News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

Prison Ships

State and County Prisoners

November 6, 1850, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

A Brief Review

We were very much edified by the perusal of an article published in, the "Tribune" of Monday, headed "Prison Ship," and struck with profound admiration at the wisdom and acumen evinced by its writer. The conclusion he arrives at is truly appalling. After enumerating the hardships which its inmates are subjected to, viz: fishing, playing cards and chequers, cracking jokes, and eating "all the hard bread and salt pork'" they may desire, occasionally interspersed with bean soup he proceeds to inform us that the prisoners are as respectably appearing, except their chains and halters, as any like number of men in the community, and that good manners, civility &c. are the order of the day. We most fully concur with your contemporary in anticipating the rapid increase of the number of prison ships like the "La Grange" that will be needed within the jurisdiction of Sacramento the coming winter, particularly as long as the inmates will have plenty to eat; frolic and and fun, and nothing to do.

Convict Hulk Gallery

We think, however, that the, city fathers, in increasing those resorts of amusement, may save themselves the trouble of providing for the innocent poor with whom the "Tribune" sympathizes so much. It is sheer twaddle to talk about the poor in California. There is not a man it in, possessed of health, strength, and life, but can get employment if he seek it.

We do not pretend to say that he will get the wages he may imagine he is entitled to, but he is sure to get at least his board and more or less pecuniary recompense for his services. It is a well known fact to all who know this country, that the supply of labor is not equal to the demand. If this hypothesis is doubted, all we ask the skeptic to do is to examine the country within a circuit of twenty-five miles of Sacramento city, either east, west, or north, and witness the thousands of acres of auriferous land that will pay fair wages to the experienced miner if labor is attainable at anything like a moderate price.

Convict Hulks.

There is not the most distant apprehension of the innocent poor suffering if they are not too lazy to work, or if the description of the gay and easy life led on the Prison Ship does not induce them to forget their innocence, and crave after its luxuries; for we pretend to say these are infinitely more enticing to many, than hard work and reasonable pay.

Your contemporary asks, "Who would not steal sooner than starve? and how many would prefer theft to begging?"

We answer, that there are "innocent poor" who would prefer living upon the crust given by the generous, than acquire fortune by vice. If there were but the two alternatives left, either to starve or steal, theft might be excusable; but when we see hundreds of men loafing about our gambling and drinking saloons, in idleness, refusing employment if enormous wages are not given, what conclusion must we arrive at? why, that our prison ship holds out too many inducements. We might add, that we know scores of instances where as high as sixty dollars per month and board have been refused by persons who represent themselves as poor, and in want.

March 5, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

G. C. S. VAIL GONE -- For the last week Mr. Vail has been released from the prison ship, having accepted the commutation of his sentence by the Governor. The terms were that he should pay a fine of $1,000 and leave the state of California, or remain in prison one year. Yesterday he left in charge of Mr. L. B. Washington, for San Francisco, and today, we presume, he will be placed on board the steamer which is to leave for Panama.


A man named Edmonson slipped the emissaries of the law very quietly yesterday. It appears that the Justice and those in attendance hearing a muss on the street went out for the purpose of seeing it. The Justice committed the outside offender to a night's lodging in the prison brig, but on returning to his office, the other "bird had flown." Taking advantage of the tumult, the person arrested slipped out, and has not since been heard of. The person arraigning him has had some difficulty in doing so -- the cost, thus far, being some $75.

Sacramento Transcript, April 5, 1851, Sacramento, California

The State and County Prisoners.

The following are the names of the prisoners now confined on board of the prison ship together with the date of their commitment the crimes of which they were convicted and the length of time they were sentenced to serve in the State Prison. The list was made out on Wednesday.

Date Name Crime Sentence
Jan 24 Charles Huff Grand Larceny 24 months
Jan 24 Jonathan Herndon Grand Larceny 18 months
Jan 24 Charles Currier Grand Larceny 24 months
Feb 11 S. S. Putnam Petit Larceny 3 months
Feb 11 Sam'l Williams Petit Larceny 6 months
Feb 11 Henry Smith Petit Larceny Indefinite
Feb 14 Jos. Baldwin Grand Larceny 12 months
Feb 15 George Gahn Grand Larceny 60 months
Feb 15 John Fisher Grand Larceny 36 months
March 31 James Brown Grand Larceny 48 months
March 31 Christian Allen Grand Larceny 12 months

The following persons are confined on the prison brig, awaiting trial at the next term of the District Court:

Edward J. Allender, charged with grand larceny, stealing stock. Committed March 12

J. W. McOmber, charged with intent to commit a rape the case that occurred at the Spanish house on 7th street. Committed March 16.

James Armstrong, charged with intent to defraud and swindle one of the box and ball operations. Committed March 16.

Fanstino Someso, a Spaniard, charged with burglary and grand larceny stealing from the house of Francisco, another Spaniard, on the corner of I and 2d streets. Committed March 28th.

G. W. Morton, charged with burglary the accomplice of Ogden in the "Palace" robbery. Committed March 30th. [Died on Thursday morning.]

Charles Hambleton, (a Negro) charged with grand larceny -- stealing $670 from Mr. Bochford, at the horse market. Committed April 3d.

The prisoners, as a general rule, do not present those terrific countenances, neither do they portray that reckless kind of abandonment, which is generally associated with those who commit crime. On the contrary, many of them have a frank and cheerful appearance, and we would as soon suspect any other asSacramento. 1800s. they for being violators of the law, and disgraced men.

The prison brig is a decidedly pleasant place, and the prisoners have full view of the business on the Levee, the steamers as they ply up and down the river, and are no ways restrained of liberty, except that they wear heavy chains, which is doubtless against their will, and in addition, have not the liberty to go on shore when they fancy.

A new state of things is dawning on them they are to be placed in a chain gang, and this harsh measure does not accord with their notions of comfort. We are gratified that this measure has been adopted, as it will doubtless have the effect of preventing many of the petit larcenies which take place almost daily in our city.

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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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