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Golden Rocket

"Spring 1859" is not the date of departure from Bangor, but of arrival at San Francisco. The San Francisco newspaper, _Alta California_, for 19 May 1859, p. 2f, records the arrival on the previous day of the ship "Golden Rocket", Pendleton, master, from Boston 8 December 1858, 158 [in reality, 161] days; among the passengers listed are "C. Hellenbrand, Mrs. Hellenbrand, Miss Josephine Hellenbrand, C W N Hellenbrand". Concerning the voyage, the _Alta California_ prints the following "memorandum":
Was 68 days to Cape Horn; 25 days off the Cape, with bad weather, crossed the Equator in the Pacific April 20th lon 109 W; then had light winds to lat 35 N; since then had NW winds; put in Juan Fernandez for water; lay in port 2 days. Left there wh[aling] b[ar]que Stella, of NB; wh[aling] b[ar]que Afton, Allen, of NB; wh[aling] b[ar]que Wavelet, Swain--all put in for supplies. Ham[burg] ship Hebe, from Liverpool, for this port, had touched and left on March 25th.

The _Alta California_ prints a list of the cargo (which included, 2 boxes of pianos) on p. 1c. The family probably sailed on to Portland on the "clipper" barque "What Cheer", William Metzger, master, which sailed from San Francisco on 25 May 1859, or on the mail steamship "Panama", which sailed from San Francisco on 1 June. To determine on what vessel the family sailed, however, it shall be necessary to consult a contemporary Portland newspaper. The following account of the "Golden Rocket" is taken from William Armstrong Fairburn, _Merchant Sail_ (Center Lovell, ME: Fairburn Marine Educational Foundation, [1945-55], vol. 5, p. 3547:
No real clipper-ships were built at either Bangor or Brewer, but toward the end of the clipper shipbuiling decade of 1850-1859, when no more extreme clippers--or merchant sailing vessels built for speed alone--were being laid down in any shipyard of the United States, a so-called medium, or half, clipper ship was built at Brewer, Maine, for Moses Giddings and E. S. Dole, of Bangor. This vessel, which was the little full-rigged and rather heavily sparred ship "Golden Rocket", was of 608 tons register, and she was launched into the Penobscot River in the fall of 1858. The ship sailed from Bangor for Boston on November 11, 1858, with a large number of passengers aboard, and after loading at Boston, she cleared that port December 8 for San Francisco, where she arrived on May 18, 1859, after a passage reported as 158 days [this time, one of the fastest ever claimed for a voyage between Boston and San Francisco, omits the 2 days spent in port at Juan Fernandez]. Captain Pendleton, of Searsport, was in command on this westward passage around the Horn, but he left the little ship at San Francisco, and Captain Collins was appointed master when she sailed for the West Coast of South America to load guano. The "Golden Rocket" had a short life, for on July 13, 1861 (when only two and three-quarters years old), while on a voyage in ballast from Havana to Cienfuegos under the command of Captain Bailey, she was captured off the Isle of Pines and burned by the armed Confederate commerce raider "Sumter", commanded by the famous Captain Semmes. The "Rocket", at the time of her capture, was beating to winward when intercepted by the "Sumter". She [presumably the "Sumter"] was flying the British flag until the vessels were less than a mile apart, when the raider displayed the Stars and Bars and fired a shot across the bow of the astonished "Golden Rocket". This was the first capture of the "Sumter" and Captain Semmes' first prize of the Civil War. The crew of the "Rocket" was transferred to the "Sumter", and the Yankee trader, with no cargo aboard, was set on fire. Captain Semmes expressed his sadist [sic, for saddest] sentiments regarding the capture and destruction of the "Golden Rocket" in the _Index_ of May 1, 1862, as follows: It was about 10 o'clock at night when the first glare of light burst from her cabin hatch. Few on board can forget the spectacle. A ship set on fire at sea! It would seem that man was almost warring with his Maker! Her condition was helpless--the red flames licking the rigging as they climbed aloft, the sparks and the pieces of burning rope taken off by the wind and flying miles to leeward; the ghastly glare thrown upon the dark sea as far as the eye could reach and then the deathlike stillness of the scene--all these combined to place the "Golden Rocket" on the tablet of our memories forever.

 

Courtesy of Michael P. Palmer
contributed by Marjorie Jodoin
© 1997

 

 

 

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