The San Francisco Sunday Call
Under San Francisco
Lies A Buried Fleet
By Helen D. Q. and Guy R. Stewart
THE customs broker had a taste
for antiquarian research. He
paused to wave his hand toward
the four storied, concrete build
ing that stands at the northwest cor
ner of Sansome and Clay street.
"It's good to see the old names hang
on that way," said he.
The newcomer looked at the lettering
that runs above the entrance.
"Xiantic,'' he read slowly, then ques
tioned, "what's Xiantic?"
The customs broker spoke impress
ively. -It was the best known of all
the old store ships. And that doesn't
meaai much to you either, does it?
You see, in the forties, and along into
the early fifties, all this flat city front
was bay—Yerba Buena cove, they called
it—and it bit into the town from over
at Rineon Point, where the govern
ment reserve was. clear back here to
Clark's point at Battery street and
Broadway. The water came up to
Montgomery street. Yes, you'd hardly
believe it, but there were buildings
along the west side of the street and
beach on the east."
The newcomer glanced up toward
Montgomery street. It was hard to
believe. The Mills building towered
up on the east side of it now.
"But you spoke of store ships, and
the Xiantic," he reminded his com
The broker nodded. "I'm coming to
that. In those days the prices for
building were clear up out of sight—
they used to bring lumber in from
China—and some of the merchants
bought up a ship or two (there were
son or 600 deserted vessels lying in the
bay, their crews off at the diggings),
to break up for building warehouses.
But labor was high, and even break
ing up the hulks cost a good deal. So
some one got the idea of anchoring the
ships well inshore, where they rested
on the mud at low tide, and using them
for warehouses just as they were.
"Godeffroy. Sillam & Co. bought the
Xiantic and moored it here at Clay and
Sansome. It had quite a history. I
*• appened to come across an account of
"it in an old Alta California published
some time in the 70s, when they were
digging the last of its timbers out of
the spot where they'd lain for 20 years
"It was a whaling ship, to start with,
owned by a Liverpool firm, and along
in the early 40s they put it on the
Liverpool-Valparaiso run. On one of its
South American trips a Chilean mer
chant firm bought it, refitted it and sent
it to Panama under Captain Cleveland.
They sailed into port there in April,
1849, to find everybody flocking to Cali
fornia. It was billed for San Francisco
immediately and came into the bay,
July 5, with 250 passengers and a cargo
of tropical fruits.
"Before the week was past the crew
bail left for the mines and it lay in the
stream till Godeffroy and his partner
bought it. They began to fill in the
l>ay late in the 50's and the Niantlc was
sunk in the mud up to eight feet below
t: f water line. When the May fire of
T>l came along it burned it down to the
ground, and before the ashes were cold
they had started the Niantic hotel, us
ing the lower part of the hull that was
left for the cellar."
"Well, that was an idea!" the new
comer broke in, laughing.
"Wasn't it? A man named Roby
leased the hotel as soon as it was built
and under his management it had the
reputation of being the best house in
the city. He sold out before long and
it passed through a couple of other
hands before Daniel Parrlsh bought it.
While he kept it one of hie boarders
was arrested for stealing a big sum of
nk' ney and sent to state's prison for
quite a long term. He couldn't be in
duced to tell the whereabouts of the
coin, but it was rumored that he had
hid it somewhere about IJie hotel, and
Parrish made a pretty thorough search
without discovering anything. Shortly
after Woods, the fellow who had been
clerking for Parrish, bought him out,
though no one could understand where
he got the money to do it, and he had
not run the house long before he de
parted for parts unknown, taking with
him, it was said, a good deal more
money that he'd ever made in the hotel
"N. H. Parkell leased the building
after that, and one fine day the erst
while convict walked Into his office
and asked permission to dig under the
doorstep for the money he had once
buried there. Some mighty careful dig
ging followed, but no trace of the
money was found, and suspicion pointed
more strongly than ever to Woods.
"Finally, some time along in the 70e,
Charles l>. Low, the owner of the lot,
decided the old house had better come
down. He put up a four story brick
building in its stead, and in excavating
for its foundation the keel of the old
hull was completely removed. Per
haps the oddest part of the removal
was the discovery, stowed away among
timbers, of a good many articles
which had been put there for storage
during the time of its use as a store
ship. Thirty-six baskets of champagne
they found—Jaquesson Fils brand —put
there originally by Van Brunt and Ver
plank. And they toll me that the air
had been so completely excluded that
some of the champagne—a quarter of a
century old, remember—effervescecf
sli&htly on being uncorked."
The newcomer looked with different
eyes at the prosaic block that stands
today on the scene of all these event*
"It certainly gives you a bond witb
the romantic past, doesn't it?" said he,
"Think of all that's gone on under thif
business block; ,.
"That's what I say." agreed the other?
"and it's not this block alone. If you'll
come over to the custom house with m*
while I look up an invoice, we'll come
back along Battery, and I'll tell you
what I know about the ships that weru
"It's a handsome building," remarked
the stranger to San Francisco, looking
at the lion guarded granite structure
as they neared it.
The other man laughed. "There was
a ship here, too. The Georgean, its,
name was, and it lay well back from
Battery on this block between Jackson
and Washington. But I've never found
out anything about it except its name
and the fact that is was a storeshlp.
"There were two other uses for the
deserted vessels," the broker went on,
as they turned in the entrance. "One
was for dwellings. They say more than
a thousand people lived on buildings
erected on piles over the bay, or on
board the hulks, during the winter o»
T.n-'f.l. And it's claimed that the shijf.
were really the most comfortable places
to live- The cabins could be made
pretty livable, they werp free from
the wind blown sand that made life
miserable ashore, and, best of all, they
had no fear of fire. Fire, you know,
was the terror of early San Francisco.
"The other use was to hold the titles
WHERE STORE SHIPS AND
WATER LOT MARKERS REST'
TODAY WITH SKYSCRAPERS AS
MONUMENTS ABOVE THEIR
to water lots. It wasn't long after fill
ing in commenced that the business
men began to realize that lots at the
moment under water were apt to be
come the most valuable business prop
erty in town. The ayuntamiento (town
council) held a water lot sale on Jan
uary 3, ISSO, at which $635,130 was re
ceived for 434 lots.
"But It was one thing to buy the lots
and another to hold them. The Broad
way and Pacific Wharf company adopted
a very high handed method of refusing
to let lot owners encroach upon their
slips, and from 1850 to 1853 there was
a regular water lot war.
"The owners decided that the best
way to perfect a title was to float a
ship on to the disputed lot and sink
her on the spot. This method fre
quently resulted in complications, as
when Palmer, Coke & Co. had the bark
Cordova and the brig Garnet sunk on
Davis, between Pacific and Broadway,
only to discover that they were resting
on land belonging to the wharf com
pany. The only way out of it was for
Cooke and Palmer to buy the entire
block, which cost them a clean hundred
It was a half hour later that the two
men left the custom house and took
their deliberate way down Battery. At
the end of the first block they came to
"Here,"' said the broker, waving his
hand to indicate the northwest corner
of Battery and Clay, where four stories
of cream colored brick raise themselves
today, "was the location of the General
Harrison. She was one of the better
known store ships, owned by E. Mickle
& Co. But I must confess I want to
hurry you on to the next corner. It's
the most interesting, except the Niantic,
of them all."
"It doesn't look it." objected his com
panion, glancing with some disfavor on
the building of dark, red brick, upon
which white signs tell the passer that
flannelette underwear is made and
printing done at the northwest corner
of Batttry and Sacramento.
"It was here," the San Franciscan
told him, "that Beach and Lockhart
anchored the storeship Apollo, which,
unlike many of the other hulks put to
the same use, became a fixture. In
time it was raised to stand firmly »n
piles, a platform extended under it.
and from it boat stairs ran down to the
water. A coffee stand was made in it 3
etern by cutting into its hull just under
its cabin windows, and a sloping roof
extended over it.
"Standing as it did, right on the
water front, it's not surprising to hear
that many a pioneer Just ashore from
the weary voyage around the Horn, or
the scarcely easier one across the isth
mus, took his first meal in California
at the Apollo stand. Everything served
here was two bits,' whether it was a
rup of ooffee, a piece of pie or a couple
of doughnuts. In those days, though,
nearly every one said 'doa reales.' 'A
quarter of a dollar' and "25 cents' were
terms practically unknown.
"Directly across Battery from the
Apollo, where this vacant lot is now.
the prison brig Euphemia was moored.
The first money the Ayuntamiento ap
propriated was for her purchase, and
she was the first jail in San Francisco
sufficiently secure to keep prisoners in
actual custody. Remind me when we
get to the house and I'll show you an
oM wood engraving that I have, show
ing the Euphemia and the Apollo. It's
an interesting old picture.
"Moored up Sacramento a block, there
at the corner of Sansome, was the
Thomas Bennett, beside the Sacramento
street wharf. For a long time she was
the headquarters for the crowd of
young: southerners known as the 'Balti
more boys'—Stroebell, the Gough broth
ers, Billy Buckler and a lot more."
"Is her hulk there still?" the new
comer asked him.
"No. She -was one of the transients,
as were the most of them. But they
tell me that in the blocks bounded by
Drumm, Jackson, Davis and Pacific—
not much of a place to look at. I warn
you, covered with one story saloons
and barber shops—there are four of
them, and that they're there yet. They
are the English brig Hardie, the ship
Bethel, also Elnglish; the Noble and the
"You've got all the names down,
haven't you?" laughed the newcomer.
list of names for which I haven't found
the locations: Regrulus, Thames, Al
ceste, Neptune, Golconda, Mersey, Caro
line Augusta, Dianthe, Genetta de Goi
to, Candace, Copiapo, Tulca. Some
names those, aren't they?
'•But these are the two I'm most
anxious to locate—the Plover that
sailed the Arctic in search of Franklin,
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