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The Union Company, Union Steam Ship Company (USS Co), or Union Line was started in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1875, when it was floated by James Mills, who had been clerk to Johnny Jones and his Harbour Steam Company.
After Jones’ death, Mills floated the Union Company with backing from Peter Denny in return for orders for his Dumbarton shipyard in Scotland. The Union Company became a major shipping line, with a near-monopoly on trans-Tasman shipping, and was referred to as the Southern Octopus.
From 1889 there was a three-way competition between the Union Steamship Company, Huddart Parker and the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company (TSNCo) on the Tasmanian routes (Melbourne – Launceston, Hobart – Melbourne and Hobart – Sydney). The TSNCo did not have other routes to absorb their Tasmanian losses, and was bought out by the USSCo in 1891. The rivalry between the USSCo and Huddart Parker lasted to 1895 despite an earlier agreement in 1893. There was undercutting by cheap fares and steamers shadowing each other from port to port. The USSCo Rotomahana and Mararoa would sail alongside the Miowra and Warrimoo, with other ships e.g. the Te Anau and Manapouri sailing before and after so bracketing the Huddart Parker ships. The 1895 agreement between the two lines pooled the Auckland-Sydney profits and losses; the Melbourne-Launceston profits were divided 4/7 to the USSCo and 3/7 to Huddart Parker; and the Sydney-Hobart passenger trade was excluded but the cargo and stock trade was divided 2/3 to USSCo and 1/3 to Huddart Parker.
By 1990, the company operated seven ships, and was involved in ship management, tourism, real estate and other ventures. By 2000, the Union Bulk barge made its last voyage.
The Union Company, Union Steam Ship Company, or Union Line has owned more than 350 ships, and has been the subject of a number of books.
- List of Union Steam Ship Company vessels
- Union Airways of N.Z. Ltd — Union Line's airline subsidiary
- McLean 1990, pp. 49–66.
- McLean, Gavin (1989). Ships of the Union Company. Wellington: GP Government Print. ISBN 0-477-00016-9.
- McLean, Gavin (1990). The Southern Octopus. New Zealand Ship and Marine Society & Wellington Maritime Museum.
- Article in 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
- Article in Te Ara online Encyclopaedia
- History & Photos by Gavin McLean on New Zealand Ship & Marine Society website
- Lyttelton-Wellington ferries (NZHistory.net.nz)