News from 1875 Gaelic I Loses Chief OfficerQM on First Transpacific Trip

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The New-York Times, 19 September 1875


The Yokohama corrrespondent [sic] of the San Francisco Alta writes to that
journal under date Aug. 14: "To-morrow morning at daylight the Gaelic
leaves this port for San Francisco. The quasi amalgamation of the
entente cordiale, or the working together, whichever it may be called,
of the Pacific Mail Steam-ship Company and the Occidental and Oriental
Steam-ship Company seems to be for the good of both concerns. Hitherto
the affairs have worked as smoothly as old Time, and there seems to be
no liklihood [sic] of a disruption. The Gaelic, which is a very fine
vessel and sister to the Belgic, whom you already know, has had a bad
time of it in her passage from Hong Kong. She encountered one of the
severest typhoons which has ever been known in these latitudes, and she
battled with it bravely and successfully, sustaining but slight damage
to her structure or machinery. But she has sustained a loss she cannot
replace, and one which has cast a gloom over the passage and perhaps the
history of the vessel. George Ritchie, the Chief Officer, and Adam
Patterson, a Quartermaster on board, were washed off the vessel's deck
during a howling night, when they were within thirty-six hours' steam of
Yokohama. Mr. Ritchie was a young man of great promise, and it is
currently reported that he would have been promoted to the post of
Captain in one of the company's vessels on the arrival of the Gaelic in
San Francisco, had he only lived. His death occurred in this way: He was
on deck when the storm was at its highest, and the waves, as the Captain
says, were ninety feet high. He was putting an extra lashing on the port
anchor, when Patterson noticed that the jib having been badly slowed,
the wind had got into it and it was flapping about. He volunteered to go
and stow it, and sprang into the chains and got to work. In a minute he
found that he had undertaken more than be could perform, and he sang out
for help--whether to release himself from a position of peril, or merely
to aid him in completing his task will now never be known until the day
when the sea gives up her dead. Mr. Ritchie heard the cry, and, like the
brave man and true he was, leaped to Patterson's assistance. In vain,
and alas! For scarcely had he reached the man when a tremendous wave
rushed headlong on the huge ship, which staggered and could not resist
it. Straight into the seething mass she plunged, and when the waters
had passed over her, Ritchie and Patterson had disappeared. No doubt
they could not retain their hold against the weighty mass which
overwhelmed them. Some seamen in the main rigging saw them as they
drifted past, and gave the alarm, "Men overboard!" Instantly the vessel
was stopped and the engines reversed. The Captain called all the
officers and crew aft and asked them their opinion as to the
advisability or not of lowering a boat. They were all agreed that to
lower a boat in such a sea and such a wind would be the worst of folly,
if not even criminal, as it would insure the destruction of the boat's
crew, without the slightest chance of saving either of the two men who
had been washed overboard. So, after waiting as long as he safely could,
and having thrown four life buoys overboard, the Captain ordered, with
extreme sorrow, that the vessel should resume her way. She did so, and
left the spot where there is no hope that Ritchie and Patterson did not
meet a rapid and I trust a painless death. The repairs absolutely
necessary to the Gaelic before she commences her long trans-Pacific
trip, have been executed here, and the vessel's departure has been
delayed for several hours. She was to start this day at noon. She will
not leave till daylight to-morrow (Sunday, the 15th) morning.


Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
Having quite forgotten that this article was here, I was just in the process of finishing up a transcription of the Daily Alta California article that's quoted here. This message is simply to note that (as the new topic title now reflects) the incident described here occurred on Gaelic's first transpacific trip, which ended in San Francisco on 2 September 1875, and that the article in the Alta appeared the next day.