From Islapedia
Photograph of a painting of the S.S. Amelia at
Sugar Loaf, Santa Catalina Island, ca. 1880-1883
S.S. Amelia
S.S. Amelia

Amelia (#1214)(1863-1895), 147-foot, 385-ton, wood-hulled paddle box side-wheel steamer was launched in 1863 originally as a San Francisco Bay ferry, running between Alviso and San Francisco. The boat was named after Captain James Whitney's first wife. James Whitney (1812-1865) was the first president of the California Steam Navigation Co. in San Francisco. In 1868, Amelia was one of the first steamers in the Bay Area to convert from coal to oil for fuel. She was acquired from the company by the California Pacific Railroad Company in 1871 and sold to the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1882.

Amelia was purchased by Phineas Banning in 1882 to run between Los Angeles Harbor and Avalon, Santa Catalina Island. Amelia was the first steam vessel on the Wilmington to Santa Catalina Island run. She was well-appointed with a salon and restaurant, and serviced the run for a short time in 1883 before being sold by Banning the following year. Allegations were raised as to the vessel's seaworthiness, to which Banning responded publicly in the Los Angeles Times on June 22, 1883.

Banning sold Amelia to the People's Navigation Company of Victoria, to run between Victoria and Nanaimo. She ran as a lighter to service Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. In 1895 Amelia was broken up.


The bell in St. John’s Episcopal Church, established in Wilmington, California in 1883, is said to be from the Amelia, and donated by the Banning family.

Information accompanying the painting (right):

Photograph of painting of the Amelia near the shore of an island, ca.1880-1890. At center, the large side wheel ship Amelia is seen moving along the ocean water. The white exterior of the ship is contrasted with its dark lower hull. The ship has two visible decks with several passengers moving along both the upper and lower deck. Near the bow of the ship, a crane sits adjacent to a large white pole. A single blue flag sits atop the white pole. Similarly, another blue flag and pole can be seen extending from the top of the ship's navigational quarter. At the center of the ship, a single smokestack is seen emitting a thin stream of black smoke into the clear blue sky. At the stern, a large American flag hangs on a large white pole. Along the side of the ship, the bottom of a large red, circular paddle is visible. The semicircular casing above the paddle contains the word Amelia on its side. In the extreme background to the right, two ships can be seen sailing on the water. To the left, the coastline of the island curves to the right into the foreground of the image. In the foreground, vegetation stands near the sand at the water's edge.
Picture file card reads, S.S. Amelia, first steam vessel on Wilmington - Catalina run, from 1880 to 1883. Owned by Wilmington Transportation Co., whose president was Phineas Banning. Color print.
Accompanying article reads [part 1 of 2]: "Cross Channel Transportation. In the early days the regular cross-channel vessels plying the waters between San Pedro or Port Los Angeles and Avalon, Catalina Island, were only operated during the summer season. The first steamer was the Ferndale, operated in 1888 by George H. Shatto. Before the advent of the steamers, we find this interesting story as told by Capt. Wm. Banning, of the side-wheeler Amelia, that ran between San Pedro and Santa Catalina:
'The Amelia was built in 1860 and was designed by a marine architect. She was a wonderful sea boat. She had an overhanging guard-rail from the bow clear around the stern. When she was put in the Catalina service in 1880 to 1883, every other board in the guard rail was taken out to permit the water to pass through it. I do not recall that the vessel was ever taken out of the trough of the sea during its service between San Pedro and Avalon. During its service in Southern California waters, the Amelia was officered by Captain A.A. Polhamus, one of the old school of master mariners. He was a real skipper. The late Andrew Young was chief engineer on the vessel and my first duties were those of purser. In the Catalina service the vessel was well furnished. With a restaurant and saloon, it provided food and entertainment for its passengers on the cross-channel trip, which took almost two and three-quarter hours. After the vessel had been sold to a northern firm she was sailed north, putting in at San Francisco to have some work done on the boilers."
Accompanying article reads [part 2 of 2]: "Before heading for the Columbia River, the planks taken from the guard-rail for the Southern California service were again replaced. In a three-day southeast storm at the mouth of the Columbia River the vessel was unable to cross the bar. On the second day of the hurricane it was necessary to operate every pump to keep her afloat. When she finally crossed the bar there was great rejoicing, both by the men on board the vessel and those on shore.' The vessels operated by the Banning Company were the Falcon, Hattie, La Paloma, Hermosa No. 1, and Oleander. In 1900 the Warrior was placed on the regular run with Capt. Alex Smith. It was 1902 when the S.S. Hermosa No. 2, then considered the most palatial vessel in Southern California, was launched. To celebrate the occasion of the launching of Hermosa No. 2, Hermosa No. 1 was brought to Avalon, anchored in Avalon Harbor, and on July 4, 1902, was made the center of a huge bonfire and fireworks display. The S.S. Cabrillo, built at the Banning Company's shipyards at Port Los Angeles, was launched in 1904. Other vessels operated by the Banning Company, or the individual members of the said company, were the gasoline screw Cricket, the gasoline screw Catalina, and the steam yacht Companero. The S.S. Avalon, formerly the S.S. Virginia, of the Goodrich Lines on the Great Lakes, was reconditioned on the Atlantic Coast and placed in the Catalina service in the spring of 1920, for the Wilmington Transportation Company: Length 264.7 ft., Beam 38.03 ft., Tonnage 1985. The S.S. Catalina, at a cost of more that one million dollars, was built by the Los Angeles Ship Building Company and was placed in service in 1924: Length 285.20 ft. Tonnage 1776".

According to Santa Cruz Island Company correspondence, a steamer Amelia made deliveries to Santa Cruz Island in 1917 and 1918. It was a different steamer named Amelia.

In the News~

May 12, 1868 [NYT]: “Pacific Coast. The trial of California crude petroleum as fuel on the steamer Amelia is pronounced a decided success.”

August 3, 1882 [San Francisco Examiner]: “The bay steamer Amelia has been sold to the Central Pacific Railroad Company for $12,000.”

August 3, 1882 [LAH]: “The Amelia, purchased at San Francisco by Admiral Banning for his fleet at Wilmington, arrived at that port yesterday. She is much larger and more powerful than either of the other steamers and will be used in towing barges to and from the anchorage.”

August 6, 1882 [LAH]: “Capt. Polhamus, who brought the steamer Amelia from San Francisco to Wilmington, speaks in high terms of her sea going abilities. She encountered a heavy sea nearly all the way, but behaved admirably.”

January 13, 1883 [LAT]: “The steamer Amelia is chartered, and excursionists will have five hours at Catalina for fishing, boating and bathing.”

March 2, 1883 [LAH]: “A new boiler will be put in the steamer Amelia during this month, when she will be ready to carry passengers to and from the island of Santa Catalina. This will be a great convenience to visitors to that delightful resort.”

April 21, 1883 [LAH]: “The Amelia. It will doubtless interest the people of Los Angeles, who often cherish an ambition to spend at least a portion of their leisure on the Santa Catalina Island, to know that Gen. Banning has purchased the steamer Amelia which, at one time, ran as a packet on the line between San Francisco and Sacramento, and between Oakland and San Francisco as a ferry boat, and that he is fitting her out to ply between Wilmington and Santa Catalina Island and the other islands. Just now she is ripped up in most unseemly fashion, preparatory to taking on her new boilers. On a truck provided with twelve wheels, standing near by, is an engine which cost the General $10,000 of his hard earned cash, and which will guarantee the Amelia will be able to compass the distance between Wilmington and Santa Catalina Island in two hours. Including the original price of the vessel and her improvements, the Amelia will have cost the Admiral fully $35,000 when she is ready for the water. Those who have pitched and tossed, and endured unutterable agonies from sea-sickness, in their quest of health and change on the islands, will bless the Pirate of Wilmington Slough for his timely provision for their comfort—a provision which, at the worst, will abridge their agony so many hours.”

May 15, 1883 [LAT]: “Catalina Island, with its beautiful stretches of beach, quiet bays and fine fishing, lying so near the harbor of Wilmington, remains terra ingognita to many of our citizens on account of the serious inconvenience heretofore experienced in getting across the intervening sea. The difficulty is happily about to be removed by Admiral Banning, who is now busily engaged in putting into holiday attire the steamship Amelia, purchased by him last fall for an excursion boat. She has recently been fitted with new machinery of grand proportions, that will supply sufficient power to propel her at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, thereby reducing the time of the trip to the island to less than two hours. Her spacious cabins, staterooms and dining-salon have been newly carpeted and upholstered, inviting to repose and charming the eye. Her outer works are being repainted, and everything conducive to safety and comfort is being done thoroughly and well; in fact, the whole vessel is sound and staunch and has accommodations for between four and five hundred passengers. A fine restaurant under the management of a first class caterer will be kept in operation during her trips, and excursionists can rely upon a most enjoyable and exhilarating voyage to the famed island, heretofore ‘so near and yet so far,’ It is expected that the first of a series of summer excursions will be made early in the month of June.”

May 26, 1883 [LAH]: “We are reliably informed that the steamer Amelia is now in the hands of the painters, and that as soon as they have finished, she will commence to run regularly to Catalina Island. This steamer is three hundred and eighty three tons measurement, and will carry comfortably five hundred passengers. We cannot imagine a more pleasant trip during the coming summer, than to this famous resort.”

June 13, 1883 [LAT]: “On Sunday June 24 there will be a grand excursion to Catalina Island. The steamer Amelia is chartered, and excursionists will have five hours at Catalina for fishing, boating, and bathing.”

June 5, 1883 [LAH]: “The steamer Amelia. A splendidly appointed craft—Trial trip to Catalina Island—a Pleasant Excursion. The elegant and commodious steamer Amelia made her initial trip to Catalina Island on Sunday last [June 10, 1883], and we had the good fortune to be included among her passengers.

June 13, 1883 [LAH]: “The announcement for a grand excursion to Catalina Island on Sunday, June 24th, appears in this morning's Herald. The excursionists go by special train to San Pedro and thence by steamer Amelia to Catalina, where they will remain five hours, returning to Los Angeles the same evening. This will be one of the most enjoyable trips imaginable—a ride by rail and a voyage by sea to one of the most delightful bathing resorts on the coast and all for the moderate sum of $2.50.”

June 19, 1883 [LAT]: “The large steamer Amelia leaves next Sunday from San Pedro for Catalina Island. This steamer has been used for years as an excursion steamer on the Sacramento River, and is the largest of its kind that has ever been brought to this lower coast.”

June 22, 1883 [LAT]: “Card to the Public. Having heard that certain false reports have been circulated in regard to the seaworthiness of my steamer, the Amelia, by certain interested parties, for the purpose of deterring passengers from making excursions upon her to Catalina, I desire to say that previous to making the purchase, in July last, the vessel was thoroughly examined by the United States authorities, and pronounced in first-class condition. Since then she has been carefully overhauled; new boilers put in, and various improvements that suggested themselves were made, including three water-tight compartments, or bulk-heads. The United States authorities again surveyed her last month, and have issued papers showing her to be first-class in every respect and perfectly seaworthy, giving her special permit to run to Catalina Island Previous to leaving San Francisco she was insured at the lowest rate in two responsible companies, after being inspected by Captain Cummings, the Marine Surveyor, while she was on the ways. Since her arrival here I have made three trips myself with her to Catalina, twice with my family, which I certainly should not have done had I the least doubt as to her safety. I remain very respectfully your obedient servant, Phineas Banning.”

June 26, 1883 [LAT]: “The first Sunday excursion of the season on the steamer Amelia, under command of Captain Polhemus, took place on the 24th instant, and proved to be a pronounced success in every respect…”

June 26, 1883 [LAH]: “By notice in our New Today it will be seen that, owing to excess of other business, the steamer Amelia has been temporarily withdrawn from the Catalina Island service. She can, however, be secured for excursion parties.”

June 30, 1883 [LAH]: “By advertisement elsewhere it will be seen that the steamer Amelia at the request of a large number of citizens of Los Angeles, will resume her trips and make two excursions to Santa Catalina Island on Saturday the 7th and 14th of July, respectively, under the command of that veteran sailor, Captain A. A. Polhamus. The Amelia will remain at the island each night, returning next day in time to catch the afternoon train for Los Angeles. The restaurant on board will be amply supplied with all the delicacies of the season. Those who wish to sleep on board the steamer can do so by securing staterooms in advance.”

July 13, 1883 [LAT/SCat]: “The steamer Amelia is due next Saturday.”

July 20, 1883 [LAT/SCat]: “The steamer Amelia will arrive next Saturday.”

August 1, 1883 [LAT]: “Catalina in flames. A wretched Sunday for thousands of people. The beautiful island city lying in ashes. Immense losses, but well-insured. Factories, churches, courthouse and many residences burned. On Sunday afternoon, on the arrival of the Wilmington train, the painful particulars of a terrible fire at Catalina Island were first learned. According to General Roley, who was first on the scene, it commenced in the Chinese fish oil manufactory of Ah Lie, who was smoking opium, and carelessly knocked over his lamp, the flames being immediately conveyed to a lot of open barrels containing refined oil. Ah Lie was burned to death while lying in a state of insensibility from opium… A ball was in progress at the time, and Manager William Banning hurried all the participants on board the steamer Amelia, which was then at anchor a few feet from town…”

August 1, 1883 [LAT]: “Second Excursion, ship and rail, to San Pedro and Catalina Island Sunday, August 5, 1883. Special train will leave Los Angeles at 7:30 A.M., connecting with the new, elegant and fast steamship Amelia, A. A. Polhemus, Master, giving excursionists five hours at Catalina Island, the most popular watering place of Southern California. Fine fishing, sailing, bathing. No surf or undertow. Fishing tackle to be had on the steamship. Dancing pavilion and bathing houses have been erected on the island. Good restaurant on board steamship. Only a limited number of tickets will be sold. Round trip made in one day. Fare $3.”

August 1, 1883 [LAT]: “The steamer Amelia, having been chartered for an excursion to Catalina on Sunday, August 5th, instead of making her regular trip, will leave San Pedro Friday, August 3d, returning on Saturday.”

August 8, 1883 [LAT/SCat]: “Last Sunday two hundred excursionists from Los Angeles, Wilmington and intermediate points visited Santa Catalina Island… The party had a hearty welcome from agent Mansfield, Assistant Agent Moulthrop, Captain William Banning and others. The steamer Amelia was at the wharf, and the excursionists were soon comfortably placed on the boat… The Amelia is a safe and commodious boat, noted for her speed and sea-going qualities, and is officered as follows: A. A. Polhamus, master…”

August 28, 1883 [LAT]: “The steamer Amelia will leave San Pedro for Santa Catalina next Thursday on the arrival of the morning train from this city, returning from the island on Saturday in time for passengers to take the train back.”

May 6, 1884 [SF Examiner]: “The steamer Amelia has been sold to Victoria parties by General Banning and will be taken to Victoria to do duty as a lighter.”

May 25, 1884 [SF Examiner]: “The old steamer Amelia, which was built by the Central Pacific Railroad Company about eighteen years ago and plied between this port and Sacramento, has been sold by General Phineas Banning, her first purchaser, to the People's Navigation Company of Victoria, to run between Victoria and Nanaimo. The vessel will soon arrive at this port from San Pedro. She is badly in need of repairs.”


May 23, 1917 [SCICo]: “List of merchandise shipped from San Francisco office to Santa Cruz Island. Steamer Amelia on May 23, 1917: …writing paper, demijohns, rubber washers, nails, Five Brothers tobacco, Toscani cigars, taper corks, tin matches “Boy”, damper rod, oven top-plate, rubber stopper for Salleron still, tubing, 10 sacks barley, 2 packages for Mr. A. J. Caire…”

September 4, 1917 [SCICo]: “The Amelia arrived on September 1st at 12:00 midnight and left on September 2nd at 3:45 A.M. with 133 puncheons of wine for C. L. W. Co., 2 barrels of wine for Mr. ____, and 1 bale sheep pelts and 2 cow hides for SCICo [in San Francisco].”

February 5, 1918 [SCICo]: “The Amelia arrived on February 3rd at A.M. and left at 6:45 A.M. with 126 puncheons of wine and 9 puncheons for C. L. W. Co. and 6 half barrels of wine, 1 bundle of sheep pelts, 3 cow hides, 1 coil of rope and 1 crate of gasoline engine for SCICo.”