Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Thomas P. Whitelaw

June 15, 1880, The Marion Daily Star 
(from The San Francisco Chronicle)

Whaling in the Pacific

The fact that whales abound in sufficient numbers immediately outside this harbor -- between the Farallones and Golden Gate -- to warrant the establishment of a whaling industry of some importance is not generally known, the idea generally entertained being that our waters are too far south to become the resort of schools of whales, and that only an occasional fish, separated from his companions in the north, strays into a latitude so far from his supposed habitat -- the Northern ocean. Considerable numbers of whales can be found at all seasons of the year in the waters adjacent to this port, and within a distance that can be easily traversed in a day. Between the first of May and the first of October is the most favorable season for fishing on account of the calm weather generally prevailing.

Old Wooden Whaling-Ship

Old Wooden Whaling Ship.

The varieties of whales which may be caught in this vicinity are the sulphur bottom which is about 130 feet long, the largest in the world, and weighs in the neighborhood of 200 tons, yielding a small quantity of valuable bone, but being rich in oil; the humpback, weighing 120 tons; the California grays, eighty tons and finbacks and black fish form the remainder. Sperm whales, which are valuable on account of the large quantity of spermaceti which they yield are but rarely found in our waters, and prove a valuable addition to a vessel's catch. Captain Thomas Whitelaw is now constructing a little screw steamer sixty-five feet long, sixteen wide and nine deep, with which he intends to inaugurate the business of whaling- outside the heads. She will be entirely decked over, so that a sea can go completely over her without causing damage She is built very strongly, and is deeper than ordinary, so that she can be drawn some distance into the water by a whale to which she may be made fast without danger.

Under the tine process to be tried by Captain Whitelaw the fish will be cut into sections and without discriminating between blubber, flesh or bones will be placed in large steam-tight tanks made of boiler plates, into which steam at a high pressure and temperature will be introduced which will have the effect of completely digesting the mass and separating The oil, which will be then drawn off. The process will be completed in about eight hours, when the residue of flesh and bones will be taken out. dried, and afterward ground together to produce fertilizer The bones are valuable for this purpose on account of the phosphate of lime which they will yield. Three " trys" can be made in a day, and as three digesters have been constructed each capable of containing a ten-foot section of a whale a large fish can be reduced in about two days. An Arctic whale yields from 1,700 to 3,500 pounds of bone, worth $2.75 a pound by the cargo at New Bedford. Each whale also yields from 100 to 250 barrels of oil worth 10 per barrel.

May 22, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Sunken " Dalhousie."

Thomas P. Whitelaw & Co., having about completed the preliminary work of recovering articles from the sunken hull of the Earl of Dalhousie, the Union Iron Works, which held the main contract for raising the vessel, will soon proceed to work. The old hulk Mohongo has masts placed to correspond with those of the wreck, from which wire cables will extend fastened to the sunken masts. Large forked end poles extend from the Mohongo to assist in the raising. When the ports of the ship are plugged, air will be pumped into the hold, the hatches being battered down, and the Dalhousie will be floated into more shallow water, where operations can be better prosecuted.

July 24, 1886, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Events at the Bay

Shortly before noon today an explosion of giant powder occurred at Whitelaw's ship-yard, at North Point, and two boys named respectively McGowan and Shaughnessy were badly but not seriously injured.

February 1, 1887, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Sold at the Merchants' Exchange Yesterday for $2,400

At 1:80 P. M. yesterday the British bark Lady Bowen was sold by auction at the Merchants' Exchange by S. L. Jones & Co. The sale was made by order of the captain for account of whom it may concern. The bark put into this port in distress on the 3d of January, being bound from Port Townsend to Brisbane, Australia, with lumber. She sprung a leak and was obliged to put in here for repairs, but she was found to be so strained as to prevent anything like ordinary repairs. The sale began promptly and T. P. H. Whitelaw opened with a bid of $1,000. This offer was quickly raised to $2,000 by William Mighell, and Whitelaw bid $2,200; Mighell finally offered $2,400 and no one else bidding the vessel was knocked down to him. The cargo of lumber will be sold separately. The buyer : intends to break up the vessel.

August 17, 1887, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Fleet of Steamers Plying Along the Mexican Coast.

Captain T. P H. Whitelaw is negotiating for the charter of another steamship, which is to join the . City of Topeka and Monserat on the International Line. By the end of the year the company will have six vessels running on the Mexican coast, three of which will be used as feeders of the main line. Their contract calls for three iron steamers of 800 tons burden or more.

August 8, 1888, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

A Nail Company's Suit

Suit has been brought in the Superior Court against Thomas P. H. Whitelaw by the Pacific Iron and Nail Company for the recovery or $2460, in which amount, it is claimed, the complainants were damaged by the defendant's alleged breach of a contract, dated September 21,1885, whereby the latter agreed to sell to the nail company 250 tons of iron at $27.50 per ton. Failing in this the plaintiffs claim that they were obliged to buy iron at high figures in open market in order to keep their works running.

April 22, 1891, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Stealing Scrap Iron.

For some time small quantities of Iron have been missed from Whitelaw's yard at the sea-wall, and a close watch has been kept. About 7 o'clock yesterday morning Special Officer Charles Duyier detected a couple of lads making off with several pieces of scrap iron, and at once giving chase, overhauled one of them and took him to the North Harbor Station, where he gave the name of Thomas Jones and said he was 17 years old. Jones was locked up on a charge of petty larceny.

April 13, 1892, Daily Nevada State Journal

Whitelaw Takes Exceptions

SAN FRANCISCO, April 12. The case of the schooner La Ninfa, against Thomas Whitelaw, the owner, which libel was filed in the United States District Court of Alaska, August 25, 1891, for having been engaged unlawfully in sealing in the Behring sea, is before the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Bugbee of the Alaskan Court ordered the vessel condemned and forfeited to the United States Government, but Whitelaw takes exceptions on the ground the Court had no jurisdiction, the alleged offense having taken place beyond one marine league from shore,and that the Act under which the schooner was seized is unconstitutional.

July 17, 1896, San Francisco Call

Bodies from the Blairmore

. . . Captains Burns and Whitelaw expect to have the wrecked Blairmore alongside the wharf this afternoon. All the ballast will have been taken out by that time and the vessel will probably right herself. The bodies of Mate Thomas Ludget, 35 years old, a native of Ireland, and sailors Henry Clark and Rowland E. Biegle have been recovered and taken to the Morgue. The British Consul will attend to their burial...

The Pacific Coast Steamship Company's Orizaba will be due from Mexican ports on , the 24th inst. She has a big passenger list and a full cargo . . .

Over a dozen convicts been released from San Quentin during the past week, and they have all congregated on the water front. They have secured a horse and wagon, with which they patrol, night and day, from Meiggs wharf  to Third street, and woe betide the unguarded vessel that happens to be in their way. Numerous thefts have been reported. Yesterday they got away with a coil of rope from the steamer Kahului in broad daylight. The police are now on their trail, and the chances are that some of them, at least, will be captured in a few days.

Meiggs Wharf, San Francisco.
Meigg's Wharf, San Francisco.

June 21, 1899, San Francisco Call

Whitelaw Is Acquitted.

Thomas Whitelaw, son of the well-known wrecking man, was acquitted by Judge Conlan yesterday of the charge of buying junk from a minor. The evidence showed that the boy, Jess, picked the piece of iron off the street and got twice as much as it was worth from Whitelaw.

July 21, 1900, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Wrecker Whitelaw to Drag Raccoon Straits

Brothers of Tobias J. Kelly Will Make Final Efforts to Recover Bodies.

This morning the search for the bodies of Tobias J. Kelly and Miss Bessie Warren, supposed to have been drowned last Sunday in Raccoon Straits, will be resumed. Joseph and Thomas Kelly, brothers of the missing man, are determined to get the bodies, boat or some trace of the missing couple, and yesterday sent for Captain Whitelaw, who will start in with his divers and grappling irons to-day.

December 1, 1904, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California


A--BUYS, sells or rents gear machinery, engines, boilers, water pipe, shafting, pulleys, etc. WHITELAW. 253-255 Spear St.

Rounding the Horn.New York to Cape Horn to San Francisco.
Rounding the Horn: Being the Story of Williwaws and Windjammers, Drake, Darwin, Murdered Missionaries and Naked Natives--a Deck's-eye View of Cape HornNew York to Cape Horn to San Francisco.
Dallas Murphy
Fifty-five degrees 59 minutes South by 67 degrees 16 minutes West: Cape Horn—a buttressed pyramid of crumbly rock situated at the very 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. It’s a place where the storms are bigger, the winds stronger, and the seas rougher than anywhere else on earth. In Rounding the Horn the author brings the reader along for a thrilling, exuberant tour. Weaving together stories of his own nautical adventures with long-lost 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,

Around Cape Horn Sailing DVD. New York to Cape Horn to San Francisco.
Around Cape Horn: Capt. Irving Johnson Sailing DVDNew York to Cape Horn to San Francisco.
Few will ever experience such adverse conditions especially considering 1920's square rigger design, the technology and lack of meteorology available to assist the crews manage four masted ships with huge sail plans. Along with the challenging seas, this highly-regarded film was shot when cameras were bulky. Captain Irving is engaging. Actors were not used. This is real footage with real people.

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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