British naval commander Edward Belcher was confident his ships, the HMS Sulfur and the HMS Starling, could make it safely into San Francisco Bay that dark night, Oct. 19, 1837.
The 38-year-old sailor had explored the bay 10 years earlier on the HMS Blossom, captained by F.W. Beechey. The newer British expedition was on an exploring mission that would take it on a seven-year journey around the world.
Belcher's thoughts about California and San Francisco were printed in a Hawaiian newspaper article.
That article was sent in 1853 by "Barbareno," from Santa Barbara, to the Daily Alta California, which printed it as "A Loose Leaf in California History."
Depending on whose opinions you believe, Belcher, who later was knighted and appointed a rear admiral, was either the most unpopular officer of the British naval fleet or a hero with a deep compassion for his crews.
Belcher had mixed feelings about California, finding the countryside magnificent but the residents inept.
In 1837, California was in political turmoil. Mexico had won its independence from Spain years earlier but kept naming unpopular California governors, who lasted only months. The mission system had been dismantled, and the natives it had fostered had been cheated of the lands they were supposed to get. There was talk of independence for Upper California.
"We expected from the war of independence, which was going forward, to have been hailed from the fort, but all was silent as a tomb. We fired a gun, to make the vessels at anchor show lights, and this was the only notice given of our arrival. This port has retrograded sadly during the last 10 years," Belcher wrote.
He added, "Authorities there are none; missions taken out of the hands of the Padres, and administrators appointed. The mission is robbed, and squeezed to the dregs by existing government, lest tomorrow shall see another in power."
He claimed the Delaware Indians, who had come to California with American trappers, had gone rogue.
"They enter, rob and plunder and the cowardly Californians have not spirit enough to combine and force them away or punish them," he wrote.
Belcher predicted the native California Indians were being treated so badly that "this state of affairs will soon reduce California. A new war, one of extermination will arise and the Indians will be slaves, worse than they now are."
On his visit, Belcher ventured up the Sacramento River to the "Fort of Sacramento" and found the countryside enchanting.
"The magnificence of the country throughout its whole course is unimaginable, not to be conceived. It is, in fact, a splendid park."
He wrote of wild grapes, walnut and chestnut trees, and the abundance of wild game.
Belcher left San Francisco on Nov. 30, sailing to Monterey and then on to the rest of the world.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.