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Daily Alta California, October 21, 1869 ...

Loss of the Steamer Sierra Nevada -- The Ship a
Total Wreck -- Passengers and Crew All Saved

A long time has elapsed since there has been occasion to record the loss of a steamer upon this coast, and yesterday when it was reported on the street that the steamer Sierra Nevada had been wrecked, there was no little excitement, which was, however, allayed as soon as it was definitely ascertained that no lives had been lost. The first intelligence of the disaster was conveyed in a telegram, of which the following is a copy:

South San Juan, October 20th, 1869.
Holladay & Brenham, Agents: On the 17th, at twenty minutes past ten P. M., in a dense fog, the ship Sierra Nevada struck on a reef three miles north of Pedro Blanco, and in twenty minutes keeled over and filled. All hands saved. Ship a total wreck.
(Signed) J. C. Bogert, Commanding

Another dispatch says that the officers of the ship displayed great bravery in carrying off the passengers -- Mr. Hughes, the Purser, swimming several times to the steamer and rescuing the passengers with the aid of a hawser. No full account of the disaster can probably be given until the arrival of some of the officers or passengers from the scene. The Sierra Nevada left here on Saturday last for San Luis Obispo and Monterey, with a cargo of merchandise and a number of passengers. The weather at the time, and for twenty-four hours succeeding her departure, was exceedingly thick and foggy.

To many old Californians, the news of the loss of the Sierra Nevada will be the occasion of bringing up many pleasant reminiscences. The Sierra Nevada was built in New York in 1851 by Chas. Morgan, Esq., and designed for the Texan trade, but before her completion a demand arising for steamers of that class for the California trade, she was purchased by Commodore C. K. Garrison, and made three trips during the same year to Chagres. On the 12th of December, 1852, she sailed from New York for San Francisco, under the command of Captain J. D. Wilson, who died in Panama, and the steamer arrived at this port under the command of Captain Tanner. In the spring of 1853 she made her first trip from this port to San Juan in the Transit Line, and was there met by Captain J. H. Blethen, by whom she was commanded for fifty-two successive passages. The first passage on this steamer made by Captain Blethen will long be remembered by him with pride, as upon that occasion he was the recipient of a token of esteem from the passengers, in the shape of a magnificent gold watch, which to this day serves to mark time for him as faithfully as the sun. In 1857, Captain Huntington took command of the Sierra Nevada. In 1860 she was sold to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and subsequently to Ben. Holladay. Since this last transfer she has been running between this and other ports on the coast, both north and south. Although seemingly an old vessel, she was considered one of the most substantial and well-built steamers on the coast.

Daily Alta California, October 22, 1869 ...

Full Particulars of the Disaster
List of Passengers -- Incidents of the Wreck -- Bravery and Coolness of the Captain -- Heroic Conduct of Governor Wood, of Illinois -- Etc.

In the Alta of yesterday was announced the wreck of the steamship Sierra Nevada. We now place before our readers the particulars connected with the disaster. The Sierra Nevada left this port in charge of Captain J. C. Bogert, on Saturday last, October 16th, with 124 tons of freight and 42 passengers, bound for San Luis Obispo and way ports.


Among the passengers on board was Governor Wood, of Illinois, together with his wife, two sons, and brother-in-law. Governor Wood has visited Oregon, Washington Territory, and other portions of the Pacific slope, and was on his way to see for himself the special advantages and beauties of nature to be found in the southern portions of our State. There were also on board the following passengers, viz.: C. J. Arbuckle, E. F. Walker, Rev. A. H. Burton, P. Page, T. C. Hayes, E. F. Taylor, W. Pool, A. Pool, R. Pool, T. Bayer, D. Magnel, W. L. Carroll, R. Kleiner, J. O'Brien, M. Dore, Miss Mary Hollister, Mrs. Dies, Mrs. Ransom, two daughters and son, J. Holmes, S. J. Lynch, F. Delaty, F. F. Gorman, J. Atkins, and 14 Chinese. The officers and crew numbered 48, making in all 90 souls on board at the time of the wreck.


After leaving this port everything for a time went as "merry as a marriage bell." Santa Cruz was soon reached, where way-passengers and a portion of the freight were landed. About 12 o'clock on Sunday Monterey was made, and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon the steamer proceeded on her voyage, there being at the time a thick fog and a heavy sea swell. No fear, however, was felt on that score, as it was known that Captain Bogert was well experienced in all the dangers of the Coast, and was accustomed to make similar trips in all kinds of weather.


The Captain had been in his cabin just 20 minutes when the chief officer rushed in and reported that he could hear the surf. The fog was so intense at the time that "you could not see your hand before you." The Captain ran on deck, and instantly ordered the man at the wheel to put the helm "hard a port," and cried to the engineer "to stop her." These commands were only just obeyed when the vessel struck with moderate force against a reef. Orders were then given to "back," the Captain hoping, although he felt almost certain a hole had been made in the ship's bottom, that he might yet be able to beach her, and so save passengers, freight and the ship's hull. Not more than two revolutions had, however, been made when the heavy swell lifted the ship on to a rock with tremendous force, knocking her bottom in, lifting the boiler bodily off its bed and breaking it so that the steam escaped into the sea through the aperture. All on board were thrown off their feet and into a state on momentary consternation perfectly natural under the circumstances. At that instant there was one great, pressing and all-important requirement -- fortunately it was to hand in the person of


Who, in a moment, and with great force and clearness of intellect that deserved and has obtained the warmest praise of all on board, comprehended all that was demanded by the exigencies of his position. He saw that the vessel was irretrievably lost, and that it only remained to save the lives of passengers and crew. The great danger to be apprehended was that the ship would go bodily down. The vessel, too, having keeled over considerably, there was much risk of the lights setting fire to her, and so adding that most alarming of calamities of a ship on fire to the other horrors of the hour. To prevent this the Captain's first order was to extinguish all the lights, his next and almost simultaneous command was to lower the quarter boat, in charge of which he placed the chief officer and two seamen, with instructions to anchor at a short distance clear of the reef and or the ship. The boat was so placed for two reasons: First, if the ship went down, the passengers would have a chance to make to the boat; and if she did not, it was intended to place the passengers in the other boats and then fasten to the one that was so anchored, in order to prevent them from separating until daylight should appear. This plan, admirable as it was, was conceived and put in execution in less time than it takes us to describe it. By this time the coolness and self possession of Captain Bogert had made its influence felt by all on board. The first trying moment being past and the Captain's manner having restored confidence, all magical influence which a commanding mind at such a moment always exercises, they all -- passengers and crew -- fell to work, each in an appropriate way, to execute the rapid yet confident orders that were being issued by Captain Bogert.


The large quarter boat having been anchored as previously described, the starboard quarter boat was then lowered. Into this it was proposed to put the eleven ladies, two children and the "old men" who were on board. To successfully and safely accomplish this was a task of much difficulty and great peril, in consequence of the darkness and the swell that prevailed. Captain Bogert stood himself at the ship's side and assisted the passengers into the boats. When the ladies had been all taken safely over the ship's side, the engineer came with the report that there was five feet of water in the engine-room, and that there was not a moment to lose. Three other boats had yet to be lowered before all the passengers and crew could be accommodated, and much time would necessarily elapse before all could be considered safe. At this moment it seemed that no sufficient time to accomplish all this would be vouchsafed to those still in peril. If at this instant there had been the slightest panic or ill feeling had come uppermost, which was natural enough at such a moment of "every one for himself," all would probably have been lost. Here again Captain Bogert was equal to his duty, in the performance of which he was at this point wonderfully aided by the noble, generous and self-sacrificing spirit of


Captain Bogert, seeing the effect the report of the engineer was likely to have, instantly turned to carry out his original idea of sending the old men with the ladies, and said, sharp tones, "Now, Governor Wood, it is your turn. Make haste!" To which he received the following answer, which, spoken under the circumstances, shows that the days of true heroism have not yet passed away: "No!" said the brave old man: "nearly all here are young men, to whom life is of value. I am seventy-four years of age. I will wait." If there had been for a moment the slightest feelings of "every one for himself," that feeling was instantly dissipated by the noble, self-sacrificing sentiment thus expressed. Captain Bogert, whom "one of ours" heard describe the incident, said in a true, blunt, sailor-like fashion, whilst tears were brought to his eyes by recollections of the moment: "When I received the answer, a lump rose in my throat as big as my fist; I couldn't speak for some seconds. As soon as I could, I took hold of the Governor, and said as loud and as harshly as I could, 'Sir, I command you to get into that boat!'" and in this manner the generous spirit was almost perforce passed into the boat. The ship now keeled over considerably more than she had done previously, and only a portion of the upper side was above water, and every one had to cling to the bulwarks to avoid being washed overboard.


Before the first boat left, a passenger of somewhat diminutive proportions came struggling and climbing along to where the Captain was assisting the passengers over the side. His "make-up" was ludicrous enough to excite a smile, even under the trying circumstances of the moment. He had on no less than three life-preservers, blown out to an inordinate size; one was attached to each leg, and one round his waist. Dressed in this position, he addressed the Captain thus: "Stow me away in that boat, sir," and bursting into tears, he continued: I have a new wife, sir, and I don't want to be lost." His request was not granted, and he had to await his turn. It is needless to dwell further upon this scene. The greatest diligence being used, the whole of those on board were got away in exactly one hour. At twenty minutes past ten o'clock the ship struck, and at twenty minutes past 11 all were safely at anchor in the boats. The Captain was the last man but one to leave the ship. The Chief Engineer had stood next to the Captain with a lantern in his hand showing the light. When all the others were in the boat the Captain said: "Now it is your turn." To which he replied: "No, sir. I will hold the light for you." And so it came that the Chief Engineer was the last man on board.


The next thing to determine was what was to be done under the circumstances in which they found themselves. The fog was still thick, and it was impossible to tell in which direction the shore lay. In this state of matters the Captain wisely determined to lay at anchor all night. Fortunately, a keg containing ten gallons of water had been saved, so that no one suffered from the thirst which so often overtakes persons after periods of excitement. At daylight the fog lifted, and it was found that they were only three-quarters of a mile from shore, and three miles from San Simeon, for which place they then steered.

On their way they met a whaling boat, which they hailed, and the Captain made an agreement with the persons in command of it to visit the wreck and endeavor to bring away the passengers' luggage for the sum of $250. Fortunately their exertions were successful, and nearly all the luggage was saved, only a few trunks being missing. The boats having arrived at San Simeon, all on board were landed, heartily thankful for their escape. A boat was sent out to intercept the steamer Senator on her way to this port. This having been done, she steamed towards San Simeon, and the crew of the Sierra Nevada were put on board. The passengers took stage overland to San Luis Obispo. When the Captain had seen them off, he went on board the Senator and came on with his officers and crew to this port. He and they have lost everything they had on board. Captain Bogert had even to borrow clothes enough on board the Senator to enable him to appear in the city.

Daily Alta California, October 25, 1869 ...


Yesterday a communication was left at this office, evidently from some one of the passengers on board the ill-fated steamer Sierra Nevada, giving an account of the disaster. As full accounts of the accident have been already published, we can only make use of the following from the report of the unknown correspondent: After the passengers had been landed in safety at San Simeon, a meeting was called, at which ex-Governor Woods, of Illinois, presided. The Rev. A. H. Burton was appointed secretary. On Motion of Mr. Holmes, of Santa Cruz, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
"Resolved, Unanimously, by the ladies and gentlemen passengers of the late ill-fated steamer , That we most cordially tender our heartfelt gratitude and strop sympathy to captain J. C. Bogert and officers for the very gallant manner in which we were saved from the terrors of a watery grave in the briny deep."
On motion, the Secretary was requested to forward a copy of the above for publication in the Alta California, with the request that other papers copy.
(Signed) J. Woods, President. A. H. Burton, Secretary.

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