Clipper ship Three Brothers had a remarkable career. She was launched as the Vanderbilt, a side wheel paddle steamer, for transatlantic passenger service. During the Civil War, she was taken over by the Union Navy, which used her as a cruiser to hunt for Confederate commerce raiders and blockade runners. In 1873, the Navy sold her to a San Francisco company which converted her into a clipper ship, removing her engines and boilers and replacing her bow. She was known as a fast and handy ship. She was scrapped in 1899.
From the 20-April-1897 San Francisco Call. William A Coulter did many maritime drawings for the newspaper. Click on the image to see a larger version.
The Last of a Famous Clipper
She Was Once a Warship and Then a Merchantman.
Commodore Vanderbilt Built Her at a Cost of a Million.
When She Sailed Through the Golden Gate She Was Known as the Three Brothers
The old-time clipper Three Brothers has come to her last notch. At one time a warship, then one of the largest and fastest clippers in the American mercantile marine, she was finally sold to an English firm and passed under tne English flag. Months ago she outgrew her usefulness and is now serving as a coal hulk for the English Government at Malta.
When the civil war was raging and the Alabama was creating havoc among the Federal merchantmen the big vessel was built and equipped by Commodore Vanderbilt at an expenditure of $1,000,000 and turned over as a present to the Government. At that time she was a side wheeler and did good service. When the Merrimac was being built in the South and the Monitor in the North a proposal was made to the Secretary of the Navy to send three warships South to make a combined rush at the Merrimac and attempt to turn her over. One of the men-of-war designated was the Vanderbilt, but before the attempt could be made the Monitor was built and ready to meet her rival.
After the war the Vauderbiit was sold to George Howes & Brothers of this City for $42,000. They took the machinery out and sold it for more than they paid for the steamer, and taking off her paddles made her into a three-masted ship, naming her the Three Brothers, after George, Henry and Jabez Howes. Her first trip out of the Golden Gate was in October, 1873, and Captain Cummings was in command. Her cargo consisted of over 5000 tons of wheat, and every vessel in port was decorated in honor of her departure. W. A. Coulter, the marine artist, made a magnificent picture of the scene, and it now decorates the walls of the Merchants Exchange. Mr. Coulter followed the Three Brothers to sea on a tug, and the accompanying cut is from a sketch he made just after the vessel got under way.
The Three Brothers was in the California trade for quite a time, and on every trip she made the run in less than 100 days. Then she was sold to an English firm, and now she is rotting to pieces as a coal hulk in the service of the English navy.
Captain George Cummings, who commanded the Three, Brothers all of the time that she carried the American flag, now lives at East Oakland. "She was built by Commodore Vanderbilt ior a yacht," said the veteran captain, "and then Vanderbiit attempted to secure the carrying of the mail between New York and Liverpool. In this he was defeated by the Collins line. He then set up an opposition line to Havre.
"When the war broke out in 1861 Vanderbilt presented the Three Brothers to the United States Government. She was fitted out as a privateer to capture the Alabama, and how I wish she had caught the latter. I was then the captain of the Young America and the Alabama overhauled us in the Strait of Sunda. After putting our crew to sea in small boats they burned her. My wife and two-year-old son were with me on that trip.
"After the war the Three Brothers was docked in New York, calked, overhauled, metaled and sent around the Horn to San Francisco. She lay at Mare Islana six years, and the only work she had to do in that time was to take Queen Emma to the islands.
"In 1870 she was sold to George Howe & Co., and fitted as a sailing vessel at an enormous expense. I was in Liverpool at the time he purchased her, and left the Young America to come to San Francisco and superintend the refitting of her.
"In October, 1873, we sailed for Havre with a cargo of wheat, Mr. Howe accompanying us. The voyage was made in 108 days. Mr. Howe remained in Europe when I returned to New York with the vessel. On arriving there we invited Commodore Vanderbilt to visit his old yacht, but he was unable to do so. One of the boys and her builder, with one or two others, took lunch with us, however.
"The Three Brothers never made any remarkably quick time nor had any accidents whatever. I owned one-sixteenth of her with Howe, but I am glad it was no more for we lost on every voyage. We were offered £4 10s and refuned it in Liverpool and afterward accepted £3 1s. Lawlor's Attorney told us that he was ready to offer £4 15s. but he knew it was useless. She carried 10,000 yards of sail.
"In 1879 she was sold in Liverpool at auction for a mere trifle, virtually given away. She is now a coal hulk at Gibraltar, the strongest old vessel ever built. I had a four-master model of her made and raffled it off for $2000. A man named Middleton, holding twenty-two chances, took the prize. He sold it to Macdonough, who in turn gave it to the Golden Gate Park Museum. It will pay any one to take a look at it."
Captain Cummings has a large painting of the Three Brothers by Walters of Liverpool, for which he paid $250, hanging in his residence. No visitor calls without admiring the vessel as well as the work of art.