Union Company

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This article is about a former company in New Zealand. For similarly named companies in other countries, see Union Steamship Company.
Union Steam Ship Company's 3,721 ton MV Kaimiro loading cargo in Lyttelton, New Zealand in 1968

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.[1]

In 1897 Mark Twain criticised travel conditions on a Union Company ship in his travel book Following the Equator.

The Union Company was sold by Mills to the British P&O Line in 1917. Mills, who was born in Wellington, was knighted in 1907 and K.C.M.G. in 1909. He was a UK resident from 1907, and died in London.

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]