Sacramento

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Sacramento Reef south of Isla San Geronimo, Mexico


Sacramento (#) (1864-1872), a 270-foot side-wheel passenger steamer that met her end hitting a then uncharted reef of Isla San Geronimo, Mexico. Captain, crew and all 145 passenger were safely landed on Isla San Geronimo. The Montana, which had just arrived at San Diego, was sent to pick up the passengers of the ill-fated Sacramento..

Captain Farnsworth and four of his crew remained with the wreck until December 17th, when they were finally taken off by the salvage steamer Fideliter. They had done, in the meantime, an exceptional good job of picking the Sacramento’s bones, having recovered silverware, canvas, furniture and hand-tools and the small auxiliary machinery from the flooded engine-room. The main engine, of course, was too large to handle, and until just a few years ago its gallows-frame, walking-beam and main shaft remained visible at low tide, protruding from the water like some ghostly sentinel. Gradually the massive timbers fell away by disintegration, but the heavy shaft still protrudes even to this late day, forlornly above the water, marking the resting place of the wreck after more than ninety years.


  • Captain E. L. Farnsworth
  • First Officer Samuel T. Dederer
  • Second Mate T. Herrington (in charge when the vessel hit)
  • Chief Engineer J. S. Buck


Sacramento Reef is so named for the 1872 accident of the side-wheeler, Sacramento. The reef is 2.5 miles wide, including a detached 18 foot spot, and 2 miles long. It runs in a northwest to southeast direction and the north edge lies 2 miles off the southern tip of Isla San Geronimo. Triangulation and soundings by the survey-steamer Hassler and the U.S.S. Ranger resulted in a raising of the accuracy of future nautical charts which had long been overdue. From that period on, coastal voyages became safer off the West Coast—but "Sacramento Reef", even to this day, is a good place to avoid, as many a subsequent navigator has discovered, the hard way. On May 25, 1969 the 161-foot navy schooner, USS Palomas [Goodwill], ran aground on the reef.



In the News~

December 13, 1872 [LAH]: “The Wreck. The Steamer Sacramento a Total Loss. The Passengers and Treasure All Saved. No lives Lost, and No Accident. The Landing on San Geronimo Island. Rescue by the Montana. Graphic Details of the Scene by the "Alta" Correspondent. San Diego, December 12th.—The Montana returned this evening at 6 o'clock from San Geronimo Island bringing with her the cheering news that all the passengers, crew, baggage, mails and specie of the wrecked steamship Sacramento had been saved, though the ship is a total loss. The Captain of the Deck Department, First Assistant Engineer King and ten men of the Engineers' Department were left on the Island. All the rest of the crew and all the passengers and property were saved, and were brought by the Montana. Your correspondent, having accompanied the expedition, sends the following report:

Early on Wednesday morning the wreck was discovered stranded on a reef not laid down in the charts, nine miles southeast from San Geronimo Island, and twelve miles from the mainland. The passengers and crew, with the exception of those engaged in wrecking, were all on the Island safe, and well provided with provisions and protection from the weather. Capt. Farnsworth, Master of the Sacramento, boarded the Montana and piloted her to a good anchorage, one mile to the southeast of the Island. Orders were then issued for all the passengers and rescued property to be at once transferred from the land to the Montana. The "Alta" correspondent went ashore on the first boat and inspected the camp, besides learning full particulars of the disaster, as was correctly reported to him in San Diego by the Second Officer of the Sacramento, who was officer of the deck during the first watch on the night of the 5th inst. At nine o'clock the course had been changed to NW. half N., and it was soon expected to pass to the westward of San Geronimo Island. The engine was making eleven revolutions a minute, when at eleven o'clock the officer of the deck perceived a white line breaking on the water dead ahead. The bell was rung to slow up, and then immediately after to stop. It was too late. She struck the rocks with a heavy crash, and remained fast...


November 6, 1878 [LAH]: “The Sacramento, wrecked on San Geronimo Island, December 9, 1872. Loss $500,000.”