San Francisco's Ocean Trade
PAST AND FUTURE
A Story of the Deep Water Service of San Francisco,
1848 to 1911.
Effect the Panama Canal will have upon it.
BY BENJ. C. WRIGHT
Author "Banking in California 1849-1910."
A. CARLISLE & CO.
Copyrighted in 1911. By Benj. C. Wright.
An appreciative testimonial 5
Golden Gate opened to commerce 6
First passenger ship — Soldiers arrive 6
First big fleet 7
First steamer in the Pacific 8
Pacific Coast needs recognized 8
Big steamship contract 10
Tribute to the enterprise 11
Pioneer Pacific fleet 12
A new link in the service 13
Last loop of memorable trip 15
An enthusiastic welcome 15
First voyage ended 16
Some cases of gold fever 17
On California soil at last 20
Commodities and values 20
Large buyers of cargoes 21
The California's passengers 21
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Schedule upset ,. 23
New commander 23
First church services 24
Second Pacific Mail steamer 25
Prominent passengers 25
Third Pacific Mail steamer 26
First year under mail contract 27
Fate of first three steamers 29
The other three steamers 29
Gold seekers on the run 30
Competition on Panama route 31
Second year in Panama trade 32
Ship of State launched 33
Isthmus service increased 34
Isthmus passengers for third year 36
Tonnage on the river 37
Events of fourth year 38
Loss of North America 38
More steamers arrive 39
Loss of Yankee Blade 41
Other changes in first decade 42
Slow steamer makes fast time 44
Panama railroad 44
Suspension of San Juan service 47
Numerous Isthmus lines 48
Lull in steamer movement 49
Retirements in second decade 50
Turn in Pacific Mail affairs 51
Larger steamers ordered 53
First iron steamer in Mail line 54
Losses in Pacific Mail service 57
Loss of the San Francisco 58
Loss of the Central America 59
Loss of the Golden Gate 59
Other disasters in the line 61
How vessels end existence 64
First steam line to China 65
Pioneer steamer in China line 67
Opposition in China service 70
British line for the trade 70
Perils in the trade 71
Essentially a California organization 73
Change in the management 73
The Big Four steamers 74
Local agents Pacific Mail 75
Japanese steam line 75
Steam service with British Columbia 76
First steam collier 80
Disaster on British Columbia route 83
Loss of Brother Jonathan 84
Loss of Valencia 87
Direct steam line to Mexico 87
Steam line to Hawaiian Islands 91
Steam line to Australia 97
Steam line to Society Islands 103
Steam line to South America 105
German steam line 107
Around the world line 109
American-Hawaiian line 110
Tramp steamer line 115
Dollar Steamship Company 119
California and Atlantic line 120
Pacific Coast steam lines 121
Steamers in sugar trade 128
Steamers in coal trade 131
Steamers in lumber trade 132
Steamers in wheat trade 133
Steamers in California oil trade 137
Steamers in general trade 141
Steamers in whale trade 142
Tonnage in codfisheries 146
Tonnage in the salmon fisheries 148
Prom forty-nine to eighty-six 149
The man on the quarter deck 153
Freight earnings inward 161
Freight earnings outward 161
High and low grain charters 162
Vessels for flour and grain 167
Time made by grain fleet 168
Ship's time in port 170
Ballast ships in and out 171
Sources of sail tonnage 173
Some valuable cargoes 173
Clipper ships' fast time 175
Arrivals announced 177
Steamer day 177
Merchants' Exchange 178
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce 179
Shipbuilding in California 181
The bay and water front 183
Solid rock docks 186
Ocean tonnage arrivals, 1848-1911 187
Panama Canal 187
Compensations of the Canal 189
Other ship canals 191
Panama-Pacific Exposition 194
Heavy demand for American ships 196
Prominent shippers, past and present 196
Future of American marine 198
United States Navy at Golden Gate 200
An American line with a record 200
Illustrations of the Service.
Scattered through the book will be found a number of
illustrations of steamers, all, with one exception, being now
in the deep water trade of the port.
The exception is the sidewheeler Golden City, 4,000 tons,
on the Panama route for account of the Pacific Mail Com-
pany from 1863 to 1870, when she was wrecked four days
out from this port.
The twin steel screw Siberia, 5,655 tons, under Captain
Zeeder, belonging to the same company, has been in the
Oriental trade since 1902.
The twin steel screw Governor, 2,400 tons, built in 1901,
is in the coast trade of the Pacific Coast Steamship Com-
The steel screw Isthmian, 3,643 tons, built at the Union
Iron Works in 1908, belongs to the American-Hawaiian
Company, and is in the direct trade with domestic Atlantic
The steel screw Wilhelmina, 4,400 tons, built in 1909, is
in the Honolulu sugar trade for account of the Matson
The iron screw Mariposa, 1,939 tons, owned by the
Oceanic Steamship Company, is performing a 36-day service
with the Society Islands.
The steel screw Tenyo Maru, 7,265 tons, built in Japan
in 1908, and owned by the Toyo Kisen Kaisha, is in the
Representative steamers in the oil export trade are the
steel screw Niagara, 4,400 tons, built in 1908, with a capa-
city of 3,000,000 gallons, is serving the Standard Oil Com-
pany. The new steel screw tank steamers, Oleum. 1.738
tons, and W. F. Herrin, 3,143 tons, are recent arrivals from
the East, the former serving the Union Oil Company, and the
latter the Associated Oil Company.
The Union Iron Works' large dock at Hunter's Point,
emptied of w^ater, with the United States cruiser Milwaukee
inside, shows how big vessels can be docked here.
The Merchants' Exchange is visited by hundreds of
people daily. It is a 14-story steel structure and the home
of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the name of a
corporation recently formed, in which has been merged the
Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco, the Merchants' Ex-
change, the Merchants' Association, and the Down Town
Association, thus making it the largest commercial organiza-
tion in San Francisco.
San Francisco's Ocean Trade
PAST AND FUTURE
An Appreciative Testimonial.
To the memory of the numerous throng gone before,
by whose thoughts, words and acts direct communication
by the all-water route between the Atlantic seaboard and
the Pacific seaboard was inaugurated, as well as to the
long line of their successors, who have since maintained
and further perfected the same service, and who are now
engaged in an effort to greatly shorten the route between
domestic Pacific and domestic Atlantic and European ports,
in the construction of a ship canal across the Isthmus of
Darien, the greatest enterprise of the kind ever exploited,
the accompanying story is most respectfully and most
The pioneers in this ocean service between the Atlantic
and the Pacific evidently did not fully realize the vast
importance of their undertaking, as have those who have
The Pacific West is under great obligations to the
Atlantic East for its rapid and successful development.
Seventy years ago there were no Pacific States or Terri-
tories. Since 1840, the number of States has been increased
from 26 to 46 and the population of the country from
17,000,000 to 92,000,000. The six Pacific States which were
not in existence in 1840 now report a population of
5.000,000, of which California is credited with 2,377,500.
In August, 1911, Congress conditionally conferred
Statehood upon Arizona and New Mexico, with a combined
population of 532,000.
6 San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future
Golden Gate Opened to Commerce.
While the first permanent white settlement in San Fran-
cisco dates from June 28, 1876, there was not much com-
merce on the waters of the bay for many years afterwards.
The Mission of San Francisco and the Mission of San
Jose had each a 30-ton schooner, which had been built at
Fort Ross by the Russians. After a time both became
leaky and were abandoned.
William A. Richardson, who had settled in Sausalito in
1822, moved to San Francisco in 1835. He offered to put
the schooners in good condition and carry the freight of
the Mission for the use of the vessels and their Indian
crews, which offer was accepted.
Mr. Richardson at once plunged into the shipping busi-
ness, with the whole of the southern portion of the bay
as a field of operations. As there was no Commerce Com-
mission in existence to fix rates, he charged $1.00 per bag
for transportation of tallow or 12i/^ cents apiece for hides
from any part of the bay to tidewater, where these articles
were put aboard ship for export. In 1835 and 1836 the
exports were about 20,000 hides and 1,000 tons tallow,
hardly enough for a single ship at present.
First Passenger Ship.
The Brooklyn was the first ship to enter this harbor
with any considerable number of passengers. This vessel
left New York February 5, 1846, bound for Oregon with
238 passengers, mostly Mormons, under the leadership of
Samuel Brannan, and put into this port on July 28, 1846,
just 20 days after the American flag had been hoisted by
Captain Montgomery of the U. S. sloop Portsmouth, on
the spot since known as Portsmouth Square.
In March, 1847, Colonel Stevenson's regiment arrived
San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future 7
from New York on the transports Thomas H. Perkins, Loo
Choo and Susan Drew.
The shipping in port at that time consisted of the above
four vessels, together with the ship Vandalia, a coast
schooner, a small steam launch and two rowboats.
The improvements comprised about two dozen buildings
of various sizes, used for all purposes. The streets were
four in number — Montgomery along the water front, with
Kearny to the west, intersected by Clay and Washington.
This four-square city of Yerba Buena of 1847 looks
iu.significant compared with the San Francisco of 1911,
with its miles of well-paved streets and its thousands of
substantial buildings, many of which are the equal of the
First Big Fleet.
The first record of marine arrivals of much importance
was for the twelve months immediately following the
entrance of the Thomas H. Perkins.
The official report for the year ending March 30, 1848,
showed 86 marine arrivals, including 4 naval vessels, 15
whalers, 8 small craft from the Hawaiian Islands and 58
from domestic Pacific Coast ports.
How many of these vessels came into port in the last
nine months of 1847. or how many came in during the first
three months of 1848, is not definitely known.
It is probable that the naval vessels and the whalers
were among the arrivals of 1847. It was customary at that
time for the Arctic whalers to rendezvous at the Hawaiian
Islands in the closing months of the calendar year to refit
for another cruise. Some of these called in here mainly
for fresh water supply, which was obtained at Sausalito.
J. W. Marshal made his discovery of gold in January.
1848, and the news of that discovery undoubtedl.y reached
points on the coast and the Hawaiian Islands soon after-
8 San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future
wards, so that many of the merchantmen may have arrived
in February and March, 1848.
First Steamers on the Pacific.
The first mercantile steamers to ply on the Pacific were
built in England, and arrived at Talcahuna in 1840, having
made the run from London in about 55 days. They were
known as the Chile and Peru, each registering about 700
tons. They were to run between South American ports
The first steamer to try the waters of the San Fran-
cisco bay was a small launch built by the Russians at Sitka
and brought to this port on the deck of a vessel.
This vessel made one trip to Sacramento, but on her
return was outdistanced by an ox team that left that city
after her departure.
This event so stunned the pride of the owners that they
took out her machinery and converted her into a sloop,
in which form she was more successful.
The frame of a small steamer intended for service at
San Francisco was fashioned on board the ship Edward
Everett which left Boston on January 10, 1849, for the
Pacific. This experiment was equally unsuccessful, but the
machinery proved useful in running the first quartz mill
put in operation in California.
Pacific Needs Recognized.
Pacific Coast affairs were not much in the public eye
in 1840, and there was little appreciation of this end of the
country at that time.
Within five years afterwards, however, it was realized
that some consideration ought to be given to this section.
At that time there were some white settlements scattered
up and down the coast, and they wanted some recognition
from the other side of the continent.
San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future 9
So in 1845 a petition was forwarded to the United States
Postal Department, requesting the establishment of a mail
service between New York and Oregon by way of Panama.
The enterprise contemplated a semi-monthly service
between New York and Panama and a monthly service
between the latter port and Oregon, to be performed by
steamers approved by the Government.
After some discussion, the claim of the petitioners was
considered reasonable, and proposals were solicited for the
Three responses followed, one for $300,000, one for
$199,000 and one for $151,000 per annum, and of course the
lowest one was accepted.
Bat neither of the lowest two bidders were able to carry
out the contract, and it was finally awarded to W. H. Aspin-
wall, who had been previously identified with business on
Mr. Aspinwall subsequently interested Gardiner How-
land and Henry Chauneey in the project, and the result
was the incorporation in New York on April 12, 1848, of
the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, with a capital of
The act of Congress authorizing the opening of this new
mail route was passed March 3, 1847. This act was subse-
quently amended to include San Francisco as a port of
call on the way to Portland, the subsidy being fixed at
$200,000 per annum.
The next step in this movement was a little more dif-
ficult than the previous ones had been.
These gentlemen had secured a contract for a service
for which they had no steamers, and there were no suitable
ones in existence that could be chartered for that purpose.
The contract was quite specific and strongly worded in the
interest of the Government that guaranteed the expenditure
for carrying the mails.
10 San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future
The steamers were to be built under Government
supervision, and with special regard to strength, so that
they might be used for war steamers in case of emergency.
To this end their construction allowed piercing for guns or
arrangements on deck for mounted guns.
Another provision exacted by the Government was that
the steamer should be placed in command of a captain se-
lected from the United States Navy. This was an addi-
tional guarantee that the steamers should be used for Gov-
ernment service in case of war.
Nearly all of the early commanders of the Pacific Mail
Company's steamers were selected from the United States
Navy; and many selections of that kind were made even
after the exaction was removed.
The promoters of the enterprise doubtless looked upon
these requirements of the Government as unnecessary bur-
dens, but in the end they proved to be of great value to
the new steamship company in the untried field it was to
cover. These commanders knew the ways of the ocean both
theoretically and practically as few in other professions did.
Big Steamship Contract.
Having carefully examined the terms of the contract
that had been awarded them, and having fully approved
and accepted the conditions imposed by the same, they at
once arranged to have three steamers built after the plans
of the War Department.
William H. Webb, a well known ship builder, was given
the order to construct the vessels, and he immediately pre-
pared his yard for the task. It was a hurry order and he
was given a fixed time in which to build and equip the
It is needless to say that Mr. Webb carried out his con-
tract to the letter. The vessels were to be built after the
San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future 11
same model, each to be of 1,000 tons burthen, with paddle
wheels for propulsion.
At that time most of the steamers in service on the
Atlantic were under 1,000 tons register, so that steamers
over 1,000 tons were something of a novelty. As each of
these steamers glided from the ways into the water it was
pronounced a beauty, staunch, well equipped and excellent
rating for speed and comfort.
Under the command of experienced naval officers, the
service was of the highest type, and the whole outfit was
a splendid contribution to the marine of the world.
Tribute to the Enterprise.
William H. Aspinwall, the founder of the Pacific Mail
Company, was naturally selected as the first president. At
the time he was a successful business man, just the kind of
a man to head an enterprise of this sort.
It is not remembered how long he held the office of
president, and it is ho reflection on the many other able
gentlemen who have succeeded him in that important office
to say that not one has given to the company's service a
The period of his incumbency was a trying one, as is
generally the case with the inauguration of great enter-
prises, but he showed himself equal to the occasion, and his
influence was felt on the affairs of the company long after
he had retired from the office of president.
The enterprise itself was a great undertaking. At that
time the possibilities of the Pacific Coast were not realized.
The presence of gold in California was unknown at the
inception of the enterprise. The subsidy was about the only
revenue in sight. There was little to hope in the way of
passenger or freight traffic. The undertaking was little less
than a leap in the dark. But faith in the unseen was
12 San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future
Pioneer Pacific Fleet.
Three steamers can hardly be termed a fleet, but as
subsequent events have proved, they are entitled to be con-
sidered the pioneers of a fleet that has made much history
for the coast.
These steamers were appropriately christened with the
names of California, Oregon and Panama. It is said that
Mr. Webb built only two of these, the first and last named,
and that it was Mr. Secor who built the Oregon. It is fur-
ther said that Mr. Webb completed his two before Mr. Secor
had finished the Oregon. The California registered 1,050
tons, the Panama 1,058 tons, and the Oregon 1,120 tons.
The California was the first to leave New York, and she
started promptly at noon October 5, 1848, for Panama via
the Straits of Magellan, under the command of Cleveland
Forbes, a brother of A. B. Forbes, so long and so well
known in this city.
A fellow officer of this pioneer commander of the pioneer
steamer in the mercantile service under the American flag,
said of Mr. Forbes : "He was as noble and gallant a seaman
as ever tread the quarter deck or held a quadrant to the
sun. ' '
Captain Forbes was taken ill on the voyage to Panama,
and though a proper subject for a physician's care, insisted
on looking after his vessel when he ought to have been
reclining in his stateroom.
The steamer made several stops before reaching Panama,
and was therefore much longer on the voyage than expected.
At Valparaiso Captain Forbes was so ill that a council
of phj^sicians was called, and it was their verdict that he
should be relieved from the responsibility of commanding
the ship. A capable commander was found at Valparaiso
in the person of John Marshall, then in charge of a ship in
port en route to China, and he took the California to Panama
San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future 13
and thence to San Francisco, Mr. Forbes remaining on board
as a passenger.
The California took no passengers from New York except
two or three privileged characters who were bound to South
America. The surgeon of the ship was Dr. A. B. Stout, who
subsequently became a resident of San Francisco.
The officers of the California little knew what a crowd
was at Panama waiting their arrival, for the gold fever
had not become violent at the time of departure from New
A New Link in the Service.
While the California was steaming for Panama via the
Straits of Magellan, arrangements were being made to send
a steamer to Aspinwall with the view of making a con-
nection in some way across the Isthmus to Panama, a dis-
tance of about 50 miles. How this was to be accomplished
did not seem to concern the promoters very much.
The steamer Falcon was selected for this service, and
she was advertised to leave New York for Aspinwall on
December 20, 1848. The stories of gold discoveries in Cali-
fornia had begun to receive some credence, and the Falcon
had no difficulty in getting her berths filled.
In fact, the rush for passage seemed to be anticipated,
for the time of departure was advanced from the 20th to
the 1st of December. It was decided to put to sea at noon
on the latter date, and within five minutes after the hour
had struck. Captain Miles T. Thompson gave the order to
cast off the lines, and she immediately proceeded out of the
river to the sea. Two hours later she passed the steamers
Oregon and Panama, the former on her trial trip and the
latter returning to port disabled.
Among the passengers on the Falcon were several
females, including the captain's wife, her maiden sister, and
the wife of the young Baptist missionary, Rev. 0. C.
14 San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future
Wheeler, then being sent out to the coast by the American
Baptist Home Mission Society.
A good story of Wheeler in this connection has been told.
He was fresh from college, and had been settled over a
growing church for about a year. The officers of the Home
Mission Society invited him to go to California. He told
them he would not give up his pastorate for the highest office
in the gift of the people. However, after much persuasion,
he was prevailed upon to go. The next thing was to secure
passage on the Falcon. This was on the 18th of November.
The parties were surprised when they found the date for
sailing had been changed to December 1st, and Wheeler
was asked if he could get ready for such a voyage on such
short notice. His reply was: "After all I have sacrificed
in accepting the offer, I will go even if the steamer should
sail to morrow."
Most of the Falcon's passengers were seasick just after
starting, but the weather on the third day out was pleasant.
This was Sunday, and in the afternoon religious services
were held. Only two of the four clergymen on board were
well enough to take part. The service was conducted by
Rev. Sylvester Woodbridge and the Rev. 0. C. Wheeler. On
the following Sunday, Wheeler preached from the words:
"I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy
The Falcon finally landed her passengers and then came
the most difficult part of the voyage — that of crossing the
Isthmus of Panama.
Boats or canoes were used on the Chagres river to Gor-
gona, or within eighteen miles of Panama, and the remainder
of the way was either made on foot or on the backs of mules.
Two of the lady passengers went across on mules, man
fashion, in a drenching rain, and were received with great
demonstrations at Panama.
San Francisco's Ocean Trade — Past and Future 15
Last Loop of Memorable Trip.
The Falcon's passengers had to wait twenty-tive days at
Panama for the arrival of the California. In the meantime
others had arrived at Panama from New Orleans and other
southern ports en route to California. This was due to the
fact that three days after the departure of the Falcon from
New York the discovery of gold in California was made
public by President Polk in his message to Congress.
The officers of the California found the accommodations
of the steamer overtaxed, but did the best they could and
pulled away from Panama as soon as possible.
The only event of any importance on the way up from
Panama arose from the fear that the coal would give out
before port was reached. This fear was partially realized,
for when off Monterey, in a dense fog, orders were given to
burn the lumber used in making temporary berths. How-