The Wreck of the Columbia
and the Death of Forrest Hendrickson
by Robert Singleton (Chair, History Dept, Sonoma State College)
On 20 July 1907, the steamer Columbia departed San Francisco, California, with 251 passengers and crew for Portland, Oregon under the leadership of Captain Peter Doran. When it became evening, Columbia became shrouded in fog about 12 miles (19 km) off Shelter Cove, but Captain Doran refused to slow the ship's speed. Even though the whistle of the steam schooner San Pedro could be heard nearby, neither Doran nor First Officer Hendricksen of the San Pedro reduced the speed of either vessel.
During this time, the rolling motion of the waves had caused many passengers to retire to their cabins due to seasickness. Fifteen minutes later, San Pedro was seen coming straight for Columbia. Doran finally ordered his ship to be put in full reverse, but it was too late. At 12:22 A.M. on 21 July 1907, San Pedro hit the starboard side of Columbia. Doran shouted at the other ship, "What are you doing man?" and continued his ordered reverse thrust, but the impact damaged the bow of the wooden hulled San Pedro and holed Columbia which started to list to starboard and sink by the bow. Passenger William L. Smith of Vancouver, Washington described the impact as being "soft", while music teacher Otilla Liedelt of San Francisco reported the impact as being severe.
Captain Doran ordered the passengers to go to the lifeboats and the lifeboats be lowered. Smith, concerned for the safety of his fellow passengers, began going from cabin to cabin and knocking on each door. Many passengers did not respond due to seasickness, while others hurriedly prepared themselves to abandon ship. Smith reported observing a small family holding hands in their cabin, rather than attempting to save themselves.
Columbia at this point had developed a very noticeable list to starboard, allowing Lifeboat Number Four to be launched without being lowered.
Eight and a half minutes after the collision, the Columbia began her final plunge. The stern of the ship rose out of the water and the ship slipped below the waves bow first in a matter of seconds. As the ship was sinking, Liedelt noted that Captain Doran had tied the whistle cord down on the bridge, and waved his hands in a final salute. After the bridge went underwater, the whistle died as well.
Eighty-eight passengers and crew including all the children on board lost their lives during the sinking of Columbia. Due to the speed of the sinking, many lifeboats were unable to be launched.
Close to 80 survivors were brought on board the San Pedro. Many were forced to hold on to one another so as not to be carried away by the lapping waves which lapped across the San Pedro's semi-submerged deck. Along with transporting the survivors of the Columbia, the George W. Elder also towed the damaged San Pedro to shore.
Forrest Hendrickson, wealthy merchant and the creator of Villa Zanetta in Sonoma Valley, was among the passengers on the Columbia who perished in the wreck. The tragedy also took the life of Mr. Hendrickson's traveling companion, Marcella Wheeler, listed in the passenger manifest as Hendrickson's "secretary."
Because of the identical last names, historians sometimes mistake Forrest Hendrickson for Ben Hendrickson, first officer of the San Pedro, who was at the helm of that ship when the collision occurred.
Copyright © 1962 Sonoma Valley Intelligencer. Used by permission.