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Steamships at San Francisco

San Francisco Ships In Harbor 1849.


Details and Images of Steamships

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Lists are incomplete; information is added as located and as time permits.

Lists are incomplete; information is added as located and as time permits.

Steamships at San Francisco

SS Nevada
SS Newbern
SS New Orleans
SS New World
SS North America
SS Northern Light
SS Northerner
SS Ohio
SS Oregon
SS Orizaba

SS Nevada

Builder: Jeremiah Simonson, Brooklyn, New York. Engine: Vertical-beam by Morgan Iron Works, New York. Launch: March 18, 1865 as the Paou Shan. Original Owner: Captain Thomas W. Dearborn. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 1,691 tons, 281 feet (Heyl cites 2,145 tons, 286 feet).

Thomas W. Dearborn had her built on speculation he planned on selling her to the U.S. Government for use during the Civil War. It appears that she was sold to a Thomas Dexter, who then sold her to William H. Webb on November 9, 1866, and her named changed to Nevada. She sailed from New York on her trial trip on May 9, 1867 and made three voyages from New York to San Juan de Nicaragua for the North American Steamship Company in 1867. She operated on the San Francisco-Panama run from December 1867 through October 1868 and then, when the North American Steamship Company couldn t cover its debt to William H. Webb, ownership of theNevada, and North American s other ships, reverted to him. Webb, with Ben Holladay, organized the California, New Zealand & Australia Steamship Company and turned this ship, along with theNebraska, Dakota, and Moses Taylor (which had also been sailed by Captain James H. Blethen, Sr.) over to this line.

The Nevada remained in that service from 1871 to 1873 when the California, New Zealand & Australia Steamship Company discontinued its services as it was insufficiently lucrative. Every ship that ever sailed has stories that would fill tomes. The vessels were important in ways beyond imagination because of current access to various types of mass transit and information at our fingertips. For example, the New Zealand Letter, written in Auckland on May 21, by a correspondent of the Alta California reports that whole towns turned out in New Zealand when Captain James H. Blethen, Sr. sailed "the magnificent Steamer Nevada" into port: "In Auckland, after the signal had been run up that she was making for the harbor true to her time almost to an hour the excitement was intense, and thousands crowded on the wharf awaiting her arrival."

A luncheon had been arranged where the Governor of the Colony, 150 merchants and the townspeople honored Captain Blethen, Mr. Webb, Jr., the American Consul for Victoria and the Defense Minister. She was greeted thusly at every port.

Because of gold strikes down under, population in Australia had gone from 405,356 in 1850 to 1,647,756 in 1870, vastly increasing the import of ships that brought in goods and mail. (Image: One of the world’s largest ‘Cubic’ gold pieces is the Latrobe nugget, found at Mount Mclvor, Victoria, Australia. It is kept in the Natural History Museum and is named in the honor Charles La Trobe, Governor of Victoria. The structure of this nugget is very rare, and it requires specific conditions to grow)

In 1873, the Nevada was purchased by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which placed her on its Yokohama-Shanghai branch line. On an 1875 passage between the Sandwich Islands and Tahiti, a passenger wrote a detailed account of a journey on her in the South Pacific, under the command of Captain James H. Blethen. The writer details the poor state of the steamer in her last days. The Nevada spent her last years as the Saikio Maru as part of the Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Company. Australia Steamship Company, 217 Sansome, Honolulu-New Zealand, Australia.

SS New Orleans

August 4, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California
The steamer New Orleans (sold at auction in Panama on the 12th July, in pursuance of a decree from the Circuit Court) was purchased by Mr. Ralston, of the firm of Garrison & Fretz, for $50,000, and was to be despatched for San Francisco on the 15th August.

March 16, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California 
The steamer New Orleans, Capt. Wakeman, left this port on the 11th inst., for Australia. She had on board 110 passengers, and would touch at Tahiti for coal and provisions.

SS New World

June 4, 1851, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Bursting of New World's Chimney!
Attempt to Fire San Francisco!

The steamer Senator arrived at her landing this morning, at 1 o'clock. Mr. Tannatt, Clerk of Freeman & Co., gives us the following information as to the melancholy catastrophe:

At 5 o'clock p.m., as the steamer New World was on her way down the river, opposite Cache Creek, the upper sheet of the steam chimney exploded, killing one man instantly and badly scalding those whose names appear below. In the excitement two or three persons jumped overboard, and two whose names are unknown, are supposed to be drowned. The damage to the boat is trifling. Dr. K. S. Aldrich, late of the Navy, was on board, and done all in his power to relieve the sufferers.

The Wilson G. Hunt was a short distance behind when the accident occurred. She immediately came up and took the New World in tow. About 6-1/2 p.m., the Clay came alongside, and took a line from the W. G. Hunt, to assist in taking her down.

Too much praise cannot be awarded to Capt. Hutchins. He was everywhere, giving orders with the greatest coolness, thereby preventing the usual confusion on such occasions. At the time the explosion took place, they were running slowly, and with a moderate amount of steam. The accident was deemed unavoidable by all who knew, and not from any want of care on the part of the Engineer, Mr. Van Wort. Mr. Galloway, Pilot of the Hunt, gallantly plunged overboard, and rescued one man from drowning.

All the names of the sufferers are contained in the appended list.

Charles Tromans, Mass., dangerously. 
Fred. Geo. King. Oliver street, N. Y. 
Michael J. Sullivan, N. Y. 
Chas. W. Haskell, Boston
Peter Marks, Glasgow, Scotland, dangerously 
Chas. Fouche, Illinois
Baron Sands, N.Y.
Thos. Gaskill, Roxby, Massachusetts 
Wm. J. Spence, California
Edward N. Jackson, Sacramento 
Jas. Reynolds, Boston. 
H. M. Cohen, N. Y. 
Thos. Swain, Ireland 
Frederick Traulskey, Ireland 
Henry Brook, Boston

One dead, name unknown, 2 supposed to be drowned.

We have received the following letter from Capt. Hutchins in relation to the disaster to the New World yesterday afternoon:

Editor Union: Dear Sir While running from Hog's Back to Cache Creek, under a low head of steam, we started one of the sheets of the steam chimney near the top, thereby filling our forward cabin, fire room, and engine room full of steam. As soon as the steam cleared away, we made search for the wounded, and found one man dead in the forward cabin, and five or six others badly scalded, and a number of others slightly. One of our firemen is badly scalded, one deck hand slightly, barkeeper slightly; all of our officers fortunately escaped. The greater part of the passengers who are scalded were in the forward cabin at the time of the explosion, and I think they are generally deck passengers.

W. Hutchins

SS North America

Builder: Lawrence & Sneeden, New York, New York. Engine: Vertical by Morgan Iron Works. Launch: September 14, 1850. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 4 masts, round stern, no head; 1,440 tons; 260 ft. 6 in.x33 ft. 9in.x20 ft. 6in.

At the time of her launching, she was slated for the San Francisco-Panama run, but actually operated between New York and Chagres for the Norwich and New London Steamboat Company. She began operations for Vanderbilt s Independent Steamship Line after sailing from New York to San Francisco via Panama on June 24, 1851 under the command of Captain James H. Blethen, Sr.

In 1851, Hon. Phineas T. Barnum became a part owner of the steamship North America, which he proposed to run between America and Ireland as a passenger and freight vessel. This idea was presently abandoned, and the ship was sent around Cape Horn to San Francisco and put into service on the Pacific Mail Line, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt having purchased a one-half interest in it and Mr. Barnum retaining one-third interest in the remaining half. After she had made several trips Barnum called upon Mr. Vanderbilt at his office and introduced himself. It was their first meeting, and this is Barnum's own account of the interview:

"Is it possible you are Barnum?' exclaimed the Commodore, in surprise, 'why, I expected to see a monster, part lion, part elephant, and a mixture of rhinoceros and tiger! Is it possible,' he continued, 'that you are the showman who has made so much noise in the world?'

"I laughingly replied that I was, and added that if I too had been governed in my anticipation of his personal appearance by the fame he had achieved in his line, I should have expected to have been saluted by a steam whistle, and to have seen him dressed in a pea jacket, blowing off steam, and crying out 'all aboard that's going.'.

" 'Instead of which,' replied Mr. Vanderbilt, 'I suppose you have come to ask me to walk up to the Captain's office and settle.' .

"After this interchange of civilities, we talked about the success of the 'North America' in having got safely around the Horn, and of the acceptable manner in which she was doing her duty on the Pacific side..

" 'We have received no statement of her earnings yet,' said the Commodore, 'but if you want money, give your receipt to our treasurer, and take some.'.

"A few months subsequent to this, I sold out my share in the steamship to Mr. Daniel Drew."

In February of 1852, after a year of record-setting runs between San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua and San Francisco, she was wrecked off the coast of Mexico. All 900 passengers were saved, but Captain Blethen and the Vanderbilt Line suffered from scathing press, which was surprising given that hundreds of ships sunk in the not-so-pacific Pacific Ocean off of the Americas.

SS Northern Light

Builder: Jeremiah Simonson, New York. Engine: Two direct-acting lever-beam engines by Allaire Iron Works. Cost: $290,000. Launch: October 25, 1851. Original Owner: Cornelius Vanderbilt. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 3 masts. 2,767 tons (2,056 in 1865), 253.6 feet. Brig rigged. The hull was of live oak, locust and cedar, with round lines, not flat or hollow. The hull was painted dark green, with red and white lines at the guard streaks. Accommodations for 250 first-class, 150 second-class, 400 to 500 in steerage. The first-class dining salon was on the main deck and extended across the vessel. 253.6

She sailed the New York-San Juan del Sur route from May 5, 1852 through February 1856. 

January 20, 1856, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Daily Alta California January 20 1856 Steamer Northern Light.The Tribune of the 25th, gives the following account of the departure of theNorthern Light. The steamerNorthern Light, of the Nicaragua Line, while on her way down the bay yesterday afternoon, with passengers and freight for San Juan de Nicaragua, was brought to by a shot from the United States revenue cutter of Washington, and compelled to return and anchor in the North River. 

It appears that District Attorney McKeon received a telegraphic dispatch from Washington, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, ordering him to prevent the sailing of theNorthern Light.  Messrs, Reyer & Cook were immediately deputized to board her from her wharf and seize her in the name of the Government.  They found about three hundred and fifty young men on board, the majority evidently belonging to the class of "roughs," many of them poorly clothed and obviously in destitute circumstances.  The seizure was ordered on the ground that the people on board were not bona-fide passengers, but adventurers going out to enter Walker's army.  Preparations were being made to get the vessel off when the officers went on board. As the captain was ashore, they found the Chief Engineer and ordered him not to start her engines. 

Shortly afterward Captain Tinklepaugh went on board the steamer with a Custom House clearance, when the officers informed him of the order from Washington. The captain said he knew nothing about filibustering.  Mr. White, the agency of the Company, said that the steamer would sail at her appointed hour, notwithstanding the warrant officer Ryer then stated that he had orders to seize certain articles on board; upon which Mr. White said in that case the vessel would not leave.  The captain and Mr. White then went to the District Attorney's office.  The greatest confusion ensued on board an don the dock at the turn which affairs had taken, and one man got pushed overboard, but according to the old proverb he must be destined to a different fate, for he was not drowned.  Captain Tinklepaugh returned, the hawser was cast off, and the steamer put out into the river, and proceeded down the bay on her voyage, with the United States officers on board. 

The United States revenue cutter Washington was made fast to a steam tug, and towed after her.  A blank cartridge was fired from the cutter, and then a ball was shot across the steamer's bow, to bring her to.  She stopped before reaching Quarantine, and by order of the commander of the cutter, but back, and cast anchor in the North River, opposite Pier No. 3.  The latter anchored a little below her, and during the night kept watch over her movements.  The passengers were ordered to remain on board, but a member of them were smuggled ashore in the course of the evening by the Battery boatmen. The Express, in its account of the departure, says:

Captain Tinklepaugh and Mr. Coles offered every facility to the Deputy Marshal, both while the steamer was at the dock and after coming to anchor in the stream.  They offered to have the vessel searched at both places.

As the steamer was just putting out Mr. McKeon arrived on the wharf, and ordered her to be stopped, but it was no go.  The crowd (some 500) made a desperate rush to get around him, several cried "Throw him overboard."  Mr. McKeon, much excited and very pale, got upon a plank and commenced talking to the crowd, requesting them to immediately leave dock, that they were creating a riot, and if they did not he would have the police called.  Just at this moment, some young urchin threw an apple at the Honorable District Attorney's head, which just missed his hat and fell into the water.  Finding he could not be heard, he started off, and soon had the revenue cutterWashington in chase of the steamer. 

As the steamer was going down, the Battery was full of people in a high state of excitement looking on. The Morning Express of Wednesday, the 26th December, says:

The greatest excitement still exists throughout the city and vicinity, respecting theNorthern Light and the Filibusters.  At an early hour on Tuesday morning, Deputy Ryer proceeded on board the Northern Light to release Deputies Norton and Cook, who had been on guard all night.

About two o'clock yesterday morning, one hundred and eighty nine of the Filibusters were put on board the pilot boat Edward Griffins, and were transported over to Pier No. 3 when they were all set at liberty.  

On putting them on board the pilot boat, the greatest excitement was manifested:   they d----d the United States officers, and swore that if ever they caught Frank Pierce in New York, he should never be allowed to leave before they had tarred and feathered him.  Some were for throwing the officers in charge of the steamer overboard.

One little fellow, could could not have been over eight years of age, "and who was among those who were to do all the fighting," was heard to exclaim: "If the boys want to get along the authorities won't let them.  We could soon have land of our own, if they would only let us off." 

A fellow about eight feet high, replied, "O they want us to make boots at Sing Sing.  Little fellow, I be d---d if I do.

Some thirty or forty were arrested and put on board the revenue cutter, and two of them becoming noisy were put in irons . . . it seems that fifty marines were stationed on board theNorthern Light while she lay at Bedlow's Island . . . 

In September 1857, she was placed on the New York Aspinwall line of the United States Mail Steamship Company, went back to sailing for Vanderbilt in March 1859, was chartered by the Quartermaster's Department, War Department between 1862 and 1865 at $792 to $1200 per day. In 1864, she was sold to Russell Sturgis and in 1867 was chartered by Ruger Brothers to open the New York and Bremen Steamship Company. She changed hands again when Henry F. Hammill purchased her on October 1, 1870 for $25,000. She was broken up in 1875.

SS Northerner

Builder: William H. Brown, New York. Engine: Side-lever by Novelty Iron Works. Original Owners: Spofford, Tileston & Co. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 3 masts. 1,102 tons, 203.6 feet. Launch: 1847.

She was intended for New York and Charleston service for Spofford, Tileston and Company. She was sent to San Francisco, arriving August 15, 1850, 16-days out of Panama with 415 passengers. After one journey to Panama for the Empire City Line, she was purchased by Pacific Mail Steamship Company in December 1850. Although she wasn t a fast steamer, she remained on that route until May 1853, at which time she became a "spare" steamer. Traffic went both ways early in California's development. At the end of 1851, the Alta California reports that this steamer left San Francisco with 600 Eastbound passengers and $1,700,000 in gold, and Erik Heyl notes her clearing in August 1853 with $1,154,000 in gold. On January 5, 1860, northbound from San Francisco to the Columbia River and Puget Sound, she struck Blunts Reef, about twenty miles south of Humboldt Bay. She was breached, but lost 38 lives from the wreck (Heyl cites 32 lives lost).

SS Ohio

September 8, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Accident to the Steamship Ohio

The Panama Star of the 15th ult. gives the following particulars of another accident which occurred to the steamer Ohio on a recent trip from New York to Chagres. When about a thousand miles from New York, it was discovered by a few of the officers that the ship was on fire; but so excellent is the discipline maintained on board by Capt. Schenck, that although the fire lasted upwards of three hours, scarcely one of the passengers knew anything about it. It originated, as was afterward found out, from the culpable carelessness or stupidity of one of the "stokers" about the engine, who accidentally broke off one of the "supply cocks,#&34 and instead of informing the engineer of it, foolishly undertook to repair damages himself. This of course, he had not the skill to do, and the consequence was that the boiler, becoming red hot, as we are informed by a passenger, had set fire to its wooden casing, thence communicating to the adjoining woodwork. It is the greatest wonder that the boiler did not explode; and the engineer who was on duty at the time, displayed a negligence of his duties that should debar him hereafter from ever again being allowed to fill so important a station.

The day after the fire, another serious accident occurred, by the breaking of the main shaft, which rendered useless one of the engines, and consequently the ship had to perform the balance of the voyage with one wheel. The damage done by these two accidents cannot be repaired for less than $25,000 to $30,000. There were upwards of three hundred souls on board, and had they had a less cool and experienced commander then Captain Schenck, there is no telling what, between the fire and machinery, would have been their fate.

SS Oregon

Builder: Smith and Dimon, New York. Engine: Side lever by Morgan Iron Works, New York. Launch: August 5, 1848. Original Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 3 masts, dragon head. 1,099 tons (1,052 tons in 1865), 202.9 feet.

This steamer, along with the Pacific Mail Line's vessels California and Pacific, were among the first to reach California just as the discovery of gold was breaking. She sailed from New York on December 8, 1848 for San Francisco via Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Callao, Paita and Panama. Her running time to Panama on that trip was 55 days, 8 hours and she arrived in San Francisco on April 1, 1849. On one of her southbound trips, thieves bored a hole through the strongbox and stole $10,000 in specie. They refilled the hole with wax and no one found out until she reached Panama. She stayed on the San Francisco-Panama route until 1856 when she was placed on the San Francisco-Columbia River run. In 1861, Holladay and Flint bought her. In 1869 her engine was removed and she was converted to a bark for use in the lumber trade. She sank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca when she collided with the bark Germania in 1880.

(Note from Reader June 2007: Most histories do state that the SS Oregon sunk in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. However it was towed to its home port of Seabeck, Washington, where it sunk. I wrote an article about her which appeared in the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society's "The Sea Chest" , March 1982, and included information about her in the book that I authored, "Seabeck: Tide's Out; Table's Set."— Fredi Perry. The book is available through the author.

SS Orizaba

The Orizaba

Builder: Jacob A. Westervelt and Company, New York. Engine: Vertical-beam by Morgan Iron Works. Cost: $241,000. Launch: January 14, 1854.

Original Owner: New York-New Orleans-Vera Cruz line of Morgan and Harris. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 1,450 tons, 246 feet. Accommodations for 1,028. Fifty-six first-cabin staterooms, 30 of which were on deck with 26 opening into the main salon. The second cabin was divided into 35 staterooms, which was an innovation on the Pacific at the time of the Orizaba s arrival. In steerage there were berths for 590, and "60 standees." (Note: Unclear as to what "standees" means as of this date that passengers had to actually stand on the journey?!) She had an icehouse with a capacity of 30 tons, tanks for 18,000 gallons of fresh water and carried four large lifeboats and two quarter boats.

The SS Orizaba, was launched in 1854 for the New York to Panama passenger business. Vanderbilt bought her and sent her to the Pacific in 1856 for his Nicaragua-San Francisco route. She made her first trip to San Francisco, where she arrived on October 30, 1856, in sixty-one days at sea from New York via Rio de Janeiro, Lota, Valparaiso, Talcahuana and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. She plied those waters for ten years, then was sold to the California Steam Navigation Co, then the Pacific Mail Line and, in 1875, to Goodall, Nelson and Perkins. She remained in the local coast trade between San Francisco and San Diego until 1865. Unlike many of her contemporaries, the Orizaba was a lucky ship in that she did not end up on the rocks, but finished out her career as a coastwise liner, serving ports from San Francisco to San Diego until retired in 1877.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




Migration and Disruption.
Migration and Disruptions

Brenda J. Baker

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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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