and on their first voyage, were equipped at home. The home equipment is generally for two full seasons - so Honolulu will not get the job of supplying these new ships for a couple of years yet; but after that she will have their whole custom, unless, perhaps, San Francisco can make a satisfactory bid for the whaling trade in the meantime.
There have been over four hundred whalers in the north seas at one time in the palmy days of the trade, two thirds of which were supplied in this market, and paid Honolulu over a million for doing it, even at the moderate prices of those days.
Letters from Hawaii
New York 1966