South Vallejo, CA Ferryboat JULIA Explosion, Feb 1888



Vallejo, Cal., Feb. 27. -- A disastrous explosion occurred this morning at South Vallejo, on the ferry steamer JULIA, plying between South Vallejo and Vallejo station. The steamer was about to leave her moorings a few minutes after 6 o'clock, and had about 70 persons on board, many of whom were going across the strait to work in the lumber yards on the other side. Just as the deck hands were hauling in the lines there was a loud explosion and a sheet of flame shot into the air. Those who were on deck at the time were hurled overboard by the force of the explosion, and several of them were killed outright by being struck by pieces of the debris, which were sent flying in all directions.
The explosion attracted the attention of persons living in the vicinity, and men rushed to the assistance of the unfortunate passengers. In a few minutes all was confusion, for men, women, and children who had relatives on board the ill-fated JULIA were wailing and wringing their hands as they rushed around the wharf. The men on the wharf were anxious to aid, but there seemed to be but little for them to do, as most of the passengers were below the decks at the time of the explosion, and were either killed outright or drowned when the water poured in on them. It had been customary for all passengers to go below the decks in the morning, as it was cold and foggy. A few who were on the deck and were not rendered insensible by the force of the shock were quickly assisted ashore by the people on the wharf.
To add to the terrors of the scene, large vats of petroleum stored on the wharf caught fire and the flames spread rapidly. The fire companies were unable to accomplish anything, as there was no water, owing to the tide being out, and 15 minutes after the explosion about 600 feet of wharf, freight depot, and telegraph office were burning. When the tide came in they managed to get a supply of water, and at noon had the fire under control.
While the firemen and others were trying to save the wharf a large number of boatmen were rowing around the wreck seeking to recover bodies. Soon after the explosion occurred the steamer had burned to the water's edge, and sunk to the bottom, with a great number of the victims buried under the debris in the cabin. It is believed that between 30 and 40 lives were lost. Up to a late hour this afternoon 12 bodies had been recovered, two of which were burned beyond recognition. The names of the other 10 victims are as follows: KELVIN HODGKINS; JOSEPH FRAGAS; WILLIAM SAMAN; OLEF NELSON; ALFRED MADISON; MICHAEL BRANLEY; JOHN BREVICK; WILLIAM STARK; EDWARD RULE; and a man named HIGGINS. The names of probably less than half of the passengers who were on the steamer at the time of the explosion are known, which makes it impossible to tell how many sunk with the wreck, but at least 15 who are known to have been on the steamer are still missing.
Capt. GEDGE of the JULIA was severely injured, as was also CHARLES HEATH, the pilot. Twelve others were also very severely injured. The record of the JULIA is a bad one, and this is not the first terrible accident on the steamer. In September, 1866, the head of her boiler blew out, instantly killing nine of the crew and scalding the clerk and another officer of the boat so badly that they lingered alive for only a few days. The cause of the disaster to-day is not known, though it is generally believed that the explosion occurred in the boiler; but the impression also prevailed that the fire was in some way communicated to the petroleum tank and that the explosion occurred in that quarter. The steamer burned petroleum for fuel.
Vallejo is 29 miles up the bay from San Francisco.

The New York Times New York 1888-02-28