San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter XXII.

DURING the latter part of June and the early part of July, 1888, my new friends in Oakland introduced me to several other nice families, including the Gunns, who lived next door, and the Platts, who are relatives of the Bells, and Mr. Lacey Goodrich. Then Miss Brunner invited me to call on her at her residence out on Washington Street, near Steiner, and meet her father and sisters and brother and brother-in-law. Through the courtesy of the Brunners I became acquainted with several of their friends, including the Withams and the Goellers and several others.

Thus, in the course of a few weeks, I formed lasting acquaintances with several estimable families, the heads of which are numbered among the old reliable pioneers of '49 and '50.

Those are representatives of that class of Californians to whom the State is indebted for her existence as a civilized institution, and I consider it an honor to be able to mention the fact that I am at liberty to refer to my first San Francisco acquaintances as friends.

If all Californians possessed the refinement of this first coterie whom I met over seven years ago the public would not hear so much about snobs, upstarts, shoddyites, and other parvenus and insolent pretenders.

A few days after going to Oakland to board I came over to San Francisco and called upon Captain Searle at the Palace Hotel. It was then that I learned, for the first time, of the instructions that the captain had left for me while I was on the Shenandoah, in February, to the effect that I should report for duty as soon as he returned from the midwinter voyage.

When Captain Searle advised me that my position on the City of New York would be open as soon as that ship returned from China, and that he wanted me to come back, I decided to quit the Mariposa and return to the former vessel.

I wanted to leave the Mariposa on good terms with Captain Hayward and his officers, so I explained that my chances for promotion would be better in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company than in Spreckels' employ, on account of the former company's running so many more steamers than Spreckels. The Pacific Mail had over twenty steamers in commission at that time plying between San Francisco, Japan, China, Mexico, Central America, Panama, and New York; whereas Spreckels had only four ships all told: the Mariposa, the Alameda, the Australia, and the Zealandia; and there was some talk of laying one or two of those off, on account of dull trade.

First Officer Hart gave me a good recommendation to take back to the Pacific Mail, and Captain Hayward indorsed it, after which I left the Mariposa and returned to Oakland to await the return of the City of New York. This wait was the first vacation that I had taken, except for a few days at a time, in nearly four years.

If ever I enjoyed a good rest in my life, it was the month spent at Mrs. Bell's, in East Oakland. Entirely free from duty, with no orders to obey; no long tricks at the wheel; no disagreeable midwatches, dog watches, morning watches, or any other kind of watches to stand during cold, rainy, or stormy weather; no turning out at midnight one night and at 4 A. M. the next, to "relieve the wheel and lookout," I had absolutely nothing to bother my head about, and for once in my life I just took things easily.

Talk about a pleasant time! If any man,--I don't care who,--millionaire or anyone else, ever spent a more agreeable month away from home than I did during this "lay off," as we sailors call a vacation, I should like to ask him where he found it. Every Oaklander knows what June and July weather is in that city, but since there are so many persons who have never had the opportunity of enjoying it that the author has had, and, as it is more than likely that a good many of those who live in the South and East and other parts of the world will read this Diary, I trust that my friends "across the bay," including Mr. and Mrs. Kaeser and family, Mr. and Mrs. Blethen and household, Mr. and Mrs. Osler and happy family, Mr. and Mrs. Platt and family, Harry Kirk, the Huff boys, Fred Phoebe, and many others whom I esteem very highly, will permit me to briefly tell my other friends who live elsewhere, what a nice place Oakland is to live in.

Oakland is one of the most beautifully laid out cities in the world. Almost every street affords as nice a drive as Golden Gate Avenue. Nearly all the residence streets and avenues have a row of eucalyptus or other nice shade trees on each side. Some of the prettiest residences in the State are to be found there, and they are occupied by people who are as nice as they are sociable and hospitable.

One reason why the ladies of Oakland always look so much healthier and brighter than do a great many San Francisco ladies, is, I think, because they keep better hours. And then they have a climate over there as far superior to that of San Francisco as the climate of the latter city is to that of New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Vicksburg, New Orleans, and many other Eastern and Southern cities which I visited. And I did not copy a word of the above from Mr. Lamance's Oakland real estate advertisements, either.

On the 5th of July, 1888, the City of New York arrived in port with Captain T. P. Deering in command. Four days later I went aboard and reported to First Officer James M. Dow, and was reappointed to my former position of quartermaster.

On Thursday, the 19th, I went out to the Union Iron Works to see the launching of the U.S. Charleston, the first man-of-war ever built at San Francisco.

On Saturday, the 21st, Captain Searle relieved Captain Deering in command of the City of New York, the latter gentleman taking his original position as first officer. At three o'clock the same afternoon we sailed for Hong Kong via Yokohama.

During the following year we ran steadily between the above mentioned ports, calling at Honolulu occasionally on return voyages.

In all, we made five "round trips" during which time we covered a total distance of about sixty-five thousand nautical or sea miles, equal to more than three times the circumference of the earth. At the end of each voyage we had a "lay over" of a week to ten days in San Francisco, and about the same time at Hong Kong, and a short stay of one to three days at Yokohama, going and returning.

While the ship was at the home port, I generally managed to get time enough to myself to keep up the acquaintances already formed in San Francisco and Oakland, and to meet a good many more nice people, including the Palace Hotel set, that was at that time. Those latter included the Halseys, the Dutards, the Fords, the Rices, the Johnsons, the Eddys, the Sachs, the Bartons, the Lewises, the Estees, the Latons, the Hallecks and many others of that good old reliable class, and their friends living all over the city. With hardly a single exception the names of the ladies of the above-mentioned families are identified with the management of the leading charitable institutions in the city, such as the "Old People's Home," the "Women's Hospital," the "Children's Hospital," and various asylums for foundlings and orphans.

I will take all the responsibility for making the assertion that I can point out twenty ladies of the coterie referred to, who do more good in various ways for the benefit and improvement of society in general, than the entire membership of the so-called exclusive set all put together. But you never see the names of those estimable ladies attached to glowing society column reports of elaborate dinners and gorgeous receptions given in honor of some miserable alien fortune hunter of a prince, whose entire past has been devoted to the debasement of every naturally good and lofty instinct that tends to the elevation of society, and whose chief purpose in future life is to marry some feeble-minded American heiress, and squander her fortune among his disreputable associates in London and Paris.

The real American lady is rarely identified with vultures of the last-mentioned strata, unless it is through some mistake. But the members of Parvenucracy wine, dine, feast, and court the vultures and toady to them in a way that would shame a Palace Grill Room waiter looking for a tip from Dan McCarthy or his bosom friend, "Lord" Talbot Clifton.

The real lady derives her compensation for her good deed from the mere knowledge in her own pure heart that she has contributed a mite toward the comfort of the deserving poor.

But when the Parvenuess gives a dollar to a charitable institution she squanders five more to advertise what she has done, and if she goes to a charity entertainment and spends a few dollars, she invariably looks over the morning paper the next day to see if her name is in the list. And if it is not there, God help the unfortunate reporter who forgot to put it in.

I have seen Parvenuesses elbow their way from one end of a densely packed house to the other, stepping all over the toes of dozens of quiet citizens, just to tell the society reporter of a morning paper to put their names down. And I do not mean the Quack-Nutt, Meldas, Addie Mizner, Volney Scawlding clique, either.

When we arrived in San Francisco on the 15th of July, 1889, the Pacific Mail Company decided to lay the City of New York up for repairs. After discharging her cargo she was dismantled and towed over to the Union Iron Works, where she received a thorough overhauling, a brand new set of boilers, new decks, new rigging, and electric lights in place of the old oil lamps. Her cabins and staterooms were renovated and refitted with the best modern passenger steamer inventions. On leaving the dock yards after a four months' lay up, she was practically as good as a brand new ship, so Mr. Irving M. Scott, manager of the Iron Works, declared.

The bills for her repairing and refitting amounted to about $250,000.

On Friday, the 15th of November, she was brought back alongside of the Mail dock and put into commission to run between San Francisco and Panama, via the principal ports on the west coast of Mexico and Central America. On the same day, which, by the way, was my twenty-fourth birthday, I received the following orders from headquarters:



SAN FRANCISCO, November 15, 1889.

Mr. W. H. Chambliss, San Francisco:

DEAR SIR: You are hereby appointed Third Officer of the S.S. City of New York, and you will report for duty to Captain Searle at once.

Yours truly,

(Signed)   WILLIAMS, DIMOND & CO.,

General Agents.

During the four months that the ship was laid up for repairs I had remained on duty, standing night watches all the time, except about ten days, when I got a leave of absence to visit San José, Santa Cruz, Del Monte, and one or two other seaside resorts.

On Saturday, the 23d of November, we sailed on our first voyage to Panama. The following is a list of our officers:

R. R. Searle, commander; J. M. Dow, first officer; L. B. Park, second officer; W. H. Chambliss, third officer; Amandus Ahman, Reginald Fay, Fred Brooks, and J. Stevenson, quartermasters; Mr. Hurlihy, chief engineer; Mr. Murphy, first assistant engineer; Mr. Parsons, second assistant engineer; Mr. Floyd, third assistant engineer; E. J. Richardson, purser; Dr. Frank S. Sutton, surgeon; Mr. Dearborne, freight clerk; Mr. Pfeiffer, assistant freight clerk; James Blonk, carpenter.

One would naturally suppose that a steamer fresh from the Union Iron Works would be able to go to Panama and back, a total distance of only about seven thousand miles, without breaking down. But such was not the case with us. Just as we were abreast of Pigeon Point, about forty miles down the coast, a defective valve burst, disabling the engine so that we had to stop from eight o'clock in the evening until one the next day, to repair the damage.

Fortunately the sea was calm. Had there been a westerly breeze we would have drifted ashore with our quarter million dollars' worth of Union Iron Works "repairs" and all.

The forward cylinder was completely disabled so far as repairing it on board was concerned, so the engineers disconnected it, and we proceeded on our course with only one cylinder working, and arrived at Acapulco, Mexico, on Sunday, the 1st of December.

At Acapulco the engineers managed to repair the broken valve, and we proceeded on our course, after two days' delay.

Between Acapulco and Panama, we called at Champerico and San José de Guatamala; La Libertad, Acajutla, and La Union, San Salvador; and Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, arriving at Panama, on Friday, the 13th of December.

Of all the God-forsaken ports that ever I stopped at for more than a few days at a time, except Chemulpo, Corea, the port of Panama takes the lead. On account of the shallowness of the water, the coral reefs and the heavy rise and fall of the tide in the harbor, the large Mail steamers have to load and unload at an island about seven miles away from the city.* At low tide the ships settle down in the mud. Panama is such an unhealthy place that no one cares to go ashore there more than once a voyage, and even if one should like to go oftener, it takes nearly all night to go from the ship to the town and back in a small boat; and then you are liable to get aground on the reefs, where you may have to wait for the next high tide, if the sharks don't eat you in the meantime.

[* Note: The "range" (rise and fall) of the tide in Panama Bay is probably thirty feet.]

We left Panama on the 23d of December, 1889, and arrived at San Francisco on the 17th of January, 1890, having called at the regular Central American and Mexican ports on the route.

Among the passengers on the homeward bound voyage was Mrs. John Martin, who subsequently was given so much notoriety in San Francisco, in 1894, for having the unpardonable audacity to ask a local court of justice (?) to decide whether or not her little baby boy was entitled to a few thousand dollars which had been lawfully left to the child by the last will of the late Henry Martin, a wealthy brother-in-law of the little child's mother.

Mrs. Martin, who is nothing if not a natural woman, brings forth and raises her offspring. Therefore she should have known better than to expect justice for her child, when she knew very well that her cold-blooded millionaire sister-in-law, who is opposed to children on general principles, and ex-Mayor E. B. Pond and several other celebrities of savory reputations were so bitterly opposed to her having justice that they were willing to resort to the most detestable methods of "mud-throwing" ever heard of, in order to prejudice the judge, the jury, the press, and the public at large against her, and thereby rob her two-year-old son of his inherited pittance, which would have been barely enough to give the little boy the plain business education that Henry Martin evidently desired him to receive. Justice! Bah!

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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