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1888 shipwreck found: Fatal shipwreck reveals riveting history of bygone era

The 1888 shipwreck of the City of Chester steamship is found for the second time in San Francisco Bay.
The 1888 shipwreck of the City of Chester steamship is found for the second time in San Francisco Bay.
San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

A shipwreck from another time and era sits at the bottom of the bay, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1888 the steamship “City of Chester” went down taking the lives of 16 with her. This is basically a “rediscovery” of the ship, which was first located more than 100 years ago, according to NBC News on April 23.

The ship was found again in modern times when coastal teams were scouring the bottom of the bay getting ready for the 2013 America’ Cup. There it sat, with its hull rising 18-feet from the seabed and covered in mud. The 202-foot-long steamship is the “second worse shipwreck” of the San Francisco Bay area, trailing behind the 1901 Golden Gate Bridge-area wreck, which took 128 lives.

According to CBS News, the City of Chester iron and wood ship dates back to the days of the gold rush where this ship would taxi people back and forth from San Francisco to British Columbia. The boat’s captain made a dangerous turn, putting the ship on a collision course with another ship carrying Chinese immigrants. The bigotry and racist behavior against the Chinese was horrendous during this time. Because the other ship, the Oceanic, was filled with the Chinese, it was blamed for this collision at first.

The truth eventually unfolded revealing that the City of Chester vessel caused this water collision. It was also revealed that it was the Chinese who were credited for pulling many of the survivors out of the water, according to NOAA. The people on the City of Chester were just ordinary every-day people going about their business of the times.

Finding the City of Chester sitting in 200-feet of water is discovering a piece of little-known history, said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Sanctuaries. He said that every discovery can’t be the Titanic. The City of Chester was named for the city the boat was built in, which is Chester, Pennsylvania.

The high-resolution sonar images of the Chester showed the fatal gash on its side, said Delgado, who was the first archaeologist aboard the Titanic in 2000. The man knows his shipwrecks and the discovery of this much smaller ship is just as important to history in his book because it showed what ordinary people went through during this era. The Chester was carrying 90 people when it went down on August 22, 1888 during one of its scheduled trips from San Francisco to British Columbia.

When will they bring the Chester up from its watery grave? They won’t, just finding this little piece of history was reward enough. Delgado said just knowing it is there is enough as “it’s a tangible link to another time.” The Chester will sit on the bay floor where it sank over a century ago.

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