Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Digging for Gold at the Library: Jane Proctor letter, HDC 1043

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

Most of what I write about for this blog are fun items- little gems with interesting pictures or something just plain delightful I’ve stumbled across.  This though is about something I found in our collection which was so sincere and heart wrenching that even though it’s a departure from my usual pieces, I had to share it with you.

The document is a letter in our archives, Historical Document Collection 1043.  It’s a letter written by a woman named Jane Proctor who was a nurse at the Army Hospital at the Presidio.  It was written late in the night of February 22nd, 1901. Ms. Proctor was unable to sleep due to the deep and overwhelming grief she felt over the wreck the day before of The City of Rio de Janeiro. The City of Rio de Janeiro was a Trans-Pacific steamship operating between San Francisco and Asia. On the 21st of February 1901, she was headed into San Francisco Bay when she hit a reef.  She sank quickly; her holds were completely flooded.  130 people died that night; many of the bodies washing ashore the next day. Ms. Proctor describes this horrific scene to unnamed friends back home in harrowing terms.

The full letter is below.  It has been transcribed from the original.  The full collection includes a few more items about Ms. Proctor including a diary entry.  A finding aid for the collection can be found here:

transcribed letter, typescript, page 1

transcribed letter, typescript, page 2

Proctor, Jane.  Letter in regards to the City of Rio de Janeiro.Jane Proctor Collection. HDC 1043.

Museum Archives and Manuscript Collections, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.


  1. Wow. Brings life to the dry pages of a historical event. Thanks Gina.

  2. Gina I am Sending this to Jim Delgado who will be here leading a massive NOAA revisitation of shipwrecks of the Golden Gate- most notably the Rio. With sidescan radar etc. Its gonna be grande or rather venti (to get with the corporate)Oct to early November. we will be deluged wit attention and requests for more info. I will get to you the subject of their inquest which I know only generally at this point ...this is fantastic what you all are posting. I look at the sidebar and despair...that I have not time enough to dive in more---- ps I now own my preordered Gary Kanaya's new book...and am devouring. Full of crit and admiration for his efforts I am.