The Maritime Heritage Project

World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

Sea Captains



William Chapman Ralston

Captain Ralston died in San Francisco August 27, 1875.

William Chapman Ralston was a Scots-Irishman born at Wellsville, Ohio on January 12, 1826. He captained Gold Rush steamers ferrying gold-seekers up the Coast from Panama.

Settling in San Francisco in 1854, he opened the Bank of California, which offered tempting low-interest loans to Nevada's newly formed mining companies. As owners defaulted, he kept the mines and became a Bonanza King.

He also became a transportation giant, establishing dominion over Pacific shipping lanes and inland waterways.

In the 1860s, Captain Ralston tied in with Asbury Harpending. They were arrested on March 15, 1863, as they prepared for their first voyage. "Scattered among the boxes and barrels" on board their ship, the Daily Alta California reported, "were large quantities of pieces of paper, torn to bits and chewed up, evidently with the design of destroying all written evidence." SFPD captain John Lees carefully collected the spitballs and reassembled them for use in court.

Convicted of treason, Harpending and his companions received $10,000 fines and ten-year prison sentences. They were out on the streets again in months, perhaps because the courts found it difficult to take these youthful schemers seriously, perhaps because the wannabe privateers had powerful friends.

By the summer of 1875 Captain Ralston, who had an early career as a cabinet maker, was a hero in the eyes of the ordinary people. He was a bank president, backer of great and small business enterprises, builder of a vast, unfinished hotel, confidante of little men to whom he loaned money on character alone.

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Breverton's Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea

Nautical Curiosities A Book of the Sea.Breverton's Nautical Curiosities" is about ships, people and the sea. However, unlike many other nautical compendiums, the focus of this book is on the unusual, the overlooked or the downright extraordinary.

Thus, someone most of us do not know, Admiral William Brown, is given equal coverage to Admiral Nelson. Without Admiral Brown releasing Garibaldi, modern Italy might not exist. And without the barely known genius John Ericsson designing the "Monitor," the Confederacy might have won the American Civil War.

You will be stimulated as you read about the remarkable people - explorers, admirals and trawlermen - who have shaped our world. The sea has had a remarkable effect upon our language. We hear the terms "steer clear of," "hit the deck," "don't rock the boat," "to harbour a grudge: and the like, and give little thought to their origins. In the pages of this book, the reader will find the roots of "bumpkin," a "brace of shakes," "born with a silver spoon," "booby prize," "above board," "bombed" (in the sense of being drunk), "blind-side," "the pot calling the kettle black," "wasteres," "barbecue" . . . Other colourful terms, which have passed out of common usage, such as "bring one's arse to anchor" (sit down), "belly timber" (food) and "bog orange" (potato) are also included, as well as important pirate haunts, technical terms, famous battles, maritime inventors and ship speed records.

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