Wreck of the Brother Jonathan

Forum dedicated to photos and information regarding history of lights, life-saving stations, keepers, lost lighthouses and more.

Moderator: vacastle

Postby island » Wed Apr 24, 2013 7:57 pm

Captain DeWolf took over the Brother Jonathan (220 ft. sidewheel steamship)in June of 1865 after the previous captain was shot in an argument with a southern sympathizer just after the end of the Civil War. While on the Columbia River, the Jonathan collided with the sailing barkentine, Jane Falkenberg, damaging the Jonathan’s hull. When she returned to San Francisco, Captain DeWolf told the company that she needed to be hauled out and repaired, but they decided to do the job at the dock.

Business was good, perhaps too good. Cargo had piled up on the dock for the lack of carrying capacity, and now the Jonathan was there and scheduled to go north. The day before she was to sail, Captain DeWolf told the company’s agent to stop accepting cargo, as the ship was already too deep in the water, and she hadn’t even begun loading her passengers. But the agent refused, and when Captain DeWolf said it was too dangerous to sail her in this condition, he was told that if he didn’t take her out, they would find a captain who would. The company’s agent then ordered aboard a three-stamp ore crusher, weighing several tons, which was placed aboard, directly over the patched spot in the Jonathan’s hull.The ability to steer was greatly reduced by the overload thus reduced speed, a sidwheeler is steered by virture of the water passing the rudder resultling only from the speed of the ship.

On July 27th and 28th, 1865, the loading was finished on the ship. The purser was busy storing away or listing an unusual amount of cash for the trip. Major Eddy, a U.S. Army paymaster, came on board with $200,000 to pay the troops at Fort Vancouver, Walla Walla, and other posts in the Northwest, probably in greenbacks. William Logan, government Indian Agent for the Northwestern Region, may have brought gold coins on board for the annual treaty payments to the tribes. This money was paid to the tribes to keep them on the reservations, and they were usually paid in gold. It has been said that crates of $20 gold pieces were loaded, some for a private transfer for Haskins and Company, and possibly some for Wells Fargo and Company.

The following is primarly from the testimony of the third mate, the only one of the ship's command who survived.

By noon on the 28th, the Brother Jonathan was ready to go. Steam was raised, the lines cast off, and the paddles began to turn. But the ship didn’t move an inch. So deep was she laden that her bottom was firmly embedded in the mud. They waited for the afternoon tide and hired a tug, and the Jonathan sluggishly left the dock, backwards, with 54-crew members and 190 passengers aboard. She passed through the Golden Gate and turned north, into a strong headwind and heavy seas. It only got worse as they slowly worked north and very few passengers were in any condition to show up for dinner.

Around two in the morning of the next day, the Jonathan pulled into the harbor at Crescent City to offload a little cargo. By 9:30 she was back underway. With the storm building, Captain DeWolf headed more west than north, to get safely around the strung-out rocks of St. George’s Reef. But the speed was down and the storm was building, and it took two hours to make about 14 miles northwest of port. By then Captain DeWolf noted that the vessel was hardly keeping her own, and decided to run back to Crescent City to wait out the storm.

At noon the Captain took a sun sight, and plotted his position "four miles north of the latitude of Point St. George." The ship was brought to a more easterly heading, which steadied her a bit, and headed closer to shore. The ship came up to Seal Rock, where it was relatively clear, and Captain DeWolf ordered a course "Southeast by South," to head for the Crescent City breakwater. The charts then used showed no obstructions between his ship and safety. The captain ordered a mate forward to ready the anchors for use. This was Dragon Channel the normal offshore approach to Crescent City and marked at the shore end by Batttery Point Light.

As the mate worked on the anchor, he suddenly saw something beneath the water and yelled back to the wheelhouse, but it was too late for the Jonathan. The waves lifted her and dropped her on a pinnacle of rock rising 250 feet from the ocean bottom. The rocks penetrated her hull between the bow and the foremast, then the next great wave carried her further, tearing her bottom out all the way to the bridge. The great weight of the ore crusher dropped through what was left of the bottom of the ship through the hull weakened by her previous collision. The force of the wind and sea twisted the Jonathan around until the bow pointed directly at the shore, some four miles away. Five minutes after she hit the rock, Captain DeWolf knew there was no hope of saving the ship, and ordered crew and passengers aft to "try and save themselves."

The Jonathan carried four iron lifeboats and two wooden surfboats, with a capacity of 250 people, but getting them off was more than the crew could handle. The first lowered boat capsized immediately and drifted under the stern of the dying ship. The second boat, full of ladies, was being lowered just astern of the paddle wheels on the starboard side, when a giant wave hit the ship and smashed the lifeboat into the ship. The first officer, a Mr. Allen, managed to get the passengers back aboard the Jonathan just before the lifeboat was totally smashed to pieces against the hull.

Fifteen minutes had gone by since the ship hit the rock, and she was breaking up fast. The Third Mate, Mr. Patterson, decided to have a go with one of the surfboats. He gathered up five women, three children and 10 crewmen and herded them into the boat. He began lowering the boat and the ship again careened over hitting the little boat. Patterson managed to get the damaged boat away with difficulty and the lucky survivors turned to see the Jonathan go down by the bow and slip beneath the waves. Three desperate hours later the little boat pulled into Crescent City harbor. Four boats tried to leave the harbor to go out to the wreck site for rescue, but all of them had to turn back just outside of the breakwater, the storm being too much for them. It was two days before anyone could reach the site and there was nothing but scattered wreckage when they got there. Of the 244 people on board, only the 19 in the Third Mate’s boat survived. For several weeks bodies and wreckage came ashore from Cape Sebastion, Oregon to Trinidad Head, California, but most of the dead were never recovered. It was the worst wreck on the Pacific coast up to that time and what was left of the cargo and gold aboard? Only a new name on the charts—Jonathan Rock.This rock had been missed in surveys of the reef for it was but a submerged pinnacle surrounded by deep water of 80 to 100+feet and somwhat south of the reef.

Source of above http://shipwrecks.slc.ca.gov/Brother_Jonathan/Ships_History.html

Outcome. The most significant outcome from this wreck was Congress passing several Steamboat Acts in 1867 adressing passenger and crew safety, qualification of masters and mates, lifeboats and lifeboat training of crews, and loading of ships not to exceed design capacity. And in 1871 the Steamship Inspection Service was created with full enforcement authority.
SS_Brother_Jonathan_1851.jpg (57.82 KiB) Viewed 15434 times
Lt. Commissioner
Posts: 2035
Joined: Fri Dec 13, 2002 1:00 am

Postby BMR » Thu Apr 25, 2013 3:06 am

.. and (from Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that Brother Jonathan sank so tantalizingly close to shore, the ferocious storms, rocky passageways, strong underwater currents, and darkness at the depths held the secret of her location. Although the ship sunk 8 miles (13 km) from Crescent City, technology needed to improve and explorers had to change their assumptions before the ship could be found. On the last day of its 1993 expedition, Deep Sea Research (DSR) changed its theory. The men decided that the ship had actually floated underneath the ocean's surface to finally hit bottom 2 miles (3.2 km) from where it first smashed into the reef. Led by Donald Knight and under risky conditions, a mini-sub on 1 October 1993, discovered the ship there at the last minute. Over time, the team began to bring artifacts back from a depth of 275 feet (84 m).

No human remains were ever found. In 1996, a mini-sub scooted past a “glint” on the bottom, raising curiosity. On 30 August 1996, divers found gold coins and on that expedition recovered 875 1860s gold coins in near-mint condition. Over time, the salvers recovered 1,207 gold coins, primarily $20 Double Eagles, in addition to numerous artifacts.

Thousands of items eventually were brought up, ranging from 19th-century cut-crystal sherry glasses, white porcelain plates, beer mugs, and terracotta containers (once holding mineral water from Germany) to exquisite glassware, cups, glass containers, and multi-faceted cruet bottles. Wine and champagne bottles, crates of goods (from axe handles to doorknobs), tinctures of medicine, port holes—among many goods and objects—were discovered.[2][3][17][18][19][20]

While recovery efforts were being conducted, the lawsuits flew around among the salvers, the State of California, and numismatic experts. California took the legal position that it owned the rights to the wreck and everything located close to its shores. As the state had enacted a broad law granting it these rights to "historical shipwrecks", it fought the salver's claims of ownership. Although every judge along the way disagreed with California’s position, a number of states with similar interests joined in the legal battle. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998 unanimously held that existing federal law controlled, declared the law(s) unconstitutional, and ruled for the salvors.[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] However, California officials told DSR that they would take the fight up again to the Supreme Court on the facts, and the state received 20% of the recovered gold in a final settlement.[citation needed]

In the first legally-recognized sale of all of the salvors' gold discovered from a sunken treasure ship, more than 500 bidders crowded into the Airport Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles for the auction of DSR's gold coins on 29 May 1999.[29][30] The sale of its 1006 coins fetched a total of $5.3 million. Later, the finders of the coins once again appealed the Supreme Court's decision and were granted the rest of California gold coins.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, another battle had broken out over the authenticity of historic gold bars secretly recovered from Brother Jonathan in the 1930s. Reading like a “Who’s who” in numismatic circles, these experts viciously attacked each other over these bars in a rare public controversy (the “Great Debate”) at the 1999 American Numismatic Association’s annual convention—a battle that still resounds among collectors and gold experts. This also resulted in litigation.[31]

DSR set up a conservation lab for the recovered artifacts that was run by the local historical society in Crescent City, the Del Norte County Historical Society. The salvors also hired national experts including numismatists Robert R. Johnson, Ronald F. Umile, and Konstantin Balter to work with the volunteers in these efforts.[19][20][32] This small historical society has been refurbishing and maintaining the artifacts, as well as having an exhibit on Brother Jonathan's demise and a variety of the objects that were reclaimed.

The Brother Johnathan Cemetery and Memorial in Crescent City, California
The reef the ship slammed into is now known as Jonathan Rock, and the St. George Reef Lighthouse was built in response to this disaster. A memorial for the deceased, registered as California Historical Landmark #541, sits at Brother Jonathan Vista Point in Crescent City. The shipwreck is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[Note 3]

Despite the gold coins already discovered and brought up, crates of gold from Brother Jonathan still remain hidden and undisturbed. The large safe with its millions of dollars of jewels, gold bars, and gold was never found. The salvors estimate that 4⁄5ths of the treasure is still waiting to be discovered—mere miles from land.[15][16] In 2010, folk music singer/songwriter John Donovan released an album entitled Bells Will Ring, a line from his song about the shipwreck entitled "Brother Jonathan."

(and a little more ... http://www.oceantreasures.org/pages/con ... athan.html)
There are two pips in a beaut, four beauts in a lulu,
eight lulus in a doozy, and sixteen doozies in a humdinger.
No one knows how many humdingers there are in a lollapalooza.
User avatar
Posts: 155
Joined: Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:01 pm

Return to Lighthouse & LSS History

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest