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Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Captain Callahan

Captain Callahan and Mutiny at Sea

MUTINY AND THE SAN FRANCISCO COURTS.

On the occasion of the trial of the crew of the White Swallow  in February last, and their acquittal of the charge of mutiny, it became our duty to animadvert upon the administration of the law, and to call public attention to the serious blow thereby struck at the commerce of this port.

Our readers may recall to mind the case of the White Swallow. She left New York September 14th, more than a year ago, under the command of Captain Knowles, for this port. When nineteen days out, the crew rose at midnight, knocked down the Captain, put the officers in irons, and kept possession of the ship four days, at the end of which time, dreading the consequences and being unable to navigate the ship, they reinstated the officers and returned to their duty. The reasons given for this attempted murder and actual mutiny were, that one of them had been struck and that they had been required to scrape the ship's side. This was proved to be an ordinary duty on board ship. These men were arraigned on the charges, and, to their own utter surprise, were acquitted under the charge of Judge Hoffman.

Tierra del Fuego.

This result was met with surprise all over the world. The seamen from this port giving far greater latitude to the judicial decision even than it deserved, everywhere considered it as an absolute release from all discipline and all duty of obedience on board ships bound for San Francisco. We then pointed out that such a state of affairs would operate against the commerce of this port, because neither merchants, owners nor underwriters would trust valuable ships and cargoes on voyages to a port where mutiny is justified by the Courts. How far the great losses sustained by farmers and dealers for want of tonnage to transport their grain this fall has resulted from that unfortunate decision, we cannot at this moment state.

What we then pointed out as the probable influence upon shipboard has been justified by what occurred on board the Reynard, Capt. Callahan, which arrived in port yesterday from New York, with a cargo worth $400,000. That ship left New York July 21st, with the Captain's family and a crew of sixteen men. On leaving port, the Captain, knowing the effect of the decisions in the Courts here upon the minds of the seamen, gave strict orders that no epithets should be applied to the men, and no blows given on any pretence. When a short time at sea, it was manifest that there was a disposition to avail of the supposed San Francisco immunity for crime on shipboard. The ringleaders demanded of the steward some extra allowances which he had no authority to grant. They were consequently abusive, extended their insolence to the officers and the Captain, and upon the steward refusing to let one go into the Captain's stateroom, he swore he would murder the "black son of a b h." Nor was the threat confined to words, but many attempts were made upon the man's life. The Captain was compelled to give him a pistol, with orders to protect himself if he was assaulted. The six or seven ringleaders drew their knives upon the Captain, who was totally unarmed, and threw off all obedience and discipline. They refused to stand watch, or do anything but what they pleased. They in no degree restrained their horrid blasphemies in the presence of the Captain's wife, who was in mortal terror. They then proceeded to endanger the ship by wanton mischief such as placing obstructions on the approach of night, in the way of taking in sail in case of night squalls.

When rounding Cape Horn, the ship, off a lee shore, encountered a terrible gale. At that moment a sail was seen coming towards her, very close. The Captain, alert, gave orders to change the course from the approaching vessel. One of the desperadoes reviled the man at the wheel for not running into the other ship, swearing that he would have done it All the provisions on board were at the mercy of these men. They kept no watch, and openly boasted that when going to San Francisco they could have their own way with impunity. Now when it is remembered that a crew of sixteen is not large for a ship like the Reynard, and that seven of them had thrown off obedience, the hardship upon the remaining men and the officers may be appreciated; the more so that the life of the colored steward was so frequently attempted that he was of little service. Under these circumstances, the ship, the property and the lives on board, were in great jeopardy. That Captain Callahan succeeded in getting her in without accident is a marvel. But he arrived at last, after suffering every hardship and humiliation, and having refrained from even the semblance of violence, in order to avoid every shadow of excuse for the mutinous conduct of the men.

On arrival the men are arrested, and the Courts appealed to for justice.

The public now look on with interest to learn if property and officers in charge of it have any rights before the law. We hope and trust that this opportunity will be improved to show seamen that while the law gives them ample protection, it will also punish severely any dereliction of duty on their part; that the maritime law of this port will be placed on such a footing that merchants here, as well as in all the ports of the world, may feel that their legal rights are safe. It is very evident that there is but one other alternative. If the law fails to back the officers in maritime discipline, the law of self-protection will exert itself in a terrible manner, and the next officer in Captain Callahan's position will be justified in the eyes of the world if he sacrifices the life of every mutineer to the safety of the ship and the protection of the lives of faithful seamen.

The interests of this coast are now suffering severely for want of tonnage, partly because the law in the case of the White Swallow proclaimed to the world that ships were not safe in coming here. Another effect of that unfortunate decision was that desperate seamen all over the world got notice that if they are on board San Francisco ships their crimes will go unpunished in this port; consequently that class of seamen seek these voyages. For the same reason worthy seamen avoid them. They will not put themselves in the way of the difficulties sure to grow out of such companionships. Consequently the property coming to this port is entirely at the mercy of desperadoes.

 

Gold Rush Port
Gold Rush Port The Maritime Archaeology of San Franciscos Waterfront.The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's WaterfrontMaritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront.
James P. Delgado
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.
Master Under God.David Igler
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 Horn 
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. In 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 GodMaster Under God.
At Sea.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.

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Copyright © 1998-2017. All U.S.A. and International Rights Reserved. D. Blethen Adams Levy.

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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