The Colorado in the drydock at Hunters Point in San Francisco
When the U.S. Congress advertised an annual postal subsidy of $500,000 payable for a monthly sailing from San Francisco to Honolulu, Yokohama, and Hong Kong in 1865, Pacific Mail Steamship Company emerged as the only serious contender for the route. Since 1848, when William Henry Aspinwall founded Pacific Mail, the first of APLs predecessors, the company had become the nations premier shipping line.
Pacific Mail had planned to build four large wooden side-wheelers for the new service, but these ships would not be ready by the January 1, 1867, deadline. So, the steamer Colorado was removed from her West Coast run in order to make the inaugural voyage.
She was given an extra mast, her hull was strengthened, and the outer line of main deck cabins was removed. Coal bunkers were enlarged so she could take on over 1,000 tons, enough for the passage to Yokohama with very little to spare.
Colorado was almost new, built in 1864 by the New York firm of William H. Webb, which had built the steamer California 16 years earlier. Measuring 3,728 tons gross, Colorado was 340 feet in length with a beam of 46 measured inside the wide wheel boxes. Boilers were of the early flue type, using salt water and producing steam of only 20 pounds pressure.
Despite this, her engine was able to drive the large wheels at 14 revolutions per minute, enough to give the ship a speed of 12 knots in favorable seas. Her three masts were rigged for a full suit of canvas carried not only for use in case of an engine breakdown, but to steady the vessel in bad weather.
|The Great Republic, sister ship of the Colorado
Click on image for vessel information.
The night before sailing, the last day of 1866, a Grand China Mail Dinner was held in the banquet room at the Occidental Hotel, San Franciscos finest. Lengthy discourses by both Chinese and American businessmen marked the occasion attended by 250 state and local dignitaries, shipping officials, religious leaders, and commercial agents.
Governor Frederick Ferdinand Low presided at the head table, where a sugar model of the Colorado formed the centerpiece. Eighteen toasts punctuated the sound of lively conversation while magnums of champagne accompanied the elaborate cuisine that was standard at such affairs.
|The Great Republic, sister ship of
in Yokohama harbor.
on image to see a larger version.
what was hoped would be the rich prospects of trade for the Far
East, three Chinese merchants, well known in the community, sat
at both sides of Governor Low and toasted a profitable future. Sailing
day would have been a holiday even if it hadnt been the first
day of the New Year, and San Francisco gave Colorado a festive
ceremony was described in the words of a veteran Pacific Mail skipper,
W. H. McLean, who was then a petty officer on the Colorado:
day was a great day for San Francisco, it seemed as if half the
population was at hand to witness the sailing, which was to be the
first steamboat to leave these shores for the faraway land across
|Click on image to see a larger version.
waved and bands played the national air. When the moment for the
steaming arrived, the great side wheels churned the water and she
backed away from the wharf. The crowds cheered wildly and the bands
fluted to the high notes. Salutes were fired from guns on the steamer
and on the wharves. One of the guns exploded and several people
were hurt as we swung into the stream.
way down the bay the Colorado was saluted until we struck
the open mouth of the sea. There were 150 passengers, every stateroom
was taken and it was considered something of an honor to be a passenger
on the first steamer to leave the Golden Gate [of San Francisco]
the Colorado was given a festive reception, and similar greetings
awaited the ship in China. Once again, Pacific Mail had persevered and
succeeded in the face of widespread criticism.
Although the Colorado and her sister ships, the Great Republic, China, and Japan, were the last of the great side-wheelers to be
built for this service, the route that Colorado inaugurated
foreshadowed Pacific Mails growing presence in Asia. Soon,
a new generation of faster, iron-hulled, screw-propelled vessels
like the City of Peking would replace the side-wheelers,
ushering in a new era of trade in the Pacific.
with permission from an article by Bill Kooiman, a retired maritime
purser who works at the San Francisco National Maritime Museum Library.