News from 1896: Death of Capt Pearne

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The San Francisco Call, 6 November 1896
Retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection web site,

Death of Captain Pearne, a Old-Time Master on the Occidental and Oriental

A cablegram to the Merchants' Exchange announces the death of Captain
William G. Pearne of the steamer Gaelic of the Occidental and Oriental
line. He was one of the best-known masters sailing in and out of San
Francisco, having been in the employ of the company for over sixteen years.
The Gaelic left San Francisco on July 2 last and went ashore on the coast
of Japan. When near Nagasaki on a dark night Captain Pearne found himself in
the middle of a fleet of sampans. He slowed down to avoid disaster, but ran
into one of the small craft. The vessel was stopped and a boat lowered to
search for the missing Japanese. While this was going on a strong current
took charge of the ship, and before headway could be gained she went on a

It took considerable time and money to get her off, and when she was
finally docked at Yokohama Captain Pearne was a sick man. He took his ship
to Hongkong, however, and as soon as she was in the drydock he took to his
bed. Later he was removed to the hospital, where, in spite of every
attention, he died.

When the Southern Pacific went into the Oriental trade it chartered three
vessels from the White Star line. Captain Purcell brought out the Gaelic,
Captain Metcalf (now Lloyd's surveyor) the Oceanic and Captain Myers (now a
pilot) the Belgic. After a few voyages Captain Purcell resigned and Captain
Pearne was sent out to take his place. Ever since he filled the onerous
position with great skill and judgment, and his death will be a distinct
loss to the Occidental and Oriental Company. Captain Pearne was nearly 70
years old and leaves a widow and several grown children, who reside in East

Oakland Tribune, 6 November 1896

Skipper of the Gaelic Has Made His Last Trip

A cablegram from Hong Kong announces the death of Captain William G. Pearne
of the Oriental steamship Gaelic.

Captain Pearne was well known in Oakland, having resided for some time with
his wife and little daughter at 1419 Eighth avenue, East Oakland. He also
leaves four children by a first wife, his two sons also being sea-faring

Captain Pearne had been ill for a number of years, but his illness took on a
more acute form when the Gaelic struck a rock in the Straits of Shimoneseki
some time ago. At the time of his death the Gaelic was on the dry dock at
Hong Kong, undergoing repairs for the damage then sustained.

His wife had been cabled for, but only got as far as Nagasaki when his
death occurred, He was one of the best known and ablest captains in the
Oriental service.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
Oakland Tribune, 7 November 1896

Captain Pearne's Death Leaves a Host of Sorrowing Friends

A gloom was cast over the Merchants' Exchange Tuesday afternoon, when a
notice of the death of Captain William G. Pearne of the Occidental and
Oriental Steamship "Gaelic" was posted. The news came by cablegram from
Hongkong, where the "Gaelic" is now on the dry dock, undergoing repairs for
the damage sustained by striking a rock in the Straits of Shimonosek[?].

A few months past Captain Pearne had been sick, and his complaint took on a
more acute form from the day of the "Gaelic's" accident, though at the time
the ship was in the hands of an inland sea pilot. However, Captain Pearne's
grief over the "Gaelic's" difficulty knew no bounds, it being the first
accident of a serious nature that ever happened to a ship under his command.
He took it to heart just as much as if he had been responsible for it. His
sickness gradually took on a more serious form, and his wife left for
Hongkong on the "Belgic" to nurse him. She had only reached Nagasaki when
the captain's death occurred.

Captain Pearne was regarded as one of the best sea-going steamers captains in
the world. For years he had given the Occidental and Oriental Steamship
Company, better known as the White Star Line, complete satisfaction as
master of its vessels.

An extract from a letter written by the owners of the White Star Line to
Captain Pearne after the "Gaelic" went aground in the inland sea, will give
some idea of the high regard in which he is held by the company. Instead of
reprimanding or criticising him, it stated:

"The accident to the "Gaelic" was, we feel sure, one of those unfortunate
instances which are apt to occur in the career of the most careful
navigator, and you have our sincere sympathy. Your record in our service
has been an excellent one, and we have not a word of blame to speak in
respect to the recent grounding of the 'Gaelic.'"

The letter from which the above is taken was sent to Captain Pearne in
Oakland in care of the Occidental and Oriental company, and was forwarded to
Hongkong about ten days ago, so that the captain died without the comfort
such news would have given him.

Captain Pearne was no less popular with the Occidental and Oriental
officials here than with those of the White Star Line. In private life he
was known for his charity and generosity. He was respected and honored by
friends and acquaintances, who feel his loss keenly.

Captain Pearne was between 63 and 64 years of age. He resided at 1419
Eighth avenue, East Oakland, with his second wife, who is a daughter of the
late Dr. Geary. He left, also, a 5-year-old daughter. Six grown children,
three sons and three daughters, by his first wife, also survive him.

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