SS Clallam

Excursion steamer of the Black Ball Line. Sank in a storm, 1904, killing 54 people.
by Matthew Anderson

Year Built


Year Sank



440 ft (134.1 m)

Difficulty Level


SS Clallam

Wreck Location

As reported by early January 1904 issues of the Seattle-Post Intelligencer and the New York Times, Clallam sank 8 miles north of Protection Island, Washington state in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on January 8, 1904. The coordinates were approximated to the newspapers' reports on Google Earth by measuring a line 8 miles due north from the shoreline of Protection Island. The approximate location likely came from the tugboat Richard Holyoke which had attempted to tow the ill-fated Black Ball Line steamer back to Port Townsend. The sea floor in the area of which the Clallam foundered is 440 feet deep. A position only technical divers can reach. The nearest land is Smith Island. However, the island is isolated. The nearest major port is Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Clallam is well within the US territorial watersof Washington State. A busy sea lane for ocean going traffic and local traffic for ships going from Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean or British Columbia passes over the general area of the wreck site.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   48° 16' 5.8008" N      Longitude:   -122° 55' 45.1596" W


As there is no current documentation regarding the current state of Clallam, only educated guesses can be made regarding the shape of the vessel by comparison to like shipwrecks. Clallam may have mostly rotted as the majority of her structure and hull was made of wood, although the wreck of the similar steamship Portland off New England also in cold salt water, has its hull mostly intact. What is known is several key features including the upper decks and superstructure are gone as they were ripped away from the Clallam as she sank and were found along the Canadian and American shorelines with human remains nearby. A number of portholes left on the wreck are most likely broken, having been compromised by the water pressure of the storm which sank Clallam as per survivor reports.


The steamboat Clallam

The steamboat Clallam was built by the Shipyard of Edward Heath in Tacoma, Washington for the Seattle based Puget Sound Navigation Company (Black Ball Line) in mid-1903. Due to unusual events regarding her launch, including the failiure to christen the ship properly (launching so fast, the christener couldn't break the champagne bottle by hand and had to throw a hammer at it), she was considered by superstitious sailors as a "hoodoo ship". Clallam ran between Victoria, BC and Seattle for her entire career of only 7 months. Caught in a storm on the night of January 8, 1904, she was overtaken by water and heavily damaged to the point where she could no longer move under her own power. Whilst being towed back to Port Townsend by the tug Richard Holyoke accompanied by the tug Sea LionClallam capsized and sank by the stern in the early morning hours of the 9th. 54 perished due to both storm damage and the final sinking.


2 Comments & Ratings

anonymous by Greg Farley on 12/31/2020
Map was rated 5 stars by reviewer.

Very interesting article. I've found a but more information at the Library of Congress archives from the Tacoma Times News Paper dated 9 June, 1904. The link is below.
I'm not saying what is written above is incorrect in any way, I am just providing additional information about the wreck of the SS Clallam.

Thanks. I also came across some references that the entire wreck of the Clallam may have been raised and dragged ashore on Vancouver Island to be torn apart. And there's no remains on that beach since they succeeded. I'm hoping its only pieces of the ship, otherwise, I'm going to have to get this deleted, as it would mean Clallam no longer exists.

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