Gold on the SS 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...!