08 December 2011

Farallon Islets a Historic Poultry-yard

A few islets off the coast of central California were first known as the Farallones de los Frayles as discovered in 1543 by Bartolome Ferrelo, associated with the Spanish Navy. Sir Francis Drake then visited the islets in 1579 on a historic voyage and mentioned them in his terse account. The Russian nation had a settlement present in 1812 to obtain oil and skins, which further indicates the historic importance.

It was in the 1850s when the islets became prominent on the scene, following the discovery a few years earlier of a precious metal and a subsequent influx of new people. California then developed as a state, during which these islands 23 miles westward from the Golden Gate were an attraction well known as a valuable property.

In 1851, the oceanic land was involved in a swindle regarding ownership, as people attempted to establish a legal claim to the resources.

"... they did not escape the avaricious eye of Limantour, as they were included in this 'gigantic swindle.' In 1851 some fishermen laid claim to the South Farallon, and eventually a squatter pre-emption title vested in the 'Pacific Farallon Company," who also have acquired an absolute tax-deed (1857-'58) to the islands, 'less 1,401 feet than the whole of said Islands,' On the 30th of December last, the entire number of the Islands were again sold for non-payment of taxes (1859-'60) to Abel Gay. It remains to be seen whether they will be redeemed, the time expiring on the last day of the present month." - California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

One attempt for a visit occurred in 1853, and was a "boating adventure" eventually reported - years later - in a local newspaper.

As early as 1854, there are records indicating that about 400,000 Common Murre nested. Other species noted during subsequent years varied, but included the Black Oystercatcher, Brandt's Cormorant, Cassin's Auklet, Double-crested Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Tufted Puffin and Western Gull. These were the species prevalent according to reports up to 1862.

This obviously lucrative business needed to be protected in some manner or another, which included manly force.

Questionable ownership of the islets resulted in an "egg war" in the early 1860s. The myriad of birds nesting on the islands had economic value, as they were readily sold in the markets of San Francisco.

"Farallon Eggs" were regularly available during the season. Hired egg collectors went to the islands when the local birds were breeding and collected thousands upon thousands of eggs. Murre eggs were especially gathered.

The egg season was from mid-May to the end of June.

In May 1861 they could be purchased at San Francisco. The first eggs could be bought for 60 cents per dozen, when tomatoes and watermelons from the Sandwich Islands were also available. The eggs were then available for 40 cents per dozen, a bit later in the season.

In May 1862, a steamer and crew reestablished one company's claim, according to a news report:

"The Revenue steamer Shubrick has gone to the Farallon Islands to-day, to recapture the south island from those who invaded and took it last week, and place the Agent of the Farallon Egg Company again in possession, and it is thought the war will be speedily closed." - Sacramento Daily Union

The next spring, armed men were put into action: "The Farallon Egg Company have sent a force of armed men to guard the islands against trespassers." The company wanted to protect their product.

The price was 35 or 40 cents per dozen in 1863 at the Washington Market of San Francisco.

"Since 1851, upwards of five millions of their eggs have been sold in San Francisco market" according to an article about the history of the place. The eggs referred to where those of the guillemot, which lays one egg per year.

At this time, there was some realization that the island were actually owned by the U.S. government, which would be further established.