Schooner Caroline Mills
by William Alexander Coulter
Oil on canvas
William Alexander Coulter is one of the most famous of American Marine painters. He painted thousands of vessels out of San Francisco during his lengthy career from 1873 to his death in 1936, as well as five large murals in the then Marine Exchange Building in San Francisco. These murals can still be seen today. His most well known is a 5 x 10 foot painting, on a salvaged window shade, of the 1906 San Francisco Fire from across the Bay. In 1923, the US Postal Service pictured one of his paintings, entitled the "Golden Gate," on the 20-cent stamp. A Liberty Ship was named for him in 1943.
Coulter was born in Glenariff, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in 1849. At age 13 he became a seaman. Seven years later he landed in San Francisco, broke his leg, and had to remain when his ship sailed. Coulter's sailing days were over. He worked as a sailmaker, but his artistic ability and knowledge of ships led to his becoming a full time marine artist. Coulter painted many a vessel as commissions. He studied painting in Europe in the late 1870s, and worked as the waterfront artist for the San Francisco Call until the 1906 earthquake and fire. Afterwards, Coulter took commissions, or created paintings on speculation. Some of these were of vessels he had made sketches of when working for the Call. One hundred of Coulter's paintings were included in the 2006 Coulter Retrospective Exhibition held at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, during the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake.
Coulter painted the Schooner Caroline Mills in 1873. This is an early painting, in his older style. Point Bonita, the northerly headland at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, is featured in the painting. The first Point Bonita Lighthouse can be seen on the top of the headland. It was replaced by a lower lighthouse in 1877, after this painting was done, due to frequent fog layers obscuring the light. Caroline Mills is shown at sea, leaving San Francisco, flying her name flag and the American Flag. Coulter has signed and dated it in the lower left corner. Preliminarily, we have identified no other image of this schooner, so the white hull, green stripes, and rigging are probably only recorded in this painting.
Other than entries in the List of Merchant Vessels of the United States (LMVUS), only one reference to the Caroline Mills was found: in The Doghole Schooners, by Walter A. Jackson (1969). She was owned in San Francisco in 1868, and was in the lumber trade along the Mendocino and Sonoma Counties on the California coast. Her builder and build date has not been determined. Caroline Mills appears in the 1876-77 LMVUS. She was only 47.78 tons and had a very early Official Number of 5135.
The Steamship Historical Society of America is dedicated to the history and preservation of powered vessels; however, it is the first to acknowledge that sailing vessels are the ancestors of powered vessels and therefore, sailing vessels are important to the history of the powered vessel. For this reason it is appropriate for paintings of sailing ships to be depicted in this Museum.