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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Bay 1800s.

Meeting of Shipmasters

September 21, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The meeting of shipmasters and other, yesterday afternoon, was one of the largest ever assembled in this city. The large hall in Delmonico’s Hotel was entirely filled, and many were unable to obtain entrance.

The officers were the same as at the meeting on Saturday last, viz.: Capt. Mauran, President; Capts. Mumford and Smith, Vice Presidents; and Capts. Dale, Goodrich and Spooner, Secretaries.

The proceedings of the previous meeting having been read, the following resolutions, prepared by a committee appointed for the purpose, were presented for the consideration of the meeting:


Whereas, we the masters and owners of ships trading at the Port of San Francisco, in meeting assembled, do honestly and sincerely believe that we are subject to many and great obstacles in the pursuit and transaction of our business here, to many unnecessary and unjust expenses, which are very onerous to bear, and which we believe are working to the injury of the commercial prosperity of the Port. We have now met together deliberately to discuss and to endeavor to point out the grievances of which we complain to give a calm expression of our opinions upon them in order that the public, and more particularly the mercantile part of this community, and our employers and friends at home may be made aware of them. In the hope that some remedy for them, or some course of action on our part, by which we may avoid them, may be suggested; that the more unjust and onerous charges upon us may be removed. Or at all events, that some regulations may be enforced by which it may be possible for us to calculate with some degree of confidence upon the course we ought to pursue, with a probability of being if right supported by the laws and by an unenlightened and unprejudiced public opinion in the maintenance of our rights therefore,

Resolved, That being in almost every instance deserted by our crews immediately on arrival here, and finding our contracts with them, however binding, and however fully certified, set at naught or only made available against us by the legal decisions that are daily made here; and considering that those decisions are not only at variance with the spirit but with the letter of the laws of the United States, to which we are bound to conform, we feel it our duty herein to assert, and hereafter to maintain our rights, and to use our earnest and strenuous exertions to procure a just legal decision upon a proper pro-forma case, by a court exercising competent jurisdiction as in such cases made and provided.

Resolved, That while we view with regret the desertion of the crews from our ships, it is with unqualified disapprobation that we see the officers in many instances pursuing the same course men occupying responsible situations under us now, and probably some time to take rank among, and of us in whom we have placed confidence, and who it is not to be supposed, signed the contracts and entered upon the voyage under any misapprehension of its objects, become so lost to all sense of honor and to all the moral obligations of their position, as to desert from their duty or refuse to fulfill their agreement, we cannot look upon as in any way worthy of our further confidence; and we feel it our duty to withhold from all such our countenance and support; to comply with the published request of the Insurance companies of the Atlantic ports, and report to them, directly or through their agent here, the name, place of residence, and such other particulars as we may possess of all officers so deserting; and if called upon hereafter for our opinion as to their capabilities as officers, we should feel bound to qualify that opinion by making known the fact of such desertion in California, where, more than in any other part of the world the cause is in itself evident pecuniary gain.

Resolved, That it is with sorrow that we look upon the sad neglect of the many natural advantages possessed by this spacious harbor for a safe and convenient arrangement of the vast fleet now floating in its waters. It matters little to us whether the dangers and inconveniences we see and hear of every day are through the incompetency of officials, or their neglect of their proper duties. We know that we are compelled by law to pay a harbor or anchorage fee within forty eight hours after arrival, of such an amount as should entitle our ships to some care and protection from the authorities receiving it; for we never receive any such attention from them except in the one instance of pointing out to us a berth, which we could ourselves as we often are obliged to do as well. We think that any ordinary accidental arrangement of the fleet could scarcely be more dangerous or inconvenient than the one now existing. And we hold that any intelligent man, at all conversant with such matters could readily and would willingly suggest a better, a more convenient, and a safer arrangement; and further, that if the Harbor Regulations, so called, were properly enforced in all cases, it would vastly benefit all parties interested.

Wood map of the Bay of San Francisco.

Resolved, That we consider the present existing regulations in regard to Harbor Pilots, as unlawful and the exacting their fee of $50 for each ship as onerous and unjust to the last degree. It may be true that so far as the laws of this Port are concerned it is optional with us whether to employ these Pilots or not, but we should, as a punishment for not employing them, be subjected to more trouble and annoyances than the raising of the fee would warrant, and incur a great risk of receiving decisions against us, if unfortunately necessitated to submit a matter in dispute to the decision of the Harbor Master. And also, it is a well understood requirement of the policies of insurance on our ships that we should, wherever we are strangers, employ Pilots if any are provided. It is also well known that the sea Pilots are willing, and consider it a part of their duty, here, as well as in almost every port in christendom, to place ships at their proper moorings or in dock before leaving them, and it seems to us unjust that at this the most easily entered port in the world, we should be obliged to employ two Pilots at exorbitant fees, to take our ships in, when one is enough and two more than is necessary. This is one of the cases of thorough, unqualified extortion of which we have a right to complain.

Resolved, That we had with pleasure the organization of a Chamber of Commerce in this city, as it must tend to rectify many of the abuses which are practised upon us here, and promote the establishment of such regulations and customs as shall go far to assist us in the settlement of differences with neighbors and others, to which we are unfortunately liable from the variance in commercial usage in different ports that we extend our sincere thanks to that body for the notice already taken of our complaints, and we hereby invite and solicit its cooperation with us in our attempts to bring about a reform that we recommend all parties having mercantile differences, upon which they cannot arrive at a satisfactory settlement themselves, to submit them to the committee of arbitration of that body, with full confidence in the obtaining a just and equitable decision according to facts and mercantile usage, rather than trust in the distant and uncertain contingency of obtaining justice by a suit at law.

Resolved, That as we are at present situated, we consider the property entrusted to our care as unsafe, and almost beyond our control.

Resolved, That we recommend, for the consideration of the proper authorities, the following propositions:

1st. That no sea pilot for the harbor of San Francisco, should be entitled to his fee for sea pilotage until he has moored the ship safely at the berth designed by the Harbor Master. And also, that no sea pilot should be entitled to fees for outward pilotage, until he has taken the ship from her mooring safely to sea, as is usual in other ports.
2nd. That no ship is bound to pay the demands of the Harbor Master, unless furnished with the harbor regulations within twenty four hours after arrival.
3rd. That the Harbor Master should be nominated by those most interested in the faithful performance of his duties as represented by the chamber of commerce, the pilot commissioners, or other mercantile bodies.
4th. That the Board of Health have no right to charge, sue for or collect, from any ship, either American or foreign, entering the harbor of San Francisco, anything more than a simple visit fee, as in nearly all other ports in the world, and that in future we will pay such demands only under protest.
5th. That no Hospital money should be paid by the ship or master, except that chargeable by the United States.
6th. That no one has any right, in California or elsewhere, to occupy public highways, to the injury of navigation, for private purposes.

Resolved, That our thanks as ship masters, are due to the mercantile communities of Liverpool and New York, for so ably supporting the proceedings of the meeting of ship masters in Liverpool n regard to some alterations in the dock regulations of their port, in which they not only cooperated , but through their perseverance the important suggestions there made were followed up, until such alterations are about to be made in the said regulations as will vastly conduce to the comfort and convenience of those of our profession who visit their port.

Resolved, That we hereby pledge ourselves to exert our influence and to use our best endeavors to interest others to exert themselves to procure a remedy for the above mentioned just and well-founded complaints; and moreover to procure the enactment of proper laws and regulations by the authorities having jurisdiction, to advocate the appointment of competent officers to enforce the regulations when enacted, and to procure a just and equal administration of the existing laws. That we feel, that as orderly, law abiding citizens, which we have ever been we are bound to submit to the laws as we find them, though with very little voice or influence in their enactment and we cannot but request that the laws in regard to our to our interests as now enforced in this State, are but little conducive to the advancement of that respect to which it has ever been our pride to consider the laws of our country to be preeminently entitled. That while we look with pride upon the evidence every where surrounding us in the inferior offshoot of our common country, of the indomitable energy of the Anglo American race, and of its peculiar adaptiveness to every soil, to every clime, and to every source of remunerative labor, that pride is nearly reduced by the evidences constantly coming before us of the existence of a short sighted policy on the part of those in power, placing unjust restrictions upon all branches of commerce, that branch of the body politic which more than any other has conduced to place our country in the proud position she now occupies among the nations of the world, which has been the constant object, mistaken though the course may sometimes have been, of legislative enactments, of judicial decisions, and of enormous outlays on by the general government to cherish and protect. That as Americans we deeply regret the necessity which has called from us this public complaint of an American port; but with full confidence in the honesty of the intentions, and in the justice-loving spirit of our fellow citizens here, we have, full faith in the speedy and just correction of the abuses of which we complain.

Resolved, That the proceedings be published, in the newspapers published in this city and copies of them distributed here and forwarded to the Governor of the State, to the Naval Commander of the Stations, to the Secretary of State of the United States, and to all the principal merchants, ship owners, and insurance companies of the Atlantic ports.

The discussion of these resolutions was invited, and a number of captains set forth the grievances to which they had been subjected, and some documents were produced in the case of the Peruvian bark Joven Adonis. The captain of this vessel stated that, upon arriving here, he was informed that there were some hospital dues to be paid, and he inquired of the Harbor Master, to whom they should be paid. He received no satisfactory answer. Here the matter rested for several days when he was surprised by the service upon him of an action for $10,000. He called upon the attorney, who studied the writ, and was informed that the suit would be withdrawn upon the payment of $190 $20 for health officers’ fees; $45 for hospital fees; $25 for writes of court, and $100 for counsel fees. This bill was paid in preference to defending a suit at law. The vessel brought no passengers, and no notice of the port regulations had ever been served upon the captain.
It was stated that ship masters had been sued once, twice, and three times, for violation of regulations, and that they knew nothing about any such regulation until they were served with a warrant for violation.

Pilots have moored vessels in improper places, and when requested to remedy their error, have told the masters that they must apply to the harbor pilots. Every where else, it was said, pilots take the ships from the moorings, but here they tell the captains to take their ships outside and there they will take charge of them.

One captain said that in June last, on going to Benicia from this port, he was told that he must take a pilot. On replying that he did not require any, he was informed that he must pay half pilotage. He went to Benicia, and the next day a constable was sent up to attach his ship.

Every sea captain witnesses with regret the operation of these laws, and it was stated that they were complied with only because, under the present organization of the courts, it would be folly to resist. The necessity of United States courts in California was strongly set forth.

Capt. Proal said that an impression had gone abroad among shipmasters, that when a vessel is to be cleared, the question is asked if the harbor dues have been paid, and that papers are withheld until receipts are produced. Seeing the Collector present, he would again inquire whether such was the fact.

Col. Collier replied that it afforded him peculiar gratification to meet in this manner so numerous a collection of the persons with whom his duties were immediately related. Many charges had been brought against him and he would improve the opportunity to make an explanation. The position he occupied was not of his own seeking, and he knew not that the revenue laws had been extended over California until pressed by the department at Washington to accept the office of Collector of this port. On arriving here he found a state of things existing which surprised him. Four or five hundred vessels in port, his predecessor exercising office under military appointment. Many things were done contrary to law, and his first efforts were directed to the corrections of these violations. Vessels were seized for violating the revenue laws, and much opprobrium was heaped upon the Collector for such seizures.

Shortly after the Collector arrived at San Francisco, he received a communication from the American merchants, in which it was stated that French vessels, in direct violation of the law, were bringing into this port cargoes from Chile, Mexico, and almost every where under the sun. He was desired to enforce the laws. He enquired of his predecessor if any change had taken place in our relations with France, which would justify such proceedings on the part of French ships. He was informed that there had been no change. The department had never communicated with Mr. Harrison in any manner whatever.

Failing to find any justification for a violation of one of the first commercial treaties ever negotiated, he had seized several vessels engaged in what he supposed illegal trade. In April last, he was informed by the department that a change had taken place in the commercial regulations with France, which permitted the traffic he had alluded to. He had gone strictly according to law, as he supposed, and he acted from no motive but to sustain the laws. The main error was in the department not informing him of the change in the law. In reference to the seizure of liquor in cases, he would state that he had positive instructions from the department to put the law of 1827 in force. This law authorised the confiscation of the liquor as well as the ship importing it. He regarded the law as operating, in some cases, very severely. This port had hitherto been regarded as a sort of free port, where regulations, if any existed, were but little respected. But he had never refused the master of the vessel containing the description of liquor subject to confiscation, to clear out with his vessel, and go withersoever he chose. He had never detained a ship a single hour under these circumstances, although one half the ship, upon confiscation, belonged to him.

Did this exhibit a disposition to be tyrannical? He alluded to the instance of a French master who informed him that he had 2000 cases of cognac in his vessel, which he had learned was illegal. If his vessel was seized he was a ruined man, for the ship and cargo was his whole fortune, so he desired to leave the port. Permission was granted for the captain to go where he pleased, and such had been the uniform proceeding of the Collector in such cases.

Col. Collier regarded the operation of the health laws as neither more nor less than land piracy. They are oppressive and ought not to be tolerated. But where is the remedy The ballot box. Send men to the Legislature who will put these doctors out. Col. Collier also commented upon the conduct of the Harbor Master, who, according to his representation is totally unfit to perform the duties of that important office.

He would also make an allusion to the subject of Hospital Money. His predecessor had collected a large amount of this fund, all of which had been paid over to the Quarter Master and last winter, in the absence of such a fund, the Collector found himself powerless to relieve them of sick and disabled seamen. The funds have since increased. He regarded it as a sacred fund, to be applied solely to the purposes for which it was established. The department authorises the Collector to pay out of his fund, for the support of sick seamen, 10 cents a day, per man; but he had taken the responsibility to increase it to $2.75 per day, and he should continue to do so, even if eventually he had to pay it out of his own pocket.

He had urged upon the department, in the strongest terms, the establishment of a Marine Hospital, and he hoped the day was not far distant when such an asylum would be established. The course of the Courts here had sometimes proved very oppressive. An instance was given. A French vessel came in here for suppllies. When the ship anchored, the sailors went ashore and brought suits to recover their wages. Judgment was rendered in their favor, and the captain was compelled to give up his voyage, and sell his oil and vessel, to comply with the unjust and illegal demand which had been made upon him. Even the Collector has been threatened to be put in the chain gang, because he would not change the register of a British vessel which had been sold by a constable.

The World Rushed In. J. S. holliday.

With reference to the particular inquiry of Capt. Proal, Col. Collier said he had directed his clerks that interrogatories as to whether pilot fees, etc. Had been paid, should not be asked; and his directions were not to withhold papers for one moment upon any such pretence.

With the shipmasters he felt that they had the right to utter their complaint with trumpet tongues. Their remedy was at hand, and they would stand by their flag, in the abiding conviction that their government would avenge their wrongs, and that the day would come when those who had thus filched from them would be compelled to disgorge.

Dr. Rogers attempted a speech in justification of the health laws.

Capt. Mackensie read a memorial to the Secretary of State, setting forth the grievances of shipmasters and owners, asking for the protection of the government, and that the laws of the general government be extended over us. This memorial will remain in the Merchants’ Exchange for signatures, until the sailing of the next steamer.

Resolutions thanking Col. Collier for his cooperation in the purposes of the meeting, and thanking Mr. Delmonico for having kindly tendered the use of his house, were adopted, and then the meeting adjourned.

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Chamier went to sea in 1809 as an officer in the Royal Navy. Like his contemporary, Captain Frederick Marryat, he enjoyed a successful literary career and is remembered for his naval novels. This book, his first, is usually catalogued as fiction, although it is an exact account of his naval experiences, with every individual, ship, and event he described corroborated by his service records. Told with humor and insight, it is considered an authentic account of a young officer's service. From anti-slavery patrols off Africa to punitive raids on the American coast during the War of 1812, Chamier provides details of many lesser-known campaigns. His descriptions of British naval operations in America, which reflected his objection to bringing the war to the civilian population, were highly criticized by his seniors.

The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, 1775 to 1841Stories of the Sea and Ships.
John C. Dann

Great Stories of the Sea & Ships Sea Stories and the history of America.
N. C. Wyeth
Sea Stories and the history of America.More than 50,000 copies of this collection of high-seas adventures are in print. Not only does it showcase the fiction of such classic writers as Daniel Defoe, Jules Verne, and Jack London, but the entries also feature historic first-person narratives including Christopher Columbus’s own account of his famous voyage in 1492. Vivid tales of heroic naval battles and dangerous journeys of exploration to the stories of castaways and smugglers. The variety of works includes “The Raft of Odysseus,” by Homer; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Mermaid”; “The Specksioneer,” by Elizabeth Gaskell; Washington Irving’s “The Phantom Island”; and “Rounding Cape Horn,” by Herman Melville. Eighteen black and white illustrations by Peter Hurd add to the volume's beauty.

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