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1800s China.

The SS City of Peking

January 28, 1875, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

A Magnificent Specimen of Naval Architecture—Complete Report of Her Trip.

The new steamer City of Peking, of the Pacific Mall Company's fleet, arrived in port yesterday, and at half past 3 o'clock was moored at her wharf. Purser John W. Meyers has kept compiled the incidents of the trip with such clearness that we give the full report below:

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamship City of Peking, Captain S. P. Griffin, sailed from New York September 26th, 1874; reached Rio de Janeiro November 9th, 1874, and Panama January 3d, 1878, arriving in this city Wednesday morning. She has eighteen cabin passengers, and in the steerage four. Of the cabin passengers six returned to New York via Aspinwall, and eight were transferred to the Company's steamer Constitution, by the agent at Panama. Her cargo consists of 75,192 packages for San Francisco (2500 tons).

Officers and Passengers

Officers — S. P. Griffin, Captain; Charles Gray, First Officer; A. D. Douglass, Chief Engineer; John W. Meyers, Purser; F. D. Sturges, Surgeon; D. J. Bagley, steward.

Cabin Passengers — Augustine McElhone, Edward T. Platt, J. Ross Kerby, Geo. Warren Jacobs.

History of the Steamship

Map of Sandy Hook. 1778. Hudson River, New Jersey, New York.

The day after the steamer left Sandy Hook, on the 26th of September, a full description of the vessel was published in the Alta, and we shall but briefly recapitulate some of her prominent features:

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamship City of Peking was built on the Delaware river at Chester, Pennsylvania, by John Roach & Son, of the best material in conformity to the rules of the "Bureau Veritas" and under the observation of an officer of that company.

She is 423 feet long, 48 feet beam, 30 feet deep, and registers 5079 62-100 tons. She has four masts, square-rigged on three; she has five water-tight bulkheads; she is abundantly furnished with pumping power for bilge and fire purposes, with boats, rafts, life preservers, in fact with everything that may be necessary for her safety or that of her people under any and all circumstances. There are no less than thirty-two engines, great and small, aboard of her. Amongst them are three sets for rapidly hauling coal and cargo, a pair for steering, a pair for working the windlass, one for ventilation, etc

She has excellent accommodations for 129 first-class and 1500 steerage passengers. Her dining-room, cabins, and social hall are elegantly furnished in five varieties of hard wood, harmoniously arranged as to resulting effect. She is heated by steam passing through long brass pipes reaching from end to end of her. The tables in the dining-room are made to accommodate ten persons each; instead of benches the tables are surrounded with comfortable arm chairs. The painting overhead is well and tastefully done in the Arabesque style. The stairway is a particularly fine piece of joiner work, and some very fine carving is set in about a large mirror.

Her propelling power consists of two compound engines, two high-pressure cylinders, each 51 Inches in diameter, and two low-pressure engines, each 88 inches in diameter all of 54-inch stroke, supplied with steam at 60 pounds pressure by ten cylindrical return tubular boilers, each one 10.5 feet long, and 18 feet in diameter; thickness of shell, 13-16 inch; tensile strength, 50,000; 3 furnaces in each; grate surface, 5.20. She has 11,000 feet condensing surface, and independent circulating pumps. Propeller, Hirsch patent; 20'3" diameter, 80' pitch; area of arius, 144 sec. feet; propeller shaft 18-1/2"; two donkey engines, for port use, in working winches, windlass, fire pumps, or heating apparatus; a fresh-water condenser, capable of furnishing 6000 gallons of clear, palatable water, at a temperature of 50 degrees F.

Her Start for California

The City of Peking left Sandy Hook on the 28th of September, at 8:30 a.m., drawing twenty-five feet and displacing 8200 tons of water. She had on board— in cargo, coals, stores and water- 5000 tons. Her crew list numbered 163 persons, including 22 cadets, on their way to join the Company's Pacific fleet. Native of Terra del Fuego, Chile, 1839. She also had 18 passengers, some embarked for the benefit of the health-restoring properties of a long sea voyage, others for the gratification of a desire to visit countries beyond the familiar lines of travel, and to see the wild and desolate grandeur of of the passage through Terra del Fuego. (Right: Fuegian. Yapoo Tekeenika. Native of Terra del Fuego, Child, 1839.)

From the computed qualities of the ship, sustained by data obtained by careful observations on her trial-trips, It was expected that she would make the passage to Panama in forty five days, including stoppages, using seven boilers only, and consuming fifty tons of coal per day. This would give her 10.2 knots per hour. On her Boston trip she made 13.5 and 14 knots steadily, using her full battery of ten boilers, on that occasion drawing twenty two feet of water. She ran away from the Saturday fleet of European steamers, and some of them are the fastest In the trade.

Encounters a Gale and Damages Her Screw.

On the 29th a strong gale prevailed from the southeast, against which she made 237 miles on 54 tons of coal, carrying 42 pounds of steam, cutting off at 28 inches; slip of screw, 10 per cent. The next day, with the gale fresh from the southward, she made 231 miles on 49 tons. At 11 a. m of that day she lost an arm of her screw. Then all hopes and expectations based on deductions from her past performances were suspended. Why the arm dropped off is at present an unanswerable questions. It was made of selected iron, and the engines were moving regularly at 40 revolutions.

It is a very common occurrence for steamers on long voyages to lose the arms of the screw. There seems to be a limit between incessant strain through long periods and the tenacity of iron, even when the strain is moderate in amount. The experience of the P. S. N. co.'s Straits ships rather points in this direction. The loss of arms in that line are of frequent occurrence.

On the 1st of October she made 360 miles with her three-armed screw, on 54 tons; 42 steam; 28 cut off; 18 percent, slip. ; This was deemed an excellent result. It revived anew expectations of a speedy passage. The next day, with a more favorable condition of win and sea, she did better; under steam alone she made 270 miles. On the 6th the Trades were fresh from E.S.E., with a copping sea. The loss of an arm now seriously told upon her speed; on 50 tons, 44 steam, 234 cut off, she made only 21 miles. On the 9th the wind moderated, and with about the same developed power she made 252 miles. On the 10th the engines were running steadily, making 45 turns.

A Second Arm Dropped Off.

At this juncture all thought of making a short passage was abandoned, and it became necessary to reduce the speed of the engines to a rate that would be absolutely safe to the remaining arms. The alternative of losing them would be a serious embarrassment, involving a long run under sail to a leeward port for repairs. From the 10th to her arrival in Rio de Janeiro, she made 36 turns on 38 tons, using five boilers; slip, 37 per cent.; speed, 7 knots. When under sail and steam the speed would at times increase to 10 and 11 knots, the revolutions remaining the same. She arrived in Rio de Janeiro on the 19 th at 3 p.m. Whole time, 31 days 7 hours from Sandy Hook — a good passage under the circumstances. The distance made was 4770 miles; average speed, 9.5 knots; coal, 47 tons; steam, 41; cutoff, 23. The object of going into the port of Rio de Janeiro was to put on new arms. Knowing that there was not a dock in South America large enough to take out the City of Peking, and with a view to the emergency that would attend any injury to her screw, a coffer dam was constructed in New York and put on board (in pieces ) as part of her outfit.

More Disaster

To repair the screw and rudder, stern-post, etc., of vessels by use of a coffer-dam is a common occurrence in certain places. It is a cheap and secure method of performing important work, but a necessity to its success is smooth water. The pieces of the coffer-dam were taken ashore and put together. It was then towed alongside and filled. It rode astern all of one night, quietly and safely. In the morning, whilst preparing to sink it under the stern, there suddenly rolled into the bay a sea so heavy as to break in seven fathoms of water. This was un-looked for; not for years had so violent a commotion of the ordinarily tranquil surface of the bay been witnessed. The consequences to the ship were disappointing. The coffer-dam, that promised so well the day before, commenced to surge violently In the swell, and in twenty minutes it was a wreck. Divers were employed to examine the ship's screw. They found two adjoining arms in sound condition and two stumps. She lost arms in breaking off left stumps of appreciable propelling value, besides indicating the probable line of fracture should the others drop off, so that at the probable worst that could happen to the screw, by running the engines up to their maximum speed, she could still make a fight on her stumps and aided by an ample spread of canvass, there was not any doubt as to her ability to reach her destination. The alternative to this was to discharge and tip, a tedious, expensive, and injurious method of getting the loss out. It was wisely decided to proceed at so slow a rate o«f speed as to make it sure to retain the two good arms. Thirty-five turns were deemed to be perfectly safe. This would give about 0.6 knots speed of ship, under steam alone.

Visited by the Emperor of Brazil

Port of Rio de Janeiro, early 1900s.

Whilst in the port of Rio de Janeiro, the ship was the object of great attraction. Her large proportions, the comfort and elegance of her appointments induced great numbers of visitors and elicited from them much admiration and praise. She is by 1000 tons the largest vessel that has over entered that port. The Emperor Don Pedro Segundo and staff visited her. He Inspected with particular attention every part of her, including the shaft-alley, fireroom and coal-bunkers. He took luncheon aboard. He expressed himself as being surprised at the size and magnificence of the ship; that she surpassed all he had seen before.

On the 9th of November at 2:30 p.m., she left Rio de Janeiro, drawing 28 feet and using 4 boilers; to Cape Virgins, the eastern entrance of the Straits of Magellan, she was 14 days; the distance, 2192 miles; average speed, 6.6; revolutions, 35; coals, 28; steam, 34; cut off, 13. On the 9th, in latitude 43 degrees, 28' south, longitude 62 degrees 54' west, passed seventeen boxes marked "Devoe's Patent Oil." Off Cape Blanco, the Cape just in sight from deck, pass through many shoal looking patches; sounded frequently in 20 22, 24 and 26 fathoms; rocky bottom. These phenomena are probably due to an unusual discharge of muddy water from the Desire river. It reminds one of the water off the mouth of the Mississippi. The temperature of the water fell from 52 degrees Fahrenheit to 48 degrees. She crossed Sarmineto Bank on the 23d at noon, fine fine weather, and at 6 p.m., came into Possession Bay.

No Light on Cape Virgins.


It is published that there is a light on Cape Virgins; this is an error. There is not a light on the Cape. The rise and fall of the tide at this anchorage were observed to be 42 feet. A number of Juanacos were seen on the sides of the hills. The days at this time were 18 hours long — in fact, with the full moon there was not really any darkness. On the 24th, at 3:35 a.m., got under weight, and stood through the first Narrows under steam and sail, a stiff breeze blowing from N.E. Off Elizabeth Island passed a Peruvian ship-rigged steamer bound east. At 3:30 came to off Sandy Point, "La Colonia de Magelhanos" of Chile. There was anchored off the Point a Chilean corvette and the P.S.N. Company's steamer Iberia; a little later, a German brig came into the Roads.

Anticipated New Coaling Station.

Puerto Hambre, Chile, South America. Antique Print 1880.

For many years Chile maintained a penal settlement at Port Famine. A change was subsequently made from this plan. Recently, from the greatly Increased traffic through the Straits, and the discovery of mines also, this place has acquired some importance. If, as It is believed, coals of good steaming qualities can be here delivered to vessels at moderate cost, its prospects are certainly good. The Governor, Don Diego Dabie Almeida, announced that the railway, seven miles long, to the mines would be finished In a few days. Then by the 10th of December steamers surely will be able to procure here a fair quality of coals at a moderate price. The colony now has 1500 inhabitants, engaged chiefly in mining and agriculture. Gold is found In the beds of the streams near by in paying quantities. However, but little attention is at present given to this subject. The Argentine Republic has lately asserted a claim to the Patagonian share of the Straits, which will probably depend for its prosecution upon the future development of its commercial value, through agencies over which the Republic does not exercise any control.

The Chilean Government maintain signals in the following named places: A red one on the Great Orange Bank; a black one on the Narrows Bank; a red one off Sandy Point; also a light at Sandy Point. These are the only aids to navigation at present existing in the Straits. Others are in contemplation.

The winds and weather s»o far were pleasant. In fact the passage all of the way from New York was, with a few exceptions, a smooth one In the Straits the temperature fell to 47 degrees F.

On the 25th, at 3:30, we left Sandy Point and at 4:10 came to in Fortescue Bay, one of the finest anchorages in the Straits. There she remained a day and a half overhauling, cutting wood, shooting and gathering mussels.

On the 27th at 3 a.m., she left Fortescue Bay; when off Tilly Bay she passed two boats filed with savages. They were eager to come alongside. Passed a British corvette bound East.

A Schooner Saved

Off Shelter Island, stopped to communicate with the American schooner Florence, of New London, 56 tons, 27months sealing off Terra del Fuego. She reported that eleven of her men were on the Evangelists short of provisions; she entreated to be towed. At the time it was calm. Gave her a hawser and proceeded. The schooner did not make any difference in the speed of the ship. Seven days before she shipped from Sandy Point to London 4000 skins. At the Point she loaded with provisos and salt to secure 9000 more skins on the Evangelists. At 4:30 came to in Point Tamar. The schooner came to near by. On the 28th, at 6 o'clock, she got underway from Point Tamar. It was intended to go up Smyth Channel; but the water in Sea Reach was so smooth, and the appearance of the weather was so inviting that she ship was headed for Cape Pillar. At noon she passed the Cape and was fairly in the Pacific. The distance from ocean to ocean, as it was run, is 331 miles. Time in the Straits, five days. A full powered ship can go through in thirty-six hours, making one anchorage only; or to one familiar with the work, a ship may steam through in the long Summer days without anchoring. On the 29th the wind blew fresh from the southwest; reefed sails were set under a flattering prospect of fine runs to the northward.

Another Gale

But soon, it this very uncertain and tempestuous latitude, it blackened to the northwest, one of the surest indications of a coming gale, and the gale did come in all of its fury. Every fifteen minutes the ship would be enveloped in the mist, rain and hail of a hurricane-squall. In one of these the storm stays sails were blown out of the bolt-ropes, making a noise even above the shrieking of the gale. The sea was at its highest; yet the City of Peking rode it out admirably. Her motion was very easy. At no time did she roll more than eighteen degrees. This day she made only 41 miles, on 27 tons; steam, 26; cut-off, 28; slip, 83 per cent.

At noon on the 30th, the wind still blowing heavily, we hauled to S.W.; the ship was kept off the lower topsails, and reefed foresails were set. The speed increased at once to nine knots. The next day, December 1st, the wind had moderated so much that topgallant sails were set, and they were not taking in for twenty days. During that interval the ship had fair winds. These winds lessened the distance to the engines by 1000 miles.

The Island of Juan Fernandez.

Was passed, five miles off, on the 5th. On the 7th, she passed between St. Ambrose and St. Felix. On the 17th, she made the coast of Ecuador, and on the 21st, at 5:30 p.m., came too off the Company's Works in Panama Bay. She remained in Panama Bay coaling and taking in cargo until the 3d of January. On that day, at 4:50 p.m., she left and followed the inshore track to this sport.

Vessels Met.

She left in Panama Bay the P.M.S.S. Company's steamships Granada and Honduras -- all well, and P.S.S.N. Company's steamship Aroya, and the Amazonas, of the New South Coast Line.

In Aspinwall the City of Tokio was coaling to leave for the Pacific on the 4th inst. On the 9th, at 4:30 p.m., 950 miles from Panama, stopped and boarded the Company's steamship Montana bound South; all well.   On the 24th had a fresh wind from the S.E., with thick, rainy weather, which backed round to N.W., blowing heavily during the 25th and 26th. On the 27th, at 10 a.m., took a pilot off the Bar and entered the port of San Francisco. Whole distance run from New York to San Francisco was 14,403 miles. Of this distance, she made on four arms, 506 miles, on three arms, 2587 miles, and on two arms 11, 810 miles.

February 8, 1875, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


The Mammoth Ship Inspected by Ten Thousand Visitors.

The Way the China Steamers are to be Run.

San Francisco, March, 3rd.—lnformation comes from Mr. Cox, agent of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company that, having lost the subsidy they will hereafter run only monthly steamers between this port and China, leaving San Francisco on the first of every month and Hong Kong on the fifteenth. An extra steamer will be kept at each port for the accommodation of trade when there is press of freights. The three best steamers of the Company will be employed on the line, the City of Peking, the City of Tokio and the Great Republic.

The Alaska will remain at Hong Kong and the Colorado at San Francisco, to be used in case of need. The rest, to the number of four or five, will be laid up here ready for any emergency. When the tea trade begins in May, all of the steamers will be replaced, or as many as are needed. Especial exertions will be made to accommodate tlie San Francisco merchants, and there will then be run tri-monthly steamers if business warrants.

Changes are also to be made in the running of the coastwise lines. Hereafter there will be two steamers a month to Panama, leaving on tlie 12th and 27th of each month, and connecting with the line between Aspinwall and New York. A monthly steamer will be run to Panama stopping at all the intermediate Mexican and Central American ports. This will leave on the 20th of each month and will stop on its ways up at all the coffee ports so as to accomodate San Francisco dealers. The Company will labor hereafter to favor the merchants at the various ports where they stop rather than the governments.

If the Pacific Mail Steamship Company bad been aware, when they so kindly granted leave to the public to visit and inspect their elegant steamship City of Peking, that 20,000 feet would tramp over her decks; the 20,000 hands would touch and tumble everything on board, and 10,000 noses poke their way into every hole and corner of the vessel — from the richly-appointed apartments of the Captain and the elegantly upholstered salons, and library and state-rooms, to the private rooms of the stewardess, and the bunk of the cook In the for'ard galley they would probably thought twice of their generous offer before granting it. The announcement that this beautiful specimen of marine architecture would be open to the public while lying at the Hunters Point Dry Dock yesterday drew thither an unusual crowd of our residents. From an early hour in the morning till late in the afternoon the cars of the Portrero line were busily engaged in transporting passengers from the city across the bridge, from which point they walked over to the Dock.

Hundreds of private carriages, hacks, cabs, express wagons, buggies and vehicles of all descriptions were brought into requisition, and the toll-gate at Long Bridge reaped a rich harvest. The greater portion of the visitors, however, were transported by water. The steamers Amador, Pilot, Mare Island and Vaquero made hourly and half-hourly trips from and to the city, and in every instance carried many more passengers than they could comfortable or safely transport. Each of the steamers displayed all her bunting, and presented a very enlivening appearance as they steamed along. The Bay was thick with sailing crafts of all descriptions, from the handsomely appointed and fast sailing yacht to the little three-by-nine leg-of-mutton skiff. Whitehall boats, in numbers, got up impromptu races with rival boatmen, and the different boat-clubs turned out their shells, in which were seated from two to six oarsmen, attired in their respective costumes. Whale-boats, belonging to different vessels lying in the harbor, loaded with ladies and children; several steam launches puffing and rasping like quartz mills, under a full head of steam; mud-scows, with a lull complement of passengers, at fifty cents a head; and full-rigged schooners, with all canvas n to catch the odd bits of wind, tacked and tacked and finally made the dock.

The City of Peking, as she lay high and dry in the dock, amply repaid all who took the trouble to visit her. Nearly one hundred workmen were busily engaged in putting new rivets into her plates, and the Work was watched by the spectators with considerable interest. One of the broken blades of the propeller has been replaced, and the other will be put in to-day. The necessary work will take several days yet to finish, and it will be Thursday, probably, before she will be ready to leave the dock. Her bottom has been scraped and painted, and looks as new and fresh as the first day that she glided into waters.

The different officers and attaches of the vessel showed all possible attention to the visitors, and appeared to take pleasure in showing them around and entertaining them as far as possible. Those who desire to visit the vessel to-day can do so, as she will be open to visitors.

August 19, 1875, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

An examination of the "City of Peking" was had by the Surveyor of the Bureau 1 Veritas and John Roach's foreman, and tlio result la that Bbc is to be mit 'into Hunttr's Point Dock next week to bo strengthened. As near as w« con ascertain she is to have iron decks,' and her bulkheads are to be extruded up to tlio upp decks, and everything else in to bo performed that in considered ntoeesary. Wortmen from Roach'B Yard are now on the way over land to perform the work, which, according to the estiinoto, will cost T^(J ',< 0.1, and it is Bald will make her an strong as is required.


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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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