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Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

A. Nicholson

September 9, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Another Disaster
The Steamer Alexander Duncan Goes Ashore Last Night.

The steamer Alexander Duncan went ashore last night on Mile Rock, at the entrance of this harbor. The accident occurred at too late as hour to make it possible to get details for this morning's paper. At the present writing the steamer is a mile below Fort Point.

September 10, 1885, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The steamer Alexander Duncan, from Hueneme, with a cargo of hogs consigned to Goodall, Perkins j& Co., went ashore late Tuesday night near Mile Rock and is now near Fort Point, filled with water.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

September 15, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Wreck of the Duncan.

In consequence of the calm weather and smooth sea, hope has been expressed that Whitelaw's divers would succeed in securing the machinery of the wrecked steamer Alexander Duncan, ashore near Fort Point. Only the cylinders have yet been taken out, the boilers, crank shaft, etc., remaining under water. The wreck was still holding together yesterday afternoon, but the weather last night was not so favorable. Whitelaw's wrecking boat will continue the work until either the Duncan breaks up or the machinery is secured.

May 26, 1891, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Struck a Snag

The steamer Alexander Duncan will have to go on the dry-dock to repair a hole punched through her bottom by a bar of railroad iron. The iron had been dropped overboard some time ago and stuck in the mud end up, but completely submerged. The steamer was tied up to the wharf right over the snag, and when the tide went out the iron ran up through her bottom.

September 17, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Captain Nicholson's Statement.

Captain Nicholson, late master of the steamer Alexander Duncan, has filed a statement with the local Inspectors of Hulls and Boilers. He says that when the steamer struck the rocks no lights could be seen and the fog was very dense. He and the second officer were on deck when she struck. As soon as this officer returns from Portland his testimony will be taken.

October 29, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Suspended for a Shipwreck.

Captain Nicolson Failed to Exercise Vigilance Another Investigation.

Yesterday Inspectors Freeman and Hillman of Steam Vessels made a report to Supervising Inspector Bemis, in relation to the steamer Alex. Duncan, which was wrecked on Mile Rock on the 8th of last month. The report is as follows:

We have to report that on September 8th last, at 11:20 p. m., the coasting freight steamer Alexander Duncan, Alex. Nicolson, master, struck on Mile Rock, at the entrance of this port. The vessel made water rapidly, and to save the crew and cargo Captain Nicolson ran her on shore in that vicinity.

A large portion of the cargo was saved and the steamer afterward was raised and is now under repair. No lives were lost. The damage to property was about $4,000. Upon investigation of this casualty, from testimony taken, we find that Captain Nicolson had experienced foggy weather all the way from Port Harford, September 7th, and arrived off the Heads at about 10:30 p. m., September 8th. He then proceeded, as he thought, close up to Point Bonita, the fog whistle of that station sounding at the time, and shaped his course NE. by E. 1/2 E. by compass, to enter this harbor, and then, for reason, as he states, that he lost the echo of that whistle, he changed his course to NE. by N., and in a few minutes thereafter struck on Mile Rock.

Captain Nicolson avers that he did not hear the Lime Point whistle until after the Alexander Duncan struck on Mile Rock; but the log of that station shows that said whistle was sounding its prescribed blasts from 10:40 p. m. to 11:35 p. m. of September 8th, and that Captain Nicolson failed to hear it before 11:20 p. m., is unaccountable, as this whistle is plainly to be heard in calm weather a considerable distance outside of the Heads.

It is evident Captain Nicolson misjudged position at the time he ran up for Point Bonita and shaped his course to enter the harbor, and that he failed to verify by his charts the bearing of the whistle sounding on that point; for otherwise he would have learned that he wax out of his proper course, and moreover the use of the lead and line at the time would have served to warn him of the danger his steamer was in. Captain Nicolson is an able and experienced coasting master, but in this instance he failed to exercise his customary vigilance and precaution against the dangers of entering the port of San Francisco in a dense fog by neglecting to use his charts and lead. For reason of such neglect of duty on the part of Captain A. Nicolson, we have suspended his license as master and pilot of steamers for fifteen days.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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