Last updated: June 1, 2018
The Star of India, located at the Maritime Museum of San Diego in San Diego California, is the fourth oldest ship afloat in the United States and the world's second oldest active sailing ship. She is also one of two surviving vessels of the Alaska Packers Association's great salmon fleet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Star of India was constructed on the Isle of Man off of Great Britain in 1863. The ship was built as an iron-hulled full-rigged windjammer bearing the name Euterpe, after the Greek muse of music and poetry. Originally owned by the British firm Wakefield, Nash, & Company, the Euterpe sailed in the Trans-Pacific trade. In 1871, she was bought by the Shaw Savill Line of London (later the Shaw, Savill, & Albion Line) to transport passengers and freight in the New Zealand emigrant trade, circumnavigating the globe 21 times between 1871 and 1898. The Euterpe was sold to the San Francisco-based Pacific Colonial Ship Company in 1899, and placed under Hawaiian Registry for use in the lumber trade, carrying cargo from the Puget Sound in Washington to Australia and Hawaii. She was admitted to American registry in 1901, by a special act of Congress allowing her to operate up and down the West Coast.
In 1901, the Alaska Packers Association acquired the Euterpe and changed her name to the Star of India as part of a company policy requiring the use of "Star" as a prefix for the names of Association vessels. Under this new name, the former Euterpe sailed for 22 years as a member of the APA's "Star Fleet" transporting supplies, fishermen, and cannery workers from California to the salmon canneries in Alaska.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Alaskan salmon canning industry experienced a period of rapid expansion. Between 1878 and 1949, 134 U.S.-owned salmon canneries were built along the coast of southeastern Alaska. In the 1920s this growth propelled the U.S. to its position as the largest producer of canned salmon in the world. As production increased, many Pacific Northwest canneries became dependent on labor from outside of Alaska. Chinese laborers, many of whom had experience fishing for salmon off the California coast, made up the bulk of the early cannery workforce. Chinese workers participated in every step of the canning process and were employed in a variety of positions from butchering fish to manufacturing and labeling metal cans.
The enactment of various Chinese Exclusion laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries stopped Chinese immigration to the U.S. and cannery contractors began hiring Japanese and Filipino workers to meet labor demands. Anti-immigration laws passed in the early 1920s limited Japanese and other Asian immigration, and the cannery industry saw an influx of Filipino workers due to their status as U.S. nationals. The division of labor in most canneries was largely based on race, rather than ability, and as a result Chinese laborers often worked in less-skilled, lower-paying positions than their Caucasian counterparts.
Because of the salmon canning industry's largely seasonal nature, most canneries experienced a high turnover rate and often hired foreign labor through contractors. Contractors provided canneries with workers, transported them, and provided them with food in exchange for a set amount of money from the canneries. This system was open to abuse, and numerous accounts exist of contractors taking advantage of non-English speaking Asian workers – from skimping on food to charging exorbitant prices for low-quality gear to running off with pay at the end of the season.
As the largest fleet engaged in the Alaskan salmon trade from 1893 to 1920, the Alaska Packers Association (APA) transported hundreds of contract laborers to and from the Alaskan canneries each season. The salmon season covered seven months of the year, with most ships departing San Francisco in April and returning in October or November. The Star of India would depart San Francisco, California fully loaded with cannery supplies, fishermen, contract laborers, and the ship's crew, with the 2,400 mile journey to Alaska lasting approximately three weeks. During this time, several hundred men – primarily Asian contract laborers – lived on board the Star of India. To accommodate such a large number of passengers, the APA reduced the Star of India from a full-rigged ship to a bark (square-rigged ship) – thus requiring a smaller crew – and extended the poop deck to provide quarters for up to 45 fishermen.
Upon arrival in Alaska, the fishermen, cannery workers, and crew members unloaded the ship's cargo before turning their attention to preparing the canneries for upcoming operations. Salmon typically began to arrive in the area in July, and the season's fishing "run" lasted for two to three weeks. The cannery workers then spent the remainder of the season butchering, processing, and packaging the salmon into metal cans manufactured on-site. The crew, workers, and fishermen then loaded up the ship's cargo stores with packs of canned salmon and put the Star of India out to sea. Once back in California, the ship's passengers and crew unloaded the canned salmon with the majority of the cargo being shipped eastward via the Transcontinental Railroad.
The Star of India continued this seasonal cycle until her retirement from the canning industry in 1923. Shortly afterwards, in 1926, the Zoological Society of San Diego purchased the ship for use as the centerpiece of a planned maritime museum and aquarium. The Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s, however, caused those plans to be put on hold. The Star of India lay idle until she was restored in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the supervision of the Maritime Museum Association of San Diego. In 1976, the Star of India put out to sea once more, sailing as a part of the United States' Bicentennial celebration. Today, the Star of India is an active museum sailing ship home-ported at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Visitors to the Maritime Museum have the opportunity to explore the Star of India for themselves. The museum offers guided group tours of the ship on a regular basis, and the vessel is also featured in the museum's annual Festival of Sail. Usually occurring over Labor Day weekend, the Festival of Sail features a Tall Ships Parade (in which the Star of India regularly participates) and the Tall Ships Cannon Battle, along with a variety of activities for the whole family.
The Star of India, a National Historic Landmark, is a part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego, located at 1492 North Harbor Dr., San Diego, CA.