San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter XXIV.

DURING the last voyage that I made on the City of Peking I decided to apply for a leave of absence, upon our return to San Francisco.

I had two very good reasons for desiring to "lay off" a couple of months.

First: I wanted to go before the local Board of U. S. Inspectors of Steam Vessels and pass an examination for a first officer's certificate, or "mate's papers," to use the proper nautical term.

Second: I wanted to visit my mother, my sister and brothers and old friends, whom I had not seen in eight years.

Having been on duty in the service of the Pacific Mail for more than three years without a furlough, I felt that a breathing spell on shore would do me good.

Since this was my last voyage in any capacity except that of a passenger on several subsequent voyages on different ships, and as it resulted in my changing the course of my life entirely, I trust that the reader will pardon me for giving some of the details. I shall not attempt to lead the reader into the belief that a certain pleasant acquaintance formed on board the steamer during the outward bound voyage had anything to do with my sudden resolution to stop ashore for a while, because if I did I would be treading on the premises of writers of fiction.

We set sail from San Francisco on Tuesday, the 11th of August, 1891, at 4 P.M.

Shortly before we cast off our lines from the Mail dock, Mr. Arthur Verdante, a well-known and popular official of the company's service, came aboard, accompanied by Mrs. Verdante, his wife, and Miss Lillian, their only daughter. Mr. Verdante introduced me to the ladies and informed me that they were going out to Japan on a pleasure trip and he hoped that the officers of the ship would make their journey as pleasant as possible.

Mr. Verdante said something about someone else who was to accompany Mrs. and Miss Verdante on the voyage, but before the conversation concluded the quartermaster passed the word around for the officers to repair to their respective stations for leaving port, and I did not have time to wait for an introduction just then. I had to take my station on the bridge with the captain and the pilot. After the usual excitement attending the departure of an ocean steamer, we backed away from the wharf, steamed on down the bay and out to sea.

When Mr. William Wright, the second officer, relieved me from duty at eight o'clock,--at which time we were passing Farallone Island Light,--I walked aft on the quarter-deck to see how the ladies were getting along. Mrs. Verdante had retired to her cabin to remain until she got accustomed to the motion of the ship, but Miss Lillian was on deck, and she introduced me to her friend, Miss Breuvage, and after explaining that she was her dearest friend, Miss Verdante ran down below to look after her seasick mother, like the sweet, dutiful daughter that she was, leaving her friend on deck with me.

Miss Breuvage proceeded to tell me that she and Miss Verdante had just graduated from Mills' Seminary, Oakland. She said little else about herself, except that her parents, who did not wish to take the sea voyage themselves, had, after a good deal of persuasion from Miss Verdante, consented to allow her to accompany the latter, in charge of her mother. Nothing more was said about her parents or family, and I never asked her any questions. I did not have to be told anything about Miss Jennie's people, for I could see for myself that she possessed that genuine, unmistakable refinement which is a natural inheritance from a good mother; and at the same time she displayed unquestionable signs of practical ideas and solid common sense, which must have been inherited from a thoroughly practical father. All of those natural qualities had been well preserved and cultivated, and I should like to say that a seminary which turns out such splendid types of polished womanhood as Miss Breuvage and Miss Verdante, must be conducted on lines which should commend the institution to any mother or father who might desire to give a daughter a course of training that would fit her for woman's proper sphere in life.

I have not the honor of a personal acquaintance with the professors of Mills' Seminary; but if they can stand a compliment in plain, common-sense English, I should take pleasure in saying that they know their business or profession as teachers--that is, if Misses Breuvage and Verdante and a few dozen more of their graduates whom I have met are fair samples of what they do for their pupils over there.

Although favored with beautiful weather and a smooth sea during the outward voyage, we had to contend with the disadvantages of a partially crippled engine, which could not be induced to go any faster than 260 miles a day, when we should have been making over 300. However, since it was through no fault of mine, and since the Pacific Mail did not sustain any loss, I cannot say that I regretted the loss of time of two days that we experienced between San Francisco and Honolulu.

We came to anchor outside the Reefs at Honolulu, at 6.17 P.M., on Monday, the 19th.

The next morning I went ashore with the ladies to escort them round Honolulu. They had several schoolmates and friends residing there, and they also had letters of introduction to some of my Honolulu acquaintances, among whom were the Damons. Honolulu is a nice, sociable city, and its leading citizens are very hospitable, and not over particular about limiting their friends to society calling hours, especially passing friends who have only a few hours in port, while the steamer remains.

The Damons, who are among the wealthiest Americans on the islands, thought nothing of our calling on them at 7:30 A.M.

The ladies were on a pleasure trip, and as curios are always in order, I thought it would be a pity to pass Honolulu without treating them to the sight of a missionary financier. So I took them up to see Mr. S. M. Damon.

This "holy" missionary is a son of an old Down East missionary who was sent to Honolulu during the reign of King Kamehemeha I., so I have ben informed.

The elder Damon was given some land by the king in exchange for a little missionarianity. His son Sammy, the subject of this sketch, early developed financial traits of an uncommon order. He induced his father to advance him some funds (I didn't say church funds) to invest in a private scheme which he had in his head. With these funds he sent to the United States and purchased large quantities of ten cent silver pieces, which he exchanged for the large coins already in circulation in Honolulu, at the rate of eight dimes for a dollar. Subsequently he became interested in the millinery business, and induced the old man to tell the native women, from the pulpit, that their entrance into heaven would be greatly facilitated if they would buy new hats, such as were worn by the holy missionary ladies. The advice had the desired effect, and the Kanaka women rushed to the millinery store, where the bright young financier sold them all the hats that they needed, receiving their dimes in payment for the same at the par value of ten to the dollar, explaining that this was necessary in order to get the small change into circulation again. And the "heathen" women went their way, rejoicing and giving thanks to the god of hypocrisy for having created missionaries like unto the Damons.

Mr. Damon showed us all the attention that a person could reasonably expect from a financier. He even went to the livery stable and instructed the proprietor to give us the best team in Honolulu--on percentage. We drove all over the city, and afterward tried to drive up to the summit of Punch-bowl Hill, and, taking the wrong road, we drove and drove, up and up Nuuanna Valley until we came to a standstill in the middle of a big sugar farm, where the road was so narrow that we had to get out of the rockaway, unhitch the horses and turn the vehicle around by hand. After this experience we returned to town and drove out King's Street to Waikiki, and Sans Souci, and then over to Dr. Trousseau's ostrich farm. By this time it was getting late in the afternoon, so we took the team back to the stable, and returned to the steamer on Jerry Simonson's steam lighter, the same little craft, with her smokestack in one quarter, that we went ashore on.

About 4 P.M. we got under way and proceeded on our course for Yokohama, arriving there on Thursday, the 3d of September.

The ladies disembarked at Yokohama, and we proceeded on to Hong Kong and arrived at that port on the 10th.

When we called at Yokohama on our return voyage, on the 22d of September, I found my lady friends safely domiciled at a private boarding house at No. 2 Bluff. They had visted Tokio, Kamakura, and the great statue of Diabutsu, and had returned to Yokohama just the day before our arrival. They expressed themselves highly pleased with Japan. They were there to see the country and, acting on the advice of their friends, they were keeping clear of the local society of Europeans mentioned in Chapter IX.

They came aboard the steamer the following morning, and remained nearly all day, and took lunch, or tiffen, as it is called out there, on board. In the evening I went ashore and called upon them to say "good-by." We were scheduled to sail the next morning at daylight, and they were coming back on the City of Rio de Janeiro, which vessel was due to sail from there about the 17th of the following month.

At daybreak in the morning of September 25 we were under way, and in the course of four or five hours we rounded Cape King and took the usual Great Circle course for San Francisco, arriving here on the 10th of October.

On the following night after our arrival, San Francisco was visited by the heaviest earthquake that had been felt in the city in twenty years. I was sitting in my room, No. 814 Palace Hotel, writing a letter when the shock came. At first there was a rumbling sound, similar to the passing of a heavy freight train; then the great hotel began to tremble from cellar to garret; windows rattled, beams creaked and groaned, doors opened and banged to again, tables and chairs shifted their positions, and in a minute this enormous caravansary was in an uproar. As I left my room and started for the elevator I saw men, women, and children rushing wildly out of their rooms, trying to escape from what appeared to be a doomed house. A big fat lady occupying the adjoining room, No. 815, rushed out of her door and seized me like a drowning person, and would not let me go until the building quit shaking. I called her attention to the fact that she had forgotten to complete her toilet before leaving her room, then she quit screaming, turned me loose, and vanished into her own room, and I saw nothing more of her. It was about half past ten when the shock came. The hotel was full of Eastern tourists, most of whom had retired for the night. There were curious stories in circulation the next morning about Eastern rural gentlemen who grabbed their gripsacks, rushed out on Market Street and refused to enter the house again until breakfast. Such tales as those are highly amusing after the danger is passed, but we seldom see anything funny in each other's terror-stricken escapades at the time that they happen, because we are all of us susceptible to a strange antipathy for the quaking of Mother Earth.

Monday, October 19, 1891, I made application to Mr. Alexander Center, General Agent of the Pacific Mail, for a two months' leave of absence.

Tuesday, the 20th, application granted. Mr. Paulsen, formerly second officer of the steamer Acapulco, relieved me on the City of Peking.

Wednesday, 21st, the Peking sailed on her regular schedule time.

On Thursday and Friday, the 22d and 23d, I passed my examination before the United States Board of Inspectors and received my certificate for mate of ocean steamers, and license to sail as first officer on Pacific Ocean lines.

Wednesday, October 28, 1891. About half past four o'clock this morning Mr. Cheo. M. Tarceau, who occupies the suite of rooms, Nos. 816 and 817, right next door to mine, in the Palace Hotel, returned from the "tug-of-war" in an unsettled condition, and, after banging and kicking on doors until he woke up all the occupants in the adjoining rooms, he got into his wife's room, and proceeded to explain to his spouse something which had evidently displeased him before he went out. Judging from the noise that followed, his wife's room must have presented a beautiful scene. It was none of my affairs, so I did not presume to interfere with them. I opened my door and looked out just in time to catch a glimpse of a fleeing female figure in white as it escaped from the room of the courteous "tintographer," and disappeared down the hallway. It was Mrs. Tarceau, formerly Mrs. Phrisk of Fresno. She had only been married to the "fort-hog-rapher" a very short while.

Very soon the night watchman of the hotel appeared on the scene, accompanied by several of the colored employees, and they managed to secure the enraged Frenchman; but not until he had avenged himself by smashing everything of a perishable nature in his rooms, including all of his wife's dainty bric-a-brac, looking-glasses, whatnot, etc., and upsetting a chiffoniere. I understand that the watchman had to resort to the use of some stout twine or a trunk lashing, and bind the unhappy colonel hand and foot, in order to quiet him down. Everybody in the house knew all about it by breakfast time, and I was kept busy all the forenoon answering questions in an evasive manner. It was talked around that I occupied the next room to the scene of the disturbance, and, in self-defense, I was obliged to answer all inquiries with the statement that I thought it was another earthquake.

When I went out to Mrs. Kixler's charity musicale this evening I was plied with questions enough by the guests there assembled to fill a chapter. Dr. William J. Younger, the swell society dentist, who charges twenty dollars an hour for extracting, manufacturing, and filling society teeth, was the first gentleman to start the report that "the young man who lived in the adjoining room to the Tarceaus was in the house."

After that I did nothing but listen to questions and repeat my sterotyped answer to all.

I have nothing against Mr. Tarceau, and I did not care to tell what I had just entered in my diary. He occupies a position as colonel on Governor Harkham's staff, and all the other colonels who were assembled at the Kixler charity affair, including Dr. Younger and the "fruit-pickers," were talking about asking him to resign.

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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