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Philip, The Once and Future Clipper King

November 15, 2010

I checked out the the wreck of King Phillip sticking its bow once again above Ocean Beach yesterday (75 and sunny in November didn’t hurt).

I did a little research and figured out most of the captains of the King Philip (details towards the end of this article):

  • King Philip built and launched in 1856/7 in Maine
  • Captain Norris, 1857? – 1859
  • Captain Rollins, 1859 – 1860
  • Captain John L. Bickford, 1860 – 1867
  • Captain Hubbard, 1867 – 1869 (mutiny)
  • Captain Black, 1869 – 1870
  • Captain Daly, 1870 – 1873
  • Captain Rawlins, 1873 – 1875 (mutiny, 1874)
  • Captain Keller, 1875 – 1878

In the last showing in 2007, much more of the old clipper ship was visible, and in 1980, yet more. Here are some shots from (relatively) the same angle:

(2010 by me, 2007 by the SFgate, and 1980/1984 I believe by the Chronicle.)

The old metal pipe has snapped off in the past 3 years:

(2007, Flickr, AlmostJaded)

(2010, me)

2007 summaries of the wreck at Not Yet Melted, Bloody Marys for Brunch, SFist and SFGate.

Dialing back the time machine, here’s the account of the 1878 wreck from the Daily Alta:

“Left helpless, anchors gone, sails clewed up, no friendly breeze, no hope, the gallant craft strikes and strikes the craft as if in anger, but powerless, as the hard, cold beach starts her timbers, tears her rudder out, crushes her keel and mashes her stout timbers in matchwood…”

However, there was some controversy — the Chronicle reports that “the captain, it was stated by several of the sailors, had gone down below as soon as he found the vessel unmanageable on the beach, and in a short time appeared on deck in an intoxicated condition.” (SFPL card required.)

The crew of the King Phillip wrote a strong letter to the editor of the Daily Alta in response, none to happy with the Chronicle’s accusations:

“at no time in our connection with him have we seen him in the state mentioned… we cannot brand the statement of the paper mentioned as “Chronicle-like” and as false as it is disgusting.”

A few days later the Daily Alta reported that Captain Keller had gotten a new job:

No signs of Captain Keller outside of the incident. (For those of you searching online, I will save you a little time — the Daily Alta records the name of the ship as the “King Phillip” while the Chronicle uses one L, “King Philip”)

According to the Chronicle, the King Phillip had just left Hunter’s Point Drydock 8 hours before (SFPL card required) with new sails and rigging, and other than the loss of the anchor and rudder (“considerable portions of the ship’s rudder were carried away by relic hunters”), was in good condition. In Decmber 1877, the 50 year old ship was valued at $20,000 (nearly half a million today) but the wreck was sold to Thomas Mallory for $1050 ($23,000 today).

I had heard that the hull of the King Phillip was blown up. But apparently it took several attempts:

Daily Alta, 23 Feb 1878

Daily Alta, 24 Feb 1878, not so fast…

There was a second attempt and failure which I can’t find reference to. A third try was made on April 19, 1878:

I couldn’t find a followup, but I have to wonder how well it worked given the condition of the hull in the 1980s when the bow, stern and ribs were above the sand.

(, Chronicle)

Interestingly, the day after the wreck in January, H.M. Newhall didn’t waste any time and announced an auction for the carcass of the King Philip:

And the other end of the history bookshelf is the announcement of the launching of the King Philip after it was built in Maine in 1857:

Here’s what I believe is a manifest of the King Philip as it arrived in SF in 1859:

This is just the last few lines – seriously, take a look at the crazy long full list. Shoes, 8 barrels of whiskey, shoes, 5 cases of fireworks, shoes, 100 kegs of nails, shoes, 950 doors, 12 drums of fish, shoes, 3050 1/4 boxes of soap. Oh, and shoes. You think I’m kidding.

It looks like it was commanded by “Captain Rollins” in 1859, offloading on Vallejo street (pretty much where Pier 9 is today).

1859 Coast Survey detail of the wharves (Vallejo is up top).

(Oh, for a picture of the wharves of that era. Check out that lagoon off of Market. Watch your step.)

Anyway, someone let me know if the rest of the ship pops up this time around — I only hit Ocean Beach if it breaks 70.

UPDATE: The esteemed nautical division over at LookBack Maps points us to this undated advertisement for the King Philip in earlier years, (via the Bancroft Library no less):

Hey, it’s Captain L. Bickford at the helm! Using various ancient yet advanced methods of searchfu, we find Captain Bickford at the helm of the King Philip in 1865.

They docked at the Mission St. Wharf in those days. (See map above.)

The earliest references to Captain Bickford are in 1858 and 1859 when he commanded the Alleghanian.

The last reference I find to Bickford is 24 Jan 1867, 11 years before the King Philip beached.

Unfortunately, we find another reference to Captain Bickford and the King Philip in September 1861:

This makes me really sad.

It seems Captain John Bickford commanded the King Phillip from about 1860 to 1867.

Afterwards, there was a quick succession of captains of one or two years: we had Captain Hubbard; then Captain Black; then Captain Daly.

There were two mutinies on the King Philip — one in Honolulu in 1869 [NYT] seemingly under Hubbard, where the ship was set on fire [Daily Alta], then another in Baltimore in 1874 [NYT], under a Captain Rawlins. There’s also reference to Captain Rawlins and the King Philip from 1875, three years before the Ocean Beach incident.

Rollins, Rawlins. Rawlins, Rollins. Captain, Captain. (15 years, and at least 6 captains.)

Captain Keller took command of the King Philip in July 1875. At this point it looks like our clipper ship was no longer doing the East Coast run, and was hauling lumber from Puget Sound.

I dug around to see what Captain Keller was doing before the King Philip. I can trace him to about 1860, but then things start to get confusing — there was another Captain Keller doing Hawaii and Hong Kong runs, and another doing Liverpool, and I doubt either is our man. A Captain Keller did sail a ship from Boston to Puget Sound with a sawmill in 1858, while our Captain Keller was sailing back and forth to Puget Sound every few weeks. But a Captain Keller associated with a saw mill in Puget Sound died in 1862. Oh, for a first initial.

Puget Sound
Capt. Keller
Post King Philip
Capt. Keller
Some other
Captain Keller
(not ours)
  • Schooner Petrel
    1851 (to Hawaii)
  • Brig Oriental
    1851 (to Hawaii)
  • Exchange
    1852 (Hong Kong)
  • Hamilton
    1853 (Hong Kong)
  • Schooner L.P. Foster
    1858 – 153 days from Boston to Port Gamble (Puget Sound) with a sawmill!
  • June 1862
    a Captain Keller dies in Puget Sound

The last command for Captain Keller I can find is back on the Bark Arkwright. (Flows off the tongue, no?) I’m still not sure on the 1853 Susanito & Bolinas Bay date – that would be 38 years on the water. A few years before that as a shiphand, perhaps? Worst case it’s 1859 – 1891 or 32 years. No references for him in the city databases, sadly.

Imagine sailing up and down the West Coast every few weeks.  (Saw some references to the trip taking 55 hours.) Interesting commute. I wonder if it was a company with a series of ships, or you negotiated each year with a ship owner?

Note from the crew’s testimony (up top) that Keller’s first mate, J. H. Wulff, served with him for two and half years as of Jan 1878 — they must have come on the ship together when Keller took command of the King Philip in July 1875.

It seems that Wulff got his own ship by 1880. The Rainier did the same Puget Sound run:

Could “Henry J. H. Wulff” be the same guy? He got married in 1889. Could be his son, I suppose? Or a late marriage — if we was a first mate in 1875, maybe he was born in 1850, and got married at 49 to a younger woman?  Feasible but pushing it.

HJH and Annie had a daughter in 1898:

But lost a 10 year old son in 1901:

And got divorced in 1902:

They lost another son in 1905.

God this is getting depressing. I don’t know what’s more shocking, that they lost so many children, or that they had eight all together. Time to get back to the ship.

The last reference to the King Philip in regular shipping news is immediately before the wreck:

20 Jan 1878:

24 Jan 1878:

And then King Philip met Ocean Beach.

To summarize, Oh Captain My Captains:

  • King Philip launched in 1856/7 in Maine
  • Captain Norris, 1857? – 1859
  • Captain Rollins, 1859 – 1860
  • Captain John L. Bickford, 1860 – 1867
  • Captain Hubbard, 1867 – 1869 (mutiny)
  • Captain Black, 1869 – 1870
  • Captain Daly, 1870 – 1873
  • Captain Rawlins, 1873 – 1875 (mutiny, 1874)
  • Captain Keller, 1875 – 1878

Holy crap, this got long. Such is your random history lesson for today. (Just for perspective, on the other side of the city in the 1870s, they were playing baseball in the Mission at Folsom and 25th.)

23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 5:32 pm

    Great shots! And what a day for it! I just found this undated ad for the King Philip at the Bancroft, might be worth adding to your compilation here:

    • November 15, 2010 10:11 pm

      Dammit, you just sent me down a 2 hour historical rat hole on Captain Bickford!!!

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      November 15, 2010 11:22 pm

      First ever chill day at Dolores Park and they are already playing with hula hoops, you just can’t make it up:

      That is a fantastic collection

    • November 16, 2010 12:21 am

      If history repeats itself, they’ll be playing baseball in DP in a few years.

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      November 16, 2010 2:36 am

      Actually I believe history just follows this blog, if you do some posts on basketball in SF there will be Warrior riots in June.

    • November 16, 2010 3:09 am

      I’m a hockey guy, so either riots in San Jose or Vancouver. (Oh, wait, Vancouver already had riots a few years back, so obviously the Shark’s turn.)

  2. November 16, 2010 3:08 am

    No thanks to Lookback Maps, I figured out all the Captains of the King Philip from 1857 to 1878. Stupid history.

  3. November 16, 2010 1:25 pm

    You have outdone yourself once again. Thanks for the history lesson. Now I have to go write some more posts about horrible reality TV shows.

    • November 16, 2010 1:39 pm


      I am sure life on a ship was just like a horrible reality TV show — thus all the mutiny. (Except for Captains Bickford and Keller, they seemed pretty cool.)

  4. November 16, 2010 2:34 pm

    The hula hoop picture is at 16th and Harrison, not Dolores Park, though, isn’t it?

    • November 16, 2010 5:26 pm

      Yes. But hipsters know no boundaries with space and time.

  5. November 16, 2010 5:22 pm

    Update — traced Captain Keller’s nautical career, and dug up potential info on his first mate.

  6. November 17, 2010 2:02 am

    Even more amazing is the Hunters Point Dry Dock has been operating since 1878

  7. November 17, 2010 1:13 pm

    Here’s a clip of the 1869 map showing the drydock. (Unfortunately the 1859 map doesn’t go that far south.)

  8. Mike permalink
    November 21, 2010 11:32 am

    Johnny, how did you do these newspaper searches and clips? I love old shit.

    • November 22, 2010 12:23 am

      The California Digital Newspaper Collection is where it’s at.

      It has the Daily Alta California from 1849-1891 and the San Francisco Call from 1890-1913 (along with lots of other California papers). Lots of great stuff. They’ve OCRd the collection but the accuracy is hit or miss. You’ve got to be a little creative with searching or be willing to dig through by time (but that has the side benefit of stumbling across other cool stuff).


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