San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter X.

Sir Edwin Arnold has told the world what a good time he had with the Gaisha girls in Japan, and Clement Scott has illustrated and portrayed in several ably written articles the different kinds of fool that old Sir Edwin made of himself over the tea-house fairies, and how he maligned and insulted the ladies of America and Europe by comparing them with the Japanese girls, and declaring that these clumsy, shapeless little pug-nosed creatures were prettier than our own queenly girls. Therefore, I will not devote any space to the Japanese girls further than to indorse all that Clement Scott has written about that particular class that he and Arnold discovered. They are not "in it" with American "ladies" of similar occupations (?).

I should like to keep on and give the reader the full benefit of all that I have recorded in my diary concerning the doings of American and European society as it really is in Yokohama, Tokio, Kobe, Nagasaki, Shanghai, Cheefoo, Hong Kong, and other Oriental cities, but, in order to do justice to the subject, it would be necessary for me to take the reader back over a considerable portion of the distance that we have already traversed between New York and San Francisco. As I said before, I considered it necessary to tell how I happened to come here before undertaking to reproduce what I have written in my memorandum book since my arrival; therefore, I will leave Oriental society to the naval officers, and give a very brief outline of the rest of the trip around the world.

I remained on the Essex eight months after our arrival in Yokohama, during which time several cruises were made to the south of Japan, Formosa, China, Corea, and back to Yokohama, the headquarters of the Asiatic Squadron. We spent some time at Chemulpo and Chee-Foo during the summer of '87.

In October I made application to Captain Jewell for permission to return to America. My reason for desiring to come home was that my enlistment would expire in November. The Essex at that time was at Nagasaki, Japan. My application having been approved of by Admiral Chandler, I was duly detached from the Essex on the 8th of October, 1887, with orders to proceed to Yokohama and take the first American mail steamer for San Francisco, and report to Captain J. W. Philip on board the receiving ship Independence, at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, from whence I was to return to New York to stand my final examination before leaving the Training Squadron.

Just as I was leaving the Essex, who should come on board but our old friend Mr. Wadham! He was surprised, he said, to see me going home before the cruise of the Essex was finished, and, as he bade me good-by and wished me a pleasant voyage, he expressed a regret that he was not going home also. I am sure that he meant it, for the crew of the Brooklyn, the admiral's flagship, was more violently opposed to amateur prayer-meetings than the boys of the Essex had been. Ensign Hoggett, Mr. Wadham's old first assistant, and afterward successor, in the deep-sea sounding expedition, was the officer of the deck when I left the Essex, and he, too, said that he wouldn't mind going back to a civilized country.

On the 10th of October I left Nagasaki on the United States steamer Palos, and on the 14th we arrived in Yokohama, where I had to wait several days for the mail steamer. This gave me a chance to go around and say good-by to my friends, and visit Tokio, the capital and largest city in Japan.

At nine o'clock in the morning of October 19, 1887, I went aboard the Pacific Mail steamship City of New York.

The steamer was moored to her buoy all ready for sea, and was only waiting for the sailing hour to arrive. Mr. Greathouse, the American consul-general, came aboard with some final business instructions to the captain, and to wish us a pleasant voyage.

Promptly at ten o'clock Captain Searle stepped up on the bridge and waved his hand to the first officer up on the bow.

"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Mr. T. P. Deering, as he ordered the boatswain to "let go."

"Hard-a-port," said the captain on Quartermaster Rufus Dixon; and he gave the engine-room gong a quick pull at the same time.

In response to the signal the ponderous engines began to work, and the big steamer, in obedience to her helm, swung slowly around until her prow was pointed toward Honmoku lightship, when the captain gave the order, "Steady as you go."

Three blasts of the steam whistle and a dip of our flag announced the departure of the City of New York from Yokohama. Passing slowly out of the harbor, we soon rounded the lightship, when the captain gave the order to "go ahead full speed," and away we went. Down the Gulf of Tokio, past Kanan-saki, past Sagami, and we were out upon the Pacific. At two o'clock we passed Cape King, and headed up in a northeasterly direction. This indicated that we were taking the Great Circle course for San Francisco.

The ill-fated City of New York. Wrecked on Point Bonita, Cal., in 1893.

That evening, as I stood on deck and watched the sun go down behind the dim outlines of Fuji-Yama, I realized that I was homeward bound. Some time before I left the Essex I had received a very encouraging letter from Mr. Herbert Van Dyke, a prominent attorney of New York, assuring me that he would put me into a good position just as soon as I completed my course in the navy. I had received another still more substantial letter from Mr. Henry P. Marshall, cashier of the Seamen's Bank for Savings, 74-76 Wall Street, New York, informing me that certain remittances that I had sent from different parts of the world had all been received and credited to the account which I had opened with the bank some time before leaving New York. Naturally I felt pretty well satisfied with prospects that the future seemed to have in store for me.

Nothing that seemed to be of any importance transpired during the voyage across the pacific, outside of the usual daily routine of life on board a passenger steamer. There were very few passengers on the ship, besides a couple of hundred Chinese down in the steerage. As there were no nice young ladies on board to talk to, I passed most of the time during the voyage with my books. Occasionally I would have a few minutes' conversation with Mr. Deering, the first officer, and the genial Dr. Seymour, the surgeon. We experienced good weather during the greater part of the voyage, and everything went along as smoothly as could be expected.

On the morning of the 4th of November we sighted Point Reyes Lighthouse, on the coast of California. Continuing on our course, we soon fell in a pilot-boat when we stopped and took a harbor pilot on board, and headed for Fort Point.

Just as we were entering the Golden Gate, Dr. Seymour came up to me, and said he would like to have a few words with me. Supposing that the doctor wanted to tell me how to have a good time in San Francisco, I joined him, and we walked up toward the smoking room. Dr. Seymour was a man of very few words. He first asked me what I meant to do after leaving the navy. Upon my telling him that I had taken a course of training that would enable me to fill a position in the merchant marine service, he said that he was glad to hear it. Then he informed me that he and the first officer had been talking about offering me a position on the ship, and he surprised me by telling me that if I wold like to take a position on the City of New York, all that I had to do was to say so.

I thanked the doctor for his friendly interest in my welfare, and told him that I could not take any position just then, because I had to go on to New York before I could get my discharge from the navy.

Then the doctor told me that if I could possible arrange it at Mare Island so that I could get my discharge without going to New York, it would be to my advantage to do so. I had a talk with Mr. Deering then, and that gentleman reiterated what the doctor had said, and added that if I could get my discharge at Mare Island, I could have the position of quartermaster.

While I was talking with the surgeon and Mr. Deering, Dr. McAllister, the health officer for the port of San Francisco, came alongside in the tugboat Governor Perkins, and climbed aboard.

After inspecting the passengers Dr. McAllister had a talk with Dr. Seymour, and then informed Captain Searle that he could go up to the wharf and land his passengers.

I shall never forget my first impressions of San Francisco. Leaving my baggage on the steamer, I walked up the dock to make some inquiries concerning the boats and trains running between San Francisco and Mare Island. Upon learning that I would have to wait over until the next day, I accepted an invitation from Charlie Elsasser, one of the junior officers of the City of New York, to go uptown with him. Charlie is a native son and he is as bright and quick-witted as they make them. Owing to his many good qualities he is what we term an all-round jolly, good fellow; and what he does not know about things in general around San Francisco amounts to very little.

The first thing I saw, as Charlie and I came out of the Pacific Mail dock gate at the junction of First and Brannan Streets and Mission Bay, were numbers of whisky and beer saloons and chop houses. These drinking places were not like the halfway decent-looking lager beer saloons which are so conspicuous along Market and Kearney Streets, on account of the big "V" that adorns the door and front windows of the places where the dudes of the Cooke-Nosegrave-Mearns-Irving-Johnny Powers free lunch cliques are generally to be found nearly at the time. They were low, filthy-looking places, with vulgar signs on their windows which read "Steam Beer, five cents."

"The organization known as Mr. Greenway's 400 is composed of the sons and daughters of just such citizens as you see here," said Mr. Charles Elsasser.

The men standing around in front of these places were in every way in keeping with the general appearance of their surroundings; tough-looking citizens with their dilapidated old hats all knocked in, and the buttons all gone off their ragged, greasy and beer-stained old clothes. Some of these old drunks were Greeks, some were Scandinavians, some were Dutchmen and Germans, while there were others who had upper lips showing a frontage of three or four inches between the noses and the openings that they poured their steam beer into--ugly, vicious-looking old hodcarriers they were.

There were some females standing in the doors of these vile places, great, flabby, vulgar-looking specimens of femininity, with filthy little children hanging on to their skirts. The background for this scene was the south side of Rincon Hill, which can be seen to good advantage only from the Mail dock gate. Upon the side of the hill were the residences of the Mail dock stevedores, with numerous dogs and goats prowling around.

The above-described scene did not surprise me in the least, for everybody knows what kind of inhabitants are to be found around the wharves and slums of all large cities. But when Charlie told me that the so-called high society of San Francisco, the society that we read of in Mr. Greenway's reports, was made up of the sons and daughters of just such people as these, I must confess that I was surprised.

Charlie went on to tell me that the part of San Francisco now known as Nob Hill, or Snob Hill, where the leading parvenus of the city have built big houses, was a regular wilderness forty years ago, and that some of the people who live up there now came to San Francisco in early days,--about the time that gold was discovered in California,--and opened up just such vile "joints" as those in the slums of Tar Flat. But gold was plentiful in those days, and the saloon- keepers, gamblers, and keepers of disorderly houses had very little difficulty in accumulating stockings full of it. The most successful of these saloon-keepers were those who had women about their grog shops to dish out the soup and free lunch to the old miners who came to the city, fresh from the mines, with their wallets full of gold dust. The more lewd and vulgar the women they had about their free-lunch counters, the more patronage they got from the ancestors of the Parvenucracy. Many of those early day "gin-mill" keepers purchased large blocks of city real estate, and even gold mines, with the proceeds of the whisky that their "wives" served out over the bars of the drink. One of these, Flood by name, is said to have accumulated enough to build a brown-stone house and still have several millions left over. Fair, o'Connor, and o'Brien were among other names that were mentioned.

As we walked up Third Street to Market, the city began to look better. Still those old wooden shanties, within a stone's throw of the Palace Hotel, plainly showed that San Francisco was a very young city, and that its architectural appearance, as well as the past records of many of its "prominent" citizens, would have to be remodeled in order to bring the city up to a level with the the present state of civilization in some other parts of America.

As we walked on down toward the Appraisers' building, Charlie told me that all part of the city from Montgomery Street down the Oakland ferry landings was "made land." There was originally an arm of the bay extending up as far as the place where the Occidental Hotel now stands.

A mental glimpse of the village of San Francisco as it appeared forty-eight years ago is all that is necessary to conform the statements of the native sons and daughters who take such pride in telling strangers how their fathers built up the present city. When the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth arrived here, in 1846, she found a few rudely constructed adobe houses standing around on the sand dunes. There were scarcely forty houses in the whole settlement. These included residences, custom house, warehouse, school, church, hotel, bar room, and calaboose. This latter, no doubt, proved indispensable to the citizens whenever a man-of-war came into port. The Portsmouth anchored somewhere in the vicinity of Sacramento and Davis Streets, about where the storehouse of H. Dutard, the "bean king," now stands. All that part of the city from Montgomery Street to the ferries, and from the base of Telegraph Hill for some distance south toward Market Street, was at that time a cove, which afforded anchorage for vessels. As the city grew up, this cove was gradually filled in with all sorts of rubbish. For years it was used as a free dump, into which was deposited all the débris of the rapidly increasing city--such as the ordinary garbage that accumulates in back yards; dead cats and dogs, and all other malodorous substances, including, I venture to say, a few quacks, like Colson; shysters, like Cannon; street-corner orators like O'donnell and Dennis Kearney; prize fighters like Jackson and Sullivan; fanatics like Harriet Beecher and General Booth, S. A.; bum actors like Rankin and Steve Brodie; dramatic critics like seedy Peter Robertson; "spiritualists" like Mrs. Charles Fair; card sharps like the "Fruit Pickers"; fake society reporters like Cooke, Cosgrave, Greenway, Hume, and the Little Tumble-bug Irving--in fact, offensive and useless things of every description were thrown in to help fill up.

On top of all this bologna-sausage and oleomargarine mixture the good citizens who favored the advancement of civilization piled the sand and gravel brought down from the hills as they graded the streets. Thus the ground upon which the greater portion of the wholesale houses of the city now stands is "made land," indeed. Considering certain portions of the material used, the stranger should not blame the commission merchants for all the variety of odors which arise from that part of the Pacific Slope metropolis.

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


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