Ship Passengers at the Port of San Francisco: 1800s


Arrive San Francisco

Captain Joseph W. Richardson
From New York


On January 12, 1849, the ship Brooklyn left New York for San Francisco via the Horn with Joseph W. Richardson as Master. He had made the journey in 1846 with his uncle A.W. Richardson, captain and co-owner of the ship.

The first journey was the passage of 238 members of the Latter Day Saints led by Samuel Brannan.

October 1, 1849, Alta California, San Francisco, California

(Reported for the Alta California)
The Brooklyn Case
District of San Francisco, 88

To the Hon. John W. Geary, Alcalde of the District of San Francisco,

The petition of Geo. F. J. Colburne, Ezra Dibble, Stephen B. Haff, H. A. Bell, and John Lynes respectfully represents that your petitioners were passengers on board ship Brooklyn, Joseph W. Richardson master, which sailed from the port of New York for the port of San Francisco, California, on the 12th day of January, 1849; that there were a distinct understanding, when their passage money was paid, that said vessel would put into the port of either Rio Janeiro or Valparaiso, to enable passengers to procure fresh provisions, in a voyage as long as the average from New York to this port is absolutely necessary for the health and comfort of passengers and seamen. They are prepared to prove that the owners or agents of said vessel held out, as an inducement to said passengers to take passage to California on said ship Brooklyn, that they would stop at said port or ports, otherwise they would not have left New York on board said ship.

They are also prepared to show, that more passengers were taken on board said vessel than is allowed by act of Congress, made in relation to emigrant vessels crossing the equator, on account of which they were forced to endure many inconveniencies and privations, resulting in injury to health and consequent suffering

They are also prepared to show, that the ship was badly ventilated; that the captain, contrary to act of Congress, passed May 17, 1848, did not attempt to maintain habits of cleanliness on board his vessel, nor did he post up any regulations in relation thereto; nor did he cause the apartments occupied by such passengers to be kept in a clean and healthy state; nor did he cause chloride of lime to be used on board said vessel, as a disinfecting agent; in all of which he acted in direct violation of said act of Congress.

They are also prepared to prove, that there were more passengers taken on board said vessel than there were berths provided for; and even those who paid for bunks were unprovided for during the whole passage.

They are also prepared to show, that Capt. Joseph W. Richardson was repeatedly requested to put into some port; but as repeatedly refused to do so: that when near the port or harbor of Valparaiso some of the passengers informed him that they would pay ail expenses if he would go into port: he refused, giving the frivolous excuse that they would spend their money, get drunk, &c.

They are also prepared, to show that Capt. Richardson stated that he was determined not to speak any vessel during the voyage, and that in one instance he bore away from a vessel which fired guns and appeared to be in distress.

They are also prepared to show that Capt. Richardson could have spoken a vessel off the coast of California, apparently going out, and in all probability having fresh provisions on board, but refused so to do.

They will also show, that, before they touched at the island of Juan Fernandez, the scurvy attacked one of the passengers, which passenger was in a healthy and hale condition when he left the port of New York.

They are also prepared to prove that they themselves were in good health when they embarked at New York on board ship Brooklyn; that the owners or agents promised them a store-room of fresh provisions and stores on board said ship, which afterward was not prepared for, but denied them; in consequence of which many of the stores they were provided with became spoiled and unfit for use.

And, in fine, they are prepared to show, that death, in its most horrid form, to some of the passengers of said ship Brooklyn, and the terrible and loathsome disease of scurvy to themselves and many fellow-passengers, has been the result of this deception and breach of contract on the part of the owners or agents, and the foulness of the ship and the crowding of the passengers, want of reasonable food, comforts, necessaries, and kindness on the part of Capt. Joseph W. Richardson, has consigned many of their fellow-voyagers, young men of bright prospects and brilliant talents, to a premature grave, and placed themselves, objects of loathing and disgust, among strangers, borne down by disease, out of money to defray heavy expenses, unable to labor, and to which in comparison, the condition of the cargo cast ashore from an African slaver, is not half so pitiable.

They, therefore, through their attorney, James A. Banks, Esq., complain that, by breach of contract on the part of the owners or agents, and ill usage and mal-treatment on the part of Joseph W. Richardson, master of said ship Brooklyn, they have sustained, in their health, time and persons, damages to the amount of at least five thousand dollars. For which, with costs, this action has been brought and is now prosecuted.


THOMAS O. DAVIS, sworn I was a passenger on board ship Brooklyn during her late voyage to this port from New York; I was in the 2nd cabin, Capt Richardson was master; the first conversation I had relative to an understanding about our voyage was in Rising & Hannah's office, in No. 83 Beaver street, New York; they advertised as agents, and told me when I called they were agents of the Brooklyn.

United States Steamship Office, Panama.
United States Mail Steamship Company
Aspinwall, Panama Canal Zone, 1854

The gentleman in the office who told us that he was one of the agents, said that the vessel would stop at one or both the ports of Rio Janeiro and Valparaiso. I did not pay my passage money at that office; was there but once. About a week after I called at the office of E. Richardson & Co., S. street. They represented themselves as the owners of the said ship Brooklyn. I engaged my passage in their office and paid the money. I conversed with several persons in the office, particularly with Thomas Richardson who I believed to be one of the owners.

He told me that the ship would stop at Rio Janeiro or Valparaiso, and probably both. He told me it would not be necessary to stop for water, but for supplies, which I understood to mean fresh food. I had no conversation with Captain E. Richardson respecting the voyage. I did not ascertain the size of the vessel. At Rising & Hannah's office I was told the No. would be limited to 100 or 120; I did not hear any limit at T. Richardson & Co's office. I certainly would not have taken passage on board the ship if I had not distinctly understood that the ship was to touch at one or both of the above mentioned ports. I believe there was from 168 to 170 passengers taken. If there had been fewer passengers on board, they would not have suffered so much, they would have had more room to walk about; the ship was much crowded; 100 or 120 passengers was as many in my opinion could be accommodated comfortably in so long a voyage. I never heard of any effort on the part of the captain to cleanse the ship be tween decks, that was left to the passengers themselves. I have seen some vessels more dirty and many others a great deal cleaner.

There were no rules of the ship posted up. Chloride of lime was used a few times in the 2nd cabin, about the time we crossed the line on the Atlantic. In the 2nd cabin ventilation was bad, I cannot say whether there were more passengers than berths, or not. There was a conversation among the passengers and I was requested to contribute towards defraying port charges, which I refused, on the grounds that the ship was to have put in at Rio Janeiro or Valparaiso any way, if for the benefit of the passengers, and both if necessary. I had no conversation with the captain relative to putting in at Valparaiso. I suppose we were between the island of Juan Fernandez and Valparaiso; the captain had the only chronometer and did not give latitude or longitude. At the time the said conversation occurred the wind was fair for either Juan Fernandez or Valparaiso.

I cannot fix a date when the scurvy first appeared among the passengers. Many complained of being sick and debilitated before we got to the island. There were no fresh provisions to be obtained at the island, except fish, to my knowledge. At the conversation we were about 150 miles from the island, and the wind was blowing S.S.W. It would have been as easy to go into the port of Valparaiso as to the island. When about three or four weeks out, I expressed to the Capt. a wish that we might fall in with a homeward-bound vessel, in order that we might send letters to our friends, The Capt. replied, his friends did not want to hear from him to the end of the voyage, and he should not speak a vessel if he could prevent it. A boat from a vessel boarded our ship; this was the only communication we had with any vessel; I, believe we might have spoken several, if he had been so inclined; we could have spoken several after the scurvy broke out; did not, only showed colors; we could have spoken a Spanish brig off the coast of California. A number of the passengers were then sick, some of whom have since died. We heard a man-of-war firing guns; was near the line on the Atlantic; I suppose she wished to speak us. The Capt. hoisted his colors, and exhibited the name of the ship; did not change our course; we saw a ship in the neighborhood of the Horn, much disabled; appeared very anxious to speak us; she bore down for us; was unable to reach us; we continued our course. A store-room was promised us in Richardson's office, for stores for immediate use; it was not provided. In some instances barrels and half barrels, destroyed by exposure on deck, were thrown overboard. A great many rotten potatoes, spoiled bread and beans were taken from the hold, partly belonging to the passengers and partly to the ship, were thrown overboard.' In a good store-room some of the provisions would not have spoiled so soon. I think the Captain might have materially mitigated the sufferings of the passengers by showing them some kindness and attention. Captain did not appear to manifest much sympathy in the sufferings of the passengers until within a week or so of our arrival at San Francisco. I do think the Captain should have paid more attention to the passengers. One of my part was sick with scurvy. Shortly previous to the 1st of July he became lame and pained in his limbs; he was so sick as to be unable to come on deck when we reached port. The Captain came into the room where my friend lay; I do not know that it was to see him.

The Rush for Gold.

There were some of the boarders there; the captain did not pay any attention to my friend that I am aware of, until near this place; my friend died a few days after we came on shore; the inquest decided that he died from scurvy; he was in good health when he left New York; he contracted this disease on board; he continued in good health until within the last 2 or 3 months; I do not know at what time the Swiss took sick; two Germans and one of my own party were sick in the same room besides Blauvelt. The room was about six by eight that I occupied in second cabin; 6 occupied the same room except 1 occasionally slept in a hammock, outside; four out of the six were so sick that we had to lift them out of the ship; one of the four is dead; the other three are scarcely able to crawl about; did not think Captain R. showed much attention to the sick until six or ten days previous to our arrival in San Francisco; passengers began to suffer and complain about the first of July; two limped on the 4th July; I had a conversation with the Captain, at request of passengers, for wind-sail soon after he put one up in first cabin; he said it would be impracticable, as in that event he must close the passage between first cabin and second cabin, and it would be injurious; the space was from six to eight inches above bulk-head that must be closed as aforesaid; the open space assisted slightly to ventilate the second cabin; my room was in centre and I did not perceive any benefit from it; there was a small skylight, perhaps 3 feet by 2 feet, cut through deck, around which were sashes, to be opened and closed at my pleasure, and the companion-way, whereby we went in and out; the above means were entirely insufficient to ventilate the cabin; we went up and down, to and from the cabin, by steps; the sick could not get up when the steps were up; at other times we carried them up; the upper deck was almost entirely occupied by spars, provision barrels, etc., and not generally space for two persons to walk abreast, so there was but little room for exercise; I have known Capt. R. to order passengers off from quarter-deck; I was there when said first cabin, passengers and officers of the ship only were permitted to be there; after ward second cabin and steerage passengers kept away from there generally a few exception; I am acquainted with the plaintiffs; think they are all still afflicted with scurvy; think I have seen it on them all; know I have on most of them; I cannot estimate the value of health, in dollars and cents; no money would tempt me to have the scurvy so bad as they have it; they have it not so badly as some others.

Cross ex. Do not know that I ever asked the captain the longitude myself; had but little intercourse with captain; nothing of an unfriendly nature passed between us; but I kept away from him as much as I could; I had cause to be displeased with him in common with others; nothing particularly personal; Rising & Hanna, or their agent in their office, said the ship would stop at Rio or Valparaiso probably both places; do not know the person who made the statement; had there been more room on deck the passengers would have had more room for exercise, and consequently would have suffered less; chloride of lime was used in second cabin; do not know it was used in steerage; it might have been, often used, as I was not often there; the door to hatch-way was double; one was sometimes shut; there was also a sky-light, which could be kept open or shut at pleasure, in second cabin; companion-way could have been kept open at pleasure. I do not believe the space between bulk-head and lower cabin was over eight inches; am positive it was not eighteen inches; wind-sail was kept down, in first after cabin most of the time weather being warm . . . think it was on the 9th or 10th of May that the wind hauled found to N. and W. N., it had previously been S. and W, S. light breezes at night; captain might have spoken the vessel off the Horn, which was dismantled and apparently trying to reach us; cannot state positively which vessel had the wind. I saw no signals of distress from said vessel and heard no guns; should consider vessel injured in spars, with topmast gone, in distress; I am not much of a sailor, never sailed except as passenger. We met the Spanish brig a week previous, to our arrival at San Francisco, captain could certainly have spoken her, she was to leeward, do not know where bound; think she was sailing about E. S. E., am not at all certain; think the Wind was northerly. We were, in hopes of getting in every day; did not know our longitude. Should not think the aforesaid man-of-war was firing guns of distress; remember but one instance of being annoyed by having things stolen, then the articles were returned. The barrels containing the bread consumed on the passage were generally flour barrels; 2nd cabin passengers on Brooklyn were dissatisfied at being excluded from quarter deck, that being the largest vacant place; never knew 1st cabin passengers complain that 2nd cabin passengers were allowed on quarter deck . . . I spoke to captain several times about Blouvelt's sickness; do not know that captain ever gave him medicine but once or twice. B. and myself belonged to the same company; he complained to me of captain's treatment, not for want of medicine; one of our party owns medicine; we had to urge him to take medicine.

Dr. Jethro Hatch, sworn. Says, I am a physician; I wassailed upon by Dr. Colburn to attend Mr. Blauvelt the day before he died. I first saw him, and found him in a very low and sinking condition. It was admitted by defendant that Blauvelt died of scurvy and that it was contracted at sea. I examined Mr. Colburn, he had the scurvy also; I examined Mr. Haff and several others who had scurvy; found Mr. Colburn's gums in a very bad condition, and limbs in a bad condition. Mr. Haff's limbs were affected with scurvy. I examined John Lynes, he was strongly marked with scurvy. The direct, specific cause is starving or abstaining from such substances as are directly necessary a healthy condition of blood; or a long abstinence from acids, potatoes and the like which are necessary to nourish the blood . . . fresh provisions are a specific cure unless the disease has gone too far, and always prevent it; occasional use of fresh meat is very useful and more especially at sea; vegetables and acids absolutely necessary . . .

Ex. in chief In a pent-up atmosphere on board ship and the like, scurvy sometimes presents itself in four or five months, not often so soon. I called at Juan Fernandez the day the Brooklyn left. Succulent vegetables could not be obtained there. Islands said potatoes were raised; I found none.

Dr J. D. B. Stillman, sworn l am by profession a physician. In scurvy the symptoms are plain. I think the plaintiffs in this city were afflicted with scurvy, and I presume still are. Mr. Colburn's teeth and gums were very sore, and his legs much swollen, there being fungus growth upon the gums which gave them a bad appearance. The others were also rather bad; one or two so lame and debilitated they could scarcely walk. Mr. Lyons was one of them; I think it would be difficult to masticate food with gums in that state. My experience is very limited in the disease; I have met in private practice several cases of this disease; those that were on board the vessel, or who have been at sea could tell more about it than I. Can't tell how long they had been afflicted. I think Mr. Colburn has not been able, nor would I advise him to attend to any active business. Some of these complainants are unable to attend to any business; some of them asked my advice and had been, under medical treatment. I was a passenger on board the ship Pacific from New York; our vessel run near the island of Juan Fernandez; we aid not drop anchor. The cause of scurvy in the opinion of the medical faculty, is want of fresh vegetables, containing certain acids which the blood, in scurvy, docs not contain. Potatoes are regarded as one of the most important remedies, or prevention. Nearly all fresh fruits counteract it in a considerable degree; dried fruits in a less degree.


Mr. Rush Green, sworn, I came in second cabin of the Brooklyn. Our mess laid in our provisions. I made an agreement with one of the owners for my passage. It was positively stated that the ship was to stop only at Juan Fernandez. I heard nothing from any one in authority about stopping at Rio or Valparaiso The weather was cold when we left New York. l am pretty certain all our potatoes were frozen. We began throwing them overboard soon after leaving New York. At the end of two months we had none on board, and toward the last we made but one barrell out of three. The Brooklyn was a favorite ship in New York. There was quite a rush to get into her. I paid my passage a little over three weeks before she sailed. The second day after I wanted to get two friends in, but was told she was full. Off Rio there was no expectation of stopping at that port. I never knew of a formal request among the passengers to the captain to stop at Valparaiso or Rio. The passengers did not express any right lo enter that port. Heard the passengers talk to captain about paying port expenses. I knew of no scurvy on board before we reached Juan Fernandez. Captain got some fresh provisions at Juan Fernandez. I know I could have obtained goat's flesh if I desired. I heard the inhabitants say there were goats, and a Yankee, 2nd cabin passengers were allowed on quarter named Fierce offered to obtain as many goats as we wanted at a high price. I know that the captain could have obtained radishes and turnips there. These turnips were there free to any man who wished to pull them. The passengers went goat hunting; saw some of them. The first case of scurvy was a French Carpenter, after we left Juan Fernandez', first time I saw him after leaving New York he appeared sickly. The second case was a man known as the Swiss. The French carpenter and a gentleman named Richards died on board. It was known that Mr. Richards had consumption some time before the scurvy broke out; thinks captain was attentive to him. I saw him every day, and sometimes two or three times a day, administering lo the sick. I consider that, during the whole voyage, the captain was kind and attentive, and never used harsh language to the passengers. Great feeling appeared at the time of entering at Juan Fernandez; they appeared much gratified, and were preparing for hunting and fishing. Some few persons said the captain had better put into the Sandwich Islands; others remarked that we were nearer to San Francisco than to that place. Thinks the general feeling toward captain was friendly. Cheers were given for Capt. K. at Juan Fernandez, also for the ship, also on the 4tb July, after leaving Juan Fernandez; thinks for captain and officers of ship. Left Juan 22d May; second cabin was kept neatly. Chloride of lime was used on vessel. Captain advised us to keep rooms clean soon after leaving New York; he told of regulation* on packets . . .

John Marks sworn. Says I was steerage passenger on Brooklyn, engaged passage at Mr. Richardson's in N. Y. No representations at all made made about stopping on the passage. There was a great rush, premiums offered for tickets. I was offered a premium. Majority did not wish to stop at Rio, those who did wanted to go for a little spree. Recollect the dismantled vessel off the Horn, don't think the captain tried to avoid her, weather was rough. Believe there was was some cheering at Juan Fernandez. Previous to breaking out of scurvy passengers were very healthy; know of no suffering at all, captain's general deportment was good. Half of the passengers and more, were grunting and groaning all the time; heard scurvy first about 3 weeks after leaving Juan. I was about the 2nd one attacked with scurvy. I received kindness and attention from the captain, better than I should expect from a captain for a steerage; brought medicine two or three times a day: he was attentive to other passengers. Heard captain speak about keeping steerage clean. Wild turnips and the like at Juan. Think scurvy was in consequence of long voyage, not neglect; of Capt. R. Never saw captain before going on board: all 1 know of living, sick had three meals a day cooked expressly for them at the captain's galley, passengers too who found themselves. Nothing said to me about a store-room before leaving New York. Steerage ventilated by machine forward and wind-sail at main hatch. I used to complain to cabin boy for not bringing gruel earlier, not to captain.

Cross ex. I was confined a month boy told me sick passengers had three meals a day and I saw the victuals carried by. I never complained while sick to any one had not the scurvy very badly. Rheumatism troubled me considerably had first symptoms about four weeks from Juan nearly, recovered now was not a well man when I left New Fork, but could attend to business no contract made to stop any place before starling.

William Cornell, sworn. Says I am 1st mate of Brooklyn my distinct understanding with the owners in New York was to stop only at Juan. Nothing said about stopping at Rio or Valparaiso. I always told passengers so there was a store-room in which passengers for 2nd cabin and steerage stored. All wished to proceed on the voyage not to stop at Rio. Passengers never said anything about a right to stop at Valparaiso got fowls and a few vegetables at Juan. No cheering at Juan, there was on the 4th of July think we have been nearer this port at any time since leaving Juan than at the Sandwich Islands think winds were N. and W. Captain's chart offered in evidence. I considered the course of the vessel there marked out, correct those marks were made during the voyage. Had I been master of the vessel 1 should have made the best of my way to this port. I consider she was a well ventilated vessel. Met no vessel off Cape Horn in distress saw no vessel that made signal of distress. Think the vessel off California coast stood in towards shore, we were to windward we were perhaps three miles from her she was a Chilean brig wind was from W. potatoes seldom kept well more than three months.

The jury brought in a verdict for the plaintiffs, but the initial request of $5,000 per passenger was cut to $2,000 per passenger.

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.