The authors of the “The Wreck of the SAGINAW” Cornelia Bagg Srey and Pyara Bagg Sandhu will host a book signing for a new book detailing the wreck of a famous Navy gunboat at a remote mid-Pacific atoll. The book contains a long lost manuscript written by Captain of the ship detailing an account of the loss of the ship, the tragic voyage of 5 crew members from the atoll to Hawaii, and the rescue of the remaining crew. Admission to the museum will be free during the time of the event.
The first warship built on the Pacific Coast was the sidewheel steamer USS SAGINAW launched on March 3, 1859 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. It had long been a dream of the first Shipyard Commander, Admiral Farragut, to build a ship at Mare Island, and in 1857 Bay Area supporters were successful in convincing Navy and congressional decision makers that the complex undertaking of building a warship could be successfully completed on that remote coast. Orders to proceed came soon after Admiral Farragut left for Civil War fame.
On March 11, 1857, the Alta California printed a lengthy progress report on Mare Island, where Mare Island’s storekeeper had informed the visiting correspondent that California and Oregon had all the different kinds of timber needed for shipbuilding. He had found a superior kind of live oak near Petaluma, and he affirmed that the Yard could build a steam frigate with no help from the East Coast other than the iron for boilers and machinery. Saginaw would be constructed from the Petaluma live oak and her engines would be built by Union Iron Works in San Francisco. Union Iron Works in the south of Market area of San Francisco was founded in 1849 by the Donahue Brothers who were Irish immigrants. At that time Union Iron Works was a producer of mining, railroad, agricultural and locomotive machinery in California. Union Iron works would become a prime shipbuilding firm in the mid-1880s, but was essentially a start-up in 1859 and special attention was required by Mare Island to ensure Saginaw’s engines were completed in a timely manner. The fact that Saginaw would be constructed from local materials was a great source of pride at the time for the fledgling state of California.
Operating from Mare Island the USS SAGINAW plied the Pacific for 10 years leading diplomatic missions into a war torn China, putting down Indian uprisings in Alaska, and suppressing Confederate raiders during our nation’s Civil War. Then, at a time when there was no radio communications, no electronic aids to navigation and no other modern conveniences she foundered on a Pacific atoll. Without a rescue mission the entire crew face death by starvation. The ship’s Gig was decked over and volunteers set off on an epic 1,500 mile long ocean voyage to alert authorities and seek rescue. Tragically only one man would survive the trek, but he was successful in bringing rescue to the rest of crew. This recent book provides an account of the tragedy in the words of the Captain of the SAGINAW.