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Capt. H.W. Johnson of the Invincible

From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

Last week we asked if any Between the Lines readers could help us in identifying the first of two ships that brought the Territorial Library collection from New York to San Francisco in 1853. The story of the second ship, the Tarquinia, which delivered the books in the final leg of the journey is well known, but the first ship has been a mystery to us.

Until now.

Rich Edwards, a retired WSL Program Manager for Technical Services and now serving as the Historian for the South Thurston County Historical Society, dove into the mystery and surfaced with the identity of the ship, the Invincible! Considering the history of WSL, that’s a very fitting name for the clipper that carried the embryonic library around the Horn.

The ship left New York on May 21, 1853 and arrived in San Francisco 110 days later.

According to Rich:

“I have undertaken this research and believe I have found an answer for you. Happy Birthday!

Daily Alta California, 26 September 1853, Page 2, column 5, Consignee Notices:

Consignees of the following goods, per ship Invincible, from New York, are hereby notified that if not called for on or before Monday, the 26th inst, sufficient of the same will be sold to pay freight and charges.


 Thirty-two cases books, marked Gen. J. J. Stevens, Olympia, Washington Territory, shipped by C.B. Norton, consigned to Major R.P. Hammond.

 Alsop & Co.

The same entry appears in the 24-25 September 1853 newspaper.

In the 12 September 1853 newspaper, there is this announcement:

Ship Invincible, from New York will commence discharging this day, Saturday, Sept 10th at Cunningham’s wharf. Consignees are requested to call at our office, pay freight, and receive orders or their goods. All merchandise left on the wharf after 5 o’clock P M, will be stored at the expense and risk of the owners thereof. Alsop & Co.

The same entry appears in the 23 September 1853 newspaper.

The Maritime Heritage Virtual Archives has an entry:


 1853 May 21 – September 9

 Sailed from New York to San Francisco in 110 days.


The Daily Alta California for September 10, 1853, page 2, column 5, section “Shipping Intelligence”:

Sept 9-Clipper ship Invincible, Johnson, 110 days fm New York, mdse to Alsop & Co; 4 pass.

 This confirms the ship left New York May 21st.

There is also a notice in the Daily Alta California on 17 August 1853, page 2, column 4, section “Spoken”:

June 1, lat 29 13, long 39 56, ship Invincible, from New York, (May 21).

 And here is a brief history: The Invincible was designed by William H. Webb (1816-1899) and built in his prolific New York shipyard in 1851. The 221 ft. clipper was owned by J. W. Phillips, and others, of New York and commanded by Captain H.W. Johnson for several years. Built for speed she was an ideal vessel for trade conducted with China at that time. She was lost by fire in New York Harbor in 1867. (Arthur Hamilton Clark The Clipper Ship Era: An Epitome of Famous American and British Clipper Ships, Their Owners, Builders, Commanders, and Crews, 1843-1869, New York and London 1910).”

Thank you, Rich! Looks like our 160 celebration is off to a great start!

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