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Maritime History, Ships, and Shipwrecks

Written by: John Maguire

Maritime History, Shipwrecks and Maritime Archeology:

Famous West Coast Shipwrecks:


The Annie E. Smale was a four masted schooner owned by Swayne & Hoyt. The Annie E. Smale was valued at $40,000 and carried only gear insurance. The vessel sailed from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, bound for San Francisco.

The cargo was 1408 tons of coal, which had been consigned to the Canadian Bank of Commerce. There were two passengers on board, the captain's wife and her little nephew, E. C. Gardiner. The officers and crew of the Annie E. Smale included her master, J. E. Anderson, and her first mate, H. Kroger. C. W. Erickson was her second mate, J. Goki the cook, and R. Van Gordon the steward. E. Cerb, J. Wanner, A. Ltensa, C. Heinz, P. Utillik and W. Richards were her seamen.

The Annie E. Smale had been 100 days out at sea when on Saturday, July 9, 1910, at 2:00 a.m., the vessel grounded on the rocks off Point Reyes. The voyage had apparently been "a very pleasant one," during the entire crossing from Australia. On nearing land, the winds had become comparatively light and a dense fog began to develop. Captain Anderson expressed "little nervousness as the fog began to close in." The foghorn marking Point Reyes was reported to have been heard only a short time after the captain realized that the vessel was near shore. Without sufficient power to maneuver, as there was no wind at the time, the captain gave orders to let go the anchors in an attempt to hold the ship from grounding. However, the anchors did not hold and the vessel drifted onto the rocks. The Annie E. Smale struck amidship. The severe force of the impact strained the vessel, which was almost broken in two. Aware of the peril, the captain immediately ordered the life boats lowered.

By 2:30 a.m., the passengers and crew had safely launched the lifeboats and left the vessel. Apparently, the second mate had "thought he could better save himself by climbing over the rocks and elected to stay aboard."(This would seem to indicate that the vessel was fairly close to shore.)

A momentary break in the fog enabled the Point Reyes lookout to see the wreck. The lookout immediately altered the regular blasts of the foghorn to a staccato call for help. At the same time, the lookout telephoned the Life Saving Station at Point Reyes for assistance. The Life Saving Station was some five miles away.

Captain S. H. Burtis of the steamer M. F. Plant heard the Point Reyes foghorn's call for help shortly after 5:00 a.m. Captain Burtis Òstood by to render assistance" The M. F. Plant was sailing from Coos Bay to San Francisco with freight and passengers. Shortly before 6:00 a.m. the fog had lifted enough for Captain Burtis to see the wreck and the life boats with the survivors "close aboard inshore." The second officer of the M. F. Plant, Harry Thumm, took charge of a rescue boat which succeeded in transferring the occupants of the lifeboats to safety on board the M. F. Plant. After this task was accomplished, the rescue boat went to the wreck and brought off second mate Erickson. He was still on the poop-deck of the ship, which was rapidly breaking-up at that point, having been unable to reach the rocks and safety. By 6:30 a.m. all members of the disabled vessel had been picked up and were on their way to the Port of San Francisco. By nightfall, the Annie E. Smale was reported to be sinking. The owners of the vessel concluded that the ship and all of its cargo were a total loss.


At 8:24 on the morning of February 5, 1856,nine miles above Sacramento, the steamer Belle's boiler burst.

Earlier that morning, the Belle, Captained by Charles H. Houston, had been waiting for twenty-two minutes in a heavy fog at Sacramento landing. She had on board fifty to sixty men, passengers and crew included, and a cargo of "treasure" and dry goods belonging to Wines and Co. and Pacific Co. Expresses. At 7:22 a.m., Captain Houston told W.J. Eirick, first engineer of the Belle, that he was ready to depart.

Eirick went into the engine room and ordered the fireman, William Green, to fire up, but not to hurry as there was good, dry wood and they were in no particular hurry. He then rang the ready bell. The Belle backed out of the Sacramento landing with sixty pounds of steam.

Eirick then went into the engine room and told the second engineer to carry eighty pounds of steam and no more as it was still foggy and that it was best for the Belle to run slowly. After breakfast, Eirick checked the steam gauge and found there was 86 pounds of steam. He immediately stepped out on the guard to key up a crank pin and was in the act of doing this when the explosion occurred. The time was 8:24 a.m. The Belle, except for about 40 feet of the after portion of the vessel, began sinking immediately.

The Belle's back had been broken by the explosion, her forward part was wholly immersed and not a plank of her main deck was left. Her wheel lay in the water by her side; her pilot house blown to bits left no recognizable remnant. The floor of the main saloon and hurricane deck were both torn in the center, fore and aft, and had collapsed. The main saloon was in "horrid confusion." No berths were standing. Dirty blood-clotted furniture, goods, and wearing apparel was scattered about. There were snapped timbers, broken lamps, curled and twisted iron bars, and human brains "dashed together in strange confusion."

Surviving eyewitnesses recounted that:

Immediately before the explosion a Mr. Mix of Shasta was standing in the main saloon talking with a friend. As he was about to leave, a piece of iron propelled by the explosion struck his friend on the head and dashed his brains all over Mr. Mix's coat..

A passenger named Mr. Alphin says that when the explosion took place, there was a man sitting with a leg on either side of the stove. The stove was forced through the hurricane deck but the man was uninjured.

A Mr. Powell of Colusa had just gotten up from the breakfast table and gone aft to hunt for a seat where he might find some peace, when the explosion forced him through the lattice door of the washroom.

The bartender of the Belle was standing in the vicinity of a number of persons at the time of the explosion. An iron missile cut off a portion of the rim of the hat which he was wearing. The leg of one of his boots was torn from the top to the bottom. Most of the people who were near him were killed.

The steward, Mr. Hyland, was walking through the main cabin aft and his hat, which was on his head, was cut in two. His body was not even touched.

An unidentified survivor states that only a moment before the explosion, one of the waiters politely asked him to leave his seat in the cabin so that he could clean up. He did so and "had got back but a little ways toward the wheel" when the ship exploded.

Dr. Reddick, who owned a ranch on the Yolo side of the Sacramento River, heard the explosion which he reported as sounding "not louder than a small piece of ordnance." He ran to the bank where he saw the Belle sinking, with passengers struggling for their lives as they clung to the floating spars and other portions of the wreck. Dr. Reddick put his boat in the water and hurried to save them. He was the first person at the wreck site.

Two men hung onto the forward portion of the drift and called out to Dr. Reddick for assistance as he approached. Before he could reach them, their strength gave out and they drowned. Dr. Reddick was able to rescue a few of the men he perceived to be in the most immediate danger. By 10:00 a.m. the wreck site was swarming with onlookers who sought information about friends and family who had left Sacramento aboard the Belle.

The steamer General Reddington, owned by the wood dealers Messrs. Hoag and Co., arrived at the wreck site about 12:00 noon with the Captain of Police, expressmen, reporters, the press and friends. The General Reddington towed the hulk of the Belle to shore where she was made fast to the bank, 1/2 mile below Big Mound. She then returned to Sacramento carrying some of the Belle's dead and wounded. At 1:00 that afternoon, the steamer Gem, which had on board drag hooks and other apparatus for searching the river, arrived on the scene. By then barrels, boxes, splinters, and other fragments of the wreck could be seen floating in the river.

Nothing was left of the Belle but the sides of the upper works and they were hanging bent and torn in every direction. The sides of the hull, from the engine forward, were blown clear out of her. However, all of the cargo belonging to Wines and Co. and Pacific Co. was salvaged and brought to Sacramento on the Gem.

That afternoon, three or four small boats searched the river for bodies, but few were found. There were even fewer survivors. A partial list of her dead would include Captain Houston, mate Ell Sheats, deck hand John White, engineer John Cunningham, and pilot William Shalleros. The explosion aboard the Belle mystified those who sought to understand its cause. There was an inquest held, as to the cause of the Captain's death, but the evidence did not provide an explanation for the explosion. Samuel W. Green, Inspector of Steamboat Boilers and an engineer of seventeen years, testified that he had examined the engine and boiler of the steamer Belle just a short time before the explosion and had found it in good working order. He hypothesized that the explosion was caused by a defect of the iron.

Belle's Captain was a sober and careful man. The coroner's inquest recorded that he "came to his death on February 5, 1856, from injuries received from the explosion of the boiler of the steam boat Belle and from drowning about nine miles above Sacramento.

Leonidas Taylor, who also died as a consequence of the Belle's explosion, was commemorated by a marble monument with the following inscription:

Erected to the memory of Leonidas Taylor, born in the City of Philadelphia on the 3rd of July, 1832. He grew to manhood in the City of Saint Louis and was killed by explosion of the steamer Belle opposite this spot on the 5th of February, 1856. His body was never found. Far distant from those who loved him, the waters of the Sacramento will roll over him till that day when the sea shall give up its dead.


At approximately 7:00 o'clock Sunday morning, November 19, 1837, the 298 ton American whaleship Commodore Rogers, Captain Henry S. Howland, grounded at Monterey during a heavy gale..

The Commodore Rogers, which was owned by T. & A. Nye of New Bedford, left New Bedford on a whaling expedition June 1, 1836 and arrived at Monterey on Wednesday November 2, 1837, with 900 barrels of oil. On November 8, while the Captain was on shore, a tremendous off-shore squall struck the ship causing her to drag her anchors out into deep water. Her crew let her anchors slip and ran the vessel out under a reefed foresail. The French frigate Venus, responding to signals of distress hoisted by the crippled vessel, helped the Commodore Rogers get underway.

Five days later, on November 13, 1837, she returned to port at Monterey where she was supplied with an anchor. Sometime during the next five days she attempted to leave the port but was unsuccessful.

At dawn on the morning of Saturday November 18, 1837, the Commodore Rogers was standing out of the Bay with a fine breeze from the north and east. Between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., the wind shifted to the northwest and the vessel's progress out of the bay was slowed considerably. By 2:00 in the afternoon she was off the point in a heavy swell. There was a light wind which had "every appearance of dying away calm. Half an hour later, her head put round as if standing in", and she seemed to have lost the ground she had gained earlier. At about 3:20 the Commodore Rogers "came to right" ahead of the Toward Castle. At 10:00 p.m. that evening, the wind, picked up and was blowing strong in squalls from the northwest.

By daylight of Sunday November 19, 1837, the Commodore Rogers had lost her mizzen mast. By 7:00 a.m. her fore topsail was loosed and she was quickly run onto the beach, head foremost. She immediately swung round, broadside to the sea. Both of her remaining masts then went over the side and she began to roll.

The Captain deliberately grounded her on the beach in order to save her cargo. Had he attempted to keep her sailing, it is likely that she would have been forced onto the shore at the bottom of the bay where the surf broke with tremendous force and where there would have been little hope of saving her or any part other cargo.

After the Commodore Rogers struck, a group of soldiers arrived on the beach opposite her to guard the wreck. At 11:00 a.m., Faxon Dean Atherton boarded her and found her rudder broken away from the pintles and tearing away from her stern. He also observed that "as she junped and pitched, her deck appeared to move in an undulating manner fore and aft as if in an earthquake."

A week later, on Sunday, November 26, 1837, the hull, spars, rails, rigging, and cargo of 900 barrels of oil were sold at a public auction. The three and a half gallon barrels of oil were sold for $10.00 each to Captain Emmett of the ship Toward Castle. The hull of the ship, which contained about 100 barrels of provisions, was sold for $66.00. Stores of bread sold for approximately $10.00, 600 barrels of shooks (barrel staves) and ten tons of hoops sold for $283. Masts, spars, rigging etc. were sold for $15,000 total on "approved bills." Most of the wreck was purchased by John Coffin Jones, Jr.


The Electra was described as a "lumber schooner" that was reportedly owned in San Francisco and "lightly insured." She was lost while unloading lumber at Cambria in San Luis Obispo County.

Her cargo of lumber was to be delivered to the firm of March and Co. at this small port. According to newspaper accounts, which consisted of information gathered from local residents, the Electra had come down from Puget Sound more than a week before the accident, carrying 150,000 board feet of lumber. She was discharging her load at a small chute located at Leffingwell's landing and Captain C. Wilson and his crew had almost completed their work when the accident occurred.

The Cambria area had reportedly been free of fog until Monday evening, October 15, 1894, when a thick fog rolled in, reducing visibility to one hundred yards. The sea remained calm and the Electra lay quietly at anchor, until about midnight, when the swells of "one of the heaviest seas ever known at Cambria" began to move into the little port.

The vessel was secure until 12:30 a.m., when a huge swell struck her. By 1:30 the lines to the main anchor had pulled away and the tide began to push the vessel rapidly towards the shore. The crew attempted to throw lines out, but due to the fog and waves, it soon became evident that the vessel could not be secured, and the crew decided to seek safety. To their dismay, their small life boat had been washed away. Soon the schooner's keel was thumping against the rocks about 300 yards from her mooring place. The vessel scraped further along the rocks, and finally came to rest on some "usually-exposed" flat rocks.

The Captain and those crew members on board made it safely off the ship before daylight, and took shelter in the March Bros. Warehouse.

The next morning, October 16, 1894, at daylight, Captain Wilson and his crew returned and found the ship resting firmly on the rocks and "broken badly through the center." They waited for low tide and then unloaded the remaining twenty-five thousand board feet of lumber. The vessel was also stripped of everything but her rigging. The Electra remained firmly rixed in her position and it was predicted that she would be broken up an salvaged by junk dealers. She was reportedly valued at $500,000.


At 10:00 o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, January 1, 1856, the barque Isabelita Hyne, Captained by Calhoun, ran ashore thirty-five miles south of the heads in the bay of Maria Montez.1 The Chronicle reported that she was completely destroyed by the breakers and had entirely disappeared from the shore two weeks later.2 Yet according to the Alta, the hull, sails, rigging, anchor, chains, and materials of the Isabelita Hyne were sold for forty dollars on January 15, 1856 by T.L. Poulfere & Co. auctioneers; John C. Boyt, agent and underwriters; and McCondray & Co., consignors.

The cause of the wreck of the Isabelita Hyne was never determined, but there was some suspicion that the loss of the vessel was not accidental. Shortly after she grounded, a reporter for the Chronicle received a tip that there had been a mutiny aboard the barque. An "intelligent seafaring man, who had communication with persons from the wreck" disclosed to the Chronicle reporter that the crew had intentionally wrecked the Isabelita Hyne to conceal evidence of a mutiny. Although this "mutiny theory" has never been proven, it does explain some of the peculiarities of the wreck.

For example, it explains the mysterious disappearance of the barque's cargo consisting of tea, sugar and rice. It was thought to have been salvaged, at least in part, by Half-Moon Bay residents. However, the only resident in that vicinity was a Mr. James Desington, who lived opposite the shore where the Isabelita Hyne grounded. He owned four miles along the coast and he claimed that the vessel was not pillaged. He reports that, "on the contrary" he "placed his entire force of men and Indians together with his animals at the disposal of those who were endeavoring to offer relief to the persons and property of the disabled vessel." The disappearance of the cargo might indeed support the mutiny theory as it seems quite plausible that the mutineers could have elected to "salvage" the cargo themselves.

A mutiny aboard the Isabelita Hyne might also explain why Captain Calhoun's body was seen "lashed to some of the rigging with his head cut off" and why, several days later, only a "portion" of his body washed ashore. The only other crew member recovered from the wreck was the mate, Beatty, whose body washed ashore the same day as that of Captain Calhoun. Captain Calhoun had been ill for over half the Isabelita Hyne's long passage of 70 days from Hong Kong to San Francisco. (It seems unlikely that decapitation would have been part of his recovery or cure.) Additionally, during the entire voyage it appears he made only two log entries.

Another peculiar detail of the wreck was the disappearance of the ship's crew and their clothing, as well as the vessel's charts, papers, and compasses. Only the logbook was found when she was boarded shortly after her demise.

The Isabelita Hyne belonged to Nye Brothers and Company of China. She was built for the Rio trade at Philadelphia in 1848 by J. K. Hammils, Esquire. She was a clipper model of 331 tons, copper fastened throughout and "a very fast sailor, besides being very staunch." She made two voyages from New York to San Francisco. The first was a 125 day journey with Captain Samuel F. Dewing; May 18, 1851 to June 13, 1851. The second journey was made in 124 days with Captain Lamson; September 8, 1852 to January 10, 1853. It is also estimated that the Isabelita Hyne ran more China trade from 1853 through 1856 than any other vessel of her tonnage. Her loss was estimated to be $120,000.00, cargo included. According to Martin E. Wallace, she was the first recorded wreck in Half-Moon Bay.


The La Paz, a ship of Chilean registry, was wrecked in dramatic sea disaster in Mendocino harbor which resulted in the loss of a total of three vessels. The La Paz, a graceful windjammer, was reputed to be the largest sailing vessel to have entered Mendocino Bay up to that time.

On what was apparently a deceptively calm morning, the La Paz, bound for Valparaiso, was lying in port along with the brig Kingsbury and the brig North Bend. All three were accepting cargo. The La Paz was loading a "mixed cargo", which included lumber, and was lying east of the loading zone in order to intercept some stripped logs at the mouth of the Mendocino River. These were intended for use as spars and were being floated down the river.

The Kingsbury and North Bend had entered the loading zone, while the acting captain of the La Paz, Eugene Tablot, lowered one of the ship's boats and went to meet the spars. Enroute to intercept the logs, the ship's boat was struck by what was described as "the heaviest [west] swell...that has been experienced on this coast for many years." The wave literally crashed into the steep-walled harbor. The ship's boat, broadside to the wave, capsized, drowning Captain Talbot and at least one other man.

Waves, increasing in size and force, continued to invade the harbor. Both the North Bend and the Kingsbury set their storm anchors. At two o'clock that afternoon the four men aboard the North Bend, all crew, elected to seek solid ground because the brig was leaking badly. They lowered a small boat and rowed to the south loading chute, clambering up it just in time to escape a huge wave which demolished the chute. The crew of the Kingsbury chose to remain on board their brig to ride out the storm.

The first mate of the La Paz had ordered her anchors dropped at the onset of the storm, hoping to prevent the vessel from going ashore. But she began to drag her anchors during the afternoon and slowly advanced towards the bar at the mouth of the river. At some point the four year old son of Captain Chazelles, who with his widow remained aboard the La Paz, was lowered into a small boat in a desperate attempt to get him safely ashore. The boat overturned and the boy drowned. The La Paz was finally pushed onto the bar and those remaining on board--including the owner of the ship, the wives of Chazelles and Tablot and TablotÕs infant daughter--climbed into the rigging to try and escape the waves sweeping the deck. Meanwhile, in spite of the many attempts to get a line to the ship, the two women and the mate were knocked overboard by a swinging boom and drowned.

The Kingsbury had held her anchor all afternoon but by 4:30 p.m. she too went on the bar, close alongside the La Paz. An attempt had been made to maneuver her into the river, but it was unsuccessful. After rolling on the bar for some time, the Kingsbury sheered close enough to the cliffs for those on board to get on shore. Five minutes later she grounded on the rocks. At about 6 p.m. the North Bend also struck the rocks and was wrecked.

Somewhere between fourteen and seventeen people, depending upon which account of the tragedy is consulted, remained on board the La Paz at nightfall. By 3:00 a.m. the vessel had washed up to the bluff with the flood tide and ropes were finally lowered. The survivors, including the child of the mate, were brought up. The La Paz soon after "went to pieces."

At least five people were lost in the disaster of the La Paz. Only one body--that of the Captain's wife--was recovered. The victims were cared for under the supervision of J.B. Ford, agent for Godeffroy, Sillem and Co. in the town of Mendocino. The child, according to one source, was cared for by a Mrs. Ford, then by a Mrs. Hill. A tragedy of great proportion, the La Paz-Kingsbury-North Bend incident has been called "MendocinoÕs greatest maritime disaster."


The Los Angeles was originally the Wyanda, built in 1866 in Baltimore as a government revenue cutter. The government sold the ship in 1873, and the San Francisco company, Goodall, Perkins bought it for coastal passenger traffic. The Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which acquired Goodall, Perkins, owned the Los Angeles at the time of the wreck. The ship, captained by H.D. Leland, had been rebuilt as a screw steamer in 1874 at a cost of $100,000. The Los Angeles was 287 tons net, 493 gross. Its length was 107 feet, with a beam of 27.5 feet and a depth of hold of 11.2 feet. The Alta reported that the hull was in good shape. The Los Angeles was valued at $60,000 at the time of the wreck, and was uninsured.

The Los Angeles was on its way north from San Pedro to San Francisco, carrying 49 passengers, 36 crew, and a cargo of wool and produce such as butter, oranges, grain, beans, and cheese. The vessel had a smooth voyage north and was running ahead of schedule. It left San Simeon at 2:50 p.m. on April 21, 1894; the weather was slightly hazy, the seas calm, and the winds light. The Captain set the course for Point Sur and, in the early evening when they were 5 miles southeast of Point Sur, he went below for a nap. He instructed the Third Officer to call him when the ship was off Cooper's Point, just south of Point Sur, where they needed to change course.

Around 8:30 p.m., at which time they were about 40 miles south of Monterey, the Captain and other passengers felt a bump and they rushed to the deck. A course change was ordered, but it was too late. The ship struck a sunken rock adjacent to Morro Rock, in full view of the lighthouse keeper at Point Sur. The vessel, stuck fast to the rocks, lay with her bow pointing northwest from the lighthouse, its starboard bow and quarter bearing heaviest on the rocks. The rocks continued to hold her for about 45 minutes as she filled with water, until a huge wave lifted her hull, completely filling it and she slipped into the sea.

Four lifeboats and a raft were launched as soon as she struck and most of the passengers and some crew escaped. Those left onboard, about 12 men, took to the rigging, which remained above water.

The steamship Eureka, in the area and running southbound, was alerted to the disaster by signals from the lighthouse. A lifeboat from the Los Angeles was spotted by the Eureka and those aboard were rescued. Two other lifeboats headed directly for shore. The men left in the rigging called to those in the lifeboats to save them, but apparently they were unable to return. Two hours after reaching shore, during which time several men had fallen from the rigging in exhaustion and drowned, Captain Maginnis of the wrecker Whitelaw, at the time a passenger on the Los Angeles, steered a lifeboat from shore to save them. A nameless Chinese man who drowned was said to have had $400 in gold coin in his trunk.

The Third Officer was charged with criminal neglect and carelessness and was held responsible for the wreck because he had failed to call Captain Leland when they reached Cooper's Point. At the time of the wreck, the vessel was 4.5 miles north of Cooper"s Point. The officer claimed that he missed seeing Cooper"s Point, although he was familiar with the route. He maintained that he had followed the course the Captain had laid, but contemporary reports indicate that he had set the new course and the ship was, in fact, a mile off the regular course at the time of the wreck.

The San Francisco Call reported that the Los Angeles "was a complete wreck, its bottom torn out." However, Captain Maginnis was quoted as saying that he believed that as long as the ship was not pinioned, it could be salvaged.


The Mexican company Compania Cosmopolitana, under the direction of Jose Maria Padres and Jose Maria Hijar, bought the brig Natalia in Acapulco on June 21, 1834, for $14,000, (payable in 7200 arrobas of California tallow). Padres and Hijar planned to settle a colony of immigrants from Mexico on the California frontier, in the Santa Rosa valley, and export the California products the settlers would eventually produce. They hoped to make a profit monopolizing the growing California trade.

The Natalia set sail from San Blas, Mexico for Monterey, California on August 1, 1834, under the command of Captain Juan Gomez. In Monterey harbor on the afternoon of December 21, 1834, a storm struck, and the ship's anchor chains parted. A customs boat sent to help the Natalia capsized in the surf. The Natalia's crew hoisted the spritsail, in an attempt to control the ship, but it did not help matters. The brig drifted toward the mouth of the Salinas River, but before reaching it, was driven ashore about two miles above the town. Efforts were made to turn the bow to shore, but this too failed and the Natalia beached broadside. By midnight, the ship had split in two and the cook and two sailors were killed in the process.

A guard was posted to watch for and recover what might be washed up on the shore, but locals looted most of what surfaced. A Spanish merchant, Jose Abrego, salvaged the ship's hardwood timbers and used them in the construction of his house. The currents shifted the remains of the wreck westward along the beach until it finally came to a permanent rest near the pier.

During the ensuing ninety years, on two separate occasions, parts of the ship could be seen from shore. On September, 1924, Henry Lippert, a local resident, took advantage of a very low tide and salvaged some timbers, knees and ribs. Ernest Doelter and Sons also retrieved fragments from the ship, such as brass and copper bolts.

Bancroft noted that the Natalia was often confused with the ship Inconstant which carried Napoleon from Elba.