San Francisco News and Stories

Steamer Day

Daily Alta California, July 15, 1851


This is the great day of excitement in San Francisco. Early in the morning men are seen flying about the streets with a remarkable degree of rapidity, merchants are busy in making up their letters, bankers arranging their drafts, long-bearded miners backing their trunks down to the wharves, and leaving California with their piles. The scenes around the newspaper offices are very exciting. Everybody wants to send a paper to some relation or friend. Some are very anxious to know if it contains the "last dying words and confession;" others if it has the account of the fight, the race, the shooting affair, the sermon, and a dozen other things. Crowds gather around the Post Office to pay the postage on their letters to their loved ones, or their business correspondents. Friends are anxiously taking leave of friends; brandy toddies, juleps and brandy straights go off with rapidity; and many send off their friends with not only their pockets full of rocks, but their hats well lined with bricks. Sheriffs and policemen are looking out for absconding creditors or scoundrels, and everybody is in a state of excitement of some description on the day the steamer sails.

July 16, 1851, Daily Alta California

"Going Home."

The huge, ungraceful smoky mass of timber and machinery, freighted and black with human beings, without noise, without apparent effort, is gliding beyond the reach of vision, and the damp mists slowly settle and obscure her from the gaze. She is gone! Gone with her hundreds of joyous creatures, who watch the receding shores and lose the familiar scenes of California life, as, one by one, familiar objects fade from view. Gone to the lingering few, who, heedless of the stern rumble and jar of unimpeded "business" about them, stand still, where their fellows have left them, gazing from the pier far away, as though their souls sought no liberty beyond the confines of the narrow ship.

But though the steamer is gone, and the steamer-day be passed the "homeward bound" to kill time in the solitude of sky and wave, and the "friends behind" to return to the great world whose full doings are day after day enacted in our busy midst, not easily are the associations which cluster around the heart on the occurrence of these days of "home" dealings forgotten. The thoughts of a home welcome may flood the heart with bliss unutterable, and each wave that dashes past may remind the voyager that he is wafted nearer the shores of his nativity, but other thoughts will come, when the mind is calm, and his heart is free to feel once again, when the tender memory of warm friends and pleasant by-gone times will sadly blend with the conviction that a broad and expansive ocean is with each wave broadened between him and their bustling, cheerful, prospering land of plenty. And they, too, as they turn to the stern encounter of daily life,--how choked is the heart with emotions too sorrowful to indulge! How utterly abandoned is the feeling which comes over one when familiar faces are seen to fade from the endearing gaze, and the bright future which is opened to them seems shut out for a dismal length of years from him. How cold is the world which we embrace again, how heavy are the richest hopes, how bleak at the sky, how barren the fields, how bitter all the associations that bind us to the present.

For we love to look into the Future. To lift the veil shrouding that mysterious world, and beyond the cares, the clouds and anxiety of surrounding life, to welcome in the sunshine of broad fields of fancy, lying afar off in the great Future. To witness in that dreamland, bright joys, like gay flowers, greet us on every side. To taste from the fount of affection, the sweets of home, and join again, heart and hand, the loved ones of familiar scenes in the "native land." And it is not strange that days like these days which separate us from the friends we have known in the "farther land" should leave a sickening void, and, after torturing the heart with bright visions of the home that awaits our friend, roll back upon us, in the flood of daily life, a crushing sense of the stern reality that awaits us here.

"Going Home!" Who hears this utterance of words, so fraught with rich heart-hopes so filled with promise, and so laden with the sweets of expectation, without a full, glad bound of the heart a pleasant thrill and joyous lightening of the care-burdened bosom a dreamy, delightful emotion pervading the sense, as though we had caught the faint tones of enchanting music from afar off! It speaks of pleasures that await us, it tells us that the harsh cares and duties of to-day will sooner or later dissolve that with fond smiles and outstretched arms the wanderer will be welcomed back by those for whose sake, and for whose sake only, existence is dear to him. "Going home!" We hear it from the lips of a friend and we wonder that he so lightly quaffs from his full cup of happiness that he tells us of his hopes so unmoved. Phoh! He is ungrateful.

How long will it be before the honest, soul-thrilling, Yankee word HOME may be applied to the places of residence that already grace these fair western shores? Before our citizens will be "welcomed home" on the arrival on steamers with passengers to the land of plenty. We await the coming of the day, as for the dawn of "better times." God speed it! Send us full freights, and let us hear often the melody of greeting words, and of the prospective pleasure embodied in the announcement that a friend is "COMING HOME!"

July 20, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Franciso

"Steamer's In"

"Listen! Or was it but the wind? We have enough of that motive power constantly in and around us. But surely we thought we heard the whistle the steamer’s whistle; that pipe to call all hands, and announce with brazen lungs, in notes as clear as a bell, the steamer’s in! Do you not hear it? The low gurgle, the rush, the wind bellow, the scream, the shriek, ear-piercing and prolonged now it inks suddenly, then hoarsely swells to a roar, now subdued, it growls a deep dispute with the hand that tames it, now belches forth hollow and difficult sounds, now stops short and ceases altogether. See the easy quietude of the group on the post office steps is disturbed by some unusual cause some announcement has been made, and here comes a clerk who will justify our conclusion that the steamer must be in.

There go the fast express men, and there follows a precipitate rush of business men and loungers, clerks, lawyers, and men about town, thronging to the quay, and excited and accumulating current, threading the peaceful flow of the tide of humanity and jostling through the thronging streets, elated with the secret which they have gained, and which is too important to retail to the crowd of unconcerned passersby, to whom the tidings are not yet made known that the steamers in! The boatmen of Long Wharf have caught the infection they usually are wide awake when a steamer is due they drop sky-larking, give an extra hitch to the trousers, and are off on a run for Whitehall. Thither the crowd surge, anxiety depicted on each face. You may point out the man who expects his wife by the California, and the merchant, who will hear that his next consignment is ten days out, and the friend who looks for a good fellow of his acquaintance in the next steamer. But wait there has been caused an eddy in the sweep of the tide, where an old inhabitant pauses to question, and raise a doubt with an acquaintance whether she be really in? They cluster around him the dubious few and a little nervous man avers that she has not fired her gun! . . .

Then steps forth the self-possessed and cool-minded individual, and the crowd, appealed to by his grave demeanor, accompany with curious eyes his significant glance upward to the telegraph station. And lo! the telegraph! Not the wind-mill, you blear-eyed man! (its busy manipulations should be tied up on a Sunday!) But the telegraph! -- not an arm is lifted nor a finger raised! Nor is the flag hung out. You may retrace your steps, excited and deluded multitude; and you, young gentleman, learn moderation and obey the wharf injunction or be fined for a faster gait than a walk. The merchant is reminded that a buyer awaits him at the store, the lawyer has forgotten to lock his office door, the doctor is down that way to see a patient, and the sedate young man is returning from a stroll for his health among the hay bundles. The disappointed wife-seeker is last to leave the wharf. Hear him. Can you inform me, sir (earnestly, ah how earnestly!) whether the steamer is in? There is a small rude boy at his elbow a newsboy. Certainly she’s in THE WATER! The boy has added one more to his morning sales!

MORAL. Keep your eye on the telegraph.


The Project

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






DALevy @

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.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.