The Gold Rush of 1849

6th August 2015

California Gold Rush

Transport yourself back to 1848, at which point California had previous been disputed between several parties including the Spanish, British, Mexicans and even the Russians. California had gained independence as a republic of its own, although this was short-lived. Following the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), California was under American control. Over the course of the next 20 years, the state would see its population grow exponentially as a result of one of the most historic events in American history.

After James Wilson Marshall began discovering small nuggets of gold in the state, the ships of the world turned to the American state. At first, gold was discovered in small nuggets, but more vast quantities of the precious metal were discovered in the rivers. San Francisco saw the arrival of 775 ships in 1849, a huge figure compared to the ten that docked in the bay the year before.

The American Gold Rush of 1849 had a huge impact, not only on America, but also the maritime world. Many of the ships that sailed to California during this era emulate the Star Clipper tall sailing ships of the 21st century.

Arriving from the east; sailors were presented with three options once they reached the American continent. The first option was to travel by foot or horse drawn carriage across America – travelling a total distance of 3,000 miles. Whilst this route may have seemed the safest, many were intimidated by the prospect of unfriendly Indians in the Wild West.

The second option was to travel by sea to the Isthmus of Panama, by foot across to the Pacific, and by sea for the remainder of the distance. Whilst this journey may have been considered the shortest in terms of distance to travel, many sailors were aware of the deadly diseases lurking in the swamps of Panama. The third option, and by far the most popular, was to sail around South America via Cape Horn, considered one of the most historically treacherous sailing routes. The total distance of this journey was 16,000 nautical miles, but there was great award for anyone willing to sail the dangerous route.

The discovery attracted thousands from around the world, particularly Europe, Latin America, Australia and Asia. Reports of 300,000 people arrived from the United States and abroad, half of which arrived by sea. Due to the extreme demand, the first four years of the gold rush saw the construction of 160 clippers ships.

Many gold diggers didn’t make a great amount from their finds, but one sailor, from Bavaria, Germany, would go on to make a fortune. Levi Strauss, who travelled to San Francisco in 1853, sewed trousers of old tarpaulin and fixed pockets with copper rivets. He would go on to form one of the most renowned blue jeans manufacturers in the world.

It’s safe to say that the Gold Rush was one of most influential moments for sailing in the American continent. It brought travellers from across the world and transformed the previously barren and empty areas into the bustling cities we see today. It was also a proud and significant era for the clipper ship.



Unlike many of the large cruise ships built today, Star Clippers can combine the traditional sailing experience with fantastic food, comfortable accommodation, and beautiful destinations. The fleet’s three ships can carry you gracefully across the seas of the world to destinations such as Cuba, the Mediterranean, and, as of December 2016, Asia.