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.