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Q: Photos of Steamer "City of Rio de Janeiro" ( No Answer,   3 Comments )
Subject: Photos of Steamer "City of Rio de Janeiro"
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: npsdocent-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 07 Aug 2002 14:11 PDT
Expires: 06 Sep 2002 14:11 PDT
Question ID: 51894
I am looking for photos, drawings or images of a Pacific Mail
Steamship Company vessel named "City of Rio de Janeiro" or short "City
of Rio" which was used to transport troops in the Spanish-American
War, and plied the Westcoast/Hong Kong, Nagasaki, Honolulu route. She
was built around 1880 and sank on February 22, 1901 off the Golden
Gate, San Francisco. I have plenty of details of the sinking of this
steamship, but only five photos (from the J. Porter Library at the San
Francisco Maritime National Park), and would like more images of the
ship and whatever memorabilia are available.
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Photos of Steamer "City of Rio de Janeiro"
From: angy-ga on 07 Aug 2002 23:52 PDT
Hi, npsdocent-ga,

I've been unable to locate any pictures, but there is some
documentation on line that you may or may not have found - at least it
may give some other researcher a starting point.

Also, my husband thinks the Jane's for the appropriate dates when it
was a troop transport may have an illustration. have some transcripts of the Masters declarations on
alien immigrants arriving on board, transcribed by Fran Taylor for the
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild from the National Archives and
Records Administration, Film M1410, Reel 1 Page 22.
The declaration for 20 May 1893 is at:

STATE OF CALIFORNIA, City and County of San Francisco 
I, J.T. Smith, Master of the Steamship SS City of Rio de Janeiro
belonging to the PACIFIC MAIL STEAMSHIP COMPANY, do solemnly swear
that the foregoing is a full and correct report of alien immigrants
arrived by said vessel at the Port of San Francisco on the 20 day of
May 1893 s/s J.T.Smith, Master of City of Rio de Janeiro.
Sworn to before me, and subscribed in my presence this * day of * 189*
ALIEN IMMIGRANTS arrived by Steamship City of Rio de Janeiro from
Yokohama (page 2 Chinese passengers state from Hong Kong), May 20,

And a similar document for 4 Dec 1894 is at:

An article on transports in the  Spanish American War by  Patrick
McSherry notes her being used as a troop ship:

"Soon, however, it became apparent that still greater transport
capacities would be needed as the estimates of the number of troops
needed overseas continued to grow. On the Atlantic and Gulf coasts,
four more vessels were located - the WANDERER, LA GRANDE DUCHESSE,
TARPON and UTE - increasing the troop capacity to over 25,000 men. On
the Pacific coast four more vessels were also located - the CITY OF
significant, and indicative of the difficult charter situation. She
was was the only sailing vessel chartered by the Quartermaster
Department. The remainder were all steamships. "

The 1901 disaster is summarised at:

The Maritime Heritage Project

"SS City of Rio De Janeiro
On the morning of February 22, 1901, the Pacific Mail Steamer Rio de
Janeiro was feeling her way toward San Francisco in one of the famous
coastal fogs. Visibility was zero. Captain William Ward paced the
bridge as crew stared blindly into a damp, gray void. Shortly after
five o'clock, the liner neared the Golden Gate. She was a little too
far south on her course when she struck the jagged rocks near Land's
End and Fort Point. The blow was devastating. 200 of her passengers
rushed up on deck, while the steamer sank fast amid the wail of her
whistle and the sound of escaping steam. Passengers fought for a seat
in the lifeboats, only to overcrowd and sink the boats. Fist fights
broke out over life jackets. In less than 18 minutes, she was
inundated by the Pacific's frigid waters. At final count, only 81
people survived; 129 had perished, among them the Captain, who had
gone down with his ship. In the aftermath of the tragedy, reports of
quantities of gold and silver estimated as high as $3 million were
reputed to have been lost with the liner, yet her manifests listed no
And it's also noted at:

The Maritime Disaster Monument

where the loss of life is given as 104.

The legal case that resulted is summarised at:

"City of Rio de Janeiro (In re Pacific Mail S. S. Co., 130 F. 76, 64
C. C. A. 410, 69 L. R. A. 71), which sank with many of its lifeboats
unlaunched because the crew of Chinese sailors were unable to
understand the language in which the orders of their officers were
given. The following from the opinion in that case (page 82, 83 (64 C.
C. A. 416)) is peculiarly apposite:
'It is, as was said by Judge Hawley in Re Meyer (D. C.) 74 F. 885,
'the duty of the owners of a steamer carrying goods and passengers,
not only to provide a seaworthy vessel, but they must also provide the
vessel with a crew adequate in number, and competent for their duty
with reference to all the exigencies of the intended route'; not
merely competent for the ordinary duties of an uneventful voyage, but
for any exigency that is likely to happen. ... The case shows that the
City of Rio de Janeiro left the port of Honolulu, on the voyage under
consideration, with a crew of 84 Chinamen, officered by white men. The
officers could not speak the language of the Chinese, and but two of
the latter-the boatswain and chief fireman-could understand that of
the officers. Consequently, the orders of the officers had to be
communicated either through the boatswain or chief fireman, or by
signs and signals. So far as appears, that seems to have worked well
enough on the voyage in question, until the ship came to grief, and
there arose the necessity for quick and energetic action in the
darkness. In that emergency the crew was wholly inefficient and
incompetent, as the sad results proved. The boats were in separate
places on the ship. The sailors could not understand [269 U.S. 364,
370] the language in which the orders of the officers in command of
the respective boats had to be given. It was too dark for them to see
signs (if signs could have been intelligibly given), and only one of
the two Chinese who spoke English appears to have known anything about
the lowering of a boat, and there had been no drill of the crew in the
matter of lowering them. Under such circumstances it is not surprising
that but three of the boats were lowered, one of which was
successfully launched by the efforts of Officer Coghlan and the ship's
carpenter, another of which was swamped by one of the Chinese crew
letting the after fall down with a run, and the third of which was
lowered so slowly that it was swamped as the ship went down. We have
no hesitation in holding that the ship was insufficiently manned, for
the reason that the sailors were unable to understand and execute the
orders made imperative by the exigency that unhappily arose, and
resulted so disastrously to life, as well as to property.' "

Three contemporary newspaper reports  of the disaster from "The Age"
can be found at:


LONDON, 23rd February.
Telegrams from San Francisco report a terrible shipwreck, involving
great loss of life at the Golden Gate, which forms the entrance to the
landlocked harbor of San Francisco.
[The passage, which has a depth of water ranging from 30 feet at the
bar to 100 feet for the remainder of the five miles constituting the
"Gate," makes its way between bold and rocky shores, which confine the
rush of the tide.]
The steamer City of Rio de Janeiro, 3548 tons, owned by the Pacific
Mail Steamship Company, bound from Hong Kong via Yokohama, Japan, to
San Francisco, while endeavouring to pass through the rocky harbor
entrance in a thick fog, struck a ledge of rock and speedily became a
total wreck. The sea was smooth at the time, but the steamer was so
completely stove in by her contact with the rocks, that in fifteen
minutes she had sunk beneath the waters.
The passengers numbers 29 in the saloon and 65 in the steerage, the
latter including 7 white persons, while the complement of the crew was
140. Although every effort was made to save life, the boats being
promptly lowered, 150 people out of the total of 234 were unable to
escape, and went down with the sinking vessel.

It appears that the Rio de Janeiro had a San Francisco pilot, Captain
Jordan, on board, and that he warned the captain of the steamer that
it would be unsafe to proceed in such a fog. His advice, however, was
disregarded by Captain Ward, and immediately after the steamer struck
the rock with great force. The pilot, instantly realising the gravity
of the situation, shouted, "All hands take to the boats!"
A scene of fearful confusion ensued. The Chinese, who comprised the
greater portion of the passengers and crew, howled frantically in
their terror, whilst the female passengers screamed piteously in an
agony of fear. Everybody but the captain and the officers of the
steamer scrambled hurriedly to the boats, and some, losing all
presence of mind, madly jumped overboard.
In the disorder, Captain Ward showed calmness and courage, and did all
that was possible to lessen the consequences of his blunder in
disregarding Pilot Jordan's warning.

LONDON, 24th February.
Further details of the wreck of the steamer City of Rio de Janeiro, at
the Golden Gate entrance to San Francisco harbor, show that Mr.
Wildman, the American Consul-General ay Hong Kong, his wife and two
children, who were reported missing were drowned. Among other saloon
passengers who perished were Mr. C. Dowdall, barrister at law; Mr. H.
C. Matheson, a civil engineer in the employ of the Chinese Government;
Mr. Alfred Hart, a diamond expert, from Manila, and his wife.
Mr. William Bander, a member of the London Stock Exchange, who was a
passenger by the steamer, failed to get into a boat, but a life
preserving belt he had strapped round him kept him afloat after the
steamer sank, and he was rescued.
The report that Captain Ward, commander of the steamer, locked himself
in his state room, and went down with the vessel, the loss of which
was due to his rejection of the pilot's advise, is denied. Captain
Ward, it is true, did not try to save himself, but he stood on the
bridge, and gave orders while there was any one to obey them, going
down at his post with the foundering steamer.

Notice that the final death toll varies between accounts.

The  shipwreck is located at:
City of Rio de Janeiro. This iron hulled steamer, built in 1878, was
wrecked in 1901 off Point Diablo near San Francisco. The intact wreck
lies in 320 feet of water just off the Golden Gate. Owned by the State
of California, State Lands Commission. Listed in the National Register
as nationally significant.

I hope some other reaearcher has better luck with the illustrations
you want.

Search terms: " pacific+mail+steamship+city+of+rio+di+janiero"

Good luck with your search - it's a fascinating topic.
Subject: Re: Photos of Steamer "City of Rio de Janeiro"
From: npsdocent-ga on 10 Aug 2002 17:59 PDT
Thank you for your comment and the research; it is pretty much what I
found on the Internet. I have written an article for the PARK NEWS, a
quarterly publication of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
(National Parks at the Golden Gate) which will be distributed before
the end of this month. I will be happy to mail you the issue, or post
the URL here online.

Again, thanks for listing all these valuable sites.

Subject: Re: Photos of Steamer "City of Rio de Janeiro"
From: npsdocent-ga on 07 Nov 2002 11:16 PST
Here is the URL for the article in the fall issue of the Park News:

A PDF copy is available for download:

Thank you very much for the input!



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