Friday, August 13, 2010

Five ships named for LCDR although he never left the Americas

At age 18, having attended the Naval School at Norfolk, William Pope McArthur was appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy of 1832. His first expedition was to Florida's Everglades during the Second Seminole War. Shot in both legs, a rifle ball could not be removed from one, and it would pain him throughout his life.

By 1846, he commanded a schooner for the Navy Department and conducted hydrographic surveys of the upper Chesapeake, the southern reaches of the Bay, the Dismal Swamp Canal, and Albemarle Sound, North Carolina. In July, 1848, the Coast Survey was directed to commence surveying the western coast of the U.S..

McArthur received orders to San Francisco from where he was to proceed in early 1849, to Panama (the canal was not built for another 65 years) and take whatever transportation was available to California. Gold had just been discovered and the 49er migration just begun.

McArthur reached Chagres (Caribbean side of Panama) finding it crowded and overrun with lawless transients. As an United States officer, he lead a vigilante committee to restore order within two days.

Boating up the Chagres as far as he could, McArthur then switched to mule. He found no transportation out of Panama and many transients with tropical fever. A delegation of gold seekers purchased a coal store ship, the HUMBOLDT, from a local merchant and approached McArthur to be their commanding officer.

HUMBOLDT left Panama May 21, 1849, taking 46 days to reach Acapulco where supplies were loaded on board for the famished voyagers. The daily meal was cooked in a fifty-gallon pot with a coffee served in the morning and a tea at night. The ship arrived in San Francisco on August 31. On September 6 McArthur was installed as captain of the hydrographic cutter Ewing.

During September and October the EWING was engaged in surveys of San Francisco Bay, and it was by McArthur's recommendation that the Government secured Mare Island for a naval base and shipyard.

On November 21, 1850, LCDR. McArthur received welcomed orders to take command of a steamship for west coast surveying duty. With the prospect of seeing his wife and family a year earlier than anticipated, he booked passage on the steamship OREGON bound for Panama. The ship departed December 1, and, shortly after leaving San Francisco, McArthur suffered an acute attack of dysentery. He never recovered and died December 23, 1850, as the OREGON was entering the port of Panama. First buried in Tobago, his body was later reburied on Mare Island.[1]

Read a fuller story of LCDR. William Pope McArthur (1814 - 1850) naval service and do not miss his eulogy here at the NOAA biography site.

Submarines are always silent and strange.



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