An 1888 Gold-Rush-era steamship was recently discovered by a NOAA sonar survey team that was scouring the bottom of San Francisco Bay.
The City of Chester, sailing in a dense fog from San Francisco, was struck on its port side by another Bay-area steamship. The bow of the SS Oceanic, which was__ transporting immigrants from Asia to California, sliced deeply into the 200-foot vessel. The Oceanic’s captain continued a forward thrust to plug the hole in an attempt to save the passengers and crew, but 16 people aboard the City of Chester died in the collision.
High-resolution sonar images show the deep gash in the side of the vessel as it sits upright in 200 feet of water, about half a mile from the Golden Gate Bridge.
James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s National Maritime Sanctuaries, said his team was scanning the bottom in preparation for the America’s Cup race when the shipwreck was discovered. His research revealed a startling prejudice in the August 23, 1888, San Francisco newspapers. Reporters took the Chinese crew of the Oceanic to task for not doing enough to save the victims of the Chester.
Delgado said maritime records show that the crew did help the survivors, pulling many into lifeboats and transferring them to the Oceanic. “The newspaper stories were a case of Chinese bigotry of that era,” Delgado says.
The shipwreck will be designated a national historical landmark and remain untouched. An exhibit is planned at nearby Crissy Field honoring those lost in the wreck and recognizing the salient maritime history of San Francisco Bay.