Ships 2

Isabelita Hyne

Ships 3

Gamecock - How The Isbelita Hyne May Have Looked

Was The Isabelita Hyne the Victim Of Mutiny?

By James Donahue

The 331 ton barque Isabelita Hyne was a clipper-hulled freight hauler active on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It was laden with tea, sugar and rice bound from China to San Francisco when it went aground and wrecked off Half Moon Bay, California on the night of January 1, 1856.

Details of the wreck of this eight-year-old ship, and the mystery of what happened to its crew and cargo have been the cause of much speculation. Historians theorize that the wreck may not have been accidental, but the ship was steered into the rocks on purpose to hide a mutiny by the crew and murder of the skipper, a Captain Calhoun and First Mate Beatty.

A study of old news clippings and reports by California historian Marie Barnett revealed that Calhoun’s body was seen “lashed to the rigging with his head cut off” and Beatty’s body washed ashore several days after the wreck. All other members of the ship’s crew went missing along with their personal belongings. Also lost were the ship’s charts, papers and compasses. Only the logbook was found. Calhoun made only two entries in the log.

Barnett’s report said Captain Calhoun fell ill at about mid-way through the 70-day voyage from Hong Kong which suggests that the vessel was under command of Mate Beatty during the final weeks. Did he drive the crew to mutiny?

Barnett wrote that shortly after the Isabelita Hyne grounded, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle received a tip that there had been a mutiny and that the “crew had intentionally wrecked the Isabelita Hyne to conceal evidence.”

Other oddities about the wreck was that the ship’s cargo, valued at over $100,000, mysteriously disappeared before the owners, the Nye Brothers and Company of China, could get salvagers to the scene. People living along the coast were thought to have scavenged the wreck for the cargo but this was never proven.

Another inconsistency about this wreck story is that the Chronicle reported the wreck completely destroyed by breakers within two weeks of the grounding. Yet Barnett writes that there are records of the sale of the hull, sails, rigging, anchor, chains and other parts at auction on Jan. 15, 1856. That was just two weeks after the ship reportedly went aground.

The Isabelita Hyne was launched at Philadelphia in 1848. Her clipper hull was coated with copper to give it less resistance, thus it was known as a fast sailor.

The vessel made two voyages from New York to San Francisco. The first was a 125-day trip with Captain Samuel F. Dewing, in 1851. The next year Captain Lamson took the baroque on a second trip to San Francisco and back in 124 days. After that the ship began running for the China trade.