Passenger Lists: San Francisco 1800s


SS Newbern


October 1893

October 15, 1893, San Francisco Call and Los Angeles Herald,


The Steamer Newbern Ashore at Point Firmin.

She Lost Her Reckoning During a Dense Fog.
The Vessel a Total Wreck and Most of Her Cargo Lost. 
Crew and Passengers All Safely Landed. 
About $875,000 Worth of Silver Bullion Saved
Thrilling Experience

Special to the Herald.

Redondo, October 14. The big, white hull of the steamer Newborn lies impaled on sunken rocks 150 feet off shore at point Firmin, 12 miles below this place. The boilers and engines are at the bottom of the sea. Two great holes are in her bow and nearly her entire bottom is cut. The water in her is level with the guards, and the guards are level with the sea around her. The cargo it floats on the ocean or lies at the bottom.


Wreck of the Newbern.

The Newbern went ashore at 3 o'clock this morning during a dense fog. She was north-bound from Quaymas, Mexico, to San Francisco. She was 25 miles out of her regular course when she struck the rocks, and had just to the shoreward of Catalina island. The lookout on the bridge had no intimation that danger was near until the great points of rocks towered up directly before the vessel's bow, and the next instant the crash of timbers and rush of waters came.


On board the Newbern, besides the officers and crew, were 25 passengers, three of them women. All were removed from the steamer in safety, and in less than half an hour from the time the vessel struck not a soul was left on board. What might have proved a fatal panic was averted by the prompt and decisive actions of the officers and crew in manning the small boats and carrying the terror-stricken passengers to land. The unusual calm condition of the sea at the time made this comparatively easy thing to do, whereas if there had been the usual sea running, it is not probable that any landing could have been made with the boats, and they would either have been forced to put out to sea or have been dashed against the rocks or overturned in the surf.


On the vessel was $100,000 in silver bullion, being conveyed from Mexico to San Francisco. The bullion had been placed in the lower hold below the boilers. Alter the passengers bad been safely landed, the crew returned and succeeded in securing about three quarters of the precious cargo, the remainder having already been carried into the sea by the dislodgment of the machinery and boilers. The bullion was conveyed to San Pedro in boats from the steamer in charge of the captain.


Immediately after the abandonment of the steamer Purser Childs started for this place on foot and arrived about two o-clock. In a short time every available conveyance and many of the inhabitants of the town were on their way to the scene of the wreck. It is 12 long miles from this place to the spot, and the road is a terrible one. It was 12 o'clock before the first to start arrived their. By that time it was plainly evident that, the vessel was doomed. In a very few minutes after the thump on the rocks she keeled over with her decks to the sea, and her boilers and machinery suddenly went through the lower side with a crash. The water poured in through the great gaps in her sides until the great hull was level full and the cargo was afloat or at the bottom.


By the time the earliest ones arrive: at the scene from this place, all attempts to board the stranded vessel had been abandoned. With the rising of the tide, only one-half of the deck was visible above the water. Soon after the smoke stack tottered and went overboard, carrying portions of the deck and railing with it.


The Newbern had on board a heavy cargo of miscellaneous freight, including a large consignment of oranges. There was also a large amount of dye-bark, and as the bales of this bark floated on through the rents, the sea was dyed for a great distance around and covered with floating miscellanies.


Eighty great live sea turtles were on the deck before the vessel struck. When the boiler loosened and the hull turned over the 80 turtles went down into the sea instead of into the soup. Outside of where the steamer lies is a great sea of kelp through which a passage must have been made to reach the point where the rocks are. This kelp field extends for a number of miles down the coast.


Part of the passengers taken from the wreck remained on the bluffs near the scene all day, and will camp there tonight. Provisions and blankets were taken from the wharf and wreck, and they will be made as comfortable as possible. The three lady passengers? Mrs. Katherine Brand, Miss A. Montesz, and Mrs. Manuel Reyeto ? and one male passenger, W. de Leon, a paralytic, were conveyed to Redondo, where they are quartered.


Mrs. Brand (or Katherine Brandegee) was seen at Redondo by representative of the Herald, and gave a graphic recital of the scene on board the steamer when the first shock was felt. In an inconceivably short space of time, she said, all of the terror stricken passengers were running about the decks in their night clothes, appealing to the officers and crew for assistance. There were no violent bumps after the first, and the steamer for a few minutes remained perfectly upright. The crew worked like demons to clear away the boats and safely crowd into them the helpless mortals gathered on the decks. The landing of the passengers from the boats was made at a point where not more than 12 inches of sandy beach lies below a solid, perpendicular wall of rocks, 100 feet high. When the tide is up this beach is entirely submerged. The fog was almost impenetrable and all were obliged to grope their way along this narrow strip for nearly half a mile before any place could be found where the cliff could be climbed with safety. The night was mild, but all were wet through to the skin, though many had found time to secure sufficient clothing to make them part-way comfortable.


A representative of the Herald was one of the first to reach the scene of the wreck. Captain Van Helms had already left for San Pedro. First Officer Gallagher consented to talk simply in regard to the wreck, and narrated the circumstances already told, but when questioned in regard to the cause of the vessel being so far out of her course absolutely refused to offer any reason whatever. He was asked if there was any possibility of the chart being in error, but declined to give any opinion. There had been no trouble with the charts previous to this.

Purser Childs was asleep when the accident occurred, and could give no reason for the position of the vessel. First Officer Gallagher was on the bridge at the time. The vessel was proceeding very slowly on account of the dense fog. The officer was not aware that the steamer was far from her proper course until the rocks loomed up before him. It was then too late to communicate even with the man at the wheel.


The Newbern is one of the oldest steamers in the coast trade. She is owned by Goodall, Perkins & Co. of San Francisco. She was built in 1802, and during the war was used as a government transport. Twenty years ago the vessel was brought to this coast and has been in the coastwise trade ever since. This is the second time she has been wrecked. She was engaged in the through trade from South American and Mexican ports and San Francisco, and carried besides freight, second-class passengers only. Her crew number 36. She was of 750 tons register. Captain Van Helam has been in command of the Newbern for a number of years, but her other officers have been on her but a short time.

The Newbern was purchased in the East by the California Navigation Company, of which John Bermingham was agent, some eighteen years ago. Together with the Montana, a steamer of about her tonnage, was used in the line between this port and Guaymas. At the latter point, connection was made with a line of small stern-wheel boats owned by the same company, which navigated the upper part of the gulf arid the Colorado River as far as Yuma.

The two lines did a large business, as all freight and passenger traffic between this city and places in Arizona and the Northwestern Mexican States had either to go by sea or take a tedious and oft-times dangerous journey overland from Los Angeles. On the completion of the Southern Pacific through Arizona, however, the traffic by sea fell off and the company disposed of their river boats to the railroad people and only kept the steamships. About this time the Montanawas burned at sea on a voyage between here and Guaymas. The Mexico was built to take her place, but as business continued to decline she was disposed of to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, who placed her on the Puget Sound route. A few years since theNewbern, as the last floating property of the old Gulf of California Company, was disposed of to the Pacific Coast Company and had been retained by them on the route between this port and Guaymas, making monthly trios.

The Newbern has carried enough treasure between the United States and Mexico to pay off the national debt. Her cargoes latterly consisted of unrefined silver ore, hides, pelts, deerskins, tropical fruits and Mexican cigars, for which the Pacific Coast Steamship Company any received freight rates somewhat higher than the customary compensation for transportation.


W. Parris, agent of the Goodall-Perkins company at Los Angeles came down this afternoon and went to the scene of the wreck on the tug Pelican. Late tonight he announced that the vessel with her freight would be a complete loss and that no one would ever set foot on her decks again, as it would be dangerous to even approach her now. He could give no plausible reason for the disaster. No clear estimate of loss could be obtained, though it would be near to $100,000. Mr. Parris made arrangements for the comfort of the passengers at Point Firmin and has telegraphed to San Diego to have the Steamer Corona stop there tomorrow morning and take them on board. the Corona is due here at 7 o'clock tomorrow. Part of the passengers at the point are Mexicans and there are a few Chinese.


Excursions are being talked of to go to the scene tomorrow, but to those who have been there it seems probable that by tomorrow morning the only thing of interest there will be the place where the wreck was.

October 16, 1893, San Francisco Call, San Francisco. California

She Is Slowly Settling Into the Ocean. 
Divers Will Endeavor to Bring Up the Submerged Silver Bullion.

Redondo, Oct. 15. The Newbern's position remains unchanged. She is slowly going to pieces. The Coos Bay arrived on the scene this morning and has succeeded in saving considerable of the furnishings. Passengers with their baggage were transferred to the Corona and proceeded on their trip at noon. Divers will arrive to-morrow and endeavor to recover the S25,000 of bullion still in the hold. Conveyances and excursion craft from Redondo visited the wreck. Many souvenirs were obtained, and everybody is smoking genuine imported Mexican cigars. The weather is clear and the sea is very calm. Had the whistling buoy, which was petitioned for by the Redondo Beach Company a year ago been received, this wreck would not have occurred. Such a buoy is absolutely necessary at this point. 

No steps Taken Toward Putting on Another Steamer.

Captain Charles Minor Goodall was seen by a Call reporter at his residence, in Oakland, last evening. He stated that his company had not yet determined what will be done in regard to putting on another boat in place of the Newbern. The company will hold a meeting to-day or tomorrow, when the matter will be discussed. Captain Goodall stated further that he did not know anything about the report that the North American Navigation Company intends to place the St. Paul on the route over which the Newbern sailed, but any action that her owners or charterers may take will affect his company, should it be decided to put on another boat to take the place of the lost steamer.

October 23, 1893, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Considerable Wreckage Saved
A New Survey Ordered.

San Francisco, Oct. 22. The survey steamer Patterson sailed for Santa Barbara channel today on survey work, ordered on account of the Newbern disaster. The Coos Bay arrived from the scene of the wreck this morning, with a big load of wreckage saved by the divers and wreckers. About $30,000 worth of silver bullion was included in the stuff rescued.

October 25, 1893, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

The Wreck of the Newbern Investigated. 
Captain Helms and His Crew Exonerated. 
Witnesses Could Give No Reasons lor the Mishap.

The Captains Log Book Showed That the Vessel Was Steered Over the Usual Course
Pacific Coast News.

By the Associated Press. San Francisco, October 24.?The inspectors of steam vessels yesterday investigated the causes of the recent grounding of the steamer Newbern. Captain Von Helms, First Officer J. P. Gallagher, Second Officer R. J. Paulsen, Quartermaster I. Frank, Sousa and Gust Anderson were examined as to the conduct aboard the vessel the day of the grounding. The captain's log book was examined, and from this it appeared that the Newbern was steered the same day it ran aground as it had been steered for 50 voyages past. None of the witnesses could give any reason for the mishap, so the inspectors found no ground for censure.

October 16, 1893, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Mate Gallagher Responsible for the Loss of the Newbern.

San Francisco, October 26. Captain von Helms has been exonerated from all blame in connection with the loss of the steamer Newbern, and he will go out in command of the St. Paul.

 It is reported that First Mate J. P. Gallagher has had his license revoked for carelessness. The inspectors refused to confirm the report this morning, on the ground that the investigation had not been completed. At the time the Newbern was lost von Helms was below asleep, having been on duty during the preceding 24 hours. The failure of Mate Gallagher to call the commanding officer when he got into a heavy fog caused him to be charged as negligent. Owing to some delay in getting the cargo on board the steamer St. Paul she will not sail for Mexican ports until Friday. She was scheduled to leave tomorrow.

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