Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

William Ward

William Ward died in 1901; he went down with his ship, The City of Rio de Janeiro, when she sank in San Francisco Bay.

Hong Kong, 2 May 1893 

District and Port of San Francisco
Separate List of Chinese Passengers

Act May 6th, 1882

I, William Ward, Master of the Amer SS Peru do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that the following List or Manifest, subscribed by me, and now delivered by me to the Collector of the Customs of the Collection District of San Francisco, is a full and perfect list of all Chinese passengers taken on board the said vessel at Hong Kong and Way from which port said vessel has now arrived, or that have been taken on board the said vessel at any foreign port or place, and of all such passengers now on board said vessel, and that on said List is truly designated the names and other particulars, as shown by their respective certificates. So help me God.

(signature) William Ward

Sworn to this 3 day of May 1893 before me, Robert Ware, Deputy Collector of Customs

Chinese Migration to America 1850-1915. Robert J. Schwendinger, author.

Separate List or Manifest of all the Chinese Passengers taken on board the SS Peru whereof William Ward is Master, from Hong Kong, burthen 2540 tons.

April 3, 1895, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California


Eighteen Vessels Laid Up at Yokohama
Damaged by Storms on the Voyage Out.

The steamer City of Rio de Janeiro arrived from China and Japan at an early hour yesterday morning, appearing little the worse for her collision with the hidden rock off Kagoshima. She was twenty-six days from Hongkong and sixteen from Yokohama.

News by the steamer confirms the loss of the sealing vessel George W. Peabody, but no further particulars of the wreck have been furnished. The crew were on their way to Yokohama when the Rio sailed. The vessel, however, is a total wreck.

When the Rio left Yokohama, there were no less than eighteen sealers in port, among them being the Mattie T. Dyer, Jane Gray and the Winchester. All the vessels went direct to Japan from San Francisco, and all arrived more or less damaged, the trip across the Pacific having been a tempestuous one. The Winchester had 230 seals.

On the morning of February 22, 1901, the Pacific Mail Steamer Rio de Janeiro was feeling her way through the Golden Gate toward San Francisco in one of California's dense coastal fogs.

They had sailed with a crew that was mostly Chinese. Of the 84 crewmen only two spoke English and Chinese. During the long voyage orders were given by using signs and signals and it seemed to work fairly well. It was known that the ships equipment and lifeboat launching apparatus were in good working order and should have been able to be lowered in less than five minutes.

Prior to reaching the Golden Gate, one of the crewmen was caught breaking into a cabin and accosting two female passengers. He had been chained below deck for 18 weeks prior to the wreck. The whole time he shouted and cursed at the crew and passengers of the Rio. He promised that everyone aboard would rot on the bottom.

The Rio 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. Virtually the entire underside of the vessel had been torn open by the collision and the engine room and cargo holds rapidly flooded.

The ship had been built in 1878, before watertight bulkheads came into use, and sunk in 320 feet (98 m) of water only eight minutes after striking the reef. 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.

The wreck was so sudden that the lookout at the Fort Point Lifesaving Station, only a few hundred yards away, was completely unaware of the situation for two hours, when a lifeboat was sighted emerging from a fog bank. Rescue boats were dispatched but only a few survivors were found, clinging to wreckage.

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.

When she sank, 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. 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. He was almost right, for in the early morning hours of February at final count, only 81 people survived; 129 had perished, among them the Captain, who had gone down with his ship. His headless body was found washed up on the shore near Baker's Beach on July 12, 1902. He was identified by the numbers on a watch he was wearing and which was purchased from a local jeweler.

February 23, 1901, Woodland Daily Democrat, Woodland, California, U.S.A.


Wreck of Steamship Rio de Janeiro Near Fort Point
Loss of Life Terrible -- Russell Harper Rescued With One Leg Broken and Otherwise Injured.

The Pacific Mail steamship Rio de Janeiro ran on a hidden rock while entering Golden Gate early Friday morning in a dense fog. She sank a few minutes after striking the rock.

The most prominent passenger on the vessel was Rouneville Wildman, United States consul at Hongkong, who was accompanied by his wife and two children. It is thought all were drowned.

The ship was in command of Pilot Frederick Jordan when she struck. He was rescued. Captain Ward went down with his vessel.

As nearly as can be learned there were 201 people on board the Rio de Janeiro, as follows: Cabin passengers 29; second cabin, 7; steerage (Chinese and Japanese), 68; white officers, 30; Asiatic crew, 77.

The saved number 79, classed as follows: Cabin passengeres, 12; white officers, 11, steerage (Asiatics), 15; crew (Chinese), 41.

The lost number 122, classed as follows: Passengers, 24; officers, 19; crew (Chinese) 36; steerage (Asiatic), 48.

The ship was three days overdue from Hongkong, via Honolulu, when she arrived off the heads Thursday night. The density ol the fog prevailing at the time induced Pilot Jordan to bring her to anchor until he could see his way clear through the gateway. She laid to until about 4:30 o'clock, when the atmosphere cleared, and she was started under a slow bell toward Point Bonita. All went well until 5:40, when she struck. Most of the passengers were below at the time, and it is believed that many of them were drowned in their berths.

From all accounts it appears that the officers were cool and gave the necessary orders with the least excitement possible. Captain Ward, who was on the deck when the vessel struck, at once gave orders to the crew on watch to hustle the passengers on to the forward deck. At the same time the quartermaster on duty pounded the signal for fire drill, and within five minutes all the men were at their stations. There was no way of telling the extent of the damage to the vessel, as she remained on an even keel for fifteen mlnntes after striking the rock. But Captain Ward, with the instinct of long experience, knew that the gravest danger threatened the 200 souls in his barge, and, pacing the deck, gave order to lower away the lifeboats and liferafts.

There was not much confusion until fifteen minutes after striking, the bow of the vessel suddenly plunged under water. Then there was a wild rush for the boats. Two boats had already been lowered, and others were getting away as rapidly as the trained discipline of the crew could prepare them. A thick fog enveloped everything, and as yet no sign had come from the life-saving station. Darkness was all about, and with this added horror the people on the Rio had to cope.

A number of Italian fishermen, who were just starting out yesterday morning, saw the sinking of the Rio, and at once hastened to render every assistance in their power.

That the steamer sank almost immediately after striking is the report of a majority of those who were aboard. Some of the pasengers say that she instantly listed forward, and that in five minutes she went down, while others declare that she stayed afloat at least half an hour after she struck.

There an several conflicting stories concerning the fate of Captain Ward. The steward of theRio says that he stood beside the captain when the vessel went down. Two other survivors say that they also saw the captain, but Frederick Lindstrom, the quartermaster officer of the Rio, emphatically declared that Captain Ward enclosed Admiral Tyron of her British Majesty's ship Victoria in going down to his cabin, where he met his doom behind a locked door.

February 24, 1901, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Detectives Sent Out in a Tug With Orders to 
Arrest All Persons Suspected of Robbing Baggage.

Complaints having been received by the police that men in boats were seizing and rifling baggage belonging to passengers of the ill-fated steamer Rio de Janeiro. Acting Chief Seymour, yesterday, hired the tug Amy and detailed Detectives Ed Gibson and Ross, to patrol the bay in her. They were, instructed to seize any baggage found floating In the bay and to arrest all boatmen discovered with baggage in their possession that had been tampered with.

"We have for years," said Captain Seymour yesterday, "been urging upon the Board of Supervisors the urgent necessity of providing the department with a police patrol boat the same as in New York and other coast cities in the East have, but without effect. In a seaport like this where we are-constantly being notified of criminals arriving or departing on vessels to and from the Orient and Australia the necessity of a police patrol boat is only too apparent.

"Take the case of the Rio de Janeiro as an illustration of the benefit to be derived from such a boat., The news of the wreck was telephoned to the Central Police station at half-past 7 o'clock yesterday morning. If we had been possession of a police patrol boat we could have sent a number of men to the scene of the wreck in her and many valuable lives might have been saved. The newspapers should take this matter up and insist upon a patrol boat being provlded for the use of the Police Department."

More on the Rio de Janeiro.

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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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