In 1854 the Reverend William Cornelius Shipman and his wife Jane sailed from Boston Harbor, dispatched by the American Board of Foreign Missions to serve in the Pacific. They arrived in Lāhainā, Maui 135 days later and shortly thereafter a son, William Herbert (W.H.) Shipman, was born. The following year Reverend Shipman filled a vacancy at Kaʻū, on Hawaiʻi Island, and the family made Hawaiʻi its permanent home.
W. H. Shipman, called Willie, grew up on Hawaiʻi Island and as a young man attended Punahou School on Oahu and Knox College in Illinois. He returned to Hawaiʻi to manage Kapapala Ranch in Kaʻu. In 1879 he married Mary (Mele) Elizabeth Kahiwaaialiʻi Johnson of Kona, grand daughter of John Davis whose uncle, Isaac Davis, was a trusted advisor to King Kamehameha I. Her grandmother, Kauwe, was from Ali’i origins on Maui. Shortly after their marriage, William and Mary moved to Kapoho to run the family ranch.
Kapoho was 23 miles from the Hilo business district over rough trails. The main trail, the King’s Highway along the Puna coast, took the Shipmans past Hāʻena Beach frequently. Mary would remark that she would like to make their home near the beautiful beach and protect the area for future generations.
Hāʻena was part of the Ahupuaʻa of Keaʻau (Lands of Keaʻau) covering 70,000 acres from the Puna coast (12 miles frontage) to Kīlauea Volcano. In 1882 the King Lunalilo Estate sold the lands to W. H. Shipman, J. Elderts and S. Damon. Over the next two years Willie bought his partners’ interests and became sole owner of the Lands of Keaʻau.
In the early days sections of the company’s ranching operations stretched from the Puna Coast to the Volcano and included ranches on Mauna Kea. In 2007, ranching operations managed and owned by Shipman family members resumed on Shipman lands.
Willie built a home at Hāʻena Beach in 1904 and with his son, Oliver Shipman, expanded the family ranching operations on the property. The family also had a dairy and poultry farm. William died in 1943 and his son Herbert, who was a conservationist, took over the Company. He was awarded the American Orchid Society’s Gold Medal for pioneering orchid development in Hawaiʻi and the National Geographic Society and the State credited him with saving the nene (a native goose and the State bird of Hawaiʻi) from extinction by raising them near Hāʻena Beach and on the family’s volcano ranch.
In 1976 W. H. Shipman’s grandson, Roy Shipman Blackshear, picked up the company reins. Roy continued to raise the rare nene and maintained the family tradition of shepherding the land. He oversaw the transition of agricultural lands from sugar cane to much more diversified and productive agricultural operations. During his time, the W. H. Shipman Business Park was begun. Shipman great-grandsons Bill Walter and Tom English assumed the responsibilities of management and stewardship in 2005. As Puna’s growth has accelerated, they have overseen the master planning process and begun the rebuilding of Kea’au Village, laying ground work for Keaʻau to become an ever more desirable place to live, work and conduct business. Significant infrastructure and resources are being added to agricultural lands to ensure that they meet the needs of a growing number of farmers working the lands.
Over the years much of the Shipman holdings have been sold to provide infrastructure for a growing population, for municipal uses and for farming. Today, W. H. Shipman, Limited, retains approximately 17,000 acres, primarily in the Puna District.A detailed history of the Shipman family is available in the book, The Shipmans of East Hawaiʻi by Emmett Cahill, published by University of Hawaiʻi Press, ISBN 0-8248-1680-3