Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

E. W. Nichols

Arrest of an American Sea Captain --

Action of the American Consul.

We regret to hear of a little unpleasantness between the U.S. Consul here, Gen. Keenan, a gentleman very generally respected and in every way fit for his office, and our Chief Police Magistrate. His Worship, we are told, fined the master of the American ship Reindeer fifty dollars for assaulting one of his crew: the master sent his Consul to protest; that gentleman did so, complaining at the same time of the want of courtesy to himself in not having been consulted on the case prior to the adjudication. The Magistrate ordered the shipmaster to prison in default of payment, the Consul challenged the Magistrate's jurisdiction, and invited the shipmaster to dinner, taking him by the arm and walking away; not to the dining table directly, but by water, calling on route on board the U.S.S. Powhatan, when he was chased to the gangway by some of our black policemen. The matter is likely to create a stir among the officials of the respective nations: Capt. McCloney, we hear, making warm cause with his countrymen in the affairs.

In connection with the above, we have received the following document, addressed to the American Consul at Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, China, October 27, 1855

Hong Kong.

The undersigned American citizens, and masters of American ships in Hong Kong and China waters, being present and cognizant of the occurrence of the 23rd October, between Capt. E. W. Nichols of the American barque Reindeer, and the Police Court of Hong Kong, in its action against the said Capt. E. W. Nichols in the matter of forcibly and without warrant taking from confinement, a prisoner named John Madison, a seaman of the Reindeer, placed as such for "desertion and mutinous conduct" on board the Reindeer, by Capt. E. W. Nichols. The said Madison being one of the crew of the Reindeer, and being in our opinion under the "laws and regulations of the United States, for the government of its marin, was not amicable to say English jurisdiction but legally under the command of the lawful Captain of the said ship, and therefore illegally and with outrage taken by force from the ship. Therefore we hereby tender to James Keenan of the U.S. Consul for this government our cordial approval of his conduct in placing the said Capt. E. W. Nichols, in safety on board of the U.S.S. Frigate Powhatan, when threatened with fine and imprisonment in a common jail, by the Police Court, upon what we consider a most unwarrantable assumption of power.

We take this opportunity of calling through our Consul the earnest attention of "our government" to this matter important in many ways to the interest and proper discipline of the Mercantile Marine of the U.S.

A brief review of the case may be important.

An American ship arrived in the harbor of Hong Kong, in the lawful pursuit of her business one of her crew; lawfully shipped in the U.S., signing the "articles" to make the voyage and return to the United States deserts the vessel, and after the absence of some days comes on board; behaving in a mutinous and outrageous manner towards his superior officers is placed in irons and necessary from his resistance to the proper authorities, treated with severity. Suddenly in the absence of the Captain, an armed police force boards the ship, takes from confinement the prisoner spoken of and without exhibiting "warrant or authority" convey him on shore.

Then a warrant is issued for the Captain for "assault and battery" against this rescued prisoner, a suit instituted and judgment (under a protest of the U. S. Consul) given, sentencing the Captain to pay fifty dollars to the Queen and twenty five dollars to the plaintiff, or the defendant to go to jail. Under these circumstances the U.S. Consul places the Captain under the protection of the U. S. Steam Frigate Powhatan and we cordially support him in his course of action.

We consider that the American principle of the denial of the "right of search," and that the "American flag and the American law" protects the American citizen, when on just and lawful occupation has been ably and patriotically carried out by the U.S. Consul in this matter.

We also solemnly and firmly protest against the assumption of a foreign power, which assumes to take from and protects the subordinate of an American ship, against his superior. When that superior simply performs his duty in disciplining his ship, under the U.S. Laws, and he protests against a foreign power, settling at right the laws of the United States, and assuming to control the internal regulations of an American ship, and we respect all appeal to our country to protect us in a serious a position.

We are very truly, your friends and countrymen,
To James Keenan, Esq., U.S. Consul at Hong Kong.


E. Spicer, Jr., Master of the ship Samuel Willetts.
Geo. Downes, Master of the ship Stephen Baldwin.
F. H. Duval, Master of the ship River Bird.
J. W. Paul, Late Master of the ship River Bird.
Thos. Worth, Late Master of the ship Cheesborough.
Chas. Emerson, Late Master of the ship J.H. Gollee.
H. N. Osgood, ship Swordfish.
Wm. Collagan, Master, ship Boston Light of Boston.
Wellington E. Ayes, Coast Pilot.
Henry Wilson, schooner Bustamente.
Elias Davis, Jr., Barque Sarah H. Snow.
R. H. Egleston., Barque Ed Koppisch.
Geo. Pace Silver, Merchant.
Andrew Barstow, Ship Lantao.
Thos. C. Dudley, U.S.S. Powhatan.
Geo. Gideon, U.S.S. Powhatan.
Mortimer Kellogg, U.S.S. Powhatan.
W. H. Porter, U.S.S. Powhatan.
Wm. Knapp, Jr., U.S.S. Powhatan.
Geo. Sewell, Chief Engineer of U.S.S. Powhatan.
J. W. Bennett, Act'g. Lieut. of U.S.S. Powhatan.
R. B. Lowry, Act'g. Lieut. of U.S.S. Powhatan.
Albert Schrives, Asst. Sergeant of U.S.S. Powhatan.
O. S. Glison, Lieut. Commander, U.S. Kennedy.
Robert P. DeSilver, Naval Storekeeper,
Samuel R. Cushmen, Ship Toskins.
Henry M. Stone, Late Com'g. Brig Brenda.
Oliver W. Spencer, Ship John Wade.
E. Sewdder, ship Ellen Foster.
John G. Joyce, Ship Lookout.
Martin Thompson, ship Helena.
and several others.

The Sea Chart

The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart. The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. John Blake looks at the history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. This handsome work contains 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by thirteenth-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as eighteenth-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

San Francisco.

"Master Under God"

Gold Rush ships.Gold Rush Ships.Captains exercised absolute authority at sea and so were dubbed "Master Under God" by early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade.

The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies.

All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his ultimate responsibility.

On international voyages, the captain is responsible for satisfying requirements of the local immigration and customs officials. Immigration issues can include situations such as embarking and disembarking passengers, handling crewmembers who desert the ship, making crew-changes in port, and making accommodations for foreign crewmembers.

Customs requirements can include the master providing a cargo declaration, a ship's stores declaration, a declaration of crewmembers' personal effects, crew lists and passenger lists.

Three Centuries of Seafaring: The Maritime Art of Paul HeeThree Centuries of Seafaring: The Maritime Art of Paul Hee.
Rick Carroll, Marcie Carroll (Author, Editors) Three Centuries of Seafaring: The Maritime Art of Paul Hee.
Great moments in seafaring history as depicted by internationally known maritime artist Paul Hee are collected in a handsome new art book, Three Centuries of Seafaring: The Maritime Art of Paul Hee. Old salts and armchair sailors alike--anyone who loves the sea and ships--will delight in this glossy art book, which features more than 150 color images of Mr. Hee's artful works in signature painstaking detail. Scenes range from battles at sea and famous shipwrecks to yacht races and peaceful harbors. Hee, master of past masters, documents not only moments in maritime history but also the artistic styles of three centuries of painters whose work depicts American and British ships of their day, from topsail schooners to the White Squadron.

A significant portion of book sales benefit the North Carolina Maritime Museum. The book is available in two formats: hardbound with glossy dust jacket ($49.95); and a signed, numbered slip-cased hardcover keepsake, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the 1709 founding of Beaufort, NC, ($79.95), home of Mr. Hee and of the museum.

Maritime art of Paul Hee. A self-taught artist and active octogenarian, Mr. Hee grew up by the sea on Long Island and spent World War II in the US Navy before becoming a Miami-based cruise ship executive.

He raced Ferraris and restored a historic ship, then retired to Beaufort to paint in the luminescent styles of past masters and to build classic model ships.

(Image: Bald Eagle, 1852, by Paul Hee.)

The Project

Maritime Nations, Sea Captains, Ships, Merchants, Merchandise, 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; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California.

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