CHAPPELL, Arthur B.

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“Chappie's world famous glass-bottom boat”
Avalon, Catalina Island, Cal
Free Museum to Patrons
[original in SCIF archives]
Santa Catalina Island
Frank McGrath and Capt. Chappie (right),
Santa Catalina Island, 1931
Courtesy Catalina Island Museum

CHAPPELL, Arthur B. “Chappie” (1864-1950), visitor from England visited Santa Catalina Island in 1889 and decided to stay. He is reported to have been the fifth man to settle in Avalon. Island owner, George Shatto, offered Chappie land if he would build, but the offer was declined. He became an American citizen in 1907 and he never married. He owned the vessels Pauline and Chappie, and remained active as a sports fisherman until 1934 when he retired in his home on Marilla Avenue, Avalon. He celebrated his 80th birthday on February 1, 1944, and is buried in Avalon Municipal Cemetery.


» Catalina Islander: May 8, 1929; November 21, 1936; February 3, 1944.


(1910 Catalina census)



In the News~

September 24, 1896 [LAH]: “Avalon, Sept. 23,— The yacht Nellie, of fifty tons, has returned from a cruise of San Clemente Island with the following party: Mr. Swanfeldt and family, Charles Parker and Mr. A. B. Chappell. Captain Frank Whittley, the owner, was in command. Fishing and hunting was enjoyed.”


October 4, 1896 [LAT/SCat]: “The Nellie, Captain Frank Whittley’s yacht, has gone on a cruise to San Nicolas Island, with the following named party: A. B. Chappell, Joe Gautzer, J. C. Meyers, Mr. Faulkner and Captain Whittley who is in command. They go for the purpose of collecting Indian relics. The party will remain about two months, when Captain Whittley will call for them with the schooner Keywee, taking several pack animals along to convey from the interior of the island the relics obtained.”


August 8, 1897 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A. B. Chappell has an interesting collection of Indian relics in a tent back of town, including skulls, fish hooks, mortars and pestles, abalone ornaments, and other articles made by the primitive people who inhabited San Nicolas Island years ago, collected by him during a ten weeks’ sojourn on the island. The inhabitants of each of these islands had their own style of manufacture. They lived mainly on the abalone, of which enormous heaps of shells remain. Digging for relics is now forbidden by the company on Catalina.”


October 14, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “A party consisting of Mrs. Lydia Emerson Fancher of Mansfield, Ohio, Mrs. Martha Dickinson-Hammond and Hon. George C. Thaxter of Redlands… left Avalon today on the yacht Nellie, Captain Widing in Command, with Will Garnish and the well-known boatman Chappie as guides, for the island of San Nicolas. The party are equipped with supplies for a month, and the Nellie will land them on the island… The object of the party is to search for relics of the ancient tribes of Indians which once peopled that island.”


November 20, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “The yacht Nellie, which has been anxiously expected for some days, arrived in the bay last night about 10 o’clock, having on board the party of curio-hunters which left here for San Nicolas early in October, consisting of Chappie, the boatman who was guide to the expedition…”


January 7, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Several gentlemen who had drifted into Avalon got together last week and arranged a trip to San Clemente, lying about twenty-five miles southward from Santa Catalina. The island is government property, and is uninhabited, save by two young men, John and Robert Robarts, who have charge of some five or six thousand sheep belonging to S. C. Hubbell of Los Angeles, and Alec O’Leary, who has led a hermit life down near the east end for ten years past. The gentlemen were seeking adventure… These adventurous spirits chartered the Mascot, George M. Connell, skipper, who brought his launch down from Monterey last spring in one of the worst storms of the season. The party started from Avalon at 4 A.M. Thursday morning, and about 8 A.M. cast anchor at Gallagher’s Landing, near the west end of San Clemente, where the Robarts brothers have their headquarters. Here they found W. A. Chappel, otherwise known as ‘Chappie,’ a character among Avalon boatsmen, who has been there for nearly four months engaged in hunting Indian relics with which to enlarge his already magnificent collection. He has been quite successful in his search and has a ton or more of curios and things piled on the beach waiting for the schooner Nellie, which is under contract to go for him and bring him back to Avalon January 10.”

April 7, 1901 [Sioux City Journal]:' “Pleasures of California. The following letter written to the home folks by Mrs. H. A. Perkins, who is in California, will be of interest to her many friends in Sioux City: "Well here I am at Santa Catalina Island, Avalon, as the town is called. It is only three hours' ride from Los Angeles—one by car and two by boat... We were told to inquire for "Chappie" when we wanted a boat ride, so we made his acquaintance today. We discovered he was an Englishman. He came from London nine years ago, and introduced the first glass bottom boat. He has a large boat called the Maine. In the center is a long-shaped box, with glass bottom, and the seats run around it, and there you look and look until your head aches. Such wonderful sights! I have read of treasures of the deep, but one could not conceive of the sights... Our "Chappie" invited us to come around at half past 4 and he would show us his cottage. And such assortment! At the door of the vine-covered cottage lay a beautiful stone slab, inlaid with beautiful stones. As we entered, there was the neatest cot bed. The linen and spread were spotless and white. I said, "Why, you never sleep on it." He is unmarried, but said he was "looking." Well, there is not a spot or space but is filled with something beautiful and artistic. Shells galore. We priced some—from 25 cents to $10—and he says everything is for sale, but that he does not need money. Some years ago he spent several months on San Nicolas Island, some miles from here, only inhabited by a couple of shepherds with their flocks. He found some half dozen skulls. A lady offered him $110 for one, which he refused. He has a large assortment of abalone shells, and he thinks he the owners of the skulls, etc., ate the meats out of them over 100 years ago. He has a large lambrequin made of shells which have been pierced twice and strung with a bead between. He had us guess at the number of shells. Anna came the nearest. There were 19,022. I never saw so much in two small rooms in my life. I did not see any table to eat on, but there was a gasoline stove on a box, and underneath were cans, all labeled, such as sugar, tea, etc. There was also a cupboard full of dishes. We said, "What do you do with so many?" He said he needed a good many, that he only washed up once a week. When he used them he set them out of doors. He took us to the back door to see the American eagle, and there it was, alive too. At the back of the house were piled some half dozen sacks, and I felt of them and supposed they were wool or coal, but they were shells, and he also had some lovely ones lying outside. I said I should think someone would steal them. He said he never locked his door. He did unlock a trunk to show some beautiful pearls. He is a genius, and must have a history. But enough for this time.”


May 22, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A southwester began blowing very unexpectedly last evening, and about 9 o’clock increased to quite a gale. Some of the boatmen were found unprepared, and, the gale being offshore, three boats went adrift. Two of these were valuable round-bottom skiffs belonging to Chappie, valued at $90, and the third was a glass-bottom boat belonging to Hugo, worth about $100. The loss of the boats was discovered at about 10 o’clock last night and Chappie procured the services of George Michaelis with his little fishing launch, and went out to find them. Nothing was seen of them in the darkness, and the searchers returned thoroughly drenched by the rough sea…”


June 13, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Chappie’s big rowboat, which went adrift in the storm, has been picked up at Laguna, but in such a damaged condition as to render it worthless. The other rowboat lost from Chappie’s string, which was owned by Joe Adargo, has not been reported.”


October 4, 1901 LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Trolling for abalones is a new form of sport inaugurated on the island. ‘Chappie’ is something of a wag and practical joker, and having been out hunting abalones a few days ago, suggested to J. Fry and Mr. Scott of Pomona that he could furnish them some exciting sport trolling for these shellfish. They bit, and Chappie took them out beyond Sugar Loaf and deftly managing to hook an abalone without observation, threw out the hook. In a short time it was hauled in, and with it a fine abalone. The gentlemen were delighted with their success, but with the next effort the hook was lost, Chappie having cut it from the line, and further sport was spoiled. The party came home regretfully in blissful ignorance that they had been guyed, but they heard of it later.”


April 12, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The management of the Meteor gave an excursion and barbecue at the Isthmus yesterday, and the affair proved a grand success. Chappie presided as main guy and chef, and Captain Jargstorff, Billy Watkins and Jacob Albert, all togged out in uniforms, officiated as waiters. Chappie is a past master at making abalone chowder, and barbecuing fish, and his viands found their way to the hearts of his patrons. It was a merry occasion all around…”


August 13, 1903 [TI/Avalon]: “The following yellowtail catches were brought in… the Pauline, Chappie, skipper, 12…”


October 8, 1903 [LAH]: “A. B. Chappell, well known to island visitors as 'Chappie', has left Avalon and taken a position with a curio dealer in Los Angeles.”


May 24, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The best yellowtail catch for a long time was made this morning by Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Rickey of Grand Rapids, and ‘Chappie.’ They were out in a rowboat and took ten fine fish, each ranging from twenty to thirty pounds.”


May 25, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. There were two acres of yellowtail in the bay yesterday, and anyone wishing good sport had but to take tackle and go to them. It was rowboat man’s day, and the launches were hardly in it. During the forenoon Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Rickey and ‘Chappie’ took ten fine fish.”


June 30, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. H. E. Sargent, Jr. did things to the jewfish yesterday. He was out with ‘Chappie’ and tallied with three monsters, 312, 190 and 118 pounds, respectively.”


July 6, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The marine tugs of war, yesterday afternoon was as spirited and exciting an event as an enthusiastic sportsman could desire… There were five rowers in each team, the winning team composing Mexican Joe, Hawley Farnsworth, John Robarts, George Michaelis and Alex Adargo. Opposing them were Tommy Whittley, George Farnsworth, ‘Chappie,’ Staples and Lindscow…”


August 13, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. W. C. Colson of Fresno, along with boatman ‘Chappie,’ brought to gaff a 370-pound jewfish in fifty-five minutes.”


August 14, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The yellowtail catches today have beaten anything of the kind heretofore this season. The ground where the game is found so plentiful lies from Seal Rocks around the point of the island to Silver Canyon… Among those participating in the sport were the launches… Pauline, ‘Chappie,’ skipper, (12)…”


September 4, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Baron Feder Nicolais tried his hand at fishing today under the tutelage of ‘Chappie’…”


February 23, 1907 [LAT]: “’Chappie’ and Jim Gardner, who have spent the past three months on San Miguel Island, returned yesterday. San Miguel is the outer of the group off Santa Barbara and is little frequented. The object of their visit was to hunt for Indian relics and shells. They were very successful, bringing back several tons of fine abalone shells with the dried meats, and numerous boxes of interesting relics of the ancient inhabitants. They also brought back several seal skins, one of which measures over ten feet in length. They also sighted three sea otters, but these wary animals, whose skins are worth from $500 to $1000 each, were too cunning for the hunters. “


1910 Charles Frederick Holder wrote: “The Indian implements taken here are of more than ordinary interest. Some were found by Captain Chappelle of Avalon in coffins of wood. But the most interesting objects he found were abalones placed face to face and soldered together with asphaltum which drifts ashore here in quantities and which was universally used by the islanders. These boxes were filled with choice beads or trinkets, and doubtless belonged to the women; we can imagine them as primitive jewel cases. This collector has lived on the island weeks at a time, and has made several valuable collections, one of which was bought by W. H. Bumham of Orange and presented to the Southwest Museum.”


1910 Charles Frederick Holder wrote: “The Tuna Club Gaffers' Badge, instituted in 1907, was awarded to boatmen having gaffed a one-hundred- pound tuna under Blue Button specifications; or a fifty-pound tuna under Light Tackle specifications. It was won by: Captains Chappelle, A. S. Clover, O. I. Danielson, Harry Doss, C. A. Fisher, Geo. Farnsworth, Jim Gardner, Tad Gray, Geo. Johnson, Felice "Jose" Presiado (Mexican Joe), Geo. Michaelis, Percy Neal, Chris Ringsen, Claude Whitman, Geo. Zimolier . All the above boatmen have gaffed one-hundred-pound tunas...”[Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California, 1910:250].


June 15, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain A. B. Chappell, who, now is better known as ‘rancher Chappell’ to Arazonites, returned to Avalon last week, where he will spend the summer.”


February 29, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “To bring back the relic hunters of San Nicolas Island, the launch Cornell, Captain George Cornell will leave here at midnight Tuesday. In the island party are: A. B. Chappell, Ralph Glidden and A. Taschenberger who left Avalon November 13, 1915 to search for Indian curios. Only once since leaving here has news of them been received. Many valuable relics had been collected.”


March 7, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The launch Cornell, Captain George Cornell made a record trip from this port to Corral Harbor, San Nicolas Island to bring back the Avalon party of curio hunters who left here November 16, 1915. The round trip was made in 22 hours and during which time over three tons of freight was loaded from the beach and taken out to the launch. Captain Cornell states that he has made the trip to the Channel Islands on many occasions, but he does not recollect any time previous where he was able to land on San Nicolas immediately [when] he arrived at Corral Harbor. The heavy Pacific swells dashing on the rugged coast of San Nicolas usually make landing on the beach very difficult. Several San Pedro old timers have drowned near the place where the curio hunters camped. The relic gatherers are bewhiskered, tanned, and show evidences of a hard winter. Mr. A. B. Chappell will give The Islander an account of the relics collected and which will appear next week.”


May 30, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Fishing from the launch Katherine J, Captain Chappie, Mr. Arnold Heath landed four albacore Monday morning.”


October 23, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain A. B. Chappell returned Saturday from a visit to the mainland metropolis.”


March 12, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “C. B. Parker and A. B. Chappell have been repairing the slight washes in the auto mountain stage road, which is again passable through to the Isthmus.”


March 26, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Indian relics for Heye Foundation. Many valuable Indian relics which were found on San Nicolas Island by Arthur B. Chappell, Ralph Glidden and Arthur Taschenberger, in the Fall of 1916, are now on their way to New York City, the property of the Heye Foundation of the Museum of the American Indian…”


March 26, 1930 [TI/Avalon]: “What gave me a thrill was seeing ‘Old Chappie’— the renowned Englishman of Catalina and fishing fame — coming down the front street on the morn of March 17th, when all good Irishmen feel happy, and there was ‘Chappie’ with a most vivid green jacket on. I said ‘Good morning to you, my spalpeen of an Englishman, and proud am I that you should respect my colors.’ He glared at me—gave me the usual greeting of ‘x*—@&lb—‘ and replied: ‘I was just going to trade this to Jake Albert for an orange’—and I’m not over seeing red yet. If that guy ever walked down in my old neighborhood in Chicago Stock Yards peeling an orange on St. Patrick’s Day—WELL, they would be remarking in Avalon: ‘Yes, Chappie WAS a good …. FELLOW.’ ‘Sweeeeet heaaaaaaart’ as Jimsy Bates yodels…” wrote Micky Ahern in his column, Gossiping Eyes.


May 23, 1935 [TI/Avalon]: “We will all miss Capt. Lee O’Leary and Gene Haskell, who have given up the boating business. So has kind-hearted Chappie, who has been a boatman here for forty-six years, and is very tired. He will be down on the Pleasure Pier a lot this summer, likely telling folks what fishing was like at Catalina in ancient times.”