Shipwrecks: SS Pacific

A commissioned painting of SS Pacific – author unknown

A collision between two ships on November 4, 1875 took the sidewheel steamer SS Pacific to the bottom near Cape Flattery, Washington on the west coast of North America. Just two people survived.

She had left Victoria for San Francisco with at least 275 people (it’s not known how many children were on board as they rode at no cost) and a cargo full of coal, potatoes and gold. But this weighed the ship heavily and as she listed to one side, the crew tried to right the ship by filling some of the lifeboats with water.

Enroute through the strait of Juan de Fuca, at 8 p.m., the Pacific hit the square-rigger Orpheus, which kept sailing, leaving the people aboard the Pacific to their fate — the condition of Pacific‘s damage was not known until after the Orpheus left, it came out in one post-accident inquiry. As people scrambled to the lifeboats, there were few usable ones left, and even though many women and some of the crewmembers jammed into them, the boats subsequently sank.

Although more than 20 people made it out of the sinking ship alive, clinging to any wreckage they could find, all eventually succumbed to hypothermia. The two survivors, Henry Jelley, a Canadian Pacific Railway surveyor and crewman Neil Henley, were picked up by two different rescue ships.

Pacific had been in service as a passenger vessel; her route had her travelling between Panama and San Francisco. In 1858, she also began ferrying California miners to BC’s Fraser Canyon during the gold rush. Although she was retired in 1860 due to a grounding, she was subsequently repaired and entered service again for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to help ferry more people with gold rush fever from San Francisco to Victoria and Puget Sound during BC’s Cassiar Gold Rush.

Recorded as one of the worst maritime disasters in BC, the SS Pacific rests, along with numerous other shipwrecks, in what’s known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

Text source: Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence.
Other text references:
Photo credit: A Wikipedia public domain image. Lost Bonanzas of Western Canada, Volume 2 (1995), Garnet Basque. Heritage House Publishing. Picture attributed to BC Archives.

© Copyright Vince Capone 2013