On the Water

Painting of SS City of Tokio

Marine artist Alexander Charles Stuart created this 1874 oil painting of the SS City of Tokio. Born on June 2, 1831, in Scotland, Stuart immigrated to the United States in 1861. Although he lived in Pennsylvania, Stuart worked in New York and Philadelphia as an artist and illustrator for ship-building firms.

The City of Tokio was built in Chester, Penn., and launched on May 13, 1874. Like its sister ship, the City of Peking, the City of Tokio could hold about 2,000 passengers. Together, the ships were meant to be the largest iron merchant steamers in the world, carrying more cargo and passengers than other steamers of the time. Under the ownership of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the City of Tokio made the voyage between Hong Kong and San Francisco in about 22 days.

Although the City of Tokio helped establish the superiority of iron steamships for trans-Pacific service, it sometimes suffered breakdowns. During a voyage in August 1876, a mechanical failure aboard the ship disabled both engines. The repair had to be done at sea, at considerable cost.

The City of Tokio was sometimes referred to as ikkaisen (“first boat”) because it brought the first group of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii in 1885. These immigrants, and many more after them, were contracted by the American government to work Hawaii’s sugar plantations.

On June 24, 1885, the vessel ran aground and wrecked off the coast of Honshu, Japan.

ID Number:
Stuart, Alexander Charles
overall (with frame): 28 3/4 in x 44 3/4 in x 1 3/4 in; 73.025 cm x 113.665 cm x 4.445 cm