Accounts of S.S. Golden Gate Survivors
This page was created to collect accounts of the ship's burning and sinking on July 27, 1862. The first account to see publication in New York was Benjamin J. Holladay's brief telegraph to family and firm. The telegraph message was sent upon his return to San Francisco aboard the St. Louis on Aug. 7.
The complete transcript of the Daily Alta California from Aug. 7, 1862 is reproduced here, thanks to the efforts of Joe Kelly Hughes, a researcher who has dived the wreck of the SS Golden Gate.
Other letters and accounts found their way into print in the four San Francisco newspapers. The Daily Alta California even notes on Aug. 9 that, “We have received from A. Rosenfield, publisher, a lithographic sketch of the late disaster to the Golden Gate off the Mexican coast.” The newspaper didn't have any capability to print graphics (unlike the New York papers, which were starting to use lithographs of maps to illustrate Civil War battles), so the sketch never appeared. However, it was viewable at the Daily Alta California offices, where people could come read Eastern newspapers and buy the latest magazines from New York and Europe. By all indications this lithograph is lost to history.
However, there is a Currier & Ives print of the burning of the S.S. Golden Gate at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
Both captains accounts were carried in Aug. 7 editions of the San Francisco newspapers -- as were several other accounts. When the survivors of the lifeboat that strayed far sound of Manzanillo arrived in the city on Aug. 18, there were more first-hand reports.
If you are aware of any others, please let us know and we'll add them to the accounts of the shipwreck.
The San Francisco Daily Alta California also published the reports by Capt. W.W. Hudson and Capt. R.H. Pearson immediately upon their rescue. These are linked.
SAN FRANCISCO, August 6, 1862,
-- 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, who would be 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.
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.
The arrival of survivors who were in the lifeboat that landed far south of Manzanillo provided the most-specific speculation as to the cause of the fire. This group of 23 arrived in San Francisco 11 days (Aug. 18) after the St. Louis brought the story into San Francisco.
"One of the waiters said the vessel had several times been on fire under the baker's oven, and had caught there the day before she was burned," wrote the Daily Alta California. "Some one familiar with the fact, had predicted that on some occasion the flames would get too much headway previous to discovery, and then the ship would go. The fire commenced near the oven, but nobody knows exactly where."
Later AccountsThe dozens of survivors wrote to family and friends about the accident. And some lived to pass down oral histories.
George Richard FultonThe story of George Richard Fulton comes down through an autobiography written by his daughter, Amy Day Fulton (and contributed by her grandson -- Robert Fathauer).
George was only 7 at the time of sinking and was on his way east to family in Missouri following the death of his parents in Virginia City, NV, in February, 1862. He was accompanied by an uncle and namesake, George Henry Fulton, who had come west to retrieve young George and brothers Julius (9 years old), Walter and Edward.
When the ship caught fire, the five Fultons went on deck. Amy Fulton's account says, "All the other children cried and begged him to save them. He said he would if he could but he feared it was impossible.
"When the fire got very near them, his uncle said goodbye to him and his older brother, Julius, and told them if they were saved to tell about him and the others, then made them jump into the water, which they did. When they got into the water Julius said to his brother, 'George, I can't swim a bit.' George tried to show him how but he just made one or two struggles and went down by his side. When George was going toward shore he looked back and saw his uncle watching him. From all he said, it seems he got ashore alone without any assistsance -- a remarkable thing for a boy of only 7 years.
"He remembered distinctly being picked up on the beach the next morning by two men who also found a little girl near him, and a keg of potatoes. As far as they knew they were the only survivors. One of the men took the little girl in his arms, and the other shouldered the potatoes and took the boy by the hand. Thus they set out on their long march over the hot sands in search of help.
"Soon the boy's steps began to falter, and when he sank down exhausted the men debated whether to take the boy or the potatoes. But love prevailed and the man left the potatoes and carried the boy until they came to the town of Manzanilla."
George received special care from the 1st mate of the St. Louis, taking him back to San Francisco with him. Evenutally George traveled to St. Louis (via Panama and New York) and was adopted by a bachelor uncle, John.