Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

D. E. Griffith

D. E. Griffith, mate and master, was born in New Jersey in 1843 and enlisted in the United States Navy during the Civil War, at the close of which he went into the deep-water trade. In 1868 he visited San Francisco as quartermaster on the steamship Nebraska, afterward occupying similar positions on the lgonlana (sp?), Sacramento and Colorado, and subsequently served as third and second officers on these steamers.

He was first officer with Captain Seabury on the City of Panama, and ran north on the Dakota for about two years, commanding the steamship for a few trips during the absence of Captain Morse.

With the exception of an interval from 1886 to 1891, he was in continuous service on the Pacific Coast for twenty-seven years, and was first officer of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamship Colima when she foundered off Manzanillo, Mexico, May 27, 1895, going down with the ship, in which catastrophe 187 people lost their lives.

May 31, 1895, Berkeley Gazette, Berkeley, California, U.S.A.


The sinking of the Colima in a coral reef near Manzanillo on Monday last and the loss of 178 lives adds another to the long list of disasters on this side of the Atlantic. From all sources of information thus far received it is positive that the accident was not due to the carelessness of the officers and crew nor to any mistake on their part. A strong veering wind caught the vessel and drove her upon the reef and stove a hole in her bottom, causing her to sink inside of ten minutes.

It is evident that the boats were launched at once with human freight, but as only one of them has been heard from thus far there is a belief that the suction from the vessel pulled them down before they could get clear of the ship. Although when the vessel struck one of her masts fell over and killed the captain and two of his men; the next officer in command at once took charge and did all in his power to save the lives of his passengers, but in vain.

It is now a foregone conclusion that Professor Whiting of the University and his family have lost their lives, as he would not at such a time be parted from any of them, and as there were five they evidently died together. There is still a hope, however, that some of the boats got away from the ship and will be picked up by some of the vessels now searching for them, and that some anxious hearts will be made glad. None of the rescued passengers have yet been heard from to tell just how the accident occurred but all will be known in a few days, and the friends of those who were saved can weep tears of joy, while the friends of those who were lost will shed tears of sorrow and grief.

June 1, 1895, Atlantic Daily Telegraph

Sinking of the Colima 1895

June 6, 1895, Rolfe Reveille

Latest Reports Swell the List of Lost to 103--The Vessel's Boilers Burst Fifty Miles Off the Mexican Coast -- Nineteen Were Saved.
Had 182 Persons on Board.

Only meager and unsatisfactory advices have been received regarding the foundering of the Pacific Mail steamer Colima at Manzanillo, Mexico. The officials of the Pacific Mail In San Francisco persisted- in the statement that they had received no information of the wreck of the steamer, and they tried to discredit entirely the statements of the disaster. Several dispatches have been received by the Merchants' Exchange and by private shipping firms all confirming the tale of the ocean tragedy, and varying only in the minuteness of the information conveyed.

Capt. Pitts of the steamer San Juan telegraphed that he picked up a boat containing nineteen persons, fourteen of whom were passengers and five members of the crew of the Colima. The rescued boatload was taken to Manzanillo and the steamer San Juan started out again in search of other boats from the Colima, the presumption being that the balance of passengers and crew was afloat in other boats.

The Colima's Boiler Burst.

The latest intelligence regarding the disaster received was in cipher message to a San Francisco shipping firm containing the statement of Third Officer Hansen, who was In charge of the boat picked up. Hansen stated that about 11:15 at night as the Colima was about fifty miles from Manzanlllo, and between that port and Punta St. Almo, an accident occurred to her machinery. Hansen had not time to investigate the trouble, but believed a boiler had burst. The Colima was put about, but began to sink rapidly.

A scene of wild confusion followed. One boat was lowered and most of the others swung out, but so far as Hansen knows the boat be commanded was the only one which got clear of the sinking ship. It quickly foundered, and to avoid the suction Hansen's boat quickly pulled clear, and the night being dark, it was Impossible to toll whether tho other boats got away from tho ship or not.

The Colima was a single-screw propeller with Iron hull. She was built In 1873 at Chester, Pa., by John Roach & Sons. Her tonnage was 2,009.64 gross, 2,143,85 net, her horsepower J ,100 and her speed eleven and one-half knots. Tills was her one hundred and twenty-ninth voyage to Panama. She carried about 2,000 tons of cargo and was valued at $103,000.

Map San Francisco Bay 1850.

Relief Map of San Francisco Bay Area showing the entrance through the Golden Gate.

Gold Rush Port.

Gold Rush Port

The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's WaterfrontMaritime Archaeology of San Francisco's Waterfront.

James P. Delgado
Gold Rush Port The Maritime Archaeology of San Franciscos Waterfront.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 RushShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.
David Igler
From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.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 HornMurdered Missionaries and Naked Natives.
Dallas Murphy
Rounding the Horn.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.

The Project

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



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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