Shubrick, 1857 (USLHS)

Oct. 30, 2020

Shubrick, 1857

A photo of the Lighthouse Tender Shubrick underway at sea off California.

William Bradford Shubrick was a famous naval officer who saw extensive service in the nineteenth century.  He was born on 31 October 1790 and studied at Harvard before accepting an appointment as a midshipman in 1806.  He served in the Mediterranean and during the War of 1812 aboard Constellation; and, while that frigate was at Norfolk, he led a party of bluejackets in beating off a British boat attack against Craney Island on 22 June 1813.  He subsequently won a Congressional medal for service in Constitution during her capture of Cyane and Levant.  He saw service in the Mexican War and was named the President of the Preliminary Board of Lighthouses on 21 May 1851.  The actual Lighthouse Board, which replaced the Lighthouse Establishment, was created on 9 October 1852, with Admiral Shubrick appointed as Chairman.  In December 1861, Shubrick was retired; and he was promoted to Rear Admiral on the retired list on 16 July 1862.  He died in Washington, D.C., on 27 May 1874.

Builder: Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Length: 140' 8"

Beam: 22' 6"

Draft: 9'

Displacement: 305 tons

Cost: $60,000 appropriation; $75,000 (reported)

Commissioned: 25 November 1857 (LHS); 15 October 1861 (RCS)

Decommissioned: January, 1886

Disposition: Sold

Machinery: 1 single-expansion "harp & steeple" steam engine; 3 furnaces heated a 12-foot by 11-foot boiler; 284 BHP; 19-foot diameter paddle-wheels

Deck Gear: 

Performance & Endurance:

        Max: 12.0 knots
        Cruising: 8.0 knots


Armament: 1 x 24-pound Dahlgren gun on a swivel carriage; 1 x 12-pounders


The first steam-powered lighthouse tender and the first to be assigned to the West Coast was the side-wheel steamer-brigantine Shubrick.  Built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard of "Florida live oak and white oak," from wood that was left over from the construction of the warship USS Wabash, the Shubrick was 140-feet in length and displaced 339 tons.  She was "topped by a flush deck fore and aft. . .To better withstand buoys scraping her sides, Shubrick's hull was painted black, topped with a white ribbon and waist.  Red paddle wheels, white paddle boxes, and a black bowsprit, yards and gaffs added a saucy touch to her long and graceful cutwater, with six inches of bright copper shining above the waterline." ¹  She was also the first tender that was armed, in case of "incursions of the Indians from the British dominions in the Straits of Fuca and vicinity, to protect the keepers in citizens in that quarter against their attacks."  She was completed on 25 November 1857 and, after fitting out and under the command of Captain T. A. Harris, she set sail for San Francisco, California through the Straits of Magellan on 23 December 1857.  Her officers included J. W. Simmons, first mate; J. M. Frazer, second mate; William Nelson, boatswain; Henry Spangler, gunner; F. B. Reeves, surgeon; Thomas J. Winship, chief engineer; P. T. McMamara, first assistant; and S. W. Martin, second assistant.  The crew consisted of 26 men.  The Shubrick also had a passenger, Commander J. DeCamp, USN, who had been ordered to San Francisco as the first official Inspector of the Twelfth Lighthouse District.

She arrived at San Francisco on 27 May 1858 after a voyage of 155 days.  She ran low on coal while transiting the Straits of Magellan and so the stokers tore out her hardwood paneling and broke up her furniture for fuel.  She made Valdivia Bay where her crew chopped wood ashore for a week for sufficient fuel to make Valparaiso.  Her only other difficulty during the voyage was an outbreak of yellow fever, which took the life of the assistant engineer, S. W. Martin.  

She spent the next three years setting buoys and carrying lighthouse supplies along the Pacific coast.  In 1859 she set the first buoys to mark the Columbia River.  On 23 August 1861, due to the outbreak of the Civil War, she was ordered transferred to the control of the Revenue Cutter Service.  The Revenue flag was raised on her mizzen on 15 October 1861 under the command of Revenue Captain William Pease.  She served under Revenue Cutter Service orders for almost four years, performing customs and law enforcement duties.  She was based out of San Francisco until 12 June 1862 when she transferred to Port Townsend.  She next saw service with the Navy.  On 15 February 1865, Shubrick was transferred to the Navy Department for 90 days for special service in the Bering Strait supporting survey operations conducted by a Colonel Charles S. Buckley, the agent of the Russian Telegraph Company.  After visiting Sitka she returned to San Francisco, which once again became her homeport, and was given back to the control of the Revenue Cutter Service.  She was returned by the Revenue Cutter Service to the Lighthouse Board on 24 December 1866.

She transported building material to the site of the construction of the Cape Mendocino lighthouse but ran aground 30 miles below the site on 8 September 1867.  Thought to be a total loss, she was abandoned but her chief engineer, Thomas Winship, was able to save her.  She was rebuilt at the San Francisco Navy Yard at a cost of $162,399.12 and was placed back in service in 1869.  She was transferred to the 13th Lighthouse District in January 1880.  She remained active for five more years and was taken out of service in December, 1885 and decommissioned the following month.  She was sold at Astoria, Oregon two months later.  Her new owner ran her aground and stripped her of usable material and then burnt her hull to recover all of her copper and metal fittings.


¹ As quoted in Richard D. White, Jr., "Saga of the Side-Wheel Steamer Shubrick: Pioneer Lighthouse Tender of the Pacific Coast," The American Neptune XXCVI, No. 1 (1976), p. 47.


      A photo of the US Lighthouse Service Tender SHUBRICK

"The side wheel steamer Shubrick, first Lighthouse tender on the West Coast.  This unique vessel was constructed in 1857 and served as supply ship, buoy tender and Revenue Cutter for 29 years.  The 140 foot long ship was named for the first Chairman of the Lighthouse Board, Commodore W. B. Shubrick, USN."  No date/photo number; photographer unknown.


Shubrick Cutter / Tender History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.  Washington, DC: USGPO.

Donald Canney.  U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.

Douglas Peterson.  United States Lighthouse Service Tenders, 1840-1939. Annapolis: Eastwind Publishing, 2000.

U.S. Coast Guard.  Record of Movements: Vessels of the United States Coast Guard: 1790 - December 31, 1933.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934; 1989 (reprint).

White, Richard D., Jr., "Saga of the Side-Wheel Steamer Shubrick: Pioneer Lighthouse Tender of the Pacific Coast," The American Neptune XXCVI, No. 1 (1976), pp. 45-53.