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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 Pacific
SS Panama
SS Peytona
SS Pilot
SS Pioneer
SS Prometheus
SS Republic
SS Sacramento
SS Samuel S. Lewis
SS San Francisco
SS Sarah Sands
SS Seabird
SS Sierra Nevada
SS Sonora

SS Pacific

Click on the SS Pacific above to be taken to the story of her sailings.

SS Panama

Builder: William H. Webb, New York. Cost: $211,356. Launch: July 29, 1848. Original Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 2 decks, 3 masts. 1,087 tons, 200.4 feet. This steamer, along with the Pacific Mail Line's vessels California and Oregon, were among the first to reach California just as the discovery of gold was breaking. After a false start in December 1848, when she had to return to New York for a cylinder repair, the Panama left New York for San Francisco on February 15, 1849 and arrived in San Francisco on June 4.

She was on regular San Francisco-Panama service through 1853, was a spare steamer through 1857, then put on the San Francisco-Columbia River run until 1861 when she was sold to Holladay and Flint. They presented the Panama to the Mexican government in 1868, armed with two 30-pounder Parrot guns and four 12-pound long guns, as part of an agreement in relation to a mail contract.

April 9, 1849, Tri Weekly Alta California, San Francisco

ACCIDENT TO AN AMERICAN STEAMER -- The new American steam packet Panama, Capt. Comstock, belonging to the Pacific Company's line, between Panama and Oregon, left New York in November last, for the Pacific, to take her place on the route. When five days out, from some unaccountable cause to those on board, the steam cylinder and piston became crooked, and the engine of course useless. The vessel was immediately put about for New York under canvass, where she arrived about the middle of December. A survey was then held to ascertain the cause of the accident, when it was found that a piece of pine wood, 7 inches long and 4 inches square, had, by some means been introduced into the cylinder, and the immense force of the piston striking upon the wood, had finally broken the piston, and so damaged the cylinder, as to render them both unfit for use. The Panama is a strong and splendid vessel. Her failure to reach Panama at the appointed time, will be a serious inconvenience to those bound to California via the Isthmus. She is now repairing, and sails February 15th, via Cape Horn.

SS Peytona

August 1, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
ANOTHER STEAMER FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO AND SANDWICH ISLAND TRADE--A propeller called the Peytona, originally built to run between New York and Philadelphia, is now fitting at New York to go to San Francisco, to run between there and the Sandwich Islands. The keel of another vessel for the same line has been laid at Philadelphia.

SS Pilot

August 29, 1878, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Body Recovered

Petaluma, August 28th -- The body of Mrs. Brooks, stewardess of the steamer Pilot, who was drowned four days ago by falling overboard at the steamer landing, was recovered today.

May 28, 1883, Sacramento Daily Union

Six bodies are still unrecovered from the wreck of the Pilot in Petaluma creek. The inquest families to elicit the cause of the explosion.

The Steamer Pilot Disaster

Petaluma, May 27. The body of A. G. Blackwell, a Pilot victim, was recovered at 10 a. m. today, 1,800 feet below the wreck. It was brought up with grappling irons, and brought to this city. His neck was broken, arm broken; and the left leg below the knee. The sum of $83 in coin was found on his person. Six or seven boats have been in operation throughout the day, dragging the creek, and fifteen guns were fired to raise the bodies, but to no purpose.

April 15, 1884, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Suit for Insurance.

M. J. Miller has brought an action against the California Insurance Company, to recover $3,000 claimed to be due on a certain policy of insurance issued by defendant company to N. Gould upon the steamer Pilot, which was destroyed by an explosion of its boiler May 25, 1883, in Petaluma Creek.

May 27, 1885, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Suit for a Father's Life.

John J. Haegen was killed on the 25th of May, 1883, by an explosion of the boiler of the steamerPilot in Petaluma creek. His heirs have brought suit against N. Gould, owner of the steamer, to recover $10,000 damages. The complaint alleges that the accident was due to the unsafe condition of the boilers and carelessness on the part of those in charge.

SS Pioneer

The Pioneer was a large new propeller, one of the Vanderbilt Nicaragua Line. She wrecked on her first voyage from the East Coast to San Francisco via Cape Horn, and never reached the city.

August 21, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco



The Seabird from San Diego brings the intelligence of the wreck of the Steamer Pioneer at St. Simon's Bay about 200 miles South of this port. On her passage around Cape Horn, and while in the Bay of Talcahuano coaling, she dragged her anchors in a gale of wind and ran on a reef, receiving so much damage as to cause a leak, which increased on her passage to Panama to such an extent as to require the pumps to be kept in constant operation. She proceeded, however, to San Juan, taking on board at that place a full complement of passengers. After leaving Acapulco her machinery became a little deranged and it was soon discovered that she was out of coal and two of the flanges of her propeller had been carried away. In this crippled condition, without coal and without propelling power, she was overtaken by a heavy head sea; and although the pumps of her steam engine, together with all her side pumps worked by 50 men, were in constant motion, the water made so fast that it was deemed absolutely necessary for the preservation of the lives of the passengers, to run the ship into some place of shelter where they could be landed without risk. She was, accordingly, run into St. Simon's Bay on the evening of the 16th. The water on the following day having gained on them so fast as to reach the furnaces extinguished the fires. To prevent her sinking she was run on shore where she soon after filled.

The pumps of the engine and four small pumps were kept going by a gang of men in the hope of freeing her sufficiently to save whatever might be of value.

The steamer Seabird fortunately passing on the 18th inst., on her trip to San Diego, went to her assistance and took off 24 of her passengers, who reached here this morning. Twenty passengers died on the trip.

SS Prometheus

Sailed from San Juan del Norte to New York in January of 1851. Nicaraguan port officials claimed she owed them $123, which the Captain of the Prometheus refused to pay and sailed. The Nicaraguan official reported them to the British Consul, who sent out the British gun boat Express. The Express ordered her to stop and when the Captain refused, she fired close to her and threatened to fire a shell into her. The Prometheus returned and paid the dues.

SS Republic

Builder: 1849. Engine: Two oscillating by Murray and Hazlehurst, Baltimore. Original Owner: Baltimore Steam Packet Company, G. S. Norris. Wooden side-wheel screw steamer.

Early in 1850 she was sold to Howland and Aspinwall for $135,000 and sent to the Pacific Coast in April 1850. She entered the Panama-San Francisco service for George Law, was sold to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in January 1851 for $197,000, and entered its service in May 1851. She remained on the Panama run through 1855, was sold to Holladay and Flint in 1861. In 1864 her engines were removed and placed in the Del Norte. She finished her life as a coal hulk and supply ship for the California, Oregon and Mexican Steamship Company.

SS Samuel S. Lewis

Builder: Captain R.F. Loper, hull by Theodore Birely and Son, 1851. Engine: Geared-beam by J.T. Sutton and Company, Philadelphia. Launch: June 12, 1851. Original Owner: New England Ocean Steamship Company, Herndon and Company s Boston-Liverpool Line. Wooden screw steamer, 3 decks, 3 masts. 1,103 tons, 216.9 feet.

When the New England Ocean Steamship Company failed, Vanderbilt purchased her in 1852 for his Nicaragua Line. She sailed from New York on March 5, 1852, arrived in San Francisco on July 7, 126 days from New York and 26 days from Panama. Because of overloading and unsanitary conditions, she received bad press, but then, many of Vanderbilt's ships received bad press from the Daily Alta California, so much so that one historian has suggested that the articles sounded as though the Daily Alta California was in the employ of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. On April 9, 1853, the steamer ran aground on Duxbury Reef, North of the Golden Gate near the little coastal town of Bolinas. All passengers were saved, but she was a total loss.

SS San Francisco

August 16, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
THE NEW STEAMER SAN FRANCISCO. -- This steamer, which is now building in New York, is designed to run between this city (San Francisco) and Panama, in connection with the Sarah Sands, Northerner and New Orleans. Her dimensions are as follows: Length of keel 243 feet; length on deck 255 feet; beam 40 feet; depth 24 feet. She measures 2000 tons, and is furnished with two powerful engines. Altogether she is said to be superior to any thing that has yet made its appearance on the Pacific. Click to read her story.

SS Sarah Sands

Builder: James Hudson and Company, Brunswick Dock, Liverpool, England. Engine: Oscillating. Launch: September 1846. Original Owner: Sands and Company. Iron screw steamer, 4 masts, bark-rigged. 1,400 tons, 215 feet. Watertight compartments on lower, main and spar decks. The forward cabin ran the full width of the ship, making possible seating for 70.

SS Sarah Sands.

She sailed on her first voyage from Liverpool to New York on January 20, 1847, arriving February 10. She operated across the Atlantic until she was chartered by the Empire City Line and sent to San Francisco where she arrived June 5, 1850. Pacific Mail purchased the Sarah Sands and operated her until July 1851, even though she was a very slow steamer.

Bay at Valparaiso, 1859, Sarah Sands

She was again sold, cross to Australia, returned to England, and again on the Liverpool-New York run as of April 1852. She was chartered by the British government for service in the Crimean War and in 1857, while carrying troops to India, she was struck by a gale and then gutted by fire. She remained afloat, her engines removed, returned to England under sail, and wrecked near Bombay in 1858. (Note: Two accounts have her as wrecking near Bombay; Heyl cites her as having been wrecked on the Laccadive Islands.)

SS Sierra Nevada

Builder: William Collyer, New York. Engine: Two vertical-beam by Morgan Iron Works. Launch: October 25, 1851 as the Texas. Original Owner: S. Dayton. Cost: $210,000 (one source cites a cost of $240,000).

The steamship Sierra Nevada was built in New York in 1851 by Charles Morgan, who intended her for the Texas trade. She was afterward sold to Commodore Garrison. Although she was advertised as the Quartz Rock, she made her trial trip as the Sierra Nevada and operated from New York to Chagres from February until October 1852 by the Empire City Line. She made three trips to Chagres, then sailing from New York for San Francisco, December 12, 1852, in Command of Capt. J. D. Wilson, who died at Panama and was succeeded by Captain Tanner, who completed the voyage.

Her first work on arrival was on the San Juan route, in charge of Captain Blethen. She was one of the fastest of the old line of steamships, and, while she might be considered a slow packet to-day, in 1862 she made a record from San Francisco to Portland of 72 hours, which was not beaten for several years.

The steamer first came to Portland in charge of Dall, who was succeeded by Wakeman, Conner, Johnston, Williams, Huntingdon, Fauntleroy, and others, of whom Conner was longest in command. During his time the old steamer carried 500 and 600 passengers per trip.

She was purchased by Vanderbilt and sent to San Francisco, where she arrived March 23, 1853 for the San Francisco-San Juan service. She remained there through 1857, was purchased by the Pacific Mail in 1860 and placed in the San Francisco-Oregon service. In February 1861. When Holladay and Brenham started the California, Oregon & Mexican Steamship Company, the Sierra Nevada was sold to them.

On October 17, 1869, the steamship Sierra Nevada, an old-timer on the northern route during the Fraser excitement, struck a reef three miles north of Pedro Bianco while en route from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo in October, and twenty minutes later keeled over and filled and was pronounced a total loss. (E. W. Wright, The Alaska Purchase, Advent of Many Fine Steamers on Puget Sound, Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. New York: Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1961., p.180.)

More on the Sierra Nevada

SS Sonora

Builder: J.A. Westervelt and Company, New York. Engine: Two vertical-beam by Morgan Iron Works. Launch: October 1, 1853. Cost: $302,000. Owner: Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 2 masts. 1,616 tons, 269 feet.

The SS Sonora was part of the Pacific Mail fleet, along with the Saint Louis in the early 1850s. Both were described as "fine steamers registering a trifle over 1600 tons." She cleared New York for San Francisco on March 11, 1854, arriving May 31. She was on the San Francisco-Panama run through May 1863. In "To California by Sea," James P. Delgado writes: In August 1854, Yankee Blade ran out of coal off Coiba Island near Panama. The Pacific Mail steamer Sonora passed but did not stop in response to Yankee Blade's guns and distress rockets. Some of Sonora's passengers reported the steamer's plight on arriving at Panama." Yankee Blade made it to Panama before a rescue ship could be sent to rescue her. The Sonora was dismantled and broken up on the beach at Sausalito, across the Bay from San Francisco, in 1868.


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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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