From Spain to Hawaii

The Anayas and Ponces, like many farmers from southern Spain, left from Malaga, Spain, on the Spanish vessel SS Heliopolis, arriving in Hawaii on 1907 April 26. Based on excerpts from Memories of Spain, by Anne Aguilar Santucci for Club Espanol of Rocklin, CA, Charles David and Gail Elizabeth (Salado) Eyster put together the context of this departure:

The immigration and labor problems in Hawaii were major issues in the middle of the 19th Century. From 1852 much effort had been expended to procure settlers and laborers for the Islands. Immigrants had come from many countries: Norway, Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Madeira Islands, the Azores, Manchuria, Korea, China, Japan, the New Hebrides, Solomon and Gilbert Islands, and Puerto Rico; while both whites and “negroes” had been recruited in the United States.

The islands continually were unable to recruit sufficient labor to develop and maintain their agricultural enterprises. When American sugar interests in Cuba were endangered upon that country’s independence from Spain after the Spanish-American War, the sugar supply problem became even more serious. It was imperative that the United States develop a plan to secure a labor force that would enable expansion to the sugar industry in Hawaii.

In 1898 the United States annexed Hawaii, and in 1900 the U.S. established the Territory of Hawaii. Mr. James Dole, the pineapple king, became governor of the new territory. In 1905 Congress established a Board of Immigration to handle Hawaiian immigration. Its primary purpose was to promote the settlement of a laboring class in Hawaii. Officially, the purpose of the Board was to have an organized, official system to bring immigrants with families to Hawaii, people who would supply the labor force and who would be eligible for and capable of becoming good citizens.

The Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Association provided potential immigrant families from Spain and Portugal an acre of land, a house, guaranteed work and free passage to the islands. The passage was financed by contributions from sugar plantations and agencies; a special tax was levied on income of people in higher income brackets.

Up to this point the labor in Hawaii was primarily furnished by single men from the Orient. In the winter of 1906 representatives of Hawaii’s sugar industry arrived at the Spanish seaport of Malaga. Enticing bulletins were posted in businesses and distributed among the local citizens. Some of the sugar industry representatives traveled to the surrounding farm areas of the region.

After several months of talking with encouraging relatives, friends, and parish priests, the decision to seek a better life in Hawaii was made by many who read the bulletins. The “immigrants” who signed up to travel to Hawaii were allowed to bring a trunk full of clothes and a few cooking utensils. On March 8, 1907, the SS Heliopolis set sail for Hawaii from the seaport of Malaga. 850 families had registered for the journey, which resulted in an onboard population of 3,823 people.

Shortly after the ship left port, however, it returned to shore. A total of 1,574 immigrants disembarked and stayed in Spain. Generally, these people felt that the shipboard facilities for hygiene and the food on the ship were not adequate.

On March 10, 1907 the SS Heliopolis set sail again for Hawaii from Malaga. A total of 2,246 immigrants (608 men, 594 women, and 1,084 children) were now onboard. The SS Heliopolis, carrying the first sugar cane field workers to leave Spain, arrived in Hawaii in the city of Honolulu on April 26, 1907. The journey from Malaga to Honolulu took a total of 48 days. 52 babies were born on the Heliopolis during these 48 days at sea.

Upon anchoring at the port of Honolulu, quarantine officials went out to the ship for an inspection for the purpose of determining which of the passengers would be taken to “Quarantine Island.” The inspection of the Heliopolis found all well with the exception of seven cases of measles and two cases of mumps—all contracted by babies. The sick children—and their families—were taken to Quarantine Island. The Heliopolis then went on to dock at the Immigration Wharf with the other passengers to undergo the examination of the immigration inspectors.

Most of the immigrants originally chose to settle in the Hilo area. A probable reason for this decision was that there were more plantations on the big island of Hawaii than the other islands (Oahu, Maui, Kaui). In a report to the U.S. House of Representatives, dated January 11, 1908, it was noted, “Prior to the going into operation of the immigration act approved February 20, 1907, the government of Hawaii had imported several thousand Portuguese immigrants from the Azore and Madeira Islands, paying the expenses of their transportation, and providing work for them when they reached Hawaii. It was thought desirable in this way to try to displace the oriental labor now on the islands by white labor and these immigrants proved very satisfactory, are well contented, and are all employed. The Territorial government desires to continue the importation of this class of laborers…”

That same report stated, “Favorable reports having been received of Spanish laborers and their well-known successes in Cuba as cane planters impelled the Board to instruct its agents to investigate the possibilities in the district of Malaga, South Spain, where sugar cane planting is conducted. For some years past the sugar industry in that district has languished, and it was reported that large numbers of farmers could be induced to emigrate.”

In a different report by the Superintendent of the Board of Immigration, it was stated, “The project of bringing Spanish and Portuguese people from the Azores and the mainland of continental Europe to Hawaii begun in the last biennial period, has been completed during the early part of this biennial period. These people were brought to Hawaii by the steamers Suveria, Heliopolis, and Kumeric. There were 1,400 men, 1,143 women, and 2,141 children, or a total of 4, 684 persons, of which 47 were returned at an expense of $11,119.02. The total cost of the immigrants by these three steamers was $291,109.53 or an average expense of $62.19 per individual or $207.28 per adult male.”

Continuing, “Heliopolis, a specially chartered vessel, which in the month of April 1907, landed some 2246 people (608 men, 554 women, and 1084 children). [T]he cost of immigrants brought by the Heliopolis was $143,038.48, an average cost per male of $235.22 and a per capita of $63.68.” Finally, “The large difference in the per capita cost of the shipments arriving per Heliopolis and Kumeric was occasioned by the considerable number of people who changed their minds at the time of the sailing of these two vessels, undoubtedly urged to do so on account of adverse reports circulated by agitators.”


Joe Morgan

My great, great grandparents,

My great, great grandparents, my great grandmother and her siblings came to Hawaii from the Madeiras on the Kumeric in 1907.  I'm trying to do some research on them and the lives they lead on the Medeiras.  If you can be of any assistance, my email is


Melinda Butelo

My Great Grandparents  Butelo

My Great Grandparents  Butelo and 9 Children  from Cordoba Spain were also on the Heliopolis 

Immigrated to Puunene in April 07

worked for Baldwin Sugar Mills

Some of the older children did as well

My Great Granma gave Birth on the ship

They played Music and did their Dances as entertainment

Lived in small Cottages on Camp5 rd..

Would live to see any pics anyone may have or hear stories re their lives

Thank you

Heres my email address



Robert Rodrigues (z)

My grandparents, my father

My grandparents, my father and two uncles were on the heliopolis.  My father celebrated his 9th birthday on ship. When the ship crossed the ecuator, there was a big celebration on board.  Captain J. W. Martin, the ship's captain, brought out a barrel of wine for the toast.  Music played and dancing started.  It was a gala celebration. The ship passed through the straits of Magellan and stopped in Punta Arena  to resupply the ship. The notion that some say the ship went around the horn is erroneous.  Had the ship gone around the horn, it would not have reversed its path to go to Punta Arenas and if the did, it would have added another month to the voyage.





Thanks so much for sharing

Thanks so much for sharing this story,

Anne C. Grant

Gene Medina

Great article. My great

Great article. My great grandparents were aboard the SS Heliopolis and worked on the Pahala Plantation but left for San Francisco after a year (my guess). They appear in the 1910 US Census in San Francisco and I know spent some time in Honolulu prior to sailing to SF.  My grandparents followed to Hawaii, SF and Vacaville in 1912 abroad the SS Willesden

I have been doing family genealogy for the past 10+ years. I have visited the Portuguese Historical Society research center, the restored plantation museum in Waiphu and done research at the Unversity of Hawaii. Manoa, Hamilton Library, Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Assocation records. Would be interested in sharing info if you are interested. I also have worked the Spanish records for the province of Granada and visited our family village, Otivar, just north of Alumecar. 

As you may tell, I am very interested in my family genealogy.  


destiny lagunas

im doing a research paper for

im doing a research paper for my hawaiian democracy class and was wondering if you knew what spanish immirgrants ate when they came to the islands? also if theres any other information you have that youd like to share id  love to hear it thank you!


Sorry, I tried to do some

Sorry, I tried to do some research myself, but could not find anything specific to this topic.

Anne C. Grant

Mary Sanchez

Hola, So excited to find

Hola, So excited to find someone as interested in this history as I. My grandmother’s family “Nuñez” were in the ship and worked in Hilo where my grandmother was born. They then came to Hayward and ended in Suisun. My great grandmother died giving birth and the government wanted to take the three younger children from my great grandfather since there was no mother to care for them. He decided to go back to Spain and he arrived a very wealthy man because in Hilo they paid in gold coins. They food they were accustomed to was: bread & olive oil with sprinkled salt, lentil soup, garbanzo soup (potaje), potato vegetable soup, omelets which in Spain is called “tortilla Francesca” big fish eaters, rabbit in stew, big on fried potatoes, patatas al prove (poor mans potatoes which includes onions bell pepper garlic, tortilla Española (like a frittata) cafe con leche (latte), fruit. Please reply to me. I look forward to hearing from you. Best Mary (BTW my true name is Maria Sagrario Pareja Nuñez) my email is 

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