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Steamships at San Francisco

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Lists are incomplete; information is added as located and as time permits.

Lists are incomplete; information is added as located and as time permits.

Steamships at San Francisco

SS Hermann
SS Independence
SS Isthmus
SS John L. Stephens
SS Lewis: Wrecked 1853
SS Liverpool
SS Major Tompkins
SS Mexico
SS McKim
SS Montana
SS Monumental City
SS Moses Taylor

SS Hermann

Builder:  Jacob A. Westervelt & William Mackey, New York, the second of two steamships for the Ocean Steam Navigation Co., at a cost exceeding $360,000. Launched September 30, 1847.  Three-decked, side-wheel steamer at 1,734 tons, 234 feet, 3 mast bark rigged.  She was named for a German hero.  Accommodations for approximately 180 passengers in 1st class. Her grand saloon was over 85 feet long. She originally was to carry mail between New York and Europe.  Because of construction problems, including insufficiently sized boilers, she suffered mechanical difficulties on her initial sailings, which included Bremen, and Southampton.  She was sold, together with her sister ship the SS Washington, in July of 1857.  In 1853, she left New York for San Francisco under the command of Edward Cavendy, with over 500 passengers and only $300 to finance the voyage. Enroute, the Hermann was turned over to command of first officer Mr. Patterson, and arrived in San Francisco on November 27, 1858. In February of 1859, she was seized at San Francisco to cover debts and sold to Captain George Wright for $40,000.  The Pacific Mail Steamship Company purchased her and in August 1866 and commissioned her for Yokohama coastal service.  In 1869, she wrecked on Point Kawatzu, with a loss of over half the 350 Japanese troops aboard.

SS Independence

Builder: William H. Brown, New York. Launch: December 25, 1850. Owner Cornelius Vanderbilt. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 2 masts. 613 tons, 211.6 feet.

Sailed from New York for San Francisco on January 13, 1851. She reached San Francisco with passengers from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua on September 17, 1851. She remained on the San Francisco-San Juan del Sur run until wrecked on Margarita Island near Baja, California.

April 2, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco 



SS John L. Stephens

Builder: Smith and Dimon, New York. Engine: Oscillating engine by Novelty Iron Works. Launch: September 21, 1852. Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 2,182 tons, 274.3 feet. Two stacks: one forward and one aft of the walking beam engine. Fitted with Pierson's Patent Steam Condenser to supply fresh water for the boilers. 250 berths were on the upper deck and 550 single berths on a lower deck. The John L. Stephens was brigantine-rigged, and carried eight large lifeboats.

She cleared New York for San Francisco on December 17, 1852, and arrived in the City with passengers from Panama on April 3, 1853.

January 27, 1853, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

The John L. Stevens.

A few days since we published a short dcrcription of this splendid steamer, belonging to the P. M. S. S. Company, and which is designed to be placed on the line between San Francisco. Subjoined is a fuller detail of her dimensions and capacity, which will be found exceedingly interesting. The Stephens will probably have no superior afloat when she is put sn the trade and we cannot but congratulate the traveling public on such magnificent additions to their comfort, safety and speed in making the Pacific and Atlantic trips. Her dimensions are as follows:

"Length of deck, 285-1/2 feet; breadth of beam, 66-1/2 feet; and registers 2,500 tons. She has at present on board 450 tons of coal, and draws 11. feet of water forward and 12 feet 7 inches aft. There areo two stearage passenger decks, the lower one containing 5000 single berths built 'thwart ships, with ventilators between each tier. On the second deck there are 390 berths built fore and aft, with wide gangways between each tier, and large ports at each tier. The upper deck is done off mostly in staterooms, and there are also several bath-rooms on this deck for the accommodation of the passengers. The promenade deck is the largest of any steamer now sailing from this port.

Novelty Iron Works.

"Her machinery was furnished by Messrs. Stillman & Allen, of the Novelty Works. The engine is on the oscillating principle, hut supported by a framing of wood similar to that employed for ordinary beam engines, the advantages of which arec lightness, strength, and ability to the varying movements of the ship. This is an improvement of Mr. Allen, of the Novelty Works, and is the first time that it has ever been applied to a vessel. The engine has 80 inches diameter of cylinder, with 9 feet stroke of piston, 32-1/2 feet wheel, 10 feet by 30 inches wide face of bucket, and is supplied with steam from large boilers, of the drop-fine construction, placed fore and aft on either side of the engine, having an evaporating capacity equal to 6,000 feet of fire surface. She is fitted out with Prisson's patent double vacuum condenser, for supplying the boilers, passengers and crews with fresh water. This invention, by a law passed at the last session of Congress, is being applied to the war-steamers of the United States Navy, and was first introduced into the U, S. ships Alleghany and Hancock, and the other vessels of the Japan Expedition. The time made yesterday afternoon by the engine was 15 revolutions per minute, with 11 pounds of pressure of steam cut off at one-third of the stroke, the indicators showing a vacuum 26-1/2 inches, with 36 degree temperature of feed-water, being within two-tenths of a perfect vacuum. This vessel has also two masts, the forward oneo being square-rigged and the after mast bark-rigged, and the vessel is also supplied with eight small boats, five of which are patent life-boats. The following gentlemen are officers and persons connected with the ship:

Captain, Mr. R. H. Pearson, formerly of the Oregon; First Officer, Mr. Barbey (Editor's note: Possibly F. A. Baby as he is noted as second officer in later news reports.); Second Officers, Mr. Johnson; Engineer, Mr. Chas. French, formerly of the steamship Columbia: Purser. Mr. Mortimer Lent, formerly of the steamship Panama; Physician, Mr. McNaughten; Steward, Charles A. Allen, formerly of the steamship Pacific, and will known to many of our citizens who have had occasion to Atlantic. The John L. Stephens is expected to sell on Monday next."

May 10, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The P.M.S. Co's. Steamship John L. Stephens -- The above steamer will come down from Benecia, and be open for inspection at Long wharf Thursday, 12th inst. at 3 P.M. Since her arrival from new York she has received extensive alterations and is now the best ventilated and most comfortable vessel afloat, and combined with speed, will no doubt be the boat of the Pacific. It is expected that passengers leaving in her on the 16th inst., will connect at Aspinwall with the new steamship George Law, and be landed in New York in a shorter time than passengers by any previous steamer. The public are invited to visit and examine her accommodations.

May 15, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

STEAMSHIP JOHN L. Stephens -- The members of the press of this city, by special invitation, dined on board this splendid vessel yesterday, after having been shown the various improvements, accommodations and superiority evident in every part of her. It would be impossible in a paragraph to notice every admirable arrangement on board, or to mention many as they deserve. Commencing with her model, little or nothing is left to be desired throughout. For ventilation she has no equal on the Pacific or Atlantic. Her ports are large windows, and all her cabins are decks must be as well purified, if wind can do it, as is the human blood in the lungs which breathe. Her machinery has all the improvements which other ships have proved such, and besides, many which cannot be found on any other. Her state-rooms are superior to any on this side of the continent, while comfort seems stamped upon all the preparations made for the steerage.

The culinary department is superior to anything afloat. She has four decks, with an awning to extend over the entire extent of the upper one, which reaches her whole length from stern to stern, scarcely interrupted in its immense area by anything save the chimneys. If comfort and health and safety can be confidently predicted for passengers at sea, this most majestic and perfect specimen of ocean beauty may be trusted. Nothing seems to have been left undone about her, which being done would increase her claim upon the just confidence of the pubic.

The dinner was all that could be desired. Wine was abundant, and the politeness of the agent, Capt. Knight, was only equalled by the hearty cordiality of Capt. Pierson and the perfection of the ship he commands. It may be safety predicted that no one will complain of the John L. Stephens, except those who are never satisfied. She will undoubtedly prove a favorite and safe ship.

December 21, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Compliment to the J. L. Stephens and Capt. Pearson. It affords me much pleasure to express to you not only my own gratification, but also that of my fellow travelers, at your selection of state rooms on board this fine ship. We are now -- at noon 20th instant -- ten days out, and off San Juan, so that you will see the Stephens is not a slow boat. All the arrangements on board are capital; ship well found, manned by sailors, officered by gentlemen, and commanded by Capt. Pearson, which expresses all I can say upon that point. In truth, he is the man to perform his duty without making a "fuss" about it, and sure to see that all on board attend to theirs. As you know I travel with some invalids, I have had many opportunities to judge of the excellent qualities of the Surgeon of the ship, Dr. McNaughton, and would, with much pleasure, recommend him, as well for skill as for his kind attentions. We have seen nothing of the Pacific since we left the Gate, and at the rate we were then leaving her, suppose her to be far behind.

At our present rate, we shall be in Panama on Monday next, probably inside of twelve days, notwithstanding we met with some detention by some San Francisco "Filibusters," and heavy head wind on the 23d and 24th . . .

The John L. Stephens operated between San Francisco and Panama for Pacific Mail until October 1860. In 1864 she began the San Francisco-Columbia River run, and was still in that service for the Oregon Steamship Company in 1876. Sisson, Wallace and Co. bought her in 1878 and sent her to Karluk, Alaska, for use as a floating cannery. She was scrapped in 1879.

SS Liverpool

Builder: Brown & Bell, New York. Engine: Novelty Iron Works. Launch: Spring 1843. Owner: New Line: Woodhull & Minturn. 1,077 tons (which was considered an underestimate as the surveyor eliminated the third deck in his estimate -- her tonnage was revised to 1,364). 3 decks (the first 3-deck liner to be built), with a full length figure of Lord Liverpool carved by Dodge on her bows and the cote d'armes of the City of Liverpool on her stern. This square-rigged 3-masted sailing ship, measured 175' 6" x 36' 6" x 22' 3" (length x beam x depth of hold). She had the longest continuous line service of any sailing packet: 1843-1849 in the Liverpool New Line, 1849-1855 in the Liverpool Blue Swallowtail Line, and 1855-1880 in the London Red Swallowtail Line.

Lengthy newspaper articles greeted her launch. The Liverpool had cabins for smokers, bathing houses, apartments for cuisine, houses for cows, sheep, swine and poultry, pantries for making pastry. The main saloon was large enough for forty cabin passengers and "high enough for any man under eight feet in his booths." Second class passengers had their own dining room, shower baths, with "pure salt water dipped from the ocean." The third deck was noted as being able to hold 1500 bales of cotton and 500 steerage passengers. Papers reported that six thousand iron bolts, ninety tons of iron, and twelve tons of copper fastenings were used in building this grand lady. Captain James Blethen was master of the SS Liverpool in 1848 from Liverpool to New York. Presumably this was one of the ships which brought thousands of Irish to the East Coast of the Americas during Ireland's potato famine. The plight of Ireland was so great that few captains ever sailed one of these ships more than once or twice. Captain James H. Blethen is listed as having made two sailings.

SS Major Tompkins

January 23, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

Awful Disaster
Steamer Major Tompkins

One Man Instantly Killed, and Several Wounded.

We are much indebted to Mr. S. G. White, Messenger of the prompt Express Freeman & Co., and Mr. Ayers of the New England Hotel, for the following particulars of a most melancholy disaster.

The Steamer Major Tompkins, on her downward trip to San Francisco, last evening, when she was thirty miles below this city, burst her boiler, wounding and scalding some six or eight persons, and killing instantly one man belonging to the boat. The steamer West Point took most of the passengers to San Francisco, the New World took the remainder to our city this morning. The disaster occurred about half past four o'clock, yesterday afternoon.

Dr. Gouch, who was on board of the Tompkins, and Mr. Brannan rendered every assistance in their power. Capt. J. D. Phillips, mate of the Tompkins, and D. S. Kelsey, Captain of the West Point, and Captain Hutchings, of the New World, deserve more than a passing notice — also, J. S. Arnold, Mr. Gamble, the steward of the N. World, Dr. Hulse, and Mr. Ayers, who rendered valuable assistance.

The following is a list of the killed and wounded so far as our informants were able to procure them:

Edward Tracy, fireman.

Edward Lamb, badly scalded.
Richard Waters, do. do.
Mr. Taylor, clerk, do. do.
Mr. Johnson, of the Magnolia, badly scaled.
Dr. C. T. Whittier, do. do.
J. R. Lunt, slightly scalded.
Edw. Giles, do. do.
--- Orr, do. do.
H. A. Whiting, do. do.
S.Cunningham, do. do.

Immediately after the „disaster, and whilst Dr. Whittier was suffering the most intense pain, and all excitement on board the Tompkins, a villain stepped up and took off his gold watch, and was about appropriating it. He was however seen by a person, and the watch was re-taken.

January 25, 1851, Scramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

The Major Tompkins will be repaired at San Francisco and put again on the route.

March 16, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
The steamer Major Tompkins is running regularly between Monterey and San Francisco.

March 14, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

LOSS OF THE STEAMER MAJOR TOMPKINS -- The steamer Major Tompkins, formerly of this place, and lately plying between Victoria and Olympia, was wrecked on the night of the 10th Feb. at the mouth of Victoria harbor -- no lives lost. Her passengers were taken over to the American side by the Hudson Bay steamer Beaver. The Major Tompkins is a total loss.

March 15, 1855, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

Loss of the Steamer Major Tompkins. Capt. Nash, of the brig Sarah McFarland, which arrived here Tuesday from Victoria, Vancouver Island, reports that the steamer Major Tompkins, Captain Hunt, was wrecked on the night of the 10th February, at the mouth of Victoria Harbor. The Major Tompkins went to pieces within three hours after striking. No lives were lost. The Captain and crew succeeded in reaaching the shore after the utmost difficulty.


SS McKim

November 22, 1849, Alta California, San Francisco (From the Placer Times of November 3)

Arrival Extraordinary -- Our city was surprised and pleased by the appearance on Saturday evening last, of the steamer McKim from San Francisco. As she came up to her berth she was announced by the discharge of cannon and cheered by the acclamations of the thousands who crowded to the river's bank to witness the arrival of this first large steamer intended to play upon the waters of the beautiful Sacramento. Nothing could exceed the gratification and joy of our citizens at learning that large and deep as she was (drawing 8 feet water) she had made the trip in seventeen running hours from San Francisco, and that she had met with only one delay, by grounding on the bar formed by the embouchure of the Ulpinos creek, a few miles above the city of Suisun.

The McKim left San Francisco at 12 M on Friday, the 26th ult. She made the passage to Beniciaagainst a strong ebb tide, in a little less than live hours. Owing to the difficulty of navigating the Suisun Bay, she laid lor the night at Benicia. Leaving there early on Saturday morning, she threaded without delay the serpentine channel of the Suisun, and reached Sacramento City in twelve running hours, having laid for more than an hour on the bar spoken of above.

One reason why the McKim was detained on the bar alluded to was the fact that a large sloop was lying aground directly in the channel and the McKim, in attempting to pass outside of her, necessarily came into shoal water. It is believed, therefore, that there is not the slightest danger of this accident occurring again, specially as it is supposed that, by relieving her of her spars and other unnecessary sea furniture, she may be so lightened as never to draw over seven feet of water

The McKim is a propeller, having an engine of two hundred horse power of the Ericsson patent. She is a staunch vessel, having been built for the coast and gulf trade on the Atlantic. She has been newly fitted up, cleaned and painted, and has sixty excellent berths. The best arrangements are made for the accommodation of her passengers, and as she has an excellent steward, we have no doubt she will soon secure the public patronage she so well deserves.

Capt. Macy, and her second captain, Mr. Brenham are highly spoken of by the passengers who came up on her trial trip; and all unite in praise of Lieut. Blair, U.S.N., who acted as pilot.

The McKim came up again in line style on Wednesday, and left on Friday morning, crowded with passengers. Her departure was attended with all the bustle and confusion occasioned by the leaving of an Atlantic steamship in New York or Boston.

October 17, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco


A fine boat for the Oregon or Southern Coast Trade. The commodious and popular steam propeller McKim, in complete running order, together with new boilers and other machinery, daily expected to arrive from the United States, is offered for sale.

Apply to Everett & Co., Howison's Wharf.

The McKim's journeys were plagued. Click to read a list of her journeys.

SS Mexico

August 12, 1897, San Francisco Call

Goodall, Perkins &, Co. Find It Difficult to Replace the Mexico.
The following telegram was received by  Goodall, Perkins  & Co. from Nanaimo, B. C:

The Mexico started from Sitka at 9 a. m. on the 4th inst. Took the outside passage and arrived at Cape Chacon at midnight. Got under way again at 3 a. m. and at 4:20 a. m. struck a rock on the starboard bilge, supposed to be West Devil Rock, fourteen miles from Cape Chacon, The steamer filled very rapidly, and at 6:30 A. at. sank in eighty-five fathoms of water. All the passengers and crew were saved. Such baggage as was in the staterooms was also saved. Everything else was lost. Boats were left at Metlakahtla in charge of Rev. Mr. Duncan, head missionary on the Alaskan station. Captain Thomas and all passengers and crew came down on the City of Topeka.

The Mexico left the sound last month with a large party of Christian Endeavor excursionists and went as far as Dyea, where she landed a few miners, bound for Klondike. Over 400 miners who had booked to leave on her on the return trip were awaiting her at Seattle, so Captain Thomas took the outside passage, or "the short cut home." It proved to be the long way around.

Goodall, Perkins & Co. are in a quandary over the loss of the steamer. A few months ago half their fleet was idle and now they cannot charter a vessel for love or money. As of last Tuesday night men worked on the City of Puebla getting her Puget Sound freight out and yesterday afternoon she sailed for Port Harford to bring up a load of grain. With her went forty longshoremen and forty more will be engaged at Port Harford. It is hoped ! to have the vessel loaded and back in San Francisco tonight In order that she may leave for Puget Sound ports some time tomorrow. TheOregon has to be hauled out of retirement and put on the Columbia River route to relieve the glut there, so the company has not a vessel available to take the place of the Mexico. Among those who were awaiting the arrival of the Mexico at Seattle is Sam Pond, son of ex-Mayor Pond. He is bound for the gold fields, and yesterday his father spent half a day trying to get him a passage on the City of Topeka. The latter goes only as far as Juneau, however, and the only way by which Dyea can be reached is by the George W. Elder, which leaves six days later.

"We will do everything in our power to straighten out matters," said Edwin Goodall yesterday: "but, such matters cannot be fixed up in a moment. If by any possible chance we can secure a steamer she will at once be sent up to take the Mexico's place. If we can't, we will have to do the best we can with the Elder and Topeka. The Mexico was partially insured."

There is just a chance that the Zealandia may be chartered from the Oceanic Steamship Company and put on the southern route. In that event the Corona would be sent north to replace the wrecked steamer.

The Mexico was built by the Dickies about ten years ago for a company trading in the Gulf of California. Captain John Bermingham superintended the building of the vessel, and be stuck so religiously to the terms of the contract that the builders lost at least $20,000 on the job.

About seven years ago, when on her way here from Nanaimo, B. C, she struck on a rock in the Gulf of Georgia and sank. She was afterward raised and brought to San Francisco, where she was thoroughly repaired. Since that time up to the present disaster her career was an uneventful one.

SS Montana

Builder: Webb and Bell, Greenpoint, Long Island. Engine: Vertical beam by Novelty Iron Works. Launch: February 25, 1865. Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 2,676 tons, 318 feet.

She entered the San Francisco-Panama service of the Pacific Mail in October 1866 and remained on that run until 1869. She was broken up in November 1877.

SS Monumental City

Builder: A.A. Chapman, Baltimore, Maryland, 1850. Engine: Two oscillating engines designed and built by Murray and Hazelhurst, Baltimore. Launch: November 14, 1850. Owner: A.A. Chapman. Wooden screw steamer. 737 tons, 180 feet. She was built with a flush promenade deck and had accommodations for about 250 first and second cabin passengers. Bark rigged.

She made two voyages from San Francisco to Panama for the Empire City Line in the Fall of 1851 and the Spring of 1851, and one San Francisco-San Juan del Sur voyage in the Spring of 1852 for Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Monumental City was the first steamer to cross the Pacific, sailing from San Francisco on February 17, 1853, and arriving at Sydney via Tahiti on April 23. She entered the coastal trade between Sydney and Melbourne, but was wrecked off Malacouta Bay on a small island close to Cape Howe on May 15, 1853 enroute from Melbourne to Sydney. Out of 86 people on board, 33 lives were lost when she went down. (Note:  Queens of the Western Ocean, Carl C. Cutler, states that "with a loss of 32 of the passengers and crew; 54 being saved.

SS Moses Taylor

Builder: William H. Webb, New York, 1857. Engines: From El Dorado. Launch: August 1, 1857. Owner: Marshall O. Roberts. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 1,372 tons, 246 feet. The Moses Taylor sailed on her first voyage from New York to Aspinwall for the United States Mail Steamship Company on January 5, 1858, and remained on that run until September 1859 when she was withdrawn. She sold at auction to Cornelius Vanderbilt on February 27, 1860 for $25,000. She was brought to the Pacific and operated from San Francisco to San Juan del Sur by the People s Line from November 1862 until August 1863.

January 5, 1863, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.


SHAFT FOR THE MOSES TAYLOR -- During the past week the workmen in Donahue's foundry, First street, have been engaged in the important work of forging a new shaft for the steamship Moses Taylor, an undertaking of great magnitude and only attempted to be carried out in the first establishments of the world.  It will be remembered that the Moses Taylor lost her shaft while on a voyage to Panama, a few weeks since; and the necessity of replacing it at once was imperative.  Heretofore a job of this size had not been attempted in San Francisco.  Mr. Peter Donahue, determining to keep up the reputation of the city, readily assumed the task of performing the work in his foundry.  Last Monday the furnace was brought to bear upon the massive iron, and every night and day since fire an steam have been employed to forge the rugged metal into proper shape.  Saturday night a large number of gentlemen were present to witness the forging of the shaft.  At about ten o'clock, the doors of the furnace were opened, and the iron -- white and clear - placed under the steam hammer, whose heavy blows came quick and heavy on the soft substance.  This process has been going on for several days, and the nature of the work has excited a good deal of interest in mechanical circles.  It is under the direction of Messrs. Austin, Hawkins, and McWilliams, who give to it a considerable amount of attention.  Mr. Donohue undertook the work under circumstances very creditable to his enterprise, and when successfully completed, will be highly honorable to California.  Up to this time we have been accustomed to look to New York or Boston for such work.  Now Mr. Donahue shows it can be performed here.  Ladies and gentlemen who visit the Union Foundry to-day or to-morrow, will be shown the process of forging the shaft.

Captain James H. Blethen sailed her between March 1863 and October 1867. In 1864, his son, Captain James H. Blethen, Jr., sailed with him as Second Officer. The Moses Taylor sailed from San Francisco to Panama until May 1864. In September 1864, the Moses Taylor began running for the Central American Transit Company on the San Francisco-San Juan del Sur run, and continued for this company and its successor, the North American Steamship Company, until May 1868. Between 1871and 1873, she operated on William H. Webb s San Francisco-Honolulu-Australia line, and Captain James H. Blethen (we don t know if it was Sr. or Jr.) sailed her from Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand on March 1870.

On March 13, 1871, a bill, filled in by hand on a printed form, is addressed to William H. Davis and signed by C. A. Hughes, Purser of the steamship Moses Taylor. (An engraving of theMoses Taylor under full steam, sail and with paddle wheel spinning, appears on the top left.) The bill is for a total of $4.72, representing $4.50 for four packages measuring 30 feet plus 22 for 5% "primage".

From the collections of the California Historical Society.

She was purchased by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in 1873, and converted into a store ship in 1875. She was nicknamed Rolling Moses, although contemporary accounts state that this was undeserved.


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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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