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SS Golden Gate - 27 July 1862 - 175 and 223 Souls Lost - #maritimehistory

SS Golden Gate - On 27 July 1862 the Pacific Mail Steamship Golden Gate caught fire and burned 15 miles off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico while traveling between San Francisco and Panama. Between 175 and 223 passengers and crew were killed.

July 27, 1862: Between San Francisco and Panama, about 15 miles from Manzanillo, Mexico, fire was discovered in the engine room, and the vessel was headed for what is now called Playa de Oro to beach. Many of the passengers sought refuge in the stern, but the flames spread in that direction, and when boats were launched in the heavy surf the occupants were crushed against the ship or drowned; the ship broke up in the surf.

Reports of between 175 and 223 passengers and crew lost their lives, together with the baggage, mail, and nearly all the cargo of $1.4 million in specie. Survivors arrived in San Francisco in August, and the Daily Alta California published reports of the disaster from those survivors and from Capt. W.W. Hudson and Capt. R.H. Pearson. August 6, 1862, Received August 7, 1862, 11:45 a.m. W.L. Halssy, care of Geo. K. Otis, 88 Wall Street:, New York

I was saved from the burning ship by lashing myself to the forecastle ladder. I then jumped overboard; passing under the port wheel while the vessel was still underway. Fortunately I sustained no serious injury, and was picked up by the ship's boat. We were in the boat fully 20 hours before reaching Manzanilla. Poor Flint was lost. -- BEN J. HOLLADAY

Holladay's injuries weren't severe, but references by others make it clear that he didn't pass under the wheel uninjured. Mrs. Thomas Gough, rescued in one of the lifeboats, was dining with Capt. Hudson when the word came to his table of a fire aboardships. "Oh, nonsense! I don't believe it," he responded to the sailor with the news, but immediately left the table to investigate. She was in one of the first boats launched, which tossed all aboard into the sea during the failed lowering. A sailor jumped into the water, then righted the boat, after which the boat reloaded. The boat eventually began to take water, but encountering the boat of Mathew Nolan, first mate, he ordered the survivor to use a portion of Mrs. Gough's dress and handkerchiefs to top the leak.

(Above from Harpers Weekly, August 23, 1862)

Nolan also organized the boats together, as several were launched while the Golden Gate was still about two miles from shore. "The first mate then ordered one of the boats to go back and taken the surplus boats in tow, and follow in the wake of the ship, which was headed for the shore," another account in the Daily Alta California relates. "All the after part of the ship was now one sheet of flame, and her passengers were all crowded into the bow." "By the time we had reached the ship, many were ashore. After rowing about the ship until we could find no more floating there, we then went back, still searching for those who had left the ship before she struck, and found some five or six who were floating upon boards and timbers, among whome were Ben Hollday and Mr. Storms." There were a number of men floating in life preservers; Mrs. Gough's boat was full with 28 people, so those swimming to the boat were told to hang onto the sides. They rowed through the night for Manzanillo, encountering a thunderstorm around midnight. Finally the boat reached harbor around 1:30 p.m. on Monday. Other lifeboats continued to arrive through the afternoon. Gold valued at $300,000 was recovered from the wreck and brought to San Francisco by the Pacific Mail steamship Constitution in February 1863. Daily Alta California, January 23, 1863

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