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The Channel Islands

Channel Islands National Park encompasses five remarkable islands and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.

Like the Galapagos Islands of South America, isolation has allowed evolution to proceed independently on the islands. Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the blue whale, the largest animal to live on Earth. Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 13,000 years of human habitation.

October 11, 1895, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Ten Tons of the Fertilizer
From Channel Islands at
Santa Barbara.
Prospect of This Industry Becoming' of Great Importance to California.

SANTA BARBARA, Cal., Oct. 10.— The first cargo of guano ever taken from the Channel Islands He is in this harbor to-day, having been brought in by the schooner Glenn, and now awaits a purchaser at $12 a ton. The cargo consists of ten tons, and was taken from the Gull, or Princes Island, that beautiful mountainous islet lying across the mouth of Cuyler's harbor, San Miguel Island.

This little isle possesses great historical interest from the decision recently reached by historians and scientists that it was somewhere along its summit that the body of Cabrillo, the famous early Spanish explorer, in all probability lies.

There is more guano there, which will doubtless be shipped if this venture proves successful. The great drawback to obtaining it is the fact that the sides of the islands are so precipitous that the fertilizer has to be brought down in sacks on the shoulders of the sailors. The schooner Glenn hails from San Diego, where several vessels have long made good wages carrying cargoes of guano from the Southern California coast. The Mexican authorities, learning of this industry, recently effectually checked it by sending two armed vessels to patrol the Southern California coast.

This has led those engaged in the business to make an inspection of the channel islands, and it is probable that a new, if somewhat limited, industry will be opened here in consequence. Aside from the deposits on Princes Island, there are large quantities on a rocky islet lying some eight miles off to the west of San Miguel. Anacapa has a considerable deposit, somewhat difficult of access. Other little islets could contribute their quota to the commerce, and San Nicolas Island, the southern member of the group, would probably repay the guano hunters' visit.

This guano is by no means so valuable in quality as that which is found in the rainless regions off the Peruvian coast, but is fully equal to that found on the Southern California coast. In the local market it is usually valued at from $10 to $15 a ton, but the most profitable sales are made to the Sandwich Islanders, where the planters whose land is impoverished, and who have no native fertilizers, pay as high as from $30 to $40 a ton for the Californian deposits. Should these deposits prove of sufficient extent, this is the market to which the guano will probably be taken.

More than 450 nineteenth- and twentieth-century documents relevant to the story of the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island." have been published digitally at: University of South Carolina Center for Digital Humanities.

This young Nicoleña was isolated alone on the most remote of the California Channel Islands between 1835-53, an event triggered by a massacre resulting from the international sea otter trade and then by the Spanish policy of reducción, or the in-gathering of Native tribes. The story of the Lone Woman, widely known in the nineteenth century, is perhaps best remembered today in the version Scott O’Dell fictionalized in his 1960 children’s novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins. In O’Dell’s Newbery-winning book, the Lone Woman is reimagined as Karana.

March 12, 1893, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

THE ISLAND of SAN Nicholas

The Lone Woman Who Was the Last of Her Race.
A Broad Plateau Literally Strewn With Human Bones.
Little Island Which Contains Many Elements of Historical Mystery. The Experience of Recent Visitors

Ninetta Eames in the Chicago Blade published the following interesting letter:

The Channel islands off the coast of Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura are objects of curiosity and mystery to all but a few lovers of adventure and archeological research. These islands constitute California's only archipelago, except the six rocky isles of the Farallones. Notwithstanding this, and the unique attractions of the southern group, they are today more solitary and unfrequented than in the centuries proceeding the settlement of this coast by the Americans. Each island has its own wild tradition, which in years gone by has been imperfectly chronicled by writers of romance, who gazed wistfully out of their dim, sea-circled heights from old Mission gardens alongshore. What visitor to Ventura but has heard some seal hunter's account of the nameless hermit San Clemente; the grim legends of Anacapa; the Demon island of Indian superstition : the eager quest after smuggler's treasure in the wonderful caves of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, and the breathless tramps over San Miguel's twin peaks in search of Cabrillo's unmarked grave?

But all these thrilling stories must sink into insignificance before the marvelous history of San Nicholas, one of the smallest of the group and the farthest from the mainland. It was on this slip of sandstone that a woman lived alone for 18 years, and was at last rescued by Capt. Nidever, in 1853. He brought her to his home in Santa Barbara, where she died a year later. This female Crusoe was the last of a superior race who inhabited this island, and whom Cabrillo described as "comparatively white and of ruddy complexion." The native man were finally exterminated by Aleutian seal hunters and the women left alone on Ghalashat or Sea Otter island, as San Nicholas was then called. When these women were brought off the island by the Mission padres, one of their number was unintentionally left behind. For the half of a century this poor unfortunate has been known as the Lone Woman of San Nicholas. Her shag-skin dress and other relics are yet on exhibition in Rome, where they were sent by the Santa Barbara Fathers.

San Nicholas is 80 miles south of San Buenaventura. Its topography shows a nearly level plateau, with an elevation of 800 to 1000 feet. The length of the island is seven and a half miles, and the average width four miles. Two-thirds of the surface is covered with drifting sand, and the remainder grows a species of nutritious grass and moss, on which a thousand sheep find pasture. Several springs have been discovered, but their water is slightly brackish. Of late years the island is rarely visited, except by sheep-shearers and shell-gasherers, who make annual trips over in small schooners, fishing-smacks or Chinese junks.

Nothing more desolate than the general appearance of the island can well be imagined. As far as the eye can reach, there are barren levels with innumerable circular depressions, showing where primitive dwellings once stood. Not a vestige remains of the material used in the construction of these rancherias. Hundreds of shell mounds are scattered about, and upon investigation are found to consist of astonishing numbers of mollusks, the bones of every species of fish found in the channel, skeletons of seals,, sea elephants, whales, sea otter, the island fox, and various aquatic birds. Without question, these animals were used for food by the tribe that once thronged these boundaries. There are also numerous canine skeletons, several of which indicated a species of bull terrier. Judging from the immense quantities of dead land mollusks everywhere, there must have been a time when the island supported a luxuriant vegetation. Of all this verdure, nothing is seen today but a few stunted thorn bushes, and now and then a cactus forlornly reaching its grotesque arms out of tho interminable sweeps of sand.

An examination of some of the mounds disclosed all sorts of curious utensils — stone cooking pots, ollas, mortars, pestles, drills, bone needles and fish hooks, shell beads, charm stones, pipes, cups, and a few arrowheads, spearpoints and swords made of bone. The absence of many weapons proved the peaceful attributes of the islanders. Small imitations of boats and fish carved from crystallized talc and serpentine, also betrayed a rudimentary knowledge of the art of sculpture.

The most gruesome of all the sights on this strange island is to be seen on the broad plateau south of the Chinese camp on Coral harbor. Here many acres of the naked sand is littered with hundreds of disjointed skeletons and present the most reckless illustration of the "ground plan" of humanity that imagination can picture. The geologist of the party was almost beside himself with joy, and seized a huge thigh bone and measured it against the canvas trousers of the artist.

There was also found to be a marked difference in the conformation of the skulls as those exhumed on the other channel islands and the mainland. Their circumference measured several inches more, and the facial angles denoted a much higher grade of intelligence. The geologist made a pivot of his left hand, whereon to airily poise a bony grin, and enthusiastically declared: "This superb skull has all the attributes of the Caucasian race. A few geometrical squares properly outlined and labeled, and behold, a phrenological bust for your study table!"

It did not require more than a cursory examination of these ghastly relics to give convincing proofs of the physical and intellectual superiority of this extinct race over the Indian tribes of the neighboring lands. Many of the skulls were apparently broken by a war club, the favorite weapon of the Aleutian destroyers but the most diligent search throughout this ancient battleground could not produced a single one showing the perforation of a bullet.

While wandering through this amazing territory, the sinking sun was suddenly submerged in a band of in rushing fog, and night closed down with sinister precipitancy. Now and again the wind hurtled over the shivering dunes, rattling together unmated clavicles, rolling skulls like footballs, and compelling the gaping ribs of skeletons to a graveyard embrace that was loathsome in the extreme. No sound greeted the ear but the doleful complaining of the distant sea and the brittle snapping of bones under foot. For hours the entire universe seemed obliterated outside a few feet of gleaming skeletons and sand. No one had the remotest idea of the points of the compass, and we scrambled about blindly, our blood chilled more by nervous horror and weariness than the penetrating fog. Finally we half slid, half fell down the smooth embankment of a basin-like hollow, and met a sight that was appalling. The place was alive with spectral lights, revealing with frightful distinctness the flesh less grin of numberless skulls and rib by skeletons, strewn about piece by piece, and all softly aflame. These lambent lights went out, were rekindled, shifted, danced and flickered all in the same breath—a hideous play upon ghostly relics, whose very nakedness was a dumb protest to the unholy illumination. Suddenly the full moon parted the curtains of the fog, its familiar beams dispelling the phosphorescent display, and the place regained much of its day-time appearance of unmitigated loneliness. By the friendly beacon overhead we were able to discern a way out of the witches valley and reach camp an hour before midnight.

May 9, 1897, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.


They Are Rich With Floral and Animal Life—Bald Eagles and Foxes Without Tails

When the mountain-making era ended In Southern California, one of the results was a number of short ranges, from five to twenty-five miles in length, projecting from the ocean from ten to sixty miles off shore. These today hay* the appearance of parts of mountain ranges which have wandered off shore, lying In the blue ocean like some strange marine animal. They number a score or more, and are known as the California islands.

Those off Santa Barbara are Santa Rosa, Anacapa, San Miguel and Santa Cruz, called the Santa Barbara group, while Santa Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Barbara are known as the Santa Catalina islands. Some of the islands are of large size, as Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina and San Clemente, and several are used as sheep pastures and yield a large revenue to their owners from this source. Santa Catalina Is a famous resort, thronged in, summer by Californians and visited in winter by eastern tourists.

The islands lie in the Japanese current, Kurosiwo, a warm body of water which sweeps down the Pacific coast, tempering the entire region and giving the Islands a semi-tropic climate, even milder than the mainland, and conditions that in the future must give them high rank as health resorts.

To the lover of nature these submerged mountains offer many attractions. The deep canyons, with their innumerable tints of green; the masses of wild flowers from the rich yellow poppy to the delicate mariposa lily; the vivid contrast of the island green to the deep blue of the ocean, all charm the eye and appeal to the fancy. The flora of these Islands is singular and has induced a botanist, Prof. T. S. Brandegee, to say: "It has been suggested that these Islands are the remnants of a western Atlantis."

The botanical arguments in favor of the theory are drawn principally from the flora of Santa Cruz island and consist mainly of new species. Over 400 species of plants are found on Santa Catalina, many being rare on the mainland and some entirely new. Out of the list of 512 species found on the islands, 26 have not been found on the mainland and 12 of the latter are found on the islands of Lower California. Animal lite is more or less restricted. Birds are here in great numbers. At San Clemente, fifty miles off shore, Is found the booted, ratchet-tailed humming bird, while at Santa Catalina various humming birds throng the eucalyptus trees when they are in blossom.

I was surprised by the number of bald eagles at the latter island, counting fifty during a trip around the island. They build in the inaccessible rocks along shore, and fish after the habit of the great sea eagle. The sea birds—gulls, grebes, pelicans, sandpipers, and others —abound* in great numbers. The pelicans frequent the bays and are the victims of the laughing gulls that alight upon their backs and snatch from them the fish which they capture in their clumsy dives. The gull, in rising, Is sometimes followed by a large hawk, which forces it to give up its prey, seizing the dropping morsel Just as it reaches the water. But before this second thief can attain the shore a bald eagle espies the gleaming tidbit, and then begins a long chase, the hawk rising in great circles to a lofty altitude, followed by the eagle, that ultimately forces It, in turn to relinquish the prey.


Perhaps the most interesting birds on Santa Catalina are the ravens, which live near the little town of Avalon, and amuse themselves by pulling vocal corks and robbing the fishermen. The methods of these birds well illustrate their cunning. Two birds have been seen to approach a mother hen, placing themselves on either side of the brood, apparently engaged in hunting for insects. Suddenly one raven would jump up and down in an absurd manner that was resented by the hen, which rushed forward to the attack. This left the brood unprotected, an opportunity which the second raven made the most of by rushing In and seizing a chick. This game, I was told by an observer, has been played upon a hen by a pair of ravens until the little family was almost depleted.

Almost as interesting are the gulls, which, from long companionship with the fishermen of Avalon, have become so tame that certain ones can be touched by the men. The principal fishing Id done at night, nets being hauled at this time, and in the morning when the fish are cleaned the gulls gather and fight for the food. Numbers follow the steamer from San Pedro to Avalon and back, about fifty miles, daily, taking food that is tossed to them in the air. In some places they are so tame that they have been known to take food from the hand from passengers on the vessels.

These islands abound in small fox, a beautiful little creature with long, bushy tail, an animal which, according to the local story tellers, forms the basis of an atrocious Joke upon some unknown and nameless naturalist or collector. The story is that a collector once landed at Santa Rosa, and wishing to secure a number of fox tails, trapped the little animals, cut off their tails and released them. He did this so thoroughly that finally he had captured nearly every fox in the vicinity. A year after, so goes the story, a young naturalist arrived on the Island. He soon caught a fox, but a fox without a tail. At first he thought it a freak, but when he had taken another and another, and found that al! the foxes he saw were tailless, he came to the conclusion that he had discovered a new animal—a tailless fox—and so announced It to the world. There are ground squirrels on the island, three or four kinds of snakes and several kinds of mice.


Among the physical features the caves are most attractive. Santa Rosa possesses one which reaches directly into the rocky coast for an estimated distance of an eighth of a mile. The entrance is a large chamber, highly arched, which leads to another, a little smaller, and so on, until the end Is reached. In the cave the color of the water is the richest blue, while the bottom scintillates and gleams with irides. In this cave seals and sea lions congregate, their barking reverberating from wall to wall, creating a pandemonium of sounds.

A number of caves are found' along the east coast of Santa Catalina, one at what is called the Isthmus having two entrances. The largest room Is a shallow hall, 25 or 30 feet in height, with a small beach at the further end. The real cave is not seen from without, but once in the first room, a small tunnel, lust large enough to admit a boat, becomes visible. This extends through the solid rock for a distance of 40 or 50 feet, and a boat can be pushed along the entire length In smooth weather. The tunnel opens around a point some distance from the original entrance. In stormy weather strange puffing and groanings are heard at various points along the shore, caused by tidal waves, great holes and crevices that have been worn by the waves. As the water rushes In and fills them at high tide, the air is forced out in spouts and bursts of spray.

The region along shore is the hunting ground of the abalone hunter, who sells the meat to the Chinamen, the shells to tourists, and the occasional black pearls found in the folds of the curious animal to the highest bidder. At Avalon, on Santa Catalina, the chief Industry is the collection and sale of curiosities. These range from Indian relics to the wonders of the sea. The former are dug from the shell heaps and kitchen-middens on the various islands, while the latter are obtained in various ways, that of deep-sea dredging being the most interesting. The net is stretched upon a beam ten feet in length, and is fifteen or twenty feet long; the cable is 1500 feet or more in length.

This net is lowered down in the Santa Catalina channel in water 300 or 400 feet deep, and dragged slowly along by a gasoline launch, scraping in many objects In Its path at the bottom of the sea. When the net Is hauled to the surface it is found to be filled with a motley array of animals. There are numerous vivid red star fishes, scores of heart-shaped echinoids, plume-like sea pens—magnificent creatures of a rich yellow tint that becomes a fiery glow at night great masses of lamp shells —terebratulinas—come up—singular creatures allied to the worms; hermit crabs in every conceivable shell, some so overgrown by sponge as to be hardly recognizable; rays and various sluggish fishes are also entrapped, while a host of smaller forms make up the catch. These deep-sea creatures are taken ashore, dried, and prepared in various ways by the dealers, and so find their way all over the country.—Pasadena Correspondence of New York Times.

May 12, 1899, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


SANTA BARBARA, May 11.— The trial of Peter Lind, charged with having crawfish In his possession and thus violating the State law, after having occupied the attention of Justice Wheaton for three days was given to the Jury, which agreed to disagree, standing six and six. Many interesting points of law were brought out in the trial and the old dispute as to the waters surrounding Santa Cruz and the other islands of Santa Barbara channel was again brought up. The defense claimed that these waters are not within the jurisdiction of the State of California, for while its jurisdiction extends three English miles from the mainland it takes in the islands and nothing else, not even the waters surrounding them.

Perhaps the argument of the defense which had the greatest effect upon the jury was that the law did not intend to reach the fishermen themselves, but that they were only acting as employes of the San Pedro Canning Company, and as the law provides means for reaching the corporation Itself it is the one to be punished for the infringement of the law, as the fishermen, who had no means of communication with the mainland for two months, were ignorant of the law itself.

Peter Lind belonged to the camp which was seized some time ago. He was arrested at a small inlet on the northeast side of Santa Cruz Island known as Pelican Bay. This particular part of the island is very rough and during the greater part of the year it is impossible to reach it by water. For this reason and on account of the great numbers of crawfish that are found there the camp was so located by the San Pedro Company. The men from this camp were caught loading on board the Lizzie Belle W, the 25-ton schooner which is in the employ of the canning factory, several crates, of fish, several tons in all, and not only were the fishermen themselves put under arrest, but also the captain, mate and engineer of the schooner. The officer's sloop, the Olita, was anchored in Pelican Bay, and they rode across the channel with their prisoners in the Lizzie Belle W.

The trial of John Osterman began to-day. He belongs to another camp, and his case was considered a stronger one for the prosecution than that of those arrested in the Pelican Bay camp, for in the one instance the crawfish were found in their possession and in the other they were caught in the act by Officer W. W. Hopkins. Hopkins had been lying in wait for these men for several days, in the hopes of catching them at their work.

While it is thought that these men will not be found guilty, yet it is known that these arrests will virtually compel the San Pedro Canning factory to close its doors for several months, until the open season, when crawfish can again be had. At the time of the different arrests fifteen or twenty tons of crawfish were liberated.

Over sixty talesmen were examined to-day in the Osterman case, but only ten jurors were sworn. The case may take two or three days more.

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.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
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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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