Steamboat Jenny Lind FAQs 2nd Draft
What is the steamboat Jenny Lind disaster?
A tragic Bay Area steamboat accident in which a number of prominent pioneers as well as
women and children were killed.
When did it happen?
Monday April 11th, 1853 in the early afternoon just after lunch had been announced.
When is the dedication ceremony of the Steamboat Jenny Lind Disaster Monument?
11am April 13th, 2013 which is the nearest Saturday to the 160th anniversary of the disaster.
Where will the marker be installed?
Alviso Marina County Park, near the west end of the main parking lot, overlooking the water.
Who was Jenny Lind?
An extremely popular opera singer of the 1850s. Dubbed ‘The Swedish Nightingale’, Jenny Lind
was so wildly successful that furniture, trunks, china and silver patterns and more were named
for her. Her portrait appeared on everything from bottles to buttons. Several steamboats, the
Jenny Lind theater in San Francisco and the town of Jenny Lind California, where all named in
What was public transportation like in the Bay Area in the 1850s?
Stagecoach travel was an option, but it involved a long, dusty ride in a shared coach over bumpy
roads. No bridges spanned the bay and stagecoaches had to travel around the perimeter of the
San Francisco bay on dirt roads.
A number of steamboats provided transportation to cities around the San Francisco Bay on
regular daily routes. Passengers had the option of purchasing a regular ticket or a first class
ticket that included a meal. Goods and freight were also shipped by steamboat.
Was Alviso once an important place?
Yes. Alviso was the only water-based port of entry into San Jose. Beginning in the 1840s,
passengers, goods and freight traveled in and out of this port. Goods shipped from the Santa
Clara Valley out to cities around the bay and out into global markets.
What did the steamboat Jenny Lind look like?
No accurate images of the Jenny Lind are known to survive. Drawings of the explosion are wildly
exaggerated. A composite drawing was created by noted nautical artist Jim Campbell for the
monument. It is based on the testimony of the Jenny Lind’s engineer, US government maritime
records and on typical steamboats of the day. Careful research has determined that the Jenny
Lind was a 61-ton side wheel steamboat built in San Francisco in 1850.
Where did the Jenny Lind disaster happen?
San Francisco Bay, approximately in the between the present day Dumbarton and San Mateo
bridges. The location is approximate because we know that the Jenny Lind was sited in distress
from the mouth of Alameda Creek. Survivor estimates of the location vary greatly on this point.
Where was the Jenny Lind going?
Departed from Alviso CA, headed northbound to San Francisco CA. This was the daily route, and
the Jenny Lind would have run southbound back to Alviso the next day.
Did the boiler explode?
No. A high pressure steam pipe exiting the boiler failed. It blocked the furnace chimney and
forced steam into the furnace enclosure that surrounded the boiler. Pressure built up in the
furnace until it blew off the iron furnace doors. This unleashed an explosion of steam that
scalded those standing in its path with super-heated steam and boiling water. The boiler itself
was undamaged by the explosion and the Jenny Lind sustained minimal damage.
How many died?
Thirty-four are known to have died, but an unknown number were also killed leaping overboard
in terror, or having been blown overboard by the force of the explosion. No passenger list
existed so the precise number of deaths is unknown.
Did everyone on board die?
No. Estimates of the number of passengers onboard are 100 – 130, so approximately one
quarter of the passengers were killed.
Who is known to have died?
A Baudichon, age 35 SF Drake, age 29 Annie F Ripley, age 6
Athalie Baudichon, age 32 Rosilla Emerson, age 32 Charles E Ripley, age 8
Blanche Baudichon, age 1 Thomas Godden, age 26 Mary Burtois Turk Ripley, age 30
Charles Baudichon, age 5 Jonas Hawkins, age 30 Noah Ripley, age 50
Adolf Behn, age 5 Jacob D Hoppe, age 37 Sarah F Ripley, age 9
CE Adolf Behn, age 39 Thomas J Kell, age 23 Christopher A Shelton, age 27
William Bell, age 24 Francis H Macabee, age 27 Jeremiah Van Buren, age 26
Franklin W Bosworth, age 26 Bernard Murphy, age 35 Jane B Winlack, age 35
John S Bradbury, age 29 Mrs. Sarah Ann Paige, age 34 Caleb Winsor, age 30
John Brady, age 25 Sarah Anna Paige, age 8 Charles White, age 45
Mr. Carpentier, age 46 Roswell A Wyman, age 36
How can steam kill a person?
(Graphic content) Under pressure, water boils at 387 degrees Farenheit. When converted to
steam it expands to 1,700 times its normal volume. The superheated water and steam
unleashed on the passengers of the Jenny Lind was hot enough to melt hair, skin and clothing,
but all of them survived the initial scalding. What killed them was the effects of extreme heat on
the internal organs and superheated steam causing the scalded bronchial tubes of the lungs to
swell shut. Most lived several hours after the explosion, some lived for several days. Only the
fireman tending the furnace of the Jenny Lind died quickly, when he was hit with the iron
Was there any warning before the explosion?
Yes. A tremor was felt throughout the ship and a sound was heard which was described as being
similar to a cannon going off.
Did anyone standing in the path of the explosion survive and if so how did they do it?
Yes. One passenger is known to have survived direct impact; a Mr. Tobin. He was from the
southern states and was familiar with steamboat travel there. He recognized that the tremor
indicated that an explosion was imminent. He crouched down and pulled his greatcoat (large
heavy wool coat worn by men in the Victorian era) over his head and covered himself as much
as possible. He held his breath as long as he could and when he had to take a breath he did so
through while still beneath his coat, and held it for as long as possible. He described taking that
breath as being “like breathing in fire”. After holding that breath the steam had cleared
sufficiently to allow him to come out from under his coat and when he did, it fell away in pieces.
Did someone go for help?
Yes. Two men, a Mr. Smith and a Mr. Clark are noted as having taken a canoe from the Jenny
Lind and rowing to shore. The Jenny Lind was midway between the shores of the bay and this
was a long way to row. When they arrived at the nearest shore, it was in a largely uninhabited
swampy area, thick with tulle weeds that prevented them from getting the canoe to land. They
attempted to swim to shore and were nearly drowned in the effort, due to their heavy Victorian
era clothing. Both were forced to abandon their clothing in order to swim. They made it to shore
and located a store, probably in the vicinity of Rancho Pulgas where they arrived without
clothing. Medical supplies were quickly rounded up and sent to the Jenny Lind via the schooner
Milwaukee. Smith accompanied the Milwaukee to the Jenny Lind. Clark appears to have gone on
to San Francisco to spread the alarm there. A rare broadside and a letter written by the captain
of the Milwaukee are archived in the Bancroft Library at UCB.
Which ships came to aid the Jenny Lind?
The schooner Milwaukee arrived first, the steamer Union arrived second after spotting the Jenny
Lind in distress from the mouth of Alameda Creek. The Union brought the victims and survivors
the rest of the way to San Francisco, where they were met at the docks by concerned friends
and family as well as news reporters. The steamer Kate Kearny was chartered by the mayor to
go to the Jenny Lind, but by that time the Union was already on her way to San Francisco with
survivors. The tugboat Goliah towed the Jenny Lind into San Francisco. A photo of Goliah
Which of those who died were prominent citizens?
Jacob D. Hoppe – Pioneer, first American postmaster, developer of Alviso, delegate of the
California Constitutional Convention lobbying for the capital of California to remain in San Jose,
where the seat of power would benefit his interests, which included the Guadalupe Mining
Company and a large rancho on the Alviso shoreline. Hoppe and his associates had been granted
the right to levy a wharffage tax on vessels entering Alviso. Prior to his death Hoppe placed a
restraining order on the California state archives, claiming that San Jose was the ‘true legal
capital’ and that a capital could not exist elsewhere without its archives. A small portion of
Hoppe Street in Alviso still exists. Hoppe founded the newspaper that would eventually become
the Daily Alta California and he was extremely popular and well-liked by the citizens of San Jose.
Charles White – Pioneer, lobbyist for the California Constitutional Convention, first Alcalde of
Pueblo de San Jose (now San Jose California). An alcalde is a position similar to that of a mayor
in the old system of government, a position authorized to make legal decisions. White owned a
large rancho adjoining Jacob Hoppe’s, in addition to Rancho Pala in present-day east San Jose.
White Road is named in his honor.
Bernard Murphy – Pioneer, son of major landholder Martin Murphy, owner and part owner of
ranchos in the southern part of Santa Clara Valley. After Bernard’s death his father erected a
shrine to San Martin in memory of Bernard. The town of San Martin developed around that
Thomas B. Godden – Spanish translator turned lawyer who represented then quickly married
heiress Maria de la Encarnacion Ortega Sanchez. The marriage vaulted Godden instantly into the
position of wealthy land holder and it gave Encarnacion the strong arm of a husband which she
needed to prevent squatters from settling on her expansive land holdings. Godden would be the
second of five husbands to predecease her.
Christopher A. Shelton – An unknown botanist at the time, a month before the Jenny Lind
disaster ended his life, Shelton would establish the first successful hive of honeybees in
California after bringing the bees by train, ship and pack mule from Panama. A local species of
violet is named ‘Viola Sheltonii” in his honor.
Noah Ripley – San Francisco merchant from Brooklyn NY traveling with his family, Ripley had
recently stepped down from his position as an upper-level member of the Committee of
Vigilance in San Francisco, in order to spend more time with his family.
How is Chenango County NY connected to the Jenny Lind disaster?
When ‘gold fever’ took hold in California in 1849, a number of young military officers from
Chenango County NY were in positions of leadership after the Mexican American War. They
stepped into positions of prominence in developing California and worked together to assure
their success. At the lead of these men was Kimball Hale Dimmick of Chenango County NY, Jacob
Hoppe’s business partner in the development of Alviso and a delegate for the California
Constitutional Convention. Like Hoppe and White, Dimmick was actively supporting the
movement to keep the state capital in San Jose. At the time of the Jenny Lind disaster Dimmick
was serving as alcalde in southern California. However, three men from the tiny town of Guilford
NY in Chenango County were on board- John S. Bradbury, Caleb Winsor and Benjamin Twitchell.
All three were employed by liquor merchant James Dows of Caznovia NY in Chenango County.
Dows was the secretary of the Committee of Vigilance and at least two hangings were
performed from the cargo hoists of Dows’ warehouse. The three from Guilford were working as
laborers for Dows, taking advantage of the inflated wages paid during the gold rush and their
connections to the prominent men of Chenango in California. They were with a large contingent
of men from Guilford, all working for Dows. James Dows’ daughter would eventually marry into
the Stebbins family of Guilford. Since Bradbury and Winsor were killed with the first class male
passengers waiting to enter the dining compartment, it is likely that they were there
representing Dows in some capacity. Of the three only Twitchell survived the Jenny Lind, only to
be shot in a land dispute while acting as an agent for James Dows.
Where were all the prominent pioneer businessmen and land owners going?
This is not known. The presence of so many highly influential businessmen and prominent
landholders traveling together suggests an organized gathering, but to date no evidence has
been found to prove this. One possible destination may have been the meeting of the state
legislature in Benicia, as Hoppe, White and Dimmick were actively involved in lobbying to keep
the capital of California in San Jose and the businessmen and landholders would benefit by
keeping the seat of power in San Jose. Again, this is theory without hard evidence to support it.
Is there any evidence of foul play?
No. The nature of the form of the pipe rupture could not have been planned with any precision
in the 1850s. The timing of the rupture was also critical to the amount of casualties and that
could not have been accomplished with any kind of precision in the 1850s. It was reported that
had the accident had occurred five minutes earlier before lunch was called, almost no one
would have been killed.
What is Claire Britton-Warren’s connection to the Jenny Lind?
Claire is the great-great-great-granddaughter of John S. Bradbury, described in the paragraph on
Guilford NY. Her genealogical research and desire to understand the cause and the
circumstances of her ancestor’s death led to the eventual discovery that the Jenny Lind disaster
was a historically significant event and by working in conjunction with historians and local
historical organizations has resulted in the monument to be installed in Alviso.
What is ‘The Jenny Lind Gang’?
The in-depth research team that worked on the steamboat Jenny Lind disaster monument,
consisting of historians Russ Robinson and Chris McKay, with amateur researcher Claire Britton-
What historical organizations funded the historic marker?
E Clampus Vitus Mountain Charlie Chapter 1850, California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, Free
and Accepted Masons San Jose Lodge No. 10, Native Sons of the Golden West, Observatory
Parlor No. 177, South Bay Yacht Club, Native Daughters of the Golden West, Vendome Parlor
No. 100, Argonauts Historical Society, E Clampus Vitus Yerba Buena Chapter 1, and a donation
from an anonymous private donor.
Who is going to build the historic marker and provide construction materials?
E Clampus Vitus Mountain Charlie Chapter 1850, with plaques created by Franklin Bronze
Did the Jenny Lind disaster cause the decline of Alviso?
Not entirely. Although the Jenny Lind may have contributed to a small degree to the eventual
decline of Alviso, fear of the dangers of steamboat travel appears to have been temporary. The
single greatest factor in Alviso’s decline was the coming of the railroad, which made steamboat
travel less necessary.
Would San Jose have been the capital of California if not for the Jenny Lind disaster?
Maybe. It is impossible to estimate to what extent the deaths of so many influential
businessmen and landholders may have had in the development of early California. What is
known fact is that several of those killed were actively involved in attempting to keep the capital
of California from being moved out of San Jose and that some of those killed were in positions
to benefit from the seat of power remaining geographically close to their lands and that these
men were standing together at the moment of the explosion.
What happened to the Jenny Lind?
After the disaster, repairs were made and the Jenny Lind was put back into service on her
regular route. However another accident occurred just a few days later involving a woman who
tripped and fell overboard, but was rescued. After this the Jenny Lind was renamed San Jose and
was placed on the Napa route. What became of her after that has not been determined.
Why is this disaster important?
The Jenny Lind disaster resulted in the loss of some of the most influential men in the Santa
Clara Valley at a moment when they were positioned to influence the development of California.
The tragic and horrifying way in which these well-known men died and the deaths of the women
and young children on board received great sympathy throughout the Bay Area, and spurred
public outcry for safer steamboats.
What is the correct way for a ship’s name to appear in print?
Ship names are italicized, not shown in quotes. It is correct to refer to a ship as feminine.
Are there any images available to supplement my article?
Yes, a number of graphic images are available. Please contact Claire Britton-Warren.
Who can I contact with additional questions?
Russ Robinson historian, South Bay Yacht Club: 408-
Chris McKay historian, E Clampus Vitus:
Claire Britton-Warren, researcher: 831-262-4444 firstname.lastname@example.org