WORKS HIS PASSAGE TO CALIFORNIA
1858 AGE, 19
AND now the boy having left home to face the world and seek his fortune in the
new country, it may be instructive to get some more definite knowledge of his
character. A key to it, or at any rate to his own estimate at that time of
it, exists in a phrenological sketch that he wrote of himself while still in
Philadelphia. It is in his clear hand-writing and covers two half-sheets of
blue, unruled, legal-cap paper, on the back of one of which are the words,
"Phrenological examination of head by self." The examination is as follows:
"Circumference [of head], 215/8; ear to ear, 121/2
1. Amativeness................ Large
2. Philoprogenitiveness....... Moderate
3. Adhesiveness............... Large
4. Inhabitativeness........... Large
5. Concentrativeness.......... Small
6. Combativeness.............. Large
7. Destructiveness............ Large
8. Alimentiveness............. Full
9. Acquisitiveness............ Small
10. Secretiveness.............. Large
11. Caution.................... Large
13. Self-esteem................ Large
14. Firmness................... Large
15. Conscientiousness.......... Large
16. Hope....................... Large
23. Mirthfulness............... Small
24. Individuality.............. Large
26. Size....................... Large
30. Calculation................ Small
31. Locality................... Large
32. Eventuality................ Full
33. Time....................... Large
35. Language................... Moderate
36. Causality.................. Large
37. Comparison................. Large
|"An ardent, devoted, fervent and constant lover; will
defend the object of his love with boldness, protect his or her rights with
spirit. Will feel much stronger attachment than he will express.|
"Is not very fond of children. May love them as friends, rather than as
"Is strong in his attachments; readily takes the part of friends, resents and
retaliates their injuries; yet may occasionally fall out with them.
"Chooses as his friends the talented, intellectual and literary, and avoids
"Is extremely fond of travelling. Has an insatiable desire to roam about and
see the world and afterwards to settle down.
"Is patriotic and ready to sacrifice all in defence of his country.
"May get angry quickly, but, unless the injury is deep or intended, cannot
retain his anger.
"Will be more likely to make a general than a critical scholar. May have bold
and original ideas upon a variety of subjects, yet will not without effort or
excitement have a train of connected thoughts upon any.
"Is qualified to meet difficulties, overcome obstacles, endure hardships,
contend for privileges, maintain opinions, resent insults and defend his
rights to the last; generally takes sides on every contested question;
naturally hasty in temper.
"Desires money more as a means than as an end, more for its uses than to lay
up; and pays too little attention to small sums.
"Generally keeps his thoughts, feelings, plans, etc., to himself. Will effect
his purposes indirectly and with out detection. May sometimes communicate his
feelings to his nearest friends, yet will seldom do this, and will exercise
more attachment than he expresses. May restrain for a long time the anger
which is burning in his bosom; yet when he does give vent to it, it will blaze
forth in good earnest. Is slow in commencing, yet when once interested in any
project pushes it with great spirit. May be timid and fearful until his
courage is once excited, but will then be bold and fearless. In cases of
danger, will be perfectly self-possessed; and yet will have fore-thought
enough to do just what the occasion demands. Cannot soon be worked up to the
sticking point; but is determined, if not desperate, when once kindled.
"Is inclined to enter largely into business and to push his projects with so
much energy and zeal as to appear rash and nearly destitute of caution; yet
will come out about right in the end and will seldom fail entirely in his
projects, though he may be obliged to retrace his steps."
This "phrenological examination," tested by what others can remember of him at
that period and by the traits shown later in life, must be regarded, so far as
it goes, as a fairly accurate presentation of the boy's chief characteristics.
But this should not be set down to phrenology, for there is nothing to show
that he placed particular confidence, or even had more than passing interest,
in that teaching. Nor is it to be set down as a lucky kind of guess about
himself. It is in truth, more than anything else, the fruit of a habit of
introspection which had begun about the time of the return from the first sea
voyage and which was afterwards to be shown more and more strongly. Meanwhile
the little Shubrick was boldly pushing her way down the coast. This was
her first trip in commission, Henry George having seen her building in the
Philadelphia Navy Yard that very year. She was named after Rear Admiral
William B. Shubrick, of the U.S. Navy, who had been Chairman of the
Light-House Board since 1852. She was to become the first vessel on
light-house duty on the Pacific coast, to which service she was now
proceeding; and the first tender under steam in the light house department of
the United States. She was of 372 tons burden, 140 feet in length, 22 feet in
beam and 19 feet in depth of hold; with black hull, red side-wheels, black
funnel and two masts, the foremast square rigged. She looked as sharp and trim
as a yacht, but, as in addition to her regular duties of supplying
light-houses and maintaining the buoyage along the west coast, she was
intended to give protection to government property along the sea shore of
Oregon and Washington from the depredations of Indian tribes, she was armed
with six brass guns and a novel contrivance for squirting scalding water on
the redskins when at close quarters.
On Christmas day, while the Shubrick was steaming along over a
sun-kissed sea some distance off the Hatteras coast, the wind, which had been
fair, subsided, and then without warning rose into a white squall, blowing
from the north-east. The boat's head was swung around and she was brought to
under low-steam. At night the wind blew a hurricane, the sea breaking over her
fore and aft with great violence. The after part of the wheelhouse, engineer's
storeroom and starboard bulwarks were stove in, and everything movable on deck
washed overboard, including port shutters, harness-casks, deck engine, and
spare spars and lumber. At ten that night, deeming that she was in danger of
foundering, thirty tons of sacked coal and some other things were thrown
overboard. Many times during his life Henry George
spoke of the terrors of this storm, on one occasion
"A negro deckhand and I worked together throwing over bags of coal to lighten
her. The sailing master hung on the bridge shouting to us through the speaking
trumpet and barely able to make himself heard, as he told us the work we were
doing was for life or death."
This relieved the vessel and at day-light she was enabled to proceed on her
course, nine days after leaving Philadelphia putting into St. Thomas, West
Indies, to renew her coal supply and make necessary repairs.
To Jo Jeffreys, his young friend in Philadelphia, Henry George sent from St.
Thomas a clear account of the passage and of the danger the ship had been in;
but to his parents, under same date (January 6, 1858), he wrote in quite
different style to save them from anxiety, omitting all mention of danger. The
letter to his parents read:
"Here I am this winter's afternoon (while you are gathering around the parlour
stove, perhaps thinking and talking of me) sitting in the open air in my white
sleeves almost roasted by the heat. I wish you could view the scene which
surrounds me. The noble mountains rising from the water, covered with
perpetual vegetation of the tropics and varied in colour by the shadows of the
clouds which seem to climb their sides; the little town with its square
red-roofed, Dutch houses and white forts, surrounded by the palm and cocoanut
trees which line the head of the bay; the ships and steamers which deck the
harbour; and the boundless sea stretching away to the edge of the horizon,
glittering in the sunlight – form a picture which I know you would
"Now that I have tried to give you a faint idea of the scenery that surrounds
me, I shall try and give you an account of our passage.
"We had head winds and a rough sea most of the time; and as the steamer was
very slow, the spray which incessantly flew over her made the deck very wet
and, consequently, unpleasant. However, we made the run in nine days from the
time we left the breakwater and arrived here early on Saturday morning.
"I went ashore last Sunday and attended church, and then together with Jim
Stanley (the young fellow who I told you was going out as Engineer's Store
Keeper) climbed the mountain to the ruins of the castle of Blackbeard, a
notorious pirate chieftain, who for a long time made this island his home and
stronghold. After coming down, we wandered all over the town and saw all that
was to be seen, which I suppose is the same as in the generality of West
Indian islands – plenty of darkies – men, women and children
– bamboo shanties, soldiers and cocoanut trees....
"I expect our next passage to be much more pleasant than the last, as we shall
not be heavily burdened by coal, and important additions have been made in the
shape of booby-hatches, etc....
"I know, my dear parents, that you felt deeply the parting with me – far
more so than I did. But let the fact that I am satisfied and that my chances
are more than fair comfort you. As for me, I, for the first time in my life,
left home with scarcely a regret and with out a tear. I believed that it was
my duty both to myself and to you to go, and this belief assuaged the pain of
"I am now setting out for myself in the world, and though young in years, I
have every confidence in my ability to go through whatever may be before me.
But of that I shall say nothing. Let the future alone prove."
In reply to the letter he received from St. Thomas, Jo Jeffreys wrote
"While such fools and intolerable dolts as James McMullen live, it is almost impossible to expect your family to be kept
ignorant of your great danger. I will elucidate the matter. Some few days
since a telegraphic despatch (from Boston, I think) appeared in the Jublie
Ledger setting forth that the U.S.S. Shubrick had put into St. Thomas
in great distress, want of coal, etc., etc. This I presumed somewhat alarmed
your mother; but she received your letter about the same time, and you saying
nothing of any storm, but merely mentioning rough weather encountered in the
Gulf, she thought no more of it. But here McMullen steps in on last Saturday
night (he called once before since your departure) and after propounding
several knotty interrogatories to your father, very kindly informed your
mother that he had seen an extract from a private letter written by one of the
Shubrick's engineers to a friend in this city in the 'Evening Journal'
(or as Collis says, the 'Evening Disturber') the purport of which was that the
Shubrick had encountered a terrific storm, that they almost went down,
"I happened to call in a few minutes after and was subjected to a series of
questions which made me wince. I had received a letter from you? Yes. Well,
what did you say? You said you were well and in good spirits. Was that all?
Yes, about all. I was sorry to say I had left the letter at the office. (It
was in the breast-pocket of my coat.) Did you say anything about a storm?
(This question was propounded by your mother, who looked me straight in the
eye, while Cad, Janie and Kate followed her example, and your father, who was
reclining on the sofa, turned round to hear the answer, which, with this awful
battery of unflinching eyes in front, and the consciousness that your father
might have some information upon the subject which he designed to level at me
in the rear, I was endeavouring to manufacture into as ingenious a shape as
possible. They looked at me; I returned the gaze as steadily as an honest
fellow who knew he was going to dissimulate for the sake of an absent friend
– but an awful bad fellow – could do. At last I broke silence.)
No. You had said, however, that you had encountered rough weather and
had got out of coal. (My hair almost stood on end, and the perspiration rolled
in mad torrents down the exterior covering of my seething brain.)
To this succeeded a number of questions that tortured me almost to martyrdom,
for, as you know, my very bowels yearned to tell the truth. I, however,
satisfied your mother that the 'Evening Disturber' had made false
representations, and so ends that difficulty.
"... You are right, Hen. 'There never was any affectation of sentiment in
speech between us when face to face,' and none shall exist now. How do
you know that we shall never meet again? I should be obliged to you if
you would not send such letters to me in the middle of business –
letters which are calculated to distract my mind and render me as weak as a
child. Your ideas absolutely make me gloomy, truth though they be. You know I
love you, Hen, as much as anyone in this wide world....
"I have commenced to reform, and Bill Jones and myself have for some time been
studying geometry together. I spend but little, 37 cents a week on cigars,
and loaf only occasionally. I go to the office some times in the evening and
study law. Bill and I are to take up natural philosophy and grammar in a few
The father's letter soon after the departure of the Shubrick shows the
man's robust nature.
"My dear boy, we have missed you. I have hardly become reconciled to your
absence. It seems that I cannot lock the front door without the thought of
your coming in; and when the boys visit us – Jeffreys, Jones and the
others – it seems as if it leaves a blank when we find you absent. Don't
think I regret the step you have taken. On the contrary, the more I think of
it, the more I see the hand of Providence in it....
"Nothing has transpired since you left worthy of note. Things are much as you
left them. The times are rather on the mend [industrially]. In political
matters things look gloomy. The nigger question, Mormonism and General
Walker, etc., will, I think, give us trouble; but
notwithstanding all this and as much more, the Union is and will be safe as
long as there is bunting to make stars and stripes. They may bluster North,
East, South and West as much as they please. Our nation is in the hands and
under the guidance of a higher Power, who created this republic for a higher
and holier destiny, which is not revealed, and will not be until I am long
gathered to my fathers."
From St. Thomas to Barbadoes and thence to Pernambuco and Rio Janeiro the
little Shubrick proceeded, having fair weather and making fair time. A
letter written at Monte Video to one of the young friends in Philadelphia
(Charley Walton, February 18) gives some characteristic notes:
"We arrived here yesterday morning after a passage of five days from Rio. We
lay five days in the latter port and had very fine weather and a pleasant time
generally, marred only by one or two little accidents.... The first night we
stayed there all hands went ashore, wandered over the island, and as a matter
of course, got drunk. A couple of the men in trying to come aboard fell over a
precipice about forty feet in height. One escaped uninjured, but the other was
nearly killed. He is now recovering fast, but it will be some time before his
arm, which was broken, will be entirely healed.
"I enjoyed myself very well while we were coaling, wandering along the rocks,
catching crabs and toadfish and paddling from one island to another in a
canoe, the exact model of the famous one constructed by Crusoe, and like his,
made of a single piece.
"I was ashore in Rio but once – on Sunday after noon – and
saw but little of the town, as it was too infernally hot to walk the
The chief incident of the voyage – an event of singular nature –
occurred at the port of Monte Video. Two letters containing a brief mention of
it have been preserved, but a full and graphic account appeared under the
title of "Dust to Dust" in a sketch written by Henry George eight years
subsequently and when he was less than twenty-seven, at the request of his
friend Edmund Wallazz, for publication in the "Philadelphia Saturday Night," a prosperous weekly paper, of which Wallazz was then
fore man and part owner.
The story in substance is this. An hour after leaving Rio, yellow fever had
broken out on the Shubrick and several were taken down. All recovered
except the Second Assistant Engineer, S.W. Martin, a popular young man on
"The crisis seemed past, and if his strength would only last until he neared
the Cape, all would be well.... Only one port remained to be passed before we
should hail the rain and fog, and strength-giving winds – Monte Video.
But when we entered that great stream, more sea than river, the mighty La
Plata, on which the city is situated, young Martin was dying....
"For some time in intervals of consciousness, Martin had been aware of his
approaching end, and the only thing that seemed to trouble him was the idea of
dying so far from those he loved, and of being buried where affection might
never mark his resting place. It was his last and earnest request that his
grave might be made on shore, where his body could be recognised by his
friends, and not committed to the waves; and though it was very doubtful if
the privilege could be granted, yet the captain resolved to take the corpse
into the harbour, and try to obtain permission to bury it ashore.
"And when night came, sadly we talked in little groups upon the deck, while
the sound of hammer and plane from the gangway, told that the 'last house' of
one of us was being built. Though no star shed its light, still it was not all
blackness. The 'river of silver' beamed with a lustre of its own. Not alone
the furrows our prow threw aside, or the broad wake we left behind, but the
whole surface of the water glowed with phosphorescent brightness, and we
seemed to force our way through a sheet of molten silver.
"All night long we steamed up the river, and when the sun again arose –
it showed us the harbour of Monte Video. Out beyond all the other shipping lay
a stately frigate, the Stars and Stripes of the great republic streaming from
her peak in the morning breeze – the old St. Lawrence, flagship
of the squadron.... We were bringing them news and letters from home, and
every port of the great ship thronged with faces eager to see the comer from
the land they loved. Running up under her quarter, we were hailed and
answered, and after the usual inquiries, our captain mentioned the death of
young Martin, and his wish to have him buried on shore; but was told that it
was impossible, that we would infringe the quarantine rules by even entering
the port with the corpse; and was directed to steam back some miles and commit
the body to the waves, before entering the harbour.
"The shrill whistle of the boatswain sounded; a boat dropped from the
frigate's davits, reached our side, took letters and papers, and our little
steamer turned slowly round to retrace her path. We had felt sad while coming
up, but a darker gloom hung over all while going down the river. It seemed so
hard that the last and only request of the poor boy could not be complied
"But swiftly down the current in the bright, fresh morning dashed our little
boat, and when the lofty frigate was hull-down behind us, we turned and
stopped for the last sad rites.
"Upon the quarter-deck, in reverential silence, all hands were gathered. The
large box-like coffin, in which we had hoped to commit our dead to mother
earth, bored full of holes and filled up with heavy materials, was placed by
the side, covered with the flag. The beautiful burial service was commenced,
its solemn sentences sounding doubly solemn under such mournful circumstances
– there was a pause – then came the words, 'We, therefore, commit
his body to the deep!' and with a surge the waves closed above the dead.
"Hardly a word was spoken as the wheels again took up their task, and we began
to ascend the river, but every eye was fixed on the spot we were leaving, and
at the same instant an exclamation sprang from every lip as the coffin was
seen to rise! The engine was quickly stopped, a boat lowered, and taking a
small anchor and some heavy chain, they tried to secure and sink the box. But
it was no easy task in the fresh breeze and short, chopping sea, and the
coffin seemed almost instinct with life and striving to elude their efforts.
Again and again they were foiled in their attempt to fasten the weights, but
were at last successful, and once more the water closed above the corpse.
"After waiting some time, to make sure that it could not float again, we
started once more up the river, and this time awe was mingled with our grief.
Most men who follow the sea have a touch of superstition. There is something
in the vastness with which Nature presents herself upon the great waters
which influences in this direction even minds otherwise sceptical. And as we
steamed up the river, it was more than hinted among many of us that the strong
desire of the dying man had something to do with the difficulty of sinking his
"This time we passed the frigate, saluting, but not stopping, and entered the
port. It was war time; on the Pampas some phase of the interminable quarrels
of this Southern federation was being fought out, and the harbour was crowded
with men-of-war. Nearly all the Brazilian navy was there, watching the
progress of events; and besides these, and the numerous merchant men, the
ensign of almost every nation was displayed above some armed vessel. By
direction of the officer who boarded us, we proceeded past them all, to the
farther side of the harbour, where we were ordered to lie in quarantine seven
days before being allowed to coal.
"The new scene, the various objects of interest around and the duties of
clearing up, conspired to make us forget the events of the morning, but the
sun was yet some distance above the western horizon when a startling
circumstance occurred to recall them to our minds.
"Nearly all hands were busily engaged below, only two or three loitering
around the deck, when the quartermaster, sweeping the harbour with his glass,
noticed something floating in, which riveted his attention. Again and again he
looked at it; then, with surprise and dismay in his face, called the officer
of the deck. The whisper spread through the ship, and in a few minutes all
were watching in silence the object that seemed drifting towards us. Onward it
came, through all the vessels that lay beyond us – now lost to our view,
now coming in sight again – turning and tacking as though piloted by
life, and steadily holding its course for our steamer. It passed the last
ship, and came straight for us. It came closer, and every doubt was dispelled
– it was, indeed, the coffin! A thrill of awe passed through every heart
as the fact became assured.
"Right under our bows came the box; it touched our side; halted a moment, as
if claiming recognition, and then drifted slowly past us towards the shore.
"There was an excited murmur forward, a whispered consultation in the knot of
officers aft; then one advanced – 'Man the quarter boat, boys; take pick
and spades; tow the coffin ashore, and bury the body!'
"It was the work of a moment – the boat shot like an arrow from our
side, the ashen oars bending with the energy of the stroke. Reverently and
gently they secured the box, and with slow, solemn strokes, towed it to the
foot of the desolate looking hill that skirts the bay. There, breaking it
open, they bore the corpse, covered with the flag, a little distance up the
hillside, and making in the twilight a grave among the chaparral, laid it to
rest, marking the spot with a rude cross, which, concealed from observation by
the bushes, would yet serve as a mark of recognition, and secure the grave,
should it be noticed, from the intrusion of vandal hands. "And so, spite of
all, that dying wish was gratified, and the body which the waters refused to
receive was laid to rest in its mother earth."
From Monte Video the Shubrick proceeded to the Strait of Magellan,
arriving at Cape Virgin on March 6; for instead of taking the long route
followed by sailing vessels around Cape Horn, she was to steam by the short
route through the strait. The heavy westerly winds and strong currents
peculiar to that region made such boisterous weather that progress was greatly
retarded and nearly all the coal consumed, so that the crew had to go ashore
and cut fire-wood with which to make the next port.
To his family Henry George has described the scenery in the western part of
the strait as perhaps the most magnificent and impressive he ever beheld.
"The water was clear and green with depth even up to the batiks, which in
places were sheer walls of rock running up perhaps three thousand feet and
mantled at their summits with dazzling snow. In the valleys between these and
the mountains beyond were glacial formations, white and green and iridescent;
and at the bases where the land flattened out, were heavy growths of
"Being short of fuel, we brought the little steamer against a bank, and tieing
her there, went ashore and cut wood. This consumed a number of days. We ran
into a little harbour in the strait and came upon a schooner which belonged to
English missionaries with whom we exchanged letters. The missionaries were
praying and working with the native Terra del Fuegians. We saw a number of
these natives, and they were not at all attractive. I heard afterwards that
the Patagonians killed and ate these missionaries."
On the passage up the Pacific coast the Shubrick touched at Valdivia,
Valparaiso, Panama, and San Diego, and on the 27th of May, 1858, after a
voyage of one hundred and fifty-five days from Philadelphia, arrived at San
 Thirty years later, when his son, Richard,
manifested interest in phrenology, Henry George discouraged him, saying that
though indirectly or collaterally there probably was truth in it, the subject
was one that, in his opinion, Nature did not intend to have man know much
about, since the discovery of constitutional characteristics would with most
men seem to indicate foreordination, and checking free and independent action,
would tend to produce fatalism. Moreover, he said, phrenology was not needed
for man's progress, for that did not depend upon a knowledge of the relative
development of the faculties, but rather upon the use of the faculties,
whatever they might be.
 Notes from record of Shubrick, by courtesy
of the U.S. Light-House Board at Washington, D.C., and of Captain Geo. W.
Coffin, U.S.N., Inspector 12th Light-House District, San Francisco, Cal.
 From shorthand notes by Ralph Meeker of a
conversation, New York, October, 1897.
 "Jim" McMullen, as he was commonly called, was
regarded by his boy friends as slow of comprehension. One day wishing to go
swimming without McMullen, they tried the expedient of telling him one after
another that his head was swollen and that he must be sick. This succeeded so
well that the boy went home and to bed in a fever of excitement, and they had
great difficulty in convincing him that they had been deluding him. The
experience so frightened Henry George that he never again indulged in that
kind of a practical joke.
 Probably a reference to William Walker of
Tennessee, who led a filibustering expedition into Lower California and was
driven out. Then he went to Nicaragua, C.A., assumed the title of President of
that State, and re-established chattel slavery, which had been abolished. He
was driven from power in May, 1857, but escaped to New Orleans. In 1860 he led
a filibustering expedition against Honduras, but within four months was
captured and shot at Truxillo.
 This sketch on the following month, July 14, 1866,
was republished in the San Francisco "Californian," conducted by some printer
friends of Henry George.
 If Mr. George had any superstitious feeling at the
time regarding the matter – and there is nothing to indicate that he had
– he certainly did not continue to entertain it in after years, but
believed the movements ot the coffin due to the accidental loosening of
weights, peculiarities of currents and other natural causes.
 Shubrick's log.