Gold on the SS Pacific


Fatal collision and loss of the steamer “Pacific”

By Pascal Kainic 


The paddle steamer "Pacific" of 875 tons left Victoria, B.C, for San Francisco with 238 passengers on board, under the command of Captain Howell.

At about eight o’clock in the evening, this 4th of November 1875, the night being clear and not dark, she collided with the sailing ship Orpheus, Captain Sawyer, about 40 miles south of Cape Flattery.

The "Orpheus" drifted away and all hands turned to repairs to their own ship, leaving those on the Pacific to fend for themselves. According to the "Pacific’s" only survivor, a quartermaster named Neal O’Haly, there was panic on board the passenger vessel, the crew who was inexperienced, being unable to launch the boats in a proper manner.

The Ship has developed a heavy list port, which made matters worse. Of the five boats, those abaft the paddle-boxes were without oars, but at last, one containing 15 women and six men, was cut loose from the davits and set afloat.

Unfortunately, it was struck by the falling funnel and capsized, drowning all its occupants. The sea began to rise and the "Pacific" sank within an hour of the collision.

Early on the morning of the 8th, revenue steamship "Oliver Wolcott", cruising in the Fuca Straits, sighted he wreckage and picked up O’Haly. The remainder of the crew and all passengers had either been washed away or had died from exposure.

The "Orpheus" made for Vancouver Island after the collision, but Captain Sawyer lost his bearings and mistook the light on Cape Beale for that on Cape Flattery. As a consequence, his ship ran ashore in Barclay Sound and became a total wreck.

In the course of investigating the circumstances of the collision, it was determined that the "Pacific" had no side lights burning, only a single white masthead light being evident. Therefore the "Orpheus" helmsman could not tell quickly which direction the "Pacific" was steering.

Her loss was therefore attributed, in maritime circles, to reckless mismanagement and bad seamanship.

She was valued at $ 200.000 and a report says that she was carrying $ 80.000 in cash and gold.

No official report of  salvage yet...!


  • Glenn McGloughlin
    • 1. Glenn McGloughlin On 14/12/2022
    I am looking for a list of those lost I am from Washington State and could have family that was lost in this disaster and I would like to research the names. Any help would be appreciated.
  • Jay legault
    • 2. Jay legault On 14/05/2018
    Ive been researching and searching for the SS Pacific for 12 years and according to my data the wreck lies in shallow water no more than 8 at most 15 miles south cape flattery. Ever wonder why as kids in school you never hear about, the SS Pacific? Even tho its worst maritine disaster off washingtons coast. Maybe Wells Fargo doesnt want us to know.
  • treasures
    There was on board more than US$ 78.000 for a bank + a sum of approx. US$ 100.000 from the passengers... And a full detailed general cargo. These info come from archive research and not rumors...
    • 4. On 28/05/2011
    I think I know where this ship is.
    I will need help with the whole process.
  • Dave Minshall
    • 5. Dave Minshall On 18/04/2011
    I've done a lot of research on the "Pacific" and it's amazing how so many "official reports" vary ! In truth, the rumours of gold aboard are largely based on a previous voyage where she carried a representative of Wells Fargo who was escorting a shipment of gold to San Francisco. This voyage and her final one seem to have been muddled into the same voyage over time. Not withstanding, the fact she was more than likely carrying prospectors headed home from the Cassier gold fields means she could have been transporting quite a sum of gold.

    As to her depth, the ocean bottom within a mile or two off Cape Flattery is made up of deep, narrow canyons running roughly north and south for miles. Also, local magnetic anomalies require running magnetometer lines East to West making survey extremely difficult.
  • Jason Maraz
    • 6. Jason Maraz On 09/12/2010
    The rumor is that the Pacific rests at 50 fathoms (300 Feet).
  • Charles Kenney
    • 7. Charles Kenney On 10/04/2009
    Is there an approx. location of this ship, and depth of the water.

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