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Shipwrecks in Pacific Waters: 1800s

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SS Clara Nevada

February 15, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Alaskan Steamship Clara Nevada Reported to Have Gone Down With All on Board.

Skaguay, Alaska.

SEATTLE, February 14. Meager details on the loss of the steel steamer Clara Nevada have been received here from Nanaimo, B. C. The Clara Nevada left Skaguay for Juneau on her home trip to Seattle, and when off Seyward City, about thirty miles south of Skaguay, she was seen by the residents of Seyward City to be all ablaze, a mass of hungry flames. While the long wharf at Berner Bay was crowded with spectators of the awful scene, a loud report was heard, which resembled the explosion of boilers, and nothing more was seen of the ill-fated steamer.

It is feared the unfortunate forty passengers and the entire crew are lost as no trace could be found of them along the beach of Berner Bay. The sea was rough and a furious gale was blowing. It is thought the vessel was trying to make Berner Bay for shelter. The steamer Inlander, for Victoria, called to-day at Union, whence Captain Irving telegraphed the news of the disaster. He sent word that the Clara Nevada was reported to have been on fire and to have disappeared after a great explosion on board in the neighborhood of Seyward, fifty miles north of Juneau.

The beach in the vicinity of Seyward is strewn with wreckage, freshly painted like the woodwork of the Clara Nevada. This wreckage was seen by Captain Thomas Lathan of the steamship Coleman, lately at Juneau from Skaguay. On the evening of February 5 George Beck and wife of Seyward City saw a small steamer proceeding slowly against a head wind well out in the channel, and while they watched its efforts to make headway the vessel broke out into flames. This vessel was unquestionably the Clara Nevada. The sea was very rough, so that those on board would have had very little chance to make shore anywhere in boats. The fire was seen by many other residents of Seyward City.

The Clara Nevada.

February 5, 1898: Witnesses report a giant orange fireball reflected in the glacial waters of Alaska's Lynn Canal. At the height of Klondike gold fever, the Clara Nevada disappeared into an epic storm-- taking passengers and priceless cargo with her. Was the explosion an accident or a robbery gone wrong? Did Captain C.H. Lewis make off with $165,000 ($13.6 million in today's currency) in raw gold? Or was the sinking a case of a sea-weary steamer meeting an untimely end? Alaska historian Steven C. Levi combs the archives to piece together the true account of the Clara Nevada's final voyage, attempting to solve the riddle of the lost steamer that resurfaced ten years after that tragic night and became known as Alaska's ghost ship.

This was the first trip of the Clara Nevada, and she was due to leave Seattle last Saturday on her second trip, with all berths sold. The steamer Rustler had left for the scene, but no report from her is obtainable. The Clara Nevada was formerly the steamer Hassler of the United States Coast Survey Service, and was sold last August to McGuire Bros., of this city, who refurnished and overhauled her for the Alaska trade. She was on her way from Skaguay to Juneau and had forty passengers on board. She was a three-masted schooner, rigged without gaffs. She was of 319 tons burthen, 154 feet long, 24 feet beam and 10 feet depth. She was built in 1872 at Camden, N. J. When inspected the boilers of the Clara Nevada stood a cold water pressure of 146 pounds, equal to 200 pounds steam pressure. She had a steel hull fitted with five transverse air-tight bulkheads. She cost the McGuires $15,000 and they spent $15,000 more on her alterations. She was considered entirely seaworthy and was given a first-class rating.

In the reports of the loss of the Clara Nevada it is stated that the steamship left Skaguay on her return trip to Seattle on February 5. W. W. McClure says that he has positive knowledge that the steamship had not reached Skaguay on February. McClure does not believe it possible for the Nevada to have left on the 5th. There does not seem to be any doubt about a vessel being lost, he says, but there is a possibility that it may not be the one reported.

PORTLAND, Or., February 14. Captain C. H. Lewis, of the steamer Clara Nevada, has been in the employ of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company for twenty years. At different times he has commanded the steamer George W. Elder, the Willamette, the Idaho and the Michigan. Last August he attempted to take the stern wheel steamer Eugene from this city to St. Michael, but met disaster on Vancouver Island.

G. Foster Beck, the purser and one of the owners of the Clara Nevada, was one of the best known young men in this city, having lived here the greater portion of his life. He was about 28 years of age and was the son-in-law of Mrs. R. L. Hawthorne, probably the wealthiest woman in Portland.

February 15, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Seattle, February 14. The officers of the Clara Nevada were as follows:

Captain, C. H. Lewis
First mate, Mr. Smith
Second Mate, -- Smith
Purser, George Foster Beck
Stewart, -- O'Donnell
Freight clerk, George Rogers
Pilot, Ed Keely
Chief Engineer, David Reed.

The entire crew numbers twenty-eight, including six sailors, five cabin-boys and three Chinese cooks.

The vessel is supposed to have had forty passengers on board.

February 16, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


Wreckage of the Steamship Clara Nevada Drifts Ashore.
Parties Sent From Seward City Find No Trace of Those Who Were Aboard the Vessel.

JUNEAU (Alaska), February 15 (by S. S. Islander to Victoria).

Captain Thomas Latham of the steamer Coleman has brought to Juneau the first news of the most horrible wreck of a steamboat that has ever occurred in Alaskan waters. While real facts and actual details are at this writing scarce, there is no doubt that the steamship Clara Nevada from Seattle on her return trip to Juneau from Dyea and Skaguay has been wrecked and all hands lost. I had a talk this evening with Captain Latham. He said:

"When we put into Seward City at 10:30 o'clock yesterday morning for the mail they asked us what ship had been wrecked. I did not know of any ship that had been wrecked. They then told us that a ship had exploded or burned about 9 o'clock last Sunday night off Eldridge Point, over toward Sullivan Island, and people of Seward City pointed to some wreckage lying on the beach close to the wharf. A heavy gale was blowing Saturday all day and all night. It was the hardest blow we have had in a long time. No vessel could live in such weather with anything the matter with her. I was told that there was a towering puff of flames and then a bright red glow on the black waters. This would indicate that the ship exploded and then caught fire. She could not have lasted long.

"I examined the wreckage near the dock. It consisted of skylights, parts of a deck house, ring buoys, a part of a sewing machine, pillows, chairs, tables, linen, a lot of plank and board on which at one end was the letter 'A' and on the other 'N' in gilt. The wreckage had yellow trimmings.

"The Clara Nevada was newly painted and had yellow trimmings. The Clara Nevada arrived at Skaguay last Friday from Juneau, discharged cargo and left early Saturday afternoon for Juneau. I know she was there at that time and that she left about that time. This would bring her off Seward City about 9 o'clock at night. She had aboard a number of passengers for Juneau and some for Seattle I don't know how many. Neither those passengers nor the ship have arrived and this is Thursday, four days later. What has become of them?

"Among the wreckage was a lot of 16-foot planks. The Clara Nevada had a deck load of lumber. Some of it may have been for Pyramid Harbor, which she intended to put off on her way back.

"We cruised along the shore to see if we could find anybody, but saw not a man. I doubt that there have been any survivors of the shipwreck in such a gale. I intended to go across to the other shore, but the weather was too thick. Some ship has been lost there is no doubt about that. All the indications point to the Clara Nevada."

The Clara Nevada put in here last Wednesday from Seattle, and laid over until the next day for repairs to her boilers. It may have been her boilers that exploded and set fire to the ship. The Clara Nevada was of 300 or 400 tons burden, a trim craft of symmetrical lines. She had a heavy cargo and about 100 passengers. There is no means of telling how many passengers she carried from Dyea and Skaguay for Seattle and Juneau, but there were undoubtedly a large number.

Mapping Alaska.

The list cannot be obtained until the next boat gets in from Dyea and Skaguay, which may be the Chilcator the Wolcott.

George Bach of Seward City came down on the Coleman. He corroborated Captain Latham's story. He saw the fire (he calls it an explosion) on Saturday and placed the lights on the dock as a signal to any survivors where to make a landing. None came, though many persons were aboard the luckless vessel. Mr. Benicke, formerly of Portland, of the local firm of J. D. Meyer & Co., is supposed to have left on the Clara Nevada from Juneau. Friends who have since arrived on the steamship Wolcott say he told them he expected to leave Skaguay on the Clara Nevada on Saturday afternoon. He has not been seen since.

The steamship Rustler left Juneau to-night to search for survivors of the Clara Nevada. Searchers from Seward City and Pyramid Harbor have not found or seen any camp fires on the shore. The Rustler will make a thorough search. She is expected to return in three days. Boats from the head of Lynn Canal south usually carry from ten to fifty passengers. It is feared all aboard the Clara Nevada are lost. Many Juneau people and some residents of Seattle are known to have been on the ill-fated ship. ~~ HAL HOFFMAN.

SEATTLE, February 15. Intense interest is felt here in the reported burning of the steamship Clara Nevada, which is several days overdue from Skaguay. It is difficult to glean any definite information, and the coming of the steamship Queen is anxiously awaited. She is due from the north and is expected to bring some news of the missing vessel. There is no way at present of ascertaining just who were the southbound passengers on the Clara Nevada. Their number is supposed to be about forty, but their names can be obtained only at the place where they took passage, and it is very doubtful if anything like a complete list could be obtained there. There seems to be no doubt that a steamship was burned and those on board lost, and the continued absence of the Clara Nevada tends to confirm the belief that she is the missing vessel.

Map of Alaska.

T. L. Cockrill, A. Baskey and F. S. Duff, who went to Alaska on the last trip of the Clara Nevada, arrived today on the steamship Kingston from Victoria, having reached there this morning on the Islander. These men saw and talked with the man who brought the wreck story from Seward City to Juneau, and in their opinion there is no doubt as to the truth of the reported loss of the Clara Nevada. All three men talked freely to The Call correspondent, and said that, from their experience on board the Clara Nevada, the report of the explosion of her boilers did not surprise them in the least.

They said that the engineer was constantly at work making repairs on the boilers from the time the steamship left Puget Sound until she reached Skaguay. At Juneau the steamship was detained over night in order to make further repairs. One of the men, F. S. Duff, left the vessel at Juneau because, as he said, he did not consider her safe.

M. Maguire, who has an interest in the Nevada, had his attention called to the foregoing statement tonight and admitted that repairs bad been made on the boilers on the way north, according to a letter the engineer wrote to him from Juneau, but he says these repairs were of no consequence and the damage was not such as to in any way endanger the vessel.

H. N. Rinker, who has been at Juneau for several weeks, says that the Clara Nevada's laundry was left there with instructions to have it ready on the 6th of this month. She did not return and when the story of a burning steamer being sighted above Juneau reached that port three days later, it was at once concluded that it could be none other than the Clara Nevada, even before the later details came tending to confirm this report.

February 16, 1898, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


News of the Burning of the Vessel in Alaskan Waters.
The Captain of the Excelsior Expresses No Doubt as to Her Fate.
The Clara Nevada Not the Vessel Passed by the Steamer Rosalie South of Donglass Island, as Has Been Previously Reported —Owners of the Vessel Still Hopeful She is Safe.

SEATTLE (Washington). February 15 — No further news has been received concerning the reported loss of the steamer Clara Nevada in Alaskan waters. Owing to the many conflicting rumors, hopes for her safety have not yet been abandoned. On account of the remoteness of the scene of the reported disaster, it is impossible to get anything authentic. Unless some unexpected steamer arrives, no definite news is expected before next Thursday. The last report received was that brought down by the steamer Excelsior, which arrived early this morning. Captain Donnelson said that just before he left Juneau the steamer Coleman arrived, and reported that wreckage and bedding marked "Hassler" had been washed ashore at Seward.

He said: "The Clara Nevada was formerly a Government vessel known as the Hassler, and I have no doubt that she is at the bottom of the sea. at: least such of her effects as was not burned, for the Seward citizens report having seen a blaze on the water."

The Excelsior arrived at Juneau five hours after the steamer Rosalie, which reported passing the Clara Nevada.

Captain O'Brown of the steamer Rosalie, which arrived here last night from Alaska, said this afternoon that the published statement that the Rosalie passed the Clara Nevada on December 9th was untrue. On Tuesday night, December 8th, he saw a vessel which resembled the Clara Nevada, just south of Douglass Island. He was not positive that it was the Clara Nevada. It might have been the United States gunboat Wheeling, the Clara Nevada not having reached Juneau when he left. W. W. McGuire, one of the owners of the Clara Nevada, states that when the steamer was overhauled new life preservers were put on, and the name "Hassler" entirely effaced from the vessel. He thinks there must be some mistake about the reported picking up of wreckage with the word "Hassler" on it at Seward City.


VICTORIA (B. C). February 16 —The steamer Islander, which has arrived here, brings further details of the reported loss of the steamer Clara Nevada. The news was conveyed to Juneau shortly before the Islander sailed by Captain Latham of the steamer Coleman. He says the Clara Nevada foundered with all on board opposite Seaward City, in Berner's Bay, where she was running for shelter. George Beck, a resident of Seaward City, was an eye-witness of the disaster He was standing on the beach, when he saw a small steamer battling with the wind. Suddenly there was a flash, and the steamer burst into flames, foundering in a few seconds. She had on board twenty-five passengers and crew. Fifteen passengers who went north on the Clara Nevada and returned on the Islander, say her boilers gave much trouble on the northward voyage, and once the steamer took fire, but was extinguished before serious damage was done. They say the steamer was undoubtedly wrecked by the boilers bursting.

The Rustler of Juneau has gone to look for survivors.

February 17, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Queen Brings News of the Burning of the Clara Nevada.
Officers and Crew of the Ill-Fated Steamer Numbered Forty.

Partial List of Those on Board, Most of Them Being From Portland

SEATTLE, Wash., February 16. A private telegram from Nanaimo, B. C, says that the steamer Queen has arrived there from Skaguay, Alaska, bringing confirmatory news of the loss of the steamer Clara Nevada. The officers and crew of the burned steamer Clara Nevada numbered forty. The officers of the company who operated the vessel have not a complete list of the men aboard the steamer when she left Seattle, but the following names are known, most of them being from Portland:

Captain C. H. Lewis, Pilot Ed Kelley. First Officer Smith. Second Officer Harry Bowen of San Francisco, Purser George Foster Beck, Freight clerk George Rogers, Chief Engineer David Reed of San Francisco, First Assistant Engineer Tom Williams. Second Assistant Engineer Moser of Seattle, Steward O. Donald, Assistant Steward Frank Donald, Carpenter W. A. Jacobs, Assistant Carpenter Latty Boyce, Messenger Boy Frank Bowman of Connecticut, two cabin boys, Perkins and Butler. The names of the men doing duty in the following stations could not be ascertained: Four quartermasters, steerage steward, two sailors, three firemen, three coal-passers, night watchman, pantryman, four cabin boys, three Chinese cooks and two kitchen helpers.

February 18, 1898, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

The Vessel Was a Tramp and No Record was Left of the Passengers

NANAIMO. B. C. February 17. A special from Juneau, Alaska, of February 12th, confirms the news of the loss of the Clara Nevada and says: "The cause of the disaster was doubtless the explosion of her boilers. Of the fifty people on board, none are believed to have been saved. The wreck was discovered by T. A. Markham, customs Inspector at Juneau, who ordered the Rustler to the scene in Lynn canal, where a burning vessel had been seen. Wreckage bearing the name of the ill-fated vessel was found, but there was nothing to show the identity of any of the passengers.

"The Clara Nevada was a tramp steamer, and as he was plying between United States ports, she did not need to file her passenger list with the custom house officers. Those she had on board had been picked up at Skaguay, being attracted by the cut she made in rates. It is thought she carried twenty passengers, of whom two or three were women. Several were bound for Juneau, and the balance for Seattle.

"Frank Whitney of Cripple Creek, Col., was known to be one of the unfortunates. He had been waiting for his wife to join him at Skaguay, and, becoming impatient, boarded the Nevada at the last minute. His wife arrived at Skaguay only a few hours after the Nevada sailed, and, learning of his departure, followed him south on the steamer Rosalie, expecting to meet him in Seattle. Al Noyes of Juneau is also supposed to have been on the Clara Nevada. This is all that is known of the victims."


Gold Rush Gateway. Skagway and Dyea, Alaska. Stan Cohen, Author.

SEATTLE, Wash., February 17. N. W. Nestelle, who arrived hero today from Dyea on the steamer Queen, says: "For the past month men have been pouring into Dyea by thousands. There is a congestion of freight along the trail and at Dyea. The Chilkoot Railroad and Transportation company's road is completed, but has been unable to run for several days because men were unable to live on the summit of the pass.

"The chaotic' condition of things cannot be conceived by those who have not seen it."

Among the Queen's passengers were Thomas W. O'Brien, James McNeill, Stewart Merries, Robert Lowry and George McClure, who left Dawson City January 20th. O'Brien is said to brought out $50,000 in drafts and dust.

In addition to the crew, the following persons are thought to have perished on the steamer Clara Nevada:

Al Noyes, a merchant of Juneau.
Frank Whitney of Cripple Creek, Col.
A young man named Hill of Seattle.
Harry Hunt of Montana.
George Row of Seattle. A. Bennleke of Portland, Ore.

It will probably never be known just how many passengers the Clara Nevada carried or who they were, owing to the fact that no list is obtainable.

February 20, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Explosive Consigned to the Treadwell Mine Caused the Loss of The Vessel.

SKAOUAY, Alaska, February 14, via Seattle. February. 19.— It cannot be ascertained here how many passengers were on the steamer Clara Nevada which was lost in Berner's Bay with all on board. One estimate places the number that embarked here at thirty-five. The wharfinger at the Skaguay dock says she did not carry more than eight or ten from this port. Those known to have sailed from here were A. J. Selong, formerly of New York city; F. Benicke of Juneau; Al Noyes of Juneau; Frank Whitney of Cripple Creek. Col.; A. Noois of Dyea, and a man named Ross and his wife.

It is reported here that the Clara Nevada carried a large amount of dynamite for the Treadwell mine at Douglas Island and that the explosion of this caused the disaster.

The steamer Rustler has returned from Juneau to the scene of the wreck of the Clara Nevada and is making diligent search for any possible survivors.

SEATTLE, Feb. 19.— Information received here to-day indicates that probably sixty lives were lost through the wrecking of the Clara Nevada. The officers and crew numbered forty, while twenty or more passengers are known to have taken passage in the far north on the vessel. The following are the latest additions to the fated list: Quartermaster Bat Hurley, Quartermaster Edward O'Brien, Firemen Billy Carey, Paddy McDonald and Arthur Finnegan; Steerage Steward W. J. Jackson, Night Watchman H. M. Benton, Steam-fitter George G. Hill, Cabin Boys John L. Butler of Great Lakes. C. E. Perkins of Portland and George Roe of Tacoma. The man mentioned in the first lists secured of the Nevada's passengers as — Hill is now believed to have been Thomas R. Hill of Seattle. A letter received last evening from W F. Saportas, dated at Juneau February 18, says that his brother, E. W. Saportas, and A. J. Selang. both of New York city, and — Brennecker of Portland were aboard the Clara Nevada.

Part of the wreck of the Clara Nevada is now at Juneau, and arrangements have been made so that if any bodies are recovered they will be sent to Juneau from Seward City.

March 13, 1908, Sacramento Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The Hull of the Clara Nevada, Which Was Shipwrecked Eleven Years Ago, Has Been Discovered on Alaskan Coast

SEATTLE, March 12.—A special cable to the Times from Juneau, Alaska, says James Currie, a keeper of the lighthouse at Aldridge Rock, brings news of the finding of the wreck of the Clara Nevada, which was lost in 1897 with sixty-five passengers on board. The purser was the only one ever found. The exact location of the Nevada’s hull has been a mystery these eleven years until the terrific winds of the last few days exposed the remains of the craft to view.

Many human bones have been picked up on the beach in this vicinity. The Nevada is believed to have had a large amount of gold dust on board, as several Klondikers were on the way out with their first clean-ups. Parties are preparing to search for her treasure.

Searoutes. Map from MisfitsAndHeroes.com.

Great Shipwrecks of the Pacific CoastPacific waters.Shipwrecks.Great Shipwrecks in Pacific Waters.
Author Robert Belyk examines ten significant maritime disasters that occurred during one of the most turbulent eras in the history of travel. Real-life drama endured by those caught in the terrifying midst of disaster at sea and the causes behind the tragedies. Well researched, the shipwrecks accounted for here include:

  • 1854: the Yankee Blade runs aground. Twenty-eight passengers lose their lives.
  • In 1865, only 19 of the 204 passengers and crew on board survived the wreck of the Brother Jonathan, whose owners had been more concerned with maximum profitability than with the safety of their passengers.
  • 1875: The old side-wheeler Pacific rams another passenger ship off the coast of Cape Flattery, Washington. Two hundred and seventy-seven people perish when her rotting hull gives way.
  • 1906: The Valencia strikes a reef off the Washington coastline. Before dozens of dazed onlookers on the shore, the ship goes down taking 117 passengers and crew with her.
  • 1907: The Columbia disappeared under the ocean surface in just eight minutes after ramming another passenger ship. Her poorly maintained iron hull simply gave out, leading to the deaths of 87 passengers. Organization of American Historians. Benefitting from hundreds of primary sources, dozens of captivating images and reflective of the latest trends in the field.


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