City Of Chester Lost at San Francisco
By James Donahue
The remains of the Nineteenth Century steamship City of Chester was recently found in 216 feet of
water off Alcatraz Island.
The 202-foot long vessel, with 106 people on its decks, was sunk on the morning of August 22, 1888
when the big White Star Liner Oceanic struck her port side while attempting to pass each other in dense fog. The Chester’s
captain was Wallace Thomas.
The Chester’s iron hull was split open by the larger steamer and it sank in about six minutes.
Miraculously, and because of the help of the crew and passengers on the Oceanic, all but 16 people survived.
The City of Chester was rated as a coastal vessel, carrying freight and passengers from port to port
along the Pacific coast. The ship had just left the San Francisco dock and was beginning a trip north to Eureka, California.
The Oceanic was arriving from Hong Kong after a month at sea and was carrying Chinese immigrants.
News reports of the day varied in describing the cause of the accident. Some said they simply collided
in dense fog even though they were both blowing horns. Another report said the two crews saw each other when the ships were
about a half mile apart, but because of a rip current off Fort Point, were unable to steer away from the looming collision.
Divers located the Chester and attempted to recover parts of the wreck about two years after the sinking.
The project was abandoned after one of the divers found a body floating in the gash in the hull. The wreck rests upright on
the bottom of the sea.
Laura Pagano, an NOAA researcher, recently found the wreck again while using a side-scan sonar to
search for another wreck, the freighter Fernstream, that went down in 1952.
The loss of the Chester is still listed among the worst maritime disasters to occur in San Francisco
The City of Chester was built in 1875 in Chester, Pennsylvania. It was owned and operated by the Oregon
Railroad Company at the time it sank.