"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." A. Whitney Brown.

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San Juan Archipelago, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 750, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

23 September 2018

❖ The S.S. PACIFIC ❖ Remembered by Capt. Oscar Scarf (updated.)

Captain Oscar Scarf, a boy at Otter Point
lost off Cape Flattery, Washington in 1875.
Click to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©

"A native Victorian among the early Thermopylae Club members was Oscar Scarf, who was born in Esquimalt in 1864 and spent all his life on this coast and the adjacent waters.
      In this yarn, he tells of a marine tragedy that once stunned Victoria. It was on 4 November 1873, that the steamship PACIFIC, loaded with nearly 300 passengers, set out from Victoria bound for San Francisco. A few hours later she was seen by a boy from the beach at Otter Point, and yet another few hours and she, and all but two aboard her, were lost, victims of a glancing blow from a sailing ship which after the collision, sped into the darkness unaware that the damage she had inflicted was more than minor character. It was, in fact, to prove fatal.
      For the sail-powered ORPHEUS indeed the main need seemed to be to attend to her own repairs, wasted effort as it turned out, for a few hours later she too became a total loss near Cape Beale on the west coast. However, fate was kinder to her for not a life was lost.
      In Victoria the next day relatives and friends of the hundreds on the PACIFIC went peacefully about their business, unaware that those to whom they had yesterday waved goodbye were already corpses.
      A storm 6 Nov may have given them concern but then surely the PACIFIC must be well off the coast.
      To the boy at Otter Point, the storm meant the chance of finding some flotsam on the beach, and so it was that the news of the wreck that was to shock Victoria was started on its way by a beachcombing ten-year-old boy—a boy who was later known as Captain Oscar Scarf, sealer.
      Probably no other member had memories that stretched so far back into the history of this coast as did those of Oscar Scarf. Even by the time, the big square riggers that brought White and McDonald to Victoria in the 1890s had sailed up the strait, Juan de Fuca had been for him familiar waters. Here from the decks of sealing schooners he had gazed up at many ships, including probably even the THERMOPYLAE herself.
      But by 1905, after eleven harsh years in the North Pacific, he was ready for amiable waters and moved to boats coasting around lower Vancouver Island and down to CA. He was also, for a time, on the Dunsmuir yacht DOLAURA.
      Last of all 'my boat' meant to Oscar Scarf the little launch in which he carried the mail across Brentwood Bay to Bamberton. By now it was the 1930s and he was also a member of the Thermopylae Club and spinning yarns. The story of the PACIFIC follows immediately."

"In the late summer of 1872 I left Esquimalt with two white men and some Indians in a large Indian canoe like the TILIKUM and, after some delay on account of headwinds, landed on the beach at Otter Point, 33 miles west of Victoria where the late Mr. Tugwell, with whom I lived, had a cabin and owned the land there.
      I was just eight years old and did what little I could to help the men to build a new house one mile further west. There I spent most of my time for the next ten years. It was while living there that with a friend, Indian Jonnie, we would look out to sea and wonder what could be at the other side of the great body of water, little dreaming of the strange things that were to happen to both of us on the other side and among the strange people we had never heard of at that time.
      It was also while living there that I saw something that I shall never forget.
      On 4 November 1875, the steamer PACIFIC, outward bound with mail and nearly 300 passengers and crew, and the steamer SALVADOR, inward bound, passed, as many steamers did, about a mile off in front of our house. Each ship blew three whistles as they passed out of sight towards Cape Flattery, not thinking of course that of her passengers and crew few would see the lights of another day.
      That night the PACIFIC sank following a collision with a sailing ship off Cape Flattery. Only survivors were a Mr. Jelly who was found floating in a trunk and a Mr. Henley on a small raft sometime later [see photo.]
      Though misty it was not bad weather but two nights later we had a very heavy storm and, as usual, after a storm, I went to the beach soon after daylight to pick up some pieces of timber that came up on the beach and might be useful on the farm. I was surprised to see a large ship’s deck-house and part of a ship’s deck breaking up in the heavy surf in front of our house.
      I at once notified Mr. Tugwell who, after seeing the wreckage, sent a man on horseback with a letter to Mr. Michael Muir, the postmaster at Sooke, who in turn sent word of the wreck to Victoria.
      The three-mile beach from Otter Point to Muir Creek was covered with doors, buckets, and life belts plainly marked SS PACIFIC. We also found the golden eagle, a large gilded wooden eagle that the PACIFIC carried on her pilot-house. We sent it to Victoria and it was given to the owners of the wrecked vessel.
      On the beach at Otter Point, strange to say, no bodies from the PACIFIC were ever found though some were found near Victoria and San Juan Island."

Ursula Jupp. Home Port Victoria. Pp 62-65.

Captain Neil O. Henly
Photo dated July 1942.
Veteran sea captain, survivor of the
wreck of the PACIFIC, off Cape Flattery
in 1875.
Photographer unknown.
Original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Log©
      Charles A. Kinnear wrote to Seattle journalist C.T. Conover that Neil Henly came to Seattle in the 1870s as a boy of 10 when the wreck of the steamship PACIFIC was the sensation of the day. Henly managed to clamber into a lifeboat containing 15 women and seven men. As the little boat plunged and careened, it struck something and all aboard were thrown into the sea.
      Henly lived in Steilacoom City 69 years. He was an organizer and the first president of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce. He told his story of this disaster to the Pioneer Association of Washington at the Ice Arena in 1942. Two years later he passed away at age 88, with a wife, and five sons and 2 daughters who survived him. 
      Ursula Jupp was born on the Scilly Islands, where no one lives more than a mile from the sea. Memories of a sailing-ship grandfather and many other relatives closely connected with the sea and ship-building lie behind her deep interest in all that pertains to the world of ships and sailors. She was one of the first women to join the Thermopylae Club [Victoria, BC.] when, in 1954, it began to sign on female crew members.


  1. This is very interesting, Oscar Scarf was my Grandmothers (Victoria Donaldson) cousin. He was a historical treasure.

  2. This is very interesting, Oscar Scarf was my Grandmothers (Victoria Donaldson) cousin. He was a historical treasure.

  3. Elaine, Thanks for taking time to read this sad account and send us a note. All best!


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