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Sevastopol (Sebastopol)

On 18 November, the Russian squadron under the command of Admiral Nakhimov routed the Turkish fleet in its own harbour Sinope. In April 1854, England and France declared war on Russia. The British Fleet bombarded Odessa and conducted several raids in various places in the White Sea, in the Gulf of Finland and even in the Far East having attacked Kamchatka. In September 1854, the Allied British-French-Turkish troops landed in the Crimea. Their immediate task was to siege Sebastopol. However, fearing of Russian fierce counteractions, the enemy Chief Commanders decided to land their troops in a more suitable place far from the Russian troops which were deployed mainly in the district of Sebastopol.


The city's defence was headed by the Black Sea Fleet Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Vladimir Alekseevich Kornilov. Being the closest associate and a student of M.P. Lazarev, our outstanding fleet commander and the father of the Black Sea Fleet, Kornilov placed all his knowledge, efforts and remarkable organizational abilities at the service of strengthening the Sebastopol defenses. He took the city defence in his own hands and acted with great enthusiasm and energy. Kornilov's closest assistant was Vice-Admiral Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov, who was in charge of Southern Sebastopol defence. Under the direct leadership of Kornilov and Nakhimov, the heroic defenders of the city made Sebastopol a powerful fortress which successfully withstood 349 days of fierce enemy attacks.

The enemy had twice as many ships to attack from the sea; the Russians gave up the idea of destroying the enemy at sea and revamped positions to protect the city, their families and property. On September 11, five old battleships and two frigates were scuttled at the Sebastopol harbour. The ships guns were used to strengthen the coastal defence constructions while the sailors and officers were sent to defend the city. Despite the overwhelming supremacy in artillery, the Allied fleet failed to destroy the Russian batteries. The Allied Chief Commanders, taking into account extensive damage of their ships, rejected the previous intention to bombard Sebastopol from sea.

Crimea.War in the Crimea.

The Russians sunk at the entrance, between Forts Alexander and Constantine, two of the 120 gun ships, two of the 88 gun, two frigates and two corvettes. The line occupied by these sunken vessels was about three-quarters of a mile long, the water being sixty feet deep. The vessels sunk here were among the poorest in the fleet. In the great gale that was so fatal to the English and French vessels in the Black Sea, this line was so much disturbed, that the allies, if they had known it, could easily have obtained an entrance to the harbor. This caused the Russians to sink a second line between Fort Michael and Fort Nicholas, about a mile inward. When the Redan was captured by the allies, all the balance of the fleet was sunk, preparatory to abandoning the place.

The machinery of the steamers of war, before being sunk, was carefully covered with a preparation of tallow to prevent injury from the water. They were scuttled by boring three inch augur holes near the water line, and all this was done before the English and French appeared before the place, for the Russians did not entertain the idea of defending it, and one division of the army had advanced nine miles on the Perekop road, when word was brought that the English and French, instead of entering the city, had halted outside, and were fortifying their position. It was then that the Russian army returned, built the earth redoubts, and made that long and stubborn defence which has rendered the name of Sebastopol so famous.

Mr. Gowen examined thirty ships, made a plan of the harbor and adjacent country, and returned to St. Petersburg. He found that there were no less than thirteen competitors for the contract from France and England, among the former being the company known as Credit Mobilier. The government finally concluded to make the contract with Mr. Gowen. The value of the ships sunk is said to be sixty-five million dollars, and he has a certain portion of the value of each ship raised at the moment it is placed in the hands of the Russian government.

March 20, 1854, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

A Yankee Restores to the Russians their Fleet

It will doubless be well remembered that when the late war broke out and the Allies menaced Sevastopol, the Russians sunk their fleet in the harbor, both to prevent its being taken, and to close the mouth of the channel. The vessels sunk were sixteen war-steamers, four 120-gun ships, fifteen 84-gun ships, nine frigates, and numerous brigs, schooners, transports, and merchantmen.

An American engineer has now contracted to raise the wrecks. The enterprising contractor is J. E. Gowen, of Boston, who raised the wreck of the steamship Missouri, in the harbor of Gibralter, under contract with our government. This wreck had laid eight years in that harbor, and the British government made continued attempts to remove it, until the English engineers gave up in despair, and reported that human ingenuity could not free the harbor from that danger. The British Cabinet then requested that the government of the United States would take the matter in hand, and it sent out a live Yankee, who effected the desired purpose in sixty days, under contract for fifty-nine thousand dollars. This achievment was looked upon with great surprise in England.

When Mr. Gowen reached Moscow last summer, to lay his proposals before the Russian government, he found the ground already covered with French and English engineers, some of whom had been there for months. He called upon Duke Constantine, laid before him the report of the English engineers, staling the removal of the Missouri from ihe harbor of Gibraltar to be impossible, and Marcy's certificate that he had done it in sixty days, at a very low price. "You are just the man for me." said Constantine, and in twenty-four hours the contract was signed, and our Yankee was on his way to Sobastopol to survey his ground. The Russian government placed a small steamer at his disposal, and showed him how the operation of sinking the ships had been done, and the Boston man said he guessed he could return pretty nearly half of them in good order, and clear away the remainder.

He is now making his arrangements in this city and in Philadelphia. All the machinery will be prepared and shipped from Boston for Sebastopol early in the spring, and will be accompanied by a large corps of American engineers, ship carpenters, and so forth.

While at Sebastopol, Mr. Gowen says there were large numbers of French and English arriving. They were the relatives and friends of those who had fallen in the conflict, and were on a pilgrimage to find if possible the graves of the beloved dead. We are informed that many of the friends of Mr. Gowen, both in this country and in England, propose, during the performance of the contract, to visit Sebastopol, with the double object of seeing the place and witnessing the performance of this most stupendous undertaking.

May 1855: The War

News by the SS Pacific arriving in San Francisco on July 2, 1855: Although not of decisive importance, is of varied interest. The siege of Sevastopol progresses very slowly, indeed, and as the telegraph is now in the hands of the Government exclusively, it is difficult to decide from the imperfect hints supplied, whether the besiegers or besieged gain most advastage. Symptoms have transpired of extended operations being about to commence on the part of the Allies.

A force of 15,000 Turks, French and English hastily embarked on board of all the available ships near Sevastopol, and stood away in the direction of the Sea of Azoff. In a day or two they returned and as hastily disembarked, Omer Pacha and his Turks making all speed to ensconce themselves again in Eupatoria. We are indebted to Russian sources for all the information we possess as to this extraordinary movement, but there seems no reason to doubt the truth of the statement. Gen. Canrobert had reviewed the entire French army, and assured them he would soon enter Sevastopol, either by the door or window. Negotiations between Austria and the Western Powers remain where they were, but between Austria and Prussia relations are becoming more intimate, and have for their object to preserve strict neutrality. Russia has directed her representative at the Court of Darmstadt to notify all the German governments that Russia will only hold to the first two points of guarantee on coadition of the perfect neutrality of Germany. France and England have presented an ultimatum to Sweden, to which the Swedes have replied by incorporating their militia . . .

Russia.Crimean War. Prince Gortschakoff. 1860.

Prince Gortschakoff (image right) states that on the 3d of May, a division of the allied armies, amounting to from 10,000 to 15,000 men, embarked in the greater part of the vessels before Sevastopol, and proceeded to sea in a northeasterly direction along the coast. The squadron passed Yalta and the Bay of Kaffd, until it reached the Straits of Kertch, but after showing itself off that place, it appears suddenly to have been recalled, and to have sailed back to Kamiesch Bay, where it arrived on the 8th of May, without having attempted anything against the enemy. It was subsequently that the Turks were re-embarked for Eupatoria.

1857: The Chersonese

As of 1857, of all the 70 vessels that were scuttled or sunk in the harbor of Sebastopol between September, 1854, and February, 1855, one steamer was raised -- the Chersonese -- and a few transports. Divers determined that they are not worth the expense of raising them. The ships of the line, which were sunk at the entrance of the harbor, had already been ten years afloat, and have now been imbedded in the sands there for two winters, so that they certainly cannot be worth much. The liners, Paris, Grossfurst, Constantine, Maria, and Tschesma, are lying on their beam ends, and have been much injured by the lurching over of the guns, the ballast, and other ponderous articles; the Chrabry, Kullewtschy, and the steamers Vladimir, Bessarabia,Gromonessetz, Odessa, Krimea, and Turok, are described as standing upright on their keels, and it is pro posed to lift these by means of the Chersonese and the transports.

Warships at Sebastopol


As regards those steamers which were among the vessels that were last sunk, considerable hopes are entertained that they may be brought into service again. The parties who have undertaken the recovery of these wrecks from the bottom of the harbor, are to be paid for their trouble and outlay with one half the estimated value of all objects recovered, a remuneration that is thought to be in all probability very inadequate to the expenses. The method proposed is to fasten on the sides of the vessel to be raised, sacks, made air-tight with tar or gutta percha; in the case of a ship of the line, it is calculated that 2000 of these sacks must be used containing 50,000 cubic feet of air. Whether the scuttled vessels can ever be used or not, it seems to be decided that they must be lifted, and not blown to pieces, inasmuch as by the latter process the roads would be encum bered with a vast number of chains, guns, anchors, and other heavy bodies, which would forever after obstruct the anchorage very much.

December 12, 1857, New York Times, New York City, New York, U.S.A.

The Sunken Ships at Sebastpol

From the Boston Traveller, 10th
No ships of war have yet been raised, but the Boston Submarine Company have been at work upon an eighty-four gun ship. This ship has become deeply embedded in the mud, the Russians before scuttling her having placed heavy granite blocks upon he decks to prevent injury to the vessel from the shot of the enemy.

All this granite has been recovered, together with a large amount of other material, sufficient to leave a surplus after paying expenses, the share of the Gowen Company and the Russians. In regard to the ship, the Gwinn pump was used and actually drew up water from the hold of the vessel, at a distance of forty-six feet from the surface at the rate of seventy thousand gallons a minute, without starting the vessel. The commander of the expedition is confident, however, that with the use of pontoons or bags of India-rubber filled with air, introduced into the hold, they shall be more successful.

The Gowen Company, it is also stated, have been quite successful in raising material, of which there are millions in amount upon the bottom, and neither party have, so far as is known, the slightest intention of abandoning the undertaking.

Up to the 4th of November the weather had been extremely pleasant, and on that day they were sitting at open windows eating blackberries.

The Russian Government, it is stated, still look with favor upon this famous city, and are energetically at work to restore it to something of its former strength and efficiency. Next Spring the Grand Duke Constantine, and others of the Imperial family, will visit the place, to superintend the operations of rebuilding, &c.

One of the vessels of the Boston Submarine Company was at Constantinople taking in coal and provisions with which to return to Sebastopol. This does not look like an abandonment of the expedition.

November 20, 1858, Scientific American, New York, New York

Sevastopol - A New Pump Wanted

Two American companies entered into engagements with the Russian government to raise the ships which were sunk in the harbor of Sevastopol during the Crimean war. One of these companies, from Boston, gave up the enterprise last year, and returned, having made a failure of the business. The other company, from Philadelphia, has continued steadily at work, and success has attended its efforts.

A very intelligent correspondent of the New York Tribune, writing from that city states that they have raised the Empress Catherine, 120 guns Chesma, 84 guns; a frigate of 60 guns; the Lemelia, a gun boat, and a beautiful steamer which was once the Sultan of Turkey's yacht. The company's share of the profits will be a very large one, and their pay prompt and sure. Although many of the sunken vessels will be recovered, yet he says that "millions worth of property lies buried here which can never be recovered unless some Yankee will invent a windmill pump of sufficient power to empty the Black Sea.

As you are given at home to magnificent enterprises, to Pacific railroads, canals, and Atlantic telegraph cables, I shall expect to see in some future number of the Scientific American a diagram of such a pump. The only requisite is that it shall empty the Black Sea and carry off the water."

The correspondent of the Tribune is not far wrong in having such strong faith in Yankee pluck and genius. The manner of raising the sunken ships at Sevastopol is very simple and effectual. Two chains of great size are passed under the bottom of a sunken vessel by divers; these are attached to a pair of floating caissons at each side, the valves of which are then opened, and they are sunk to within two feet of the deck. The valves are then closed, and the caissons pumped empty. As the water is pumped out of them, they begin to ascend and lift the sunken vessel with them by their power of floatage. The reports which have been circulated that the hulls of these sunken vessels have been destroyed by the teredo or ship-worm are not correct. The bottom of the harbor is filled with deep soft mud; this covers nearly the entire hulls, leaving only the spars and upper works exposed to the teredo, which does not operate under the mud. The machinery of the steamers which have been raised was very little injured.

August 20, 1860, The New York Times, New York City, New York, U.S.A.

The American Company, engaged to raise the sunken fleet at Sebastopol, have lately brought alongside the wharf the 60-gun frigate Koalefchi the vessel whose masts have for so many years, stood upright in the center of the harbor. The Koalefchi weighs 4,500 tons. She is in good condition, and is the first frigate ever raised whole. Mr. Gowen, of Boston, is the chief of this American Company, and he has contributed not a little credit of Yankee enterprise, by his ability and perseverance in the important and arduous task he has undertaken to perform.

Map of Russia, 1870s. In Russian.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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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