Queen Christina was victim of St. George Reef

June 27, 2007 12:00 am
The Queen Christina, a tramp steamer, was one of the largest freighters on the Pacific coast. In October 1907, she ran aground just north of Point St. George. (Photo submitted by The Del Norte County Historical Society).
The Queen Christina, a tramp steamer, was one of the largest freighters on the Pacific coast. In October 1907, she ran aground just north of Point St. George. (Photo submitted by The Del Norte County Historical Society).

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

The span of time between 1865 and 1907 proved unkind for seagoing vessels plying the waters west of Crescent City.

A number of vessels were wrecked or stranded along the coast, including Amanda Alger, who went ashore at the Gold Bluffs in December 1871; Centennial, who stranded crossing the Klamath Bar in April 1877; and seven other craft, including California, Wall and Elvenia, who stranded near Crescent City during the three-year period beginning in 1878.

Seven more strandings were also reported to the Life-Saving Service between 1884 and 1905. Many of them, including Dauntless, were victims of Klamath Bar.

But on Oct. 21, 1907, the coast claimed a major victim: Queen Christina, one of the largest freighters working the Pacific coast at the time.

She was built in 1901 at Newcastle, England, and displaced 4,268 tons of water.

She sailed from San Francisco on Oct. 19, 1907, with a cargo of wheat, bound for Portland, Ore.

But two days later off Point St. George, she encountered heavy fog, fog likened to London's famous pea soup variety.

Her captain, George R. Harris, believed he was holding a course seven miles offshore and eased his ship forward slowly. As the Queen made her way, those aboard heard a sound bound to horrify them – the hard crunch of iron against rock.

The ship was hard aground and taking water badly, according to the ship's damage control personnel. Capt. Harris took the only action he could: He passed the order to abandon ship and got his crew ashore in two lifeboats.

Given the lore about Point St. George, Harris and his crew were lucky. The seas were calm and smooth, but storms were on target to hit the area from both the southeast and the southwest.

The prediction was that Queen Christina, only six years on the water, would be pounded to pieces on the rocks.

Word of the wreck in Crescent City dispatched the steam schooner Navarrro, owned by local lumber giant Hobbs, Wall and Co. to head for the wreck site.

Her crew got a line aboard the stricken freighter but could not pull her off the rocks. Hearing the update, Capt. Harris employed the Hobbs, Wall and Co. vessel to help his crew salvage as much as they could from the wreck.

To Harris' discredit, he tried to blame the crew manning St. George Reef Lighthouse, who he said were not sounding the facility's fog horn.

Most mariners backed the keepers' claim they were using the fog horn by pointing out that it's possible to be "right on top" of a fog horn but not able to hear it.

To her builders' credit, the Queen held herself together until 1909. She withstood the winter of 1907-08, lasting with her lines in place.

Her epitaph was a 1909 story published by the Crescent City News that stated the "stranded steamer Queen Christina is a complete wreck ... there is nothing visible of the ill-fated craft except a portion of the bridge ... heavy seas roll over it ... the masts have gone by the board."