News from 1875: Maiden San Francisco arrival of Oceanic I

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
From 1875 until 1906 White Star ships regularly called at San Francisco. During those years Oceanic I, 1875-95; Belgic I, 1875-85; Gaelic I, 1875-83; Arabic I, 1882-87 and 1888-89; Coptic, 1882-83 and 1895-1906; Belgic II, 1885-98; Gaelic II, 1885-1904; and Doric I, 1896-1906, were chartered by the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Co. for a Hong Kong (spelled as one word in those days)-Yokohama-San Francisco service (with other ports included at various times). The ships retained their White Star names and livery and were staffed by White Star officers, but they flew O&O's house flag and their crews were Chinese. This article reports the first arrival of a White Star steamer on the West Coast of the United States.

Curiously, although the arrangement between White Star and O&O was a charter, and White Star's name almost never appeared in California news reports of these ships' comings and goings, some contemporary White Star promotional material shows these ships as being on a White Star Pacific service without so much as hinting at the O&O involvement.

Daily Alta California, San Francisco, 30 June 1875
Retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection web site,

Description of the Pioneer Steamship of the Oriental and Occidental
Steamship Company

The Oceanic, the pioneer steamer of the Oriental and Occidental Steamship
Company arrived yesterday morning, and was docked at the Pacific Mail
Company's wharf. This is the inauguration of another line of steamers to run
to and from San Francisco, Hongkong and Yokohama, alternately with the
steamers of the Pacific Mail Company. From the Japan Gazette we take the
following description of the fine vessel:


The first thing that strikes a professional man is the fitness, the immense
strength, and excellent workmanship all through the vessel. Notwithstanding
her great length (440), her plating outside, after several years of hard
service in the rough seas of the North Atlantic, does not show a speck of
rust, or the least signs of working. In most ships all the requirements of
Lloyd's are served by broad water-way plates on each deck, say three feet,
rivited [sic] to the beams. To our surprise, we find this vessel fitted with
two solid iron decks, extending the whole length and breadth of the vessel,
forming a tie of great strength, and giving to the ship the rigidity of a
solid beam. And on the emigrant's deck, in place of the usual concealment of
the iron-work, the latter is simply painted white, the good honest work
being left open for inspection, and there is no sign of leakage in any part.
In addition to these iron decks, over each one is a strong wooden deck, four
inches thick, properly shifted, and fastened, not by the small bolts
commonly used, but by strong 5/8 hexagonal-headed bolts, with washers,
screwed up with a box spanner. The whole of the ship has been fitted up with
the same regard to strength and with the best workmanship, and reflects the
greatest credit on her builders, Messrs. Harland & Woolf, of Belfast; a
comparatively now locale, for ship-building, but in sending forth these
excellent steamers of the White Star Line, one which bids fair to make the
Clyde builders look to their laurels.


By the well-known and old established firm of Maudslays, London, are
admirable pieces of carefully planned work, and are on the compound
principle. Though the Oceanic is a stranger in these waters, she is well
known in the severe voyages of the North Atlantic, and will doubtless show
to the world that the Pacific can be crossed in 15 days, instead of the
stereotyped 27 and 30 days with which we are too familiar. The voyage to
Yokohama from Hongkong (passing several steamers on the way) shows an
average of 312 miles per day, actual work. San Francisco was reached in 16
days, 10 hours.

The Oceanic has evidently been constructed to go through the heaviest
weather- as, indeed, she has done successfully - having a "turtle-back"
forecastle deck to throw the seas off. Having been fitted for the large
emigrant passenger traffic from England to America, no alteration was
required for Chinese passengers, and these find themselves at once
comfortably berthed in one of the finest ships in the world, and, from the
construction and material of the vessel, as secure from the awful calamity
of fire as may be. In this respect, the superiority of iron over wood as the
material for ship-building admits of no dispute; but we may look at wooden
steamers as things of the past.


About the last thing looked at in a ship by a seagoing or professional man
is the saloon. But here, a great thought has been displayed. Instead of
being placed right aft, as usual, where the motion of the vessel is most
felt, and the noise caused by the rudder and the screw is greatest, the main
saloon in this ship is placed in the centre of the vessel's length, is
exceedingly well-lighted and ventilated, and is finished in the best of
taste, in a neat and quiet style, refreshing to the nautical eye, that
objects, on board ship, to the gorgeous and tawdry decorations too common,
as out of place. The saloon has four rows of tables, an excellent piano, a
library, two fire-places; and every cabin and nearly every seat at table has
au electric bell for calling the waiters. Indeed, all through the ship,
including the beautiful steam steering gear, the whole details of the
equipment have been carefully studied and carried out, and are a credit to
the designers and builders. We are informed that the ship was not built
under a contract, the builders getting only ten per cent. on the outlay.

This fine ship is only one of a similar class; another, the Brittanic, [sic]
has made a voyage of which the least day's run was 350 miles. After doing
good work in the Atlantic, the Oceanic comes to our waters without any
flourish of trumpets, and we wish her and her commander and officers good
speed, and shall watch her performances with great interest.