Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s


John Carphin

Born October 29, 1818 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 1850s in San Francisco (not verified)

John Carphin was named after his parental grandfather as per Scottish naming tradition. He was the oldest of four children born to John Carphin and Jane Lindsay Hay. Sometime around 1825 John Sr. and Jane moved their family to the St. Pancras district of London. The senior John Carphin disappears from all records by 1841.

About 1844 John married Josephine Maria Lowden and they lived in the Stepney district of London. Their son, John William Carphin, was born on December 19, 1845.

Both John and his younger brother George became ship masters.

Lloyd s register of 1844-45 records John Carphin s first vessel as the 283-ton barque Lanchester out of London (we do not have the names of the ships he served on as a mate prior to that time). His second ship, the 599-ton Good Hope, sailed between London and Bombay.

It was on a voyage in 1845 that we get an understanding of the character of John. It was recorded that near the Cape of Good Hope they came upon the ship Arabia. John and the other captain, Mr. Johnston, dined and drank heavily while the seas became rougher. Two of John s crew were left to wait for him in a small, unseaworthy vessel trailing along in the wake of the Arabia. The ship s boat eventually succumbed to the waves, one poor fellow made it to the Arabia but the other drowned. According to witnesses John s attitude towards his crew, even while they were drowning, was belligerent and abusive. This complaint must have got back to England because he did not remain the master of the Good Hope.

In 1846 he moved his family to Liverpool and began working for William Sharp, shipowner from Birkenhead. His vessel was the newly constructed 588-ton Victoria (built in Nova Scotia). Carphin made two very successful runs to Calcutta in the Victoria in 1847 and 1848 and won Sharp s praise. At this time certification exams for merchant officers were introduced and John is recorded as passing his exam in Liverpool on the 13th of April 1849.

Thomas Baines.

Just days later he left Liverpool, bound for Plymouth to take on passengers, then on to Sydney, Australia. Josephine and little John William accompanied him on this voyage. They arrived in Sydney on September 2, 1849 amid the usual complaints from the passengers about the shortage of food and ill-treatment by the captain.

In Sydney he hooked up with an overzealous charterer, C. S. Deacon, who booked passengers bound for San Francisco by the hundreds.

The Victoria was overflowing with between 230 and 270 souls. They left the docks with cargo piled high on the decks such that they were stopped by the port authorities and forced to remove cargo until they were lighter. This caused substantial delay and dissatisfied passengers began to grow restless. Eventually they got underway but ship supplies began to run low quickly and the passengers were put on half-rations until they reached Honolulu.

Either in Honolulu or on route, Josephine gave birth to their daughter, Florence. She was christened in Honolulu on December 9, 1849. After re-fitting in Honolulu, the Victoria continued on to San Francisco and arrived on February 18, 1850 with 272 passengers on board. More problems must have occurred on the way as John handed over twelve mutinous crew members to the USS Warrenupon arrival.

February 19, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

MUTINY -- The Ship Victoria, Capt. Carphin, arrived at this port yesterday with her crew in a state of mutiny. Ten of the mutineers were arrested and taken on board the U. S. shipWarren.

April 6, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

SHERIFF'S SALE. By virtue of an execution to me directed, issued out of the court of the first instance in civil cases, district of San Francisco, territory of California, there will be sold at public auction, on Portsmouth square, at 12 o'clock at noon, on Monday, the 8th March inst., in the case of John Carphin against Charles S. Deacon, 25 tons stove coal, 50 sacks bread, 2 sacks flour, 6 gallons lamp oil and 1 barrel oat meal. Said articles being on board of shipVictoria.

A. W. SUBLETTE, Sheriff, a6-2 By John S. Powers, Dep'y.

January 7, 1851, Daily Alta California Shipping Intelligence

Ship Victoria (Br), Carphin, 86 days from Sydney (N.S.W.) via Marquesas Islands 29 days. 5 passengers., Consignees: to master.

January 25, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Auction Notice. On Saturday next, the 24th instant, will be sold by J. L. Riddle & Co., Auctioneers, at their store corner of Clay and Montgomery streets, the entire cargo of the British Victoria, Carphin, master, from Sydney, N. S. VV., consisting of 801 tons coal, the duty paid on same, and deliverable at the ship's tackle. Good and sufficient security will be given to purchasers, indemnifying them against all claim for freight on said coal, said ship and EARNINGS bein gpledged by bottomry, dated October 16, 1850, together with the bill of lading of above coal, for the payment of certain money loaned thereon, which payment has not been fulfilled. By order of

G. B. Post & Co., Attorney for Thornton & Church, holders of bottomry.

July 15, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

LAW COURTS: John Carphin vs Ship Victoria -- The argument in this case will be concluded today.

As with other vessels of the time, most of the remaining crew deserted in San Francisco to seek their fortunes in gold.

From San Francisco, John and the Victoria returned as quickly as possible to Sydney for more cargo and supplies but ran into some foul weather and the vessel was damaged. Other events occurred during this voyage to Australia in 1850 that are not completely clear, having to do with loans for ship repairs from agents Thornton and Church, which ended with John being imprisoned for 11 days. After his release, he quickly refitted the Victoria and returned to San Francisco, arriving there in early 1851.

His problems were following him: Lawsuits were filed, in the court of admiralty of Judge Ogden Hoffman, by Thornton and Church against the ship Victoria concerning a cargo of 800 tons of coal in June 1851. It seems that John had had enough and in July 1851 he also filed suit against the ship Victoria although his motive for doing this is not clear. It may be that he thought he could pre-empt actions by Thornton and Church against the ship. The outcome of the proceedings did not appear to be in John s favour.

Not much else is known about John Carphin s time in San Francisco, but it must have been turbulent. In the spring of 1852, Wm. Sharp declared bankruptcy, as other ships belonging to Sharp were also embroiled in court battles. The weight of these occurrences led to an early death for Sharp in 1855 or 1856.

The Sacramento Daily Union of June 3, 1852 reports from San Joaquin that Oscar Livingstone was recovering from a wound that he received in an affray with Captain Carphin. This is the last reference to John Carphin and it is quite probable that he died in San Francisco in 1853. There is an 1853 listing in the Yerba Buena cemetery for Josephine Carpine, a common mis-transcription of Carphin (Carplin is another

June 3, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

SAN JOAQUIN NEWS. ACQUITTED -- Mr. F. A. Atkinson, one of the partners of the late Capt. Carphin, was brought before Justice Shafer last week, charged as an accessory before the fact to the unlawful killing of the said Carphin. We have not had time to examine the evidence, but we learn from good authority that there was not one item of testimony to show that he was a party. On the contrary, the evidence went to show that he tried to prevent the contest which terminated so unfortunately... Mr. Livingston, who was so severely wounded in the difficulty with the late Capt Carphin, was doing well yesterday, but not out of danger.

Josephine was still alive at his death as she married Hugh Pelan in 1854, so this grave plot may be for her husband John. Their children, John William and Florence, continued to reside in California. John William, a ranch hand and drifter, passed away after a short illness on the ranch of J. W. C. Pogue in Lemon Cove in December 1906. Florence s married name remains a mystery but, according to John William s death notice, she was still living in 1906.

Captain's Briar Pipe.

The Victoria got a new captain in 1852 Joseph Wallis (or Wallace) and made another voyage to Australia before returning to Liverpool.

In 1856, after the death of Wm. Sharp, the Victoria was sold to James De Wolf of Liverpool. TheVictoria, the ship that brought two men together, in the end, destroyed both of their lives.

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.
David Igler
Master Under God.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 HornĀ 
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. Captains.Rounding the Horn.
Dallas Murphy
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. InĀ 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.

Master Under GodAt Sea.Master Under God.
Captain Gwilym Williams
Captains exercised absolute authority at sea and so were dubbed "Master Under God" by early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade.

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, as well as company and flag state policies. 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 ultimate responsibility.


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.
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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

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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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