MAB Notes: 1. In the days following, the death toll was fixed at 13
passengers and three crew of the City of Chester. 2. This article accounts
for a bit over two columns out of the seven columns of material which
appeared in the Alta the day after the collision. The rest, including
statements by the two captains, can be read here.
Daily Alta California, San Francisco, 23 August 1884
Retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection web site,
SUNK IN THE BAY
The City of Chester Run Down By the Oceanic
TEN DROWNED OR MISSING
Heartrending Scenes That Were Witnessed by the Survivors
PUTTING THE BLAME ON THE FOG
The Captains of Both Vessels Say They Gave the Proper Signals to Avert the
Since the burning of the steamer San Vicente, in December last, whereby
twelve persons lost their lives, no event has caused such a profound feeling
of horror in the community as the fatal collision off Fort Point yesterday
morning between the Occidental and Oriental steamer Oceanic and the Pacific
Coast steamship City of Chester. So utterly incomprehensible was the
disaster, the Chester having left the dock hardly an hour before, that it
was some time before people could force themselves to believe in the sad
calamity. Those reported as missing, and whose loss cannot be doubted, are
the following :
G. W. ANDERSON of Oakland.
MRS. MEECH, San Diego.
MRS. S. E. PRATER, San Diego.
MRS. C. H. HANEY, Eureka.
J. C. HAMPTON, Virginia City (of the firm of Gage, Shattuck & Co. of San
MRS. J. C. HAMPTON, his wife.
C. T. DAVIS, of Springville.
MISS JOSIE BREWER, niece of the above, aged five.
J. GREER of Napa.
ROBERY FULTON, a waiter.
ADAM RICHMOND, a water-tender.
ED. R. CHAMBERS, Chief Steward.
The City of Chester left Broadway wharf at 9 o'clock yesterday morning, for
Eureka and other ports, with the following list of passengers and crew:
The fog was then very thick, but no fear of accident disturbed the minds of
the passengers, who, as usual, remained on deck while the steamer was
passing along the front, commenting on the shipping, which loomed up
indistinct through the fog. Captain Wallace appears to have kept his vessel
at a low rate of speed, "feeling his way," as he expressed it, to the Heads.
The whistle was kept going regularly. As the Chester got out into the stream
the fog seemed to grow denser and denser, and when nearing Fort Point the
hoarse foghorn of another steamer was bourne to the ears of the listening
Captain of the City of Chester. Captain Wallace replied with his whistle and
then the other steamer, which subsequently proved to be the Oceanic,
whistled twice, this being the signal that she had starboarded. According
to all accounts, not denied by Captain Wallace, he responded with two
blasts. A little later the Oceanic again whistled twice and was once more
answered by two blasts from the Chester.
Right here the confusion seems to have occurred which resulted in an awful
tragedy. According to the statements of Captain Metcalfe of the Oceanic and
Captain Meyer, the pilot, that vessel had starboarded, and stopped soon
after the first two whistles. The helmsmen of the Chester, Samuel Halton and
Ben Spenser, both maintain that they received no orders after the first
whistle of the Oceanic was heard to alter their course. The latter also say
they could not see very far ahead, while the passengers and crew say that
they could see all the way from fifty to five hundred yards ahead. Some of
the passengers go so far as to say that the Oceanic could be plainly seen
fully five hundred yards off. The statements on this point are very
conflicting. However it may be, it is certain that the two vessels were
soon so close that collision was inevitable. Then ensued one of those
frightful occurrences which try the bravest hearts.
The two vessels approached each other rapidly to certain destruction for one
or both and no means of escape possible. The passengers on the Chester
stood there, with white, set-faces and staring fixed eyes waiting for the
crash which was to announce their doom. In another moment that crash came.
The high, sharp bow of the hugh [sic] China liner struck the City of Chester
about the fore hatch on the port side. She cut into the sides like a knife
through paper, tearing away the upper works and sending the cabins and
woodwork flying in all directions. The two vessels did not immediately
separate. They remained together for quite a time, the nose of the Oceanic
buried in the hull of the other vessel. Then a scene of wild confusion and
excitement took place. A panic took possession of all on board the Chester.
Passengers and crew made a wild rush for the Oceanic. Shrieks and cries for
help and half-uttered prayers resounded from all sides. With these were
mingled the horrid sounds of tearing timber and snapping bolts, and above
all the loud frenzied orders shrieked out by excited officers. The people
clambered up the bows of the Oceanic like cats and over the sides. Captain
Wallace, like the undeniably brave sailor that he is, remained by his ship
to the last. Standing on the deck, he endeavored to stem the tide of
safety-seeking passengers and crew. A glance at his disabled vessel showed
him there was no hope. He gave his orders to lower the boats. Second Mate
Lundine and a few of the men who stood by the vessel, lowered the working
boat---the only one launched safely from the Chester. The passengers and
crew of the Chester are a unit in declaring that the Chinese crew of the
Oceanic showed little energy in saving life. Had they been white sailors,
instead of coolies, all on the Chester might have been saved.
In. a few minutes after the collision the Chester went down. She had
gradually filled with water until the decks burst up, and then with a sudden
trembling the stern tilted in the air and the steamer plunged head first out
of sight. As the cold water reached the heated boilers they exploded with
loud reports and helped to break up the hull. At the time the Chester
disappeared she was so close to the Oceanic that her fore yard struck the
bows of the latter. The captain and several of the crew and passengers went
down on the ill-fated vessel. Captain Wallace had a miraculous escape from
drowning and was eventually picked up. The scene at this time was
heartrending. Wreckage of every kind strewed the water, to which
unfortunates were clinging momentarily expecting death. Numbers managed to
cling to ropes which had been thrown over from the Oceanic, and were thus
hauled on board. The lifeboats of the Oceanic, one of which was manned by a
portion of the crew of the Chester, picked, up many more, and as by this
time the disaster had been perceived from the shore, boats ot every
description had arrived on the spot and were rendering all the assistance
possible. The exact time of the collision was 9:50 and the steamer sank in
fifty fathoms of water.
The confusion on the Oceanic among its 1105 passengers was very great. The
damage to the big liner was, however, comparatively small, being confined to
the denting of a few bow-plates. The steamers which went out to the scene of
the disaster were the Hercules, Milien Gri[?]ith, Millie, Annie, all of
which recovered great quantities of bedding, wreckage and other effects. No.
3 lifeboat of the Oceanic picked up Edward Chambers, chief steward, of the
Chester, who died soon after his rescue. The body was taken to Broadway
This wharf, which on the departure of the steamer had been crowded with
relatives and friends of the passengers laughingly bidding them good-bye,
was now crowded with those same friends and relatives, but in a very
different mood. The women were in tears, and the men full of grief. Each
boat as it passed the wharf was greeted with agonizing inquiries. To these
no answer could be given save that the facts would be furnished later on.
This was but poor consolation to the waiters, and when the Etna arrived at
the wharf with Captain Wallace and other survivors they were besieged with
questions. At Goodall & Perkins' office the scene was also very sad. This
place was also besieged and business brought to a standstill for several
hours. When Purser Charles Debney, who had been picked up by a boat and
placed on the Oceanic, came ashore, a list of the missing was made out. At
first some twenty-five were reported lost. Later this was reduced to
sixteen, and in the afternoon it was ascertained that ten were missing, all
of the City of Chester. None were lost from the Oceanic. Mrs. C. H. Haney's
body was recovered in the afternoon. She was going to Eureka with J. J.
Loggie, a relative. The deceased was a widow and lived in Eureka, where
she had a married son and another boy of sixteen living here. Mrs. J: C.
Hampton was rescued, but died on the Oceanic about an hour after. Her
husband's body was not recovered. The daughters of Mrs. S. E. Prater heard
of the death of their mother on being dragged on board the Oceanic. One of
the sisters was in the water over an hour. The two daughters of Mrs. Prater,
Mrs. Emily Christman and Miss Prater, were brought ashore late in the
afternoon and taken to the Russ House, where medical attendance was
summoned. Both ladies are injured internally, and Miss Prater has some
severe external bruises on her neck and shoulder. Her condition is so
precarious that the doctor has enjoined the greatest quietude. The three
ladies were from San Diego, and were traveling without any male protector.
There is hardly any doubt that J. Greer is drowned. He had assisted his
daughter, Miss L. Greer onto the bows of the Oceanic, and she tried to
persuade him to follow her. The old gentleman, however, went back for some
things, and before he could get back the Chester sank. One little baby girl,
whose name is not known, was picked up, and is now on the Oceanic. There
was an affecting scene on that steamer when Charles Spratt restored the
little child he had rescued from the wreckage to its agonized mother. The
happy lady burst into tears, and fell on her knees before him, thanking him
wildly all the time. Several of the survivors are seriously ill from their
experiences. Mrs. Davis, the stewardess of the Chester is in a very critical
condition. Mrs. Carrie Brewer of Martinez is also seriously ill.
In order that some idea may be formed of the relative size of the two
vessels it may be well to state that the Oceanic is an iron steamer, 440
feet long, and of nearly 4000 tons burden. Her commander, John Metcalf, is
one of the oldest captains on the China line. The steamer left Yokohama on
the 8th of August, and had made one of the fastest trips on record, her time
being about fourteen and a half days. She carried about forty white
passengers and over one thousand Chinese passengers. Her crew consisted of
seventy-four men, all of whom were Chinese. The officers, all of whom are
white, are as follows:
Captain, John Metcalf; first officer, George F. Tilston; second officer,
James Swan; third officer, George E. Bridgett; fourth officer, L. O. Eckles;
chief engineer, William Allen; second engineer, A Brolly; third engineer, C.
Vivian; fourth engineer, C. Smart; fifth engineer, Thomas Mirk; sixth
engineer, Walter Bridge; purser, Charles S. Arthur; freight clerk, H. P.
Greene; surgeon, Dresbach Smith; carpenter, R. Weston ; boilermaker, James
Weaver; oilers--William Hart, W. Mooney and John Grant; storekeeper, H. H.
Chisholm; steward, J. C. Broughton; stewardess, Marie Boldy; steerage
steward, A. J. Leslie; butcher, John Tatum; steerage watchman, Frank Teller;
quartermasters--M. Neill, J. Athies, R. Perry and J. P. Davison.
The City of Chester was a much smaller vessel than the Oceanic, being
something over 1100 tons gross. She was a fine, staunch vessel, however, and
has been employed with singular success in the Coast trade. She was built at
Chester, Penn., in 1875 for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, and
formerly ran to Portland. She subsequently passed into the hands of the
Pacific Coast Steamship Company, and has been running to Eureka. Her
dimensions were: length,202 feet; beam, 33.2 feet; depth, 15.9 feet; net
tonnage, 785.23; gross tonnage, 1106.21 tons. She was valued at $150,000,
and was insured in San Francisco companies for half that amount. She had
200 tons of assorted cargo in her hold, valued at $4000; uninsured. An
attempt will be made to raise the ill-fated steamer.