Daily Event for January 27, 2014

On January 27, 1855 the steamer Pearl was heading from Marysville to Sacramento, California, as she reached the junction of the American River and the Sacramento River a terrible explosion ripped the ship apart. Her boilers had exploded and what was left of the ship sank. One account stated she was "blown to atoms".

The casualty figures are unclear, but between 60 and 80 people were killed. There was no passenger list made at the time of sailing, but it is thought there were about 122 people on onboard. Captain Davis was among those killed along with most if not all of the ship's officers. The crew were mainly Chinese and most of these men were also lost.

It was alleged that the Pearl was racing a ship named Enterprise when she blew up, however the agents for both companies denied this claim. It was common for masters to compete on the rivers and the high seas, it was "officially" discouraged, but "unofficially" encouraged by ship owners. Such irresponsible actions have been the cause of many deaths at sea.

While there is no proof that the ships were racing, we have an interesting account from one Rev. W. Inrgaham Kip. He had visited Marysville and returned to Sacramento on the Pearl. Here is his diary entry for Jan. 22, 1855:

"Left Marysville to return to Sacramento, in the high pressure steamer Pearl. Another steamer started at the same time, so that we raced down at the top of our speed, reaching Sacramento at 2 p.m. Five mornings afterwards, this same steamer, in repeating the race, was blown to pieces, every officer and about 70 passengers killed, leaving only 12 unwounded out of 122 individuals, who were known to be on board."

The inquiry into the disaster placed blame on the engineer, claiming "carelessness or recklessness". They claimed that this man was not licensed and had replaced the licensed engineer unknown to government inspectors. He apparently survived, but disappeared following the accident.

On the 29th the State Assembly passed the following resolution:

"That in consequence of the appalling disaster which has recently befallen out community, in the explosion of the steamer Pearl, resulting in the great destruction of human life, that this House, sympathizing in the general gloom which surrounds the great heart of the public, do now adjourn to take part in the funeral obsequies of the deceased, in accordance with the invitation of the city authorities of Sacramento"

The names of those who were lost in the disaster have been lost to history.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

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