Lewis A. McArthur
first survey of the Pacific Coast by the United States Government
was made in 1849 and 1850. The field work was done principally
by Lieut. Commander William P. McArthur, U.S.N., and Lieutenant
Washington A. Bartlett, U.S.N., assistants in the Coast Survey.
There are some details of the life of Lieut. Commanding McArthur
and the work he carried on on the Pacific Coast that may be of
interest to students of Oregon history.
William Pope McArthur was born on April 2, 1814, at Ste. Genevieve,
Missouri. He was the oldest child of John and Mary Linn McArthur.
His mother was a sister of Dr. Lewis Fields Linn, who was later
to become Oregon's champion in the United States Senate. Dr. Linn
took a decided interest in his nephew, and at the uncle's request,
the youth was appointed a midshipman in the Unites States Navy
on February 11, 1832. The first few years of his service were
spent in the South Pacific Station, and in April, 1837, he was
granted three months' leave. Two months later he was granted permission
to attend the Naval School at Norfolk, to perfect himself in his
Early in the winter of 1837-8 the government organized an expedition
to the Everglades of Florida, and placed it under command of Lieut.
Commanding L. M. Powell, U.S.N. McArthur served as commanding
officer of one of the two small vessels of the expedition, with
the temporary title of lieutenant. The expedition was a mixed
command of sailors, soldiers and marines. Among the members was
Joseph E. Johnston, who later became one of the greatest generals
of the Confederate Army. Johnson had graduated from West Point
in 1829, served in the Black Hawk campaign, was stationed at several
forts along the Atlantic seaboard, and in 1836 accompanied General
Scott to Florida as a member of his staff. Shortly therafter Johnston
resigned from the army, and took up the study of civil engineering.
When the expediton of 1837 was sent to the Everglades, Johnston
volunteered to accompany it as topographical engineer. Acting
Lieutenant McArthur and Johnston became firm friends, and continued
to so until the death of the former.
The expedition landed at Jupiter Inlet about the 10th or 12th
of January, 1838. Johnston and McArthur warned Powell as to the
tricks of Indian warfare, but Powell would not listen, and as
a result the command was ambushed, and had it not been for the
bravery and coolness of Johnston, the column would have been annihilated.
McArthur was badly wounded in both legs, and was carried to the
boats by a faithful negro sailor. Johnston kept the men in orderly
retreat and undoubtedly prevented greater loss of life. Later
a surgeon removed the ball from one of McArthur's legs, but the
other could not be extracted, and annoyed him until the day of
McArthur was sent to the Naval Hospital at Norfolk, and while
recovering, courted and married Mary Stone Young on May 3, 1838.
His wife was the daughter of Lieutenant John J. Young, at that
time superintendent of the Naval Hospital. During the next two
years he saw service on various vessels, and on September 24,
1840, was ordered to the brig Consort, [this vessel was detailed
for naval survey service and was not attached to the U.S. Coast
Survey] detailed to the Coast Survey. The cruise lasted over a
year, and during that time a survey was made of the Gulf of Mexico.
From that time on his work was almost entirely with the Coast
Survey, duty calling him to nearly every nook and corner of his
country's coast line.
In the fall of 1848 he received the following instructions, dated
October 27, and signed by A.D. Bache , Superintendent U.S. Coast
Survey: "I have been directed by the Treasury Department
to make arrangements for commencing the survey of the Westrn Coast
of the United States. A land party has been for some time organizing
under the charge of Assist. Jas. S. Williams. I am directed also
to organize a hydrographic party, to accompany or speedily to
follow the land party, and you have been assigned to the command
of the party. You will please therefore make all preliminary arrangements
in conformity with oral instructions already received, or such
as may suggest themselves as proper to you under circumstances,
observing the usual routine in regard to estimates, etc. If no
more suitable vessel for your purpose can be obtained, the Schr.
Ewing, the transfer of which from the Revenue Service has been
directed by the Sect'y of the Treasury, will be assigned to you.
"The fitting out of this vessel and her dispatch at as early
a moment as practicable is desirable, say before the first week
"I do not deem it desirable that you should make the voyage
in the vessel, as you cannot complete work now in hand, nor so
well seize the most prominent objects of the Western work as by
making the journey over the Isthmus, and joining the vessel at
Panama or San Francisco. The specific duties required of you will
be stated later in instructions.
"You are authorized to go to New York in connection with
the transfer of the Ewing at such time as you may deem best."
Lieut. Commanding McArthur left New York on one of the new Aspinwall
steamers, and in due time landed at Chagres. The only route across
the Isthmus was up the Chagres River in boats, and thence by mule
train over the trail to Panama. Chagres was congested with a motley
crowd, from all quarters of the earth, making its way to the California
gold fields. Among the fortune hunters were many characterless
men, and even fugitives from justice. They threw off all restraint,
and perpetrated so many crimes, that the authorities were powerless.
Prominent residents appealed to the more responsible Americans,
and asked their co-operation in putting down the violence. Lieut.
Commanding McArthur spoke Spanish fluently and accurately, and
this coupled with the fact that he was an American officer, caused
him to be put at the head of an impromptu vigilance committee.
He and his colleagues took the lead so effectively that within
forty-eight hours the lawlessness was ended.
When he reached Panama, here too were found many gold seekers,
many ill from fever, and the place was overcrowded because of
insufficient transportation to San Francisco. Passage tickets
were commanding exorbitant prices.
Anchored near the island of Taboga was the ship Humboldt, 500
tons burden, owned by a Frenchman, J.B. Ferand, used as a store
ship for coal, and bonded in a large sum to remain there in that
service. So great was the pressure to leave Panama, that a delegation
waited on Ferand, and persuaded him to forfeit his bond, and send
the ship to San Francisco, if he could secure four hundred passengers
at $200 each, and providing that no cooked provisions were to
be furnished by him except as could be prepared "once a day
in a large fifty-gallon kettle." Hot coffee was to be distributed
in the morning, and hot tea in the evening, and from the perusal
of Lieut. Commanding McArthur's letters, it seems probable that
the tea and coffee were prepared in the same large kettle with
the meat and vegetables.
Four hundred persons were found who would pay the price, and Ferand
had the hulk overhauled. When the Humboldt was watered and victualled,
Ferand found he had no captain and he opened negotiations with
McArthur, who agreed to navigate the ship to San Francisco, in
order to clear the city of Panama of as many men as possible,
as the fever was daily growing more prevalent.
McArthur boarded the ship after the passengers were on board,
and at once saw that there were more than the contracted for number,
and that the ship was badly overcrowded. He made an investigation
that showed that Ferand had sold four hundred and eighty tickets.
He orderd the last eighty passengers to go ashore, and proceeded
to enforce the order without delay. Fortunately a British brig
put into Panama that day and her captain was willing to take the
rejected passengers at the same rate.
The Humboldt sailed on May 21, 1849. Lieut. Commanding McArthur
enforced strict discipline, as being the only means of securing
safety and comfort of the passengers and crew. Among the former
was Collis P. Huntington, for many years president of the Southern
Pacific Company. In the spring of 1890, he recounted to Lewis
Linn McArthur, the third son of Wm. P. McArthur, some of [the]
incidents of the trip. He stated that there was one exceptionally
turbulent fellow aboard, who endeavored to provoke a quarrel with
him, and threatened other passengers. When this reached Lieut.
Commanding McArthur's ears, he immediately sought out the disturber,
and cautioned him not to repeat his annoyances. The man resented
this violently and McArthur immediately took his weapons from
him and had him put in irons. In a few days his spirits had cooled,
and he asked for pardon and promised that there would be no more
troublesome conduct on his part.
The passage ws very slow, requring forty-eight days to reach Acapulco.
When Humboldt reached that port the passengers and crew were almost
famished because of a shortage of food and water.
After a week's delay, the Humboldt proceeded to San Francisco,
which port she reached in due time.
By the middle of September, 1849, the Ewing had arrived from New
York, and Lieut. Commanding McArthur was installed aboard, but
no sooner had he prepared for operations, that an incident occurred
which gave him great annoyance.
While the schooner was lying in San Pablo Bay, Past [sic; Passed]
Midshipman Gibson was ordered ashore for some purpose, taking
five men and a boat. When the boat had proceeded some distance
and the men thought themselves out of sight of the Ewing, they
seized Gibson and threw him overboard, and made for the nearest
shore. Fortunately McArthur was looking through his glasses at
the time, and saw the whole occurrence. [See the follow-on articles
by R.R. Lukens and Erwin G. Gudde for more accurate accounts of
this incident.] He dispatched a boat to the relief of Gibson,
who was rescued, and the deserters were overtaken and captured.
They were tried by court martial, and two were condemned to be
hanged, and lashes were ordered for the other three, as was the
custom in those days. One of the leaders, John Black by name,
was hanged on board the Ewing. In all of his letters McArthur
mentions the inability to get men to carry on the survey, which
was greatly delayed, and this fact discouraged him sorely at times.
The high wages and allurements of the gold fields kept men from
entering the government service at a few dollars a month, and
such men as could be secured were generally worthless.
San Francisco was in the midst of the gold excitement, and in
a letter dated September 23, 1849, McArthur wrote to his father-in-law,
John J. Young, who was now a commander in the Navy, as follows:
"People are still crowding here from all parts of the world,
and everybody seems to be as crazy as ever, but good order seems
to prevail, and you would be surprised to see how quietly business
is carried on - everything shipshape and orderly. There is already
a good police in San Francisco, and the same was established yesterday
in Sacramento City, so if a Vagabond comes out here to cut up
his capers, he is quite mistaken.
"There is no especial news here except that the convention
for forming a state and state laws has been in session for some
time, and have acquitted themselves with great dignity and good
sense. They will have good, wholesome laws, I have no doubt.
"The joint commission for the selection of sites for Fortifications,
Navy Yards, Docks, etc., etc., are all here on board the Massachusetts.
They are without men and have done absolutely nothing. They have
borrowed some men from the Commodore to enable them to run over
to the Sandwich Islands and ship a crew. . . . It is asserted
that the islands are nearly depopulated already. I hope seamen
may be had there, as I may be compelled to recruit there myself."
On October 26, 1849, Lieut. Commanding McArthur wrote to Commander
Young, dating his letter from San Pablo Bay. Among other things
"This country is truly one of the greatest wonders of any
age. The increase of population is truly wonderful. Let us estimate
San Francisco at 100,000 souls, Sacramento City 40,000, and Stockton
35,000 or nearly. Eighteen months ago there was scarely 100 people
in all three. There [are] many other places springing up into
importance, and I am now making a survey of a place where great
improvements must take place. But as it is an island, it will
probably be reserved by Government, and I presume to think that
it will be the site for the Navy Yard.
"As soon as I get through with this work, I will go on a
cruise of reconnaissance to the northward, and hope to be repaid
by some discoveries. At all events, I would be pleased to leave
San Francisco for a time.
"Captain Williams has not been able to do any work for want
of hands - his men all left him but one, and he is waiting to
know whether he may be authorized to give California prices for
assistants. He expects to hear from the Superintendent on the
subject by the next steamer. The joint commission for Yards, Docks,
Fortifications, etc., are used up. They are on board the Massachusetts,
and will go to the Islands (Sandwich) in a few days for men. I
may go there also bye and bye to run away from the incessant rains
which are said to prevail with winter.
"[October] 27th. Today I commence work investigating the
conveniences and inconveniences of Mares Island Straits with a
view of ascertaining whether it would be a suitable place for
a Navy Yard. I sincerely believe it to be the only good place
in the whole bay. The weather is still warm and pleasant - much
more so than in August. Thousands of geese and brandts cover the
hills in every direction, eating the wild oats, and the Coyotl,
a small animal resembling a Fox, spoken of by Prescott (see Conquest
of Mexico), is also very abundant.
"I am very much surprised to find so few fish here. We have
not caught the first one, and yet they are very abundant further
up the Rivers."
In December the Ewing made an extended trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
Previous to his departure from San Francisco, McArthur was deeply
concerned about his health, but the beneficial climate of the
islands restored him to his natural condition, and he returned
to San Francisco early in 1850, greatly improved in body and in
This same spring, however, brought new disappointments to Lieut.
Commanding McArthur. Interested as he was in the Coast Survey,
the desultory way in which the government carried on the work
discouraged him. For weeks the Ewing lay idle in San Francisco
Bay, while the government refused to pay the wages demanded by
sailors. Few if any could be secured at the small pay offered
by the Department. McArthur chafed at the delays, and finally
after much labor the vacancies in the crew were filled, and on
April 3, 1850, the Ewing sailed out of the Golden Gate headed
for a reconnaissance of the northern coasts.
Just before leaving for the northern coasts McArthur wrote to
Commander Young, dating his letter late in March. In addition
to certain family matters, he wrote as follows: "I have made
up my mind to be disappointed with regard to the probability of
our usefulness on this coast. Capt. Williams has as yet done nothing
and Heaven only knows when he may be able to proceed with his
labors. I have abandoned the hope of his being able to do anything.
I feel confident that no work can go on at the present wages of
the country as it would require the whole of the Coast Survey
appropriation to keep a party together. Wages are still from five
to twelve dollars per day, and if anything still rising as the
mining season opens. I have written to the Professor and laid
my views fully before him.
"In a few days I go to the mouth of the Colubmia River and
shall make a reconnaissance of the coast both on my way up and
returning. I propose also to choose Points for a Light house,
Buoys, etc., at the mouth of that river. I shall then be at the
end of my tether. It will take about 3 months to perform what
is at present required of me and the Superintendent in that time
will perceive how utterly vain it is to think of carrying on work
here. I am now under the impression that we may be recalled or
ordered to disband here in less than six months.
"The country is improving very much in this vicinity and
I do not doubt but that San Francisco will be a large and beautiful
city, already it has its public Square and churches and other
public Buildings which give it an air of importance. The country
is becoming daily more settled and improved, but not so much as
might be supposed from the great number of immigrants."
On April 13 he wrote Commander Young from Trinidad Bay as follows:
"I may safely say that the only happy days I have spent in
the country have been spent since we started. I am at last at
work and most usefully employed in making a reconnaissance of
the Coast as we go up. Great success has so far attended the undertaking,
and I must say that I shall have good cause to congratulate myself
if I am permitted to complete the work to the Columbia River.
I am operating on my own hook (as the saying is) Capt. Williams
being unable to obtain men with which to operate.
"We have completed a very correct outline of the coast, its
headlands, Bays, Rivers, and indentations from San Francisco to
this place, as well as carrying on our soundings as we go, and
the results are such as to please me very much. We have discovered
many important errors in the charts of the coast, and shall probably
discover greater discrepancies as we go to the north, as less
is pretended to be known of the country in that direction.
"I shall start from here tomorrow and shall stop at Pt. Georges,
distant about 40 miles to the northward of this place. . . . There
are also vessels there and a settlement has been made. Rogues
or Klamet River is my next stopping place, after that then the
Columbia. I may be detained at point Georges Pt. some days, as
I shall endeavor to secure the bodies of Lieutenants Ricd. Bache
and Robert L. Browning, who were drowned at that place.
McArthur's next letter to Commander Young is dated Astoria, Oregon
Territory, June 3, 1850. Among other things he says:
"We are now in Oregon, where I shall remain until I receive
further instructions or orders. I hope such will be given me as
will permit us to proceed at once to work. We can live better
and cheaper here than in any part of the coast. The salmon is
fine and abundant, but not so good as the shad. Butter is plenty
at 62 to 75 cts pr.lb., fresh beef 20 cts.pr.lb. The climate is
agreeable and healthy. The water is not inferior to any in the
world. The face of the country is too uneven to permit as general
cultivation, still it will and must soon become a great agricultural
and stock growing country. The scenery is beautiful and in some
places and some points of view the grandest that the eye ever
"Lt. Blunt who is now with me has traveled considerably through
the country and is so much pleased with it, that he has taken
a section of land and made a regular claim to it, he has also
taken one for myself and one for Lt. Bartlett, both adjoining
his! What do you think of that? I intend to have my claim registered
according to the custom of the country and protect it as long
as I may be on the coast. I may be able to sell it this fall to
the emigrants. It lies in the Willammette Valley and is repesented
to be a beautiful location. If I could hold it for 5 years it
would be a fortune.
"You can scarcely imagine the change in the prospects of
this country since the discovery of the new south channel, and
the arrival for the first time of the Pacific Mail Steamers. Property
has advanced materially, and points along the river are of much
importance, which have hither passed unnoticed.
"The greatest difficulty existing here at present is the
want of acts of Congress to define the extent of land claims and
to regulate all matters attending the surveying and giving titles,
etc. Nothing exists in the shape of law. There already exists
much confusion, which is not likely to decrease till laws be passed.
"The great probability is that Oregon will develop more rapidly
for the next ten years than any other part of the United States
except California. You will soon be startled with the cry that
gold is found in Oregon. I have no doubt of its existence myself.
It has already been found as far north as Rogues River and the
mines on that River are being worked successfully. Several exploring
expeditions are scouring the different directions. Their return
is looked for with intense interest. You may depend upon receiving
letters by every opportunity, but especially now by the regular
mails. I do not like to trust my letters to ships. They are neglected
On July 16, 1850, McArthur wrote Commander Young as follows from
Astoria: "Since I last wrote you I have been all through
Puget's Sound, Hoods Canal, Admiralty Inlet, etc., etc., I went
over in the Steamer Carolina. We stopped at Victoria on Vancouver
Island, and spent a very pleasant night with Governor Douglas
of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the morning we went over the farm,
visited the dairy, and garden and fields. Everything wore a charming
aspect. The wilderness is now in its incipient smile. In a few
years it will increase to a broad grin.
"The waters of the sound are a strange and peculiar anomaly.
The deep blue sea runs up inland passing betwen straits but half
a mile wide with a depth of over an hundred fathoms. Bays, Harbours,
Inlets and Roads startle you at every turning, forming a perfect
labyrinth. We journeyed on to Nisqually in the steamer and there
I took possession of the "Ship Albion" seized by the
collector of the district. She was seized for a most flagrant
violation of the revenue laws and also for committing depredations
on our timber, etc., etc. I would have brought her here but could
not obtain a crew. We then came across the country traveling through
a splendid grazing country for the first 24 miles. Our horses
being tired, we tarried 'till morning with an old Missourian.
The next day we reached the Cowlitz, traveling all day through
the most excellent farming country I have ever beheld. We staid
all night at the house of an old Canadian who treated us very
kindly. We started the next day in a canoe down the Cowlitz and
arrived at the mouth of the Columbia without accident, where I
found I had been absent from the Ewing just one month! I found
the sweet little craft all right. Whilst at Nisqually we spent
4 days at the farm of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Society,
and witnessed the interesting process of the shearing of ten thousand
"We have now nearly completed our work here and will soon
top our boom southward reconnoitering the coast toward San Francisco,
stopping there for provisions, etc., etc. From there we shall
go to Point Conception and perhaps San Diego.
"Notwithstanding the unfavorable circumstances under which
we have labored, we shall have obtained many very important results
and now we have a land party under way we will proceed more rapidly.
This winter I shall perhaps be at San Diego, and the next by the
blessing of God I shall be at home."
The next letter is dated at San Francisco, August 27. "We
arrived here safely on the 22nd. from a cruise along the coast.
We have been successful in surveying the mouth of the Columbia
River and up the same as far as Astoria. You will be surprised
when I tell you that the dangers of the navigation of this truly
magnificent river have been vastly exaggerated. We have crossed
the bar sometimes as many as ten times a day for weeks together.
More vessels have visited the Columbia within the last year than
perhaps ever before and not the slightest accident has occurred.
We have completed our work faithfully. I feel sure the Superintendent
will feel as much gratified as I do.
"On our way from the Columbia River we were successful enough
to make a good reconnaissance of the whole coast from Cape Disappointment
to this place and the limits of error may be estimated at one
mile in longitude and an 1/2 mile in latitude. This I consider
quite a triumph. We visited every river, bay and headland, and
in fact sailed nine-tenths of the way within half a mile of the
shore, anchoring every night and resuming our work in the morning.
My fame (if any be merited) will rest upon this reconnaissance.
I most heartily wish I could send you a copy of it. The scale
is ten times as large as that of Captain Wilkes and every accessory
has been successfully attended to.
"Upon my return here I find San Francisco very much improved.
The Bay is alive with steamers of every size and beautiful brick
buidings adorn many of the streets. Business is quite lively and
the El Dorado is flourishing rapidly."
On September 15 McArthur wrote from San Francisco: "For my
own part I do not deem a geodetic survey required at present.
A reconnaissance and the establishment of Latitudes and Longitudes
of the principal points, headlands Bays, anchorages, harbors,
etc., with a selection of points for Lighthouses and Buoys and
general Sailing directions would in my opinion meet the present
exigencies and would enable us to investigate the manner, the
best manner, of operating for the future. I have already expressed
myself in these terms to the Supdt. and I believe his opinion
coincides with mine.
"Every day almost I meet some friend or acquaintance from
the States. Dr. Rutter, and Dr. Wilson, a young brother of Holt,
is also here as well as several others from Portsmouth. Washington
is also represented and at the Columbia River I met two troupes
of Artisans from Baltimore, all old acquaintances.
"Commodore Jones is in many respects the finest naval officer
I have ever met. In point of foresight and good judgment he surpasses
On October 13, 1850, he wrote: "Since my arrival from Oregon
I have been very engaged in preparing our work and reports for
the past season and will complete everything tomorrow and place
all in the hands of Lieut. W. A. Bartlett, who is charged with
the charts, etc., and takes them on to Washington." Lieut.
Commanding McArthur, in this letter described briefly his visit
to the Hawaiian Islands the year before and his entertainment
at the hands of His Hawaiian Majesty Kamehameha III. McArthur
mentions the fact that by this time wages in the vicinity of San
Francisco were gradually resuming normal figures. On October 31
he wrote of the gloom cast over the city by the bursting of the
boilers of the Mariposa, which killed some 30 persons. He had
now been away from home for two years, and the departure of Bartlett,
together with the knowledge that he would be away from his family
for another year at least doubtless prayed on his mind, but on
November 21 he received welcome news from Professor Bache to the
effect that a contract was being signed for a 225-ton steamer
for the Pacific Coast work. McArthur was directed to return to
Washington at once to examine the vessel and prepare plans for
the season of 1851. Under these flattering circumstances and overjoyed
at the prospect of so soon seeing the family he had for so long
been separated from he set sail from San Francisco for Panama
on the Oregon, on December 1. Alas, he was never to reach his
home. When but shortly out of San Francisco an acute attack of
dysentery prostrated him completely, and despite medical assistance
he died on December 23, 1850, just as the Oregon was entering
Panama harbor. He was buried on the Island of Taboga. In 1867
his remains were moved to the Mare Island Navy Yard by Lieut.
On February 8, 1851, the members of the Coast Survey met in Washington
to pay tribute to the memory of William Pope McArthur. Professor
Bache and Brevet Major Isaac I. Stevens, U.S. Engineers, who was
at that time attached to the Coast Survey, addressed the meeting
and appropriate resolutions were passed. Professor Bache's words
perhaps best summed up the work of Lieutenant Commanding McArthur,
and showed the feelings of the Survey toward the deceased officer.
Professor Bache said:
We are met here, as you all know, to pay a melancholy tirbute
of friendship and respect to one who was dear to us all -dear
as a brother to many of us. Instead of greeting his arrival among
us as we had fondly-hoped, in health, we meet to mourn together
over his loss from our band. The work which he has accomplished
will live forever. Surrounded by circumstances the most difficult,
perhaps, which ever tried the constancy, the judgment, the resources
of any hydrographer, he vanquished circumstances. His reconnoissance
of the western coast, from Monterey to Columbia river, and his
preliminary survey there, were made in spite of desertion, and
even mutiny; in despite of the inadequacy of means to meet the
truly extraordinary circumstances of the country. Happy that in
his officers he had friends devoted to him and to their duty,
especially happy in the officer next to him in the responsibilities
of the work.
Prostrated by an attack of fever of a malignant type, cotracted
while preparing his vessel for sea, Lieutenant McArthur nevertheless
persisted in volunteering for the charge of the hydrographical
party on the western coast. A subsequent relapse did not abate
his determination to enter as a pioneer upon this arduous service,
trying alike to his powers of mind and body. Steady in the midst
of exitement, he laid his plans in the way to command success.
Seizing the peculiar wants of the hydrography of that coast, he
applied all his energies to supply them. The gratitude of his
fellow citizens there is already his; the praise of a new country,
the resources of which he had aided in developing.
He has been called away just as his wishes were realized, ample
means provided, and the first and worst difficulties overcome.
In his letters and reports he urged strongly the necessity for
enlarged appropriations, and for a steam vessel for the hydrography.
His last letters from this office brought him news that both his
wishes were gratified, and called him home to make the enlarged
arrangements for continuing his work. The arrival of Mr. Cutts
with instructions, as late as the beginning of October, confirmed
the necessity of his return, and he took passage in the steamer
Oregon, commanded by his friend, Lieutenant Patterson [Carlisle
D. Patterson, who had spent many years on the Coast Survey and
was destined to become the fourth Superintendent of the Coast
An attack of dysentery prostrated him completely, and from this,
in spite of the best medical attendance, of such nursing and attendance
as only the circumstances to which I have referred could insure,
he rallied but for a time, and sunk to his final rest before he
could be landed at Panama. His remains were consigned to a foreign
soil, to be brought, let us hope, to his country, where all his
He has not lived in vain. His name will ever be bright in the
annals of our Survey, whether in the more usual labors on our
Atlantic coast, or as the pioneer on the shores of the Pacific.
Always advancing as life advanced - the last his crowning work.
Professor Bache having concluded his remarks, Lieut. Washington
A. Bartlett, U.S.N., arose and said.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: After the appropriate and feeling
remarks of the chairman, it is unnecessary for me to add more
than to say that when I left Captain McArthur on the western coast
he was in excellent health and buoyant spirits, in view of what
had been, and what he hoped yet to accomplish. It was my good
fortune to be long associated with him, and that association caused
me to love him as a brother. I will not detain you, but offer
the following resolutions for your consideration:
1. Resolved, That the civilians and officers of the army and navy
engaged on the United States Coast Survey, now assembled in Washington,
have received with feelings of deep emotion the melancholy intelligence
of the death of Lieut. Commanding Wm. P. McArthur, U.S. Navy,
Assistant in the Coast Survey; and that in his sudden and unexpected
decease the navy has lost one of its most gallant and accomplished
officers, and the Coast Survey one of its most zealous and efficient
2. Resolved, That the successful reconnoissance of the western
coast of the United States, from Monterey to Columbia river, and
the preliminary survey of the entrance to the Columbia, accomplished
under the most peculiar and extraordinary difficulties, while
they are proofs of his unconquerable energy, determination and
skill, have forever identified the name of Wm. P. McArthur with
the progress of the Republic in the West.
3. Resolved, That we most sincerely sympathize with the bereaved
and afflicted family of our generous and warm-hearted friend in
their irreparable loss, and commend the widow and orphans to the
gratitude of the Republic to whose service the husband and father
was so ardently devoted throughout his life.
4. Resolved, That Professor A.D. Bache, Superintendent of the
United States Coast Survey; Brevet Major I.I. Stevens, of the
United States Engineers; Lieutenant M. Woodhull, of the United
States Navy; Mr. J.J. Ricketts, of the United Coast Survey and
Passed Midshipman R.M. Cuyler, of the United States Navy, be a
committee to take the necessary measures to have erected, in the
Congressional burying ground, a suitable monument commemorative
of the services and virtues of the deceased.
5. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be communicated
to the navy and Treasury Departments, with a request that they
be placed on the files, and also to the family of the deceased,
and that they be published.
6. Resolved, That the officers of the Coast Survey will wear a
badge of mourning for thirty days in further testimony of their
regard for the memory of the late Lieutenant Commanding William
Major Stevens, in seconding the resolution, addressed the meeting
I rise, Mr. Chairman, in the name of one of the co-ordinate services
associated on duty here, to pay a tribute to the memory of Lieut.
McArthur. I can add nothing to the remarks that have been already
made. I simply propose to pay a tribute of feeling and respect.
It was not my fortune to know Lieut. McArthur personally. But
I feel that I know him well through his works. They hold up his
character as worthy of all respect and admiration. In prosecuting
his labors on the Pacific shore he exhibited a constancy, an energy,
and a rare force of command which enabled him to triumph over
almost insuperable difficulties. These qualities would have made
him conspicuous in any career. He possessed all the elements of
the heroic spirit. Trials which bowed down the strength of strong
men gave his feeble frame almost superhuman strength; and he accomplished,
in the midst of sickness and physical depession, of mutiny and
desertion, labors that those most highly favored by health and
appliances would have shrunk from. His example appeals to us with
irresistible force. How can we yield to despondency witnessing
his lion heart accomplishing its great purpose - giving vigor
to a worn-out frame, and snatching success from the elements of
McArthur was an ornament to both services with which he was connected
- to that larger service, the profession of his youth, in which
he took such pride; and to that other service to which his maturer
years have been applied. He has, in the words of the resolutions,
for ever identified his name with the progress of the Republic
in the West. It has gone into history, and will henceforth be
associated with those of Decatur and of Perry.
The resolutions having been agreed to unanimously, the meeting
adjourned sine die.
(Signed) A.D. Bache, Chairman
THORNTON A. JENKINS, Secretary.
In 1876 the Unites States government built the schooner McArthur
at Mare Island, California, and named her in honor of Lieut. Commanding
Willim Pope McArthur. For the past 39 years the McArthur has been
in practically continuous service in the work of the Coast and
Geodetic Survey on the Pacific Coast. The vessel is 115 feet long
and of 220 gross tons, and has long since served her usefulness.
In his last annual report, Secretary of Commerce Redfield strongly
condemns the government for requiring men to go to sea in such
In 1886, Lieutenant James M. Helm, U.S.N., surveying certain parts
of the Alexander archipelago in southeastern Alaska, was in command
of the McArthur, and he named McArthur Peak, 2239 feet high, on
Kuiu Island, in honor of his vessel, and he also named Port McArthur
on the same island for the McArthur.
The Coast and Geodetic Survey named McArthur Reef, in Sumner Strait,
off the mouth of Clarence Strait, in the Alexander Archipelago,
for the schooner McArthur.
- Top of Page -