Valencia Disaster Nearer My God To Thee


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Jim Kalafus

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I dont think that there is any memorial, 'though the site may be marked. The telegraph line trail, which the 9 survivors from the beach followed to safety, is preserved as a National Park and so access to the area just above the wreck site is relatively easy for those fit enough to hike. We hope to visit Vancouver, for research reasons, at some point in 2005 and of course I will photograph the site and post the results here.

JASON: Somewhere in my collection I have a guide book for those who walk the cliff top, which illustrates with maps and line drawings where dozens of ships were lost in the same area as Valencia. It dates back about 25 years and I doubt that it is still sold- however, if you do go to Vancouver, are able to visit Vancouver Island, and I can find the thing, I will gladly copy it for you. It measures about 3 inches by 2 1/2 inches, and was intended to be a pocket companion. The small size means that I come across it only when plate tectonics in my library forces it to the surface, but next time itm turns up I will make it a point to put it somewhere safe.

Would also like to visit the "Batavia's Graveyard" on this hypothetical tour of Western Australia and beyond. I tend to believe that the Zuytdorp survivors DID eventually join the native population, but only after their own numbers dwindled. Was depressed to read about how the supposedly unsalvageable silver WAS illegally salvaged, and depressed once again to read that the structural timbers which had survived at the cliff base for over 250 years had been gathered, removed from the site, stored in someone's backyard and then, eventually, thrown out.
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Hi Jim,

That guide book sounds very interesting, so it would be terrific if you could copy it for me and I would very much appreciate it. Thank you very much.

I will make a point of visiting Vancouver Island and hopefully I can locate the site.

Best regards,

Jason
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Jim Kalafus

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One of the most widely reprinted Valencia "quotes" was actually an editorial which ran in a San Francisco paper:

The passenger ships of the Pacific Coast are with few exceptions so rotten that the least accident crushes them like eggshells and sends them to the bottom. The vessels used on this coast are the cast-offs from the East Coast, where they have been practically worn out and are sold for a song to the Pacific shipping companies. THere are obnly six really safe passenger ships on the Pacific, four trans-Pacific liners belonging to the Pacific Mail Steamship company, the Minnesota, and the coastwise liner President. Most of the passenger ships of this coast are so old than one can throw a rivet hammer through them.

Which, unfortunately was mostly true. The Pacific sank 1875 with the loss of at least 275 and perhaps as many as 500 people in the same waters as the Valencia was lost, after she rammed the sailing vessel Orpheus and broke apart almost immediately, leaving only 2 survivors. A year or so after the Valencia disaster, the Columbia sank in about 8 minutes after being rammed by the San Pedro with the loss of 88. As late as 1929, the 1883 built San Juan sank, in about two minutes, after being rammed by the tanker Dodd, with a loss of life similar to that of the Columbia. However, as I said earlier, the amount of time the Valencia survived before beginning to break up would indicate that, although 24 years old, she was still structurally sound.
 

Bryan Ricks

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I have a book which I can't recall the exact title; Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters of the Monterey Coast--or something like that.

Anyway a listing of shipwrecks at the turn of the century and early 1900's is phenomenal. The majority of them were groundings and the ensuing death would be witnessed by those on shore.

I remember as a child my parents took me to a WW-II submarine wreck--which I believe is described in the book. I remember distinctly the conning tower. As we stood on the cliff, I was really impacted at how impossible it would've been for anyone to get through the rocks and surf alive. Even though the sub wasn't that far from the shore.

Bryan
 

Jim Kalafus

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Hello, Brian! I've not seen the book of which you wrote, but would be interested in finding a copy if you can recall the actual title. As a child I reread Disaster Log Of Ships (the photographic history of West Coast shipping disasters- a must have book, even now) to the point where my original copy disintegrated and so became well versed in the staggering number of inescapable strandings, pre 1947. Here on the East Coast there were also many wrecks similar in style, if not in scope, to Valencia 'though I did not begin reading about them until much later.

Would be interested in seeing that submarine wreck as well! Can you recall where it was? ~JAK
 

Bryan Ricks

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Hi Jim,
The title of the book is Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters of California Central Coast, it’s published locally in Carmel, CA. However, through the miracle of internet, they have a website:

http://www.ghosttownpub.com/003.html

Incidentally, one of my patients lent me a book by Gordon Newell that chronicled the coastal steamers of the Pacific coast. Based on Newell's other books, his historical accuracy tends to be flawed, but plenty of photos of the old steamers. It's out of print, and I've never been able to find it pop up on ebay.

I was about 8 or 9 when my family took us to the submarine so I couldn’t tell you the location other than somewhere on the California Coast, south of Morro Bay. I’ll have to ask my Dad when I see him over the holidays.

Bryan
 

Bryan Ricks

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Hi Jim,
Thanks for the link. One coastal steamer book on the way!
With groundings apparently common back then, was such an incident a career buster for the Master as it would be today?

Bryan
 

Jim Kalafus

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I would venture a guess that it depended on the circumstances. In the case of the Valencia, the captain made a mistake with his calculations and, from a surviving officer's testimony, was apparently in the process of altering course to determine their location when he ran the ship onto the rocks. 'Though he behaved quite gallantly during the three or four days it took for the wreck to break up, I am fairly confident that he would not have been given another command had he survived. In MANY other cases, particularly on the west coast, one reads of captains who had been in multiple groundings and remained in command. Perhaps the survival of the ship, cargo, and passengners was a determining factor.
 
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