THOMPSON, Frank Wildes

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Frank Wildes Thompson (1838-1905)
Painting on the easel is the steamer Santa Rosa
Courtesy Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Santa Barbara Cemetery

THOMPSON, Frank Wildes (1838-1905), Topsham, Maine-born mariner who sailed to San Francisco in 1870s. Shortly thereafter he relocated to Santa Barbara where he operated the schooner Matinee, followed by the schooner Santa Rosa for the More family of Santa Rosa Island, and the schooner Star of Freedom for the Caire family of Santa Cruz Island. Great Register of the County of Santa Barbara 1877 shows Thompson registered August 3, 1875. Captain Thompson, also an accomplished artist, painted seascapes and maritime subjects.

In 1896, Thompson completed ‘Schooner Santa Rosa, Sailing from Santa Rosa Island Loaded with Sheep.’ The schooner, Santa Rosa, was subsequently lost at San Miguel Island in 1899.

Thompson never married. On July 23, 1905 Captain Thompson shot himself in the county jail while under arrest on a count of drunkenness. He was 67 years old. Frank Wildes Thompson is buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery. Over a dozen of his paintings are in the collections of the Santa Barbara Historical Society; two are in the Santa Cruz Island Foundation collection.

Thompson's uncle, Frances Thompson, was captain of the brig, Pilgrim, whose journeys are chronicled in Dana's Two Years Before the Mast.

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In the News~

November 4, 1871 [SBT]: “Arrivals. October 27. Schooner Louisa Harker, [Captain] Thompson, San Pedro.”

November 4, 1871 [SBT]: “Departures. October 31. Schooner Louisa Harker, [Captain] Thompson, San Nicolas Island.”

July 26, 1873 [SBDP]: “Arrived. July 18. Schooner Pioneer, [Captain] Thompson, from a hunting expedition with 11 sea lions for Woodward’s Garden.”

July 26, 1873 [SBSWT]: “Captain Brown has just made us a call, having returned from a cruise on the schooner Pioneer to San Nicolas Island. He tells us that the Pioneer brings ten live sea lions from the island, weighing from 100 to 1500 pounds each, to be shipped to San Francisco, for Woodward’s Garden. The best prize, weighing one ton, which took nine hours to secure, died at sea about eight miles our from here. This is what might be called ‘a good catch.’”

August 1, 1873 [SBDP]: “Departures. Schooner Pioneer, [Captain] Thompson, on a hunting expedition.”

May 16, 1874 [SBDMT]: “The schooner Matinee, [Captain] Thompson, Master, with Messrs. Sackett and Dean and a number of laborers sailed for San Miguel [Island] yesterday morning.”

August 24, 1874 [SBDP]: “The schooner Matinee, Captain Thompson, from San Miguel Island with forty-one bales of wool, owned by the Pacific Wool Growing Company, and going to San Francisco, is in port.”

June 23, 1875 [SBDP]: “The schooner Matinee, [Captain] Thompson, master, and the schooner Star of Freedom, [Captain] Chase, master, came into port yesterday—the former from San Miguel Island and the latter from Santa Cruz.”

August 11, 1876 [SBDP]: “Loss of the schooner Leader on San Miguel Island. The schooner Leader, Captain Charles Ludgings, which has long been navigated on the bay of San Francisco and tributary rivers, was recently chartered for a fishing and sealing expedition along the coast of southern California. On the 17th day of June last, the schooner was anchored on the weather side of San Miguel Island when a severe squall struck her, and, despite the efforts of the crew, she was driven ashore and is now a total wreck. The proceeds of their expedition up to that time, and all of the contents of the vessel were saved. No lives were lost. The crew, six in number, established themselves on a large rock a mile or two from the main island, and prosecuted their sealing business, with the aid of their small boats, for about four weeks, and watching in the meantime for a vessel to rescue them. At the end of that time their supply of provisions became so much reduced, it was decided that assistance must soon be obtained in some way. Two men were accordingly dispatched in a skiff to Santa Rosa Island for Captain Thompson of the Matinee. He accordingly sailed to San Miguel and picked up the unfortunate men and brought them, their forty barrels of seal oil and other effects, to this city, where they arrived yesterday. They began shipping their oil, etc. to San Francisco on the next steamer. The schooner was owned and insured in San Francisco, which was her home port.”

August 11, 1876 [SBDP]: “Arrived. Schooner Matinee, [Captain] Thompson, master, twenty hours from Cuyler’s Harbor, with wreckage and crew of schooner Leader, lost June 17th on San Miguel Island. Also, 32 barrels seal oil to Joe Shields, and 90 sheep to Sherman & Ealand.”

August 14, 1876 [SBDP]: “The Matinee, Captain Frank Thompson, sailed this afternoon for Santa Rosa Island for a load of abalones.”

August 25, 1876 [SBDP]: “The schooner Matinee, Captain Thompson, came over from the islands last evening. Captain Thompson reports rough weather, and lost both anchors while over there.”

September 4, 1876 [SBDP]: “The schooner Matinee has been sold to parties in San Francisco, and will hereafter be under the command of our old friend, Captain G. W. Chase, formerly of the Star of Freedom. Captain Frank Thompson, who pulls down a pennant on the Matinee, is a No. 1 sailor, and wherever he may go we wish him well.”

April 30, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, arrived here Thursday afternoon from Santa Rosa Island, and has been lying in the harbor since that time.”

May 7, 1881 [SBWP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, arrived here last Thursday afternoon from Santa Rosa Island and has been lying in the harbor since that time.”

May 21, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Frank W. Thompson, arrived from Santa Rosa Island yesterday afternoon with A. P. More and party.”

May 24, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, arrived from Santa Rosa Island yesterday afternoon. She will carry a cargo of sulphur to the island tomorrow.”

July 16, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, sailed for Santa Cruz today for a cargo of lumber.”

October 26, 1881 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, arrived this morning from the Island.”

October 26, 1881 [SBDP]: “Four schooners are in the harbor, the Star of Freedom, Convoy, Surprise, and Santa Rosa.”

July 22, 1882 [SBDP]: “Captain Thompson, commanding the schooner Santa Rosa, met with a severe accident ten or twelve days ago. He was crossing the deck when his foot got caught in a rope, and he fell, injuring his hip severely. He has been confined to his bed ever since, but is now considered to be improving.”

August 13, 1883 [SBI]: “The Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived from Santa Cruz Island Saturday, and went back to the island today.”

December 14, 1883 [SBDI]: “The Star of Freedom has gone to Santa Cruz Island for orders. Captain Frank Thompson has resigned his commission and will engage in business in San Francisco. Captain Harry Higgins takes command. Captain Burgess takes the schooner Santa Rosa.”

April 29, 1884 [SBDP]: “The schooner Angel Dolly arrived last night from San Francisco for Captain Ellis, to be used in the seal fishing business at the islands. She is in command of Captain Frank Thompson, and made the trip from San Francisco to this port in thirty-five hours. She is a trim little craft of 19 tons register.”

April 29, 1884 [SBDI]: “Captains Ellis and Thompson have just arrived from San Francisco and brought the schooner Angel Dolly to take the place of the Convoy. The Angel Dolly is said to be the neatest, trimmest and fastest schooner of her class on the coast. She came from San Francisco in 35 hours. She has been used formerly as a yacht to take out excursion parties from Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Francisco, and will be used here for the same purpose, also to do what freighting there may be between Santa Barbara and the Islands, and also for otter hunting.”

June 20, 1884 [SBDI]: “The Angel Dolly, Captain Thompson, will take parties out on a fishing excursion next Sunday, June 22nd, at 1:30 P.M. Tickets for the trip, 50 cents each.”

September 17, 1884 [SBDI]: “Frank Thompson, Captain of the Angel Dolly, has on exhibition at Crane’s Bookstore a nice piece of painting, representing Castle Point. Critics supposed to be up in the business say it’s good.”

January 5, 1885 [SBDI]: “Captain Frank Thompson is back on the Angel Dolly.”

January 16, 1885 [SBDI]: “The schooner Angel Dolly, Captain Frank Thompson, leaves today for San Miguel Island on an otter expedition. It is possible before he returns he will take in the Southern Coast and make an extensive hunting trip.”

1886 Santa Barbara Directory: “Artists… Thompson, F. W.”

1886 Santa Barbara Directory: “Thompson, F. W., seaman. Residence S. corner State and Haley streets.”

February 7, 1887 [SBDP]: “George L. Massey, an aged deaf and dumb man stopping at the Morris House, while walking on the beach yesterday afternoon, a short distance above Castle Point, discovered the dead body of a man, face downward and entangled in a quantity of seaweed. The proper authorities were immediately notified and the body removed to the morgue. At an inquest held this afternoon by Coroner Ruiz, the remains were identified as those of sailor ‘Jack’ Murphy, who has been missing since, two weeks ago, he went in the evening in a small boat to place a signal light on the schooner Angel Dolly, on which he was employed. It will be remembered that his boat was afterwards found floating in the kelp in the channel, all the circumstances pointing to his death. At the inquest this morning, Mose Ralles, sworn, said: ‘I live in Santa Barbara, my occupation is a fisherman. I knew the deceased. I saw him before he started out for the schooner. Of late he was of intemperate habits. I think deceased was about 46 years of age. He was a sickly man, and think he had consumption. Mr. H. A. Rogers said deceased had been in his employ about one month. The day the schooner left Murphy was intoxicated. Saw deceased last about two weeks ago. Captain F. W. Thompson said he knew deceased by name of Welch. Thinks deceased went out to fasten the boat to the bowsprit and fell overboard. Ramon Mosi, a sailor, said he saw deceased two weeks ago. Deceased said, ‘I am going down to light the lamps.’ The Coroner’s jury returned the verdict: ‘Deceased came to his death from accidental drowning.’”

1888 The New Directory of the City of Santa Barbara lists F. W. Thompson, seaman and artist, residing on the south corner of State and Haley streets.

April 18, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, left yesterday morning for Prisoners Harbor.”

April 26, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, sailed for Prisoners’ Harbor yesterday morning.”

May 11, 1888 [SBDI]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived from Santa Cruz Island this morning with 100 sheep for Sherman & Ealand, and 60 for L. Carteri.”

May 16, 1888 [SBDI]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived from the islands this morning.”

May 17, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived last Tuesday afternoon from Santa Cruz Island.”

May 23, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived night before last from Santa Cruz Island. She brought 100 sheep for Sherman & Ealand, and 90 for L. Carteri.”

May 24, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, sailed for Santa Cruz Island yesterday.”

June 3, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, will sail this morning for Santa Cruz Island.”

June 13, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, left yesterday morning for Santa Cruz Island.”

June 23, 1888 [SBMP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, arrived night before last from Santa Cruz Island with 96 sheep for Leon Carteri.”

June 31, 1888 [SBDP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, Captain Thompson, will sail this morning for Santa Cruz Island.”

May 11, 1889 [SBMP]: “A. P. More’s accident. The owner of Santa Rosa beaten by his shearers. Dr. R. F. Winchester returned yesterday morning from Santa Rosa Island and brought the first authentic news in regard to the trouble at that place, about which so many rumors have been floating about. The doctor stated that he had been informed on the island that Alex P. More fell from a rock while driving sheep Tuesday night and had three ribs broken and his arm fractured in two places. Captain Thompson, who arrived at the island the same night, was unable to land, owing to the bad condition of the wharf and the rough weather, and the few words he heard shouted from the shore, started the stories about a desperate fight on the island...”

May 14, 1889 [SBDP]: “Captain Thompson of the schooner Santa Rosa returned from the islands yesterday, having left John and Lawrence More with their brother. A. P. More is still very ill from the results of his beating at the hands of the shearers and could not be removed.”

July 1, 1890 [SBDI]: “We publish herewith a complete list of the prizes distributed by the Great Wardrobe this forenoon… Edgar Leach of this city is to be congratulated on receiving the first prize, the famous clipper ship model and painting by Captain Frank Thompson. It is valued at $150 and is well worth that sum of any man’s money. It is a magnificent object of art. Walter Hardy took the second and E. S. George took the third. Both these latter prizes were marine paintings by Captain Thompson…”

February 25, 1891 [DAC]: “Arrived. Schooner Santa Rosa, [Captain] Thompson, 6 days from Santa Rosa Island; ballast, to Master.”

May 5, 1891 [DAC]: “Arrived. Schooner Santa Rosa, [Captain] Thompson, 8 days from Santa Rosa Island; 232 sacks corn, 1 lot dry hides, to Price, Berlin & Co.”

September 30, 1891 [SBI]: “Capt. Frank Thompson, as usual will spend the winter months on shore and is succeeded in command of the schooner Santa Rosa by Capt. Burtis. We trust Capt. Thompson will devote his time to painting some of the charming marine views which all admire so much and for which he has so much talent. It takes a thorough sailor to paint truthful marine pictures. 'Land lubbers' usually make caricatures. A ship — sails set properly, sky and ocean truthful — makes on of the grandest of all pictures. No landsman can expect to accomplish this. It takes a seaman, who has served a long apprenticeship, to bring out the nice details and make the view realistic. Capt. Thompson succeeds admirably.”

December 31, 1891 [LAT/SB]: “The yacht Santa Barbara has returned from San Diego. Herbert Rogers and Frank Thompson were with her on the trip.”

November 8, 1892 [SBDP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom, arrived in the harbor yesterday from the islands. After this, Captain Frank Thompson will take command of the schooner in place of Captain James Prescott.”

November 11, 1892 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Star of Freedom was taken over to Santa Cruz Wednesday evening. Captain Prescott has left the vessel and Captain Thompson will be master after the first of December on his return from San Francisco.”

November 13, 1893 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, is in from Santa Rosa Island.”

December 21, 1892 [SBDP]: “The schooner Star of Freedom with Captain Frank Thompson, brought over a number of the sheep shearers who have been employed during the past season on Santa Cruz Island.”

September 2, 1893 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Santa Rosa sailed for that island Thursday, Captain Frank Thompson in command.”

October 18, 1893 [SBDI]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, is in with a cargo of 321 sacks of abalone shells, 69 sacks of abalone, and five saves of seaweed from the Chinese camp on Santa Rosa Island. The abalone and seaweed are for shipment to China, where they are cooked and served in oriental style and considered great delicacies.”

November 28, 1894 [LAT/SB]: “The steamer [schooner] Santa Rosa arrived yesterday from Santa Rosa Island. Captain Thompson visited the wreck of the Crown of England, Saturday. He says that in her position there is little danger of breaking up. While there are several large holes in her bottom, there is nothing else injured about the ship with the exception of a broken stern post. She lies on a ledge of rocks supported from stem to stern, and as yet there is but four feet of water in the hold. Captain Thompson thinks everything of value on the ship can be saved without trouble.”

January 25, 1895 [LAT]: “Captain Thompson of the schooner Santa Rosa, reports a derelict pontoon, forty by twenty feet, floating off Santa Cruz Island and level with the water.”

October 21, 1895 [LAT/SB]: “Captain Thompson of the schooner Santa Rosa came over today from the islands, and reports a heavy fall of rain in that section.”

November 9, 1895 [SBDP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Frank Thompson, arrived yesterday morning from Santa Rosa Island.”

August 26, 1896 [SBDN]: “The schooner under command of Captain Frank Thompson raised anchor this morning and started for Santa Rosa Island with a crew of employees for the island.”

November 4, 1896 [LAT/SB]: “Captain Thompson returned to port with his schooner, Santa Rosa last night, having failed to land his Chinamen on the islands on account of rough seas. The Chinamen went over to gather abalones.”

April 18, 1897 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Santa Rosa left again for Santa Rosa Island this morning with those same forty-five or fifty sheep shearers aboard that she started out with some days ago. There are thousands of sheep over there in a corral and have been there for a week, waiting for the shearers…The heavy fog prevented them from making a landing… Captain Thompson says this is the most peculiar experience he has ever had.”

June 24, 1897 [SBMP]: “The schooner Santa Rosa, Captain Thompson, came in from Santa Rosa Island last evening.”

November 23, 1901 [SBMP]: “Beach scenery at Santa Rosa Island. Captain Frank Thompson’s latest painting, a bit of rough beach scenery in Convoy Cove, Santa Rosa Island, is displayed in the window of the Great Wardrobe. The picture is remarkable true to life. The sloping beach lying at the foot of towering cliffs forms the foreground. Half embedded in the sand are the bones of the schooner Convoy, which was lost there some years ago. The almost dismembered bow timbers stand grim and lonely, a fitting adjunct to the wild surroundings. In the middle ground of the picture a heavy surf is pounding the beach, a typical scene at this point a great part of the year. In the background surrounded by the peculiar haze of island coast, is the point at the end of the island. Around the cliffs gulls are winging, and one is perched naturally on the topmost timber of the wreck…”

July 25, 1905 [SBMP]: “The death of Captain Thompson. Sad ending of a prominent citizen. Takes his life in the city jail. Sends bullet through his brain after being locked up for drunkenness. The death of Captain Frank Thompson in Santa Barbara early Sunday morning by his own hand has been a severe shock to his friends in this city. It is not believed that his suicide was premeditated, as he had never been of a disposition that would consider such a means for the severing of earthly ties; but he had been feeling the effects of an advancing age, and but the day before had told some friends that he was getting old and often wondered what he was living for. The words were not spoken, however, with any hint that he was in contemplation of solving the problem by the violent means which he adopted so soon thereafter. Captain Thompson has been a familiar figure in Santa Barbara for the greater part of half a century. He first visited the port fifty-three years ago, making the voyage from San Francisco in the old steamer, Senator. There were connections here, and the name of Thompson has been a familiar one in Santa Barbara’s history ever since the first Captain Thompson of the good ship Pilgrim made port on the visit described in Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. That Thompson was an uncle of the one for whom hundreds of friends mourn today in Santa Barbara. Much of his life was spent upon the sea. He had repeatedly circled the globe, and doubled the Cape of Good Hope seventeen times in the course of his career as a mariner. His grandfather was prominently connected with American shipping interests in the days before the Civil War ended the supremacy of our merchant marine. Captain Thompson was a first cousin of the late Dixey Thompson and of Mrs. Georgiana Lacy of this city, a brother of the late General Charles Thompson of Civil War fame, and a second cousin of Rear Admiral Frank Wildes. He leaves two nephews in the eastern states. Captain Thompson was well educated, intellectual and talented, but he chose a wandering life on the seas in preference to other pursuits for which he was fitted. He was a gifted artist, leaving many valuable paintings of marine subjects. He was an interesting conversationalist and was well beloved by those who knew him. He had just returned from a camping trip on San Miguel Island and was preparing to cross the channel again today...”

December 27, 1911 [SBMP]: “The story of the probable drowning of Charles Linn, a Genoese sailor, published by the Press of December 19, furnished the authorities yesterday the means of identification on the bloated and disfigured body that was recovered by fishermen as they came through the kelp beds in the early morning hours… Linn was about 45 years of age and had been in these parts for 25 years or more. He was formerly with Captain Thompson on the Star of Freedom, and was also employed formerly by the Larcos. Recently he returned from San Francisco, after having been engaged for several years as second mate on lumber schooners. He was an able seaman. He had no family as far as known…”

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