Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s


A. Nicholson (or Nicolson)

September 9, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Another Disaster
The Steamer Alexander Duncan Goes Ashore Last Night.

The steamer Alexander Duncan went ashore last night on Mile Rock, at the entrance of this harbor. The accident occurred at too late as hour to make it possible to get details for this morning's paper. At the present writing the steamer is a mile below Fort Point.

September 10, 1885, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The steamer Alexander Duncan, from Hueneme, with a cargo of hogs consigned to Goodall, Perkins j& Co., went ashore late Tuesday night near Mile Rock and is now near Fort Point, filled with water.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

September 15, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Wreck of the Duncan.

In consequence of the calm weather and smooth sea, hope has been expressed that Whitelaw's divers would succeed in securing the machinery of the wrecked steamer Alexander Duncan, ashore near Fort Point. Only the cylinders have yet been taken out, the boilers, crank shaft, etc., remaining under water. The wreck was still holding together yesterday afternoon, but the weather last night was not so favorable. Whitelaw's wrecking boat will continue the work until either the Duncan breaks up or the machinery is secured.

May 26, 1891, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Struck a Snag

The steamer Alexander Duncan will have to go on the dry-dock to repair a hole punched through her bottom by a bar of railroad iron. The iron had been dropped overboard some time ago and stuck in the mud end up, but completely submerged. The steamer was tied up to the wharf right over the snag, and when the tide went out the iron ran up through her bottom.

September 17, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Captain Nicholson's Statement.

Captain Nicholson, late master of the steamer Alexander Duncan, has filed a statement with the local Inspectors of Hulls and Boilers. He says that when the steamer struck the rocks no lights could be seen and the fog was very dense. He and the second officer were on deck when she struck. As soon as this officer returns from Portland his testimony will be taken.

October 29, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Suspended for a Shipwreck.

Captain Nicolson Failed to Exercise Vigilance Another Investigation.

Yesterday Inspectors Freeman and Hillman of Steam Vessels made a report to Supervising Inspector Bemis, in relation to the steamer Alex. Duncan, which was wrecked on Mile Rock on the 8th of last month. The report is as follows:

We have to report that on September 8th last, at 11:20 p. m., the coasting freight steamer Alexander Duncan, Alex. Nicolson, master, struck on Mile Rock, at the entrance of this port. The vessel made water rapidly, and to save the crew and cargo Captain Nicolson ran her on shore in that vicinity.

A large portion of the cargo was saved and the steamer afterward was raised and is now under repair. No lives were lost. The damage to property was about $4,000. Upon investigation of this casualty, from testimony taken, we find that Captain Nicolson had experienced foggy weather all the way from Port Harford, September 7th, and arrived off the Heads at about 10:30 p. m., September 8th. He then proceeded, as he thought, close up to Point Bonita, the fog whistle of that station sounding at the time, and shaped his course NE. by E. 1/2 E. by compass, to enter this harbor, and then, for reason, as he states, that he lost the echo of that whistle, he changed his course to NE. by N., and in a few minutes thereafter struck on Mile Rock.

Captain Nicolson avers that he did not hear the Lime Point whistle until after the Alexander Duncan struck on Mile Rock; but the log of that station shows that said whistle was sounding its prescribed blasts from 10:40 p. m. to 11:35 p. m. of September 8th, and that Captain Nicolson failed to hear it before 11:20 p. m., is unaccountable, as this whistle is plainly to be heard in calm weather a considerable distance outside of the Heads.

It is evident Captain Nicolson misjudged position at the time he ran up for Point Bonita and shaped his course to enter the harbor, and that he failed to verify by his charts the bearing of the whistle sounding on that point; for otherwise he would have learned that he wax out of his proper course, and moreover the use of the lead and line at the time would have served to warn him of the danger his steamer was in. Captain Nicolson is an able and experienced coasting master, but in this instance he failed to exercise his customary vigilance and precaution against the dangers of entering the port of San Francisco in a dense fog by neglecting to use his charts and lead. For reason of such neglect of duty on the part of Captain A. Nicolson, we have suspended his license as master and pilot of steamers for fifteen days.


BARSKA Anchormaster 15-45x50 SpyscopeBARSKA Anchormaster Telescope.

BARSKA Anchormaster Spyscope.

High power viewing with zoom magnifications from 15x to 45x and large 50mm objective lens in a polished brass scope on a mahogany floor tripod.

• Fully coated achromatic lenses for brilliant images structured in a refractor design with helical focusing rings
• Internal image-correcting lens provides right-side-up images for the naked eye.
• Brass arc mounts allows the scope to move smoothly in all directions.
• Stands on a mahogany tripod with extendable legs and polished brass joints.


The Authority to Sail.The Authority to Sail: The History of U.S. Maritime Licenses and Seamen's PapersThe Authority to Sail.
Robert Stanley Bates, George Marsh (Editor), John F. Whiteley (Forward) (Batek Marine Publishing, 2011; Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize)
This book depicts important aspects of our maritime history as a result of original research done by the author, Commodore Bates, the holder of an unlimited master's license who has enjoyed a distinguished fifty-year career in both the Coast Guard and the American Merchant Marine.

The U.S. Coast Guard issues all Captain Licenses for U.S. Ports.
Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

Master Unlimited is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel any gross tons. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility. The STCW defines the Master as Person having command of the ship.

Merchant Marine License.

The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition. Charlie  Wing.
Charlie Wing
Considered the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to prepare for the U.S. Coast Guard captain's ratings exams required for anyone who takes paying passengers on a boat, and useful for serious boaters who want to save money on insurance. 350 pages of seamanship and navigation tutorials. More than 1,500 questions and answers from the Coast Guard exams. Includes an interactive CD-ROM with all 14,000 questions and answers in the USCG database, so you can take an unlimited number of practice exams

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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