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Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Matthew Turner

Born: June 17, 1825, Geneva, Ohio;
Died February 10, 1909, Oakland, California

Matthew Turner learned the trade of master ship building on Lake Erie from his father George Turner, owner of a sawmill on the shores of Lake Erie.

In 1850, after the death of his wife and child, Turner sailed to California to join the West Coast fortune seekers. He was successful during the next couple of years and returned to the East Coast where he bought the Toronto, a schooner, which he sailed around the Horn back to the West Coast.

There, Turner joined Captain Richard Thomas Rundle in the lumber trade by shipping lumber from the Mendocino Coast to San Francsico. He was again successful and traded up to a larger schooner, the Louis Perry.

During his earlier years in California, he expanded his interests to Japan, China, South America and the South Pacific.

Matthew Turner began shipbuilding in the West Coast. His first craft was the brig Nautilus, built at Eureka. He established his shipyards in San Francisco, later moving to Benicia. There, from 1868 to 1905, he designed, planned, modeled and constructed 228 sea-going vessels. In August 1902, the new schooner Matthew Turner, built at Benicia, sailed from Benicia to sail to Eureka where she loaded lumber for Australia. The Matthew Turner, a four-masted schooner, was 700 tons register, 216 feet long, 42 feet wide and 16 feet deep.

His integrity and love of the sea and ships was recognized by was recognized by Queen Victoria, the Mendocino Lumber Company, and for saving a Norwegian vessel, which he towed into Honolulu. He was the second oldest Mason in California.

May 6, 1878, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Matthew Turner Outsails All Her Rivals.

Yesterday being a fine day, with a good breeze, the schooner Matthew Turner, with her owner on board, and a party of Invited guests, "Along the Wharves" among them, got under way, from her anchorage in Mission Bay, and proceeded down the harbor. She was followed soon after by Turner's latest, the schooner Rosario, sailed by Captain Turner himself, and had over a hundred people on board. Both vessels presented a fine appearance, as they passed along the front, and on reaching North Point Dock, they picked up the little Consuelo, and one and all went after Boisse's new schooner, which, at the time, was about a mile ahead of the Turner, and, with a good breeze, was evidently doing her level best. Nothing daunted, however, the Matthew Turner trimmed her sheets well aft, Guite "piped all hands" to grog, and the effects were soon visible. On reaching Black Point, the Turner was up with her rival, and to windward withal, and continuing down. When the Turner was a half-mile outside the Fort, Boisse's schooner was barely abreast of the Presidio, with the Rosario and Consuelo a mile below and to windward of her. We think this is a fair test of what Turner's models are, and all must agree that they can't be beat.

April 25, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Measured Vessels.

The official survey of the new steel ship Arago, built by the Union Iron Works, has been completed. Her registered length is 200 feet; beam, 80 feet; depth of hold, 16 feet; gross tonnage, 827.54. Deductions under the Act of 1882, exempting machinery and crew space, make her net tonnage 620.06 tons; displacement when loaded, drawing twelve feet of water, 1,500 tons. The new schooner Emma, built by Matthew Turner for Mexico, has been measured. Her registered length is 68.08 feet; beam, 20 feet; depth of hold, 6.50 feet; gross tonnage, 44.41; net, 42.19.

1887: Newark, schooner, built at Benicia by Matthew Turner. Gross tonnage 300/38; Net tonnage 235/56. (Annual Report Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco)

Equator, two-masted schooner, was built in Benicia by Matthew Turner in 1888 and operated as South Seas trader and mail boat by Wightman Brothers, San Francisco. The Equator and the British battleship Calliope were the only ships within a radius of 200 miles of Apia to ride out the great Samoan hurricane of March, 1889. Later she was chartered by Robert Louis Stevenson, the novelist, for a South Seas cruise and in her cabin he heard the yarn that gave him the nucleus for the plot of The Wreckers. A number of years later the Equator was converted into a steam tug.

October 6, 1892, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Largest Vessel Ever Launched in the Shipyards at Benicia

Benicia, October 5. -- The largest vessel ever built at Turner's shipyards was successfully launched today at 1 o'clock. Her deck line is 165 feet, beam 30 feet 6 inches, and 16 feet depth of hold. She has a tonnage of 500 tons. She was built for Matthew Turner and others of San Francisco, and her rig will be that of a brigantine.

June 28, 1894, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Matthew Turner Gets the Contract. 
Marine Notes.

The contract for the building of the new drydock at the foot of Spear street for the California Drydock Company has been let to Matthew Turner, the shipbuilder. Work will be started in a few days. The story of the drydock was told exclusively in The Call about six weeks ago, but at the time it was not known what the capacity of the dock would be. It will be large enough to accommodate any vessel that comes to the port of San Francisco of average tonnage.

Recalling his experience with the Tahiti trade and the need for fast ships, Matthew Turner’s sailing ships were designed for speed. In 1901, the 1,109-ton, four-masted, Amaranth set a sailing record of 23 days from Shanghai to Astoria, which stands today. The William C. Irwin made a passage from San Francisco to Kahalui, Maui, of only eight days and 17 hours.

August 7, 1902, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Will Go to Australia

The new four-masted schooner Matthew Turner will leave in a few days for Eureka to load lumber for Australia. Years ago Matthew Turner was asked why he named none of his ships after himself. He replied that some day he intended to do so, but not until he could personally pick out every stick of material and then closely superintend the construction of the craft to bear his name. The time came when he could do this, and the new schooner is the result. She is one of the trimmest-looking craft in port, and Turner says she Is Just as good as she looks.

February 2, 1902, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Mrs. Andrew Aus, Wife of the Vessel's Future Commander, Breaks the Traditional Bottle of Champagne and Christens the New Craft in the Presence of a Large Gathering at Benicia

BENICIA, February 1.— Benicia's ship yards were the scene of a successful launching this morning, when vessel number 223 was released from her fastenings and gracefully slipped into the bay. Mrs. Andrew Aus, wife of Captain Aus, who is to be In command of the new barkentine, broke the traditional bottle of champagne and christened the new craft the Amazon. Although the hour of the launching was early, there was a large gathering of spectators. The Amazon; the schooner Solano, launched on March 1, 1901, and the Amaranth, launched on July 22, 1901, are to be under the control of Captain Matthew Turner and his friends. The Amazon Is a beautiful vessel and the largest of the fleet, being. 220 feet long, 42 feet 10 inches of beam and 19 feet 6 inches of depth of hold. She will carry 1150 tons cargo or 1,500,000 feet of lumber.

The Benicia shipyards were established by Captain Matthew Turner twenty years ago. The first vessel built here was named the Amethyst. She is still In commission and at present plies on San Francisco Bay. Since then 144 vessels have been launched. Among the noted schooners and barkentines which have been turned out here are the Benicia, the Rosamond, the Ariel, the Solano and. the Amaranth. A number of smaller craft have been built for the South Pacific Islands and lighters and barges for the Alaskan and San Francisco trade. The keel has just been laid for another four masted vessel and the contracts for several smaller ships have been signed.

February 6, 1904, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Galilee's Record Run.

Nearly 3000 miles as the crow files is the distance from this port to Washington Island. As a sailing vessel would go, the distance is much greater. according to how far off the straight course the varying direction of the wind compelled the vessel to tack. The brig Galilee has just made the run from here to Washington Island In fifteen days. Had she sailed a straight course, her averse dally run would have been nearly 200 miles. She probably did much better, although fair winds must have been the rule. This is the record for this trip, and is better time than many steamers could have made. The Galilee Is a vessel of 329 tons register. She was built thirteen years ago at Benicia by Matthew Turner, and is one of the very few brigs on this coast.

February 11, 1909, San Francisco Call , San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Captain Matthew Turner Passes Away at His Oakland Home After Short Illness

BERKELEY, February 10. Captain Matthew Turner, pioneer master mariner and ship builder of the Pacific coast, founder of the Matthew Turner company of San Francisco, honored for heroism and splendid service by two foreign nations and one of the highest types of sturdy Americans, died this morning at his home, 2221 Vine street, at the age of 83 years. His last illness was a short one, although Captain Turner had been more or less an invalid for five years.

Captain Turner was a native of Geneva, Ohio, where on Lake Erie he learned the trade of master ship builder.

He came, to California in 1850. After mining successfully he returned to the sea and expanded his interests coastwise to Japan, China, South America and the south Pacific Islands.

He took to San Francisco from the Amoor (Amur?) river the first cargo of codfish ever landed there, and was the father of that extensive industry in the Pacific. For 40 years he was at the head of a large shipping business with Tahiti.


The veteran ship master engaged in ship building as a result of his desire to handle vessels constructed on his own lines. His first craft was the old brig Nautilus, built at Eureka. He established, large shipyards at San Francisco, subsequently moving to Benicia. From 1868 to 1905 he designed, planned, modeled and constructed 228 sea going vessels.

During his long service at sea Captain Turner was distinguished for his service. In the late 60's, he saved the lives of a number of British sailors in circumstances which caused Queen Victoria to send him a gold mounted spyglass as a token of her government's appreciation. From the Mendocino Lumber Company there was presented to Captain Turner a fine timepiece in recognition of similar service to a number of the company's employes.


For saving a Norwegian vessel from foundering, by safely towing it into Honolulu, that government tendered a fine silver service.

Captain Turner held the high esteem of many men for his sterling character and integrity. He was a man of many charities, kindly and benign. He was the second oldest Mason in California, having joined the Golden Gate lodge of San Francisco soon after he arrived.

Masonic Chart. 1846.

Masonic.He is survived by a widow, Ashbeline M. Turner of Berkeley; two sisters, Mrs. Phedora T. Jones of Geneva, Ohio, and Mrs. Stella P. Riordan of Chicago, and two nephews, Captain Louis H. Turner and H. P. Gray of San Francisco.

Funeral services will be held Friday morning at 10 o'clock at the Masonic temple, Bancroft way and Shattuck avenue, under the charge of Golden Gate lodge.

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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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