The Maritime Heritage Project

Ship Passengers, San Francisco: 1846-1899

World Harbors and International Migration from The Maritime Heritage Project.

The Maritime Heritage Project.

Under Serious Reconstruction.
Due to new WWW and Google formatting guidelines, 18 years worth of coding on more than 2,500 entries is being updated, Also, lists of gold seekers, opportunists and immigrants sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s are going on a new site -- Ship Passengers. This may take awhile. Please stopover from time to time. Thank you.

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Container shipping.
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy BiggerContainer shipping.
Marc Levinson

The Globalization ReaderGlobalization Shipping.
Frank J. Lechner

American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, as Owner of the American Steamship Hawaiian, Petitioner, v. the United U.S. Supreme Court Transcript of Record with Supporting PleadingsAmerican Hawaiian Steamship Company.
Clement C. Rinehart

The Complete Encyclopedia
of Steamships:
Merchant Steamships
Encyclopedia of Steamships.
John Batchelor

Gold, Silk, Pioneers & Mail:
The Story of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Pacific Mail Steamship Company.
Robert J. Chandler and
Stephen J. Potash

Photographic Portraits of
American Ocean Steamships
American Ocean Steamships.
William Thomas

Steamships.ships, shipping, steamships.
Steamship to Zionships, shipping, steamships.
Jerry Borrowman

Steamships.Steamships and Their Builders.
Steamships and Builders
in the Industrial Revolution

(Then & There)
Steamships and their builders.

Alaska Steamship Company.Alaska Steamship Company.
Alaska Steam: Pictorial History of the Alaska Steamship Company (Alaska Geographic)Alaska Steamship Company.
D. E. Skinner

Steamships.ships, shipping, steamships.
The Advent of Steam:
Merchant Steamships before 1900
(Conway's History of the Ship)
Merchant Steamships before 1900.
Robert Gardiner

Books About Ships

ships, shipping, steamships.

Great Ocean Liners by William Miller.
Liners & Cruise Ships

Kindly Kindly Donate.

Artists of the West

Western ArtWestern Art and Artists.

Arrivals at the Port of San Francisco: 1800s

Steamships at San Francisco: A to C

° Vessels & Rigging ° Clippers ° Steamships ° Lines ° Builders ° Shipwrecks

Details and Images of Steamships

° A to C ° D to G ° H to M ° N to O ° P to S ° T to Z

November 2014: Pages have been split alphabetically to enable faster loading.
Lists are incomplete; information is added as located and as time permits.

SS Alaska
SS America
SS Antelope
SS Ariel
SS Australia
SS Brother Jonathan
SS California
SS Carolina
SS Chesapeake
SS City of New York
SS City of Para
SS City of Pittsburg
SS City of Rio de Janeiro
SS City of San Francisco
SS Colima
SS Colorado
SS Columbia
SS Columbus
SS Commodore Stockton
SS Constitution
SS Cortes
SS Costa Rica
SS Crescent City

SS Alaska

July 29, 1874, Los Angeles Herald

San Francisco, July 28: The Alaska took 346 passengers for China and Japan, 570 tons of merchandise, and $217,000 treasure.

October 2, 1874, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The "Alaska" on the Rocks at Hongkong

New York, October 1st. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company have received a dispatch stating that the side-wheel steamer Alaska, while undergoing repairs at Aberdeen, five miles from Hongkong, was blown ashore in the late typhoon, but was not sinking or leaking. The despatch also states that she will come off at next highwater. Another despatch from Hongkong states that in the typhoon of September 21st the steamship Alaska was blown ashore, and is now on the rocks. Up to the present she has made no water, and hopes are entertained that she may be got off. The vessel is worth $500,000 insured.

December 24, 1874, Daily Alta California: The steamer Alaska is afloat. She makes no water and shows no strain. We must change her shiaft, and can dispatch her January 6th.

Reprints of SS Alaska available by clicking on the image.
Chinese Immigrants Aboard the Pacific Mail Steamship Alaska

SS Alexander Duncan

November 13, 1883, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Marine News.

. . . The steamer Alexander Duncan, which has been running on the northern coast to Eureka, Humboldt county, arrived at San Pedro yesterday, and transferred ber freight for Newport, which left for that place at high tide. The steamer Alexander Duncan leaves for the north again to-day, with freight from San Pedro, and will also receive plenty of consignments from shippers between San Pedro and San Francisco. She is one of the best freight steamers on the Coast.

September 9, 1885, Daily Alta California

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

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.

September 15, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

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 Duncanbreaks up or the machinery is secured.

May 26, 1891, San Francisco Call

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


Captain Nicolson Failed to Exercise Vigilance Another Investigation.
Click to read the story

January 21, 1886, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

At one time during the day a rumor prevailed that the Alexander Duncan, with sixty passengers, had been wrecked at Pigeon Point, but the vessel arrived safely in this port at 2:30 P.M.

SS America

Builder/Owner: William H. Brown, New York. Launched: April 1853. Wooden side-wheel steamer. 2 decks, 3 masts, round stern, no head. 922 tons. 201 feet.

Sailed from New York for Aspinwall with passengers on October 20, 1853. Continued to San Francisco, where she entered the coastwise service northward to Humboldt Bay, Crescent City, Port Orford, and the Umpqua River. Burned at Crescent City, June 1855.

SS America

Built at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, 1854-55. Original Owner: Great Western RR Company. Rebuilt by Samuel Sneeden, Greenpoint, 1858. New Owner: Peter A. Hargous. Name changed to Coatzocoalcos in 1859. Sold.

Chartered to the Quartermaster s Department, War Department in 1861 and 1862 from $1200 to $1400 per day. Name changed to America in 1862. Operated from New York to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua for the Central American Transit Company. Her last sailing from San Francisco for the Transit Company was on February 15, 1868. The America burned at San Juan del Sur on April 11, 1869.

SS America

1880: Liverpool to San Francisco July 14, 1854: The steamship America was sold, under a judgment of the United States Court, to Messrs. Lucas, Turner & Co., for $95,000 (not sure if this is the same vessel).

SS Antelope

Builder: Bishop and Simonson, New York. Launched: June 17, 1847. Sailed form New York for San Juan del Sur on May 18, 1850. She operated between Panama and San Francisco for George Law between October 1850 and March 1851, when she was sold to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company for $92,000 to become one of fourteen steamers comprising Pacific Mail's fleet during the early 1850s. The Antelope was a smaller steamers of the line and ran routinely between Panama and San Francisco, and to Northern ports such as Astoria, Oregon.

California Steam Navigation Ad.

Ad from San Francisco Bay: A Pictorial Maritime History
by John Haskell Kemble
Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

SS Ariel

1,290 tons burthen
January 31,1863, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

What Com. Vanderbilt says of the Capture of the Ariel

Before the return of the Ariel to New York, one of the reporters of the N.Y. Tribune visited Commodore Vanderbilt to obtain for publication any suggestions he might choose to make respecting his line of California steamers and the capture of the Ariel. He said he knew nothing of the capture and detention (for three days) of the Ariel, except what he learned from the newspapers. In his judgment, one strong and swift war steamer would be sufficient to guard the California gold. Let such a steamer be sent to Aspinwall and be employed as a convey to accompany each California vessel two days into the Caribbean Sea and within a short distance of Cuba, where we have ample protection. Months ago, he made a suggestion to the Government that such a vessel, making ten or twelve miles an hour, could follow each California steamer two or three days through the dangerous passages, and not be occupied more than half the time. Such a steamer could go from Aspinwall to the north end of Cuba in three days, return in three days more, and have four days to spare before the arrival of another vessel from California; since the California steamers sail ten days apart. The Commodore said the Ariel was sufficiently well armed to have protected herself. She is a steamer of 1,290 tons burthen, and had on board 120 marines for the Pacific squadron. There is no doubt, she could have run down the Alabama. We have over 400 vessels in our Navy, and the Commodore thinks it is passing strange that we have not yet captured that pest of the seas, the rebel Alabama. When her commander (Semmes) proclaims his intention to steer toward Europe, we have every reason to believe he will take a different course.

Departing Steamer.
People on the Shore Waving Off a Steamer
A. Provost


February 10, 1876, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
The following will be interesting to our Australian neighbors and all intending passengers on the Australian route, as descriptive of the two British steamers of the service: The "Zealandia" and "Australia" are sister steamships, built specially by the well-known firm of John Elder & Co., Glasgow, for the new mall service between San Francisco anil the Colonies of New South Wales and New Zealand. For the purposes of the service five powerful steamships are required: three of these the "City of San Francisco," "City of New York" and "City of Sydney," each 3500 tons, 600 horse power, have been built by the Pacific Mall Company, at Chester, Delaware, U. S. A. The "Zealandia" and "Australia" complete the fleet, and have to proceed by the Cape of Good Hope to Australia to take up their stations on the mail route. They are expected to make the voyage to Melbourne within 43 days.

The "Australia" is now at her loading berth in the southwest India Dock. The dimensions are: length 370 feet; beam, 371/2 feet; depth from base line (bottom of floors) to spar deck, 28 feet, 8 inches; depth of hold from top of floors to main deck, 19 feet; tonnage, about 3,000 British measurement. The engines, of 500 horse-power, nominal, working up to 2400 horse-power, effective, are compound, with two cylinders of 62 inches, and one cylinder of 45 inches in diameter; stroke, 4 feet, 3 inches. They take three grips of the crank shaft, instead of two, as is usual in marine engines, and the result is a steady, quiet movement, almost, inaudible in the saloon, even when the engines are working at high pressure.

The sleeping cabins for first-class passengers are of a very superior character, most of them being placed on the main deck, forward of the spacious dining saloon. A number of state rooms on the upper or hurricane dock are arranged for two passengers only, while a few are admirably adapted for families, they are covered by a light and elegant deck, affording an elegant promenade for passengers during the day time, and projecting sufficiently over each side to provide both an awning for the cabins and a roomy sheltered walk. The windows and venetian blinds, with which these cabins are fitted, must make them exceedingly light and airy. The dining saloon is very handsome, extending across the ship from side to side, with four tables running fore and aft the entire length. It ' measures 60 feet by 38 feet, with sixteen inside ports, and is lighted and ventilated by a lofty dome-shaped skylight, which is one of the most striking features of tbe ship. Contrary to custom, the saloon is placed forward of the funnel, thus escaping the smoke and heat from the engtue room. The "Australia" has accommodation tor 164 first-class, 24 second-class, and 85 thlrd-class passengers. The American overland route to the Australian Colonies promisos now to be reliable and efficient, and intending passengers will find every information willingly supplied to them by Messrs. Lawrence, Clark & & Co., of Great St. Helens, the London Agents for the line. - Illustrated London News. Jan 15, 1876.

SS Brother Jonathan

SS Brother Jonathan

Builder: Perine, Patterson and Stack at Williamsburg, New York, 1850-51. Engines: Morgan Iron Works. Original Owner: Edward Mills, who was also superintendent of construction. Launch: November 2, 1850. 1181 tons, 221 feet. (Note: One source cites her as 230 feet over all, and 1360 tons.) Hull: White oak, live, oak, locust and cedar. She had two decks, two masts, round stern, and a sharp bow with a short bowsprit. Her main salon was 70 feet long with 12 staterooms on each side, and she had berths for 365 passengers.

The following article from the Daily Alta California was located and transcribed by John Ireland:

March 3, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

New Steamship Brother Jonathan -- A private letter from Edward Mills, Esq., of New York, speaking of the new and magnificent steamship Brother Jonathan, which is now preparing to sail for this port, says: She is one of the finest steamers ever built here and is equal to any other in point of speed - she has fine lines and great power - no boat has so much in proportion to her size. Her dimensions are 220 feet keel, 36 feet beam, 21 feet deep - solid floors, iron diagonal braces from Coaged and Kelson. In fact, she is as strong as wood, iron and copper can make her, and will only draw on the river 8 1/2 feet. Her cabins are well ventilated for warm climates, and the saloons finished with white enamel gold. The engine is 72 inch cylinder, 11 feet stroke, flue boiler 12 feet schell and 28 long; wheel 33 feet in diameter, 9 feet face, 30 inch bucket and 4 feet dip. She is the same power as the celebrated steamers Oregon, Vanderbilt and Bay State, and I know no reason why she should not have nearly even speed. I think she is worthy of the regards of the Californians.

The Brother Jonathan, from all we can learn, is superior in point of comfort to any vessel yet launched for this trade, and was built under the direction of E. Mills, Esq., her owner.

She sailed between New York and Chagres in 1851 and 1852. In 1852 she was sold to Cornelius Vanderbilt who rebuilt her, extending her capacity to 750 passengers, then cleared New York for San Francisco on May 14, 1852 to become one of Vanderbilt s San Francisco -- San Juan del Sur ships. She was under the command of Captain James Henry Blethen, Sr. during part of this time.

January 3, 1856, Daily Alta California, San Francisco


We understand that the representatives of the Nicaragua Republic have decided to make the purchase of the Brother Jonathan, provided she will ear the inspection to which she will be submitted by a competent committee upon her arrival from the upper coast whither she went a few days since.  We learn from Col. Kewen that he has had ten thousand applications from persons anxious to join the expedition, but are deterred from going for want of a suitable means of transportation.  If the Government can succeed in obtaining a steamer the desires of these applicants can be gratified.

On April 22, 1858, the big side-wheeler Commodore steamed out through the Golden Gate bound for Victoria on Vancouver Island. Crowding Blacks in Gold Rush California, Rudolph M. Lapp wrote: On this voyage one group of passengers had mixed reasons for leaving California. Two hundred and fifty African American men, women and children had booked passage that April 22nd, anticipating the economic opportunities the latest Western mining rush had to offer, and leaving behind what they regarded as a state with a troubled racial climate. California's state legislature seemed to be moving rapidly toward passage of a law restricting Negro immigration. The more congenial racial climate of British Columbia, along with economic opportunities associated with the Fraser River gold rush, swayed opinion in favor of Canada. The majority of the 250 voyagers on the Commodore came from San Francisco, but a fair number came from Sacramento and other Central Valley communities as well. Other African-Americans followed in the Commodore's wake, despite the fact that the anti-immigration bill failed. The Brother Jonathan was subsequently sold to Captain John T. Wright and the California Steam Navigation Company and extensively rebuilt at San Francisco in 1861. Captain Wright renamed her the Commodore and sailed her between San Francisco and Seattle.

Sailors say it is bad luck to rename a ship, and indeed, even though her name was changed back to Brother Jonathan soon after that voyage, her sailing days ended in one of the worst disasters in California Maritime history when the 1,359 ton steamship sunk on July 30, 1865 under Captain Samuel de Wolf's command. Ignoring Captain de Wolf's desires, shipping agents severely overloaded the vessel. Enroute to Portland from San Francisco she struck St. George Reef (near Crescent City) and sunk, taking at least 166 persons with her to the bottom. This was one of the worst disasters in Maritime history. At least 166 people went with her to the bottom.

The following was received June 1, 1999 from Bob Smith, author:
Maritime Museums of North America
ships, shipping, steamships.
Maritime Museums.ships, shipping, steamships.I was particularly interested to see if you may have included the ill-fated Brother Jonathan in your listings. And, of course, you have. My interest stems from a little article I wrote a few years ago about one Victor Smith who, in 1865, "stole" the customs house in Port Townsend (WA) and transferred to the community he created 40-or-so miles west called Port Angeles. There's more to the story but suffice to say, Victor and his arch enemy in Port Angeles were both aboard the Brother Jonathan when she sank -- and died. And now, Deep Sea Research (DSR) has successfully prevailed in legal actions started by the State of California claiming that the State owned the wreck found by DSR. Not so, says the Supreme Court. So the salvage has begun including the sale, just last week (5/20/99) of one artifact for $100,000 which will be displayed by the new owner. But more important, DSR is making it possible for all to become much more familiar with this shipwreck, its passengers where only about 19 survived of the over 200 on board, and all about the vessel itself. So, you might want to update your Brother Jonathan item with a bit of information on the discovery and salvage.

SS California

Builder: William H. Webb, New York, 1848. Original Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Launch: May 19, 1848. 199 feet, 1,057 tons, 2 decks, 3 masts, round stern, 1057 tons, with a capacity of 210 passengers. She cost $200,082 to build.

The first of three Pacific Mail steamers to depart for the newly acquired Pacific Coast of the United States.  She was equipped to accommodate 60 saloon passengers and 150 in steerage.  The side-wheeler cleared New York on October 6, 1848 almost empty for lack of business.

However, On December 5, 1848, President James Polk officially acknowledged to Congress that gold had been discovered on California's American River.  By the time the California reached Panama on January 17, 1849, she "was greeted by a mob of gold-seekers, mostly Americans, demanding passage north." 

The vessel, which was built to carry cargo, not passengers, was pressed into service and immediately overcrowded to "utmost capacity" with passengers trying to get off the Isthmus to California. She was the first steamship to arrive in San Francisco Bay (February 28, 1849), and was followed by Pacific Mail's Oregon and Panama, both of which were also filled beyond capacity at Panama with gold seekers. On April 24, 1852, off the Island of Santa Cruz in the Santa Barbara Channel, enroute from Panama to San Francisco, and crowded with 500 passengers, the California had a a complete breakdown of her machinery. The weather and sea were calm, so she was able to enter San Pedro under sail.

The California was soon dwarfed by much larger ships built to carry passengers to the gold fields and was converted into a sailing ship, but she operated regularly between San Francisco and Panama from 1849 to 1854, then was put to use as a spare steamer in 1856. She made voyages from San Francisco to Panama in 1860, 61 and 66. The California was then sold to Holladay and Brenham s California, Oregon and Mexico Steamship Company, but returned to the ownership of Pacific Mail in 1872. In 1874, she was sold to Goodall, Nelson and Perkins, who operated her in local coastwise service from San Francisco until the end of 1875, when her engines were removed and her hull sold to N. Richard. Rigged as a bark, she was engaged in the coal-and-lumber trade until she wrecked near Pacasmayo, Peru in 1895.

SS Carolina

Builder: Charles and William Cramp, Philadelphia, 1849. Original Owner: S.H. Reynolds.
The Pacific Mail Steamship company bought her immediately and she was put into dry dock to be coppered and have her upper cabin extended for the San Francisco-Panama route. She sailed from New York for San Francisco on January 9, 1850, arriving in San Francisco on May 7, 1850. On her May 7, 1850 sailing to San Francisco from Panama via Acapulco, Mazatlan, San Diego and Monterey, she established the quickest time on record as of that date for any class of vessel on the same route, either steamer or sail. She operated on the San Francisco-Panama line until the end of 1851 and was sold for service in China in 1854.

SS Chesapeake

The Gold Bluff Business, 1851

By mid-1863, the steamship Chesapeake was part of the Civil War fleet.  In June, she left Brown's wharf armed with two rifled six pounder guns, about 30 men from the 7th Maine regiment and about 30 civilian volunteers. As the wind was "a meerest puff of a south wind" about 50 sailing ships were becalmed in the harbor.  During the Civil War, the Chesapeake was seized by privateers who used a forged Confederate letter of marque.  Although privateering was legal, because of the forged document the raiders were tried in Halifax.

SS City of Korea

Sailings of the SS City of Korea

Reprints of the SS Korea are available by clicking on the image.
S.S. Korea, Pacific Mail Steamship Company

SS City of New York

Several ships and a few steamships were named City of New York; one was a packet launched in 1854 for the D. & A. Kingsland line. Another, the ship City of New York of 1811 tons of Train's Line (Enoch Train of Boston).

In 1851, Mailler & Lord, had the little steamship City of New York, registering 574 tons, ready to put into their Boston-Richmond line to supplement their sailing service when it was decided to send her to Chagres instead. In 1853, this City of New York was taken off the Chagres line to sail between Boston and Philadelphia. Boston agent Phineas Sprague assured the public that the steamers would leave T Wharf every Saturday, "full or not full." (Source: Queens Of The Western Ocean, The Story Of American's Mail And Passenger Sailing LinesShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.. Carl C. Cutler. 1961)

The Inman Line operated three steamers named "City of New York" from 1850 until 1893. The owner of the company, William Inman was born in England 1825 and died in his home in Cheshire in July 1881, just after the launching of the SS City of Rome. Inman was thus spared the disappointment regarding the low performance of the ship, which was returned to her builders after only 6 round voyages for the company.They were three different vessels; each was added to the line after its predecessory was wrecked.

Wreck of the SS City of New York from the Illustrated London News.
Midships flooding on the wrecked City of New York 1864.

On May 22, 1874, the Lebanon Daily News, Lebanon Pennsylvania reported:

CHEAP TRANSPORTATION -- The New York Herald, commenting on the successful trip of the City of New York up the Erie Canal says: Success has at last attended the efforts to apply steam to canal transportation. It would be difficuilt to overrate the value of this new achievement of science, and yet it leaves very much to be accomplished before the transport question can be looked upon as solved. It will considerably shorten the time between the terminal on the lakes and New York, but the main question of cheap and rapid transport for Western produce remains unsolved.

And tliis question of cheap transportation for the produce of the great West is essentially a popular question. It means cheap food for the East and cheap goods for the West. Every section of the country is interested ii it.

(Editor's Note: It is unclear as to which City of New York this might be. Given the number of steamers named City of New York, it could be a smaller steamer designated as a river steamer and not others mentioned herein.)

Advertisement for Pacific Mail Steamship Company April 1877.

In 1875, Roach in Chester, PA built The SS City of New York, an iron, 3,019 gross ton, screw propulsion steamer with a speed of 14 knots. She was built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. and sailed on her first voyage from San Francisco to Kandavau (Fiji) and Sydney on 24th April 1876. On 26th October 1893 she was wrecked on Point Bonita, San Francisco Bay.

(Ad right: Daily Alta California, April 13, 1877)

The company ran a service between San Francisco, Fiji, Honolulu and Australia, New Zealand ports, and from 1879, advertised in the London Times "An overland route from Britain to Australia, New Zealand, China, etc, via New York and San Francisco in connection with the Anchor Line from London or Glasgow to New York. Through tickets are available."

SS City of Para

Click to view sailings and other information.

SS City of Pittsburg

December 7, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Destroyed By Fire

The steam propeller, City of Pittsburg, from New York for this Port was entirely destroyed by fire in the harbor of Valparaiso on the night of the 24th of October. She was a fine new steamer of 3,368 tons measurement, and cost $300,000.00, for which amount we understand she was insured in New York and England, but which is less than the owner's loss, as she had a large supply of provisions and stores on board and outfits in Rio and Valparaiso to the extent of $100,000.00 uninsured. The following extract of a letter from Mr. Thompson, chief engineer, gives the particulars of the disaster.

Valparaiso, October 28, 1852

We arrived here on Sunday night from Coronel and Talcahuano, having about 1400 tons of coal on board. Having lost an anchor at Coronel, I deemed it most advisable to bank our fires and keep them in readiness for an emergency, having the regular fireman on watch, raising steam from the midship boiler to pump ships, wash decks, etc.

About 10 P.M. Saturday night, I, as usual, before turning in, took a look through the engine and fire-rooms, and around the steam chimney casing the steerage, which latter place was, and had bene, regularly inspected every two hours.

About 20 minutes after 2 P.M. Sunday morning, I was awakened by two of the sailors conversing outside my window relative to a smoke in the forecastle; turned out and ran forward, followed by the chief officer. The crew were turning out of their bunks; all the smoke I could see was from their hatch. (Missing pages . . . will add when located.)

SS City of Rio De Janeiro

Click to read the story of the City of Rio de Janeiro and Captain William Ward

On the morning of February 22, 1901, the Pacific Mail Steamer Rio de Janeiro was feeling her way toward San Francisco in one of the famous coastal fogs. She was inbound from Hong Kong with 227 passengers. Visibility was zero. Captain William Ward paced the bridge as crew stared blindly into a damp, gray void. Shortly after five o'clock, the liner neared the Golden Gate. She was a little too far south on her course when she struck the jagged rocks near Land's End and Fort Point. The blow was devastating. 200 of her passengers rushed up on deck, while the steamer sank fast amid the wail of her whistle and the sound of escaping steam. Passengers fought for a seat in the lifeboats, only to overcrowd and sink the boats. Fist fights broke out over life jackets.

Captain ward issued orders calmly to try to prevent panic from setting in. The lights flickered out as the power sources went dead. Using lanterns the stewards went below to warn passengers and to get them up to the lifeboats. Many of the passengers stubbornly stayed in their cabins gathering valuables. The passengers failed to realize the gravity of the situation. Of the 11 lifeboats only three managed to get lowered and two of those, lowered improperly were submerged. One boat got off. The bow of the Rio went under and eight minutes later she leaned to starboard, rolled over and sank to the ocean floor. The boilers exploded below and debris started popping up everywhere. Luggage, sofas, chairs, and clothes littered the ocean. The ebb tide started sweeping everything in its path to the open sea. People desperately tried to swim, but in the fog many simply swam the wrong way and drowned. A number of Italian fishermen in the area hearing the ships calls, came through the fog and assisted in minimizing the death toll. 131 died that morning. In less than 18 minutes, she was inundated by the Pacific's frigid waters.

At final count, only 81 people survived; 129 had perished, among them the Captain, who had gone down with his ship. In the aftermath of the tragedy, reports of quantities of gold and silver estimated as high as $3 million were reputed to have been lost with the liner, yet her manifests listed no treasure.

SS City of San Francisco

Built in 1875. Wrecked in 1877. Steamship of 3400 tons, a sister ship to the City of New York. Pacific Mail Steamship Mail carrier with some passengers on service between San Francisco, Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney and New Zealand under contract to Governments of NSW, Australia and New Zealand. She was a mail carrier until the company ran into financial difficulties after 1876 and the company ceased operations.

The Press, June 19, 1876 Arrival of the City of San Francisco at Auckland

Auckland June 17th: The City of San Francisco arrived this morning. She connects with the Zealandia at Kandavau on the 13th. The latter left San Francisco on 25th May.

Passengers - C Ferguson, W Crake, Hendle and Manning. Third class- Messrs Ross, Elliott, Michael, Casey. For Wellington-Captain Bower and wife; third class Mr Burke wife and sister. For Lyttleton -second class : Miss McCadam. For Port Chalmers- Cabin: Rev Coleman Creigh and Messrs Clows, Hall and Cuff.

Cargo-For Wellington, 100 cases goods 25 bales hops; for Lyttleton, 2 samples, 25 bales hops; for Port Chalmers 25 pieces redwood timber, 50 cases salmon, 1 sample.

Arrival of The City of San Francisco at Napier The Evening Post June 19, 1876: The R M S S City of San Francisco arrived at Napier last evening at six o'clock, making a very quick run of 31 hours from Auckland. She left again at 9 p m for the port, and should arrive here before dark this evening. We understand she will not be brought along-side. She proceeds South two hours after arrival.

Arrival of The City of San Francisco at Wellington
The Evening Post June 20, 1876: The R M S S City of San Francisco delivered the inward English Mail (from London, May 4) in this port at 8.30 p m yesterday, having been delayed by head winds on the run down from Napier, which occupied 23 hours, averaging only 8 knots per hour. Her previous run from Auckland to Napier, 31 hours (not 19 as stated in error by our morning contemporary, which would have involved a continued sped of 20 knots per hour) was, however, a very good one, averaging 12 knots. We may remark here that the new boats will have their work cut out to beat the performance of the ill-fated Mongol while employed on the temporary service. That steamer made the run from Wellington to napier in 14 hours, 20 minutes, averaging 14 knots, and from Auckland to Kandavu in 3 days, 17 hours, or at the rate of 13 knots per hour.

Arrival of The City of San Francisco at Lyttleton

The Press, June 21 1876: This magnificent steamer arrived yesterday (20th June 1876) at 2:30pm. The SS Moa was waiting with steam up and directly the signal was made that the mail boat was inside the heads , she started to meet her with agents , reporters and visitors on board. The Customs steam launch was first to reach the vessel and with commendable promptitude the mails were at once placed in that vessel , in order that the 3:20pm train might be caught to carry up the Christchurch portion to town. In spite however of the efforts used , the launch arrived a minute late but the mails were forwarded by the 3:30pm goods train, so that few minutes were lost. After discharging her inward cargo and taking on board a few passengers, The City of San Francisco sailed for her destination at 4 p.m. The steamer was beautifully clean throughout, and as on her first visit was much admired. We append a report of the trip from Sydney furnished us by the purser.

The SS City of San Francisco, J. S. Waddell, commander, left Sydney June 2nd 3.5 p.m., fine weather up to 9th, when heavy squall, accompanied with rain, lightning and thunder set in, lasting three hours; 8am anchored in Kandavau; 2pm SS Australia came in, and left at 12 midnight; 12th frigate H B M Pearl came in ; 4 p.m. Zealandia came in transferred mails, freight and passengers ; 5:30 p.m. Pearl left for Sydney ; 13th 1:45am sailed from Kandavau in company with Zealandia; 16th strong breeze, very heavy sea; 17th at 3:15am arrived Auckland; left same day at 11am, arrived off Napier 18th at 6pm; left at 9:30pm after delivering receiving mails and passengers; 19th very heavy weather, strong head winds, squally , very high sea; arrived Wellington at 9pm; did not leave until 11pm owing to our being detained forty minutes by pilot, arrived Lyttleton, at 2;30pm.

The City of San Francisco

June 30, 1876, The Press: This fine steamer was signalled at 2:30pm yesterday and arrived at 3pm. Quite a crowd of people went off to her in the SS Moa. The outward San Francisco mail consisted of twenty-two bags, an usually large one. The City of San Francisco left Port Chalmers at 8:30pm on Wednesday, and had strong NE gale in her teeth during the run up, arriving as above. She sailed north at 5:30pm last night.

On 16 May 1877 the City of San Francisco was wrecked on Tartar Shoal, near Acapulco, Mexico, but without any loss of life.

More on the SS City of San Francisco.

More on Captain Waddell.

SS City of Tokio

The City of Tokio was launched at Chester, Pennsylvania in 1874 from the yard of the Delaware River Iron Shipbuilding and Engine Works in Chester. She was a sister ship to the City of Peking and both were constructed for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. More than 2,500 invitations were issued for her debut. She was fitted up exactly like the City of Peking in machinery, furniture, fitting, and general equipment. Her length overall was 423 feet; depth, 38 feet 6 inches; beam 48 feet; and tonnage, 6,000. She accommodated about 2,000 passengers.

Arrivals and Departures in San Francisco by the SS Tokio

Copies of the SS Tokio available by clicking on images.
Between Decks on the Steamship Tokio

SS Colima

Passenger lists and the sinking of the Colima

SS Colorado

Builder: William H. Webb, New York, 1863. Engine: Novelty Iron Works. Cost: $1 million. Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Launch: May 21, 1864. Wooden side-wheel steamer with 3 decks, 3 masts, round stern, 314 feet, 3,728 tons. She had 52 staterooms on the main deck and berths for 1500 in steerage.

The Colorado was the largest San Francisco-Panama route liner to ever ply the Pacific. In 1865 she was armed with two 20-pound field pieces on her quarters, two 30-pounders forward. She sailed from New York for San Francisco via Rio de Janeiro, Callao, and Panama on April 1, 1865. She was originally brig-rigged, but was altered in San Francisco in 1866 to enter the China service. At that time a mizzen-mast was added, and she was ship-rigged. In 1867 the Pacific Mail founded the first regular steamship service across the Pacific Ocean. The Colorado was retrofitted for the maiden voyage while Pacific Mail constructed four new ships specifically for that route. Those four ships were the China, Japan, Great Republic and America, and they were the largest and last of the great sidewheelers. In 1873 the first iron, screw steamer entered the trade and by 1879 the life of the trans-Pacific sidewheelers came to a close. In 1867, the Colorado became the first American liner to carry mail across the Pacific to the Orient, which helped pave the way for a rapid expansion of trade between California and the Orient. The Colorado was one of the ships that brought Chinese immigrants to San Francisco. In 1876 was laying in the stream with 800 Chinese in steerage. Soon after leaving Hong Kong four of the Chinese passengers were attacked with small-pox and left in the hospital at Yokohama. San Francisco's Quarantine Officer did not want to risk introducing small pox to the City. The steamer was anchored off Mission Bay, passengers unloaded, and she was inspected and fumigated. The Colorado was scrapped in 1879.

SS Columbia

Builder: Westervelt and Mackay, New York. Engine: Novelty Iron Works. Original Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Cost: $169,0443. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 3 masts, round stern. 777 tons, 193 feet. She had a light deck above the main for promenading and a 70 foot-long dining saloon flanked by staterooms along each side. Lower cabins accommodated 150 passengers.

She was one of the fourteen steamers comprising the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's fleet during the early 1850s, and was originally intended for mail service between San Francisco and Astoria, Oregon. However, because of the Gold Rush crush, she was occasionally pulled into service between 1851 and 1854 for the run between San Francisco and Panama. She was sold to Chinese owners in March 11, 1862. She sailed from San Francisco to Shanghai under British colors on April 17, 1862.

May 15, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
THE COLUMBIA -- The P.M.S. Company's steamer Columbia, Captain Dall, will leave Long Wharf for Panama this morning at 7 o'clock, having on board 120 passengers, $1,836,845 on freight, and the U.S. Mails.

Adams & Co. $506,707
Page, Bacon & Co. 378,000
B. Davison 177,280
Burgoyne & Co. 100,000
Drexel, Sather & Church 25,600
Argenti & Co. 10,491
E. Delessert, Ligeron & Co. 9,730
Jos. A. Haines 10,000
Flint, Peabody & Co. 25,000
D.L. Ross & Co. 15,067
J. Seligman & Co. 24,000
Statz & Newhouse 10,000
Cunningham & Brumajin 10,000
Alsop & Co. 14,790
J.B. Thomas 17,360
Wyckoff & Co. 14,000
Case, Heiser & Co. 35,000
Macondray & Co. 24,000
Gildemester, De Fremery & Co. 32,485
D. Gibbs & Co. 39,500
Godefroy, Sillem & Co. 21,200
Collins, Cushman & Co. 10,308
Beck & Elam 27,570
D.O. Mills & Co. 15,300
Rhodes, Purdy & McNulty 12,800
Reynolds & Co. 10,000
TOTAL AMOUNT $1,836,845

SS Columbus

Builder: Reeves and Brothers, Allowaystown, New Jersey, 1848. Engine: Rainey, Neafie and Company, Philadelphia. Wooden screw steamer, 2 decks, 3 masts, scroll figurehead, 460 tons, 148.8 feet.

She was sent to the Pacific by George Law for San Francisco-Panama service. She sailed from New York February 12, 1850, arrived at Rio de Janeiro, March 11, 1850 and in San Francisco on June 6, 1850. In early 1851, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company bought her for $120,000 and ran her on the San Francisco-Panama run until 1854. She was chartered for a short time by the US Navy, then sold to the Panama Railroad Company and operated along the west coast of Central America. She was lost at Punta Remedios, Central America, December 9, 1861.

SS Commodore Stockton

Builder: Davis and Burton, Philadelphia, 1850. Original Owner: R.F. Loper. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 3 masts, carved eagle on stern, scroll head. 435 tons, 153.7 feet.

SS Commodore.

She went from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 171 days. She was advertised to sail from San Francisco for Panama on June 12, 1851 for J. Howard and Son s Empire City Line to connect with Vanderbilt s steamers on the Atlantic. She sailed from Panama for San Francisco on June 30, 1851 with over 100 passengers. Two days later she was back at Panama, having sprung a leak. In 1852, when operating for the Independent Line, she was condemned, then purchased by Valparaiso owners in February 1853. She was placed under the Chilean flag and her name changed to Coupolican.

SS Constitution

Paddle steamship Built 1850 in New York, funded by Sam Ward (the famous lobbyist) and Rodman Price (later Governor of New Jersey). She sailed to San Francisco for service.

The SS Constitution also sailed Hawaiian waters before returning to the West Coast to become part of the Empire City Line, when she regularly sailed between San Francisco and the Puget Sound area, and from Panama via Acapulco, Mexico and San Diego to San Francisco. Like many steamships of the era, it was also built with masts for sails as the steam boilers of the time were notoriously unreliable. Many Captains pushed the boilers to the limit in order to make speed records or beat other ships to port, only to have the boiler break down or even blow up. In this event, they relied on the sails.

On January 15th, 1863, the Secretary of War gave permission to enlist Californians for the Civil War. The next day a notice appeared in the Alta California requesting enlistees for.

". . . three years or the war, under the Massachusetts Quota, and will leave for New York on the 11th of February next. Transportation has now been provided for and sufficient funds are now under the control of hon. Ira P. Rankin to pay all necessary expenses of the organization. Uniforms, quarters, subsistence and necessary outfit will be furnished to the men as soon as accepted."

Fifty applicants signed up by the 19th and by February 10th, the day before sailing, 185 enlistees were on hand. The departure date was postponed and additional recruiting offices opened. The enlistees bunked at Platt's Music Hall and drilled daily in addition to making an impressive showing at a few parade and reviews. On March 20th and 21st, the volunteers were mustered into service. There were only three complete companies ready to sail on the S. S. Constitution on March 23rd. Captain David A. De Merritt stayed behind to complete recruiting his company and did not reach Boston until mid May. Those that sailed that beautiful clear March day were treated to the "traditional" parade, speeches, and salutes. Throngs cheering from the shore and boats must have offset, temporarily at least, the trepidations one should feel when going to war. It was another wonderful send-off for the patriots from California even though it belied what waited ahead. The voyage aboard the S.S. Constitution was miserable and a stop had to be made in Mexico to take on fresh provisions to quell insurrection. Guard duty caused the Battalions first casualty: Hiram Townsend of Walnut Grove fell overboard while on guard duty one evening leaning on a rail while seasick.

In 1860, the S.S. Constitution was rebuilt as a barque.

Another S.S. Constitution was launched in 1861 for the Pacific Mail Steamship Line, which on February 12, 1864 carried $1,620,421.81 in treasure shipment out of San Francisco.

SS Cortes

Builder: Westervelt and Mackay, New York. Engines: Double walking-beam engines by Morgan Iron Works. Original Owners: Davis, Brooks and Company. Launch: March 28, 1852. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 1,117 tons, 220 feet.

The Cortes was originally christened Saratoga and intended to run from New York to Richmond. However, she sailed from New York for San Francisco on July 10, 1852 and operated between San Francisco and Panama by the New York and San Francisco Steamship Line through 1853 when she was purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt for his San Francisco-San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua run. In August of 1854, an attempt was made to sink the Cortes, "by some persons who secretly climbed on board of her as she lay at the Jackson Street Wharf. They succeeded in getting below, without being discovered, when they turned off the blower cock attached to the boilers, and the water rushed in rapidly. Before her condition was discovered, she had filled to the second deck. The ship's pumps being inadequate, the great steam pump of the Saucelito Water Company was brought into requisition, which, after working all day long, towards evening pumped her dry. The bedding and furniture was much injured, but the vessel received no serious damage." (Annals of San Francisco, August 1854) In 1860, the Cortes was purchased by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and entered its Panama service. In February 1861, she was sold to Flint and Holladay and left San Francisco for Shanghai on April 14, 1862. She burned in Shanghai in 1865.

Costa Rica

August 11, 1874, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

From San Diego Arrival from Panama Touched at Several Points on the Coast.

San Diego, August 10th. The steamer Costa Rica arrived at this port thbis alternoon. She left Panama July 18th, touching at all ports in Central America and Mexico. At Punta Arenas, July 16th, she met the company's steamer Pacific, for Panama. At San Jose de Guatemala, on the 25th, spoke H. B. M. Petrel, and tbe company's steamer Honduras; at Acapulco, August 1st, the company's steamers Ancona and Granada, for Panama ; August 2d, 9 p. m., in latitude 18 20 N.. longitude 13 40 W., spoke the schooner Sonora, Captain Clark, of Guaymas, 16 days from Acapulco, and short of provisions; furnished all they required; August 3d, communicated with H. B. M. steamship Reindeer; all well. She has 28 passengers, 2,681 packages and 412 tons of freight, and $49,617 in treasure lor San Francisco.

October 29, 1874, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

On Tuesday evening the first officer of the steamer Costa Rica, with five men, in a small boat, arrived at San Diego. They reported that on Sunday morning, at one o'clock, the steamer broke her shaft while about 100 miles south of here, and forty miles from land. The Captain was going to try to get in and anchor under Cape Colmett until relief came.

SS Crescent City

The Crescent City, first of the new U.S. Mail Line between New York and New Orleans, made 16 knots on her trial trip, May 30, 1848. On her first voyage to New Orleans, she was credited with reducing the running time to six days, which seems probably in view of the fact that she made the round trip in 20 days, including stopovers, arriving back in New York with 180 passengers. On the day before Christmas, 1848, to the cheers of thousands assembled on the docks to see them off, the Crescent City, with the Isthmus, were cleared for Chagres to deliver gold seekers to the Atlantic side of Panama. On December 14, the New York Herald reported: "four large steamships cast off their lines along West Street and proceeded to sea in stately procession, the Cherokee, Crescent City, Ohio for Chagres and the Great Western for Bermuda.

The Crescent City's voyage was ill-fated.

Wednesday Morning, February 6, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco


The schooner Sarah A. Smith, from Belfast, Maine, arrived at Chagres, on Sunday evening last, (30th of December). She brought 32 passengers from the unfortunate steamship Crescent City, which vessel she encountered at sea on the 16th ult. We are indebted to Mr. W. W. Leland, brother to the editor of the Pacific News for the following narrative of the disaster on the Crescent City, and the events which transpired down to the arrival at Chagres.

Gentlemen,-- Knowing that there is a great deal of anxiety felt in relation to the disaster which attended the noble steamship Crescent City, I am happy to impart through the Echo a brief account of the accident, and our trip here. We left New York on the 13th ult., precisely at 3 o clock. The Cherokee left a few moments before us the Ohio shortly after. At about 10 o clock that evening, we lost sight of the Cherokee, two points off our starboard bow and the Ohio, two points off our larboard quarter. It was at this time snowy and squally. We came on at the ship s usual rate, 10 to 12 knots per hour, until Sunday evening, the 16th ult., it being a smooth sea, and the passengers, as usual after tea, had gathered on deck, and were making calculations on reaching Panama in 11 days. All at once there was a tremendous crash; of course it made a great stir. We soon found that the cross tail, and other parts of the engine was completely used up. Capt. Stoddard gave orders at once to make sail, but as there was scarcely any wind, and she had but small sails, we did not scarcely move. The cannon was fired, and rockets, at intervals, until morning when we heard the glorious news from the mast head," sail ahoy!," "where away?" "off our weather bow!" All hands were looking with intense anxiety but to appearance the vessel bore away. The Capt. Gave orders, and manned the small boat put provisions aboard for the men, and sent them to bring her to our relief. There was no wind, and they pulled the oars to good effect. They reached the schooner on Monday, the 17th utl. About three o clock. The Captain called a meeting of the passengers. About one-half determined if he would charter her, they would embark on her for Chagres. Some wished to remain on board, and have the steamer got to Nassau, as we were only 600 miles from that port. The accident happened in lat. 28:9, and long. 72:56. The Schooner reached us only on the morning of the 18th and proved to be on a voyage to Key West from Belfast, Maine, loaded with lumber and provisions. Her name was Sarah A. Smith, 94 tons burthen. Captain Stoddard purchased the cargo at 100 per cent over cost, and threw overboard lumber enough to make sufficient room for the passengers to sleep in the hold. The passengers who did not choose to come aboard the schooner, the Captain paid back one-half of their fare, and they went aboard of two brigs loaded with lumber, and bound for Havana. We left the Crescent City, on the evening of the 18th ult., and reached Jamaica on the 16th, and Chagres on the 30th. We were all glad to get a release from the hard fare of the country schooner. We arrived in this city on the evening of the 3d January, twenty-one days from New York. .

In late February 1850 she was purchased by George Law for operation on the New York-Chagres run.