1888 Shipwreck Found in San Francisco Bay


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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released images Wednesday of the wreckage of a ship that sank in San Francisco Bay in 1888, which killed 16 people. The iron and wood steamship called City of Chester went down on August 22, after being hit by a larger ship named the Oceanic, in conditions of dense fog and low visibility.

City of Chester was carrying 106 travelers en route to Eureka, California and Portland, Oregon. Thirteen passengers and three crewmen perished when the ship sank.

The NOAA inadvertently discovered the wreckage while mapping shipping lanes in the bay, and City of Chester was located 217 feet down, just inside the Golden Gate Bridge. The NOAA team utilized a multi-beam sonic imaging system to capture three-dimensional images of the wreckage.

James Delgado, an NOAA shipwreck researcher, archaeologist and Titanic expert, combed through San Francisco newspapers from the era when City of Chester went down, which leaned toward putting the blame on the relatively unscathed Oceanic, which was an immigrant vessel. "The papers initially reacted, talking about the tragedy and accusations that the Chinese crew stood by and let people drown," Delgado said. "But what happens is you start to see things also come out countering that. Some leapt in water to save a drowning child." The initial investigation faulted the skipper of the City of Chester.

Robert Schwemmer, NOAA's West Coast regional maritime heritage coordinator added, "The Oceanic crew was up on the bow reaching down to survivors on the Chester, lifting them on the deck. After the collision, in five or six minutes, the Oceanic crew went on to save a lot of people."

In 1888, San Francisco Bay was one of the world's busiest and most crucial shipping ports. The City of Chester sinking was the second worst maritime disaster regarding casualties San Francisco Bay had ever seen. The most catastrophic occurred when a steamer called the SS City of Rio de Janeiro hit a reef in 1901, killing over 120.

Image via NOAA