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The Treasure of the SS Pacific.

By Daryl Friesen of Spindle Explorations


Walking on the rugged coast of Cap Flattery, Washington, next to the beautiful yet violent sea, its waves pounding with an angry roar just in front of my feet. One comes to a quick understanding as to why this stretch of ocean is home to hundreds of forgotten shipwrecks including a very special one that was carrying a cargo of gold in its belly when it went to the bottom of the sea on November 4, 1875. It was known as the steamer ship, the SS Pacific.

The SS Pacific began her first days on high seas back in 1851 when she was used to transport passengers between Panama and San Francisco. Years later, she was put into service to transport hopeful prospectors from California to British Columbia, who were eager to get their hands on some of the gold being brought to light in the Fraser River Gold Rush. From 1872 to 1875, the Pacific sat in the dry dock until setting sail once again by the cry of gold from Cassier District Gold Rush. She was once again hauling prospectors on the Victoria-Puget Sound to San Francisco run.

She set sail out to sea from Victoria on November 4, 1875 on what was to be her final voyage and the end of ever seeing dry land again. The cost for passage was only five dollars at the time. She was carrying 275 passengers and among her typical cargo of coal and potatoes, she was also carrying a Wells Fargo shipment of $205,000 in gold as well as $40,000 in gold that belonged to the Captain of the Pacific. In today's money, the Pacific's cargo would be worth about $5,000,000! Let us not forget about the many other unrecorded sums belonging to the many prospectors traveling on board on the vessel.

As the Pacific set sail across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, she was listing so badly that the crew filled up her life boats on one side to put her back on a even keel. She was in rough shape after having served the sea for so many years, but the Captain ordered to keep her on course as she sailed around Cape Flattery where the waters were calm and all looked well for the Pacific. It wasn't till the ship was forty miles past the cape when her troubles began.

All of the passengers on the vessel had gone to sleep by this time and as Captain Jefferson Howell stood on deck smoking a cigar, it was a clear night and the stars were shining beautifully in the night sky. Suddenly another vessel, the Orpheus, smashed in the side of the SS Pacific, but kept on sailing, not even stopping to see if the Pacific was all right. Several of the passengers were shaken from their sleep by a loud shudder that echoed through the ship after the crash. Several of them rushed to the main deck to find out what was going on.

The Captain told them they had collided with another vessel, but there was no cause for alarm and that they should return below deck. When they got back to their cabins below deck, they ran into other passengers who were fleeing from below because the ship was quickly filling with icy waters of the ocean. All of the passengers ran back onto the deck and found it in a state of chaos as the crew was trying to lower the lifeboats into the water.

People started to cream in panic, as it was now clear to all that the SS Pacific was on its way to her new home at the bottom of the sea.

Several women were loaded onto one boat despite all the chaos and terror of the reality of what was going on. Several crewmembers got in beside them followed by one male passenger who was thrown into the ocean water by the crewmembers once the lifeboat was in the water. His wife who was also on board screamed in horror as her husband sank beneath the waves.

The Pacific was now breaking up fast. She ripped in two before finally being swallowed by the ocean, leaving 300 people in the icy grip of the ocean screaming for their lives and struggling to find a piece of wreckage to hold onto. Most of the women quickly vanished beneath the waves, as the fashion at the time was very good at quickly absorbing large quantities of water. The lifeboat carrying the crewmembers was flipped over by a wave as the Pacific went to her watery grave. They were now all dead and only twenty people survived the initial sinking all climbing to whatever wreckage they could find. Only two people would make it back to civilization to tell the story of the Pacific. The rest of the passengers and crew meet their destiny by freezing to death.

Captain & Survivors

One of the survivors of the tragedy went by the name of Henry Jelly. Jelly was on his way back to eastern Canada via the American railway. When he found himself cast into the ocean that night, he was lucky enough to spot the wheelhouse of the ship floating in the ocean with another man clinging to it for his life. He swam to it and climbed on joining the lucky stranger. The two men drifted past Cape Flattery and managed to survive the night. Jelly learned that his companion, whose name was not remembered by history, had struck it rich in the Caribou and was on his way home (some of his wealth is still at the bottom of the ocean as well.)

The two men did manage to survive the night, but when morning came Jelly's companion was lost in a fever of delirium and quickly died. Jelly cut him loose and found himself adrift in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

He could see the rugged mountain of Vancouver Island off in the distance. This filled him with hope that he would find himself washing ashore on the island very soon.

By the next day he found himself about three miles from the coast of Vancouver Island, but he would not have to wait any longer. His shipwreck experience was about to come to an end as he was spotted in the ocean by another vessel known as the Messenger, an American ship that picked him up and took him to Port Townsend, Washington From there he made his way back to Victoria.

The other survivor of the Pacific was a member of the crew by the name of Neil Henley. He gives a detailed testimony of what happened on that last night before the Pacific went down. It reads as follows:

"The wind was refreshing from the southward when I went to bed. It was pretty dark. Saw a few passengers about the pilot hours. At 8 o'clock the weather was not tick or foggy, saw no lights. The sea was not rough, went to my bunk when I was relieved and quickly went to sleep. The first thing I heard afterward was a large crash. My bunk was forward of the steerage. The steerage was above us on the between deck. I was below and between deck on the starboard side. I was sleeping near on the level of the water. I work up with a crash. I heard and saw the water coming in through the bow. There was no bulkhead between me and the stern of the ship. I didn't look for planks having parted. The water came in with a rush flying in. There was water on the floor on the forecastle when I got up I put on a jacket and ran up the companionway. There was no sign of the captain and all was chaos as I came out on deck. The first thing I did was put the plugs into the lifeboats, this was not done when I got there and don't know the reason why this was not done. The boat tackle was loosened, when I looked I got a hold of a line and tried to raise her. The blocks were hooked on the boat, but we could not raise the boat because it was full of people. We tried to get the people to come out. Some would come and and get back in again. I don't think there were any women in the boat, and I don't remember if there were even any crew there helping me to raise the boat. I left the boat and went to the port boat which had ladies in it. I saw the purser and the engineer in there as well. The stern of the boat had been raised by men pulling on it. The boat was not lowered, it was left there so that when the ship sank, it would float off. The fires were out by this time, and the engines had stopped, but it was feared the boat would be stove on account of heavy swell.

The first boat was now floated off and water was closing in on the hurricane deck and the ship was going down fast. The chief engineer was standing on the stern of the boat and I was alongside of him. The line was fast and fall was cut when the water came under the boat. The chief engineer had an axe in his hand to cut the line. It was not long before water reached the boat. I saw the stern fall cut by the engineer, don't know who cut the bow fall. We floated away from the ship but were thrown back at the ship by a swell. There was a crowd of men trying to get in. the boat was so crammed with people we could not row. The boat was damaged from having been rammed against the ship, and was now half full of water. I jumped into the water at this point, and that was the last I ever saw of the boat".

After spending several minutes swimming for his life in the water, Henley managed to climb onto a large piece of the Pacific's wreckage where he found the Captain Otis Parsons, as well as three crewmembers and a woman. As they drifted on the wreckage, one by one, all of the other's died from the freezing cold. Henley drifted alone from Thursday until Monday morning, and was picked up by the vessel known as the Oliver Wolcott. Henley was taken back to Victory.

So there you have it! The story of the sinking of the SS Pacific. The wreck, nor the cargo of the SS Pacific has ever been found. It is still waiting out there for some resourceful treasure hunter to find it.

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