San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter IX.

New Year's Day, 1887, found us at anchor in singapore harbor, with steam up and all ready to sail.

In the afternoon we got under way, bound for the Philippine Islands. We put to sea and ran right into a current of bad luck that stayed with us for many days. To begin with, we encountered a head wind, the northeast monsoon. This interfered very much with our progress, as can readily be understood from the fact that we were rigged for sailing. We bettered our condition a little by sending down all the light spars at first, and later on, as the wind increased, we sent down the topsail yards, and fore and main yards, housed the top-masts and rigged in the jib-boom.

On the 4th of January, 1887, the career on the Essex came very near being ended forever. Early in the morning we sighted one of the small islands in the lower China Sea, about four hundred miles north of Singapore. The navigator laid the ship on a course that would have taken her on the side of the island nearest to the coast of Siam. We were going along steadily at about eight knots an hour, having run into smooth water on the lee side of the island, when all at once Ensign Loomis, the officer of the forecastle, yelled out to the officer of the deck; "Rocks ahead, sir!"

"Stop her! Back her full speed!" yelled Mr. Walling, who was officer of the deck.*

[*Note: I hear that Mr. Walling was the officer of the deck of the Kear-sarge when that ship was wrecked on Roncador Reefs seven years later.]

These startling commands, followed by the quick clanging of the engine-room gong, brought all hands on deck. Right ahead of us, and on each side, could be seen the sharp, jagged points of numerous rocks, ugly looking things, that would have torn the whole bottom out of the ship had she not been stopped in time. The navigator refused to believe his own eyes, for those rocks were not laid down on the chart. He was not even satisfied with the soundings obtained with the hand lead; but insisted on lowering the whale boat, and sending a quartermaster ahead to make sure that the rocks were genuine.

Having fully satisfied himself and the captain that the rocks were not the result of the imagination that succeeds a beautiful New Year's jag, as the old man had thought when he heard that Mr. Loomis had seen them first, the order was given to "'bout ship."

This meant to turn around and go back, which he did. On consulting the chart again, it was found that we had merely undertaken to pass on the wrong side of the island. With the morning's experience, and a gentle hint from the captain that the smartest of navigaters often find it necessary to consult the charts, as reminders, Mr. Wadham decided to go around on the other side of the island, where we found water enough to float all the ships in Uncle Sam's navy.

After a tiresome voyage of ten days, during which time we came very near being reduced to the necessity of burning up all of our light spars, on account of running out of coal, we reached Manilla on the morning of January 11. So completely exhausted was our supply of coal, that the bunkers were swept, and the last shovelful of coal dust was thrown into the furnace as we reached an anchorage about five miles out.

Manilla is on the island of Luzon, and it is the largest city in the Philippine group, which is under Spanish rule.

We managed to get a fresh supply of coal at the end of three days, at which time, January 14, we started across the China Sea for Hong Kong.

We had the wind in our favor going over, and we took advantage of it.

There is such a thing, however, as trying to make too much out of a fair wind; and we found this out in a way that was calculated to cause us not to forget it. On the 16th of January we were driving along with all sail set, and the engine going as fast as ever she could, when suddenly there was a great commotion up forward.

Crack! rip ! flapity-flap-flap ! and away went out fore-topsail yard, sail and all.

The accident did not detain us very long, for the watch on deck ran aloft and straightened things up--that is, what was left--in very short order.

Continuing on our course, we sighted the coast of China early the next morning, the 17th and in the afternoon of the same day we let go our anchor in the harbor of Hong Kong. About the first thing we did at Hong Kong was to send Ensign Radman to the hospital, he having contracted a touch of brain fever after the torpedo explosion.

The city is situated on the Island of Hong Kong, right in the mouth of the Canton River. Like Gibraltar, Hong Kong is a British possession. As Gibraltar is the key to the Mediterranean, so is Hong Kong the key to China, and it is the great center of trade of all Asia. It is said that the tonnage of the shipping that enters the port of Hong Kong annually, is equal to, if not greater than, that of any other port in the world, not excepting even New York, Liverpool, London, and San Francisco.

We love to make fun of the Britisher about his accent, his loud dressing and talking, his inability to understand a joke, and his ignorance of our democratic social usages. Perhaps he might be forgiven for the last-mentioned crime, since so many bankrupt princes, dukes, lords, and other specimens of his cheap-titled aristocracy have been bought up by our railroad magnates, and other members of the Parvenucracy, for husbands for their brainless daughters, who flaunt their pictures out before the public in the daily papers as if they had not already made everybody tired long before. According to our notion, everything that the Englishman does is wrong. However, when we come to take an inventory of what has been accomplished by the inhabitants of the little group of islands off the coast of France, we are bound to admit that when it comes to gobbling up foreign territory, and seizing important commercial centers and fortifying them so that it would be utterly impossible to capture them, our friend John Bull is no slouch, even if he did get knocked out in 1776.

One thing that I always admired in the English-man is his strong love for his country. Ridiculous and uncouth as his manner certainly is to us, he never attempts to deny his nationality. No matter what edict the Prince of Wales issues concerning the number of reefs that a gentleman should wear in the bottoms of his trousers' legs, and no matter what part of the world the English dude happens to be in when the cablegram announcing the change in the weather in London reaches him, he obeys without a murmur. Since the Prince of Wales turned up his trousers one night as he came out from the theater, the national boast that "the sun never sets on the English flag," will soon be supplanted by the startling announcement that the moon never sets on turned-up evening dress trousers.

We took our departure from Hong Kong on the 23d on January. Owing to the violence of the northeast monsoons we found it necessary to put into Ah-moy, China, on the 25th. We remained at Ah-moy until the 28th, when we put to sea again with all our yards down on deck, and top masts housed, and everything secured for steaming up the coast. This run from Ah-moy up the coast of China, through the straits of Formosa and the China Sea, was the most disagreeable part of the whole voyage around the world. For six days we drove right into a heavy head sea, during which time the decks were continually flooded. Every now and then a big sea would break over the forecastle and rush clean aft to the cabin door, carrying everything movable that came in its way. However, we kept right on, and on the morning of the 3d of February we ran into the harbor of Nagasaki, Japan, for a fresh supply of coal.

At Nagasaki all the stevedores and coal heavers are females. The women have a monopoly on this particular branch of labor, especially coaling ships of war. It is said that men are not allowed to handle coal there under any consideration.

I wonder how some of our society ladies, like mannish Mrs. Clara Foltz, and Laura de Force Gordon-- they of the Portia Law (d)-help-us Club--and their clique, who are always agitating the woman's suffrage question, and forever and eternally crying or for "woman's rights," would like to go on board a man-of-war, and form a line from the port gangway to the coal bunkers, and pass coal on board our of the collier, in little baskets which hold about forty pounds each? These baskets are passed along the line of "new" women from one to another, and they must be kept in motion, at a rate of speed that would make your head swim, from the time they leave the lighter alongside the ship until they are dumped into the bunkers.

Let our would-be mannish ladies, who wear bloomers and ride bicycles, take warning from the present plight of their almond-eyed sisters across the water, who kept insisting on having the same privileges that their husbands and brothers enjoyed, until they finally got just what they deserved in the manner aforesaid.

We remained at Nagasaki just about six hours, during which time the young society lady advocates of Woman's Suffrage piled coal enough into our bunkers to last us to Yokohama, for which port we cleared our at four o'clock in the afternoon.

The next morning we passed the active volcano of Iwoga, commonly called "Smoky Jack," in Van Diemen's Straits. From that time on our spirits began to rise, for we were approaching our destination, where we expected to have a little rest. The varied experiences through which we had passed during the long and tedious voyage from New York, had created a desire in some of our minds to rest on our laurels for a while.

Early in the morning of February 7 we sighted the tall snow-capped peak of Fuji-Yama, or the mountain of fire, the sacred mountain of Japan.

Fuji-Yama, the loftiest mountain in Japan, is an extinct volcano, on the Island of Nippon. It is about 12,500 feet high.

About noon of the same day we passed up the Gulf of Tokio, and dropped anchor in the harbor of Yokohama. Thus ended this long voyage of over 15,000 nautical miles, equal to about 16,875 English miles, or more than two-thirds of the circumference of the earth.

Having reached our destination, the first duty of Captain Jewell was to report for duty to Admiral Ralph Chandler, commander-in-chief of the American naval forces on the Asiatic station. These naval forces consisted of several "men-of-war," such as the Monocacy, an old double-ender, which would be about as useful in battle as one of the Oakland of Jersey City ferryboats with one paddle-wheel gone; and the Palos, a little, old, worn-out tugboat, about as big as one of Spreckles' tow-boats, or one of the Long Island fishing tugs. These formidable battle ships had been patched up so often that scarcely any parts of the original vessel remained, except, perhaps, the dimensions and the engines, which were out of date a long time before the civil war between the States. These two worse than useless old bulks, besides having been the laughing- stock of all the foreign naval squadrons and foreign vessels in the China seas for years and years, have actually cost the Government of the United States more to keep them afloat than it would take to build two modern fishing vessels. Even the Chinese and Japanese make fun of our fleet of "ships" out there. The Chinese refer to the Monocacy as a "heep no good junk."

Whenever anybody ventures to suggest the advisability of condemning these old tubs, and selling them at auction to the dealers in junk and scrap iron, the boodle politicians around Washington City, and "society" in general throughout the East, raise a great hue and cry about it being a shame to destroy historic vessels. Sometimes the cranks even go as far as to threaten to take up subscriptions from the "windows" and "orphans" (?) of the Grand Army pension pickers to repair the "dear old ships," and keep them in commission as relics of "The War," in order that the American flag may continue to be a target for the ridicule and sarcasm of foreign nations as long as it is kept waving from the peaks of such dilapidated old dug-outs.

Admiral Chandler, having received Captain Jewell officially, instructed the latter gentleman to have the Essex scrubbed and painted, and made ready for receiving visitors, after which he would receive him socially, and introduce him and his staff into Yokohama society.

The admiral was a jolly, good old fellow. He had two daughters who were great society girls; but he did not want them to go into Yokohama society, so he declared. The old admiral went on to tell Captain Jewell something about Oriental society; that is, the "society" of the Americans and Europeans in Japan. He said that in no other place outside of San Francisco could a fellow have more fun in a quiet way, without running any risks of being shot by jealous husbands, than he could right in Yokohama. Very few of the naval officers ever take their wives out to Yokohama. These foxy gentlemen tell their better halves that the water in Japan is very unhealthful, and the climate very bad for married ladies. This may be true, but the naval officers don't drink much water in any place. And then the climate that is "bad for other men's wives" seems to agree with such gentlemen as Captain Jewell, Captain McCormick, and Captain Gridley.

"But don't forget, Captain Jewell," said the admiral, "that mum's the word out here." And the good old admiral winked the other eye, and poked Captain Jewell in the ribs with his index finger.

Then they both had a good, hearty laugh and some lemonade with fiddlesticks in it; and Captain Jewell returned to his ship, and told his officers what a nice soft snap there was in store for them, and that it was theirs as soon as they could get the ship ready for receiving visitors on board.

The fact that the officers had been away from their homes for more than five months only increased the desire of the fashionable "society ladies" to meet them as soon as possible.

The trouble was, that some of these "ladies" were afraid that the newly arrived gentlemen would pay their respects to the bewitching almond-eyed fairies of Yoshiwara and Kanagawa before entering into the "swim."

In order to prevent the Japanese girls from securing the first outburst of long- smothered flames, the swell society ladies lost no time in arranging a ball complimentary to the captain and officers of the Essex, in order that they might waltz those smothered flames into life to the enchanting strains of such popular airs as: "If You Love Me, Darling, Tell Me With----" "After The Ball is Over," "Love Will Find a Way," and other inspiring music, vocal as well as instrumental.

The "ball" was literally a howling success. No broken sighs were breathed there. Plain English was the order of conservation during the night, and Yokohama society ladies, the married ones in particular,--whose husbands, like E. V. Thorne, professional gambler, lottery ticket vendor, "editor," publisher, and proprietor of the blackmail sheet called the Box of Curious, spend six nights out of every week playing poker at the hotels barrooms, and clubs, and the seventh at the "tea houses" of Yoshiwara,--understand how to use it to the best advantage on an occasion of this kind.

This ball settled the fate of most of our offices during Yoshiwara is the Japanese name for a certain section of each city that is fenced off for the use of persons who prefer to ignore the marriage law. New York and San Francisco should follow suit.

[. . .] the sojourn of the Essex in Yokohama. Whether these gentlemen acted on the advice of Chesterfield, or merely through a sense of gentlemanly duty of suffering humanity or femininity, I am not prepared to say; but if, through neglect, they made any lifelong enemies among the married ladies of Yokohama's little Parvenucracy, I think it must have been unintentional on the part of the officers. It should be remembered, however, that a fresh shipload of American naval officers, five months away from home, does not arrive in Yokohama very often; and when such a precious cargo of manly freight does arrive, the demand, like the demand for fresh beef and pork in Chicago during a railroad strike, is always greater than the supply.

I should like to mention, here, that I did not approve of the killing of Mr. Gower Robinson, English dude and broker, by Lieutenant Hetherington, U. S. N., for his carryings-on with the latter's giddy wife. Lieutenant Hetherington was well aware of the tropical temperature that prevailed all the year around the Oriental society, when he permitted his silly young wife to go out to Yokohama; and I think that in slaying the first man who paid his respects to Mrs. Hetherington during his absence, the lieutenant not only made a fool of himself, but he displayed a lack of appreciativeness that was very unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman, and detrimental to good order and discipline. Mr. Hetherington knew how amiably and kindly his brother officers were always treated by the semi-matronly ladies of Yokohama, therefore he had no right to slaughter a man like that for merely trying to make an old established rule work both ways.

There was one officer on board, however, who would have nothing to do with the class of society. Lieutenant Wadham, true to "faith," devoted all his leisure moments to missionary ladies.

It was hinted by Mr. Walling and Mr. Hoggett, and others who did not like the navigater, that the latter was not as religious as he pretended to be. Some of these wicked officers even went so far as to declare that Mr. Wadham was a hugh fraud, and that he had only been practicing up his religion on the way out from New York, in order to be able to "stand in" with Mr. Meecham, Miss Britton, Mr. Staniland, and Mr. Loomis, and other old sinners of that sanctimonious ilk in Yokohama, and incidentally to curry favor with the wives and daughters of all other missionaries in Japan.

Methodist missionary society in Japan is about on a par with San Francisco's South or Market Tar Flatocracy, and New York's Tenderloin-Tammanocracy as Dr. Parkhurst and Father Ducey have portrayed it.

I have seen missionaries of both sexes, who landed in Japan and started in with a little steamer trunk and a certificate from the American Bible Society, or some Methodist Missionary Manufacturing Company, return home, after a few years, with silks, satins, and other Oriental luxuries enough for a princess. These valuables they had received, no doubt, in exchange for "salvation of the souls of the heathen" (?). "Christian civilization!" Bah! Our Savior never taught any such Christianity as that. But it is "irreverent" to expose such hypocrisy.

From a mere rumor at first, it soon developed into common talk all over the ship, that the navigator was just as bad as the rest of the officers, and, indeed, worse, for the others never pretended to be saints, while the navigater wanted to convert the whole crew, from Captain Jewell on down to the quarter gunner's "chicken" (a boy named Conan) into a little Salvation Army.

After we had been in Yokohama a couple of weeks, and the daily routine had been resumed,--after the ball,--and all hands began to evince a decided inclination to stay on board the ship at least two nights during each week to recuperate, Mr. Wadham made one mighty effort to redeem his lost reputation and re-establish his amateur prayer meetings. He announced, one day, that he would bring some of his lady friends on board that night, to entertain the boys with music. The idea would not have been a bad one had he brought along some of the lady friends of the other officers; but this he would not do. He brought all missionaries. It took three trips of the steam launch to the creek landing to bring them all on board. And such a lot of old pie-faces you never saw in all your life! The toughest-looking specimens of ex-massage artists, and other "Mary Magdelens" that I ever saw in the Salvation Army would be Venuses along-side of some of the prettiest of the navigater's ex-cook, ex-chambermaid, and ex- washerwoman missionary friends. The fact of his keeping company with such frightful-looking old freaks was, at least, one point in the navigater's favor, so far as the re-establishment of his religious pretensions went. We boys were very young then, and we had a good deal to learn. Some of us were inclined to let up on Mr. Wadham a little, and make less fun of his psalm-singing, for we were beginning to think that we had been a little too severe in our criticisms of him all along, and that, perhaps, after all, he was all right, except in the head. Hartel and Walsh called a meeting of the boys on the forecastle, and a motion was made to send a committee of three to apologize to the navigater and beg his pardon for having called him a "sanctimonious old sinner."

The tidal wave of public sympathy was at its height, and the motion was just about to be voted upon, and most undoubtedly it would have been carried by acclamation, had it not been for the presence of older and wiser counsel. Old Nick Leah, one of the boatswain's mates, asked if he might be permitted to address the meeting. Nick was an old war veteran of wide "social" as well as fighting experience. A veritable old salt was he, with his closely cropped mustache and long hair protruding from his nostrils, reminding you of a Turk. In a brief but well-chosen speech, Old Nick explained to us that beauty was only skin deep, after all; and he further stated that he could prove it by the history of New York's alleged "Four Hundred," that some of the greatest men of the day preferred the "society" of the homeliest ladies that they could find, to that of the reigning belles of the season; and he further stated that he considered Mr. Wadham a sly old fox.

Nick put a clincher on his argument by relating some hitherto unpublished facts that came out in connection with the famous Beecher-Tilton adultery case. He declared that it had been proven beyond any question or doubt that Mrs. Tilton was the homeliest "lady" in Plymouth Church. Nick went on to relate the anecdote of how Mr. Beecher had explained to an inquisitive friend why he preferred Mrs. Tilton's society to that of some of the younger and handsomer ladies, by showing the friend an old rusty-looking silver watch, the movement of which he declared was superior to that of his gold watch.

This was more than we could stand. Bad as we had believed the navigater to be, we had never dreamt that he was a disciple of Henry Ward Beecher. Instead of sending a committee to beg his pardon, someone suggested the idea of keel-hauling him for attempting to run such a bluff on us. After passing a resolution thanking Nick Leah for his timely advice, and carrying by acclamation a motion that if the navigater tried any more of his funny business with us we would throw him overboard, we adjourned the meeting subject to the call of the chairman. Just what Mr. Wadham's fate might have been is uncertain, for the next day he was transferred from the Essex to the position of flag lieutenant to Admiral Chandler, on board the Brooklyn.

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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