Sunday, September 12, 2010

The "Eliza Anderson"

The keel of the Eliza Anderson was laid in Portland, Oregon, in 1857, and she was finished eighteen months later.
This was the largest low-pressure steam-boat built in Oregon at that time, and she was launched on November 17, 1858.
The Eliza Anderson was a sidewheeler with a vertical-beam engine, 26 x 72 inches.
She was 140 feet long, 24 feet 6 inches wide, and had 8 feet 10 inches in her hold.
Soon after her maiden voyage she was sold, and sailed north to Puget Sound where she began a long career steaming between Seattle and Victoria.
She became an immediate success on the Olympia-Victoria mail run by way of Steilacoom, Seattle and Port Townsend, and no boat in Puget Sound history ran slower and made money faster than the Eliza Anderson.
She was not palatial but she was popular with passengers who appreciated her reliability in an age when maritime safety standards were non-existant.
She was the first vessel inspected in Victoria district after the appointment of an inspector, and with the exception of a few intervals when she was laid up for minor repairs she ran continuously for ten years, enjoying a monopoly most of the time.

I thought that Anderson and his partners, Thomas and John Lowe, owned this ship, but I have not found anything to definitely support that.
These men were owners of the Victoria Steam Navigation Company, which also ran under other names such as the British Columbia and Victoria Steam Navigation Company Ltd.
If they did own the Eliza Anderson, they lost the ship when their shipping business failed in the winter of 1861.

For the last years of her Puget Sound service the Eliza Anderson sailed under the flag of the Northwestern Steamship Co.
She was mothballed twice, and on her second retirement she was stripped of all her instruments and left to rot in the mud of the Duwamish River.
The ship was 40 years old when she retired, but in 1897 the Klondike gold rush made her useful again.
Under the command of Captain Tom Powers, the Eliza Anderson sailed for St. Michael, Alaska, in August of that year, part of a small convoy of similarly decrepit steamers.
The ship was overbooked and cabins and berths had been sold two or three times over.
There was fisticuffs and duelling, card-playing and gambling.
The ship had no compass, and the voyage almost ended at Comox when the Eliza Anderson collided with the sailing ship Glory of the Seas (with most of the damage happening to the Glory).
Off Kodiak Island during a storm, the Eliza Anderson ran out of coal, and the captain ordered the passengers to loot the ship of everything that was flammable.
The men smashed the furniture for the boilers and with axes attacked the ship; the gamblers even tossed their cards and dice into the boilers.
The ancient firestack fell to the deck with a crash, and the rudder chains were so rusted they kept breaking.
The running battle with the elements went on for two days and nights, with no sign of the storm abating.
Everyone was ready to give up the fight; they could not survive much longer.

The man who rescued the ship came out of nowhere!
The story says a little sailboat sped across the waters from the coastline, and a stranger boarded the ship.
He was a giant of a man, strong, muscular and rawboned.
He took his position beside the helmsman and with terse instructions guided the ship through the storm to safe anchorage in a cove next to an abandoned cannery.
Then the bearded man returned to his sailboat and sailed away, without saying a word to identify himself.

The crew of the Eliza Anderson stocked up with coal from the cannery and continued her voyage north.
At Unalaska the passengers and crew abandoned her, and she lay at anchor for more than a year.
She was finally driven ashore during a storm and wrecked.
But the stories of the phantom pilot continued, and some said he was the ghost of Captain Tom Wright, owner and master of the sidewheeler at the height of her career on Puget Sound.
(We have a little conflict here; my information says that Captain Tom Wright was the commander on this voyage).
Eventually it was discovered that one of two brothers who owned the abandoned cannery had boarded the ship as a stowaway for Unalaska, remaining hidden until it was obvious the ship must fail.
It was he who guided the Eliza Anderson to safety, and his brother who had taken him off by rowboat.

Information on the Eliza Anderson comes from:
Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest,
The H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest,
and article in the Islander Magazine, Times Colonist, Nov. 23, 1986.

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