Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

David Ritchie

March 2, 1852, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Marine Intelligence: Port San Francisco, March 3, 1852: Arrived Bark William Watson, Ritchie, 60 days from Hongkong. Mdse to master. 160 passengers.

The Late Fire In Hongkong.

We briefly noticed in our paper of yesterday, that Hongkong had been visited by a most disastrous conflagration, involving loss of life as well as property. That city since the discovery of gold in California, has risen rapidly in importance until it has become the principal commercial mart of the Celestial Empire, and the depot from which we derive the great bulk of our Chinese supplies. It is stated that business was at a very low ebb on the departure of the "Watson," and that general stagnation pervaded every department of trade. This was to be expected, but the crisis must soon be over, as the Chinese are proverbially, industrious, frugal, and persevering, and will in an incredibly short time, with the assistance of the foreign population, rebuild their town in a far more substantial and permanent manner than before the conflagration.

The destruction of life we fear was very great, as the cottages were built of bamboo and the streets exceedingly narrow, which would naturally be choked up with the dense masses of population that crowd all the cities of China. We give below further particulars of the conflagration, which we take from the San Francisco Herald:

Opium Wars.

The fire originated in the store of an opium dealer, who fell asleep and knocked down a burning lamp. The military were called out as soon as it was discovered, and used the greatest exertions to suppress the flames, but to little purpose.

Col. Matthews of the Sappers, while in the act of laying a train to blow up a building, a Lieutenant in the Navy belonging to the English ship Hastings, and a Sergeant of the Sappers, lost their lives. The loss of Chinese life was unknown at the time of the sailing of the William Watson, but it was supposed to be very great.

Sir Wm. Bormer called a special meeting of the City Council immediately after the fire, at which it was unanimously resolved that no building should be erected of wood or bamboo thereafter, and that the Chinese streets should be of the same width as that of the Victoria Road.

Flying Cloud Clippership.

When the Watson sailed business was dull and freights were low. The clipper ships Shooting Star and Flying Cloud (image right) were loading with tea for London at £2 per ton. The Game Cock sailed for Bombay, and the Mermaid was wasting.

The following Ships sailed for this port with Chinese passengers, male and female, viz the John Mayo and Louisa; the latter under a Chinese flag.


May 1, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

From the Daily of April 26, 1852. San Francisco, California

Death of Capt. Ritchie.

On Saturday last Captain David Ritchie, died on board of the British barque William Watson, of congestion of the lungs caused by injuries received from a party who assaulted him on the night of the 15th instant. The particulars and details of that unfortunate affair have been made known to the proper authorities who are taking steps to arrest the offenders and bring them to justice. The funeral will take place to-day at half-past two, P. M. The friends of the deceased, and shipmasters generally are invited to attend, at the Masonic Lodge Room on Washington street near Montgomery, where the funeral procession will form.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Coroner's Inquest. Coroner Gray yesterday held an inquest on the body of Capt. David Ritchie, who died on board the barque William Watson, at 8 o'clock on last Saturday evening. From the evidence, it appears that the deceased had came ashore and started to return to the vessel at a late hour on the night of the 15th. On his way he was knocked down by two men whom he was unable to recognize, who beat him in a cruel manner, broke his finger, and robbed him of a ring, the only article of value that the deceased had about his person.

Dr. E. R. Smilie testified that when he was called upon to visit the deceased, he found him complaining of a pain in his head and back, caused by bruises, and that severe inflammation had resulted. The exciting cause was by cold being taken from his being too thinly clad. His disease was complicated with disturbance of the brain caused by free living. The progress of the disease was very rapid, and the tendency a congestion of the lungs.

The day previous to the assault, Capt. Ritchie had come ashore with $1000 in specie, which he had deposited with Mallory, Stewart &. Co. in this city. The jury rendered a verdict that the deceased came to his death from congestion of the lungs and brain, caused by bruises received from the hands of persons unknown.

Capt. Ritchie was a native of Scotand, and was highly esteemed and respected.

No clue has yet been obtained that may lead to the perpetrators of this foul outrage.

Gold Rush Port

The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's WaterfrontMaritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront.

James P. Delgado
Gold Rush Port The Maritime Archaeology of San Franciscos Waterfront.Described as a "forest of masts," San Francisco's Gold Rush waterfront was a floating economy of ships and wharves, where a dazzling array of global goods was traded and transported. Drawing on excavations in buried ships and collapsed buildings from this period, James P. Delgado re-creates San Francisco's unique maritime landscape, shedding new light on the city's remarkable rise from a small village to a boomtown of thousands in the three short years from 1848 to 1851. Gleaning history from artifacts, such as preserves and liquors in bottles, leather boots and jackets, hulls of ships, even crocks of butter lying alongside discarded guns. Gold Rush Port paints a fascinating picture of how ships and global connections created the port and the city of San Francisco.

The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold RushPacific Worlds the Great Ocean.
David Igler 
Captain.From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.The Pacific of the early eighteenth century was a place of baffling complexity, with 25,000 islands and seemingly endless continental shorelines. But with the voyages of Captain James Cook, global attention turned to the Pacific, and European and American dreams of scientific exploration, trade, and empire grew dramatically. By the time of the California gold rush, the Pacific's many shores were fully integrated into world markets-and world consciousness. The Great Ocean draws on hundreds of documented voyages as a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Cook's exploits, focusing in particular on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s. Beginning with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd, historian David Igler uncovers a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy.

Rounding the Horn 
Being the Story of Williwaws and Windjammers, Drake, Darwin, Murdered Missionaries and Naked Natives. A Deck's-eye View of Cape Horn
Murdered Missionaries and Naked Natives.
Dallas Murphy Captain.Rounding the Horn.
Fifty-five degrees 59 minutes South by 67 degrees 16 minutes West: Cape Horn, situated at the bottom of South America, is a place of forlorn and foreboding beauty that has captured the dark imaginations of explorers and writers from Francis Drake to Joseph Conrad. For centuries, the small stretch of water between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula was the only gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Storms are bigger, winds stronger, and the seas rougher than anywhere else on earth. In Rounding the Horn, author Dallas Murphy undertakes the ultimate maritime rite of passage weaving together stories of his own nautical adventures with tales of those who braved the Cape before him from Spanish missionaries to Captain Cook and interspersing them with breathtaking descriptions of the surrounding wilderness.

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.

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.



Kindly Kindly support our work.


DALevy @

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.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.