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THE PIONEER STEAMER

CALIFORNIA

 

 

 

 

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COASTWISE TRIPS TO

THE CALIFORNIA, 1849-52

 

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WITH her return to Panama May 23, 1849, the California sailed regularly between that city and San Francisco for more than a year and then made other coastwise trips. From such data as are available we can list definitely thirteen trips from San Francisco and fourteen return trips, which bring the history of the steamer to January 16, 1852. Beginning with October 1, 1850, the dates show that the trips were made to a port or ports nearer than Panama.

 

 

LIST OF OUTGOING AND RETURN TRIPS

(February 1, 1849 to January 16, 1852)

 

Number

Left Panama

Arrived San Francisco

Number

Left San Francisco

Arrived Panama

1

Feb. 1, 1849

Feb. 28, 1849

1

May 1, 1849

May 23, 1849

2

June 25, 1849

¹July 16, 1849

2

Aug, 2, 1849

Aug. 24, 1849

3

Sept. 17, 1849

Oct. 9, 1849

3

Nov. 2, 1849

Nov. 22, 1849

4

Dec. 6, 1849

Dec. 28, 1849

4

Jan. 15, 1850

Feb. 4, 1850

5

Mar. 2, 1850

Mar. 26, 1850

5

Apr. 1, 1850

Apr. 23, 1850

 

­­

6

June 1, 1850

June 23, 1850

 6

July 1, 1850

7

 

Aug. 23,1850

7

Oct. 1, 1850

8

 

Oct. 7, 1850

8

(Date missing)

9

 

Nov. 21, 1850

9

Dec. 15, 1850

10

 

Feb. 14, 1851

10

Mar. 5, 1851

11

 

Apr. 23, 1851

11

June 14, 1851

12

 

Aug. 3, 1851

12

Aug. 15, 1851

13

 

Oct. 5, 1851

13

Oct. 15, 1851

14

 

Dec. 2, 1851

14

Jan. 16, 1852

 

 

¹The list compiled by E. A. King, San Francisco, 1851, has; July 15, 1849, and December 29, 1849.

 

 

 

 

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THE ARRIVAL AT SAN FRANCISCO

AS NOTED IN THE EASTERN NEWSPAPERS

 

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THE reader who has followed the voyage of the California until she had anchored in the harbor of San Francisco will be interested to know how soon the news of this historical event was reported in the East.

 

Unless the writer has overlooked some news items in his researches, the earliest mention of the arrival of the steamer at San Francisco appeared in the New York Herald of April 30, 1849:

 

 

INTERESTING INTELLIGENCE FROM CALIFORNIA FROM

OUR CORRESPONDENT

 

 

Vera Cruz, Mexico, April 14, 1849.

I have also seen a letter to a merchant in this place which contains still later news from San Francisco down to the 28th of February. It states that the first steamer of Howland & Aspinwall's line had arrived at San Francisco and immediately all hands had left the vessel for the mines. Great apprehensions were entertained that the steamer would not be able to go to sea for want of men to work her.

 

The same paper, quoting from private correspondent dated March 17, 1849, carries the following paragraph:

 

The steamer California is still here, having no one on board save the Captain and mate. Commodore Jones says that it is useless to put marines on board as they would desert with the crew of the steamer.

 

The departure of the California is reported in the New York Herald of June 19, 1849:

 

The California, through the untiring efforts of Captain Forbes, succeeded in leaving San Francisco on May 1st. From the 20th of March up to the day of sailing Capt. Forbes was constantly engaged in endeavoring to procure a crew. In order to obtain men he was obliged to pay whatever wages were demanded. This course the company has decided to pursue in all cases where it is found necessary, as it is determined to keep the steamer running.

 

With the above news item the Eastern press seems to have lost interest in the further career of the pioneer steamer. This is not strange because during the following years a steady stream of new steamers supplied regular transportation between New York, Panama, and San Francisco.

 

 

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ADVENTURES OF

THE CALIFORNIA AFTER 1852

 

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THE San Francisco Alta of April 28, 1852, reports the arrival of the California at San Francisco, and in its next issue announces that the steamer had met with an accident off the island of Santa Cruz.

 

Next, the San Francisco Herald of February 1, 1854, carries a notice of the arrival of the steamer at San Francisco from Panama. A year later the San Francisco Alta of December 17, 1855, under the head of 'Steamship Disaster,' informs its readers that the California had entered the port of San Francisco in a disabled condition.

 

Through a change of ownership the California, which by that time showed signs of deterioration from constant service, was detailed to sail between various Mexican harbors. This change was caused by the incorporation of the Mexican Coast Steamship Company in May, 1860, by Holladay and Flint. Though this concern suspended in September of the same year, it was revived in November and continued to operate, at first under a liberal contract with the Juarez Government, which contract was confirmed by Emperor Maximilian in 1865.¹

 

According to the San Francisco Bulletin of February 28, 1865, we find the California lying at Acapulco, 'whither she had been taken to run between the Mexican ports.'

 

Allan McLane, who in 1867 had been reelected president of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, in the following year issued an exhaustive report on the activities and financial condition of the company. In regard to the ships owned and operated by the Pacific Company, McLane states that while the company owned eleven steamships in 1861 and was constructing the Constitution, in 1868 there remained in active service only one steamer and one tugboat. Among the deteriorated vessels he mentions the California, which was 'soon to be broken up.'

 

¹San Francisco Bulletin, March 20, 1865.

 

In line with the above we read in the San Francisco Alta of June 11, 1868, an advertisement, offering the California for sale. Again we hear that early in 1870 the steamer was rebuilt and launched.¹ While bound for Sitka the California experienced another disaster (reported in the Sacramento Union of June 21, 1872), which, however, must have been but a slight accident, as the San Francisco Alta, the next month, carried the following news:

 

It is reported that the California will be repaired and ready for sea service inside of three weeks.

 

B. C. Wright, author of the book 'San Francisco Ocean Trade,' writes that

 

In September, 1872, the Pacific Mail S. S. Co. bought all the Holladay steamers and interests south of San Francisco and operated that service until 1874 and then sold out to Goodall, Nelson and their associates.

 

This firm was then known as the Goodall, Nelson and Perkins Steamship Company, and operated a large fleet of steamers, among others the Salinas, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Mahongo, Orizaba, and California.

 

The California mentioned in the above list was the first steamer sent to the Pacific Coast by the Pacific Mail S. S. Co.²

 

The same author informs us that the California made her last trip as a steamer from San Diego, arriving at San Francisco November 17, 1875. Soon thereafter her machinery was removed and the hulk sold to N. Bichard. She was then backrigged and was for many years engaged in the coal and lumber trade.

 

The next year the Olympic Transcript, in dealing with the first three steamers sent by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to San Francisco, the California, Oregon and Panama, says: '

 

All three have disappeared from the passenger trade, but are still in service.

 

¹San Francisco Alta, February 20, 1870.

²B. C. Wright, San Francisco Ocean Trade.

 

The Oregon is a barkentine, engaged in the Puget Sound lumber trade, the Panama is a storeship at Acapulco, and the California is a barkentine in the Australian trade.

 

The final notice concerning the pioneer steamer is taken from the San Francisco Alta, January 17, 1895:

 

A dispatch has been received in this city reporting the total wreck of the bark California on the rocks near Pacasmayo, Peru. The California is the first vessel that came around the Horn with a delegation of miners, who had decided to cast their fortune in the new Eldorado.

 

About 1877 the California was converted into a sailing vessel and placed under command of Capt. Davis who remained on her for several years.

 

She left Port Dadlock some weeks ago for Peru with a cargo of lumber. The cargo was valued at about $3000 and the vessel at $5000. All the crew of the vessel was saved.

 

In this manner the California perished and sank to the bottom of the sea – the silent graveyard of thousands of once famous vessels. Among the multitude who cheered the pioneer steamer as she steamed out of the harbor of New York, not a soul would have predicted her destruction off the rocky coast of Peru, after an eventful career of forty-seven years! Today not a timber of the proud ship remains, and all records relating to her active service have been lost, but her memory cannot and will not be effaced by time! To the California aptly apply the words of the immortal Latin poet:

 

Exegi monumentum aere perennius

Non omnis moriar, multaque pars mei

Vitabit Libitinam.

 

If, in the years to come, the grateful State of California rears in the Capitol grounds of Sacramento a proud monument to the memory of the pioneer steamer, let there be placed below the shaft bearing the replica of the California a simple tablet reading:

 

 

 

I have erected a monument more enduring than brass,

And more sublime than the regal height of pyramids,

Which neither destructive showers nor the blasting storms of the North

Nor innumerable succession of years and the flight of seasons

Shall be able to demolish.

I shall continually be renewed in the praises of posterity

As long as the priest ascends the Capitol together with the vestal virgin.

 

 

 

Let a grateful posterity forever recall the daring and courage of the men who sailed on the California to the distant shores of the Pacific, sustained by that spirit of adventure and never-flagging energy in adversity which was destined to create out of an apparent chaotic wilderness the fair State of California---a matchless pearl in the queenly diadem of our United States.

 

 

 

Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.


© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

 

 

 

 

 

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