One of the enjoyable things about reading The Astorian from the 1880s is seeing what was considered news and what we researchers can figure out about the events of the day.
For instance, in November of 1881 the Astorian reports, “The British bark Berwickshire is ready for sea. She takes out 32,849 centals [a British sack weighing 112 pounds] wheat, worth $52,884. … The British ship Chipman cleared at the custom house yesterday afternoon. She has 37,010 centals wheat, valued at $54,368. … The Autocrat brought down a barge with 525 tons of flour for the Beecroft on Thursday. The Cooke brought down a barge of wheat for the Steinvora. … The Tug Fearless, from Umpqua, came up yesterday. She will take the place of the Columbia, the latter going to San Francisco to have new boilers put in and be otherwise fixed up.”
This article tells us that the Astoria waterfront was a lively scene; that wheat and flour made up autumn shipments by way of sailing vessels, at least some of them British; that the Columbia River hadn’t yet been dredged to sufficient depth to allow wheat ships to load completely in Portland (hence the reference to barging); that “coastwise” shipping (up and down the Pacific coast) was a going concern; and that Oregon’s ship works were not up to the complex work done in San Francisco.
• • •
Occasionally, humor lightened the columns as editors needled each other: “… The regular turtle story comes from Tulare, Cal., of the finding of an ancient saurian with ‘1797’ cut on his back. Generally, the five crop alfalfa stories come from there about this time. The turtle story was due Nov. 25th. About Feb. 1st we should hear of bees that buzz and build in belfrys, and from March 1st to 15th come tales of marvelous vegetable growth from that shiny shore.”
• • •
News of waterfront collisions was fun: “In moving several vessels yesterday at Astoria, a general collision occurred. The steam collier Willamette collided with the steamer Dixie Thompson; the British barks Gleniffer and Bolivia ran into each other, and the ship Imperial came in collision with a large barge. No one was injured and the damage to all vessels was slight.” Was someone learning to pilot a tug boat?
• • •
And what about British ship names? “The arrival of so many English vessels in the Columbia with names beginning and ending with some common prefix or suffix, attracts attention … The Guion line names its vessels after the states and territories of the Northwest: as in Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Oregon. The White Star line selects names for its vessels ending in ‘ic,’ as in the Baltic, Adriatic, Germanic, Celtic and Britannic [and Titanic]. The Cunard line chooses names ending in ‘ia,’ as the Gallia, Servia, …”
• • •
Columbia River salmon canneries employed hundreds of Oriental men, many of whom liked to travel home to China in the off-season:
“The American bark Coloma is at Baker’s bay ready to go to Hong Kong. She has a miscellaneous cargo among which are 352 Chinamen. Each one of the lot has a store of flour, rice, turnips, cabbage and other combustibles, and has a little barrel of water, everything being strictly private, no table d’hote being the rule. The greater part of them got certificates at the custom house here entitling them to return. These certificates have a cash value of $70 each in China, for those who want to come here and who have never had a chance to acquire any of the coin that the Mongolian picks up on this coast. [November 1884].”
“The American bark Coloma has been chartered from Hong Kong to Portland, and will leave on the 10th of next month. The Alden Besse has been chartered for the Columbia river with an option for Puget sound and will sail on the 20th of April. Both will bring rice and Chinese merchandise. [March 1885].”
• Speaking of the discharging of the Coloma, the Oregonian says: “Every mat of rice is probed with iron rods to see if anything is concealed therein, and one box and basket out of every ten landed is taken to the appraiser’s office, where they are opened and examined. This is no small job, and those employed have an opportunity to examine all the delicacies imported to tickle the Chinese palate — shark’s fins, swallow’s nests, moss and lichens, and many other odoriferous luxuries … [June 1887].”
• “Chinese advertisements are placarded in the city regarding the departure of the American bark Coloma for Hong Kong. She is now taking on 150 M feet lumber and 250 spars in her lower hold for the British naval station to be used as ship yards and torpedo booms. Capt. Gray, with the Lurline, is going to take her through the draw of the Morrison street bridge at Portland. [Sept. 1887].”
• “The Coloma is in the stream ready to sail for Hong Kong. Her principal cargo is 350 Chinese who are going back with an average of $1,000 each, thus making a rich haul for some pirate who sails in the main. [October 1887].”
• “The Coloma is due from Hong Kong this week. The Kitty is expected from Hong Kong about June 10th with a cargo of rice. She has a full crew of Japanese sailors. [May 1888].”
• “The barge Kitty, lumber laden for Hong Kong, has fifty Chinese lepers aboard. [August 1888].”
• “The State brought a lot of Chinamen and their dunnage. The Oregon takes 700 tons of wheat, 500 tons oats and about 100 boxes apples, which latter go to Australia. [September 1888].”
• “In noting the departure of the Coloma from Portland the Oregonian of yesterday says: “The handsome bark Coloma sailed for China a little before noon yesterday. She was delayed a day or two on account of a number of the Chinese passengers holding off in hope of securing a reduction in the price of tickets, but they failed and at the last moment a lot of them came tumbling on board.
• “The cabin passengers are Mrs. J.B. Thompson, of this city, and her mother, Mrs. A. Lines Van Blarcom, of San Francisco, who is going to the flowery land for the benefit of her health, which is sadly impaired; Mrs. M. B. Droullard, of Minneapolis, and her 8-year-old son, Robert Droullard, and Mrs. A. Edgar Beard, of the Oregon National Bank, who will make the voyage in search of rest and health.
“Little Willie Wilson, the 16-year-old boy who was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, is also aboard, being so disposed of by the Aid society, into whose hands he was given by the court. Willie was dressed in a new suit, and wept bitterly at the moment of starting. He will serve Captain Noyes as cabin boy. ‘I’ll never again get into trouble,’ said he, ‘and when I come back I’ll be a man.’
“Several hundred persons lined the wharves to see the Coloma start, and a large number of friends of Captain Noyes and the passengers crowded on board and thronged the spacious cabin to bid them good-by … The Marine band came on board about 10:30 and played several pieces, and were entertained in the cabin by Captain Noyes.
“‘This … trip,’ said Captain Noyes, ‘will occupy about 45 days with a stop of two or three days at Honolulu. … We are … are now carrying 250,000 feet of lumber and 270 spars to Hong Kong in addition to the passengers.’
“The entire party of cabin passengers intend taking a trip to Japan, and will do a deal of running about. All of them will return with the Coloma, and anticipate a jolly good time. As the lines were cast off and the Coloma was swung out from the wharf by the tug Modoc the band played, ‘How Can I Leave Thee,’ and as she passed down the river three rousing cheers were sent after her, and she was saluted by whistles from all the steamboats, to which response was made by continuous dipping of her ensign. [November 1890].”
• • •
Trouble on board
• From an 1885 issue of the Sacramento (California) Daily Union: “Another Shocking Cruelty-at-Sea Case. Portland, January 9th — H. Gibson, a sailor from the British bark Embleton, has made a complaint before Deputy United States Commissioner J. O. Bozarth, charging P.J. Paynton, master of the vessel, with grievous bodily injury to one Antoine, a sailor, who died on board that vessel on the 27th of December. The Captain was arrested, waived examination, and gave bonds in the sun of $1,000 to appear for trial in Portland. The charge against Captain Paynton is that on December 27th Antoine was sick with a fever; that the Captain dragged him from his bunk, beat him with a rope’s end, and made him take his trick at the wheel; that the next day he did the same thing; that Antoine dropped at the wheel, and that he and the ship’s carpenter picked him up to carry him to the forecastle; that before they got to the forecastle, Antoine was dead.”
• From the Oregonian of Feb. 25, 1880 comes a story of mutiny aboard a delightfully named ship probably sailing to and from India. “TROUBLE ON SHIP BOARD. The Crew of the Merwanjee Framjee Mutiny off the Columbia Bar. ASTORIA, Feb. 24 — The revenue cutter Thomas Corwin, just returned from a cruise, reports that at noon today off the north channel of the Columbia river she saw the British ship Merwanjee Framjee flying a signal for assistance, the signal reading “mutiny on board.” She steamed for her and sent an officer and an armed boat’s crew to her assistance, and by request of Capt. Bidwell put eight of her crew in irons. The cutter’s crew then assisted to make sail and she proceeded on her voyage to Europe. Some of the men put in irons expressed themselves willing to return to duty when they saw the officer from the cutter board the vessel with his men; but Capt. Bidwell deemed it prudent to keep them in irons for a few days.”
• “Escaped – Probably Drowned. Wednesday evening Constable Ward of Portland arrested Jack McDonald, a deserter from the ship Harry Morse, and at midnight went on board the Oregon with his prisoner; but no sooner had the nimble son of the sea reached the deck than he was up the rigging, out over the dock on the roof of which he dropped, and started for a saloon for a parting glass, where Ward secured him, and putting him in irons, put him on board the Fleetwood. On the way down, Thursday, McDonald stated his determination not to go back to the vessel, and as the boat was pushing off from Cathlamet, having got Ward to take the irons off his wrists under the pretext of necessity, he sprang over the guard and struck out for shore, the boat being about 200 yards out in the stream. The boat immediately put back to the dock and Officers Ward and Burk, after carefully examining the premises, are of the opinion that he sunk before swimming 50 feet. Some of the passengers state that he got ashore, but the probability is that the unfortunate man made good his word, and all his earthly voyages are over.” The Daily Astorian, Nov. 26, 1881.
• • •
Those who live within reach of Astoria publicity are likely familiar with the term “shanghaiing” because of the long-running and beloved melodrama “Shanghaiied in Astoria.” Well, it happened there and in Portland and other West Coast seaports. As the days of sailing ships were numbered by the advent of steam ships requiring far fewer sailors, and as sailors tended to disappear once a sailing ship reached port, and as the captain had a schedule to maintain, and as the sailing profession was notoriously poorly paid, crew members needed to be rounded up somehow. Boarding houses were waterfront establishments where sailors stayed between journeys, and some boarding house masters and bar-keeps (also known as “crimps”) would render unconscious certain men, drag them aboard a vessel, accept money from the Captain, and melt into the night. When the individual regained his right mind, he found himself on his way to sea. Sailors of those days had almost no rights.
Many tall tales were crafted about the practice, but some sound like they might have been true:
• In January 1883, the Daily Astorian reported, “An unsuccessful attempt was made to shanghai Wm. T. Ross yesterday afternoon. The police officers went after the man who it is charged made the attempt, but the bird had flown. Ross was taken to the county jail. He presented a frightful appearance being beaten and bruised about the head and face.”
• “Jas. Turk, who was indicted by the grand jury a few days ago, is evading the sheriff, who cannot find him. Captain Stevenson, of the ship Lord Canning, came up from Astoria last night and this morning counsel for Balfour, Guthrie & Co., consignees of the Lord Canning, appeared before Judge Stearns and asked that the case against Turk be tried before the 20th, as the ship has her cargo and that date is the time fixed for sailing, which she cannot do without her master Stevenson and the first mate, who are under bonds to appear as witnesses against James Turk. The witnesses manifest no desire to evade testifying against the defendant, but they allege that in the event that they are precluded from sailing on the 20th, the postponement might be the means of incurring considerable loss to the owners of the vessel, if District attorney McGinn will not allow the vessel to depart within a reasonable time, unless Turk is apprehended before the 20th instant. The district attorney wishes to enforce the law.” The Daily Morning Astorian (Sept. 15, 1889.) James Turk was a very well-known crimp, both in Astoria and in Portland.
• Another famous Oregon shanghaiier was “Bunco” Kelly; Larry Sullivan was yet a third, and there were more.
• In 1890, a headline read, “The Skipper Was Exonerated. The Case Against Captain Hall, of the Noddleburn, Dismissed. ‘Bunco’ Did All The Work. The modus operandi employed in placing two greenhorns on board the British bark Noddleburn, was the subject of inquiry in Justice Cleveland’s court again yesterday, when Captain Hall, master of the Noddleburn, was placed on examination for being an accessory of ‘Bunco’ Kelly in shanghaiing or kidnapping the men in question. It took nearly as long to hear the captain’s case as it did that of ‘Bunco’ on the day previous, and the same crowd of curious idlers filled the court room and watched the proceedings with evident interest. The shanghaied men, Armstrong and Kelly, retold the story … and when they had concluded it was a foregone conclusion that Captain Hall would be discharged, as the evidence showed that he was an innocent party in the transaction and relied on ‘Bunco’ Kelly’s ‘honesty.’
“The captain was a witness in his own behalf and related that he got most of the men himself and did not call on the boarding master until after five of his men left him. Kelly put five men on board; but two of them got drunk and left the ship, and then Kelly brought on the two men — Armstrong and Kelly — who caused all the trouble. …
“It would have been impossible for him to have taken the men to sea without their consent, as the British vice-consul at this point, has to go on board and muster the crew before the vessel sails, and see that everything is all straight.
“‘Should I take men to sea under the conditions alleged,’ said the captain, ‘my certificate would be taken from me.’ Justice Cleveland dismissed the charge against Captain Hall and this ended the second act in the ‘Bunco’ Kelly case.”