The 1812 Santa Barbara Earthquake: Tsunami!
"California Earthquakes--Reminiscences of an Old Trader on our Coast"
"At the time [of the 1812 earthquakes] a Boston ship, the Thomas
Newland, known before as the Charon, commanded by Capt. Isaac
Whittemore, was lying off anchorage [at Refugio
Bay], not far from the Gaviota Pass, Santa Barbara County, engaged
in smuggling, with the old Padres, for otter skins, tallow and hard
dollars--a nice little business in 1812--when the sea was seen to retire
all at once and return in an immense wave, which came roaring and plunging
back, tearing over the beach fit to crack everything to pieces. This
wave penetrated the low lands of the gulches a mile from the shore,
forming one of the most terrific sights possible to conceive. That old
ship, then under the name Charon, afterward took 1,800 otter
skins to the Sandwich Islands [Hawaiian Islands], and landed them, too;
but a few days afterwards she was captured by the English man-o-war
Cherub and taken as a prize to London."
-from the San Francisco Bulletin, March 16, 1864
Refugio Canyon is located at the northwestern
end of the Santa Barbara Channel. A state campground is now located at
the site mentioned in this article. At the time of the 1812 earthquakes,
the coast along the northwestern shore of the Santa Barbara Channel was
part of the Rancho del Refugio, a tract of ranch land that had been given
to the first commandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio, upon the commandante's
retirement. It was a favorite place for American smugglers to trade their
goods for otter pelts. These American smuggling ships traveled between
the Spanish-controlled coast of southern and central California, the Russian-controlled
coasts of Alaska and northern California, and the Hawaiian Islands (then
known as the Sandwich Islands).
It must be noted that there is not one shred of first hand evidence for
the wild and inflammatory newspaper account cited above, which was written
52 years after the event. Not a shred. In fact, a thorough but unsuccessful
search was made for the log of the Charon throughout the maritime
museums of the world by Marine
Advisors in 1965. Logs of other ships in the area, covering the time
period three months before the earthquake and six months afterward, do
not mention anything resembling a tsunami whatsoever. On the other hand,
the log of a British gunboat dated six months after the earthquake, stated
that it boarded the Charon to investigate smuggling activities.
If you were the skipper of the Charon, wouldn't that be an auspicious
time to toss your log overboard?
Gaviota Canyon is not far from Lompoc, where the most serious damage
from this earthquake was reported, at
Mission La Purisima.