Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Captain Nielsen

Editor's Note: Several Captain Nielsen's are in San Francisco news stories from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Unfortunately first names are often not given in the news, therefore, we have put random stories below in the event it helps someone find family.

July 6, 1895, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA


News of the Long-Lost Ship Reaches San Diego. 
Captain  Nielsen and His Men Reach Land in Open Boats. 
An Explosion of Gas Causes the Ship's Destruction After the Flames Are Under Control.

SAN DIEGO, Cal., July 5. The fate of the Norwegian ship Fjeld has been settled at last. It burned at sea and the crew of twenty-six men escaped in boats, and after drifting at the mercy of the wind and wave for fourteen days, were picked up by the ship Centaur, bound for the United Kingdom.

Pitcairn Island. Robert W. Kirk.

The news was brought by the British ship Marion Frazer, Captain Wall, which arrived to-day from Newcastle, Australia, after a passage of eighty days. Captain Wall reports a fine passage as far as Pitcairn Island, making the distance, which is almost three-fourths of the voyage to San Diego, in only twenty-seven days. From that time on his run was tedious, with continuous light, contrary winds.

When at a point about twelve miles off Pitcairn Island, and almost past, Captain Wall's attention was called to signaling from three boats approaching from the shore. He brought his ship around and awaited the approach of the occupants, who proved to be islanders and who brought forty-three letters from survivors of theFjeld, directed to relatives. From the islanders Captain Wall learned the story of the loss of the Fjeldand the escape of the crew. The Fjeld, loaded with coal from Grimsby for San Diego, was sighted January 19 off Cape Horn. As she approached the equator fire was discovered in the hold and a gallant attempt was made by Captain Nielsen and the men to save the ship. There was one passenger on board, and he also did a shift of work. Every ventilating hole and all the hatches were battened down and completely closed, and the fire at one time was thought to have been mastered and smothered.

On March 7 a tremendous explosion of gas occurred, blowing the hatches open and giving the coal plenty of air for combustion. Then it was seen that there was no chance of saving the ship, and preparations were made to abandon her. Captain Nielsen directed the operations of lowering and stowing the three boats, and, after thorough preparations, they were shoved off and the ship left to its fate. She drifted about, and was last seen, on March 30, in latitude 10 south, longitude 113 west. At that time her masts were down and her deck warped out of shape, and she presented every sign of speedy separation and sinking.

There were good sails in the boat taken by the Fjeld's crew, and they fortunately had time to load the boats well with provisions and water. They took advantage of the steady southwest trade winds and sailed almost due north. It was evidently the intention of Captain Nielson to keep in the track of the Australian and coastwise vessels rather than make for land. His nearest land was Pitcairns, 600 miles or so to the southwest. Fortunately no storms were encountered by the frail craft, and after drifting in the open sea for fourteen days they sighted the British ship Centaur, Captain Isbester, from San Francisco for the United Kingdom. They signaled the ship and it bore down upon them and took them on board.

The Centaur made for Pitcairn Islands, as Captain Isbester had fears that his food supply would not be sufficient for the increased demands. No food was found there, however, with the exception of fruits, and after leaving letters and a short note or two in the logbook kept by the islanders for that purpose, the ship proceeded. Captain Isbester told the islanders that he had food sufficient for 150 days on board.

The crew of the Fjeld was in the best of health at last accounts, and only thankful for their escape. The Centaur is now due to arrive in one of the British ports. The Fjeld, though flying the Norwegian flag, was built in Glasgow, and was a first class iron three-masted ship. Her master, Captain Nielson, was an experienced navigator, and it is no doubt due to his coolness and judgment that the crew was saved. The Fjeld was in this port in 1893 and returned to the United Kingdom with a cargo of grain. Its cargo on the last voyage was consigned to the Spreckels Bros. Commercial Company.

October 17, 1896, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA


Captain C. Nielsen, who for several yeas has managed the steamer J. A. Cummings, running between the different Hawaiian Islands, has been at the Russ for several days. He is suffering from rheumatism, andyesterday left for a stay of longer or shorter extent at Byron Springs.

May 15, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

The Schooner J. B. Leeds Sailed Without Two of Them. 
They Secured a Tug and Caught the Vessel Off the Farallones

A couple of Klondlkers now on their way to St. Michael aboard the schooner J. B. Leeds will long remember their trip to the frozen north. All the passengers were told that the vessel would sail during the afternoon of last Friday, but two of them, including the secretary of the Aurora Gold Mining Company, decided in their own minds that it would be at least 5 p.m. before the vessel would get away. Long before that hour the launches belonging to the Wlnthrop Gold Mining Company and the Aurora Gold Mining Company had been hoisted aboard and all the gold hunters, with the exception of the two named, were in the cabin and everything was ready for departure. After waiting an hour. Captain Nielsen decided that patience had ceased to be a virtue, and he told the captain of the tug Liberty to make fast and tow him to sea.

When the Leeds was passing out over the bar the belated passengers showed up at the seawall and, much to their disgust, found the vessel gone with their outfits and, in fact, almost everything they owned in the world. They rushed to the Red Stack tug oflice, and after some trouble secured the tug Sea Witch and started alter the Leeds. At Fort Point, they met the Liberty returning, and Captain Harvey told the captain of the Witch that it was very thick outside and the chances were against hm finding the schooner.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Captain Tonnesen ordered to keep on, and when the bar was reached the gold hunters succumbed. They were so sea sick that when the Leeds was finally overhauled they had to be lowered into the skiff that was to take them aboard and rope and tackle had to be put into requisition to get onto the vessel. Captain Nielsen would not heave to as he said it served the men right to be left, as they knew the sailing hour and should have been on time. In consequence the two men got a thorough drenching besides their seasickness as as a result of their trip uptown.

February 12, 1899, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

Barkentine WRESTLER Was Very Lucky

The barkentine Wrestler arrived from Kahulul yesterday after a fair run of sixteen days. Captain Nielson sailed her in through the heads with a good breeze, but off Fort Point the wind fell light and the vessel drifted up the bay with the tide. At one time she was dangerously near to Shag rock, but, luckily, a puff of wind carried her out of trouble, and then the captain decided to anchor. The Wrestler had a somewhat similar experience to the Roderick Dhu. The first few days out from Kahulul the vessel rushed through the water before a fair wind, but off the coast nothing but contrary winds were encountered.

The Barkentine Wrestler, 1899.
Image from the San Francisco Call, February 12, 1899


The barkentine Wrestler nearly drifted on to Shag rock yesterday morning. She came in over the bar with a good breeze, but the wind fell light when she was off Fort Point. The barkentine drifted up the bay and in the fog came very near striking on the rock. Luckily a streak of wind caught her and carried her past and Captain Nielsen lost no time in anchoring.

January 17, 1903, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

DIED NIELSEN In Alameda. Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend the burial of Miss Lena Nielsen, beloved daughter of Captain P. and Anna M. Nielsen, who died November 26, 1902, and whose remains were placed in the vault at that time. The interment will take place Sunday. January 18, at 2 o'clock, and will be in St. Mary's Cemetery.

October 19, 1903, San Francisco Call


PHILADELPHIA, Oct 13. - Captain Nielsen of the British Trans-Atlantic steamship Haverford, which arrived here to-day from Liverpool, reports having fallen in with the coasting schooner Rubie and Bessie, with all on board in a weakened condition from lack of food. The schooner was sighted 100 miles east of Cape Henlopen. Some of her sails wets gone and she appeared to be in trouble. A boat with some of the Haverford's officers was sent to the vessel. Captain Marshall of the schooner said he sailed from Georgetown. S. C. on September 17 for Patchogue. R. I. Besides his crew he had with him his wife, four children and a passenger. Adverse wind, drove the schooner out of her course and her sails were lost in gales. The entire party had been without food for four days. The members of the crew were fo weak that they raised distress signals with difficulty. Captain Nielsen furnished Captain Marshall with food, oil and other ship supplies and the schooner set her course for her destination.

June 16, 1912, San Francisco Call
San Francisco, California, USA

Fine weather on the voyage up from Valparaiso, with the exception of the last week, when a gale was encountered about 400 miles off the Columbia river, is reported by Captain Nielsen, master of the barkentine Amaranth, which made an average passage up of 67 days. The barkentine reached the dry-dock at St. Johns and will be docked for cleaning and painting before loading 1,400,000 feet of lumber for the voyage back to Valparaiso under charter to Balfour, Guthrie & Co.

October 9, 1913, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

Ship of Mystery Sets Out for North

Harbor Scene, Tacoma, Washington

Sailing north to Cook inlet is a ship of mystery, the little schooner C. T. Hill,Captain Nielsen, which left Tacoma recently. A vessel of just 133 tons, the C. T. Hill is not long returned from the south coast, where she has had an adventurous career. Accounts given of her purposes in going north are that she is to set a cargo of canned salmon, but old wharf rats shake their heads again. It is generally considered absurd for a ship of this small size to set out so late in the season for the north on any salmon getting errand. She could bring back only a very small load of canned salmon at best, and it is suspected that there is another reason for her departure. Only surmise can be made, as the captain and crew are silent as the sphinx, but there are hints of a treasure hunt.

November 10, 1913, San Francisco Call
San Francisco, California, USA

New Coal Field in Alaska; Big Rush On

Captain Nielsen of the schooner C. T. Hill, which arrived today from Knik, Cooks inlet, reports the discovery of a new coal field about 100 miles from Knlk, which is situated on the northeast arm of the inlet. The reports of the new find were sent over the country and a big rush to the new diggings was on when the schooner departed.

Origins of Nielson/Nielsen

Recorded in many spelling variations and found throughout Europe and Scandanavia, this is a surname of ancient origins. An estimated eighty spellings include: MacNeill, O'Neill, Neal, Neale, Neil, Niall, Neill, or the patronymics Neals, Neilsen, Neilson, Nielson, Neelson, Nealon, and Nelson. The origination is from the pre-7th century Gaelic name 'Niall' meaning 'champion'. It is claimed that the personal name was 'borrowed' from Ireland by the Norse-Vikings, and introduced into Scandanavia as 'Njall', before being taken to Normandy by the 'Norsemen' in the 8th and 9th centuries. It was then 'returned' to the British Isles with the Norman Conquest of 1066, as Neil or Nell. Recorded in surviving ancient charters is that the O'Neil's were the chief clan of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland from the 10th century. In Scotland during the reign of King James Vth of Scotland, the Neilsons were the hereditary Lords of Bute. The first recorded spelling of the family name is supposed to be that of John Neilson, dated 1314, in the Royal Charter of Craigcatte, during the reign of King Robert of Scotland (1306 -1329). Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation.

View of the Golden Gate from Fort Point.

View of Golden Gate and Fort Point San Francisco, California

The Presidio has served as a military reservation from its establishment in 1776 as Spain's northern-most outpost of colonial power in the New World. It was one of the longest-garrisoned posts in the country and the oldest installation in the American West. In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, the 7th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment occupied the crumbling adobes at the Presidio. The U.S. Regular Army took over the post the following year. This military reservation at the Golden Gate developed into the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast. Over time its armaments evolved from smooth bore cannons to modern missiles. It became the nerve center of a coastal defense system that eventually included Alcatraz and Angel Island and that reached as far north as the Marin Headlands and as far south as Fort Funston. Eventually, there were five distinct posts at the Presidio, each with its own commander: the Main Post, Fort Point, Letterman Hospital, Fort Winfield Scott, and Crissy Army Air Field. Also on the 1,491-acre reservation were a Coast Guard lifesaving station and a U.S. Public Health Service Hospital. From 1847 to about 1890, the Presidio defended San Francisco and also participated in the Indian Wars in the West. From the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines to the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, the Presidio was a key link in the projection of American military power into the Pacific Basin and further west onto the mainland of Asia. New concrete fortifications built after the 1890s indirectly preserved native plant communities on the dramatic Pacific bluffs by making them off-limits.

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.



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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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