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History of the Frolic Shipwreck

The Frolic Shipwreck (by Paul Selchau)

I, being a recreational diver on the Frolic shipwreck, was always puzzled by the findings of cannon and multiple pieces of small arms strewn about the ocean bottom. These findings conflicted with various stories about the Frolic for example: "that it was a Chinese silk ship," that I heard in the 1960's and 1970's.

I am indebted to Dr. Tom Layton, Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University, for his thorough research on this vessel. Some of the information in my book, "A Frolic Diver's Story" has been gleaned from Tom's articles, books, and lectures. The Heard Company of Boston, Massachusetts needed fast vessels to run opium from Bombay, India to Canton, China. Speed was needed to outrun the pirates and rival trading vessels. The Baltimore Clipper, the fastest sailing vessel in the world, had proven to meet these needs early in the nineteenth century. It served well in the war of 1812.

The Frolic was built at Baltimore in 1844. It was a two masted clipper ship. In addition to being one of the fastest sailing ships in the world, it was armed with two cannons which could fire nine-pound balls. There were small arms and other weapons aboard. Captain Edward Horatio Faucon commanded this ship. He was a skilled and experienced skipper. A tribute to his skill was written by Richard Henry Dana, in his 1840 book "Two Years Before the Mast."

The Frolic started transporting opium from Bombay, India to Canton, China on May 5, 1845. She worked these waters up to 1850. At this time sailing vessels were being replaced by steamships for this trade.

The Frolic's owners had experience with the California trade in 1849 when they assembled a cargo of Chinese goods for the Brig Eveline. These goods were sold in San Francisco for a large profit. The Heard & Co, decided to ship a similar cargo to San Francisco in the Frolic.

San Francisco was a boom town due to the Gold Rush. The population in 1848 was 1,000 and by 1850, 1,450 vessels had arrived and the population soared to 40,000. Most of the goods came from Eastern United States, Europe, South America and some from China. Of the 1,450 arrivals during 1849 and 1850, only forty-eight vessels arrived from China.

Included in the Frolic's cargo was a mix of practical and luxury goods. There were 21,000 pieces of pottery including jars filled with preserved fruit; cases of furniture, lacquer ware, and Edinburgh ale bottled at Hong Kong. There were nested camphor trunks, brass scale-weights, silverware, painting in the Western taste; rolls of silk, gold jewelry, and even a prefabricated house - one of many shipped from China to ease the building shortage.

With Captain Faucon in command, the Frolic set sail from Hong Kong for San Francisco on June 10, 1850. On the foggy night of July 25, l850 Frolic lost her rudder and sprung a severe leak after wave action tossed it up on a rocky reef which partially guarded the entrance to Frolic cove. Most of the crew took to lifeboats. Six of the crew stayed with the ship until she ran aground amongst the rocks on the north side of Frolic cove. Captain Faucon, the officers, and crew who were in the lifeboats made their way down to Captain Smith's house at Bodega Bay on July 31st. On their way down the coast, they slept on beaches and subsisted on mussels.

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