told by a former seaman, Thomas Ellingson)
R. Lukens, Hydrographic and Geodetic Engineer
San Francisco Field Station
Coast and Geodetic Survey
day this summer an old gentleman came into the San Francisco
Field Station and asked if we had a picture or drawing of the
PATTERSON. He had the alert eyes and the unmistakable deep-sea
roll of the sailor, and I asked him if he had ever been on the
PATTERSON. "Yes" , he said, "I came around on her through the
Straits of Magellan in 1884 and 1885. That was fifty-five years
ago." Mr. Ellingson stated that he was eighty-one years old
and spent most of his time panning gold on the Feather River.
When asked if he made much money at it, he replied, "No, but
it's better than doing nothing."
and Geodetic Survey Steamer PATTERSON. In service 1884-1919.
was, of course, delighted to hear a first-hand report of that
voyage made by the PATTERSON so many years ago and started asking
Mr. Ellingson questions. He had been a seaman on the GEDNEY
down on the Gulf Coast but got tired of the mud and the mosquitoes,
and when the GEDNEY returned to Brooklyn, N.Y., he applied for
a transfer to the PATTERSON, which was then fitting out for
the long voyage to the West Coast through the Straits of Magellan.
The PATTERSON was, of course, especially built for work in southeastern
Alaska, and Mr. Ellingson was anxious to see both the West Coast
and the Territory of Alaska, which at that time was almost unknown
country. His request was granted and he joined the PATTERSON
as an A.B. in Washington, D.C. "Before sailing," he said, "the
PATTERSON's masts were shortened seven or eight feet."
command of Lieutenant Richardson Clover, U.S.N., but assigned
to duty in the Coast and Geodetic Survey at the time, the ship
sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on July 30, 1884. Being
in the good old days, she went direct to the Madeira Islands*
where she remained for a considerable period. Mr. Ellingson
said the crew had a grand time there. "Plenty of good wine to
drink," was the way he put it. While in port the boys on the
PATTERSON raised a contribution of seventy-five dollars for
the Stranger's Rest, which was apparently a sort of seaman's
institute of that day.
de Janeiro, Brazil, was the next port of call. Here occurred
one of the highlights of the trip. The harbor was filled with
vessels of all nationalities, and the word spread that the PATTERSON
was equipped with the new Sigsbee sounding machine, carrying
five miles of wire. It was in the days of the empire, and Emperor
Dom Pedro paid a call to the ship. He came out in a great gondola-like
barge with twenty oarsmen on each side. "Quite a sight," said
Mr. Ellingson. As he came over the side in civilian clothes
and a high hat, Captain Clover, no doubt feeling overcome in
the presence of royalty, uncovered. The Emperor shook hands
and, in good English, said, "Keep your hat on." About a half-hour
was spent looking over the ship and examining the new sounding
machine, which was looked upon as something quite remarkable.*
in Rio de Janeiro the whaleboat crew of the PATTERSON was entered
in a race against crews of English, German, French, and Italian
vessels. Needless to say, the PATTERSON's crew, used to hours
of whaleboat hydrography, won the race. When I inquired if much
money had been put up, he replied, "plenty. I won fifteen dollars
on the race." I imagine that the word "plenty" meant all the
cash that could be raised on board.
South American ports were made without incident. On leaving
Montevideo on November 6, 1884, the PATTERSON, with thirty tons
of coal on deck, ran into a heavy gale. Though deeply laden,
she rode the heavy seas without taking anything but a little
spray on deck. Those of us who were on the Patterson in later
years can testify to her fine seagoing qualities.
Sandy Point, which is the southernmost city in the world, they
saw the huge seven-foot Patagonians, riding horses without saddles.
While here Captain Mendez of the Argentine Navy and Military
Governor of Staten Island, visited the ship. In true Coast Survey
style he was questioned, and Captain Clover received much valuable
information concerning the straits he was about to navigate.
the Straits of Magellan terrific winds were encountered and
Captain Clover ordered the yards and topmasts struck. On one
stretch the ship steamed six hours to make only five miles.
At another time the vessel got the wind on the bow, and in order
to keep her from running straight into the shore, her commander
was compelled to back and wear short around and came near losing
both steam launches in doing so.
Sandy Point they ran into a fleet of one hundred and fifty canoes
manned by Tierra del Fuegians all dolled up in war paint. The
commander ordered up their six Gatling guns and passed out Springfield
rifles and Colt pistols to the crew. In order to avoid running
down the frail craft, the engines were slowed down to half speed.
All the Tierra del Fuegians were equipped with small hooks on
heaving lines, which they threw aboard and caught along the
railing. In no time at all the whole fleet of canoes was fast
to the ship.
turned out that they had no bellicose intentions but only wanted
to trade, mostly for tobacco, fire water, and lastly grub. Mr.
Ellingson said that quite a brisk barter went on for a considerable
period. He himself traded a plug of tobacco for a goat and also
made a dicker with a squaw for a beaverskin for which he gave
her two plugs of chewing tobacco. After the period of trade
was over the PATTERSON proceeded on her way, none the worse
for the encounter.
gradually worked their way through the Straits of Magellan and
made the last anchorage before the open Pacific on a Saturday
night. On Sunday morning all hands were called on deck and ordered
to get up topmasts and yards and "den ve had trouble". The whole
crew refused duty. Mr. Ellingson said that Captain Clover was
a tough skipper and he lost no time in putting down the uprising.
He called all hands to muster and read the Articles of War in
which, of course, were written the dire consequences of refusal
of duty. He then asked how many men were willing to turn to.
Mr. Ellingson said that he and all the rest of the crew, with
the exception of one man, immediately went to work. The one
stubborn fellow, who continued to refuse duty, was kept in the
shaft alley in double irons on bread and water for a week. "As
a matter of fact, however," said Mr. Ellingson, that man had
about the best food on the ship, for everybody smuggled titbits
down to him during the night watches."*
this time Ellingson's time was up and he wanted to be paid off
and remain in South America, but the captain refused to let
him go and he had to ship over. At one of their stops he hired
a horse and, with a large tigerskin for a saddle, rode up the
mountain to Concepcion. Here he was given some pieces of quartz
with gold. This gold apparently imbued him with the mining fever
which never left him, for after his days on the PATTERSON he
spent many years prospecting and mining in Alaska.
arrived in Valparaiso, Chili, after the close of the war between
Chile and Peru. Here, sailor-like, he again took a horseback
ride, during which he was thrown and broke his jaw. "It was
about this time", Mr. Ellingson said, "that 'fighting' Bob Evans,
in command of the HARTFORD, threatened to bombard the town unless
certain of his sailors who had been arrested on shore were released."
The townspeople, according to Mr. Ellingson, hated Americans
and once when a group of the seamen from the PATTERSON were
returning to their ship, the city fireman turned the hose on
next stop was at Callao, Peru. Here he got some leave and took
a side trip to Lima to visit his aunt. The next stop was at
Panama which was at that time a fever-infested place, but, nevertheless,
the crew had two days' liberty. While off Panama they captured
sixteen live turtles basking on the surface of the water, and
Ellingson said they were fine eating. I well remember when the
PATTERSON made another voyage to Panama in 1912, the crew did
the same thing. The writer, however, after witnessing a turtle
butchered on deck, was unable to eat a single bit of meat.
stops at Acapulco, Mexico, San Diego and Santa Barbara, the
PATTERSON arrived at San Francisco on February 13, 1885, and
preparations were immediately started for taking up the first
season of work in southeastern Alaska.
wanted me to stay on the ship," Ellingson said, "but I did not
like Captain Clover. So in accordance with his promise made
at Valparaiso, he paid me off. One day, about a year later,
I met Ensign Niblack on Market Street in San Francisco, who
told me Captain Clover had been relieved by Lieutenant Commander
Snow, who, according to Ensign Niblack, was a fine skipper."
At Niblack's insistence Ellingson went down and signed up on
the PATTERSON. Finding no vacancy for a seaman, he signed on
as a fireman in which rating he got five dollars additional
pay per month. He remained on the ship for three cruises to
Alaska. During those days the PATTERSON returned to Mare Island
for the winter season. At that time he said the marshes around
Mare Island were fairly alive with ducks and geese and during
the winter the crew lived the life of Reilly with ducks and
geese. The mess funds accumulated to such an extent that the
crew purchased an organ for the ship. The wardroom steward was
a very musical individual Ellingson said, and bought himself
a horn to play. The sailors amused themselves by stowing their
woolen socks in the horn, much to the annoyance of the steward.
this time, he stated, the PATTERSON carried two very fine launches,
the VIXEN and the PIRATE. I don't know what became of the PIRATE,
but the VIXEN was aboard the ship for many years and I think,
was finally lost while being hoisted during rough weather in
Puget Sound about 1909.
to the matter of the pictures or drawings of the PATTERSON,
Mr. Ellingson wants to make a model of the ship. As I had no
suitable photograph in the files of the field station, I procured
one from the Washington office and sent it to him. I hope some
day to see a fine model of the PATTERSON as the result of his
call at the San Francisco Field Station.
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